Be a generalist in your specialty.
I am Phil Tran, championship-winning high school football and strength coach, owner of PT Strength, and NHSSCA Maryland Coach of the Year.
The generalist vs. specialist debate is an ongoing debate in all industries. The consensus by business consultants, career advisors, and executive coaches is to be a specialist. I agree.
For example, a general practitioner in the medical field will almost always earn less money than a specialist like a neurologist, optometrist, or podiatrist. A general practitioner in the legal field will almost always earn less money than a specialist like an estate attorney, sports attorney, or tax attorney. A personal trainer who serves all populations will almost always earn less money and have less reach than those who have niches like the elderly, special populations, women, or athletes.
The old adage is true. You can be a “jack of all trades and a master of none.”
I will qualify my agreement however, and state that within your specialty, you need to be a generalist in your specialty.
Let me explain from a football coaching standpoint. I think we can all agree that football coaching is a very specialized profession in the grand scheme. Yet, within this speciality, you have even more specialties. You have position coaches for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, defensive backs, and specialists. In some systems, the specialties within this speciality of a profession are even more specialized with inside and outside receiver coaches, inside and outside linebacker coaches, cornerback and safety coaches, and tight end coaches.
I heard a joke once that said that tight end coaches have the easiest job on the football field. They handle at most three players and their job is basically done after the individual period of practice.
Now, many teams don’t even employ tight ends or fullbacks. We live in a passing era where some teams see the need for not one wide receivers coach, but a need for an outside receivers coach and an inside receivers coach. Try hanging your hat on the narrowest of niches by saying that you coach inside receivers as your life’s calling and that is all you do.
Football coaches, if you want to expand your coaching opportunities and even be a head coach of your own high school program someday, you need to know a little bit of everything in the game. You need to be a generalist in your specialty.
I was a college football running back for Baylor University. I know running back play very well. However, if that was the only position I know, my employment opportunities will be extremely limited as a position coach. Also, I certainly will never move up to offensive coordinator, much less head coach.
For all elite athletes turned coaches, we all have a particular position in our sport which we know better than all the others. However, if we want to be the best coaches we can be, we need to know a little bit about all the positions.
In my coaching career at all levels, I have been a quarterbacks coach, running backs coach, wide receivers coach, defensive backs coach, linebackers coach, kickers coach, offensive coordinator, special teams coordinator, and I have also filled in as offensive and defensive line coach to cover for coaching absences. Beyond coaching on the field, I have also developed unique specialties and niches on a football team like being a strength coach, a statistician, analytics guru, opponent scout, parent liaison, team photographer, videographer for practices, PA announcer for under squad games, disc jockey for pregames, character coach, and, my favorite, Bible study leader.
Being able and willing to serve in all roles and all capacities on a football team has made me a much better football coach and has maximized my coaching opportunities.
Being a generalist in your specialty rings true for other professions as well.
If you are a photographer who mainly covers sporting events, being able to cover the occasional corporate event can maximize your opportunities and sharpen your skills. If you are a tax attorney who primarily works with corporate clients, being able to work with families and individuals as well can broaden your perspective.
For strength coaches working with athletes, which is already a specialized niche, strength is strength at the end of the day. Don’t restrict yourself to just one sport or one gender. Being able to work with girls and boys successfully in all sports will maximize your professional development, broaden your employment opportunities, and expand your impact.
Yes, specialists earn more than generalists. You can’t speak to everyone. People will pay more for specialists in their industry. Do specialize and find a market that is yours to dominate. However, don’t get so specialized in your specialty that you restrict your market.
I hope this has been helpful. Follow me on all major social media platforms at PhilTran22. Subscribe to my YouTube channel at PhilTran22 to receive my videos first. I am Phil Tran saying so long.