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Sarah Clinton: Building Confidence

Have you ever met someone and you knew immediately they were meant to be in your life? The day I met Sarah Clinton I knew. At the time she was starting her position as the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Spalding and I was the Head Athletic Trainer. Not only would we bond over being two of the three full-time female staff in the Athletics Department (our third amiga being the fabulous Lisa DeFrees) but we would find over time that professionally we were a great team and, well, out of work we laughed our asses off at inappropriate jokes. Sarah is one of those people who will push you in all the right ways, who sees more in you than you could ever see in yourself, and is just a complete and total bad ass.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I have been married to my husband Rickey for ten years. We have two children: a 5 year old son, and an almost two year old daughter.

I went to Purdue and got my degree in exercise science and I have been working as strength and conditioning coach for 12 years.

I have worked in both the private sector and collegiate level and I have been at Spalding serving as their Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for 5 years. I prefer the college setting because of the difference between working with teams versus individual athletes. What I love most about teams is that it is individuals who come together with one goal and a shared vision and I get to bring them though this journey; including the ebb and flow of off-season and in-season training.

Would you tell young women to pursue a career as a strength and conditioning coach?

Yes, I think it is needed and I don’t think I realized how much until female athletes started telling me how great it was to have me as a role model in their college years. To have a strong and powerful woman in a leadership positon helps them to realize that women can be physically strong and be feminine and beautiful and successful in athletics. We don’t all need to fit in to any one ‘box’.

What are the difficulties associated with being a woman in your career?

You have to have thick skin. Working with coaches and athletes is difficult and they will push back, they will challenge you and your ideas. There is more on a woman’s plate as far as proving yourself and I am OK with that challenge. I think a man can come in and looked ‘jacked’ and the assumption is he knows what he is talking about. I don’t get that when I walk in to the room. I have to prove my skills and I know I can. So I do.

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about proving to women that you can be strong and be heard and be successful and I realized that more and more over time as my female athletes started graduating and telling me about how I affected them. Work hard and be passionate about whatever it is that you want to do and do it because you want to do it. For women to feel comfortable in a weight room takes a certain amount of confidence and I hope I feed in to that during their training. No matter how that confidence comes out in those young women when they leave my weight room, I want to help provide them with it.

Best work out advice:

You are capable of conquering more than you think. You can be more physically uncomfortable than you realize. Be proud of callouses on your hands and all those signs of hard work. I believe there is confidence found in lifting heavy things and meeting the challenges that weight training can present to you. Don’t be afraid to lift.

Best body positive advice:

Be OK with change to your body. I speak on this from having kids; you created a human being! GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK. Our bodies are so amazing and capable of doing so much more than just ‘looking good’. MY body just hiked that trail, MY body just lifted that weight, MY body ran that half marathon. MY body overcame that illness, MY body created that child. When we stop thinking about how our body looks and focus on all that it DOES I think that helps us change the way we view it.

What is the biggest misconception about your job?

Just because you have a good body and you enjoy working out does not mean you can train athletes in a year round program. There is so much that goes in to it, including progressions and regressions. When you have an athlete that comes in and doesn’t know how to squat do you know how to fix it? People may know it doesn’t look right but do you know how to work backwards to get your athlete up to a big move?

One of the things I learned on my own is that you take, for example, a volleyball player needs to know how to jump and be explosive. But when do you give them that vertical power? I would initially do it in-season and it was too much for them and I started to learn the proper timing in their training. So my job is also about injury prevention. You have to be able to teach foundational movements in order to prevent injury.

You are about to make a big change (Sarah is resigning her position at Spalding). When did you know it was time to step away?

You can still like what you do and enjoy it but realize that your work doesn’t have to be your only passion. When my passions evolved into wanting more time and energy devoted to my husband and my kids, that I was when I started to realize that I needed to step away. That doesn’t mean you can’t work hard and still be a great mom, but I am feeling stretched in all of it. Everything all the time and everything is strained, that is just not how I choose to live anymore. I do have a choice and I don’t want to be pulled in all those directions anymore. I believe that whatever you choose to do you should love it and be proud of it, and sometimes that means redirecting your energy to other things.

What is your ultimate career goal?

I actually achieved my professional goals. I wanted to make it to the collegiate level and to stay at least 4 years to see a class through. I have done that. So I think this goes back to ‘how I knew it was time for a change’. It is time for me to set some other goals and they may not be big professional goals. I am fine if I don’t make it to the ‘proverbial top of the professional ladder’ because I made it to MY top. I love telling people that I am strength and conditioning coach. I am so proud to say that I do that. But what I am realizing is that what I do next may not look like what I do now so I am looking forward to seeing what I discover about the next step of my life.

If people could only use three words to describe you what do hope they are?

Passionate, Genuine, Fun