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Brad Pantall

Copying a Program is a Mistake

Jim Kielbaso – Trying to copy some big time college program is common mistake made in high schools.  I’ve been engaged in a series of e-mails with one of our Ultimate S & C members about his situation at a high school, and I thought it was worth sharing.  He has been asked to implement a strength program for a high school football team, and the coach has started to voice some strong opinions before anything has even begun.  The football coach feels like he’s under some pressure to win because the team has been average for the past three years.  He has told the new strength coach that he likes Penn State’s program and wants him to implement it.  He also wants to make sure that each kid is getting an individualized program.

The member explained the situation to me, asked for some advice, and I here is how I responded:

“First, I would explain to him that you can’t copy a college program because you don’t have the staff, equipment or athletes to do it at the high school level.  Second, seeing a 5 minute video doesn’t really give you a complete understanding of a college program.  Just say that you’re taking things from several colleges and list the ones he wants to hear – Penn State, LSU, Alabama, etc.  And, if he wants you to run it like Penn State, ask if he’s going to give you everything it takes to run it like Penn State?  Will he have 5 more coaches there every day?  Can you demand 100% participation from a kid or he’s kicked off the team?  Can you dog-cuss kids left and right if they’re not doing exactly what you say?  Can you train them all in small groups instead of all at once before/after school?  Will he stand behind you no matter what?  Can he tell the parents not to ever talk to you so you can focus on doing your job?  Can you spend $500,000 on equipment?  Will there be ATCs present at every conditioning session in case kids go down?

That’s what Penn State has available.  I’m guessing you don’t.  You’re high school program just isn’t going to be a college program.  More importantly, it doesn’t have to be.

Tell him that you’re going to create a team-wide program, then individualize from there.  There is no need to create a completely different strength program for every kid.  These are high school athletes.  They need BASICS.  So, you create a “workout template” then make adjustments for any kids who need it.  Most kids will be just fine with a basic program, but you have to play politics and say the right things.

Instead of doing complete individual assessments on every kid, you might want to start with some basic strength testing.  You can get predicted maxes on a couple of lifts, maybe max chin ups, get numbers on vertical or broad jump, 40s, shuttles, etc. so you have baseline numbers.  You want to be able to document progress, so you need to test them periodically to show that your program is working.

The reality of a high school program is that you have to get the biggest “bang for your buck” and hope for as much support from your coaches and parents as possible.  Anyone who has coached in both college and high school should understand the differences.  I hope this helps.  Feel free to forward it to your football coach if you think it will help.”

The strength coach had a talk with his football coach, and talked him down from the ledge.  It turns out the football coach is stressed because he feels like his job is on the line, and he wants to make sure the kids are getting stronger.  The talk this strength coach had with him reassured the football coach that things are going to be OK and that the program is going to work.  Sometimes, we just have to talk stressed out coaches down so they understand we’re on their team, and we want to win just as badly as they do.  A conversation like that can go a long way to establishing a relationship with a sport coach, and I think this strength coach has done just that.  Once this relationship is established, everyone can work together toward the goal of helping the kids reach their true potential.  Ultimately, that’s what this is all about.

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7 Responses to Copying a Program is a Mistake

  1. Mike October 23, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    I love this! I have the opposite problem, coaches looking for a winning season, but I get no help whatsoever! I’m the only coach. There is no support from the head coach or asst. varsity coaches, they never address the players about off season training, there is no interest in the actual programing, they never come to any of the training sessions, no concern at all. I hope the head the head coach in your article realizes the actual time and effort it takes when you are the only one working with the kids. The ones who have never lifted before, the ones who are “hit & miss”, the ones who need extra attention. It’s not all black and white.

  2. Brian Hassler October 24, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    part of the problem is the culture or environment, these athletes see the coach as someone to look up to in all facets of the game (which isn’t a bad thing, don’t get me wrong but most high school football coaches have antiquated and limited knowledge about S&C) . When that coach says do XYZ in the weight room most likely the athlete follow suits. I have seen kids that take that too far though. For instance, football season ended for us this past weekend and the first thing I see is some kid deadlifting and doing squat jumps on tuesday. Now this isn’t inherently bad in of itself but their is no progression/supervision and also unfortunately these athletes haven’t lifted since August. The kid sees it as, “okay let’s pick up where we left off and take the best exercises and mush them together”. I see it as, “whoa slow down, take a step back and let’s look at this thing”. I remember seeing an interview by Eric Cressey were he explained the “absolute strength-strength/speed-speed/strength-absolute speed continuum. To me this athlete (after taking some down time) should start to follow that continuum fromn the beginning because he has been participating in the absolute speed end for most of the season.

  3. Robert Kirkland III October 24, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Brian if the that continuum were to be broken down into cycles would it looking something like this?

    January to March-Absolute strength/Strength, March to May-Speed/Strength and June to August Strength/Absolute speed?

    • Brian Hassler November 2, 2012 at 10:23 am #

      Robert, sorry it took me so long to respond. What I am looking at now for instance, is a strength cycle from November to January (thanksgiving break and Xmas break provide perfect reload opportunities and leaves about a six week block of strength) from there I will transition into strength speed which will be lighter weights 50-80 of 1rm on main lifts working in some of power movements (triple extension variants). The goal will be medium force, with high velocity. This could run until February. I would then throw in another strength cycle from mid feb to spring break. (Think high force/slow velocity on bench, deads, presses). After spring break would be absolute speed, which coincides with track season. Run that until mid may, then strength again until July. Take the fourth weekend off and come back with a final speed strength emphasis going into camp.

      Side note: I do like to throw in finishers after the main component of training. Typically I do two main lifts, I.e. squat and bench then I do a pulling exercise and some unilateral leg/arm work like step ups and db push press (which adds a bit of explosion into it). The finisher may be sled pushes for instance.

      • Brian Hassler November 2, 2012 at 10:24 am #

        *Reload should be deload.

  4. kielbaso October 30, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Brian, what do you think they’ve been doing during the season that would be considered absolute speed training? Just curious since I don’t think too many football players are doing any absolute speed stuff in-season, so I’m wondering what you’re seeing in your circles. It’s always interesting to hear what’s going on in different places.

  5. Brian Hassler November 2, 2012 at 10:11 am #

    I say absolute speed but I’d back track that to include absolute effort in that definition. Obviously, with regards to football it is more strength endurance but I’d argue that the athlete is closer to absolute speed/effort (the caveat would be that the level of absolute speed/effort would deteriorate during the year, at what rate would be dependent upon the training program). Now strength endurance isn’t necessarily on the continuum I listed but I feel in the context of football that it would correlate to speed/strength which in my mind would be more plyometric based but that type of exercise movement is more consistent with the high demands of sports. I just think that the athlete would benefit more from a strength progression after the season, then building into a speed cycle. After, I would alternate strength and speed cycles, ending with speed in August.

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