Written by Chad Wesley Smith
The photo used above isn’t meant to be a criticism of that specific coach, rather just a picture of a coach working with athletes.
Since opening Juggernaut in 2009, I have had the good fortune of being able to personally prepare and send over 50 athletes onto athletic careers in college. These have been athletes in football, basketball, soccer, baseball, water polo, softball, and more, but despite the diversity of sports presented and the pomp and circumstance that has surrounded their recruitment, one common thread exists, errors in their physical preparation programs at their universities.
Now this is not meant as an indictment of all college strength and conditioning coaches by any means, as there are tons of great coaches working with athletes across this country. With that being said, there are also many who are doing their athletes a disservice.
There are 3 main areas that I see commonly failing in the training of college athletes. 1-Lack of program management, 2-Inappropriate Energy System Training and Exercise Use, and 3-Poor Nutrition Education and Monitoring. Now there are more issues like this and there are schools who do a great job with these areas, but as a generalization, these are for key components of the training process that are falling down for many college athletes.
Lack of Program Management
The training of an athlete is a holistic process. Often ‘training’ is compartmentalized as activities done with a strength coach, stuff with a barbell, medball, stop watch, etc but the body doesn’t know squats, sprints, throws, tackling, jumping, etc it only knows stress and stimulus and everything you do presents a stress to the body.
For a football lineman, football practice, which could consist of sprinting, hitting a sled, 1 vs 1 drills, ‘conditioning’ (we will get into that issue in a bit), scrimmaging and more, is a much more intensive stressor to the body than any kind of ‘training’ they do with their S&C coach. Yet, the volumes and intensity of work that an athlete is performing during their sport practice is rarely tracked, monitored and planned to the same degree that their general physical preparation (lifting, sprinting, jumping, etc basically all non-sporting drills) is. This is a huge problem!
Legendary sprint coach, Charlie Francis, likened the central nervous system to a cup. A cup has finite capacity and every stressor imposed on it will fill the cup up to some degree, when the cup overflows, the athlete is overtrained. Let’s take a basketball player for example, a basketball player will jump dozens or hundreds of times per game in practice and games, yet they will often go into the weightroom and perform more jumps (box jumps, depth jumps, vertimax, etc) with their S&C coach. How would adding more jumps to their training help them jump higher? It wont! This is happening because there is either a lack of communication between sport coach and strength coach or a stubbornness on the part of the strength coach to adjust the athlete’s workload to compensate for the stress of sport practice.
Ideally, this problem would be solved by a program manager, a single individual who would oversee the organization of volume and intensity of specific (sport practice) and general (lifting, etc) drills. This person would have an intimate knowledge and involvement in the planning of all the athlete’s training and this is the best way for training to occur. The only time that you really see something like this occur is in track and field, where it is common for one coach to handle the event training and physical training of their athletes, and in my opinion this is a big reason why track and field athletes often express the most impressive sprinting, jumping and strength numbers. While it may be unrealistic to have a coach telling Nick Saban how many reps of inside run drills or 7 on 7 drills he should do, it is important that there is close communication between the sport coach and strength coach to ensure that the volume and intensity of stressors placed on the athlete are properly organized throughout the training year.
Inappropriate Energy System Training and Exercise Use
Nearly all college sports are alactic in nature, though nearly all college athletes are subjected to lactic based conditioning. Compounding this problem is that this is often done under the guise of speed or plyometric training to improve sprinting and jumping abilities.
Let’s get a couple things straight here, lactic based work inhibits the development of alactic power and maximal speed/power qualities must be trained with complete rest. The better an athlete, with any appreciable qualification, gets at performing sets of 30 box jumps, the worse they will become in a single effort vertical jump. The better an athlete, with any appreciable qualification, gets at performing 800m runs or 300yd shuttle, the worse they will become in a single effort 30m sprint.
Now you may be saying, “but they need to be conditioned for multiple reps, not just a single effort!” Well I certainly agree that an athlete’s capacity must be developed specific to their sport, but they first must have some appreciable quality to develop a capacity in. Conditioning is a big word, that encompasses many different qualities and a well conditioned athlete in one thing, isn’t necessarily well conditioned in another. It’s a waste of time and energy to work on developing energy systems that aren’t a significant part of the athlete’s sport.
I am shocked by the responses I have received from college athletes about what they do for speed work because they are in fact, are not speed work at all. Running 20 reps of 40 yd sprints with 30 seconds of rest between each isn’t speed work, 110 yd sprints aren’t speed work, max box jumps in 30 seconds aren’t jump training, they are mindless drills that are inhibiting an athletes ability. This is often under the veil of ‘developing mental toughness’ and I understand the value of shared struggle in building a successful team, but this needs to be a once in a while thing, not an all the time thing.
True maximal speed work, done with full recoveries, is the most significant stimulus the body can incur, because the athlete is moving at the highest velocity and overcoming huge ground contact forces. This needs to be a pillar of the athlete’s training to create a speed reserve and enhance all speed/power qualities.
Alactic-aerobic sports, like football, soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, baseball and water polo, shouldn’t have a significant (if any) lactic component to their training, so coaches please stop ruining your athlete’s power output capabilities with miles of jogging, endless shuttle drills and highly lactic sled pushing. Examine the way that your athletes actually move as part of their sport, how far are they going, how fast are they getting there, what resistance do they incur along the way, how long does each bout take, how long between intensive efforts are there, what are they doing between efforts. Asking these simple questions will greatly improve their training.
Poor Nutrition Education and Monitoring
Nutrition is the fuel for the athlete’s body. Bad nutrition will yield subpar performances. College is the first time in many athlete’s lives that they have freedom in making their own nutritional choices and because of the impact on training that nutrition has, strength coaches should make it a priority to educate them.
There are tons of options for the college athlete when it comes to eating and it is very easy to make the wrong ones when most meals are buffet style in the dining hall. Now because of the hectic schedule and limited cooking abilities of most college students, it wouldn’t be smart to tell them they need to be grilling grassfed beef, steaming brown rice and broccoli for every meal because it just isn’t practical and if it can’t be adhered to, it won’t work.
Give your athletes practical advice on how to make good nutrition decisions within their meal plans and dining options. Equip them with simple ways, like spoonfuls of almond butter or coconut oil to meet caloric needs.
Once you arm your athlete’s with the knowledge they need to make good nutrition decisions, coaches must monitor these decisions, through keeping track of bodyweight, bodyfat levels, having athlete’s keep food journals and by just observing their body composition and performance. One of the most frustrating moments for me as a coach, was sending off a 6-5 300 pound offensive lineman from high school and seeing him step on the football field a few months later as a weaker, slower 275 pound version of himself. This happened because of a lack of attentiveness by himself and his coaches to his nutrition choices.
Nutrition is a critical component of creating a successful athlete and it is up to the strength coach to properly equip their athlete’s with the knowledge to make the right decisions and to hold them accountable to those decisions after that.
College strength and conditioning coaches are tasked with preparing athletes to succeed in their sport and are falling down in some key areas of that job. Lack of cohesiveness in the entire training process, wasting time training the wrong energy systems and a lack of attention to nutrition are three key areas where I see a need for improvement among college coaches.Chad Wesley Smith is the founder and head physical preparation coach at Juggernaut Training Systems. Chad has a diverse athletic background, winning two national championships in the shot put, setting the American Record in the squat (905 in the 308 class, raw w/ wraps) and most recently winning the 2012 North American Strongman championship, where he earned his pro card. In addition to his athletic exploits, Chad has helped over 50 athletes earn Division 1 athletic scholarships since 2009 and worked with many NFL Players and Olympians. Chad is the author of The Juggernaut Method and The Juggernaut Method 2.0 and The Juggernaut Football Manual. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter