David Neill is the Director of Sports Performance at Liberty Christian School in Argyle, Texas. He has eight years of experience in the field of strength and conditioning, with previous coaching stops at the University of Texas, University of Cincinnati, and Texas Tech. He was the 2019 NHSSCA Region 2 strength coach of the year. David believes you coach character first, and then use whatever tools are necessary to prepare athletes for their respective arena. Whether it’s triphasic training or a conjugate system, RPR or FRC, you find the method that best addresses the needs of YOUR athletes.
Freelap USA: High schoolers have more options for training out of school. With so many great options and so many less-than-credible facilities available, what is your solution to have the athlete invest in your program? How do you create buy-in with your athletes?
David Neill: It all starts with your sport coaches. When head coaches have bought into your program, so will their athletes. It’s that simple. If the weight room is a priority for a program’s culture, if the athletes know that coaches evaluate them based on their commitment to our strength program, then I get buy-in with athletes.It all starts with your sport coaches. When head coaches have bought into your program, so will their athletes. It’s that simple, says @DNeill62. Click To Tweet
I think we sometimes get so engulfed in the strength and conditioning echo chamber that we alienate sport coaches. Our job is to facilitate their goals, not achieve our own. Obviously, we want to give our athletes the best training possible, but if we want to get coaches bought in, we have to be wise in how we implement our program. We need to partner with them, find out what they value, and then be an asset in achieving those goals. Build trust with a sport coach, and you will find more buy-in from your athletes.
Freelap USA: Speed is king, but it’s also a big investment with timing, teaching, and training. What are you doing differently this year to keep evolving without losing the fundamentals?
David Neill: I feel like the KISS principle is key when it comes to speed training for H.S. athletes. Outside of some of your dedicated track studs, most team sport athletes haven’t mastered the fundamentals. Given the infrequency of getting our athletes during certain points of the year, I always focus on mastering the basics of A mechanics, skips and bounds, starts, and top end speed mechanics. It may be the same boring drills, but we are going to be experts at them. I would much rather have an athlete who can perform an exceptional A skip and bound than one who can do 20 drills with mediocre technique.
The one new thing I have seen some excellent results from has been implementing simple plyos into every single workout. We do ankle hops and pogos every day as part of our warm-up. I coach them hard. Our guys know it’s a priority in our training as well. Not many things we do in the weight room translate strongly to the track but building better reactive ability absolutely does. It never fails: The guys who improve their “bounce” the best improve their speed the most.Not many things we do in the weight room translate strongly to the track but building better reactive ability absolutely does. It never fails, says @DNeill62. Click To Tweet
Freelap USA: Athletes are sometimes worried about gaining muscle or not being able to put on muscle. Different sports have different needs, so how do you manage to control this with multisport athletes?
David Neill: I would say 80-90% of my athletes for ANY sport need to gain weight. So luckily, the goals align for most athletes even if they are multisport guys. The challenge with those athletes is getting a plan they can follow consistently. Give them something too difficult, and they’ll never follow it. It’s really about changing their habits, not giving them a challenging diet or meal plan. We have a checklist for athletes to follow every day that gives me a solid idea of what things they are doing or not doing daily to help achieve their goals. We can then make adjustments to their habits to help them.
The biggest challenges in multisport weight management have mostly been football and wrestling. With football, the goal is almost always weight gain, while with wrestling it’s usually weight maintenance/loss. This creates quite the challenge for athletes participating in both. We do a few things to help with the process: daily weigh-ins year-round, teaching athletes how to count calories and use apps to manage nutrition, and educating them on what is appropriate versus inappropriate weight change.
Freelap USA: Sleep and nutrition matter so much, yet coaches seem to have a hard time scaling the management of this. How do you make an impact with such a large group of athletes?
David Neill: I think you have to find your bullet points and repeat them to the point of cliché. We give the same recovery message after almost every single workout. Athletes need to hear about how important sleep, hydration, and nutrition are so many times that they can say your message before you do. I think we do a pretty good job of this. It’s actually funny how many times I have parents come up to me and talk about how their kids make them go buy a heavy protein meal after workouts. When they start repeating your message to mom and dad, you know they understand it.
I think giving athletes tools is huge as well. We have a full nutrition and recovery packet on our website that I can direct our families to when they have questions on what proper nutrition looks like.
Freelap USA: Burnout for coaches is a problem, especially with teaching and coaching all day. How do you stay sharp and manage a healthy home life? You seem to have found a nice balance. What is your secret?
David Neill: Shut it down at night. Emails can wait. When I’m at work, I am all in. When I get home, I shut off my work brain and turn on my dad brain. Then I’m all in at home. Be fully immersed in what you’re doing. My athletes and my kids deserve all of me when I am with them.
I have also found that when it comes to extra professional development, I’m happiest when I let it ebb and flow. I will have a 2- to 3-week period where I write, read, do videos, and spend a ton of my free time doing development. Then I’ll spend a few weeks playing Xbox and watching movies at night. I just don’t think I can really grow as a coach when it becomes a “grind”—I need to love what I do.
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