9 Problems With NCAA Strength & Conditioning Coaches
Kids start getting recruited at a very early age coming out of Garage Strength. We have had athletes receiving offers in 9th and 10th grade to power five football programs. The athletes go to these universities and come back with a lot of cool information. They get information from the sport coach, from the strength coach and whoever else may be involved with the program. It’s really interesting to see what these men and women have to say about strength training.
Here is the catch. These kids age, mature and head off to college. They participate in their season and train away from Garage Strength at their chosen university or college. They come home over break and, we kid you not, they are weaker than when they left!
This became a consistent issue. Garage Strength athletes returned to us cleaning less, squatting less, mobility issues, knee problems and this started to trigger some questions. Not only did we have questions, but parallel to this, we started receiving questions from other NCAA strength coaches who wanted to know where they could personally improve.
We are fortunate to have access to a lot of the top strength coaches in the NCAA realm, as well as access to other strength coaches Garage Strength athletes are training with or for.
This begs the question, what are those big problems we’re seeing? Where are areas strength coaches can improve? What can be criticized and what can be utilized to dramatically improve the school’s entire athletic department’s school performance?
We got nine suggestions to share.
9. Too Early
Right off the bat, a lot of these coaches love to have training sessions early in the morning, like 5 AM early. This may possibly be being done to prevent kids from partying too much, or it might be being done to prevent kids from staying up and doing stupid things.
Problem is, kids ages 18-21 still need more sleep because they are growing (to a point). We also know that they will perform better in the afternoon within the weightroom. This leads to the next step which is that there is hypothetically going to be more injuries when having early morning training sessions. No one wants injuries. Injuries need to be prevented.
We believe that the coaches need to impact these kids as positively as possible. Maybe instead of utilizing the early training session to try and mitigate poor decision making the previous night, schedule earlier morning classes and hold the athletes accountable for attendance to the class. This way stresses the importance of going to sleep but also optimizes the time in which training occurs.
We believe anything before 9 AM is too early for college age kids and can hinder their performance, as well as potentially leading to a higher rate of injuries.
8. Exercise Selection
We are blown away when college athletes bring in their really cool, spiral bound notebooks with custom graphics. The presentation is legit. Unfortunately, once the contents are explored the superficial gloss loses its luster.
The programs will have copious amounts of exercises. We’re talking ten various movements to be performed in a single session. It looks like someone just threw movements on a wall and picked what they wanted to go into that specific day of training.
Exercise selection is not always the best at universities and colleges. We’ve seen a program from a power five school where they had a deadlift preceding a hang power clean, followed by a bench press all in the same session. What is the goal of that session? Is it absolute strength? Dynamic work? Upper body work? We have no idea.
The exercise selection and amount of exercises are mind boggling. Set a goal, execute that goal, program towards that goal with specificity and practical training that will enhance the athlete’s sport performance and negate potential injuries.
7. Sets Too Low
If you have ten to twelve exercises in a workout, athletes can really only do two to three sets per exercise. We believe that has a hindrance on development for a lot of these kids.
For instance, if we are having athletes back squatting, we will have them do anywhere between six and eight sets so they can get into a groove, feel strong, effectively track the movement pattern and over time perfect the technique which will increase their strength. As we all know, the back squat has a very high transfer to other exercises.
The same thing with sets with technical coordination movements (power clean, snatch, etc.). If the athletes are only being given three sets to learn the movement, that is likely not enough for them to maximize that session of training. They need time to learn the movement during training, they need time to learn the feeling of the weight and then they need even more time to provide a heavy enough stimulus so that the athlete adapts and gets stronger in the movement.
Having more sets will optimize strength gains and will impact exercise selection, forcing a decrease in the number of exercises selected in each given day.
This one irks us, especially when dealing with power 5 schools with bankrolls for generations. We see videos of these studs cleaning 400 lbs and they’re wearing metcons. Nothing is necessarily wrong with metcons, but they’re not weightlifting shoes. Not asking field sport athletes to go play on grass without cleats, so why are they lifting without lifters?
If the program has the money, get the athletes weightlifting shoes. Weightlifting shoes provide a lot more stability in the heel, increase range of motion in the lower back and improves the dorsiflexion in the ankle. Worst of all, squishy shoes can lead to injury.
Even if the university doesn’t have the budget, recommend the kids’ parents make the purchase.
5. Women’s Bars
This is another one that gets our britches in a bundle.
There are schools out there that don’t have women’s bars. There are men’s bars and women’s bars for a reason. Why isn’t this a part of Title IX?!?! We have women going off to these power 5 schools trying to snatch and clean on a men’s bar and can’t get a hook grip.
Buy women's bars!!! There will be an immediate increase in female athletes’ strength from the coach. Everyone looks better. And most importantly, it is about equality. Do it. Now. Why hasn’t it been done yet?!?!
4. No Chalk, Only Straps?!
Why wouldn’t a coach let an athlete use chalk? Athletes are slinging serious weight overhead and off the floor and we want things to be less safe? Get out of here with that!
Chalk improves safety. It allows the athlete to get a better grip.
So instead of cleaning up the potential mess chalk leaves, coaches are having athletes use straps. Straps aren’t bad if the athlete is pulling or snatching, but straps are an issue when being used to perform cleans and various variations of the clean because athletes are unable to release their hands, potentially bouncing their elbows off the quads and breaking a wrist. Again, injuries are bad, not wanted and need to be prevented.
Just use chalk, okay? What’s the worst that happens, things get dirty? Clean it up.
3. Too Many Gadgets
These are 18-24 year old kids. Some of them never lifted in their life. They don’t need a tendo unit. They do need to squat, snatch, clean, front squat and power clean.
Stop buying these gadgets that cost thousands of dollars and buy the athletes lifting shoes, chalk and women’s bars. Having tendo units in a gym without women’s bars is pathetic. It’s absurd.
The gadgets don’t stop there. Eccentric hooks, chains, bands and a lot of these kids being trained haven’t even been lifting that long! Why use all these crazy gadgets? These kids just need to lift!
But the urge to get fancy just can’t be resisted. Okay, have the athletes do some snatches from blocks, cleans from blocks, box squats and other things along those lines. Things don’t have to get crazy.
Training the 18-24 age range is easy. These kids are ready to blow up from the muscular perspective. Gadgets aren’t needed until they’re 26+ in age, having used every little tool possible and the athlete has made every single defense mechanisms to adapt to the different stimuli, then go for it.
That’s the key. If the tool is being used at 23 it won’t have the necessary impact at 27 when they’re chasing that olympic dream, professional career or longevity.
Let’s just agree that coaches don’t need a tendo unit to tell if an athlete is moving fast or slow.
2. Lack Of Technical Model
Technique is cosmic.
We can hear it now, “Uh, see, uh, I got 20 kids here and I, uh, can’t teach them to olympic lift.”
Seriously?! Really?! Get out of here with the excuses!
These are D1 athletes! ATHLETES!!! They’ll learn. They didn’t ascend to that level of play because they’re chumps. They got there because they are physically capable of feats of athleticism.
We can teach ten year olds who will never play D1 athletics how to coordinate the olympic lifts.
It’s just like all sports: swimming, football, wrestling, diving, etc, technique is embedded in execution of the movements in the sport. It is the same with lifting. A technical model needs to be established for all training movements. This way every time the athlete is performing the various movements they understand the process behind executing the movement. Developing a technical model lets the athletes know exactly what is expected from them in every single movement for every single exercise.
1. Lack Of Periodization Model
Again, athletes bring home packets and we can clearly see the periodization models being used or not being used. What is sad is that it is typically the lower levels, D3, D2, 1AA schools that have a clear progression. We can see that they are using linear, non-linear, block method, conjugate and others.
But at the top, there is no periodization model! Again, the presentation looks nice with the packet but the content lacks a periodization model. It’s just random workouts put into a cool looking packet and as one digs deeper into what the end goal is nothing is apparent.
That’s important. Where are we trying to get these kids to? How are we getting them from point A to point B? And most importantly, how do we communicate where we want the athletes as a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior?
We have to communicate with the athletes the benchmark numbers we want to see hit in selected lifts and at what point in the training we want to see it executed. We need to educate the athletes on the process and the expectations. We need to keep them informed to create buy-in and belief. Yes, they’re young and immature, but they’re hungry and willing to learn. Utilize that want and cultivate growth.
Periodize the training and establish a technical model. Have a goal and a clear method of explaining the expectation of movement. These are athletes that have already demonstrated the ability to coordinate movements; they’ll learn through completing multiple sets of precisely chosen exercises. Keep exercise selection limited and to the point. Also. let the kids sleep so they recover and lift heavier anytime after 9 AM.
Finally, buy women’s bars (Title IX), use chalk, get rid of the gadgets and have the athletes lift in weightlifting shoes.
End rant, descend from soap-box.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.