Since I enlisted in the U.S. Army, I’ve wanted to be a coach. My drive is directly related to my high school experiences as a student athlete and the positive impact one person can have on another individual. I have to thank George Hamblin for the years of instruction and motivation that he provided. During those four years on the wrestling mat, I learned more about dealing with adversity and challenges than at any other time.

Fast forward eight years—I applied to a strength and conditioning coach position at a local high school, and surprisingly, I was selected. My dream of becoming a coach and working with athletes was starting to come true. During the initial month of employment, I worked with the strength and conditioning committee to complete the school’s set and rep system and connect to coaches in relation to injuries and sport-specific auxiliary lifts.

During my first week as a strength coach, several key issues came up in relation to furthering my employment. The biggest one was informing the committee of the various lifts that exist for every athlete and team. I listed five alternate exercises for each main lift and explained that a rotation of the lifts will help prevent injury and incorporate other support muscles during the lifts, thus teaching the athlete to use the body as a unit through various movements.

There’s a time to speak.

During several meetings, coaches easily confused sport-specific training with general fitness training. As a strength coach, I reminded them that four sets of ten is not the best way to get your kids ready for every sport. Also, you can’t expect every athlete to perform a given lift as well as his or her classmates. As a coach, my job is to teach, motivate, and educate. I teach kids how to lift properly and safely. I educate the athletes and coaches about performance training, flexibility, and progression concepts in relation to their training. Motivation is what I use to get the most effort for each lift.

By keeping the coaches and athletes on track in relation to training and progress, I’m able to help the coaches understand various training concepts. This can be as easy as detailing the need for stretching or explaining that the core consists of more than the abdominals. More pressing matters can include progression training, lift variations, and the understanding of lifting speed and force production.

There’s a time to shut the hell up.

As a newly hired coach, there is a bit of dissention in relation to what I bring and how I handle the system. Some coaches are great to talk to, and they’re interested and motivated that I’m there. Then, there are some who just don’t like or understand what I do. I have to accept that not everyone is going to like me. I also have to communicate that the issues presented aren’t unique to a single coach or sport. However, there is a time to talk with a coach and a time to let a coach vent.

A good example of this was the first official meeting with the coaching staff. I presented the new program to the coaches. The questions ran the gamut of “what times are training?” to “why us and why now?” I answered the questions in relation to the presentation and kept from entering into any kind of debate in front of 60 strangers meeting me for the first time.

As a first time coach, I know that my philosophy and training principles are seen as a confrontation to what has been done and is a major point of conflict. Instead of standing there trying to force 60 people to accept what I want to do, the best approach is to utilize what they want to do and slowly introduce new concepts and principles. This allows me to share my programming and gain support as the coaches, athletes, and parents see the progress.

Although not particularly interesting, these first experiences as a strength coach will help me to forge a successful and promising future over the coming years.

Week Two
As a strength coach, my job is to help improve an athlete’s ability to perform on the field. This is done through a variety of resistance exercises and flexibility training as well as energy system conditioning and agility drills to improve force production and reaction time.

I initiated a four-week strength camp to allow the student athletes and coaches an opportunity to meet me and see me in action. The two primary reasons behind this mini-camp were to get the athletes to understand how and what to expect from me in the coming year and to evaluate the room’s current set up and determine what and how to implement the program in a safe, effective, and efficient manner. Here’s a brief recap of what I experienced over the course of the first two weeks.

To begin, I anticipated a rather large grouping of athletes for the four-week camp. But that wasn’t the case. I did get to work with a variety of male and female athletes all ranging in age, lifting experience, and sport. This allowed me to gauge my ability to coach a wide range of athletes and make sure the progression is appropriate for the sport and the athlete.

This led to several interesting observations:

·          Student athletes listen to you.

·          Stretching the hips isn’t adequately addressed.

·          As a coach, you don’t need to yell to get the best effort from your athletes.

·          Student athletes need down time to be kids.

From these observations, the last one is the most important. There is way too much emphasis on off-season development. Although the need to develop for the game is important, kids need to be kids. Vacations, family commitments, and other things are going to come up. As a coach, it might not happen at the most opportune moment, but that doesn’t mean it should be postponed. Again, there needs to be a balance. High school athletes will find out about sacrifice soon enough.

The best observation is the first one. The athletes will listen and rarely will they give you issues in terms of the training or the day’s programming. The kids want to perform and want to get better. The only challenge is getting the best effort on every rep and set. Sometimes athletes want to hold back because they feel like there is going to be more if they get done early. My personal philosophy is that as long as I get the best effort from the athletes during the session, it doesn’t matter if it takes two hours or 30 minutes.

The most important correction is getting the hips to be open and flexible. For athletes, hips are the fundamental source of movement, stability, force production, and force transfer. However, the hips aren’t directly stretched or prepared in terms of lifting. I plan to change this with dynamic and functional movements to help improve hip function and flexibility.

This has been a busy two weeks, and I anticipate getting even busier as the school year begins and the fall athletic season ramps up.

Week Three
As I approach the third week of summer conditioning, there are a number of surprises that I have encountered over the past week. To begin, the athletes I’ve worked with are starting to “get it.” By getting it, I mean the kids understand that my job is to get them stronger and to assist them in performing better. I will push them to work hard, and as long as they give me 100 percent during the session, I won’t get upset. On the negative side, I only have one week left with them and then I get to start working with all teams and coaches as the school year gets ready to start. This could very well mean a loss in the progress that has been made so far.

My biggest asset as a new coach has been the ability to explain to the coaches that strength and conditioning isn’t simply about lifting heavier and heavier weights. Speed, flexibility, coordination, agility, and response time as well as lateral and horizontal movement are all various complexes within a strength and conditioning program. To focus on one component (i.e. strength) limits the athletic capacity of the players. To ignore flexibility correlates to a loss of movement and reaction time while also increasing injury risk.

I explained that I want strong kids but not at the expense of speed and power. I would rather have a squad of female volleyball players that can squat 205 pounds for five reps in ten seconds that a squad that can squat 315 pounds one time in ten seconds. Force generation is a key concept in relation to player development and athleticism. This seems to be overlooked quite regularly in relation to high school kids and strength training.

As I continue down this path, I see a number of issues that will develop, but I’m not overwhelmed with any of them. I actually look forward to proving myself as a professional and developing a solid foundation to build a quality program.