4 Strength & Conditioning Questions for a NCAA DII Coach

I recently had the pleasure of collaborating with a professor within the sport management department at my university to develop a strength and conditioning shadowing opportunity for sport management major students. The students shadowed me for one hour on two separate occasions and were tasked with asking me three questions based upon their interests or observations. Below were my in person responses to four questions I asked over the past few days. If you think these responses would provide value for young aspiring coaches please share this article.

How do you develop a strength and conditioning program for pole vault?

Of all the teams I work with at Kutztown, pole vault and bowling are the only two sports that I have no prior experience working with.

I watched a pole vault practice and looked at a number of slow motion videos on YouTube to see the actual mechanics and muscles used during each distinct phase of movement.

I then spoke with the coach. I explained to the coach that I had no direct experience working with pole vault athletes but I did have a general idea of the movements required to be successful in the sport. We decided that the end goal for each pole vault athlete is that they possess:

  1. High level of shoulder strength, mobility and stability
  2. High level of core strength and stability
  3. Strong, powerful lower body
  4. Strong, powerful lats and internal rotators

Lastly, I spoke with upperclassmen pole vault athletes that had considerable weight training experience. Again, I was honest- noted that I had yet to work with pole vault athletes before. I asked “what specific exercises within the gym do you think will add value to your program?” from these conversations I noted four to five exercises that were added to a three days per week pole vault strength training program.

To summarize:

  1. Direct contact with coach
  2. Perform needs analysis
  3. Develop program based on #1 and #2

What is your current warm-up and does it change depending on what teams you train?

The gym based warm-up consists of three components; 1) jumps 2) mobility exercises and 3) body weight exercises (small circuit). Two considerations for the warm-up was that it needed to be quick and easily remembered as the majority of my teams initiate their warm-ups on their own time. Below is the exact format of the gym based warm-up:

Jumps

Line Jumps- Forward

Line Jumps- Side to side

Line Jumps- Split feet forward and back

Line jumps- Cross in front, cross behind

 

Mobility

Step to Rotate x4 each side

Floor slides x10

 

Circuit

Push up

Jumping Jacks

Lunges

The circuit format is 8-6-4. This means that the athlete performs 8 push ups, then 8 jumping jacks and lastly 8 lunges (4 each side). These three exercises are repeated for rounds of 6 and lastly for rounds of 4.

The format of the warm-up may change depending on what team I train, the main movement for the day or perhaps even their playing schedule. On occasion I will have athletes substitute lunges with body weight squats on light training days. If I want to drop the total volume of training within a session that will start within the warm-up also. The 8-6-4 format can easily be replaced with 6-4-2 or even 4-2. This can reduce the total reps for each exercise from 18 reps to as low as 6 reps- a ⅔ reduction.

The method of push ups does change for individuals. Some athletes with very little training experience will perform modified push ups.   

I had a women’s lacrosse athlete ask why we do push ups ALL the time- including in the warm-up. My (honest) response “…because it is an easy way to sneak 18 push ups into your lift every single day”. As of last week they have performed close to 600 push ups this semester- and that is just within the warm-up. Not surprisingly, they have gotten very good at performing push ups!

What are two challenges you face when working with teams?

  1. Group size
  2. Ego

As the only strength and conditioning on staff I can work with group sizes ranging from 13 to up to 45-50 at a time. A larger group size can pose some problems within program design. For example- do I have enough dumbbells to cater for 15-20 people at once for dumbbell press, dumbbell row etc.

Here’s a couple of tips that I recommend if you must work with larger groups

  1. Stay on the perimeter of the room. From this vantage point you can see more people. As soon as you move to the center of the room you can only see half of the group at best- those to your right or those to your left. However, if you are stuck in the middle of the room:
  2. Use wall mirrors to your advantage. This was something I did not make use of for a long time within strength and conditioning. That was until my former boss pointed out how to maximize the use of mirrors within the weight room. For example- if you are critiquing an an athlete at a squat rack you can use the mirror to see him/her and also use the mirror to see behind you and athletes to your left and right that may be just out of peripheral vision
  3. Keep freshmen or inexperienced athletes together at a squat rack or bench close to the perimeter of the wall. This goes back to point number 1. Expect to have to coach freshmen hard- but in doing so do not give up your sight for the rest of the floor.
  4. Take an inventory check of all gym equipment. For me I know that I have 6 hexagonal bars for deadlift. As I typically program exercises in an A, B and C format I know that at most I can accommodate 18 athletes at one time for these movements. Knowing this, I knew that I would have to have two groups that would flip-flop once they completed their A, B, C movements.

 

For example

1a. Hexagonal bar deadlift

1b. Box squat

1c. Hip flexor stretch

 

2a. Dumbbell press

2b. Plyo push up

2c. Band pull-apart

In this format I could have 12 groups of 3 athletes. 6 groups perform 1a,b,c while the other 6 groups perform 2a,b,c. Group 1 moves to 2 and group 2 moves to 1. This is a simple format whereby 6 trap bars and easily serve 36 athletes in a short amount of time.  

Ego

There may be some athletes are not too keen on constructive criticism. This can hamper the learning process and overall long term training plan. I have found that explaining the reasoning behind comments or decisions helps to break down the barrier of ego.

A good example- I had a couple of athletes that were frustrated in the weight room some time ago as they “were not allowed to lift heavy during preseason”. I later learned that felt like they were getting weaker and that for them- the goal was to always lift heavy. This thought process or mindset likely came from a high school coach who might have believed the players were going soft if they started to lift light weights.

I was able to use this as an education opportunity. I explained that my goal was to contrast what they were doing at practice and that the training goals in the gym would change once demands of practice lessened. They were excited to learn that just two weeks later they were back to lifting “heavy” weights.     

 

What is something that most people don’t realize about your job?

There is a lot more desk work/administrative work to being a strength and conditioning coordinator than most people would realize.

For example, I’ve spent the past week putting together a Spring 2019 schedule for the weight room. To do this, I had to know all Spring practice game schedules and daily practice times for all varsity sports. In addition, I must know the class schedules for all student-athletes. Lastly, I needed to know the training preferences of each sport coach. Did they want to train twice per week or three times per week? Did they want to train in the AM or PM? Will I please every coach with the Spring 2019 schedule? No- but I’ll do the best that I can.

I’ve also become very good at MS Excel as I use Excel to create training templates, print work out cards, gym signs and store athlete data. VLOOKUP formulas, mastering tables, graphs and data validation settings have all made my job much more efficient. Without all the desk/administrative work my service to student-athletes would be hindered. The big takeaway; strength and conditioning coaches do more than just coach.