The Development of a Multi-Year System of Training for Collegiate Football Players

TAGS: University of North Texas, sports mastery, North Texas Football Performance: The Development of a Multi-Year System of Training for Collegiate Football Players, Mean Green Physical Readiness Test, Frank Wintrich, Football Performance Training, training athletes, coaching

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote hangs on my office wall as a daily reminder to the dichotomy of our profession. Truly, there are countless methods to improve athlete performance. Ask 120 Division I football “Strength and Conditioning” coaches how to best train a football athlete, and you’ll likely get 120 varying, sometimes vastly, different answers. So, how do we make sense of it all? James Smith often writes that “many roads lead to Rome.” In other words, many different training means can provide a positive athletic result. Rather than try to convince you of what training means are best for you, I instead strive to give you the ability to make that decision, and in doing so, create a system of training that best fits your unique needs, utilizing a principle-based approach.

As you study this information, I encourage you to think outside the box. Don’t use a plan or training regime simply because XYZ University uses that program. Remember, no two situations are the same. Without truly knowing the intentions of the coach who designed the program, you have no business simply applying his/her methods to your program. Instead, develop your own system of training based on what works best for your kids, your team, your situation, your style of play, and your coaching style. Indeed, this takes a great deal more time and effort, but your athletes will be grateful, and in the long run, your results will speak volumes about your ability and character as a coach.

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the principles that guide the Football Performance Staff at the University of North Texas, specifically those principles that led to developing the multi-year system of training we refer to as the Progressive Athlete Development System (P.A.D.S.).

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Football Performance Training

Football Performance Training at the University of North Texas is a quadrennial, multi-lateral, student-athlete preparation program with the singular purpose of developing sport mastery in the game of collegiate football. At the University of North Texas we employ ten program principles:

  1. Safe
  2. Develop Sport Mastery
  3. Manage Fatigue
  4. Utilize Injury Prevention Protocols
  5. Intensive Instruction
  6. Variation within Simplicity
  7. Balanced Development
  8. Master Progressions
  9. Team
  10. Develop the “Mean Green” Warrior Mindset

Our program strives to enhance the performance of our athletes throughout the course of their four (sometimes five) year career by simultaneously managing multiple training traits, while also taking into account that our athletes are full-time students. Our athletes are preparing to compete in collegiate football, so we must develop and conduct their training appropriately. Sport Mastery is the ability to excel at one’s sport with the least expense of energy. When discussing our multi-lateral approach, we must train with the intent to develop the physical, psychological, technical, and tactical preparedness of the Mean Green football athlete.

I learned from studying Buddy Morris that throughout the multi-year training process, we must keep in mind that while everything works, nothing will work forever. All of our training programs by their very nature are flawed and incomplete. It is therefore necessary for us to ensure that we apply the optimal means of training at the appropriate time. While there are “many roads that lead to Rome,” and we can all agree that many training means are effective, it is essential for us as coaches to use sound judgment. Before programming any activity, we ask ourselves:

  • Is this safe?
  • Is this structurally (orthopedically) sound?
  • What are we accomplishing by doing this (what is the training effect)?
  • Do we understand the training means and what its residual effects are, and (most importantly) can we coach it?

To this end, we begin our training at all levels with a focus on fundamentals. Basic movement fundamentals lead to improved and more consistent performance. By teaching, emphasizing, and demanding proper movement patterns, our athletes become more technically proficient, mobile, and most importantly, healthy throughout training and competition.

 

 

 

Putting it all together

Proper programming is essential to the success of any athletic development regime. We always begin with simple movements and progress to more complex ones. It is important not to overestimate the ability of the athletes by being too complex too early. It is always possible to add to the training load once the training has started. However, it is impossible to take training away once it’s been executed. Throughout the different levels of training, our progressions are logical and based on long-term training goals. Therefore, changes and variations to the training load are based on the individual performance of the athlete. Remember, an increase in the training load does not necessarily mean more work. Quite the contrary, the better trained an athlete becomes, the less work is required of them to net a favorable training effect. Variations to the intensity, speed of movement, time under tension, accommodating resistance, body position, etc. can all make the movements more challenging and create continued positive adaptation.

The Plan

Thomas Kurz said that training is efficient if “the highest sports result is achieved with the least expense of time and energy.” We developed our multi-year system of training with this in mind. Our ultimate goal is to provide the appropriate training to the athlete at the appropriate time. We have broken our training up into five phases: Pre-Developmental, White Developmental, Green Developmental, Delta, and Elite.

Phase I - Pre-Developmental

Our Pre-Developmental group initiates our multi-year system of training with a battery of evaluations, including the Mean Green Physical Readiness Test. This battery of 20 movements is coupled with anthropometric assessments and our Field Testing Battery (vertical jump; broad jump; three hop; and sprints to 40, 33, 20, and 10 yards). This initial screening gives an outstanding baseline evaluation of all of our newcomers. Our Pre-Developmental program is a minimum of six weeks and consists of basic calisthenics, jumping, skipping, hopping, running, gymnastic strength exercises, and tumbling. This phase of the training is crucial as the athlete is required to consistently learn and demonstrate body control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During this program, we introduce our athletes to the concept of the “Mean Green Warrior Mindset,” have them commit to memory our Core Values and Core Beliefs, and indoctrinate the athletes into the North Texas training process. At the conclusion of the six-week program, athletes re-take the Mean Green Physical Readiness Test. Those who pass with a score of 90 percent or better graduate to the White Developmental group. Those who do not pass the test re-enter the Pre-Developmental training program for another six weeks.

Phase II - White Developmental (White Devel)

Our White Devel group continues with more advanced versions of our calisthenic and gymnastic movements that include higher volume, more time under tension, variations in body and limb position, and weighted and partner variations. During this time, we begin to implement single-limb dumbbell movements and non-weighted barbell techniques, including the bench press, squat, and pull from the deck. This program is four weeks in length and concludes with a technique evaluation of the primary barbell movements. If the athlete is able to demonstrate proper technique in the primary movements, they graduate to the Green Developmental group.

Phase III - Green Developmental (Green Devel)

The Green Devel program marks the beginning of training with significant external resistance. To this point, athletes have demonstrated their ability to move and control their bodies in space and have shown proficiency in the traditional barbell movements (albeit with the barbells unloaded). The program is designed utilizing a classic linear periodization model where one training trait is targeted at a time. Dave Tate said, “You can’t flex bone,” and this is typically the case with athletes when they first arrive in our program. In other words, they lack adequate muscular development. With this in mind, the initial training block of the Green Devel program focuses on developing muscle hypertrophy.

Our subsequent training blocks then focus on the development of maximal strength and power, respectively. The Green Devel program will cover the span of one training year and includes a performance test to evaluate a 5RM in the back squat and bench press along with the field testing battery. The overall training volume throughout this phase is high. Athletes who achieve a qualifying relative strength ratio for his position group, along with technical proficiency in the barbell movements, will graduate to the Delta group.

Phase IV - Delta

Athletes in the Delta group have spent a minimum of one training year in the Green Devel program, and they have demonstrated proficiency with the barbell movements. These athletes have shown adequate relative strength and require a more advanced means of training.

The Delta program is designed utilizing a concurrent approach where multiple training traits are developed simultaneously. With a solid muscular foundation built throughout the “developmental” training phases, our emphasis now changes to the development of absolute strength, strength-speed, and speed-strength. This is achieved through the use of the Max Effort Method and the Dynamic Effort Method. Dynamic effort movements are performed utilizing accommodating resistance in the form of chains.

During this time, volume training is still implemented since the athletes continue to develop and maintain a sound muscular foundation, but this is no longer the emphasis of the training regime. The overall training volume throughout the course of this phase is moderate. The Delta program covers the span of one training year and includes a Performance Evaluation of a 3RM in the back squat and bench press, along with the Field Testing Battery. Athletes who achieve qualifying relative strength scores and demonstrate outstanding technical proficiency in the barbell movements will have the privilege of graduating to the Elite group.

Phase V - Elite

Members of the Elite program represent our most powerful athletes and our most sound technicians in the weight room. They have spent a minimum of two years in the program and have qualified for advancement by demonstrating outstanding relative strength. Their training preparedness represents a need for an advanced means of development. Once athletes reach the Elite program, the quest for absolute strength maximums comes to an end. As an example, we have a 185-pound defensive back who is capable of back squatting 530 pounds. This represents his ability to move more than two times his body weight. The risk associated with trying to get him to a 535- or 540-pound squat is not worth the minimal reward this would net. Instead, we utilize more intensive means including advanced techniques like dynamic effort movements with chains, bands, and the shock and contrast method.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Due to the small and selective nature of this group, we are also able to more finely tune the individual training programs of each athlete. This is essential because as the athlete reaches a higher training age in his program, changes to his training variables must become that much more precise. We do this by allowing the athlete's preparedness to dictate his training load. Variations in volume and loading that fit the day’s desired training effect are presented to the athlete during the training session. As the session progresses, the coach and athlete communicate as to when the appropriate work load has been attained for that day.

Summary

We have created a definition and a list of guiding principles for our football performance program. We utilized these guides to help us demonstrate an example of a multi-year system of training for collegiate football players at the University of North Texas. Similar models can be adapted for any level, with the different programs being adjusted to fit the individual needs of the team. With great thought and great planning, training for your athletes will be optimized and outstanding results will be realized. I hope this article has inspired you to think critically about your training programs and to think outside the box when it comes to program design.

It would be inappropriate for me to claim what you are about to read as a creation strictly of my own design. I have been so very fortunate throughout my career to have been exposed to outstanding teachers, and the program presented here is a culmination of their influence. I give great thanks to Joe Kenn, Mark Uyeyama, Brady Holt, Vince Brodt, Jason Christus, Joey Hannant, Adam Feit, Donnell Boucher, Kevin Heiberger, Marc Hickok, Chris Ronald, and Dave Trevino for being great mentors. Buddy Morris, Tom Myslinski, James Smith, Louie, Dave Tate, Jim Wendler, and countless others have also provided guidance from afar and have been generous with their time and information. As always, I give great thanks to my athletes, both past and present. Without them, none of this is possible.

Photos courtesy of the University of North Texas

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