Not long ago, I was skimming my social media feeds and came across a post from a friend, which simply stated, old-school strategies die hard. Now, the post had no context as to what it was referring to, but this phrase alone sparked some thoughts regarding the state of the strength and conditioning profession.
First, I want to put this into perspective. I’m overseeing four assistant coaches, 300+ student-athletes, and working with ten head coaches. Specifically, I work with football and women’s basketball. Our job is to prepare our student-athletes for the rigors of collegiate athletics and design scientifically sound programs that will put them in the best position to reach their full athletic potential. So, there are a lot of moving parts to this equation:
- What does your team or weight room schedule look like?
- How many coaches do you have?
- What do you have for facilities and equipment?
- What is the training age of your athletes?
All of these factors should guide us in what we prescribe to our student-athletes.
Have We Mastered the Basics?
When we get new athletes in our program, I assume that they’re either coming from no training background or a bad training background. During this time, we introduce the movements and how they should be performed—slow cook the training. Here, we lay the foundation for the next 4-5 years of their college career.
For our redshirts, our goal is this: when we put them into their first offseason training setting, someone observing a workout would not be able to tell the difference between a freshman and a senior. Then, as they progress through their career, we only have to tweak technical errors, instead of having to re-teach every offseason. The question that may arise is, “What do we use as a metric to move on with our teaching progression?” Well, the short response is, “Does it look the way it’s supposed to look? Does the rack of a clean look the way it’s supposed to look? Does the squat look the way it’s supposed to look to proper depth? Does the pull/hinge look the way it’s supposed to look?”
When we look at programming exercises, we need to consider the needs of the group of athletes we’re coaching. What then constitutes a good exercise?
- It’s done standing
- It’s multi-joint
- It’s done with free weights
If it meets these three criteria, it’s probably a good exercise. With that said, we need to have our “nonsense” filters set on high and look a little deeper.
- Does the exercise follow principles, specifically the principle of progressive overload?
- As the athlete adapts, can you progressively overload the movement to create a stimulus? Our progressions are:
- Easy to hard
- Stable to unstable
- Bilateral to unilateral
The focus should be on the basics! Our goal is to do the basics savagely well, as Verstegen has said. We Olympic lift. We squat. We pull and hinge. We push and pull. We unilaterally train our athletes equal to bilaterally training them. We sprint, jump, change direction, and condition. We stick to the basics as long as we can. Once we achieve or train to the point where we can use our coaching expertise to shift our training goals or prescription, we will. This is the art of coaching! Not what is cute or flashy in exercise prescription.
Content Creation ≠ Programming
This becomes especially intriguing as we find ourselves trying to sift through the copious amounts of content everyone is trying to push out via social media. For some of the coaches who are particularly active online, it seems their primary objective is to send out as much content as possible to make themselves relevant in the profession. Content is one thing, but the quality of content is another. In addition to the quality is the ability to apply the content to your particular setting or population. The material may be excellent, but disastrous if used in the wrong setting. For example, I have seen some great drills, exercises, and systems that would be difficult to implement within a large group setting. Not only from the coaching perspective of making sure the athletes are accomplishing what the drill or exercise was designed to address but also being efficient with our time.
In the collegiate setting, we are fortunate to have our athletes for a 4 to 5-year block where we, as strength coaches, can teach and progress our teams based on what we observe when they come on campus. On the flip side, we’re also expected to transform and create miracles with athletes who come from different backgrounds, abilities, and training ages. With this, I’m not sure that we have evolved.It's become apparent that as professionals, we're trying to re-invent the wheel, especially within the ranks of young coaches, says @nbaukol. Click To Tweet
Believe me, I understand the sentiment of trying to establish ourselves in the profession. Not only for the young coaches but for the experienced coaches working to maintain or improve their presence. It’s become apparent that as professionals, we’re trying to re-invent the wheel, especially within the ranks of young coaches. Which poses the following questions:
- With all of the strategies, exercises, and driven data, have we really evolved as a profession?
- Have we mastered the basics of training?
- Do all of our athletes know how to properly squat, hinge, press, pull, and extend?
In other words, have we achieved the proverbial strong enough? If I pose that question, I struggle to get an adequate or consistent response. Are we in good enough shape for the time of year? Meaning, are we appropriately addressing conditioning based on the time of the year? In February, we don’t need to be in game shape for a football season. Likewise, for basketball, we don’t need to be in game shape in June or July. However, we still need to design and implement the appropriate amount of conditioning throughout the year to not get out of shape. The best way to get into shape is to not get out of shape, which I believe Al Vermeil said.
Training vs. Exercise
One observation I’ve made is that it appears training is frowned upon in some situations. Training is a hard, boring, methodical process that takes discipline to maximize its benefits. I get it! This is cyclical in nature, as I have seen the hills and valley of ideas, concepts, and revelations come and go throughout my 20-year career. To paraphrase Coach Alejo, whatever the new training idea that’s marketed right now, I can tell you what it used to be called. In other words, there isn’t a whole lot that’s new.
But there is a difference between training and exercise, and I’m inclined to believe that exercise is popular right now. Don’t get me wrong, depending on the population you work with, exercise might go a long way. It’s ok to want to move, sweat, and put your time in the gym, but is it getting you closer to reaching the full potential of your athletic qualities? We should gear hard, consistent training toward achieving a particular goal or benchmark, such as strength, power, speed, etc. It needs to be tangible. And you can’t improve these athletic qualities by just exercising. A side plank DB snatch, or a single-leg contralateral, bottoms up press won’t elicit a quantifiable increase in stress to force adaptation, let alone prepare someone to play a collision sport.Training is not exercise. Exercise won't elicit quantifiable increases in stress to force adaptation, let alone prepare one to play a collision sport. Click To Tweet
The popular response on social media from some coaches will be, “well, we don’t chase numbers in the weight room.” That’s not what I am saying. I’m talking about lifting heavy things with great technique. I am talking about sprinting. I am talking about conditioning intelligently. We are too quick to think outside of the box, to “entertrain” athletes when we have yet to master the box with basic fundamental movements and exhaust their ability to elicit an adaptation.
Are You Managing What Gets Measured?
In some cases, it seems that copious amounts of data are collected just to collect it. That, in turn, takes away from what our job is as strength and conditioning professionals—being a coach. Envious would be the wrong word, but more power to the programs that have the staff and resources to collect meaningful data to aid in their student-athletes’ performance. If you’re fortunate enough to be in that situation, how much influence does the data have on your organization’s day-to-day operations and the many moving parts in a collegiate setting?
With the huge influx of information, I’m not sure we’re providing for our student-athletes better than we were before. Injuries are still an issue, even at the professional level. And I should get this out of the way: there is no such thing as injury prevention! With training, our goal is to reduce the incidence of injury or to mitigate harm. If injury prevention was possible, injuries should be totally minimized at the professional level with all of the resources at their disposal, but they’re not. Interestingly, injury mitigation is expected at the lower levels of college athletics, but the high-level college and professional levels haven’t figured this out yet either. The point is, sometimes stuff happens.
Old School for a Reason
So, going back to the idea of old strategies die hard, I want to put this into perspective. Old strategies die hard because they work! They don’t endure just because of a stubbornness to change. Contrary to popular belief, old-school coaches like myself have tried, experimented, implemented, and executed every concept that has been social medialized. The reality is that we’re applying the tools that work within our system, philosophy, and constraints.Old strategies die hard because they work. They don't endure just because of a stubbornness to change, says @nbaukol. Click To Tweet
It goes back to if you have a dollar to spend, how are you going to spend it? Are you going to spend it on gimmicks and newly invented exercises that are not going to reach a threshold for adaptation? Or are you going to spend it on sprinting and teaching great squatting, hinging, pressing, pulling, and Olympic lifting technique and loading appropriately based on training age? Tools that work and can be efficiently coached and tracked for adaptations should be the go-to.