Jan 29, 2015
Back On Track in ’08

By Christopher Holder

Christopher Holder, MS, RKC, CSCS, Director of Strength and Conditioning at San Jose State University, shares lessons he learned from a trying football season that saw the team finish 5-7. After plenty of reflection and self-evaluation, Holder talks about how he and his staff have regrouped and are preparing to attack 2008.

After three straight nine-win seasons and a major bowl victory last season, I admit that I went into the 2007 football season feeling sort of bulletproof. However, shortly after the season started, I was brought back down to earth and served a huge helping of humble pie. An 0-3 start, a near-miss upset of the Hawai’i Warriors during a nationally-televised home game, and a road schedule that ended up being “mission impossible,” contributed to a disappointing 5-7 record and had this strength coach doing some major reflection.

It doesn’t take a veteran football analyst to deduce that the 2007 San Jose State Spartan Football Team was not the ’06 Spartans, and unlike last season, this year’s team certainly didn’t give our opponents any cause for concern we came to town. The ’06 Spartans were was a sort of talented, somewhat motivated, occasionally brilliant, at times totally dreadful team. It was frustrating because there were times when the team went through stages of playing inspired and uninspired, were hard hitting then soft, focused then aloof, sometimes gritty, and sometimes lackluster. We were basically a bipolar football team–the likes of which I had never seen before.

But through it all, each and every Saturday I felt like we were prepared. Practices were intense and kids worked hard, but I was never were sure which team was going to show up on game day. So who is to blame? The kids? Sure. The coaching staff? Without a doubt. Does some of this culpability belong on the Strength Coach and his staff? One-hundred percent, and without question.

Admittedly the negative vibe of losing took it’s toll on me, and I can honestly tell you that midway through our season I came to what most would consider a professional crossroads. Nothing brings the worst out in me more than losing. And it wasn’t the type of losing where you walk away with some valuable lesson. It simply felt like I had been beaten down over and over and that I had reached a point where I couldn’t help my kids win. Long story short, it sucked.

So I asked myself, “What are you gonna do Holder? Are you going to be a man and find a way to fix this, or are you going to be a coward and become the most educated bag-boy at the local Wal-Mart?” Even though one of my favorite people in this world always says, “If you can’t get it at Wal-Mart, it ain’t worth havin’,” I wasn’t quite ready to lie down and welcome myself to Wal-Mart.

Armed with this realization, my braintrust (my staff) and I sat down and started planning. We had four weeks of football left to play and we spent every available free moment evaluating how we had prepared for the 2007 season and what we were currently doing that wasn’t working. Our goal was to solve these problems and give the 2008 Spartans a chance to kick butt. I even went back to my first year of coaching (perhaps the biggest catastrophe in recorded history) to find answers to what was wrong with us right now. I looked at the blueprint for every team I was a part of since 2000 and tried to find the things that worked and the things that didn’t and then compare them to now. The best thing about this type of reflection is that the answers are usually screaming at you loud and clear, you just have to make the choice to listen to them. I’ve found that the times I am most relaxed–the times when I think I finally have my finger on the pulse of my team–are the times when doom and gloom arrive on my doorstep. I’ve found those circumstances usually are a result of my own laziness.

I don’t mean lazy in that I stop coaching or call in sick to stay home and watch Judge Judy, but rather that those are the times when I stop reading. The times when I stop listening. And the times where I stop asking questions and looking for answers. I’ve found that laziness manifests when I stop taking chances and refuse to go against what might be considered a rule of thumb and that when I take chances and push the envelope, I have my biggest successes.

The great thing about this season is that in the process of regrouping, I have stumbled upon some great stuff. Our profession is becoming more aware of itself lately and thanks to sites like this one, some really talented, young, energetic coaches are writing absolute gems for all of us to read. Along the way, I’ve also discovered that if you go to the predominant strength and conditioning Web sites (you know, the ones that pop up first in a Google search), you are probably missing my point.

This season also helped remind me how integral each member of my staff is to making this whole program work. They really get my creative juices flowing and are a big reason why I’ve rebounded and am looking ahead to next year. I have some fierce coaches working for me right now–three young, extremely bright minds feeding me with nothing but material that I really want to just hog for myself. They are doing everything to help me get this train back on track. • My first assistant, Jeremy Layport, might be the smartest guy I have ever been around. He is a problem solving machine and a pitbull about seeking out information whenever I ask. He’s always reading and finding some of the best stuff money can buy to improve our program. • Ben Cobian, my second assistant, is the practical one. He brings balance to the group. He should write a book on how to get athletes to love working for you. I can’t think of one kid in this program who doesn’t love Coach Cobian. He could ask the groups to jump rope for an hour and pick up tennis balls with their eyes shut as their workouts and those kids would be fired up to get started. • Then there is my Graduate Assitant, Summer Haines. She is exactly what this staff needs. She reminds us when we get too big for our britches and helps ground us when we need it. She also is magic with the athletes.

I also found that complacency and doing cookie cutter workouts and teaching the same drills and exercises all the time is a recipe for disaster. Just because something worked last year, doesn’t mean that it is going to work this year. You have to continue to push to make yourself better. Keep reading, ask questions, attend a workshop, pick up the phone, and hammer away until you get some answers.

The recipe for my program for the 2008 Spartans will feature a little bit of the old and a lot of the new. One thing is for sure, we will be better because of the lessons we learned during the trying 2007 season. I am a better coach because of the soul searching I did and my kids are going to get a better product as a result. You are never too old to learn. You never know so much that you can’t benefit from listening to someone else’s ideas or perspective. Happy Holidays and best wishes to all of your teams in the 2008 seasons.

Christopher Holder, MS, RKC, CSCS, is Director of Strength and Conditioning at San Jose State University He can be reached at [email protected].

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