Equipping a High School Weight Room Without a Budget

TAGS: Tony Stewart, budget, weight room, equipment, high school

The idea for this article came about from a conversation I had through the Q&A with the Angry Coach. I’m in my second year as the physical education/strength coach at a high school in Iowa. I was previously a graduate assistant at Illinois State University where we had top notch equipment and a pretty large budget to deal with every year.

When I arrived at my current school, I knew right away that I would need to work on getting the room in the shape I needed it to be in to optimally train our kids. Within a year, I went through many different stages of funding proposals. The first offer I got was for $6000. I said thank you and used the money right away with a bigger picture in mind. With that money, I purchased medicine balls, bands, step hurdles, blast straps, foam rollers, weighted vests, and EliteFTS glute ham raises. As it stands today, I will have secured just under $200,000 for a total upgrade of our equipment. The best part about it is I have total control over what is purchased without question. Here’s how I was able to get there.

The foundation had already been laid. The school placed a huge premium on physical development prior to my hiring. That is what drew me to the job in the first place. Thanks to the head football coach’s initiative, the program had been implemented for the past 10 years. All athletes were required to lift as stated in the student-athlete handbook, but I soon realized that not all sport coaches were on board due to how the program was run. Strength training was for football players. My first order of business was to get every athlete and every coach believing that what we were doing wasn’t a good option for the athletes but an absolute necessity for the development of the kids and programs.

I got the kids believing first, and after that, the coaches were easy. They saw results in their kids’ performance. In my first summer, the non-football training group averaged 20–30 kids. This past summer, my second, we had over 90 non-football athletes in to train and averaged over 60 the entire summer, not including the freshmen, on the first day. Freshmen are a different animal and train on different days. We averaged 70 freshmen alone. These were great numbers for a school of under 1000 students at the 9–12 grade level. As any good coach knows, those are difficult numbers to deal with. I will be having more group times next year.

I soon realized that we had a very good athletic booster club. I knew the type of dollar figure I was aiming for and I had a plan for how to achieve that goal. I approached my athletic director, who was a huge supporter of me and the program, about meeting with the boosters. He told me that all business went through him to the boosters because the booster club didn’t want coaches coming to them asking for things all the time. In fact, no coach had been allowed to meet directly with the club. He told me to put together a $20,000 proposal. I did, but I also told him that it wasn’t nearly enough. After this scenario played out a few different times with slightly higher numbers, he got a little frustrated and told me to put together my dream weight room within the facility that was already provided (so no new “bricks and mortar”), keeping in mind that this may take 10 years to get done, if it got done at all.

While this was all going on, my boss had planted the seed with the booster club about what I had been proposing, and they finally agreed to let me address the group as a whole. My plan was to show the group, many of whom have children I work directly with, that new equipment was necessary for safety, efficiency, and optimal training potential. I also needed to convince them that their investment in my program was an investment in every athletic program that they support. The school had recently put in a world class soccer field and I mean world class. This field cost about $1,000,000 to install (much of the money came from a grant) and is natural grass. They also installed a new track and football playing field as well.

In my mind, I couldn’t understand why they would want to invest so much money in facilities, but ignore the most important facility by leaving the weight room in its current shape. Come to find out, I seemed to think it was more important to our programs than most of the boosters did. In fact, one night I spent three hours waiting for the group to come look at the condition of the facility. They never showed up. They were literally meeting down the hallway but got into an argument about the importance of the upgrades and sent one member down to tell me they weren’t going to take the tour. I was pretty pissed off about that.

After the first meeting with the club, I had convinced a few members that the investment would be worthwhile, but they were mostly men. I still had a number of mothers and skeptical fathers to convince that this investment was beneficial to their children. Over the next few months, I continued to plan, draw layouts of the floor, and decide what necessary components I felt I needed for the weight room. I met with the booster club at least four separate times. Each time I convinced more and more members that what I was proposing was necessary for their children’s safety first and foremost and secondarily their physical preparation and development. I was ultimately invited to a meeting with the strategic planning committee. This committee included the officers of the club and a few other members who put together the club’s long-term plans. After that meeting, I was convinced my approach was a success. They all agreed to push for the club to vote in my favor.

In the final meeting that I was invited to attend, the club met in the existing training facility. I was given the floor one more time to present why we needed this upgrade. I gave a tour of the facility, showed why current items were unsafe and outdated, and asked for their support in the program. The vote was unanimous to support my program. The only condition was that we would seek assistance from local grant opportunities to help in the funding. Within eight weeks, I had the first $60,000 of equipment installed and ready to go for our summer training session. We currently have grants written and out waiting for reply. Regardless of the outcome of those grants, we will be finishing the final $120–140,000 upgrades by summer. In fact, I’ve been finishing layouts and getting price quotes from a number of companies.

To gain financial support for your high school program, a few things need to happen. Run the program in such a way that every athlete feels he is missing out on opportunities if he isn’t a part of it. Make them believe that you’re the best coach in the area and you will train them properly. Convince the coaches of the same. Get the kids on board. Then convince whomever you need to convince that equipment upgrades are needed in order to ensure proper function and safety for their children. The last item I hammered home was that every athlete would touch this room. A football field is used at max 24–30 times a year depending on how many levels and games play there. A track is used in the spring. The only facility that is guaranteed to be used daily year round is a weight room. So an investment in the strength program is an investment in every program.

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