I have taken a new job almost every year in this field. Say what you will, but each move has been something I’ve pursued and felt was best for my career. Regardless, entering a new athletic program is great, fun, exciting…but also very stressful. Most organizations, at least the ones I’ve been a part of, want you to have started yesterday. Finding a place, squeezing a mattress into a small SUV, and then having moving companies no-show me really kept me on my toes.
Some helpful tips I have acquired are to live light, utilize transportation companies, look for places to live during the interview process, and enjoy the scenery (if time permits). Finding a new place to live is tough—pending family, animals, cost—but Facebook Marketplace has worked wonders for me, as has checking crime rates based on area codes.
As an intern, everything was overwhelming—the athletes, the way the ship was run, programming, periodization, sport coach interaction, the list goes on and on. At the same time, it was easy—I was helping steer, guide, and maintain another person’s ship. I understood the ins and outs of what someone wanted their program to look and feel like, so I adopted similar views. This isn’t to say I didn’t ask questions or develop my own ideas and thoughts; I just saw what worked and wanted my own program to look similar.
As a graduate assistant, I took what I knew from my internship and molded the programs I took over as a GA that way. I soon realized what a flawed and naive move that was. I don’t mean that what I learned was wrong or wouldn’t work anywhere, it just wasn’t what was needed at that time.
The process of how I’d like to run a new program (or how I take over a program) starts in the interview, not when I get the job. That interview is where I show off who I am—there are jobs I didn’t get because I was too stern, too aggressive, or didn’t believe in running athletes for hours. And honestly, that’s fine—I’m not sure that would have been an environment I would have succeeded in or been the best version of myself.
Through my experiences at new programs with new coaches, co-workers, and student athletes, I have dropped more than I have added. A major drop was the thinking of this is how I did things at place X, so doing this at place Y will yield the same results…just a very young way of thinking.A major thing I dropped was thinking ‘this is how I did things at place X, so doing this at place Y will yield the same results.’ This is just a very young way of thinking. Click To Tweet
A big addition for me was my Tactical Three. (I am sure someone has something similar and calls it something different, but this is how I go into a new program.)
- What matters to me?
- What is needed?
- What worked?
What Matters to Me?
This question can be taken in 1,200 directions, so take it how you please. I look at it from both a personal and professional perspective.
Personally, what matters to me are my relationship with the staff, the student-athletes, and co-workers, my ability to grow (in all aspects), and being financially secure. Something I have added in the last two-ish years is taking the time to sit with the student-athletes and get to know them. When I first get acquainted with the student-athletes, I let them know I’d like to schedule a meeting with them and send them days/times that work for me, and they fill their names with what works for them.
At first, this starts off with basic information: position; height; wingspan; leg span; basketball goals, strengths, and weaknesses; and sports performance goals, strengths, and weaknesses. This gives me a better idea of how they view themselves and what their priority is, and it gets them comfortable with me. After this, we talk about issues of concern: eating habits, sleep, hydration, menstruation, mental health, and stress. They disclose whatever they feel comfortable with, and if there are any major concerns/issues, I bring it up to professionals in their respective field.
After these conversations, we discuss family dynamics, their why, favorite artist, hometown, and interest outside of hooping. This is easier with 14–15 athletes but creating a portfolio and asking them genuine questions goes a long way. These meetings can last 30–60 minutes, depending on how much an athlete is willing to talk.
From my end, the things that matter to me professionally are:
- Having healthy/strong/resilient athletes.
- Maintaining a healthy environment.
Winning solves 99% of problems and staying healthy solves another chunk. In accomplishing this, my programming principles come into play. A great addition I’ve implemented is assessments, both passive and active. I use a range of integrated systems: FMS, FRC, jumps, sprints, table screens, and pictures.
An assessment that I have really found valuable is integrating an upper/lower quarter screen table assessment and FRS. How can I move the athlete and how much can the athlete move themselves? It seems simple enough, but it’s surprising how little control the athletes have at certain ranges. Each gives me a different lens and different perspective as to how the athlete is operating.I’ve stopped looking to get numbers—I don’t max out the student-athletes. I’ve gotten away from it because I just don’t care what their PRS are. I’m looking for quality movement patterns. Click To Tweet
One thing I’ve stopped doing is looking to get numbers—I don’t max out the student-athletes. I’ve gotten away from it because I just don’t care what their PRs are. I am looking for quality movement patterns, and then once movements have been mastered to my liking, weight follows. “Well how do you know they’re getting stronger?” I never said we don’t lift heavy; I just don’t prioritize finding their 1RM in week 1. We will eventually work up to finding a tough double or triple toward the end of GPP or into pre-season, but that’s about it. Once I run these assessments, I find the athlete’s weakest point, attack it the best I can, and continue building on their strengths. With all that being said, assess, prescribe, evaluate, repeat.
What Is Needed?
When joining a new program, what words do you hear frequently, what do the athletes look like going into training, and how can you create the vision that the head coach sees?
Then, from a training standpoint, what are the common issues, common weak links, and outliers? I used to go into new programs with guns blazing and mold athletes into what I wanted. X school will fit in my vision. Yes, I am being hired for what I can bring, but I would miss the ball when I didn’t fully evaluate. I’ve lost time because what I could have identified earlier at the outset, I now recognized a few weeks in and had to regress.
So now, when I walk into a new program, I take the first week and use it to have sit-down meetings, assessments, and tests. What buckets need to be filled? Which need to be maintained? And what will be needed as soon as possible?
Another addition I have implemented is attempting to gauge an athlete’s readiness. Periodization and programming are theoretically great: you have high days, low days, volume, intensity, etc. But when applied, the stressors on athletes are really hard to factor in. This is where questionnaires, conversations, and CNS monitoring help. I have started using force plates and a hand dynamometer regularly. These are not perfect for CNS monitoring, but they do give a slightly clearer picture—and when gathering information over the years, trends start to arise.
I was at a seminar in Florida where I heard Christian Thibaudeau speak, and one of the topics he touched on was CNS fatigue. Something he said that stood out to me was “just because your athletes are sore or don’t feel 100%, that doesn’t mean their CNS isn’t ready.” This doesn’t seem like rocket science, but we are used to asking the athletes how they’re feeling and using “sore, tired, tight” as a way to either pull back or assume they are mentally gassed. For some, yes; but for others, they have peripheral fatigue, which occurs in most athletes, but their CNS is doing alright. So, I have added a hand dynamometer before our lifts to gauge where they’re at while still taking their wellness scores into consideration.
This part of the Tactical Three is a tough question, because what has worked could have worked for a lot of reasons. So, how can I make sure it has worked for the reasons I think it has? Success leaves clues and failure leads to success. I 100% know what hasn’t worked, which helps me navigate when I am trying to explore new ideas and implement different training methodology. With places I’ve been at either in the middle of the year or toward the end, I ask for feedback to see how the athletes perceive the workout and hear how they think they have improved (or, potentially, not).What’s worked has been explaining why we perform an exercise or lift and how it translates to their sport. This piece is crucial when coming into a new program. Click To Tweet
Lastly, what’s worked has been explaining why we perform an exercise or lift and how it translates to their sport. This piece is crucial when coming into a new program, especially if it’s something you plan on doing year-round.
Overall, my biggest additions/subtractions are a little more philosophical with some training qualities, but I am in this field to build meaningful relationships, build durable, strong athletes, and WIN.
Lead photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire.
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