6 Biggest Mistakes Of The High School Strength Coach

   

After twenty plus years as a strength and conditioning coach, I have probably forgotten plenty. But one thing I do know is this, “I will always remember the mistakes.”

Most of us blessed enough to be in this profession are perfectionists and will not tolerate missteps and miscues when it comes to our programs and athletes. After all, that is our product and reputation on display every time we have a team in competition. 

Strength and conditioning has taught me a ton about myself and probably even more about people in general. Here are 6 lessons I have learned from my mistakes.

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1. Be up front and DO NOT sugarcoat things

When I am talking to a coach about a player and how he or she is progressing - or when I'm talking to an athlete about our lifting plan - it is easy for me to go down the rabbit hole of speaking in terms that high school coaches and students wouldn’t understand.

Then they leave feeling like they have wasted precious time, and their belief is backed up that strength coaches are crazy.

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Our peers in the schools where we coach may not catch on at first, but I am here to tell you that you cannot fool kids. Always remember this particular lesson—kids read through the BS!
 

2. Slow cook the process and do not hurry it, unless you want hurried results

One huge lesson I am constantly being reminded of boils down to working with new athletes.

Generally when we get new athletes, most are coming from programs that may or may not have lifted, and we find their form and technique aren’t up to par. Oftentimes, we would take that athlete and throw him/her right into the mix of what our program does after an introduction to Olympic lifting.

What happens is the athlete is left out in the cold, frustrated, and discouraged that they can’t understand what we do.

To combat that issue, my staff and I have developed what we call our “Raider Ways” introduction to weightlifting and conditioning. Many programs call it “Block Zero.” Whatever you wish to call it is fine. What we are looking for is content that builds a solid foundation for a kid new to lifting. Here's how it can look:

Level 1 main exercises

Front squat

  • Jerk grip on the bar
  • Feet slightly outside of hip width, toes pointed straight slightly opened
  • Chest upright, butt below parallel
  • Build great squat position as well as posterior and leg strength

Trap bar DL

  • Feet hip width
  • Chest up, back straight
  • Elbows locked, back straight
  • Squeeze gluteus/quads and retract shoulder blades at the top of the lift
  • Control bar down
  • Do not allow knees to cave in or feet to turn out

Front rack / oh lunges

  • Hand position on bar and grip
  • Elbow positions
  • Raise knee and cycle heal through butt
  • Back knee touches the floor, chest stays upright
  • Core stays engaged

DL + high hang pwr snatch

  • Hand placement
  • Feet hip width pointing straight
  • Starting position hips slightly higher than the knees, chest up back straight, elbows locked and rotated out, shoulders back
  • Pwr position slight bend in knee loading feet into the floor, arms in same position as start, and chest over the bar
  • Catch position feet shoulder width or slightly wider, ¼ squat position, and elbows locked overhead slightly behind the ears
  • Focuses should be on leg drive, jumping feet into catch position, hips back, and locking elbows overhead simultaneously as the feet stomp on floor

Dl + high hang pwr clean

  • Hand placement
  • Feet hip width pointing straight
  • Starting position hips slightly higher than the knees, chest up back straight, elbows locked and rotated out, shoulders back
  • Pwr position slight bend in knee loading feet into the floor, arms in same position as start, and chest over the bar
  • Catch position feet shoulder width or slightly wider, ¼ squat position, bar resting on collar bone, elbows pointing at the wall in front, and hands still have a grip on the bar
  • Focuses should be on leg drive, jumping feet into catch position, hips back, and driving elbows up simultaneously as the feet stomp on floor

Clean vertical

  • Hand placement
  • Begin in power position
  • Move bar down to shins bringing chest and shoulders over the bar and extending hips back, accelerate bar back to power position and jump into triple ext
  • Elbows stay straight and shoulders should shrug vertically
  • Feet come off the floor and do not jump forward

Snatch Vertical

  • Hand placement
  • Begin in power position
  • Move bar down to shins bringing chest and shoulders over the bar and extending hips back, accelerate bar back to power position and jump into triple ext
  • Elbows stay straight and shoulders should shrug vertically
  • Feet come off the floor and do not jump forward

Push press

  • Hand placement
  • Full grip on bar elbows up and out
  • Feet at hip width
  • Focus on loading the heal and pushing the hips back in your dip
  • Focuses should be on leg drive and finishing with full shoulder ext biceps even with the ear lobes

Aux

  • Horizontal / vertical strict pressing and pulling/ P.hams

Plyo jumps

  • Broad jumps
  • Vertical jumps
  • Box jumps
  • A-skip
  • Wall drill
  • Push-up starts

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3. Long workouts are not good for anything other than causing the strength coach heartburn

Remember you are working with kids. As strength coaches I think a lot of times we are so focused on driving home results and getting kids stronger, we actually lose sight of the demographic.

What I have come to realize—whether I was coaching in college or high school—is that kids are kids. The grade level really does not matter.

They are kids, and their attention spans are that of a gnat.

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It is important to program lifts and conditioning periods long enough to get the prescribed work in, yet short enough to maintain focus and intensity and reach the goal we need for that sport.

My mistake when I took my first strength coaching job was my lifts were too long and the attention to the details was not where I wanted it to be. The focus was not there, and they were not getting the strength gains and better speed I desired.

Here are some good examples:

Lift:

Power Snatch + Snatch – 4 x 2 + 2 x 60% (Snatch = 70% of Clean)

Jerk (set up safety bars) – 2 x 3 x 60%, 2 x 3 x 65% (Jerk = 85% of Clean)

Clean Pull 4 x 5 x 85%

Back Squat + Partner Hams – 8 x 60%, 6 x 65%, 6 x 3 x 70% + 5

Abs – 3 x 15 (HLR) + 30 sec. Plank

Neck – 1 x 10 x 4 Way Manual

Stretch – 2 x 10 Toe Touches

Lift:

Power Clean + Clean – 2 x 2 + 2 x 60%, 2 x 2 + 2 x 65%

Front Squat + RDL – 8 x 60%, 6 x 65%, 6 x 3 x 70% + 5 x 60% (FS = 85% of Squat, RDL = Squat)

Push Press + Pull Ups – 4 x 5 x 70% + 10

Close Grip DB Incline Bench + SA DB Row – 4 x 10 + 10 ea. Arm

Neck – 1 x 10 x 4 Way Manual

Abs – 3 x 30 sec. Plank + 15 sec. Right/Left Plank

Stretch – 2 x 10 toe Touches

Lift:

3 Position Clean – 3 x 1 ea. x 60%, 3 x 1 ea. x 65% (3 pos. = MT, BK, FL) + Pull Ups x 10

Power Jerk + Split Jerk – 2 x 2 + 1 x 60%, 2 x 2 + 1 x 65% (Jerk = 85% of Clean) (set up safety bars)

Overhead Lunges + SL DB RDL – 3 x 7 ea. Leg + 7 ea. Leg

Dead Lift – 4 x 5 x 90% (Use Clean Max) + 25 Push Ups + 25 Dips

Neck – 1 x 10 x 4 Way Manual

Abs – 3 x 15 – 20 HLR + 30 sec. Plank

Stretch – 2 x 10 Toe Touches

RELATED: 8 HARD-WON LESSONS OF THE HIGH SCHOOL STRENGTH COACH

4. The silent pat on the back is worth far more than a name mentioned in the paper

Everyone needs to hold on to this one. Please believe me when I say this: Yes, it really hurt me too. It isn’t about us . . . I know, it hurts! I was so devastated when I found out that my strength program did not get mentioned in the article in the newspaper or online sports publications after my athlete had a great night on the field or court. I honestly thought I was going to have to go to therapy. 

Yes, I have come to terms with it not being about me or the programs I build for my athletes. It is nice to be recognized and get the pat on the back, but when it is all said and done what we do is for:

  • Our athletes
  • The team on which they play
  • The school for which they play for

There are two compliments I love the best. Those that come from the head coach that are not seen. And the one that comes from the athlete who goes on to compete in college, and they tell you that the strength coach did not have to teach them anything. 

5. At the end of the day - the head coach of any team you work with has the final word

Being too stubborn is not a good way to keep your program in a positive light.

You can be the head strength coach at the best school in the world (like me). You can have every initial behind your last name. You may have written all types of studies for publications. But when that head coach speaks, you had better listen.

All that mentioned above does not mean a hill of beans when the HC speaks, if you are too stubborn to listen. I learned this the hard way, and it just about cost me a job.

We may be the head in the weight room - and that in and of itself should be respected by all as well - but when the head coach of a team comes in and asks you not to do something, you swallow your stubborn pride and you honor that coach’s wishes. 

6. Kids are hard to motivate sometimes, but coaches should never give up trying to motivate them to be great!

Motivating a kid that has been sitting in a classroom ALL DAY is sometimes the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. Sometimes we just do not know how to motivate students, and that is ok. We are strength coaches, and it is not our job to be a clinical psychologist (yes it is).

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As strength coaches, we are often around the athletes more than their actual coaches. Sometimes that means we are put into the position of being a brother, sister, mom, dad, or cousin. When I first got into this business I was told not to get close to the athletes and just lift them and do not speak about anything but lifting. I am here to tell you that is humanly IMPOSSIBLE, especially at the high school level.

Some kids like quotes. Others like t-shirts. Others just need a pat on the back. I often put quotes on the bulletin board in the locker room that are meant to motivate and sometimes that happens. Sometimes I get a laugh out of it, and sometimes nothing.

Some sources and examples for quotes are: pretty much anything by Coach Saban and those by most athletes past or present. The one that my athletes hear a lot from me is, “The easiest thing in life to be is average.” One that really got a lot of traction recently was, “Cupcakes are muffins that never stopped believing in miracles!” 

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Remember This

After 20+ years of being a strength and conditioning coach, I have learned that I have the best job in the world.

I get to work with great kids every day. And I get to do it at an awesome school that has blessed me with a great facility to train students for all sports in order to reach whatever goals they set for themselves. I also have a great staff that works with me, and they keep me out of trouble. The same holds true for the football staff and the family atmosphere that we truly have. We are a family!

About The Author

Dave Reynolds is a 20-year coaching veteran and Head Strength Coach @ The Baylor School in Tennessee.

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