As the strength and conditioning field continues to grow, high schools are taking advantage of the opportunity to have their sports teams trained in an organized strength training program. This is a great opportunity for coaches and those new to the field. A lot of great strength coaches started at the the high school level and/or worked there at some point in time: Ken Mannie, Joe Kenn, Ted Rath, Mark Asanovich just to name a few.
If you are lucky enough to join a high school program that already has a great history of strength training, hopefully you can capitalize on the situation. I had the privilege to work under a great strength coach and take over a terrific program. Upon graduating from college, I volunteered under Ted Rath (now with the Detroit Lions) at a local high school. After he departed to the NFL, I assumed control of the strength & conditioning program. The first year was difficult and I made plenty of mistakes, which were fundamental to my development as a coach.
After two years at this school, I took a strength & conditioning position at a brand new high school and started from scratch. This really got me thinking about what it takes to start a program.
Here are 7 often-overlooked aspects of strength & conditioning that can make or break your program:
1. Asses your situation. Take inventory of what you currently have, and make a list of items you need and what.
Taking a complete inventory will allow you to assess your situation and help you define your starting point. This will also help you address what you need and what you want in the future. There is a big difference between wants and needs. Needs address major training concerns. Needs are those tools that will let you run your program efficiently; i.e. strength bands, weight-plates, barbells, cones, ladders, or whatever you deem vital to your program.
Wants are things that would take your program over the top.
We all want a facility that looks like Nebraska or Ohio State, but establishing a program should be dictated by needs, not wants. This is a major mistake I made when I first started.
2. DEFINE then DEVELOP. Ask the head coach what type of team he wants and what he’d like to see developed in the weight room. This may be difficult at first, but you have to know what you want to develop so you know where you’re heading. Having a detailed discussion about this will help you program for success and will make the coach feel like you respect his opinion.
You also want to know what needs to be developed at each position. Although there are common goals in strength training (stronger athletes, more explosive athletes), not all positions are created equally. Keep this in mind, especially if you work with more than just football.
Developing athletes is more than just moving heavy things (although there is a lot of fun in doing that). Find what movements/exercises benefit the team/position the most based on the equipment you have at your disposal. Sit down with coaches and assess where weaknesses are seen in the team. Is the offensive line too small? Are the skill players not explosive enough? Is there a trend with injuries? Make sure the coaches and athletes know that these are priorities during training and that it’s not just all about squat and bench numbers.
3. TEACH. TEACH. TEACH. Teach the technique before you coach it. I know this may sound simple, but it bears repeating. TEACH THE TECHNIQUE BEFORE YOU COACH IT.
Before you start yelling and motivating, make sure you teach your athletes exactly what you expect out of them. This takes time, but I believe it is a necessary step in ensuring proper technique and SAFETY in the weight-room. Do not let a player’s ego (wanting to push more weight too quickly regardless of form) get in the way of running a program you are proud of. Get athletes used to being “under-weight” (being mentally ready for heavy weight). Spend time getting the athletes used to weights, used to straining and grinding. Get them to LOVE HARD WORK!
4. Teach principles and not just movements. The “why’s” are just as important as the “how’s.” Why do we clean? Why do we squat? Teach every athlete why he’s doing a movement in an effort to get him to understand the big picture. Athletes put more effort into activities they perceive to be valuable.
This will also help you design your programs. If you can’t explain why you choose certain exercises, you might need to put some more thought into this process. This will help you create better programs and get more players to buy in to your system.
For the novice trainee (and most high school athletes are novices) it’s that simple. Whatever your rep and set scheme, what ever your “philosophy”, get the athletes strong and you can’t go wrong. You may be coming into a program where the kids have very little experience with lifting, so it is important to build a solid foundation.
6. Player Retention. Obviously, you always want 100% participation, but it’s realistic to expect 60-70% of every team roster in the weight room in the off-season. This guarantees enough players have developed strength and that this strength will be transferred to play. To be more specific, if you have varsity a football team that carries 50-60 players, it is ideal to have 30-40 of those players in the strength program year-round. This helps with consistency of the team lifting. The last ⅓ (30-35%) will account for multi-sport athletes who are currently in-season. Have a discussion with the head coach and A.D. about player retention, how they can help build a lifting culture and developing a reward programs (i.e. lifting shirts).
7. Parent and booster club relations. You work for the A.D. and coaches, and put your heart and soul into the kids, but your boosters and parents support your program with their pocketbooks. You should make fundraising a priority for your program and having good relationships with parents and boosters will make this much easier.
If you are lucky enough to have an annual budget, you are way ahead of the curve. If you are like most high school programs, your budget will be limited, and if this is the case, you need to look at fundraising. You can accomplish this many ways. This can be done with t-shirt sales, strength clinics for high school coaches (one of my favorites), lift-a-thons, and general donations from dedicated local supporters. Once again, the parent and booster support is where this comes in handy. Having raised funds you can now start to update your facility with the equipment you need to make your program work optimally.
As you may notice, there is nothing in here about program design, BFS, H.I.T., H.I.I.T., FMS, Olympic lifts, progressions, sets and reps, functional training, conditioning, variation, neck training, stability, number of days spent training, etc. All of those details are up to you as a strength coach. How you design the programs for your athletes is ultimately up to you based on the team priorities, priorities of movements you use (that is another article), equipment, time constraints, personnel, and number of athletes. The foundation you build with these steps can set you up for success and allow you to just COACH!