I have the unique perspective of coaching at a collegiate level (15 years) and high school level (3 years). With this experience, I have worked with many young men who played or want to play at the collegiate level. One of the things that excited me about making the transition to the high school level was the ability to positively affect young men before they got to college.
I believe one of the most important parts of my job as a high school strength coach is this: making the jobs easier for the college strength coaches my athletes will eventually play for.
So in this article, I am going to talk about:
- Some things I saw year after year from incoming college freshmen
- Some things high school strength coaches can be doing to help prepare their kids for the next level
- Some tips that could be useful in developing communication between the high school and college strength coach
I had the privilege of coaching at the Division 1 level for almost 15 years and saw hundreds of freshmen walk in the weight rooms doors. Early in my career, the only thing the kids would go through would be the pre-participation physical. Movement screening wasn’t something I was familiar with in any way.
After a trip to the University of Iowa with Coach Chris Doyle, I began learning about (and I eventually developed) a screen that showed things I was looking for from my players. Later, I earned my TPI-Level 1 certification in which I learned their screen and corrective exercise system. After observing many new collegiate players this way, I have noticed a few things:
- About 75% players will have tight ankles
- The bigger the kid, the harder it is for him to hinge and bend at the hips
- Most kids will have weak abdominals
- Skill kids usually lack upper body pressing strength; big kids usually lack lower body pressing strength
- Conditioning levels are often lacking
1. Tight Ankles
The tightness in ankles is something I am seeing more and more with my high school athletes. I believe there are three reasons for this:
- Ankle braces inhibit the ankle to move through a natural range of motion
- The inactivity of today’s youth is a factor
- I believe the specialization of athletes at younger and younger ages limits overall physical development that used to be natural for most athletes
2. Hinge And Bend
Hinging and bending at the hips usually shows that a kid is more of a natural athlete, which is one of the reasons why skill athletes can perform this more easily. But I also believe bigger kids are not made to bend anymore.
At some of the schools I have coached at, it drove me nuts to see O-Linemen stay in a 2-point stance the entire game. Doing this gets the kids used to not bending. It limits them.
3. Weak Abs
As for weak abdominals - this is something I saw across the board with pretty much all athletes coming into college. Honestly, I attribute this more to the lack of handling heavy loads in the weight room rather than not doing a bunch of sit-ups, crunches, or bridging exercises.
By standing up and stabilizing heavy loads - whether it be with barbell on the back or shoulders, a heavy DB or KB - athletes must develop the postural musculature to stabilize themselves vertically. Doing this helps with absorbing collision and body control.
4. Lack Of Upper/Lower Body Pressing Strength
The kids who are weak in their pressing strength, in my opinion, had this issue just due to lack of work. Whether that be in weight room or the field, there is always a carry-over effect.
The skill guys usually would have decent relative lower body pressing strength because of the running and jumping they would do; the bigger guys usually wouldn’t do as much.
Let’s be honest, there are not too many people who truly love getting under a squat bar (I do, but I’m a little messed up). So if you are not squatting and not running or jumping a bunch, you will be weak.
Same thing goes for the skill guys in their upper bodies, usually they have not put the time into the weight room to get strong.
5. Poor Conditioning Levels
Finally, conditioning at the high school level and conditioning at the college level usually are two different animals. The tempo at the college level is often tremendously quicker and the volume signficantly higher, which leads to most kids struggling with conditioning.
When I was a college strength coach, I would honestly tell kids on their recruiting visits the #1 thing I wanted to see from them when they got the campus was for them to be in great shape. I didn’t care about the bench press, vertical jump, and 40yds because we were going to train all those things and develop them over time. However, if you are not in shape, it’s hard to train when you are bent over unable to move.
Tips for the High School Strength Coach
A lot of the practical things a high school strength coach can do to help prepare their kids for the college level I have already talked about. But the 3 most important things a high school strength coach can offer for getting their kids to the next level is consistency, discipline, and technique.
- Consistency is crucial for long term development. Kids need to lift during the fall, spring, and summer. Taking too much time off will only lead to a regression in strength & power capabilities... which will lead to a possible decrease in performance. I know some coaches are not big into lifting in-season, then I guess they are not big into winning either.
- Discipline is learning to do the thing you should be doing, even when you do not always want to. This is something in today’s society our young people seem to understand less and less. One of the great things about the weight room is the iron doesn’t lie - you must put the work in to get the result you want. You must be disciplined to be successful in the weight room.
- Technique is something every coach will struggle with at some point and time. Honestly, as hard as I hammer home technique, some kids still struggle. That does not mean I give up. We utilize an extensive list of movement progressions to coach our kids through, and we constantly coach technique.
Communication Between High School And College Coaches
Excellent communication between the high school strength coach and college strength coach can be very helpful to kids transitioning from a high school player to a college player.
Sometimes egos get involved (And I get that - we as coaches all have egos... this is an ego business; we all put a lot of time into our programs and are proud of them). But with good lines of communication, the college coach can understand the limitations of the high school coach. Just like the high school coach can understand wants and desires of the college coach.
The kid is most important thing. Athletes should impact what happens the most.
When a kid gets his college packet, I would contact the college strength coach by both email and phone. I would explain our class situation, how I am willing to integrate parts of his program, and how I will open the weight room at certain hours for his athlete to complete everything he wants.
Being flexible on both sides will lead to the kid having the best chance to be successful.
I hope this article has been helpful and enlightening for coaches at both the high school and college levels. As I said earlier, the better job the high school strength coach does, the easier job (hopefully) the college strength coach will have once he gets the athletes. I believe there are a million ways to skin a cat, and I believe we all can learn from each other...so if you have any opinions on this topic, feel free to sound off in the comments below.