“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” - Colin Powell 

I first want to preface this article by saying that I took over a new position at a new university this past June. This is in no way discrediting the previous staff (I hired all new positions), however. It is simply the way I feel you have to approach a new situation. When I arrived on campus, I had a checklist of things I wanted to do right away. Yet, as I was unloading my Prowlers® from the trunk of my SUV, I stepped back and made a list of what I needed to do instead…

1. Move the facility around

Any facility should always be set up for the way the staff can most efficiently and safely train their athletes. For me, I need space, I need simplicity, and I need it to be organized. In this particular instance, I also needed to make it mine. Therefore, we rearranged all of the racks, the dumbbells, and the GHRs a couple of times until we got it right, but it worked. Most importantly, I needed the facility to seem new to the athletes. This was a whole new staff, a whole new philosophy, and a whole new culture we were going to create. The last thing we needed was the room to look the same. If you want to start fresh, then give the space a new look.

2. Reach out and be organized

When you arrive, you must set up a layout for your introduction meeting for the sport coaches, the administration, and the teams (athletes).  Therefore, I sat down and planned out three different meetings:

The Administration
Any time you are meeting with your superiors, it’s a good idea to make them feel good about the facility and the space they have. You can set the wrong tone by walking into an office and demanding new and better equipment that you think you need to run your program. Instead, do a walk through and find at least three things that you think are solid—start your meeting with that. Once you make them feel as if you appreciate what they have, then ask for what you need, not what you want. Also, play it safe in terms of what you need. Then, as time passes and as you start to get along with more people, you can start to ask for what you want. Lastly, make a list of what you want for year two. Then make a list of what you need for year One. This will show some planning and stability on your part as well.

starting from scratch chad aichs coaching 050514

The Sport Coaches
Any time you meet with sport coaches, it would make sense to dictate the meeting as much as possible (and I don’t mean that in a negative light at all). From my experiences, you should come to the meetings with a plan of, "This is who I am, this is what I have done, and this is what I want to do in order to get your athletes in the best shape possible so that you can do your job." From there, the conversation is going to flow better and it will be a back-and-forth of what the plan will be. Don’t walk into a meeting and have no agenda. You will lose the battles and will look unprepared.

The Athletes
To me, this one is the easiest. If you are passionate, you will get them to buy in. I've always lived by the motto that “no one cares what you know until they know that you care.” All I do in this meeting is set the tone for the tangibles—what to wear, when to get here, how to follow the sheet, and how I run the operation. All of the intangible stuff will be taken care of by what our staff demands of them every day. If you are a "two," don’t expect your athletes to be a ten. You control the juice levels of the room, not them.

3. Train to combat last year’s injuries

The final meeting you need to have is with the sports medicine staff. I didn’t put this up above because I think you need this concept to be its own animal. You will work with the ATC staff day-in and day-out. You need to establish a great relationship, and you need them to feel comfortable with you. I have always been lucky to work with great trainers who are/were invested 100% in the student athletes. Also, your first meeting should be about injuries from last year—who is post-op and how far, the protocol on daily/weekly injury reports, and your plan/ideas on how to combat injury issues from the year before. Remember, the greatest trait in all of sports is availability—be available to lift, run, practice, and play games. If you aren’t available to get better through the process, then you won’t be better when it comes time to play games.david tate coach start from scratch 050514

4. Create and revamp your teaching progression

After being at the same place for seven years and running a version of the same program with the same principles, the teaching time and progression became limited to a small group of newcomers each year. However, when you start over, you are the newcomer and everyone has to get on your page. Therefore, you need to restart your teaching protocol for all of the athletes. This may seem tedious, but it is a no-brainer.  Technique is always a staple of our program, and a technique-driven intro program allows for you to be super-strict on form from day one. Plus, it allows you to get back to the fundamentals as a coach and get good at what really matters—the basics.

We devoted a week to teaching all of our main movements. We then followed this with a high set/low rep work capacity week where we could focus on the setup and the finish of each exercise over and over again. On week three, we took our pre-test numbers to construct our periodized training program. This was standard across the board regardless of the team. Also, in the summer, we lumped all of the freshmen together regardless of their sport for those first three weeks. This way the entire staff got to know the entire freshman group. This will pay dividends down the line as those freshman become juniors and seniors and each coach has some type of relationship with each athlete.

5. Create a new culture

This entails a number of things, but when I first took this job, I was talking to a friend of mine who is also a head strength coach and he hit the nail on the head with what I wanted to do. The quote goes something like, “I will not become them; they will become me.”  Here are the steps we took to create our culture.

Control everything
One of my strengths (or faults depending on how you look at it) is that I have to control all aspects of the workouts. I give the athlete every weight he will use, I have the staff set up the room for flow before we start (the athletes break it down), and I time every set and start every set on a whistle. It is my feeling that I was hired to coach these players through all aspects of training—not just to be a facilitator. This also stresses the fact that time is important, and the one to two hours that you are with the strength staff will be thought and planned out to the minute. This also doesn’t allow the athletes to go through the motions, and it adds a level of stress to the situation. I have never been a “grab your card and go” type of coach, and I feel this is a necessity when you are laying the foundation of the program.

matt rhodes starting from scratch coach bench 050514

Create a baseline testing protocol
In order to run a program that is “consistent” for everyone, you need to create some type of baseline testing protocol. I approached this by principles, not by exercises. This allowed all my teams to follow a testing system without necessarily doing the same tests. Our thought on this was that we didn't know the training age or capability of any of these athletes, so to try to force a test down their throats would be irresponsible. This is what we came up with:

  1. Movement Screen: We use the FMS. It works for us and allows us to use the cross-sectional scores of the team to program corrective exercises for the entire group population.
  2. Power: This is up to the discretion of the coach. It could be an Olympic lift, a jump, or a throw, depending on the sport and their level of competence with the movement.
  3. Lower Body Strength: We chose the front squat across the board as our prime lower body evaluator since 1) it’s easy to teach, 2) it’s easy to “miss”, and 3) it’s a safe lift that we can program and load.
  4. Upper Body Strength: It is mandatory to test a pull and a push. We have made a conscious effort to emphasize a pulling movement not only to gain muscle mass in the upper back but to also balance the shoulder and prevent injuries. This could be a vertical or horizontal pull, as well as a horizontal press of any kind as long as you are consistent throughout the training season. (i.e., don’t pre-test max rep push-ups and post-test 1RM bench press. Be accountable to your pre-test).
  5. Acceleration: 10-yard dash
  6. Change of Direction: Pro shuttle
  7. Energy System: Some type of conditioning test relevant to the sport

Enforce attention to detail
Whenever you transition to a new position, you need to get your athletes to focus on the little things.  After all, the big picture is the sum of all the little things. It is a staple of our program to stress attention to detail. I made a point to add accountability to every aspect of the program—pausing reps in the weight room, picking up and putting down tennis balls on agility drills, timing every rep of conditioning, adding commands and standards to all drills (where you touch and with what hand), and repeating reps until they were done the right way. You won’t be a fan favorite when you start this way, but once you get the system down, your athletes will love the structure.

smitley edwards coaching program from scratch 050514

Program to make the athletes strong
To me, no matter the athletic endeavor, a stronger version of a given athlete is a better version of that athlete. I am also a true believer in the fact that if you don’t have general strength, then you can’t even think about specific strength, let alone power. We made a conscious effort to have strength be our emphasis. Whether it was in the weight room or on the field doing speed work, our drills needed to be resisted. With a proper progression, attention to detail, and strength as an emphasis, we could make the most gains in the shortest period of time.

Avoid the fluff
This field is so full of fluff it’s ridiculous. When you start over, it’s an opportunity to throw out what isn’t important and what isn’t directly getting your athletes better. Step back and ask, “what is this doing to get our players better?” If you can’t answer it in one second, chuck it and add in what makes sense. Just remember that you already got the job. The way to impress people now is by caring, grinding, holding athletes accountable, and getting results—not by how “cool” the exercises you do are.

Practice what you preach
It’s always been a rule of mine to never give a team a workout that I haven’t done myself. Well, now that I'm in my mid-30's, I feel like I can still get after it because I have lived what I tell others to do. We try everything out before we give it to the athletes. This allows us to get a better understanding of what our athletes are going through, and in turn, it allows the players to see that we can still do what they do and we get credibility. I have always found that when you walk the walk, your talk is heard a little clearer than the coaches who are no longer under the bar.

Make everything competitive
We created a competition day right off the bat to get these athletes going. Our setup was a little different because we didn’t know any of the players. Therefore, we didn’t do a “team” setup like I had done in the past. Instead, we made an individual competition based on the ranking of the events. Each event was either for distance or for time, and each athlete got a score based on the order of his finish. For example, if you had 50 athletes, the top finisher got 49 points and the final finisher got zero points. This was posted each week and the final “events” were the pre-season testing week. We crowned the top two in each category champions (lineman, combo, and skill for football), and the reward was dinner and a t-shirt. We also made all of the agility drills competitive throughout the week. In this case, we paired up the reps by position and all of the drills were completed by picking up and putting down a tennis ball. Small tweaks like this allowed our effort level to go through the roof.

JL coaching starting from scratch 050514

Be consistent
Without consistency, any culture will crumble. We made a point to coach the best ones the hardest and to hold everybody to the same standard. Without this, we would have had no shot of getting the athletes to buy in. We have a rule of never touching the line—touch past it. Everyone else touches the line, so here we are going to go the extra two inches every rep and touch past it. We made a point to repeat rep after rep until the athletes figured out that this is now how they would do things. For this, I was the designated line guy, and I focused on the seniors first—it is their team, and they were going to be held the most accountable right off the bat.

Realize the inevitable
If you do your job right, at some point they are all going to hate you, but at that time they still need to respect you. I have always had the mindset of doing the little things right, holding athletes accountable, setting expectations, and keeping the sport coaches goal in mind during the training phases. If you do all of these things, the student athletes will not like you at some point. No one likes the repercussions of constructive criticism, repeating reps, black-and-white rules, and being held to a high standard. However, at the end of the day, they will all be appreciative that you cared enough to be hard on them. If you don’t do this, or if you don’t want to do this, then you will never be successful. Your athletes might like you, but your ship will sink, and that’s a fact.