Sep 21, 2016
From the Ground Up

When training high school athletes, the weightroom focus should be on building a foundation of movement. There should also be a good plan for progression. Those are the two big philosophies of Darnell Clark, MS, CSCS, RSCC*D, who has been the Director of Strength and Conditioning at Charlotte (N.C.) Country Day School since 2004.

Clark has also been the NSCA’s North Carolina State Director since 2013, and he was named the NSCA’s National High School Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year in 2014. At Charlotte Country Day School, he is responsible for the development and implementation of strength and conditioning programs for 64 middle school, junior varsity, and varsity athletic teams. In the following Q&A, we ask him about how he structures his program.

What’s your training philosophy for high school athletes?

I’m really big on training flow and work capacity. So when an athlete comes in, they need to know exactly what to do and how to do it. Every athlete understands the process and what to expect.

We have about 3,500 square feet with a dumbbell rack at each of our 11 training stations. Each station is self-sufficient. I can put four student-athletes at a station for their workout, and they don’t have to go anywhere else. That really keeps the flow going, which is important for me, because I don’t want athletes standing around.

How do you accommodate the wide range of ability and developmental levels?

It’s important to have a solid plan for progression. There are all kinds of ways to modify exercises to get different athletes where they need to be. For example, football is one of the most challenging sports to work with because there are so many skill levels. With teams like that, we group players by ability, which determines what type of workout they’ll do each day.

How do you motivate high school athletes?

For me, interpersonal relationships are key, and that starts by learning all of the athletes’ names. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. Going to their games is crucial, too. I love watching our athletes compete, and they appreciate it when they see me in the stands and when I compliment them on their performance the next day.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

Meeting the developmental needs of our many multisport athletes is a daily challenge. With all their in-season demands — including club sports — they never have an offseason, which makes it hard for them to progress and make gains in the weightroom. They also don’t have enough recovery opportunities — both physically and mentally — so I try to provide them resources on the importance of proper nutrition and sleep habits.

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