S&C at the USport Level (an interview)
Hi everyone, I was recently asked to answer a few questions by a colleague. I thought it would be worthwhile to share with you all as well. Enjoy!
How did you get started in S&C at the University level?
My professional sport career ended and I had the a one way ticket anywhere. It took me back to my alma mater where I knew I had the chance to volunteer as a sport and strength and conditioning coach. I had already determined that this path the direction I wanted to pursue, but my release from my contract fast tracked it. From there, I picked up a few more teams for little to no money and did well enough to earn a full time position [also for little to no money] with all varsity teams. At that point, I turned down opportunities to “chase the dream”, and go to another training camp in the CFL.
What caught your interest to go into the S&C profession? Was it one mentor, prof, experience?
Strength and conditioning was the driving force that allowed me to excel at the collegiate level and play professionally. It allowed me to bypass those who had more natural skills, talent, and athleticism. It tilted the field my way in a sense. This experience led me to want to be the driving force and difference for other athletes. What likely had a greater impact was that although my S&C experience was positive, I didn’t have a tremendous amount of coaching. Once I finished my career as an athlete, I realized that there could have been better methods that might have benefited me and extended my career. My mission therefore became to give my athletes the training opportunity I never got to have.
How do you manage such a large group when resources are usually limited? Do you recruit help from the kinesiology school or other areas?
At the most basic level, its using a combination of the ‘assembly line’ system popularized by coach Boyle, combined with the Tier System organization popularized by Joe Kenn that rotates through the week. This allows athletes to maximize space, and focus for the coach can be put on “coaching intensive exercises” such as clean and squat. The former allows multiple groups to be operating at the same time, while the latter allows coaching emphasis to be placed on exercises that require greater attention, and higher risk. I do currently recruit students to act as interns, which can be of assistance with some of the less coaching intensive exercises. The trade-off is that my knowledge and abilities increased, I sometimes still have to program down to the lowest common denominator in the room.
How do you track training? Things like intensity, volume, etc.
I prescribe all weights for the key exercises such as clean, bench, squat. I provide autonomy for my athletes to select loads for other exercises, which are traditionally supplementary or complementary. We would also collect loads for key exercises. We also collect S-RPE to help with training load.
How have the coaches been? Receptive? Did some take longer than others? Which sports took longer?
All coaches are extremely supportive. Some enjoy a hands-off approach where they don’t seem to care or know what S&C is doing with the athletes. Other coaches want to be intimately involved, I receive data, or even be at every session. Men’s sports sometimes tend to take longer to buy-in, which is a bit counter-intuitive. I’ve always found female sports more receptive and more focused towards their physical development.
How do address injury prevention?
Injury prevention can’t be addressed in any one part. It’s the whole program, from top to bottom. As Coach Boyle says, “injury prevention” is just good training. So for us, it would be prescribing appropriate loads, addressing common mobility/stability restrictions in warmup, target commonly imbalanced muscle groups in training, avoiding exercises for athletes that invoke pain, and do our best to adjust programming to the daily feel of the athlete. It’s hopefully embedded top to bottom.
Do you track injury rates?
No, we don’t. We currently debrief with therapy and talk about reported trends. Unfortunately I believe this leads to recency bias, or major injuries that stick out. I’d prefer to see a detailed number of games/practiced missed, since I also ‘sore/hurt’ can get misrepresented as ‘injured’.
What periodization scheme do you lean on most?
Linear periodization for most first year athletes. For the rest of the athletes we lean on an undulated linear (Phase 1 – 8’s, Phase 2 – 4’s, Phase 3 – 6’s, Phase 4 – 3’s) periodization that waves between accumulation and intensification popularized by Poliquin, and adopted by coaches like Baker, Boyle, etc. I may use a block periodization in short periods or for athletes with very specific peaking dates (combine athletes). Otherwise undulated linear is optimal for team sport athletes that are constantly training.
Where do you go for good information and what professional development have you done in the past couple of years?
My MSc. Strength and Conditioning at St. Mary’s University (London, UK) was the major PD investment the last 3 years. I’m looking to get back to conferences, courses, and my own choice of literature. I can’t recommend the MSc. S&C at St. Mary’s enough. You’re best to take it after a few years experience and do it while you’re working.
What is your advise to young professionals interested in being in your position some day?
Take on every opportunity possible to earn coaching hours – say yes to everything until you’re too busy too. By then you should have more support to offload. Experience is almost everything after a base amount of knowledge. Higher level knowledge won’t do much good until you’ve put time in the weightroom. Be a nice person, don’t think you’re smarter than you are, earn the respect of the athletes. The early part of your career is to earn career capital so that you can have better balance in your life. Read often, listen to podcasts, sit and talk to other coaches, go visit, be a line cook before you become a chef.