The echo chamber of social media has created a hyper-sensitive environment in the world of athletics. More than ever, it is important to have every “t” crossed and every “i” dotted. It will only take one major incident to test your strength and conditioning program. Are you prepared for an investigation? A lawsuit? To be completely honest, I was not.
After an Incident – Are You Protected?
Many years ago, a spring conditioning session with a volleyball team provided me with a scary situation that is now always in the back of my mind when I condition teams. We were in the middle of the off-season, doing some on-court shuttles that the head coach had requested. They were not unreasonably hard, but they were indeed challenging. We had been doing them for several weeks, progressing volume slowly. Everybody was making the requisite times without incident.
On this day, after the second rep, one of the athletes dropped straight to the ground. She was breathing, but unconscious. She was one of the better-conditioned athletes and had never had a problem in the past. I knew immediately that I had to make the call that no coach ever wants to make: 9-1-1. She was unconscious for what seemed like an hour; in reality, it was closer to 3–4 minutes. The EMTs brought her immediately to the ER. After an overnight stay in the local hospital, the incident was blamed on a combination of low blood pressure, menstruation, and a less-than-adequate diet. Fortunately, the athlete quickly made a full recovery.
That incident sticks out in my mind. For the most part, there wasn’t much that we could have done to prevent it. We followed the emergency action plan successfully, and the student-athlete was ultimately fine. But what if she hadn’t been?
There are many variables in the lives of our athletes that are completely out of our control. If they don’t manage these variables—such as hydration, sleep, diet, medications, etc.—correctly, we could potentially create a harmful, and even dangerous, stimulus for the athlete. I don’t intend to have any more ambulance visits as part of our workouts, but we all need to be prepared in case it happens. My workout written on an Excel sheet was the only documentation I had.
In July 2019, the NCAA Sport Science Institute released a document outlining recommended policies and procedures. On page 8 of that document, it states: “All training and conditioning sessions should be documented. In addition, all training and conditioning sessions should…be reproducible upon request and be shared with the primary athletics health care providers (team physician and athletic trainer) before the session in which they are to be used.” I realized very quickly that I needed a system to not only document our training sessions, but also easily communicate with coaches, athletic training staff, and administrators.I realized very quickly that I needed a system to not only document our training sessions, but also easily communicate with coaches, athletic training staff, and administrators. Click To Tweet
Working at a low-resource university, we have a small staff with very limited time. I knew that there had to be a better way than using Excel. Sure, saving PDFs or paper copies of our training sessions was an option, but I needed to step outside my comfort zone. It’s a challenge to reproduce old workouts on Excel if you are constantly changing a floating 1RM or theoretical max. My old method of sharing workouts with a cloud drive was never as simple and easy as I would have hoped.
Upgrading from Excel to Athlete Management Software
I selected CoachMePlus for many different reasons. I liked the ability to create, share, and archive workouts, gather information with the athlete questionnaires, and integrate with the Bluetooth scale and hydration information (our school is in the desert).
I decided to start small, using the software with a small portion of our teams first. I have been a lifelong Excel user, and this first step was quite a big one. Entering the athletes into the system was quite easy and, after the video tutorials, very intuitive. There is a period of setup, but I found it was similar to using Excel at the beginning of every year. I started with the basic setup with each athlete. I really like that the software includes plenty of options for customization.
When I entered our athletes into the system, I also entered our athletic trainers and administrators so they would have access to each of our athlete’s workouts. This allows them to review the workout prior to training. This transparency is becoming more and more important in today’s athletic environment. Provided you give them plenty of time, this puts the responsibility in the hands of the administrators and trainers to voice any disapproval ahead of time. Since many of our medical examinations happen just prior to training sessions, the more information each party has ahead of time, the more it helps us make rational and logical decisions regarding training session modifications.The more information each party has ahead of time, the more it helps us make rational and logical decisions regarding training session modifications. Click To Tweet
The builder section of the software allows you to create exercises, circuits, and programs. My first step was to establish my own personal exercise library. When I had looked at first generations of strength and conditioning software, this was a rigid process consisting of a few dozen generic exercises. Each coach has their own nuanced set of exercises and terminology. The builder allowed me to include my own terminology with my own loading parameters. I used my own exercises with my own progressions and the ability to add notes.
For technology to work at the university level, it needs to be flexible and user-friendly. I was pleased to find that CoachMePlus was both. It was not only easy to program lifts in the weight room, but also sprint drills, plyometrics, and conditioning sessions. Parameters such as % of 1RM, load in pounds or kilograms, distance, time, etc. are variables that users can select when creating a new exercise. This flexibility is extremely important to me as a strength coach. The ability to attach your own videos to the exercises is especially useful for incoming athlete workouts and break workouts.
Putting the workout together was very straightforward and quite easy. Even better was the fact that it was simple to customize. Whether due to an injury or an athlete with a different training timeline, changing the exercise, sets, or reps was super easy. It is a quick modification for these changes.
If you have an athlete coming off a period of inactivity, such as with a major injury, you can easily customize remedial programs. Excel was woefully inefficient for this task. In the past, I made modifications on the fly or scratched them on the workout cards themselves. Again, in today’s athletic environment, this will put the coach and the athletic department at risk. Having this information available to your medical staff can further open communication silos.The software lets you easily customize remedial programs for athletes coming off a period of inactivity, such as with a major injury. Excel is woefully inefficient for this. Click To Tweet
Time is very limited in our environment. The ability to create and save warm-ups, recovery workouts, and conditioning sessions can be a real time-saver. You can tailor copy-and-paste workouts by day and by athlete if needed.
Documentation Adds a Layer of Protection
At CSU Bakersfield, we have basketball players coming from a variety of places. Many come from junior colleges, but others are four-year transfers or fresh out of high school. As a result, the incoming players arrive on our campus at different points of the year. I am a big believer in progression. You don’t teach a toddler to read by throwing a Tolstoy novel on their lap, and you don’t get a 7-foot basketball player to clean from the ground by trying it on day 1.
In the past, I had to write and keep up multiple, different Excel sheets until the new athletes were able to perform the returner’s workout. I will not progress an athlete who has not demonstrated a level of proficiency on an exercise. At one point several years ago, I had to keep four different Excel sheets for basketball alone. With 16 sports, you can imagine the amount of time I spent at the computer! My Excel workbooks were a mess, and I never really archived them properly.
This summer, I was able to take our new athletes through progressions without having to write entirely new workouts. For example, I had my returners do power snatches from block above knee (five sets of three reps), while several of my new athletes did muscle snatches from the power position (three sets of five reps). I was easily able to customize the program without starting from scratch. This saves time and documents the progression, just in case an issue comes up. The ability to program and document small nuances, such as player A pulling off a 4-inch block while player B pulls off an 8-inch block, becomes quite manageable. Our athletes start at different places and progress at different rates.
Your athletic training staff probably uses an electronic medical records system that documents much of their work. S&C coaches should adopt a software system that allows them to do the same. Click To Tweet
The workouts are then documented and archived, which is extremely important if you are ever going to survive an investigation. Every coach has the potential to be put under the microscope. This is one of the best ways to document your work and protect yourself and your athletic department. The best part is there are no file boxes of used paper workouts or endless PDFs saved through scans. Although I still print all our workout cards, at the end of the week they go into the recycle bin.
Your athletic training staff probably uses an electronic medical records system that documents and catalogs much of their work. Strength and conditioning coaches should really think about adopting a software system that allows them to document and archive. There is no reason that you need to spend tons of man-hours keeping track of documentation. With all the advances in technology today, you owe it to yourself to streamline the process.
Tailored Questionnaires Lead to Better Communication
The daily wellness questionnaire provides yet another layer of protection through communication. Athletes can communicate RPE, sleep quality, soreness, and pain. This can help coaches and athletic training staff red-flag certain athletes. If you see high RPEs and high soreness levels for consecutive days, you may have to make an adjustment in your programming.
This is especially useful when working with new athletes. Many of our new athletes are being asked to work harder than they ever have, in combination with the fact that they are adjusting to life in a new location and on their own for the first time. I saw much higher soreness and RPE values for our new athletes even though their initial intensities were quite low.
If you have specific questions that are unique to your setting, you can include them on your questionnaire. The athletes access this questionnaire by app on their phone or tablet.
I am fortunate to have a good medical staff around me. We work well together: We have well-defined roles and communicate well with one another. That being said, we really could have used this app several years ago.
Back then, we had a basketball player who struggled with toe pain. It developed right before his final year of eligibility. Turns out one of the sesamoid bones of his big toe had turned necrotic. It was basically dead. The options were for him to have surgery to remove the bone and miss his final year or to try to play through it. He was a tough kid and opted for the second choice. We had to carefully manage his workload to keep the bone from breaking apart. Our staff did a great job of managing the load and, ultimately, he had a successful senior year.
A piece of technology such as this could be a great asset in monitoring soreness and pain. Not only to avoid further damage to the toe, but to avoid secondary injury as a result of a compensation. Athletes often don’t really start developing pain and soreness until several hours after a competition or practice. So, just because athletes leave your facility without significant pain and soreness, it doesn’t mean that it won’t develop later that day. Having the ability to communicate and document is a great asset in these situations.
A Multitude of Game-Changing Capabilities
The capabilities of the CoachMePlus software are vast. I have only begun to scratch the surface of how it can improve a program, but I think its greatest contribution is its ability to communicate and document our programming.
University administrators aren’t always well-equipped to evaluate a strength and conditioning coach. I once sat down with an administrator who admitted she was not quite sure how to evaluate my position. Ultimately, she decided to reach out to all my head coaches for feedback. I think this was a good move. We are support staff, and it’s important that the head coach feels good about their strength coach.
The ability of a coach to coach, communicate, and organize is fairly straightforward; however, these are all subjective measures. It would be nice if part of the evaluation process included performance metrics. CoachMePlus offers an easy snapshot of the improvement of key longitudinal measurements. The ability of a strength coach to visually demonstrate the value they create in their position is a game changer.CoachMePlus allows a strength coach to visually demonstrate the value they create in their position. This is a game changer. Click To Tweet
Don’t wait until the next big catastrophe in athletics. Protect yourself, your staff, and your athletes. We all know how important documentation is, but we struggle to keep up with our busy schedules at times. CoachMePlus offers your program a solution for what is sure to be an ongoing issue in the world of athletics.