In recent years, many high schools have recognized the need for a certified strength and conditioning coach. The role of that position can significantly benefit not only the football program, but every athletic program offered at the high school – both boys and girls.
Some of the benefits of having a strength and conditioning coach at the high school level, among many others, include athlete safety, injury prevention, improved performance, and proper in-season and out- of season training protocols.
After working for 20 years as a strength and conditioning coach at the Division I collegiate level, I took a leap of faith to work at the high school level to help athletes try to achieve their goals at Enid High School, a 6A high school in Enid, Oklahoma. What sold me on this transition was the school district’s commitment in wanting to make strength and conditioning an important part of the overall experience for all sports and all athletes.
That commitment was evident when I was shown the plans the district had to construct two modern weight rooms for student- athletes to be able to train in year-round. One smaller weight room was quickly renovated from its older style to a more current functional facility. This smaller weight room provides the ability to train groups of about 25-30 athletes at one time.
The newly constructed weight room is a much larger multi-functional state-of-the-art facility. It is a 5,000-square-foot facility with the capacity to handle up to 70 athletes at one time, complete with state-of-the-art equipment for various styles of training. This facility is second to none at the high school level and shows the kind of commitment that has been made by our school district to benefit student-athletes at Enid High School.
One of the most beneficial roles a quality strength and conditioning program can bring to the table is that of an improved culture and improved mentality. Strength and conditioning professionals are given the responsibility of taking developing athletes to places they had no idea they could go physically. Once they get to those places, they start to grow mentally as well, and they begin to realize that the work they put in has made them tougher and more physically resilient.
Those traits come with other positive factors such as increased strength and power, growth in speed and overall athletic ability, and an improved ability for the body to be more resistant to injury. All of this can come from the change in culture which, in turn, comes from the athlete buying into a plan put together by a strength and conditioning coach who has their best interest in mind.
One of the more challenging, yet rewarding, aspects of high school athletics is the fact that many of the athletes compete in multiple sports. Even though the combination of strength/conditioning and the “multi-sport” athlete can sometimes present a challenge, they can also work hand in hand.
Being in a year-round comprehensive strength/conditioning program is very important for multi-sport athletes because it can help make them more resilient to injury and provide them with the opportunity to improve their athletic ability across the board and year-round – not just in a single-sport setting.
The multi-sport athlete at the high school level is one that covers a wide spectrum of abilities, which can easily translate into increased performance in several sports. But strength and conditioning coaches must also remember that the multi-sport athlete does not get as much recovery time or off-season time. Therefore, coaches must temper their training program accordingly.
The one thing that has been on the forefront of everyone’s mind for the last several months has been the battle of how to deal with COVID-19 and all of its implications. With the return to train ing activities last summer, our athletic department staff was taxed with the job of developing a plan that would first help to ensure every single athlete’s safety, and then re-introduce them to a group training setting that would safely and effectively get them back to their pre- COVID-19 levels of training. After approximately 10 weeks away from any form of organized training or sports activity, the safe return to a summer training program was of the utmost importance.
We had some kids who worked very hard to stay in shape while they were away from the school setting, but others were not as diligent in staying in top shape. Many kids had to become caregivers to others and remote teachers to younger siblings while parents continued to work. And being a good family member sometimes means sacrificing the things that the high school student might normally feel are the most important, such as sports and strength/ conditioning.
My plan was to implement the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCA) Newcomer Athlete Plan that is currently being used at the college level. This is a 50/30/20/10 plan that requires new athletes in week 1 to perform 50 percent of their normal workload and then a 30 percent decrease in week 2, then a 20 percent decrease in week 3 and a 10 percent decrease in week 4. The implementation of this plan worked flawlessly in our first 4-week summer session.
With our new weight room facility, we will be able to implement a new and enhanced lifting strategy that had previously been implemented. But during this past summer, we chose to move all of the weights and bars outside where we could still train as a team, but do so safely while being socially distanced. By using this method, we were able to continue building the team culture that had been implemented previously.
In the minds of many strength coaches, this would not be an ideal set up for summer training, but we adapted and made it successful. The plan worked so well that we applied it to all our athletes for their summer training programs (not just football players). With our new state-of-the-art facility complete, we will now be able to get closer to a “normal” strength and conditioning setting but we will also always have the lessons we have learned by being forced to think outside the box.
Student-athletes at the high school level are just as deserving of a qualified strength and conditioning professional as any elite collegiate athlete. Seeing the growth that has occurred at Enid High School in 18 months has renewed my enthusiasm as a strength coach. Working with a staff of great coaches and an athletic department staff who share in the same vision, combined with a supportive administration, it will continue to help enhance and improve Enid High strength and conditioning and push athletes to achieve higher levels than they ever thought possible.
Tracy Baldwin, S.C.C.C., M.S.C.C., is the head strength and conditioning coach at Enid High School in Enid, Oklahoma. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.