In the previous article, I explored who you should turn to for help when you want to improve as a player. Some athletes are now asking:
What, exactly, can a strength & conditioning coach do for me?
This may be the closest I ever come to a short answer..
Strength & conditioning professionals are not technical coaches. My role is not to teach you to throw your sporting implement, to execute defensive strategy, or to score goals. Strength & conditioning coaches serve three critical functions:
- Assess athletes for injury risks, design programs to prevent common injuries, and assist in preparing rehabilitated athletes for competition after therapy.
Both of 2015’s Spotlight athletes have experienced hamstring strains and mild Achilles pain as a result of large training loads and fatiguing competitive conditions. A simple Functional Movement Screen predicted risk of hamstring issues in both Mizpah and Sarah. Flexibility exercises, regular deadlifting (with both athletes far exceeding 225lb in the lift while weighing under 150lb), and careful attention to hydration and rest helped minimize the severity of their injuries and accelerate their recovery timeline. In other female athletes, I verified that stair runs, walking lunges, and explosive calf raises or jump rope work done progressively in the preseason dramatically reduce the chances of Achilles tendon injury.
It is a strength & conditioning coach’s job to read the research about common injuries by gender and by sport. As an example, women in field sports are consistently three times as likely to experience an ACL tear as men. Typically, this is due to short hip flexors, weak thighs (front and back), and unstable hips.
All of those risk factors can be addressed with an intelligent strength training program. The exercises described as useful for preventing Achilles strain can be easily incorporated. Knowing these facts, implementing them into training programs, and delivering playable athletes to skill coaches are my areas of specialty.
- Support technical coaches’ team objectives by handling all physical preparation needs related to an athlete’s individual role. In poorly-funded sports, there are not always specialty coaches for each position. A head coach, already tasked with recruiting talent, designing team strategy, organizing practices, and making tactical adjustments during games rarely has leftover time for developing players. When a backup player on Austin Sol asked me how he could earn a starting spot, I had the time and knowledge available to analyze how and why he was being outplayed. He needed to accelerate more effectively, hold a strong defensive position for longer without decreasing his lateral movements, and excess weight was a contributing factor to those weaknesses.
I modified the team’s strength training and speed development program for him, then provided some simple counsel about dietary modifications to stimulate fat loss. He did not earn a starting spot last season, but his playing time did increase. While his deliberate practice of ultimate skills certainly contributed, my ability to target his weaknesses with physical training helped him be a more useful player.
Where coaches for every field position are lacking, a strength & conditioning coach can address fundamental athletic qualities which fit the team’s vision. Sol played an explosive style of ultimate, with sharp movement among short-field players and long sprints ending in big jumps for deep-field players. Sol did not need to analyze running or change-of-direction mechanics during their practices because those qualities were addressed during players’ conditioning work with me, specific on their position. Handling physical needs and dealing with individual players’ goals are how I contribute to a head coach focusing energy on tactics and players focusing energy on execution.
- Provide expertise about all questions regarding physical preparation and energy-specific conditioning needs for optimal performance.
Coaches need to select the best athlete for the job at hand. Athletes need to intimately know their role and technical skills. Instead of tasking either coach or athlete with also figuring out how many sets and reps of which exercises to use in the weight room, what training to focus on in the preseason, or how exactly to improve recovery ability between hard efforts on the field, hire a strength & conditioning coach.
Devon, a teenage small forward in basketball, wanted to be a varsity member of his team. He had dedicated months to practicing his jump shot and passes under pressure. With three preseason practices behind him, his skills were sufficient, but his speed and power were not. We spent three months on his acceleration mechanics, basic strength, and jumping skills. He became much stronger, could fast break more effectively, and gained very little weight, which earned him that varsity slot on his summer travel team.
I believe Austin Sol remained relatively injury-free and competitive in multiple-overtime late-season games in 2015 in part because our endurance work was highly specific to the demands of AUDL-rules ultimate. I borrowed those conditioning ideas from championship collegiate soccer teams. It would not have been Tank’s (head coach) or any player’s job to know definitively that they were both performing appropriate conditioning and minimizing injury risks. As a strength & conditioning coach for the team, I could dedicate my working hours to determining how much work was enough for the sport and Sol’s style of play.
Mike Boyle says that a strength & conditioning coach should increase the number of quality performances for an athlete and team. In Easy Strength, Dan John remarked that a strength coach’s impact on winning and losing in team sports is fuzzy. The strongest, fastest, best conditioned team may still lose because of poor execution or misunderstood strategy.
However, mediocre athletes or a roster hampered by chronic injuries cannot compare to a talented and healthy team, regardless of their execution. The strength & conditioning coach allows fast, strong, and talented athletes recruited by skill coaches to perform as near their human potential as possible.
As mentioned in the previous article, if you play for fun, regardless of your age or category in sport, you will make progress working with any competent trainer. But if you play to win, in addition to exceptional technical coaching, well-developed sports psychology tactics, a comprehensive rehabilitation team, and your own strong desire to excel, you need a professional in strength, speed, and conditioning program design to help you become the absolute best athlete you can be.