I invested a lot of time and money earning my bachelor's degree in exercise science and master's degree 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 that sort.
However, I soon learned that my education was just beginning.
College books did a good job of covering the tangible aspects of life. And exercise science classes did a good job of covering practical application of those tangible aspects... that is, if the world were a perfect place...
I learned that life as a strength coach doesn’t always run as smoothly as it did in those books and classes. In those college books:
- There was always enough space to carry out the tasks.
- The coaches always had enough equipment for the entire team.
- The workouts could progress as planned because there was never any mention of people being sick or missing workouts for a variety of other reasons.
As I transitioned into being 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 them.
I wanted to share this article for any other coaches, both experienced and beginners, that may be facing similar problems. Here are 4 important things about being a strength coach that's not covered in college classes:
1. Never Enough Space
Space is something that a coach can never get enough of and always struggles with. Unless you are 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, we never had to account for space. The assignment was to simply write out the best workout plan that you could using the science and knowledge we had learned.
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, and 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 makes sense with the space we have.
The number one priority is the athlete’s safety. When space is limited, that becomes a major focal point. You have to choose safety over everything else.
2. Equipment Challenges
While writing programs, you have to be aware of the amount of equipment you have. It may look good on paper. But if in reality there is a line of three to four 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. And then I proceeded to watch as athletes had to stand around and wait for certain equipment - while another piece of equipment went unused.
Two years later, and this is still a problem from time to time. And some of it is just unavoidable. However, what I do use is circuit training towards the end of the workout or whenever I want to use certain equipment or exercises that would be simply impossible to just do alone. I will say that when using circuit training, visualizing the flow of the room is very important 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 bad program. In high school, students play other sports and may not even 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 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 kids 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 have also gotten better at scheduling times for those new kids to come into the weight room at an open time to work on technique and things they have to do to be integrated with the rest of the team. 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 me 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 - in a safe manner - the athletes that aren’t able to consistently attend.
4. Make It Enjoyable
Lastly, I want to talk about the atmosphere of the 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 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 teams that enjoy the weight room will work harder than teams that don’t. I know, such a shock.
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.
As always, thanks for reading and be sure to leave a comment and let me know some important things that you weren’t taught in school.