Questions and Answers for Strength Coaches

How do you handle teaching your athletes the policies and procedures of the weight room?

At the beginning of each year we meet with each team and discuss the policies and procedures for the weight room.  At this meeting we explain why we put our plates up facing out (for asthetics and tradition), why we load each end of each bar from the weight rack right next to it (for ease, comfort and safety), why we put our dumbbells up after each set (for safety) and finally, why we rack all of our plates after we finish training (so the weight room is ready for the next team).

At some point during the year we will have groups, teams and/or individuals that will “forget” to clean up after they have finished training.  We usually remind them by having them do extra sit –ups (one for every pound the coaches put up) or extra running (1 yard for every pound or one sprint for every bar/dumbbell).

This will quickly remind the seniors that it is important that we clean up and be responsible for ourselves and they will convey that message to the rest of the team.

It is usually very easy to get our athletes to clean up after themselves as they take great pride in our facility and enjoy the opportunity to train in a first class environment.  They also understand that in terms of time management it is important to have a place for every thing and everything in its place.  We are very up tempo in our training methods and the only way to be efficient in our set per minute giant sets is to have the room set up for easy traffic flow, optimal group size (no more than 30 – 35) and things where they belong.

How do I handle situations where the head coach or one of the position coaches takes time away from strength and conditioning for meetings, team building, etc.

Well, there are many factors to consider.  The chain of command is one.  If the head coach is responsible, as Bill Parcells told me, “Well, remember, it’s his team.” He/she can do what ever they choose to do, as in their opinion it is the most important thing for the team.  If it is one of the position coaches, then maybe it is being done without the head coach’s knowledge.  Consider the situation where the team arrives late and the schedule is such that the weight room and the strength coach are only available for the alloted time slot as another team is arriving shortly to begin their work out.  Coach the late team for the remaining time, then move on to the next team and begin to coach them when they arrive. Be aware of the late team finishing their training due to safety reasons, but do not slight the team that is on time.  Occasionally this will occur, but if it is chronic, make sure and communicate with the coach the impact the continued tardiness of the team will have on the ability of the staff to instruct their team. If the late team has a “higher priority” than the early team, then you have another problem altogether.

Some sport coaches have little or no regard for others times or needs.  What ever they are doing is so much more important and will take precedence over anything in your world.  I believe this is due to the mind set that the sport coach’s time and needs are much more important than anyone or anything else.  Or, the mindset that the strength coach’s needs or time is much less important than anything concerning the sport coach.  In this instance, you can rest assured the sport coach will have their team on time to a meeting with the Athletic Director or President, someone above them in the chain of command. Either way, the end result is that your needs, wants and concerns are of low priority.  Many times it is just poor time management on the part of the sport coach.  Whatever the reason, it is important that the strength coach remain professional and objective and not relay the frustration or blame to the athletes.  Coach the athletes when they show up, as long as the schedule permits and handle it later in a professional manner.

The real problem occurs when the sport coach does not have any regard or respect for your time and needs, yet still holds you accountable for their athletes.  I have been in situations where sport coaches have told the athlete they are not required to attend strength training sessions.  I have also experienced sport coaches not supporting the strength coach when an athlete is refusing to comply with the training program (shaving sets and reps) is coached hard (not cussed hard) and the athlete runs to the sport coach.  The sport coach then backs the athlete over the strength coach.  The sport coach’s twisted logic is that I can get a person to be the strength coach tomorrow, but I can’t go out and recruit another ________ (point guard, tailback, ace pitcher, hurdler, etc.) that can ___________  (play, run, jump, shoot, throw) like _________ (insert name).  I even had an athletic director put a track athlete back in the weight room with no punishment after the athlete was kicked out for missing over 6 workouts.  The message is clear, the athlete is more important than the strength coach.  The problem is compounded when the sport coach later grills you as to why ________ (name a player) is _________ (out of shape”, can’t bench 400 pounds, doesn’t look like or play) like ____________ (insert players name) or the guys/girls at ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­___________ (insert another team). When this happens, it is usually due to one of two factors.  Either the coach has suffered a bad loss, losses or season and it is going to be everyone’s fault but theirs, or they have just arrived and they want “my guy” to be the strength coach.  Either way, the situation is such that strength coaches are always going to be held responsible for the strength and fitness progress of the athletes and in many instances, be unable to hold the athlete’s accountable for their actions.  A classic conundrum that requires a very talented person with a special skill set to fulfill the role of strength and conditioning professional.  In order to surmount the problems inherent to the system, as well as get the results demanded by the competition requires diligence, creativity, personality, intelligence and passion.  The problem is, very few decision makers understand that strength coaching is a profession filled with quality individuals that do make a difference.

Question and Answer for Strength Coaches

How do you handle conflict resolution in your organization?

When an athlete and an assistant strength coach have a conflict it is usually due to poor communication.  Our rules are to be on time to train, work hard and communicate if you have a problem and together we will work it out.  This usually covers any and all disputes that crop up from time to time.  However, occasionally there is a situation that the system does not address and some type of intervention is needed.  At this time I will step in and mediate the situation.  Usually this will clear it up in a matter of minutes.  However, if I can find no common ground between the parties, then we will take it up the chain of command to an assistant or head coach.  This rarely occurs and is usually done when there is a pattern of conflict developing with this particular athlete and the strength coach and/or the weight room in general.

Having a clearly defined system of guidelines and rules explicitly communicated to frame acceptable behavior for all parties tends to negate the source of most conflicts.  If and when disputes occur, people skills go a long way in resolving the conflict.  Identifying and addressing the issues at the root of the conflict are paramount.  Offering up possible strategies to resolve the conflict and then all parties agreeing to a solution makes conflict resolution palatable to all.  There is no winner/loser, only solution centered strategies in order to refocus on the goal of training in order to prepare for the upcoming competition.

How do you indoctrinate newcomers to your philosophy and training program?

When our freshmen report to our university, we indoctrinate them to the strength and conditioning program

on the first full day of practice.   We give to each freshman and post in each locker a camp tip sheet

reminding them to drink water, salt their food, use the ice tubs, see the trainers (as needed), get a massage

(if needed), nap with their feet up, drink the electrolyte drinks, eat their fruits and vegetables and void clear

at least once each day.   During the orientation we warn them to never ingest a supplement without first

consulting a coach or trainer.  We remind them of the consequences of testing positive for a performance

enhancing drug (one calendar year).  Our rules (be on time, work hard and communicate if there is a

problem); our philosophy (train hard, eat right and rest/recover consistently); and our procedures (prevent

injury, sharpen their tools (speed, strength, power, flexibility and work capacity) and have fun) are

introduced as well.

We do not have a technique session with them at this time.  About ten days into camp

we have our first day of strength training.  At this time we pair two of our upper classmen with one of our

newcomers.  The veteran players indoctrinate our new players to our program.  Things like where the

workouts are, what the abbreviations mean and get signed out when you finish are introduced by our

veterans.  This allows our 6 member coaching staff to actually teach technique as we train.  Many times our

experienced players will also help with some of the basic technique instruction on many of the lifts.  I feel

it is better to coach on the run as many times the frosh will only remember 10% of what they hear and 20%

of what they see in any demonstration given by the strength staff.

How do you transition from in – season to off – season training?

At the end of the season, I have two general plans, depending upon the success of the season.  If we are in a bowl, then we are going to mimic a full year in a month.  After the Thanksgiving break, we will have a week of off – season, a week of summer, a week of camp and a game week.  Throughout the process the players usually organize voluntary 7 on 7 and team drills.  The first week will focus mainly on fitness and conditioning, the second week more on strength and power.  The third week is mainly football practice and in – season lifting.  The fourth week is usually at the bowl site and the focus is on the experience of the bowl and preparing to win.  The coaches are on the road recruiting, we have recruiting weekends, and finals are approaching so it is a very busy time for the entire organization.

If we are not involved in the post – season, then the second general template is implemented.  The players will be involved in a 5 day per week general strength and fitness program designed to lay the foundation for off – season, rehab any injuries and set the tone for the Christmas break training.  This is usually a time period of about 2 – 3 weeks.  At the end of this training phase, the team is given a workout that involves a lot of bodyweight exercises and some interval conditioning.  If a weight room is not available, then the entire program can be accomplished and the athlete can still maintain his fitness.  When the athlete returns from break, he will be held accountable for his level of fitness.  We accomplish this by testing twelve 110’s on 65 second turnover with a time of 19 – 17 – 15 for the big guys, the middle guys and the speed guys.  There is an extra 5 seconds recovery and we only do 12 rather than 16.  We also do 4 full leg circuits.  This is the leg circuit designed by Vern Gambetta and it is our leg strength, power and fitness test for fall camp.  It consists of 20 squats, 20 alternate lunges, 20 alternate step – ups, and 10 squat jumps.  This must be executed in 90 seconds with a two minute and thirty second recovery.  Only bodyweight is used.

During this time I visit with each and every coach concerning his guys and what he sees they need to improve on.  This helps a lot, but not in the way most people think it would.  In general, the position coaches tell me that each player either needs strength, power, fitness, body composition changes or some combination.  But what I get out of these meetings is I get to hear the position coaches talk about the personality of his player as well as how, why and what he is coached.  This is invaluable insight into where this player is in his career and enables me to preach his coaches sermon to him as we interact in the off – season program.  This help put me on the same page as the position coach and keeps the lines of communication open.

The Dash

I’ve seen death stare me in my own eyes?  

The way many of you cannot know,

I’ve seen death take others

But still left me here below.

I’ve heard many screams and many cried

But death refused to hear.

And in my life I’ve seen faces

filled with many a tear.

After death has come and gone

the tombstone still left for many to see.

It’s no more than a symbol of a persons memory.

I’ve seen my share of tombstones

But never took the time to truly read.

The meaning what’s behind there for all the others to see.

Under the person’s name

it read the date of birth, dash

and the date the person passed.

The more I think about the tombstone

the only important thing is the dash.

Yes, I see the name of the person

but that I might forget

And I also read the date of birth and death

But even that might not stick.

But thinking about the individual

In fact, I can’t help it but to remember the dash.

Because it represents a person’s life

and that will always last.

So when you begin to chart your life

Make sure you’re on a positive path.

Because people may forget your birth and death

but will never forget your dash.

-Alton Mayden Univ. of Notre Dame Football 1989