Nov 11, 2016
Formula for Success

There are many paths to developing strength in athletes, but doing so with high school students requires a careful approach. Matt Chandler, currently an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Oregon, spent four years as the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Servite High School in Anaheim, Calif. He believes there are four specific areas to pay attention to in a high school weightroom.

Emphasize safety: No matter what lifts you plan to do, or how hard you want to work your athletes, Chandler explains, nothing should come before safety in the weightroom. “This is the first component I address in any strength program, but it’s especially critical when you’re working with less experienced lifters at the high school level,” he says. “If you’re wondering to yourself, ‘Is this a safety issue?’ the answer should always be yes. Things to think about are: the order of the exercises, having enough spotters, and a protocol to follow if an athlete becomes injured. You always need to be thinking about safety.”

In addition, there are specific things to watch out for when working with high school athletes. “Young boys especially are focused on how much weight they’re lifting, and that can create unsafe scenarios in the weightroom,” Chandler says. “A kid may want to squat 400 pounds, but you need to let them know that proper technique with good range of motion is more important than how much they lift.”

Establish relationships: “High school athletes are at that age where they want to know why you’re asking them to do something,” Chandler says. “If you have a good relationship with them, you’re going to be able to handle those questions better, and they’ll be more willing to listen to you.

“You need to take the time to get to know them personally,” he continues. “Ask them about their family, or what their hobbies are. Sometimes kids need to talk to adults about areas of their life that have nothing to do with student-athlete responsibilities, and you can be an outlet for that.”

Promote efficiency: High school athletes can’t devote the same amount of time in the weightroom as their college counterparts, so you need to keep everything moving quickly. Chandler kept one eye on the clock and made sure to hold his athletes to a schedule. “I’d yell out, ‘Two minutes left in this drill’ and then give them another warning at 30 seconds,” he says. “That way, they realized they’re expected to move quickly and not waste time.”

Be ready to adapt: While it’s great to have a plan in place, it’s critical that you’re willing to be flexible when the need arrives. “If one day an athlete can’t do a lift properly or safely, and the next day he can, that means you have to adapt his program in the future,” Chandler says. “It’s also important that you recognize that, at the high school level, academics come first. If an athlete is 30 minutes late to a lift because he or she is getting help with homework, you need to find a way to integrate the athlete. After a proper warm up, let the athlete get involved with his or her training group where they are at in the training session. This allows the athlete to train with teammates rather than lift by him- or herself.”

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