Coach Deerick Smith is the Director of Strength and Conditioning and Assistant Athletic Director at Southside School District in Batesville, Arkansas. He is a CSCS certified coach through the NSCA and also possesses a master’s degree in exercise science. He trains all sports from 7th to 12th grades, both males and females. He was recently selected as the Region 2 Strength Coach of the Year by the National High School Strength Coaches Association. He also runs Smith Performance LLC’s programming and provides online resources for various high school and college coaches throughout the United States.
Freelap USA: You began your career as a sport coach just coaching football. What got you into the strength and conditioning side of high school athletics?
Deerick Smith: I was not aware that strength and conditioning was a “real” career path or job until I was already in my full-time job. I always enjoyed training and had a fantastic athletic trainer who ran the training program in my high school, Leo Krajewski. I was a less-than-motivated athlete at times and did things on purpose to piss him off, but he NEVER carried it over to the next day. He would hammer me that day accordingly, but the next training session was a new day and the previous day’s transgressions did not affect his approach the following day. This did not resonate with me then, but it is something I have adapted in my coaching style now.
I did not have any desire to be an athletic trainer, so I believed if you wanted to be in charge of training, you needed to be a head coach of that particular sport. In college, we didn’t have a strength coach, and I did a lot of my own programming. This consisted of a lot of bodybuilding-type body part splits, which was less than ideal for athletic development. This is where my interest in the field of strength and conditioning really began to take shape.
I was just a position coach at my first job and dabbled in strength and conditioning with the softball program. I took over that season as head softball coach. Again, my knowledge was extremely limited during this time, and my unconscious bias on what females can accomplish in the weight room was greatly skewed because I had never been around females training in a weight room. This was 2014, and they certainly had been killing it in the weight room for many years at this point. I was not aware of it in my small understanding and bias-filled bubble.
From there, I took my first actual strength and conditioning job at Blytheville High School as strength coach for the football team and offensive coordinator. This is when I realized that I like coaching football, but I LOVE strength and conditioning. Seeing the changes our kids made both physically and mentally was extremely motivating and some of the best times in my career thus far. We had a team of 34 kids and beat 7A West Memphis, which had more than 110 players on their team.Many times, teams are successful IN SPITE of their training, rather than because of it. This is a hard concept to grasp, particularly if you are brought up through a more successful program Click To Tweet
Now, while I did not realize it at the time, I was blessed with fantastic athletes from the second I walked in the door. I thought it was my training that had the largest effect on the team’s development, but in all reality, it was most likely mom and dad’s genetic pool that had the biggest effect. Looking back, my training programs at this time were subpar.
It was then that I decided I just didn’t want to be the football coach who also ran the weight program. I decided to study for the CSCS exam, and after many months of preparation, I successfully passed it. While it was great to have the certification by my name, I also wanted to add the academic aspect to it, so I went back to school a few years later to obtain my master’s in exercise science.
This led me to where I am now at Southside School District, where I also coached football for several years but grew the strength and conditioning program from just football to all sports for both males and females in 7th through 12th grades. In growing this position, I have grown from a “football guy” to developing a true understanding of athletic development as well as breaking my previous conceptions about training female athletes and what they can accomplish in the weight room.
Where I used to be considered just that “football guy,” many coaches now would say I am a “volleyball guy”—but in all reality, I’m just an athletic and mental development guy. I am partial to our girls’ programs because those are the programs I helped create at our district—football has trained since well before my time here. I am currently the Director of Strength and Conditioning and Assistant Athletic Director and look forward to serving the district for many years to come.
Freelap USA: What brought you to the realization that everything you may have been taught or what you were led to believe made you successful might not be true in training for performance?
Deerick Smith: I think this question can be greatly skewed by how successful a program you come up in. I was fortunate to play for an extremely successful program in high school and for a moderately successful program in college, so I just assumed blindly copying what they did was the key to success. However, through education and trial and error, I have learned it may not have been the most optimal way to develop athletes.
In college, we did the typical 12-18 110s twice a week in summer, and I always thought in my head this isn’t doing anything to help me as I was gassed and puking the first week of August practice. I still carried these methods over into my coaching early on, but it didn’t take me long to begin to question my thinking. I believe, more importantly, that it’s key to find what works for YOUR specific scenario and your specific type of kid with regard to geographical and socioeconomic upbringing and resources rather than copying what another program does because they are successful.
Many times, teams are successful IN SPITE of their training, rather than because of their training. This is a hard concept to grasp, particularly if you are brought up through a more successful program.
Also, don’t try to be someone you are not. The awesome thing about strength and conditioning is the fact that you can be yourself. Yes, there are some coaches who think we should fit a completely professional mold at all times, but I personally don’t agree with that. What I love about this field is that you can have a hype guy/girl dancing around in a cut-off undersized polo and on the opposite sideline have a guy/girl with their pants pulled halfway up their stomach, their shirt tucked in, wearing a pair of dress shoes, and holding a clipboard. Be yourself, whatever it is, and your athletes and coaches will respect you.
Freelap USA: Many coaches at the high school level wear many hats. What advice would you give a head coach on how to best navigate the waters of strength and conditioning?
Deerick Smith: In my opinion, every high school needs someone with experience in proper strength and conditioning protocols. My opinion on this topic may differ from some. I understand not every school can create a standalone strength and conditioning position and hire someone certified from the outside. However, every school can get someone currently on staff certified to develop their athletes.Not every school can create a standalone S&C position and hire someone certified from the outside, but every school can get someone currently on staff certified to develop their athletes. Click To Tweet
My advice for a head coach would be to appoint someone on staff as their strength and conditioning coach for their respective programs—or better yet, for an administrator to appoint and help someone on their coaching staff oversee ALL the teams’ athletic development. This appointment shouldn’t come with a “Here, it’s yours!” approach, but rather a “Here it is, we will help you do what it takes to get certified and obtain the required knowledge to properly do this job well” approach.
This will free up the head coach to work on all the other various aspects of their program that they have to deal with while also giving the coach they appoint some ownership over their own training program. It’s a win-win for both the head coach and the strength coach.
Freelap USA: In your opinion, what is the biggest mistake high school coaches make in the weight room?
Deerick Smith: The biggest mistakes I see are simply doing what they were taught because they were successful as a player and not understanding the importance of developing athleticism along with skill. I spoke on the first part more in question one.
As for the second part, you can have the most skilled players in the conference, but if they can’t express power along with the skill or have the muscular endurance to withstand the demands of a long season, then the skill can only help so much. I can drive a Prius around a Nascar track for years on end and get pretty good at the angles and lines required to race (skill), but at the end of the day, it’s still a Prius. I better use the other nine months available to me that are not in-season to add some horsepower and athletic attributes to match the skill.
Freelap USA: What benefit can a full-time high school strength coach have for a school and a community?
Deerick Smith: Developing a full-time high school strength coach can have a huge impact on both a school and a community. The biggest possible impact is that the strength coach has a perspective to go to bat for all athletes and has no personal or sport bias. This allows the coach to solely have the best interest of the athlete in mind for health and safety. This also creates a qualified individual who can check coaches if they are unknowingly putting athletes at risk.The biggest impact that the strength coach can have on a school and community is that they have the perspective to go to bat for all athletes and have no personal or sports bias, says @coachdeesmith. Click To Tweet
I’ve had conversations with sport coaches over the years who thought they had the athlete’s best interest at heart, but in all reality could have been exposing their athletes to an increased risk of injury. Had I not been tasked with training all sports, I don’t know that this would have been possible.
Every summer, I’m tasked with keeping up with the wet bulb temperature. If I was a sport coach and assigned this role, I may be likely to bend the rules in favor of my team not having to change practice accommodations. However, since I’m impartial to all sports and only looking out for the athletes’ safety as whole, I make sure we stick by the guidelines with regard to the wet bulb reading. There are many times I’ve canceled various practices because of it. If it keeps our athletes safe, then it’s worth it every time.
When I was first hired, our girls’ teams and non-football teams were essentially required to lift in a tiny weight room with hardly any equipment behind the basketball gym. Now, our main training facility—which was the “football weight room”—is open to everybody. On a typical summer day, we have over 150 athletes come through the field house doors to train.
This has required me sticking my neck out for them and having some light confrontation with football having to give up their five days per week access to it, but they have been great about adapting to benefit all sports and their development. It also creates opportunities for non-athletes to develop not only appropriate movement patterns, but mental and muscular resilience through training, whether it be in PE classes or after-school programs available to them.
While increasing athletic attributes is important, the biggest benefit of a strength coach is developing confidence and mental resilience in young people. I’ve watched our female athletes go from hating the weight room because of preconceived notions and only showing up due to it being mandatory, to coming in with a pair of lifting shoes on, slamming bars after a heavy clean, slamming protein shakes as they walk out the door, and wanting to train five days a week. Regardless of skill acquired or athletic attributes increased, a more confident athlete is a better athlete 100 out of 100 times.
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