Tribute to a Coach

By Andrew J. Thompson

In Rest Day/Theory

January 01, 2008

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Many years ago, I experienced leadership and coaching in its purest form. From 1991 to 1996 my life was forever changed by a coach named Phil Emery. Coach Emery was the innovative strength and conditioning coordinator for the United States Naval Academy (USNA) football program. His background as a collegiate football player and coach enabled him to foresee the needs of each trainee. While keeping the needs of the team as a whole in mind, his leadership inspired individual and collective growth.

That growth was fueled by Coach Emery's high expectations and by competitive public benchmarks of performance and progress. The weight room had a "leader board" (much like the whiteboards at CrossFit Santa Cruz), where the top sprint times and bench press, squat, and vertical jump test scores were publicly displayed. A 350-pound bench press or 500-pound squat also earned photo recognition on the weight room wall. A photo on the wall represented more than a number. It indicated commitment and sacrifice. Over the years, Coach Emery's training methods evolved. His mantra of "always gain, never maintain" crushed the status quo. Complacency was unacceptable. Coach Emery's approach to strength and conditioning was an extension of the Naval Academy's mission.

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