EliteFTS Spotlight is a new weekly feature here on EliteFTS.com where Q&A member The Angry Coach interviews athletes and strength and sport coaches from various disciplines in order to find out more about what they do, how they train and how they do business.

This week’s subject is Shannon Turley, strength and conditioning coordinator for the Stanford University football program.

Tell us a little about your background and how you got into coaching.

I always wanted to play football at Virginia Tech. I wasn’t a very talented athlete when I was younger, and I wasn’t allowed to play football because I wasn’t big enough, so I had to really work to develop my body just to be able to compete at the high school level. So when I tried to walk-on at Virginia Tech, obviously that didn’t work out, so I walked on to the track team for a year. I really did that just to get my foot in the door with the strength program. My freshman year at Virginia Tech, the Hokies were really exploding. We went 10-2, won the Sugar Bowl, and Mike Gentry was getting a lot of praise for his role in developing a lot of less talented players and getting them to compete with the best in the country and win the Big East at the time.

I didn’t even know at that point that this was a profession. I thought to myself, “Hey, I could be that guy.” I’ve always been better in the weight room and in training than I ever was in competition, so they gave me a shot there. Coach Gentry created a position for me managing the Nutrition Oasis and supplements for the Olympic sports and gave me an opportunity to commit as much time as I was willing to. So my role expanded over my two years there working as a student assistant, and then I went and worked for the Kansas City Royals AA team at Wichita.

I was very fortunate, again, to work for two great guys there – Tim Maxey and Jim Malone, who’ve since moved on with other major league franchises. This was great exposure to pro athletes. I was then fortunate to go work for Jeff Fish twice at the University of Missouri. I got on as a grad assistant, and then as a full time coach when I completed my masters degree. So, every step along the way, even when Jeff went on to the NFL, I’ve been fortunate enough to work around some coaches who were great mentors to me, and helped groom me. They’re guys I still go to today when there’s a difficult situation or a task I’m challenged with.

What’s your training philosophy with the football players you coach now?

The first thing is that we want our guys to really believe in our program, and believe that if they sacrifice the “me” for the “we” and really commit and compete all-out all the time and trust in the coaching we’re providing, that their efforts are going to be rewarded, and that they’re going to have a competitive advantage on game day, physically, and that mentally, they’re going to be able to go out there and give their best effort for all 60 minutes, 12-13 games every season.

So, within that, injury prevention is at the top of the list. Establishing a foundation of functional movement is our first priority, especially with new players coming in as freshmen. We try to identify what they’ve been doing previously, where he is in terms of physical development and training age, and just seeing how he moves. We try to identify any asymmetries or deficiencies he may have that could lead to an injury we might be able to prevent.

We move from there and focus more on physical development and take them through five different levels throughout their career based on the their physical development, their skill, and movement ability. We’re far more concerned with how our guys move, and the specific things they need as football players, and trying to make things as specific as possible. Individually specific, football-specific, position group, individual position-specific – all of those movement patterns, whether it’s in the weight room or out on the practice field in team runs and conditioning, that’s our number one priority. Movement, and that we’re functional in everything we do.

I’m not really being evaluated on the numbers of our players in terms of how much guys bench, squat and clean. All those combine-type numbers aren’t really at the forefront of what we’re trying to do. We really believe that the players become better football players at practice, so it’s our role to keep them healthy, and to make sure they don’t miss a practice during the season or in their career, and that they’re available for every single game, so that really predicates everything we’re trying to do.

How do you set up your five levels?

The level one program is just orientation and fundamentals – just getting those new players in, trying to address their weaknesses and deficiencies in their functional movement, and teaching them our techniques on the foundation movements. We’re talking about a lot of bodyweight-relative movements: pushup variations, squats, lunge patterns and different things like that before we get under the bar. As they progress in their skill development and their movement ability, then we’re going to start loading those movements.

Level two is all about physical development on the posterior side of their body to protect their shoulders and knees and learn how to actively engage their core in dynamic movements. As we go to levels three and four, it’s more variable. Now that our guys are moving well, we can really load them and challenge them with squat variations, bench press variations, and different Olympic-style variations that become more technical and complex as we go. And we know that they’re doing those right, and that they understand and appreciate our priority for technique instead of the actual load on the bar.

They’d start out with a straight linear periodization model on level one and two, but we introduce the conjugate method – the max, repeated and dynamic methods – whether it’s on a three day split, or a four day, it’s variable by level, as is how often we change that max, dynamic and repeated effort movement. Every variable in play becomes more specific and more variable as they progress.

What’s your stance on the dynamic effort method for football players?

I think using the system of timing it and working on the rate of force development and the speed of the movement is important in preventing overtraining and trying to focus on being able to autoregulate and control some of that when our guys have so much additional work to do on the field. It’s important to be able to know in-season or in critical training times, as we prepare for spring ball or the season, exactly where our guys are. It really has improved us when we’re working for our max effort movements, as well, to be able to understand and appreciate the technique of moving the bar fast. There are days where it’s all about how much intensity, and then the next, it’s about how fast we can move a specific intensity. We focus more on the speed of the Tendo unit and trying to get some feedback from that than we do on the actual load on the bar, so I’ll let them adjust that weight according to where they are physically on a given day rather than prescribe a certain amount of sets at a specific weight. The weight is certainly negotiable based on their Tendo speed.

Do you use accommodating resistances?

We do. As the players improve in their technique and in their appreciation for the movement, we try to use bands and chains and different things based on our facility and what we have available to us.

What’s your philosophy on conditioning?

It’s most important for us to understand what time of year we’re in, and what we’re conditioning the players for. In our offseason program prior to spring practice, we’ve got to get our players ready to compete, and we need a lot of physical development in that period of time coming out of the previous season to rebuild guys and develop them to be better than they were and establish that foundation. We’re starting with metabolically position-specific intervals, starting at two minutes, and working down to 30 seconds. Everything is always about competition, communication, and we build it from there. So everything is objectively evaluated rather than subjectively. So we try to pit our guys against each other in the most competitive way possible.

What we’ve been training with now, the final three weeks that the coaching staff is back from the road, is doing circuits with like a 3:1 rest interval, using movements and drills that are specific to their skill development in football and having them compete in it. That’s the kind of training we want to do now. When we get out of spring practice, I’ve got a six week program prior to our summer program where it’s more about combine types of training and performance enhancement for max power, max speed development and preparing our guys to test and train at the combine one day, at a junior timing day on campus, at a pro timing day on campus, and understanding what’s expected and how they’re shifting their focus to competing with themselves and the concentration that takes.

In the summer, it’s all about specific movement and energy systems. So we’re trying to work in those intervals that are determined by the clock and the flow of the game. We’re moving in a time interval that’s dictated by the game, and we’re moving in patterns that are specific to our positions. Ultimately, it’s about a team accountability concept and understanding that everyone has to do their job and communicate and be accountable for their performance. So when we play out our summer conditioning program, we’ve got six weeks and we focus on speed development, agility work, position-specific competitions on Mondays and Thursdays, and conditioning days are on Tuesday and Friday where we’re really focused on the anaerobic training systems, and the metabolic specificity of football and those positions. There’s a time where we come together and run different variations, whether it’s a 300 yard shuttle, a 25 yards, half gassers, full gassers, a gasser ladder, cut 120’s – whatever it might be, and everybody’s accountable and responsible for a certain level of performance. We all have to make our times, we all have to communicate and get the correct foot over, the correct line, and finish in order for us to get a win.

So we play out our 12 game season over that six week summer program, and try to challenge the team and the leadership of the team to develop the accountability and strengthen our stamina and build our will.

What does Elite Fitness Systems mean to you?

We’re definitely customers. First and foremost, we love the information – the articles and the resource that the website provides knowledge-wise. I’m still very young in my knowledge and appreciation for the conjugate style of training and a lot of the information that you find on Elite. It’s something that I’m checking every day, and I’m signed up for the newsletter, and my whole staff is as well. We’re all into it.

From there, product-wise, our philosophy is supported by the equipment, like the Glute-Ham Raises that we bought to replace the ones that were here. The Reverse Hyperextensions. There’s a lot of equipment that when it comes to developing our players, we need and we purchase from Elite because we know it’s going to be the high quality, durable equipment for what we’re trying to develop. Fat barbells, boards, and a lot of the different implements you might use to train players. We’re going to you guys first.

You coach two players in your program who’ve worked extensively with EliteFTS-affiliated programs where they live. Can you comment on that?

Both guys are definitely technicians, and that’s the highest level of praise I can give a guy. Very invested in their training, very intelligent and committed. They want to know how it’s going to make them better. They want to know why we’re doing stuff. You can speak to them on a level as an equal about the training information. They’re very invested in their own development and have really been tremendous leaders for us and our program in terms of being the blue collar types of guys that are going to be aggressive competitors. They work, work, work, and do anything and everything you ask them to, and just keep coming back for more. It’s really a matter of me answering their questions. That’s probably the best thing about those guys. They’re very in tune, having been exposed to this elite level of training at a younger age than most of our guys coming as freshmen might be. Their investment to see that I’m on board with this system of training and that it’s a priority in our program really helped to increase the investment from other members of the team.

They’re both starters for us on offense as well, and guys who’ve made big plays here during their careers, so they have tremendous credibility as well. They’ve seen the dividends of their training.

Do you have any advice for people looking to potentially break into the field?

I think for me, personally, I’ve been very fortunate everywhere I’ve been to be surrounded by great mentors that were developing successful programs. I just tried to come in humble and willing to learn. I started out as a coach who didn’t even know I didn’t know, and was very green, and arrogant at times, but I stayed humble enough to know I constantly had to challenge myself to learn, and to be a loyal assistant, and to see as many things as I could, and the difference between types and styles of training. Philosophies. There are numerous ways to be successful at what you’re doing. What do you feel is the most successful program?

As an assistant, you don’t have a philosophy, because you don’t have a program, so it’s a challenge to go back and make the notes and toil in obscurity to find out how you’d do it if you were writing the program. Keep pushing yourself to learn as much as possible, and challenge yourself to implement things, and keep an open mind. I would tell anyone out there who was trying to break into this field to be patient, to be persistent, to be humble, to be willing to learn and adapt, and understand that there are a lot of different ways to train and develop athletes. No system is perfect, and there’s something to be learned from every way of doing something. Take the best of what you find, and integrate that into your philosophy – and the things you don’t feel as confident about, you don’t incorporate. At the end of the day, when you get in front of the players, you’ve got to be a confident, credible resource to your athletes. You don’t control their playing time, so you need to be a mentor that provides them a service that can help them improve and achieve their goals, and then they’ll invest and buy in and believe in your program, and be willing to commit.

It takes a lot of humility to toil and do the blue collar jobs and earn the right to move up in the profession when a lot of people feel entitled to certain things, and might be more interested in what they can have, rather than what they want to be. I was very fortunate to be trained by mentors that instilled that in me and gave me opportunities to learn and grow and develop as a coach. At the end of the day, you’re still always going to be a loyal assistant to someone. Understanding the goal is more important than the role. I think that’s a huge lesson for any young coach to really be humble. You may think you know more than your boss, but he may have seen it done the way your suggestion entails and determined that he feels most confident doing it another way. I’m only looking to provide my program and my players with the best program and development possible, so therefore you have to go out and push yourself and challenge yourself, so my philosophy, if you will, is ever changing. It’s constantly under evaluation, trying to see what’s new or better out there.