UCT: Who taught you or mentored you in strength & conditioning? What things do you do the same as those people? What do you do differently now?
Chris Ruf: My high school football coaches, Dave Clayberg and Steve Waechter, and two of my college coaches who spent a lot of time in the weight room with us, Brett Zimmerman and Bob Naslund were instrumental in developing a passion in me for what hard work in the weight room can do for an athlete.
My first mentor in the strength and conditioning field was Matt McGettigan, who is currently the strength and conditioning coach for the Air Force Academy football team.Being able to learn from him laid a great foundation for me not only in strength and conditioning, but in coaching and continuing education as well. Additionally, Ron McKeefery at the University of South Florida and Rich Lansky at OPTI/Team Florida Gulf Coast Weightlifting Club are two coaches that I was fortunate to work for, observe, and learn a great deal from.Currently I have the great opportunity to further develop my skills in the art of coaching from Kaz Kazadi and the rest of the outstanding staff he has put together at Baylor University.
I believe we are influenced by every coach we come into contact with in any way, as well as each athlete that we get to work with.It would be great to work with only the hardest working, most dedicated athletes, however, if that were the case we would definitely be hindered in our coaching development.
As far as what I do the same/differently, an entire book could probably be written on both topics.There are two foundational principles I have taken from my mentors and strive to follow:
- Be very fundamentally sound both in movement skills/techniques as well as program design.Be very good at the basics as we will get a lot of mileage out of doing basic things very well.Teaching proper technique requires that the coach understands what good technique is and can continually coach, evaluate, and correct.Supervision or “rah-rah” won’t get the job done in that area – coaching is needed.
- Be able to communicate effectively with all different kinds of athletes.Every athlete is different and we must have several tools at our disposal to optimize their physical and mental development.No one coaching tool/method/strategy is going to work for every athlete, so from all of my mentors I have stolen ways to coach many different people and situations.
UCT: Do you place a strong emphasis on hard work in your programs? Why or why not?
Chris Ruf: We place a great priority on hard work in our program.Hard work, or industriousness, is the cornerstone for any successful endeavor in life.We also realize that across the country in collegiate athletics, everyone works hard.As an athletic performance staff, we must find the right focal point for our hard work as well as create a synergistic combination of hard work and smart work to ensure the greatest success in our program.
UCT:What are some of the hardest things you’ve ever had your athletes do? How did they respond? Will you do it again?
Chris Ruf: We have a set of steel poles that are roughly 400 pounds apiece and 30 feet long which we use for team-building activities.We got this idea from seeing similar drills implemented on Special Forces training documentaries, as well as hearing about Buddy Morris using a similar drill at Pitt.Without getting too descriptive, our athletes will perform a series of drills with the poles that involve focus, communication, problem solving, leaders leading, followers following, and everyone pulling their own weight.How they respond depends on their attitudes!When each man surrenders himself to the needs of his teammates so they may move a 400 pound pole in unison, they respond very positively.The athletes feel a great sense of accomplishment from surviving “The Poles.”We will most definitely continue to use these in the future.
UCT: In regards to exercise technique, at the end of a hard set, how sloppy is too sloppy for you? You may respond differently for different exercises. And, what do you do when technique starts to break down during a set?
Chris Ruf: For us, too sloppy is when the form being used does not support the directive of that particular exercise/training method or will put the athlete at a greater risk for getting hurt either in the short term or long term.If this is happening, the set will generally be terminated and an adjustment will be made.In addition to this, athletes are continually given short coaching cues during and between sets to aid in performing movements with good technique.We always strive to have our athletes be examples of great technique, though we do not always achieve a 100% success rate.
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