I had a eureka moment this season during one film scouting session when our coaches were talking about how to beat a team and what we needed to do to win the game. Aside from the words hard work, tough, force, effort, emotion, attitude, and selfless, they may as well have been speaking Spanish. All the strategizing about ball screens, types of coverages, special team plays, etc., was beyond my job description. When it comes to whether we will win or lose a game, I am at the full mercy of the coaching staff and the players.
Guess what? I’m absolutely fine with that. After all, if I wanted to coach a sport and decipher and outwit an opponent tactically, I would have been a sport coach. But I choose to work with athletes from a holistic athletic performance standpoint and I love it; I love the long-term athletic development (LTAD) of collegiate sports where I get four years to work with an athlete at a crucial learning period in their young adult life.
On game day it is about the team and the athletes going out there and performing to the best of their abilities. The strength coach’s and support staff members’ roles are to add value to their team on this day and let the players play. This is their time to shine and take the spotlight, not yours.On game day it is about the team and the athletes going out there and performing to the best of their ability, says @SCoach_Aldo. Click To Tweet
Different Games, Different Roles
Different sports come with different game day nuisances and attitudes. As a former footballer (soccer, I am English after all) and someone that has worked with tennis, lacrosse, and basketball from a primary coaching position, I have seen these all play out very differently. It will be no surprise to hear that when my tennis players were warming up on court and when I spoke to them before their matches, I wasn’t in their faces hyping them up and telling them to annihilate their opponents.
But, for men’s lacrosse—you guessed it—they approached their warm-up with a slightly different mojo. You must understand the sport you are working with and embody that culture during the game/match, and if you work with multiple sports, you have to be a chameleon and blend into that environment.
Coming from a soccer background, it took me a little while to get used to basketball game days, specifically the nuisance of timeouts—both media timeouts and 30-second timeouts. In soccer, I was used to 45-minute halves that were split by one large half time, which was when the athletes were given tactical information by the coaches only. It was the bench’s job to contest refereeing decisions and celebrate big tackles, saves, and goals. Basketball is a much faster end-to-end game in which the tactical instruction is given after every possession, both offensive and defensive, by both players and coaches.If you work with multiple sports, you have to be a chameleon and blend into that environment, says @SCoach_Aldo. Click To Tweet
In soccer if you are down 3-0 it is unlikely (but not impossible) that you’ll draw or win the game. In basketball you can be down by over 20 points and come back to win it. The emotional ebb and flow is so unique that you never quite know when the game is won! So it’s important to take your sport into consideration, because a strength and conditioning coach’s role can vary greatly in terms of adding value to a team during the game.
Social media for strength coaches during football season—yes, specifically football season—is full of coaches taking jabs at one another regarding “juiced up” coaching from the sideline, get-back coaches, and for wearing tight polos or doing bicep curls on the sideline before the game. Twitter is an amusement park full of opinions and judgements regarding what coaches should and shouldn’t do with their teams on game day. That isn’t the reason for this article though, sorry if you hoped for some added entertainment there. We all have our own coaching philosophy and as long as you are authentic with that and remain who you present yourself as on game day, then so be it.
Righto, the game day experience itself—what is it that I’d like to specifically share with you today? I’d like to discuss ways we can add value, broken down into four main areas:
- Nutrition—Present at team meals; oversight of menus, vitamin hand-outs, post-game nutrition, and weigh-ins.
- Physical Preparation—Team stretch a few hours before game-time; individual player stretching/balance/activation/strength work in the hours before game; assisting athletic trainer with soft tissue work in the hours before game; game-time warm-up and cool down (if applicable).
- Culture—Reinforce head coach’s message in warm-ups, timeouts, and in-game; be a great teammate on the sideline; correct negative body language; hold subs accountable for being engaged in the game.
- Technology/Data—Oversee the use of tracking system(s); assist in sport coach’s data/stat collection in-game.
At the mid-major level, oftentimes there is no sports nutritionist on staff and therefore the nutritional responsibilities are given to the strength and conditioning coach. In my opinion, this isn’t a big issue. To have a nutritionist would be great, a qualified nutritionist would hopefully improve the quality of nutritional provision and education to the athletes and take this load off a strength coach’s duties.
However, as a generalist I expect strength coaches to have great nutritional knowledge and be able to wear many hats and provide excellent nutritional support to the teams they are working with. The reality in our profession is that there are hundreds more strength coaches than there are sport nutritionists within collegiate sports, so the following should be included in the strength coach’s game day duties.
- Find best restaurants or catering options and produce pre- and post-game menus.
- Provide pre-game and half time snacks in locker room.
- Provide vitamins to players (including electrolytes) during pre-game meals.
- Assist athletic trainer with filling up water bottles and handing to players in timeouts/half time.
- Provide electrolytes to select players in closing stages of game if you feel like the player needs an energy boost or if player has asked for some directly.
My first job stateside as a strength and conditioning coach was with a Division II school in Alabama. I remember providing game day nutrition advice by suggesting that both the men’s and women’s soccer teams buy chocolate milk for the players to drink immediately post-game before they static stretch as a team. It would get them 8-10 grams of protein and some carbs (yes, from sugar!) before they shared a pizza. Now, looking back, are either of those choices ideal post-game meals? No. However with the budget we had this was the best we could do.
I’m fortunate to be at a school now where our resources are excellent, and we are able to order from nice restaurants. Oftentimes we even allow meal add-ons for our high-minute players, as well as a protein and carbohydrate shake from the locker room. My key point here is no matter what level you are at, it is our job to ensure our athletes are prepared for their games. Preparation starts with the recovery from practices and games, so pay attention to their nutrition and do whatever you can to help them recover faster.No matter what level you are at, it is our job to ensure our athletes are prepared for their game, says @SCoach_Aldo. Click To Tweet
I used to think travelling with a team just to warm them up for a game was a bit excessive; I thought it was a waste of money for the department to have me eat all the food and take up space on the bus and in the hotel just for 8-12 minutes of dynamic warm-up excellence. However, after a few games, I began to see that there’s a next level to being there. Now I am so pro-travel that I am disappointed when I hear of strength coaches that never go on the road with their teams.
To be on the bench is to feel the energy and emotion of the game, to see how refs have missed calls (this happens more when you lose), to see how physical a game is, to see how you battle adversity as a collective unit of staff and players and come away with a result. Watching a game on the TV shows only a glimmer of what actually happened in the game—the build up at the hotel, the coach’s pre-game/half time/full time messages, and how the players talk amongst themselves in the locker room and on the court/field are all missed.
All of these are crucial experiences for a strength coach when training a team and looking to improve them holistically as individuals and athletes. To not see them play only gives you a picture of them as a person in a weight room for a few hours a week.
It is our role to warm the team up on game days and oversee the technical side of the warm-up by making sure the flow is correct and that their load is appropriately managed during this period with their sport coaches. After seeing how they act, it is important to gear your warmups to fit your players. The great thing about basketball warm-ups is that each team’s routine is different. Indeed, I have yet to see one that mirrors our model and can say with certainty that every program approaches it differently. Select players like to get “stretched out” in the 90-minute period before tip; I assist the athletic trainer with this, as well as some fascial abrasion work that we call “scraping.”
This has been a gamechanger for us. Scraping the high-minute athletes the night before and day of a game has really helped keep them fresh. We have also found it to reduce soreness, improve flexibility, and the players love it. Don’t be put off by it being a manual therapy skill/tool! As strength coaches, I believe we should be learning practical skills and adding value to our teams with these modalities. It is no different than having a sport massage qualification, or implementing reflexive performance reset and fascial stretch therapy. Expand your knowledge and skill set, add some strings to your bow, and dive deeper into some therapy techniques.Expand your knowledge and skill set, add some strings to your bow, and dive deeper into some therapy techniques, says @SCoach_Aldo. Click To Tweet
In the 30 minutes before we meet as a team, I like to be in the training room with the AT while the players get taped because some athletes ask for balance or strength work during this time. During the day, some hours before tip, I lead a development lift for my low-minute athletes, mainly underclassmen and walk-ons, to train in the weight room with me.
For basketball, the biggest uninterrupted training block of the year is in-season. This has to be taken advantage of to develop our athletes physically. Whether on the road or at home, development training for those low-minute athletes is key. This is always done before pre-game activities start—once we are on court it is all focus on the game and no distractions are needed.
Part of our job as assistants to the head coach is as a culture enforcer. Gameday certainly requires that all squad members be great teammates, be engaged in the game, and all strive to win. The main way I enforce my coach’s message is by being present during film and walk-through, whereby the key points of our game are addressed. I then echo the key point to victory after the dynamic warm-up, before the players split off into position groups and start their technical warm-up. An example of this would be where my coach has talked about the Three E’s and their importance to our success for that game: energy, emotion, and excitement.
I also feel it’s important for strength coaches to be around the team more than the staff as much as possible during the whole game day experience. Such times might include:
- In the training room during their taping period pre-game.
- In the locker room pre-game when the clock is at 10 minutes before tip.
- During half time.
- Immediately post-game.
In these moments, the staff will be together talking about the game plan, adjustments that need to be made, and conclusions from the game before these are presented to the team. For me, it’s important to have my finger on the pulse of the athletes themselves, to see and hear who is speaking up in moments of adversity, to see if they are locked in or seemingly absent minded, to hear their thoughts on why we are winning/losing.
I will often text my head coach my observations after the game of who spoke up and who remained silent. It is in the heat of battle, not in the weight room or during practice, that leaders really stand out. I feel this insight is imperative for coaches to know and for me to see so I can be aware of who is trying to lead in those important moments.It is in the heat of battle, not in the weight room or during practice, that leaders really stand out, says @SCoach_Aldo. Click To Tweet
In basketball, the strength coach is often asked to help out with game day stat collection (deflection count for example). I can’t speak to other sports, but this is certainly something that can be asked of those working in basketball. The addition of tracking systems in recent years has added to a strength coach’s workload during the game.
This is the first season I have had access to a tracking system (we use Kinexon) and the start and stop of various phases certainly keeps me busy during the game. The information we as a program have been able to gather and analyze by using this system has been very helpful when planning practices and load monitoring (optimal practice loads in build-up to games). It has also been great when gauging how hard the players worked during a game and what loads are appropriate for return to play athletes to make sure they are well conditioned before they return to full team practice.
Being a strength coach is an interesting profession: we work tirelessly to ensure that our coaches have a healthy and high-performing, fully available squad to choose from every game, and then we rely on our coaches and players to be great at what they do to win us the game. To claim wins and losses as a strength coach is a slippery slope—we are a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to a team’s success/failure.Let’s support the team, stay out of the spotlight, let the players play, and let the focus be on them, not us, says @SCoach_Aldo. Click To Tweet
We spend our working life preparing our athletes to be their best physically and mentally for this day, yet we have no direct impact on whether we win or lose the game. Yes, I know, warm-ups are important, being a hype man is important, ensuring our athletes are well-fueled and mentally in the right place to perform is important; but the game is won or lost by the coaches and players.
I wouldn’t have a clue how to draw up an out-of-bounds play with three seconds left to win us the game. I rely on my coaches and players in that situation for success as they rely on us as strength and conditioning coaches to develop our athletes and to be a great support to the team on game day. Oftentimes we are labelled as support staff; this can rub people the wrong way as we all want to be seen as equal to our assistant coaches. However, on game day I feel this title fits us perfectly. Let’s support the team, stay out of the spotlight, let the players play, and let the focus be on them, not us.
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