By Rob Van Valkenburgh, CSCS, TSAC-F, NASM-PES
Strength-Performance Coach (CoachVanStrength.com)
Strong, fast and physical are three adjectives we want to be able to use when describing the athletes we coach. Of course, as strength and conditioning coaches, if we check these three boxes, our athletes are going to test well and most likely see performance improvements on the field.
However, I’d have you consider that building athletes who are just strong, fast and physical is secondary to what should be our No. 1 objective.
As a strength and conditioning coach, our measure of success should be this: Do we develop confident young men?
Regardless of your methods, getting a 15- to 18-year-old athlete strong is the easiest thing in the world. The hard part about our role is breathing confidence into young athletes when 90% of them lack self-confidence and don’t understand the payout from hard work.
I have been fortunate to have great mentors in my life and a couple quotes from them resonate with me when contemplating how I want to run my program.
“Training young athletes is about the mind, body and soul. If you only focus on the body, you’re missing the point” – Nate Bandy
“This strength game is not about the X’s and O’s; it’s about the Janes and Joes. Train the person first and the athlete second.” – Jeff Earls
As a coach, I have four strategies that I implement weekly which I believe help build the confidence of young men.
Find ways for them to set a PR every week.
Every athlete needs to have at least one big win each week. Whether it is hitting a new max on squat, a fastest 10-yard sprint time, a PR on pull-ups, or a bench press rep out, each and every athlete needs to get a ‘W’ each week. Keeping accurate records is vital for this. I would suggest selecting 4-5 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) which you track and test 1-2 of them every week.
Now, you are not going to read this in any exercise science textbooks, but it is OK to train towards performing well in your KPIs. Remember, if the athlete wins in the weight room, he is very likely to win on the field. These are high school kids, not the Dallas Cowboys. The goals and objectives are different.
Program biceps, triceps and trap work at least two days per week.
Do me a favor … Remember when you were 16 and got a savage pump into your arms? Remember how you felt like a badass and like your arms were about to explode? Yep, that’s what we are going for here. At least two days per week we’re going to have our guys walk out of the weight room with a ridiculous pump. This is good for them between the ears, and it is good for the culture in the weight room.
Have a “who needs love list”.
We keep a list of athletes who need to get loved up. Anyone who works with this age demographic can tell you that these dudes are emotional rollercoasters, and sometimes they just need some love. So, we have a list of guys who we need to have more interaction with based on their energy level, body language, or if our relationship feels a little different from the usual. Once an athlete lands on the “who needs love” list, they get a text, a post of them lifting on social media, and more attention during the lift. As coaches, we have to be aware of the emotional state of our athletes, and keeping this list helps me auto-regulate how I manage and monitor this.
Provide an overwhelmingly positive environment in the weight room.
This is simple. Every athlete who comes in the weight room gets some form of personal welcome. This can be a fist bump, pat on the back, or a holler from across the room. In addition, we never coach negative, and we never dog-cuss our guys. If there is a time where we have to give negative feedbac,k we follow it up with three positive ones.
I know all of this can sound a bit “hippy-woo-woo”, but it works. Our guys hit the door with a high level of energy and enthusiasm every day.
At the end of the day, we are training young men who need role models and who lack confidence. I got into this field for one reason, I want to be the coach I needed at 16, and if I am not coaching their mind, body and soul, then I am not accomplishing my mission as a coach.