By Ryan Wood
Strength and conditioning is unique in many ways. The most important aspect of working with an athlete is teaching proper habits to set them up for success as the player and the person they are destined to become. This is a reality in all team settings–where we must learn to crawl before we walk.
Likewise, as we learn to manage individuals in a large group setting, we must fully grasp the dynamics of individual mindsets while merging beliefs, needs, and desires into the desired outcomes for our organization. A great coach and a great program will focus on more than developing just the athlete. A book by Jeff Duke, 3D Coaching, focuses on these three dimensions: strategies of the game, coaching the mind, and transforming the heart.
At the collegiate level, we typically have two hours a day with each athlete. Our goal is to educate them with necessary life tools and decision-making skills that will serve as a guide when they are outside the realm of their coaches’ watchful eyes, hoping we have prepared them for the infamous twenty-two hours the coaches are not present.
A good coach and strength program will not accept the blatant absence or skipped reps by individual kids, and every rep is coached up. A great coach and strength program run a well-oiled machine that is athlete-driven with a focus on large-scale details but where the minute details are always under the microscope.
The Culture of the Team or Organization
Do you ever wonder why Disney, Southwest Airlines, McDonald’s, and other major corporations experience unwavering amounts of success? It’s because they produce the same product at any given time or any location in the world with the same established daily expectations of its employees. The monikers “Mickey Mouse,” “Free Carry On,” and “Big Mac” are the same everywhere you go.
This is a cornerstone of solid culture. This is how we want our program to operate–meaning that when our athletes are not in our presence, their actions are the same as when they are in our presence (positive role models).
Below are four key elements of the necessary standards all strength coaches need to impart to their athletes.
- Do the athletes care about the details? Some examples include arriving early, following all coaching cues, and taking the coaching seriously.
- Do the athletes perform, or at least attempt, each exercise with the correct technique taught to them?
- Do the athletes improve upon each aspect that is intended by the coaching staff? Examples are their mental and emotional state of mind and approaches to personal development (mental, physical, spiritual, athletics, academics, etc.).
- Do the athletes learn life lessons that will prepare them for the other twenty-two hours in their day?
Culture is predicated on these variables, and we should emphasize them any time of the year in any location. Different sports might need different attributes and exercises to train. Culture is not determined by your philosophy but rather by an outsiders’ point of view.
Attention to Details
Outlining clear and concise definitions of on time and late, start behind the line and not on the line, and finish are the first steps in creating a culture. Emphasis on details signifies importance. Everything else tends to fall into place with clarity in the program.Discipline sets the tone for our culture. Click To Tweet
We start our program as soon as the clock hits the designated time. We start with a breakdown team clap which contributes to team building and, more importantly, signifies a definitive start to that session. Athletes know to move to their designated areas, focus up, and get ready to go. To start behind the designated line and finish through the designated line. We do not tolerate tardy or absent. We’ve established a consistent punishment that we’ve cleared with administration and coaching staffs and explained to the athletes before all sessions. This sets the tone for the culture.
- Put a big clock in a prominent area for everyone to see.
- This creates a set time for everyone to follow.
- If you don’t have a clock, use a countdown off your watch.
- Warm-up lines: 5 lines of 6
- Cones/lines: Feet behind cone/line
- Every minute late equals 5 get-ups
- Missed session equals 300 get-ups
Take detailed attendance. Each day, record the time your athletes come in. This is critical because your athletes will always challenge you to show when they were there. An example is an athlete who makes the bad decision to skip class to make a lift they were supposed to perform at 6 am. For most athletes, the idea of sleeping in late and skipping class to make up a workout is very appealing. It helps to know what time they’re supposed to be in class so if they decide to skip, you can easily say “No, you’re supposed to be in class. We will make it up tomorrow with your punishment.”
Life happens and accommodating your athletes will improve their buy-in. When an athlete communicates with us that a conflict arises, we need to give them the benefit of the doubt. I always relate this to real-world scenarios. If you show up late or miss work and don’t communicate to your supervisor, you will most likely get fired.
It also shows maturity and respect when they communicate beforehand and ask for another opportunity to work out. Although it can be draining to create other workout times, it’s our job to be available. No one is going to thank us for coming in on a Saturday morning or staying an extra hour after working a 12-hour day, but it’s always worth it. These are the times when I’ve made the greatest connection to an athlete and have learned the most about them as an individual.
When an athlete does not communicate ahead of time about missing or being late, that is inexcusable. Like most young people, however, they will push the limit of acceptable behavior. If individuals in leadership roles do not take action, these athletes will abuse the system, and that will spread like wildfire. Documentation (C.Y.A.) is a must when providing proof (attendance) to resolve any issues at hand.
A Real Commitment to Technique
Technique is one of my main philosophical coaching points along with safety and relationships. Technique has many intricacies in terms of how each exercise is performed, but it has its foundational principles in the execution of each exercise. With that said, there are always concrete benchmarks during each movement that create validity or standards within coaching, ensuring that our athletes perform each movement safely and correctly.
Technique is the same when implementing life principles with our athletes. “Built for Life” is the philosophy of Coach Petersen, Washington Huskies Head Football Coach. Coach Petersen implements life lessons into each team meeting to build a foundation for success that is not just football related but aims to develop the overall individual. Life lessons can, and should be, imparted using the task of the day for the other 22 hours; our goal is to shape and develop our athletes with solid foundational principles to aid in their decision-making process for real-world situationsImplement lessons for success not only in sport but also life situations–the other 22 hours. Click To Tweet
The first step is to establish a set list of acceptable cues for each exercise and their progressions and regressions. This creates a clear picture for your coaches to follow in terms of cueing. I have learned from great coaches in the field of strength and conditioning to be overprepared. “Preparing to fail, is failing to prepare.”–John Wooden.
Go one step further and create a hierarchy of the progressions and regressions. This mostly ties into safety, which is the most important variable to consider when attempting to correct, followed by performance.
The best coaches I’ve worked with can precisely pinpoint the lifting form for each athlete. They also can relate the task of the day to real-world situations. We might not always get the cue or message across to everyone. Our goal as a coach or teacher is to reach one of them.
- Keep a notepad in your pocket to write down cues; evaluate those cues’ effectiveness
- Analyze and evaluate video content of each athlete working out
- Implement a Built for Life protocol
Strategy: A Key Ingredient to Success
As a coach of details, I’ve implemented a concise list of policies that are important for establishing a successful culture and will transfer to real-world importance. Shoes should always be tied. Safety gives tied shoes a greater importance on my list of policies. Also look professional.
The next policy has stirred up some controversy with various teams. I’ve heard every excuse in the book on this one. Everyone on the team should wear team-issued clothes for the team they represent to signify a team concept at all times. I have a strong case for attire worn in the weight room. Watch any strength and conditioning video and observe the gear. If the team is allowed to wear what they want, it looks no different than a 24-hour fitness center with the benches occupied.
The last policy may seem trivial but has a lot of value when implemented correctly. Yawning. If an athlete is caught yawning in the weight room, they have to complete ten push-ups. It’s one of my most despised policies starting out. But eventually, it becomes the most revered policy, as athletes catch themselves in the classroom, car, and at home on the couch not wanting to yawn.
I don’t want a group of lackadaisical zombies in the weight room wiping sleep out of their eyes. The weight room is a work environment with high energy as athletes throw weight around working to get better. I want athletes to take this mentality into the real world. Individuals who rise before their alarm sounds will have a focus and a purpose to attack the day, and everything they do will lead to success.
Outside of wins and losses and reduced injuries, there must be something quantifiable upon which you strive to improve. In a team setting, I prefer to use 4-week training blocks. Periodization and class schedules aside, these allow for progressions to occur. And progression provides a life lesson about goals–attainable and realistic goals are implemented first before progressing to large-scale goals.Documentation helps with accountability in the weight room and everyday life. Click To Tweet
We must document as we progress in sets/reps and load. Likewise, we must document our life goals as we progress in our 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year plans. This helps with accountability in the weight room and everyday life as our athletes develop into young men and women.
- Start easy and progress to more difficult exercises
- Attainable and realistic goals progress toward large-scale goals
- Don’t load too early, and focus on basics
- Have athletes record all sets and reps
- Document goals and place in plain sight
This model works for several reasons. It ties into what we’re asking of our athletes: building a culture of consistency, attention to detail, and perfect technique relative to what they’ve been taught. It allows athletes to increase their performance in a multitude of areas in academics, in athletics, and in life. The importance of exposing our athletes to new stimuli and allowing them to struggle is part of developing a winning culture along with preparing them for the real world.
Take the First Step to Winning
The constant mentorship that comes with 3D coaching will overprepare each athlete for the 22 hours spent outside of athletic facilities and academic buildings. The obvious goal is to win a championship, but the ultimate reward is when an athlete returns to campus with a happy family and a successful personal life. They let us know we are one of the main reasons they are successful in their endeavors today.