Fall 2016 was my first year as a high school strength coach for Pope John High School in northern New Jersey. I have worked in the private sector for my entire career as a strength coach, but I learned there are huge differences between doing the same job in each world.
Like anyone entering a new position, there is a learning curve and I already have ideas for how I am going to do things differently next year based on my first year’s experience.
- Coaching a Team In-season Requires More Perspective
Coming from the private sector I mostly saw athletes in the off-season which meant my main focus was making improvement and gains in the athletes. My number one question that I would ask myself would be, “Did my athletes get stronger, faster, and will it carry over to a better season?”
Being with a team for an entire season is a totally different animal. In a sport like football the athletes take such a beating. I found myself constantly adjusting workouts to the individual athlete or having to switch on the fly because the athletes basically told me I literally can’t do that today. As a coach there is a fine line between knowing what is best and just being stubborn. At times I might have been a little bit stubborn and asked them to do things that they were not capable of. However, as the season went on I now realize that I need to listen to the athletes more about their level of fatigue. I find myself playing physical therapist quite a bit even though that is not my role. Luckily I also work in an incredible facility that hosts some great PT’s that I have learned a lot from. Precision Sports Performance in East Hanover is partnered with Provere physical therapy.
This year we took a handful of our athletes to the Precision facility the day after games for a recovery workout and treatment. The athletes who attended have raved about how much better they feel after a recovery session. This is quite a contrast to how I train athletes in their offseason when strength and speed improvements is the number one agenda.
- Modifying My Program as the Season Wears On
After the first few games I pushed them quite a bit. Now that we are down to the last few games and approaching playoff time it is mostly about keeping them healthy. We do a lot of mobility, some light running, lots of stretching and foam rolling, and light body weight work at low volume.
To be completely honest, I am really looking forward to being able to work with the team this off-season and to really dig in and start from scratch. Being a coach is always about learning and adapting. If you stop learning and are stuck in your ways the game will pass you by. Before I can get to the off-season we have a state championship to win!
- Adjusting My Coaching Style to the Team Setting
There is a big difference between working with 5 athletes at a time and 30 at a time. You have to really command attention and get your point across quickly. I learned that I can’t spend too much time talking because there will always be a few who lose focus. Instead I make a few key teaching points and then walk around and help individuals. Another big difference between the private sector and working with a team is that on a team you have a lot of different personalities. Some are workers and you need to talk to them about rest and recovery. Others need a kick in the butt to push him or her harder. I found that I don’t have a lot of time for individual coaching so I quickly need to find the pulse of the team and act accordingly.
A strength coach can’t just assign sets and reps to his or her athletes. The coach should also mandate the load as well. Anyone who has coached knows that a good coach can get his or her athletes to overpeform. When left to their own accord athletes might not get that extra push. Everything should be based off of a 1 rep. max and then the coach should assign a percentage of that max. The core exercises can be 1 rep max tested but for the ancillary exercise you can estimate using charts like this.
For the sake of this article let’s say that we are training a High School football team starting in the off-season. You would try to create different workouts based on positions but in a High School that is often tough to do. Players can switch positions quite often and many times their bodies are not developed enough to elicit much change in workouts types. Because you will be spending a lot of time on instruction in a High School setting it might be better off to create a uniform workout with the exception of the upper class-men who are more advanced in their training and have a clear position on the field.
On day number one I would test all my athletes in the squat, bench press, deadlift, and power clean. Of course this all depends on previous experience. If I felt a kid was not properly trained to perform these lifts then other precautions would have to be used. However, for athletic performance let’s assume that the athletes have experience and can safely perform the exercises given. If a kid is underdeveloped but has the lifting background then you could use a 3 rep. max to ensure safety. For example, in a High School setting before an off season program you 1 rep max test the Juniors and Seniors. However the freshman and Sophomores might not be able to handle the heavy loads and they could potentially injure themselves. For the younger kids you would have to separate them into trained and untrained. The untrained kids need to be taught biomechanics while the trained kids can proceed to testing.
The ancillary exercises that I had mentioned might be things like a bent over row or triceps extensions. These exercises don’t need to be tested and can be assigned a number of sets and reps with instructions of when to progress and when to back off. Remembering that not all training is linear. Sometimes a recovery workout is the best workout. If you continually increase the volume from week to week eventually gains will be compromised.
The further out from the season that lighter your 1 Rep max percentage can be. For example if you are in a 8 week macro-cycle and this is week 1 you might start at 60% of that 1 rep max. The athletes should do 10-15 reps with no more than 30 seconds recovery. Building up muscular endurance early on in the off-season will help the athletes to not burn out too quickly. In weeks 3-5 you can increase towards more of a strength workout. In a strength workout you would assign maybe 80-90% of the 1-rep. max. During this phase the athletes might do 6-8 reps for multiple sets with full recovery in between sets. In weeks 5-7 the athlete should adopt a power component to include lower reps. They might do 3-5 reps at 70-80% of the 1 rep. max with again full recovery in between sets. In the last week leading up to the season would be a good week to begin those recovery workouts that I previously mentioned. In this week the athletes would begin to perform their maintenance workouts. The intensity would decrease in order to prepare for the increased time spent with skill work in their respective coaches. This would also be a good time to add plenty of foam rolling and flexibility work to help the body recover fully.
As you can see that 1 rep max determined the loads of the exercises which determined the volume for each athlete. It is a vital factor to improve performance leading up to the season.
Tomorrow is the first day for teachers to report to school. I was asked by my department head to give a quick presentation on core training for students. There will be elementary teachers as well as the High School physical education teachers present. Here is what I came up with. I plan on handing this out and doing active demonstrations.
Core Training for physical education classes.
Perhaps you have heard of Core training but are not completely sure what it means. Maybe you heard it in a magazine or you heard it in a gym. Maybe some of your students use the term very loosely.
Before we learn what is “the core” let’s learn what it is not. Core is not a newer term for abs. While your students may use core and abs interchangeably they are not the same thing. The core is made up of a group of muscles that all work together to stabilize your body during movement. They allow for a seamless transition between your upper to lower body. The Core muscles are generally located in the middle of your body and mostly acting on your spine to help brace your body in an upright position. (Think good posture).
These muscles consist of:
Scapula movers ( group of muscles) to a lesser extent.
Hamstrings to a lesser extent
Traditional ab exercises involve the movement and contraction of the abdominal muscles by flexing and extending the lumbar spine to create tension. Think of a good old-fashioned sit up or crunch. While this might develop your “six pack abs” It leaves out most of those other muscles we just mentioned. Also, the lumbar spine is not meant to have a great deal of flexion and extension. This promotes a kyphotic spine position. Unless you want to look like Quasimodo then this is a bad thing.
A good portion of a core training program involves not mobility but stability. The ability of the core muscles to stabilize when gravity, our own movement, or external forces attempt to create imbalances. Think about a defensive lineman in football being blocked. While he is pushing and grabbing with his hands and arms it is really his hips, glutes, and abs which need to brace to prevent being pushed backwards. There is no abdominal contraction but instead a bracing of the transverse abdominal that initiates the athletic movement. In core training resisting force is equally as important as creating it.
How does core training help the non athlete or average person? Well all of those core muscles create a tight brace for you lower back. Think of an old-time corset. A strong core helps with posture which can prevent lower back pain and injuries. It can also help you with balance and coordination. This can come in handy whether you are swinging a golf club or you are doing chores around the house.
Core work for older kids: 7th – 12th grade
Some examples of exercises that work the core without any equipment:
Hands and toes
Forearms and toes
Incline or Decline
1 arm or leg on knees or toes
Single leg w/ isometric hold
Equipment that could be used for station work:
For younger kids: 2nd to 8th grade
Some tips to tell if a child has poor core strength:
1. poor posture in class
2. shifts in seat excessively
3. would rather lie down to watch TV then sit up
4. leans on hands a lot. (head or arms)
5. falls often. (balance issues)
Have kids walk on a line or tape. Heel to toe.. You can increase the difficulty by having them balance a bean bag on their head. You can also make the line curve rather then be straight. For added difficulty you can add more obstacles with instructions while still balancing a bean bag on their head. (Bend over and touch a cone) at certain points on the rope.
Crab walk races:
Chair Leg lifts:
Have students lift both legs and eventually legs and arms and perform a static hold. For added difficulty straighten arms and legs. Concentrate on staying “tall”
Single Leg balance:
Partner planks: 2 person or 4 person
Partner push ups: 2 person or 4 person
Try to engage kids to compete and make games / races wherever possible.