During the 2014 – 2015 school year Impact had the opportunity to work with the WPI athletic teams to provide them with a Strength & Conditioning department. WPI is a Division 3 school in Worcester, MA. They have a small athletic department with 13 varsity teams. This was a tremendous opportunity to work with some great athletes and great coaches. With last night being the last night working with the athletes I wanted to share some thoughts about the entire experience:
- I think what struck me most about working with these teams was how coachable they were. Most of the athletes were beginners, some of whom didn’t even know where the varsity weight room was. So we had to start from scratch. I often told the story of John Wooden’s first practice. John Wooden was a master at teaching the fundamentals. During his first practice every season he would spend 90 minutes teaching his players how to put on socks. They would sit there and put their socks on, take them off, then repeat. His reasoning was, if you don’t put on your socks properly you get blisters, if you get blisters you can’t practice or play.
- The first part of the process was teaching the athletes how to train. I believe that starts with learning how to warm-up. I always know how coachable an athlete is as soon as I see him/her warm-up. 10 yards for a warm-up drill does not mean go 8 yards then give up for the last two. That is my biggest pet peeve. This is really the only time I will be found cussing at the athletes. If an athlete can’t be trusted to complete a warm-up drill then how can that athlete be trusted to finish a play on the field.
- Even college athletes need to be taught how to jump. I was surprised at how many athletes did not know how to load their bodies in order to jump, leaving their upper body and lower body working in opposition as opposed to in synergy.
- The weight room is tiny, maybe 600 square feet. Coaching 20 – 30 athletes at one time in such a small space was a daunting task. Everyone had to have his or her head on a swivel to prevent from being caught by a barbell.
- Coaching that many athletes at one time gave me a new appreciation for what Mike Boyle has been preaching for a while now, especially in terms of bi-lateral squats. With that many athletes it is simply too difficult for one coach to ensure athletes are performing their back squats or front squats well and safely. The absolute last thing we want is to injure or exacerbate and existing injury. The Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat definitely becomes the go to lower body exercise. It is much easier to teach to a large group and much easier to learn to perform safely. That, along with the fact that athletes can get wicked strong makes it perfect for a large group.
- Piggybacking on the last point, logistics really does become the most important factor when writing programs. There was a lot of stuff (and things) I would have loved to do with these teams but logistically it just wouldn’t work. So we were forced to keep it simple and the athletes got great at the basics.
- Working with the football team was definitely a highlight for me, simply because it let Meathead Mike come out and play. I like Meathead Mike. I need to let him out a little more often. It is cool though how not only teams take cues from coaches but coaches take cues from teams. I learned quickly that these guys were an intense group and much more experienced group and would respond well to more intense coaching. On the other side it was very cool to see after one week the captains stopping after each warm-up drill to watch the rest of the team to ensure they all finished each and every drill.
- With so many athletes it was very difficult to learn everyone’s name. I pride myself on really connecting with and getting to know athletes and this made it much more difficult.
- The main thing I would like to see going forward is some level of in-season coaching. This past year we only worked with each team for 6 weeks during their off-seasons. I believe in-season training is a key missing element in much of athletics. Training in-season not only keeps the athletes getting stronger but also can go a long way towards decreasing injuries. In-season lifts should be quick with athletes spending 25 – 40 minutes in the weight room only 2 times per week. Volume stays low so as not to take away from practice and competition.
All in all the teams got better each and every day they trained. That is always the goal. Get just a little bit better today than you were yesterday.