Three Things College Didn’t Teach Me
I invested a lot of time and money earning my bachelors in exercise science and masters in sports performance. Upon completing my education I was fortunate enough to immediately begin working with collegiate athletes in the weight room. I was confident in my knowledge of rep schemes, rest periods, anaerobic versus aerobic training, and things of the like. However, I soon learned that my education was just beginning. College books did a good job of covering the tangibles aspects of life, and exercise science classes did a good job of covering practical application of those tangible aspects; that is if the world was a perfect place.
I learned that life as a strength coach doesn’t always run as smoothly as it did in books and classes. In books there was always enough space to carry out the tasks, coaches always had enough equipment for the entire team, and the workouts could progress as planned because there was never any mention of people missing workouts for a variety of reasons. As I transitioned into the strength and conditioning coach for an entire high school athletic department, these unexpected problems only increased. Over two years later I still face these challenges but feel much more confident in overcoming these obstacles and want to share this article for any other coaches, both experienced and beginners, that may be facing similar problems.
Space and Equipment
Space is something that a coach always struggles with. Unless you are at working at major university space is something that every coach fights every day. A strength coach is no different. When writing down sample workouts in school you never had to account for space. The assignment was to write out the best workout plan that you could using the science and knowledge that we had. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works in real life. When I am sitting down to write programs I visualize our weight room in my head. I visualize the layout of the room, the flow of the room, how the athletes will move from station to station. More often than not I have to compromise and write a program that might not be number one on my wish list but a program that makes sense with the space that we have. The number one priority is the athlete’s safety and when space is limited that becomes a major focal point. You have to choose safety over everything else.
Depending on your resources available, equipment may be as much of a challenge as space on the list of problems you will face. While writing programs you have to be aware of the amount of equipment that you have. It may look good on paper, but if in reality you have a line of athletes waiting to use that piece of equipment then you may have to rethink the order of your exercises. I don’t use many different tools in my training. Mostly I utilize power racks and bars, as well as kettlebells, rings, and medicine balls. When I was first starting out I remember thinking that this workout looks awesome and couldn’t wait to see it in action. Then I proceeded to watch as athletes had to stand around and wait for certain equipment while another piece of equipment went unused. Over two years later, this is still a problem and some of it is just unavoidable. However, I use circuit training towards the end of the workout or whenever I want to use certain equipment or exercises that would be simply impossible to do alone. I will say that when using circuit training it is important to visualize the flow of the room to ensure that enough space is available to perform the exercises safely.
Inconsistency of athletes showing up to the weight room is almost a non-factor in college. In high school, it is a major problem that a strength coach must deal with. This isn’t because the athletes are skipping or that you have a badly run program, but high school students play other sports and may not have an off-season. They are also involved in clubs, or have jobs along with a million other reasons for not always being able to show up. This is a frustrating problem for a high school strength coach because there isn’t much you can do about it. I may be two months into our off-season football weightlifting program and four new kids decide that they want to try out for the team. It is my job to find a way to integrate them into the program in a safe manner.
For technical exercises, I start them off with kettlebells. So for example, I may have the new kid’s pound away with goblet squats and kettlebell deadlifts while the others are using the bar. It is also important to encourage new students to utilize open gym time to perfect technique and to be available during their busy schedules.
I run my high school programs similar to a college style where I have one hour time slots one after the other for teams to train so scheduling an open hour wasn’t as easy as it sounds. One thing that helps is that I work with every team in the school so if a multi-sport athlete is in-season for one sport he or she is at least in the weight room with me during the season and won’t be entirely de-trained when they start their next sport. There is no easy answer to this problem. You have to do the best you can to integrate the athletes that aren’t able to consistently attend in a safe manner.
Make It Enjoyable
Lastly, I want to talk about the atmosphere of the high school weight room. Creating a positive atmosphere was never covered in my five years of school. It is definitely something I’ve learned on the job and something that I think is undervalued by some coaches. The weight room should be enjoyable. That’s doesn’t mean you have to make it a recess or take out things the athletes dislike and replace them with exercises that they do. But if the athletes are dreading coming into the weight room that is a major problem. I have found that teams that enjoy the weight room will work harder than teams that don’t. I know, such a shock. But yes, I love the weight room and training. Yes, most football players love the weight room. But I work with every sport in the high school. I don’t have to be a genius to realize that the weight room isn’t the long distance runner’s favorite place. Or that the freshmen girls’ volleyball team may be intimidated by the weight room. Find ways to make it enjoyable, be creative. I create games and competitions that make it seem less like weight training. I pay attention to the attitude of the teams and I’ll be a little more creative with the teams I suspect don’t really want to be there. Crack a joke to the freshmen, let them know that even though they are there to do work they can still have an enjoyable time.
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