What are your philosophies for athlete development?
We want to be simple in our approach to athletic development to embody all aspects of athletic development. Our goal is to enhance athletic performance to help reduce the likelihood of athletic related injuries.
Our training philosophy to accomplish our goal entails three essential principles: train ground-based movements, multi-joint movements and three-dimensional movements. These three training staples ensure that our athletes are training appropriately for their sport or competition.
Digging deeper into our philosophy we have four keys to our philosophy:
Enhancing strength, speed, explosiveness, agility, mobility, metabolic conditioning needs, body composition, nutritional habits and recovery methods.
Core exercises are ground-based movements, training our athletes in the same position in which they compete. This teaches our student-athletes to apply force through the ground, increasing speed, power and strength.
Exercises are three-dimensional, meaning we train our athletes in all movement planes, especially in movement patterns they perform on the field while also teaching them to stabilize their musculature in all movement patterns.
Provide education and guidance in performance nutrition and active recovery methods
Lastly, we train movements, not muscles. All movement patterns involve multiple joints because athletes move through multiple joints simultaneously while competing.
Reduction of Injury Rates:
Healthy, strong muscle and joints decrease the risk of injury by allowing the muscle and joint to dissipate more force applied to it on a daily basis, as well as to speed up the recovery time needed for an injured student-athlete. I program injury reduction exercises for our student-athletes, targeting common areas of injury in specific sports.
Mental and Physical Toughness:
Dedication to the strength and conditioning program develops an individual’s accountability, discipline, focus, teamwork, maturity and competitiveness. All of which lead to an increased commitment toward team goals.
Improvements seen from our strength and conditioning program instill trust in ourselves and our teammates. It brings teams closer and allows teams to play at their highest potential.
Do you train athletes differently in the university setting, than you would if they were full-time professionals?
This isn’t a yes or no question. I would train the athlete regardless of status based on their athletic needs, training age, injury history, desired goals, time of competitive cycle, etc. This means I would create a personalized program for the athlete regardless of the level at which the athlete competes. I believe this is imperative when implementing any strength and conditioning program at any level.
Can you give an example of your S&C programming for a year/over 4 years?
I do not fall into one specific train of thought with strength and conditioning. I like to program holistically with the mindset that we are making great athletes that are proficient lifters (safe at all movements to the point where there is minimal injury risk to training). I like a variety of different training styles within my program to maximize my athlete’s genetic potential as I believe the different training stimuli at the appropriate time can lead to making a great durable and resilient athlete.
I also believe in slow cooking our athletes over duration of their time with us. We have tiered program for athletic development from the first day an athlete steps foot onto campus to the last day they spend with us. Freshman and other novice lifters will fall into our “Ground Zero” program day one. This runs about 2-4 weeks depending on the athlete and group. Ground zero is a very basic general physical preparedness. Athletes will go through our warmup continuously, drill great athletic positions, strengthen the hip gridle, and hammer great foundation movement patterns such as hinging, squatting, pressing, pulling and bracing all with body weight. All exercises are timed and tempoed.
Ground zero leads to our “Foundational” program. This program will last through the entire fall semester. It is linear program based on enhancing our foundation movements of hinging, squatting, pressing, pulling and bracing. We will start to slowly load movements in this phase while also tempoing exercises using a triphasic concept. Using a Front Squat as an example as it is a core lift for us our tempo progress looks like this: Wk1 (8:1:X:1); Wk2 (6:1:X:1); Wk3 & Wk4 (5:1:X:1); Wk5 & Wk6 (3:6:X:1); Wk7 & Wk8 (3:3:X:1); Wk9 (3:1:X:1) with a 6 rep APRE; Wk10 (3:1:X:1) with a 3 rep APRE; Wk11 (3:0:X:1) with a 6 rep APRE; Wk12 (3:0:X:1) with a 3 rep APRE. Again, we want our athletes to be proficient at the our core movements so to minimize the likelihood of injury when training. By tempoing the exercises and training the different phases of movement we can slow down the movement early on when the athlete is still learning and grooving the movement pattern into muscle memory without a high load.
Athletes will move from foundational to “Developmental” in the spring as well as some athletes that need to continue to improve movement patterns and a relative strength base. In this program we are still working on movement, but the goal is now geared at gaining size and a relative strength base by then of spring. Summer’s goal will be enhancing absolute strength. At this point in the program, athletes will be placed into several programs based on their strength numbers in core lifts or body weight to strength ratio in core lifts.
Athletes that display a strong strength base will move into our “Team” program. Spring’s goal is to primarily enhance absolute strength and the summer goal is to enhance a relative power base. Ideally this will be in the athlete’s sophomore offseason. After the team program we move into our “Advanced” program focused on primary enhancing a relative power to absolute power output and rate of force development. Ideally this would be an athlete’s junior offseason. Lastly athletes can movement our “Elite” program which is geared to primary enhance speed or their ability to rapidly and repeatedly develop force quickly. Ideally it would be a senior athlete that is going into their 5th year or graduate season.
Conditioning is a high priority in our program and is implemented year-round. It doesn’t matter how strong an athlete is if they fatigue, fundamentals go, and they are less effective and more prone to injury. We want to continually increase workloads to eventually match game workloads as well as condition in ways that are similar to the sport. We also place a high value on speed, agility and quickness training. We want great athletes therefore we want to develop great foundational athletic movements which they can move more effectively and efficiently out of.
In season training falls into two training programs outside of the foundation which freshman and novices are on. “High Mileage” or “Low Mileage”. Athletes on the high mileage program are taking most of the reps in games whereas low mileage athletes are role players or those that get no reps on gameday. We want to prime our athletes to be successful on gameday so high mileage athletes will have more mobility and light conditioning built in post gameday. Low mileage athletes will train harder at a higher volume with moderate conditioning. In season these programs vary weekly based on each athlete’s game involvement.
How do you develop coaches and interns? What are important factors for you?
Mentorship is the most important. This goes far beyond the X’s and O’s, mentorship is a servant leadership before, during and after the time I have with a coach or intern. Mentorship is physical, mental and emotional. If you come to think of it, developing coaches or interns is no different than athletes. You must build equal trust and respect for one another. This is constantly ongoing and ever evolving. If you neglect you job as mentor, the mentee may not be as responsive to you and it may take time again to get back to where you once were in your professional relationship.
I mentioned trust and this becomes imperative in the development of coach. I need to trust in myself that I have done a great job preparing a coach or intern to run whatever needs to coach. I have a system in place to gradually progress the role of intern or coach on the floor. Starting with explaining an exercise in front of the team, to leading a block of the lift, to running a warmup to taking over a whole workout. By letting the coach take over parts to the whole, they will gradually build confidence in themselves and know that I trust that can do the job as expected.
Other important factors are work ethic, accountable, responsible, reliable and self-starters. Coaching voice is a big factor, but this can be learned.
What should young coaches do who are looking to get into the collegiate S&C profession?
First off, research the field. My first homework assignment for any intern is to research 10 strength and conditioning professionals. I want to know their title, their work experience and timeline, their certifications, their education and their competitive involvement. This helps to put things into prospective quickly. While everyone’s path is different, there are some standards which most professionals in the field must meet. So to think you are going to skip the research step is naïve.
Once you research and you want to move forward with strength and conditioning, start reaching out to those who have done it before you. You may need specific base requirements like to be certified and have a degree in exercise science, but this are just pre-requisites. It’s a field of who knows you and what experience you have. Start putting yourself out there. Network by calling to talk to veteran coaches or visiting their school. Invest in networking. Once you build a relationship continue to build it up.
To go along with networking, experience is essential and far more desired than any educational degree or certification. Invest in experience. I see many young coaches wanting to get this cert or go back to school for this master’s program. Take that money and do volunteer internships. You will likely get to a point where someone will hire you to be a graduate assistant and pay for your masters degree or even better hire you full time and you can usually get a free masters through the university as well as other continuing educational certifications paid for. Experience and networking go hand in hand.
What threats are there to the university S&C profession?
From a governing standpoint we do not have one unified governing body over our field. It is wildly unregulated compared to other professions like athletic training or sports nutritionists. I’m not sure of the best answer to fix this problem but as the field grows and athletic performance continues to enhance, we need to unify to protect ourselves and the athletes we train.
Longevity is also a threat as you don’t see many strength and conditioning coaches retire as strength and conditioning coaches. Our profession is very physical and demanding and usually calls for younger spry individuals. This along with volatile environment of college athletics which leads to coaches going jobless with sometimes with one bad season. While it is what we sign up for it is a hard reality when you are out of a job for something that you have no control of.
Who should manage/supervise the S&C/Performance department? Who should carry out audits and reviews?
I’m not sure there is any one person that is qualified. I currently am supervised by our Deputy of Athletics Director who also oversees athletic training and equipment. He has been an athletic director at various levels but never a strength coach. He does a great job of trying to understand what is important or the big picture of our department to help us but never micromanages or oversteps his professional expertise.
I have been overseen directly by Athletic Directors both good and bad. I have been supervised by a sport coach. This experience was very good in my opinion. And I have been overseen but Athletic Training also very good experiences. I have also worked with administration, coaches and athletic trainers that are not always the best. At the end of the day, every situation is different, and I want to be supervised by someone that has a genuine care for me, has the big picture in mind and communicates at high level regardless of my opinion on the topic. These people can be found in many different capacities in an athletic department. It is the leader of the department’s job to identify these other leaders and put them positions to lead the greater good of the department. He is just one piece not the whole pie, having great leadership regardless of the individual’s background is all that matter to me.
Head over to Robert Morris Strength & Conditioning to find out more about the department and the practitioners that Robert Morris University has developed