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University of Northern Iowa S&C - Coach Jed Smith Q&A - IUSCA Advisory Board Member

What are your philosophies for athlete development?

Our main philosophy is to use empirical evidence to guide our training methodologies. Our hierarchy of empirical evidence would be the following: 1st, what does peer reviewed research tell us; 2nd, what can we observe from time tested, best practices of programming, used in the most successful internationally recognized sport organizations; 3rd, what have we done here that has had duplicated success over multiple periods of implementation.

Do you train athletes differently in the university setting, than you would if they were full-time professionals?

In an athlete’s career, there are many phases in their development. Each stage should be treated differently. The collegiate athlete is a wonderful stage for their development and the athlete is trained much differently as they are primed to develop high level strength and speed. The collegiate athlete will range from 17 years old to 23 years old. More advancements in strength and power can occur here than earlier periods of their development. At this level, we develop the athlete to the level of a professional athlete. It is the most exciting time for athlete development.

Can you give an example of your S&C programming for a year/over 4 years?

In an athletes first year, they will learn the following: Olympic Weightlifting techniques and teaching progressions towards doing the full competition lifts as well as assistance exercises to develop general strength levels. Athletes will learn jumping mechanics, landing mechanics, change of direction mechanics as well as sprint mechanics. Depending on the sport, rep and set selections will vary as well as assistance exercise selection. Each athlete will go through specified meso-cycles throughout a year. These will vary based on sport as well as stages of development. Programming can be fluid based on the needs and demands placed on the athlete by their sport coaches.

How do you develop coaches and interns? What are important factors for you? 

We feel we have a special and unique system here at UNI to develop our interns and coaches. First of all, we like to get our interns and our graduate students working hands on. Twice a year, we typically start out the beginning of a training phase with having our interns and assistant coaches go through a few days of in-service training. Here, we go through and teach the coaches the techniques we are going to be using as well as go over upcoming programming. We will point out the deficiencies of the movements, the fixes, coaching cues, etc. We invited the interns to jump in and start coaching with us right away. From there on out, once a week, we will provide professional development sessions. In these sessions, we go over current trends in training, new innovations, bring in guest speakers, etc. Our program is also unique in the fact that our strength and conditioning staff are also instructors in our exercise science department. Therefore, many of our students will be taking courses from our full-time strength coaches. The top interns and top graduate students, once they have proven themselves, will get more latitude to coach and design programs for our athletes.

What should young coaches do who are looking to get into the collegiate S&C profession?

First and foremost is unassisted initiative and work ethic. I had a mentor once say “My philosophy on hiring is simple, if I need to tell you what to do, what do I need you for?” Strength and Conditioning entails a lot of work outside of the act of coaching. Facilities need to be taken care of, upgraded, sanitized, etc. Equipment needs to be moved, set up, taken down, stowed, etc. Data needs to be analyzed, athletes need to be monitored, and things need to be very organized. There is really no dead time. If someone wants to impress, the first thing they need to do is think of what needs to be done and do it without being asked. Constantly move to make the environment you are in better. If you are always looking to make the day of those who are your superiors easier, they are going to love you and you will find work easily.

What threats are there to the university S&C profession? 

The number one threat right now is the current trend of “Generation Z” not using traditional routes for higher education. Currently, the economy is doing very well and trade jobs are paying very high salaries. Combine this with the fact that online education has grown exponentially. Another layer to this problem is that University tuition rates skyrocketed for the previous generation. This has led to a severe drop in higher education enrollment in the United States. This is not only a threat to the field of Strength and Conditioning, but a threat to higher education institutions all over the US. With this current climate, there will be less positions available in the future as less and less resources will be available. The balance for this will be the rapid rise of the need for tactical strength and conditioning coaches as well as the rapid evolution taking place in American high schools with high school strength and conditioning positions taking on full-time status.

Who should manage/supervise the S&C/Performance department? Who should carry out audits and reviews?

High Performance Directors should be the supervisors of S&C departments. What is a High Performance Director? A high level professional in the eclectic resources that surround an athlete which allow them to reach elite levels in their performance. The trend in high performance directors has been to hire veteran strength and conditioning coaches, coaches who have been in the profession for 20 years or more. Why? Because strength and conditioning coaches over a 20 year period typically learn about sports nutrition, sports psychology, practice and training organization, periodization, athlete monitoring, rehabilitation and pre-habilitation tactics, recovery methods, mobility and flexibility methods, motivational strategies, they become networked in the medical community, problem solving, resourcefulness, and they develop an ability to work with a wide variety of personalities. Therefore, the next phase of a strength and conditioning coach’s career is logically a high performance director.


Why not give the University of Northern Iowa Strength & Conditioning Department a follow on twitter to have a closer look at how the UNI Panthers run their program



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