At this point of the year, everyone is back on campus and getting after it. I have always loved this time of year (except for spring ball, which always seems to get in the way of a great training cycle) because it is time for a fresh start. You are starting to build the foundation for the upcoming year’s team. It is a time to start looking for leaders. Seniors are gone and younger guys don’t know where to turn, who to look to, or if they should lead themselves. This is a great opportunity for you as the strength coach to step in and provide the leadership and culture to propel your team forward. You know these players well; you know what pushes them, you know their strengths, and you know their weaknesses. You don’t have to worry about a bunch of freshmen or new guys to teach everything to because you have already given these guys a strong, established baseline to build on. Your numbers are also down, so it gives you and your staff more “personal” time with your players, which serves as another great avenue to build the relationships you need to be successful.

RECENT: 21 Again: Reflecting on Lessons from Over Two Decades as a Strength Coach

I really feel this is an important time. It can make or break your culture, and it affects everything you are going to do in the upcoming year. I think in terms of establishing culture, it is more important than the summer training cycle. I know, I know — "all teams are forged in the summer." But if your team has not learned all of the important factors and traits that lead to success in the fall before the summer workouts begin, it will not matter what you do. You will be who you are. If your team is undisciplined, not accountable, or lacks attention to detail now, how is it going to change by the time summer comes around?

bench press DB

I know I made the mistake as a young strength coach of putting all of my time and energy into designing the “perfect” summer workout program. I am not kidding — about 99% of my planning went into that. That left me at one percent for the other 10 months. Not a smart way to begin a career, for sure. Thank God for living and learning, and for other strength coaches who helped me along the way.

This is all about the big picture and building a program for the long run. Mark my words: if you establish your culture in the spring every year, by year two or three you will be cooking with gas and firing on all cylinders. All the intangibles will be embedded in their DNA. They will be instilled in all of the younger players. Your summer will be about coaching and performance enhancement, not yelling at guys to touch the line or finish strong through drills. When you have a team that takes care of the little things, the big things will follow. Workouts will be more precise, effort will be placed on getting better, and the mindset will change from being a survivor to a competitor. That is the team I don’t want to face in the fall.

Now that I hopefully have shown you how important I feel this time is for team development, how do we get there? I have said before in numerous articles that there is more than one way to skin a cat. My way is my way because I believe in it. Your way is your way, and you will do it your way if you wholeheartedly believe in it. If you don’t believe in it 100% then it is not your way, and you should change it up until you do. You've got to believe in what you are doing and how you are doing it. It does not matter what you “think” all others may have to say about your or their programs — they have their doubts as well.

Okay, now I’m off the soapbox and am going to go over some of what we do in the spring. Last year we implemented a new schedule, which was probably the best one I have ever had. We are a young team and I felt we needed more development time with our players. After meeting with the coaching staff, they agreed, and we came up with this schedule. We have the players for about three weeks when they get back from Christmas break. We then go into spring ball and play our spring game the Thursday before spring break. When we get back we have them for the rest of the semester until May, followed by a short break, and then into the summer.

strength coach culture

So we have a short three-week window to establish all we can for the year. How do we do it in that short amount of time you ask? The answer: we put the fun in fundamentals. We lift three times per week and perform agility work, stations, and running twice per week. We go hard but keep it simple. We use basic big lifts in the weight room and may add a few new exercises, depending on team needs. These new exercises will address strengths, weaknesses, or just include the next step in their progression. No matter what, we hammer technique and execution, along with stamping out any bad habits.

We take the same approach with our conditioning, agility work, and speed work. We get them moving in all directions but keep the drills basic, easy to coach, and also easy to ramp up. The focus is on the little things. Right now is a great time to introduce baby steps in terms of speed work and being able to coach fewer athletes in a way that will be easy to build on after spring ball. I keep saying "easy," and with this I mean they know almost every drill we do, so they know how to execute them. They can then concentrate more on going hard and getting the most out of the drills instead of trying to figure out the drills.

Remember, no bad reps! This is a big part of our Friday Scorched Earth Stations. They are challenging physically and mentally, but the athletes are familiar with the drills and have to concentrate on finishing strong. We have instated a system where, if a player does not finish strong, a coach informs me and 30 seconds is then added to the duration of that period. In the first week we had a few stations go almost two minutes over, and last week it cut down dramatically because guys didn’t want their teammates to suffer. The little things lead to big rings, and that is what, why, and how we focus on that during the winter and spring. All the best.