Interview with a Strength Coach – Nic Bronkall of The Spot Athletics

This monthly series will profile Strength Coaches who don’t shine in the spotlight, like some, but are still getting awesome results from their athletes. Not every Coach needs to be an “elite” athlete, and not every Coach needs to spend their days online promoting themselves with reckless abandon.

Some of the best coaches are kicking ass without it..

My first interview is with Nic Bronkall of The Spot Athletics.

This was an easy selection for me being that I know Nic well. I won’t go into details as he does that for himself in the interview.

I watched this guy grow in his career and I am thrilled to see him do well working with other Coaches I respect like Zach Gallman, JL Holdsworth and Luke Rose.

So forget my words and let Nic speak for himself:

  • Tell us about your athletic career outside of strength sports. What coach helped you realize  working with athletes was something you wanted to pursue as a career.

Like most of us I started lifting for sports in high school for football, wrestling and lacrosse. I didn’t always agree with the workouts our coaches had us doing so that is when I began to design my own programs for my group of training partners and I.

No one coach made me realize that it was something I wanted to do. I had always in the back of my mind thought about coaching but didn’t know a lot about the field or even how to get into it. So I did what most kids do and that is go to college, get a degree and find a job.

When I was working on my undergraduate degree I was taking photos for a local football team and they just got absolutely man handled. That planted the seed. I was like I can train athletes I work out all the time. I contacted the head coach and before I knew it I was in charge of a varsity football team with no clue on what I was doing.

So I guess I could say that the head coach giving me that opportunity is what helped me realize that working with athletes was something I wanted to pursue as a career. 

  • What is your educational background?

All I have is a basic undergraduate degree from Cleveland State. I was doing pre-med but when I got started coaching I picked up 2 extra semesters to study Exercise Science, Kinesiology, extra Anatomy and things along those lines.

So I have a really fancy degree that I graduated with honors with and a lot of student loan debt. I wish student loans and degrees worked like houses. If you can’t afford it the bank takes the house. I can’t afford the student loans so maybe the college can take back the degree. Then I have a handful of useless certifications that tell people I know what I’m doing. 

  • Tell us what gyms you attended in your lifting and sports career and locations of them.

West Geauga High school is where I got my start. It’s located in Chesterland Ohio.

Then I trained at both University Rec Centers at Eastern Michigan and Cleveland State.

While training at Cleveland State something was missing in my life so I googled strength gyms in North East Ohio. I stumbled upon the Gorilla Pit which is where you and I met. I was intimidated as hell going into that place because I was weak and had no idea what I was doing. It was home to me. But some things happened and it left to go about an hour west then it moved back to the east side where I continued to train there until it closed its doors for good.

I trained at Courtad Strength Institute which was owned by Nick Courtad. It was in some guys garage and it was one of the best gyms I got the opportunity to train it. It’s not in its original location anymore. I believe he moved it to his garage. It’s located in Aurora Ohio.

Now I train at The Spot Athletics in Columbus Ohio.

  • Everyone of us had mentors shaping our knowledge base. Tell me about yours and what each taught you that you took from to help your growth as a strength coach.

First let me say find a mentor. This was intimidating for me to just ask guys for help and I hesitated for a long time. Don’t be afraid you’ll be surprised how willing people are to help you.

My first mentor was Lou Cirino. He is the head coach for West Geauga Football. He is the coach that gave me the opportunity to coach. I will say he is one of the best coaches I’ve been around. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be where I am today. A lot of the things he taught me I use daily from having a set schedule, getting up early, attention to detail and that it’s not about me it’s about the kids.

Second would have to be Mark Watts who is the former strength coach at Denision and is now in-charge of education for EliteFTS. I’ve known Mark for a long time but it wasn’t until recently that he actually began teaching me things. Mark is the most humble guy in the industry. His coaching trees is extensive and he is willing to help anybody and everybody. The biggest thing Mark taught me was to change how I view my job. This job is hard man you know that. We get so caught up with the things we have to do. We have to get up early, we have to write these programs, we have to train this team. What Mark told me was that change have to get. I get to write these programs, I get to train these athletes, I get, get up early. It’s all perspective. This one word has changed my life and view on everything.

Third is you Jay. We met years ago at The Pit and we’ve maintained a relationship despite all the shit that has gone on. You’ve taught me to remain true to myself and what I believe in. Don’t play the politics game and don’t change who you are for other people. You not only helped me grow as a coach but as a person. Your willingness to help me and answer all my questions has taught me to always give back.

Fourth is JL Holdsworth. I had no idea how little I knew when I began to learn from him. His knowledge base is unbelievable. I felt dumb the first time I met him. And it wasn’t his intention to make me feel dumb it just made me realize how much I have to learn. I learned more from him in one month then I did four years in college. He has taught me about training, programming, business and life. He has a no bullshit attitude. He has helped my eye immensely and is turning me into a technician. It’s wearing off as I nit pick everybody’s lifts now in person and online. I hate seeing shitty form. 

  • You currently work at Spot Athletics. What attracted you to Spot and why was it a place you wanted to go to?

Honestly it wasn’t the place I wanted to go. Some things happened at the school  I was at and I had to make a decision fast. I had interview for an internship at Ohio State where I was told I didn’t have enough experience to intern. Explain that one to me.

I had been coaching for 3 years and I needed experience for an internship. Anyways I was checking my Facebook feed and my buddy Zach had posted something on there about this gym in Columbus. I checked out the website, sent JL an email and two interviews later I was an intern which quickly turned into Director of Strength and Conditioning. I took the internship because I needed something to do for work and JL was the only one willing to take a chance on me.

So everything happens for a reason and right now I am extremely happy at The Spot Athletics. 

  • What do you currently compete in and tell us about your accomplishments?

I compete in grip. It’s a niche sport right now but it’s slowly growing. It’s fun picking up things that guys who deadlift more then me can’t move.

I don’t have a ton of accomplishments in strength sports. My numbers are Squat 475, Deadlift 585 and Bench 340.

I never had a team of lifters and always trained alone so I was hesitant to push myself.

My grip accomplishments are a 210lb rolling thunder, a 275 single hand deadlift, a 375 axle deadlift, palming a 50lb KB, plate pinching 2-45’s.

I’m training to do a powerlifting meet but I can’t afford 75-100 to go lift for no reward when I have bills to pay.

  • What is your basic philosophy about being a Strength Coach? What does being a Strength Coach mean to you?

Practice what you preach. I don’t care what you know or who you know. If you don’t have time under a bar, jumping, sprinting, etc. then I don’t care what you know. I’m not saying you have to be a world class lifter or Olympic athlete at all but you better be training 3-4 days a week. I see so many strength coaches who don’t train and are fat and out of shape. You can’t ask your athletes/clients to do something if you’ve never done it. Here at The Spot it is mandatory that all staff train together and be training for something. The second interview for our interns is that they have to lift with us to show us that they have a basic idea of what they are doing in the weight room.

Being a coach isn’t a title to me. It’s a display of respect and the highest honor I believe one can attain. It is a huge responsibility to be a coach. Being a coach is more then just teaching athletes how to lift weights. We are helping prepare them for life and their future. It’s about caring without end. This is an incredible calling and one that I personally do not take lightly.  

  • Every coach must market themselves to a degree. How do you market yourself and what do you feel is the best way for a new Strength Coach to do so?

In my position right now it is a little different because my boss does a lot of the marketing.  I come up with some ideas but he typically implements them and is the mastermind behind all of them. He brings the people to the house and I provide an awesome environment that keeps them in the house. But as a strength coach in the private industry things that we have done is we made an email list of all the coaches of all sports in the area and sent out personal emails and have called a hand full. Setting up meetings, introducing ourselves and just getting our name out there. It takes time and patience. Go to practices, be out in the community, go to your athletes sporting events and talk to everybody. You need to show people that you care. 

  • What mistakes have you made pursuing your career that you would tell others not to do?

Hesitating to ask others for advice. Facebook has made this so much easier where you can avoid human interaction at all costs. Also It took me awhile to find a mentor in this business and just surrounding myself with the right people. 

  • What are things you did successfully to get to where you needed to be, and beyond?

I gave and gave and gave man. I volunteered at a local high school probably 40 hours a week and if I didn’t have bills to pay I’d keep doing it. Never underestimate the value of free in both business and in working towards your career. I volunteered at the high school and interned at Cleveland State. Also I cared. I cared about the athletes, the school, the coaches and everything else. I know I previously stated I hesitated to talk to people but once I began doing that I began to develop a clear picture for what I actually wanted to do. Have it be high school, college, professional or private industry. 

  • What is one thing about this profession you would like to see changed for the better? Could be anything.

One thing huh? Jezee I have a whole list. The biggest thing is coaches who don’t care about their athletes and those that do it for the money. Get out. Please you’re killing this industry. Sorry that was two. But seriously get out of the industry. 

  • What coaches do you admire in this business and why? Doesn’t have to be mentors, could be anybody.

Mark Watts: This guy is unreal. He knows anybody and everybody and is always more then willing to anything to help you succeed. He is not only an awesome coach he is an awesome person.

Mike Spagnola and Rick Daman are both private gym owners. Both are doing it man. They are killing it doing what they love. Doing what I hope to be doing one day. Both of these guys have been more then willing to answer my questions and help me gather myself and set me straight. And you know what I’ve never meet either of them in person. 

  • In terms of overall athletic development and sports performance, what markers are you looking for to show improvement in an athlete’s athletic performance? I don’t mean barbell strength, I mean training as it translates into on the field performance.

Body language, mental toughness and work ethic. Everybody loves numbers and that’s great on paper but I don’t give a shit about numbers. You can tell a lot by how a kid just walks. I’ve had kids come in with no confidence and a few months later they are walking tall and have confidence in their step. Kids need to have confidence in who they are and in what they do. That’s why what we do is more important then just teaching kids how to lift. We are preparing them for life.

Is the kid mentally tough enough to handle the challenges on the field, to handle adversity? Life is fucking hard Jay. We were talking about it yesterday. But in society when life gets hard everybody is looking for a handout and wants someone else to fix their problems because they are mentally weak. And then work ethic. Does the kid work? Do they do what they are suppose to do when nobody is looking? Do they put the time in in the weight room? In film study? Are the eating right? Are they sleeping right? Are they consistent.

Give me the kid with not a lot of talent with sub-par numbers but with confidence, mental toughness and a strong work ethic. I don’t want the lazy athlete who tries to get by because he jumps so high and runs so fast. Their is more to life then athletics. We as coaches have a duty to prepare this kids for life.

  • Closing words. Shoot from the hip.

Be patient. Be consistent. Always Hustle. Focus on your vision. Sacrifice because you will sacrifice and possibly lose some things in your life from relationships to your sanity.

This is not a career for weak minded and lazy people. Put your time in. Nobody owes you shit. Be fucking humble. This job is a grind man. It’s hard waking up at 4am and working 12-14 hour days and being full of energy for all your clients and training and getting your meals in and hopefully sleep day in and day out. Be willing to sacrifice. This job take its toll. But if you have a vision and passion that is so strong then nothing can stop you.

Actually care about people. It’s not about you. It’s not about money. It’s about helping people become the strongest version of who they are meant to become. If you are in it for the money or to stroke your own ego. Leave.

Thank you for this Jay. I appreciate the opportunity. You’ve been in my life for sometime now and have always helped me have it be with life, training or coaching. 





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