What We Don’t Know in High School
Staying true to my pseudonym, I wanted to write an article that gives coaches an insight into their athletes’ minds, particularly the mind of a high school athlete. Between my own reflections of my high school experiences and asking my friends who played sports in high school what they wished they would have known more about to improve their participation and performance in their sport, this is the result—an extensive list of topics related to training and performance that the average high school athlete has little to no knowledge about but would greatly benefit from.
I realize that high school strength coaches sometimes don’t have a full-on exercise science background. They have many other responsibilities or may not even be strength coaches but supervisors of the weight room. To those coaches, I encourage you to empower yourself with information on these topics so that you can better service the athletes you're helping to develop. To the coaches who have the background knowledge, let this serve as a way to get in touch with what knowledge today’s high school athletes have and provide them with the means to continue their development into a top-notch varsity athlete and beyond.
We don’t know how a strength program works:
While we will tune out information overload, we will gain a deeper understanding from a basic explanation. Your program should have a goal for the day as a whole. Tell us what it is. Simply telling us that a max effort day teaches our bodies how to exert maximal strength for four to eight seconds, or that a dynamic day teaches our bodies how to move the bar quickly, is a perfect amount of information to convey. This is also important so that we don’t try to do any extra reps or sets that aren’t ideal after we’ve exhausted our neuromuscular system completely from a max effort lift, potentially exposing ourselves to injury or overtraining.
We don’t know why we have to warm up or cool down and will try to skip it at all costs:
To us, these parts of the workout just seem like something you’re supposed to do when you work out, but they don’t really contain a purpose. This goes back to the previous point that, while you don’t want to provide too much information, too little will further devalue these critical parts of a workout. Writing the warm up as a part of the workout for the day and then going through the warm up with the athletes will sufficiently show its importance. The same thing goes for the cool down/recovery period. Write it into the workout so that the athletes see it as being a part of the workout. Then take them through it as you would take them through the lifts.
We don’t know how much missing a day of training can impact our progression:
This goes along with not understanding how a strength program works. We don’t understand that missing one day of training can mean a setback for the following week. Obviously, conflicts come up that require flexibility on your part. If athletes are basically informed of how important it is to not miss workouts, they may try to reschedule the conflict to make sure they get their workout in.
We don’t know that there is a huge difference between a program from Men’s Fitness and a program from Jim Wendler:
We assume that because it’s in a well-known magazine, it must work the same way the strength program at school works and therefore serve as a substitution to that. While every high school guy wants the six-pack and huge arms, what he doesn’t realize is that these programs aren’t geared for performance—they’re geared for hypertrophy and aesthetic appeal. Help us understand that differentiation so that we get your performance program completed first and do any aesthetic programs after that.
We don’t know how to truly push ourselves to our limits:
Entering high school, there will be very few, if any of us, who have experienced a workout that left us unable to move, dizzy, nauseous, and feeling like death all at the same time. We’ve never been to the end of our limits. Help us find that line through an occasional conditioning session that ensures everyone will mentally and physically struggle through it. These workouts also tend to bring out your leaders who will rally the team together and bring along anyone who is struggling.
We don’t know how to do “the little things” away from the practice field or weight room:
This is probably geared toward your more motivated athletes who will do anything and everything possible to improve their performance. To me, “little things” encompass topics like optimal sleep hours/sleep cycles, massage, self-myofascial release, hydrotherapy (Epsom salt baths, contrast showers), and mental skills training (goal setting, visualization, and self-talk). Provide an avenue for them to learn about these topics and allow them to approach you for further information should they desire it.
We don’t know how to eat to supplement the training we do or the weight goals we have or how to fuel ourselves for practices/games:
The bottom line is that there is a huge difference between what athletes need to be eating and what they’re actually eating in the cafeteria. While some kids may be able to hold down pizza and fries while they’re at practice, it isn’t an optimal fuel source to have in their systems to practice at their highest intensity. Most of these kids have no idea what to eat, so they just go with what looks most appetizing. Providing lists of optimal foods to eat at meals, for snacks, and pre- and post-workout/practice/game will give them a means to improve their performance through the fuels they provide their body with.
We don’t know what to buy from the nutrition stores:
When we walk into a nutrition store, we aren't exactly sure what we’re looking for. So we listen to the 'not so knowledgeable' and apathetic salesman who makes commission selling the $90 protein that has only 15 servings and isn't as high quality as the label suggests. Guide them in the direction of quality brand supplements should they choose to additionally supplement. There’s a lot out there, but some good basic supplements to inform them of are multivitamins, fish oils, whey and casein protein powders, and creatine. The supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar industry right now. Help your athletes invest their money wisely into it.
We don’t know how beneficial adhering to your strength program will be in impressing our college coaches of our preparedness:
From my personal experience, there is nothing that impresses a college football or strength coach more than a recruit who comes in lifting like one of the upperclassmen. Learning correct lifting technique early, and then using that correct technique to develop incredible strength, will show your college coaches just how dedicated you are to the sport and to being the best you can possibly be. Know which of your athletes has interest in playing their sport beyond high school and keep them on track with their dedication to your training program, reminding them that it isn't just for now but for the scholarship they may eventually earn.
We don’t know how to develop team chemistry with the fifty new guys who are supposed to be our teammates for the next four years:
There are few experiences more awkward than being thrown together with a bunch of other unknown guys from other schools and having to call them teammates all of a sudden. Take some time and develop team cohesion by having your freshmen lift with position groups, not just their friends from middle school. Have competitions that get them bonding with each other and discussing strategy. Maybe even have a welcome picnic for the freshmen and grill out at the school for them—anything that gets them talking and getting to know each other better. If the sixty nervous freshmen sitting in front of you on the first day are going to eventually win a state championship, they have to be comfortable enough to be brothers on and off the field with.
We don’t know how many valuable life lessons are going to be learned from being dedicated to the hard work that comes with being a part of a high school football team:
I wanted to keep this article as broad as possible so that it could apply to all the athletes a strength coach may work with, but I want to talk about football for this last part. High school football is a unique experience in that four, full years are spent with the same core group of guys who are all striving for the exact same goal—a state championship at some point in their career. At the end of those four years, it’s inevitable that they will have bled, sweated, and cried together; fought each other; and hopefully celebrated a lot together at some point in the roller coaster ride that high school football can be. The lessons in hard work, dedication, and brotherhood are unmatched by any other team experience one can have in his lifetime, and it’s only in hindsight that they will find themselves wishing for one more “Kiger’s Kitchen” workout (a legendary hellish workout from my high school days), one more two-a-day, or one more game under the Friday night lights. So what’s the reminder to provide for them here? Commit yourself 100 percent to the team and take pride in being at every workout and practice. Take pride in working your absolute hardest at every workout and practice and enjoy the ride because once it’s over, you’ll miss the hell out of it, but it continues to live on in every man who experienced it. It lives on in the life lessons you learned from working harder than ever in a smelly, rundown weight room just so you can shine under the lights on a Friday night.