Freelap Friday Five with John Garrish
John Garrish is serving in his third year as the Director of Athletic Development & Performance at North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek, Florida, and his first as the school’s Head Track and Field Coach. A graduate of Wagner College and the University of North Texas, he is certified through the NSCA as a CSCS and through USAW as a Level-1 Sports Performance Coach. In addition to his role at North Broward, John serves as the Director of Athletic Performance with the Florida Rugby Union’s High Performance Program 7’s team and as a volunteer coach with Delray Beach Sports’ Exhibitors. Coach Garrish has spoken at state and national events and serves as the National High School Strength Coaches Association Regional Board Member for the Southeast.
Freelap USA: Your presentation at the National High School Strength Coaches Association Conference about medicine ball training was well received and very useful. For those that were not there, could you get into the details of setting up throws with teaching, as many coaches forget that “loading supports exploding” with this type of training.
John Garrish: I’m very lucky to have mentors that commit to the throws as a staple of their programming and commit equally as much to educating young coaches such as myself. I’m grateful for opportunities like the NHSSCA national conference to relay the information that’s been passed on to me or that I’ve stolen and made our own here at North Broward. More important to me though is the opportunity to thank and brag about the tremendous people who have “taken a chance on me,” as Ryan Horn puts it.
The happenings of my athletic career were a blessing in disguise. Having played football all of my life and hearing that an injury in college would be the last of my football career, I picked up track and field—in particular the throws—as a way to feed my competitive itch. Beyond the performance improvements that I experienced throughout my throwing career, I had never felt more powerful and frankly as well-wired kinesthetically. It seemed to me that there was something about the sequencing and projection of the throws that helped me in other athletic tasks.
Shortly thereafter, my athletic career ended, and I was lucky enough to intern under Frank Wintrich, who utilized various medicine ball throws included in his sprint, jump, and throw protocol. The combination of the experiences with my throws coaches, Pete Abbey and Brendon Kelso—who used medicine ball throws as a very specific tool for improving performance in the throws—and Frank—who used the medicine ball throws as a general tool to improve total body power and force production—was far more than I needed to confirm my belief that medicine ball throwing or, more importantly, object projection, is essential.
Because I’m a high school performance coach and my passion is the developmental athlete, this has caused me on to think outside the box in many situations. Or, more precisely, “before the box”: I think about what it will truly take for us to prepare our athletes, in the best way possible to get the most out of the program that we’ve lined up for them, and for what they can expect at the next level, no matter what or where that is.
What I found early on is that our student-athletes sequence their throws incorrectly and look “disconnected.” Additionally, I’d see them try to use their lumbar spine as the prime mover, or use their shoulders and distance their hips from the direction of the throw. To me, this seemed like a motor learning issue and our progression has been designed as such—we’re not necessarily periodizing and appropriating the volume of the throws around competition schedules, but instead learning how to throw and how to project an object.
Another common trend I’ve noticed is we don’t know how to appropriately load a throw. In the jumps we teach first how to land and/or load, and once we’re well-versed then, and only then, we’ll jump. The throws typically don’t have a “landing” or a catch, so we miss out on many force absorption opportunities and often have a difficult time of correctly coiling a throw. In my presentation, I used the quote, “you can’t shoot a gun you don’t know how to load,” and I believe this is true of the throws.
Freelap USA: High school strength and conditioning is trending towards having a full-time coach that is a professional, rather than athletes lifting on their own or a team coach performing dual tasks. Can you share how you manage workouts with TrainHeroic or similar software?
John Garrish: I sure hope so. This is the absolute best level to be at and, in my opinion, the most important level to have qualified strength and conditioning coaches. It’s our goal to see the day that every high school in America has a certified strength and conditioning coach on staff. Though that may be a goal out in the distance for now, there’s no doubt that this is the fastest-growing niche in our profession. The only way that changes is when school boards and decision-makers start to see the impact of having true professionals in those roles at neighboring schools.Our goal is that every high school will have a certified strength and conditioning coach on staff. Click To Tweet
Landing a high school strength and conditioning position, especially here at North Broward Prep, was the best thing to happen to me in my career and rivals some of the best moments of my life. TrainHeroic has been very good to us, not just from a programming standpoint, but also in how they’ve helped our students, our school, and me through their platform and how they’ve promoted us through various means.
TrainHeroic has taken the place of Excel for me. We’re all off paper now, and it helps with what was my biggest limitation in programming. Whereas I felt strong in designing and implementing programs and adequate loads, my weak points were tracking and monitoring daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly training loads, as well as graphing testing data and resulting numbers. The time TrainHeroic has saved me in monitoring and sharing our semester results with our sport coaches is irreplaceable and it has made our daily sessions infinitely better.
Freelap USA: There is a large range of strength levels from freshman to seniors, as well as novices to experienced lifters. Could you share how you manage groups of different abilities without individualizing each rep? Is this where on-the-fly adjustments are the ultimate skill for a high school strength coach?
John Garrish: Our daily, annual, and quadrennial, four-year high school developmental programming relies heavily on auto-regulation. Current semantics and literature on the matter have directed our focus toward assessment and, in turn, adjustment on a daily basis, which IS a part of the direction and progression of our program. However, an athlete-centered and developmentally driven wide-scope approach is, in fact, more important to the success and preparation of our student-athletes.
We want to make sure we’re not throwing darts blindfolded and calling anything that sticks a “bullseye.” We have five approximate developmental stages that vary based on volume, intensity, and exercise progression. We quantify four different “ages” that create the basis for our athletes’ “developmental trajectory.”
The first age is the student’s chronological age: Regardless of a student’s ability or inability, if you walked into our room tomorrow, a 14-year-old wouldn’t be doing precisely what an 18-year-old is doing. However, if this was the sole determinant of our progression through our program, it would surely be flawed.
A student’s developmental age is arguably the more important determinant of progress, as not all 14-year-olds are built the same, just as not all 18-year-olds are built the same. This includes physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and cognitive development. Sometimes, a 13-year-old eighth grader steps on campus already more mature than an 18-year-old stepping off it. There are infinitely more variables out of our control than there are under our control.
The third “age” is the student-athlete’s training age. Though sometimes it’s a good thing to hear that we have a young student-athlete coming to campus with training experience at a local middle or high school, more often than not there’s significant “un-teaching” that has to take place before we even think about introducing our own stimuli. Remember, though, that many times the person that’s taught some of those bad habits might be a family member. It’s smart to tread lightly in communication and feedback (this should be the case regardless of who taught them; it rarely does any good to speak negatively about a young student’s former coach/teacher/mentor—we’re all a part of the young man/woman’s development).
The last age is the most important one. Gary Schofield calls this the “Schofield age.” For the sake of the point I’ll call it our “eagle age”—that is, the time spent with me in our program. More important than anything physical, the time spent together answers the most important question I’ll ever ask: “Can I trust you?”
These four “ages” set the general guidelines for how quickly (or slowly) you will advance through our five stages. Technique is of the utmost importance, and a technical progression and mastery of our prerequisites assure me that the student-athlete is ready to load each movement in the manner that I see fit for loading it. That means that a technical progression might be the primary difference between what one athlete is doing from another. For instance, if our primary lift of the day is a front squat, a lower-level developmental athlete might be doing a landmine or goblet squat. Pretty standard stuff there. However, even if two athletes have climbed their way to a front squat, our younger student-athletes will typically be in a higher-volume, lower-intensity method.
It’s important to note that, no matter how “elite” a young man or woman is relative to their peers, if they’re in our room, they’re a developmental athlete. For those that are counting, our five stages of development are: Developmental, White, Blue, Gold, and College Prep. We do not split groups based on these developmental tiers or stages—we have athletes of all different abilities in the room at the same time. It takes efficient communication and responsible programming to make sure we are meeting each individual where they’re at or where they’re looking to go. TrainHeroic helps tremendously with that side of things. Ultimately, as elaborate as we’re looking to be in designing these stages, on-the-fly adjustments occur every single day.
Freelap USA: Conditioning ranges from deep off-seasons to athletes practicing themselves into shape. How do you work with different coaches in a school to ensure overtraining is prevented or at least reduced?
John Garrish: It’s my personal belief that the best way to keep our kids in shape year-round is to compete in multiple sports. Sure “basketball shape” isn’t “football shape,” but it’s a heck of a lot closer than “110 shape,” in my opinion. A healthy, united, and uniform athletic department is the key to encouraging multiple-sport participation and preventing overtraining, staleness, and burnout.It’s my belief that the best way to keep kids in shape year-round is to compete in multiple sports. Click To Tweet
For the students that do not compete in multiple sports and are preparing for one sport at one specific time of the year, we will prepare them through means of general oxidative conditioning on to a more specific method as we approach that season. For the most part, we keep things competitive and fun. Chances are the best conditioning shape you or I were ever in was when we were 8-18 years old, playing outside with friends all day.
I try not to distance our conditioning too far from that idea and look at it as an opportunity to improve on our movement skills as well. The change of direction, spatial awareness, and agility required to play a giant game of tag, paired with an appropriately designed work (play) to rest interval, keeps it enjoyable and prevents redundancy and/or staleness. Ultimately, there are times in our program for running, touching a line, turning around and running back again and again, but to stay ahead of the concerns I mentioned above, we keep the time spent in that style of training at a minimum.
Freelap USA: Lifestyle is instrumental, as youth athletes need more sleep and better nutrition. But with youth sports looking for the quick fix, how do you work with parents beyond the typical “education” we see that quickly fades weeks after a presentation or meeting?
John Garrish: Social media has worked as well for our program with parents as it has with students. For better or worse, we’re at each other’s fingertips at any given moment and can share, repost, and retweet information that may or may not stick. We send newsletters and notes on a weekly basis, but who’s to say the information is read, yet alone retained and implemented to make a lasting change?
Twitter has taken the place of the 1990’s grocery store bookshelves with men’s and women’s health & fitness magazines from bookend to bookend. The difference today is genuine experts and research-driven professionals don’t have to worry about publishers and commercial appeal that previously kept them off the shelf. Working to build a culture, not only constructed on attitude and mentality, but on habits and choices, is a 24/7 process. It is our responsibility to make absolutely certain that good information is landing on the coffee tables of our parents.