Rich Burnett is the current Head Strength Coach for Greater Atlanta Christian School, overseeing all aspects of strength and conditioning, performance training classes, and speed and agility for GAC athletics. Before being promoted to Head Strength Coach in 2018, Coach Burnett spent two years as GAC’s first-ever full-time Assistant Strength Coach under Coach Gary Schofield Jr. In addition to S&C duties and PT classes, Coach Burnett is currently the Physical Education Chair for K-12 and previously served as the Head Volleyball Coach for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Freelap USA: With a large number of athletes, how do you balance the need to individualize with the practical needs of organizing training groups? You can do general training with the masses at first, but then eventually athletes need to have more tailored work.
Rich Burnett: This is always of great concern, and we feel that we do a good job of addressing it here at Greater Atlanta Christian School (GAC). I’ll start by saying that individual needs are very real, but they are largely invisible unless you measure them through assessment and then expose them with data-driven standards. Thus, we have a 14-test assessment system, with standards, that help us place students in programs more suited for their training age, development needs, and overall level of relative strength and athleticism.
In our class structure, we have students from 9th-12th grade in the training space at the same time. This presents a plethora of logistical challenges. However, Coach Gary Schofield, who ran this program for 16 years before hiring me, had already worked through many of them and implemented a very organized block program structure that supplies each student with the programming they need. We have displays and iPads with Teambuildr to ensure kids are following their program during the session.Our culture is such that students know we are giving them what they need and there is a process for athletic development that they must follow, says @CoachRichB. Click To Tweet
The assessment system we created is standardized, automated, and progressive, as we will have these students for four years. During those four years, we want to show results, and the kids want to see the fruits of their labor. Further, they fully understand their scores and are committed to the system and the individual needs that we are able to show them via assessment. Our culture is such that students know we are giving them what they need and there is a process for athletic development that they must follow. Meeting individual training needs is essential for us since we have students from all backgrounds and sports.
Freelap USA: Rapid creative abilities are important in sport. How do you train it in multi-directions and test it vertically?
Rich Burnett: These athletic abilities are certainly essential but difficult to test and formally assess with large groups. We use band resistance for various multidirectional drills and have dozens of bands that students can be paired together with to do a ton of quality work. I also employ an arsenal of footwork drills using a line in the turf, mini-hurdles, and ladders. Lower extremity stiffness is so valuable for sport tasks and reactive ability, so we prioritize it on our agility days and touch it via plyometrics on our speed days.
Vertically, we have assessed reactive strength via four-jump pogos (RSI), but now with the Plyo Mat, we will look at 10/5 RSI and other single-leg variations. I’ve seen that there is indeed a relationship between linear and vertical reactive strength. An athlete’s ability to use the ground to their advantage, which is captured with an RSI measurement, is a highly trainable quality. I view it as a quality that is increased both with changes in software (neural) and hardware (muscular) adaptations. Athletes with tissue development have shown increases in power output and force absorption, while the same athletes with improvements in anticipation, reaction, timing, and recruitment of their motor units also have improved their reactive abilities.
Freelap USA: Barbells are the cornerstone of most strength and conditioning programs. Do you look to other loading options more, or do you stay true to the conventional needs of gaining strength and power globally?
Rich Burnett: Great question. We have enhanced our barbell training with more organized and individualized VBT methods and are very satisfied with the results so far. I would say, though, that we are a pretty conventional program during our short class periods; however, we take advantage of our turf space and after school training options for unconventional strength and power movements such as sled sprints, MB throws, timed sprints, jumps/plyos, prowler pushes, etc. This really is where true athletic development takes place.Kids will definitely have an edge training hard in the weight room with carefully selected loads and volumes but getting athletes faster is a quality that raises all others, says @CoachRichB. Click To Tweet
Outside, on the turf, kids interact with the ground dynamically, in space, accelerating and decelerating their bodies in reactive/explosive ways. As a strength coach, I always need to remind myself of this. I get so caught up in perfecting set and rep schemes and forget to organize my movement progressions out on the turf. Speed and agility, that’s where it’s at. Kids will definitely have an edge training hard in the weight room with carefully selected loads and volumes but getting athletes faster is a quality that raises all others.
Freelap USA: Speed training is vital to performance, and you are looking at ground contact times now. What have you learned over the last few months?
Rich Burnett: I took all last summer and compared SL RSI scores and corresponding ground contact times (GCTs) to our flying 10 performances. My conclusion was the SL RSI (in the form of an “SL hop jump” did indeed positively and significantly correlate with flying 10 times. I did not, however, measure GCT of the sprints, and they performed these SL RSIs as part of the weight training session in the same day as flying 10s.
In the past few months, I have focused on other RSI-based drills and have been satisfied with most of them, but there is a great need for GCT guidelines with these RSI applications. I have definitely found that less is not always more when it comes to GCT and RSI. As practitioners, we must work together to share our findings across various drills and technologies and optimize how we quantify plyometrics and reactive strength training.
My interest now is pointed toward protocol development. I want to establish a poor man’s Sparta Science scan. I love what Dr. Phil Wagner has done with his force plate assessment in helping us discern eccentric RFD, isometric, and concentric load needs. But like many other coaches out there, we can’t afford the technology and would struggle to implement it in a timely manner with 40+ kids, seven times in a day. Thus, my goal for the past six years has been to create my own “scan” that looks at these qualities and puts them up against a standard/data pool, and do it all with just a switch mat.
Freelap USA: General fitness isn’t exciting, but being fit matters. How do you work with team coaches to reduce overtraining but also prepare for the season?
Rich Burnett: Here at GAC, we pretty much provide all conditioning needs under our own programming and coaching. We train sports in their respective off-seasons after school, free of charge to our students. Preseason and in-season, though, are no longer under our control, as coaches run practices how they want and condition according to what they see as necessary.
We don’t get to do much conditioning in our classes with short time allotments and most emphasis on strength, mobility, power, etc., but we do implement weekly circuit training and use Polar HR monitors to manage aerobic load. This really is a sweet spot for us. The movements we select have sort of a recovery effect on our athletes. They are cyclical, coordinated, multi-planar, multi-joint movements that they don’t perform too much in their sport. It keeps the joints healthy while sustaining an elevated rate, and they are pretty energetic in a class setting.
Yes, kids get tired and sweaty during these circuits, but so much more is happening physiologically, biomechanically, and psychologically. Our female athletes especially love the balance that circuit training provides. They love seeing their heart rates elevated and the whole group connected in way that positively overcomes a challenging physical routine.
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