Aug 25, 2016
Key Questions
Stephen Venugopal

When you sit down to evaluate the state of your team’s strength and conditioning program, there are several questions you should ask yourself. What are you currently doing? Why are you doing it? What is the quality of what you are doing? Is what you are doing positively or negatively effecting performance?

However, I would like to suggest that a true evaluation of your program needs to start with asking some much more basic questions — about yourself, your athletes, and your program. Only by understanding the answers to these questions will you be able to design a program that is tailored to your unique situation and has the greatest benefits for your student-athletes.

It can be easy to copy what others are doing or grab the old workout your coach gave you when you were an athlete. But someone else’s program is unlikely to be the best fit for you, your athletes, and your program. Your athletes are different, your resources are different, and you are a different coach.

That doesn’t mean you can’t take ideas and learn from other people. In fact, everything I know I’ve learned from other people. However, taking the time to understand who you are and who you’re teaching is of great importance. There is a difference between just copying someone’s workout and studying what they do to incorporate it into your plans.

Start with some deeper questions, and you have the opportunity to create a strength and conditioning program that truly fits. Here are the questions you need to ask.

Who are you? In my experience in strength and conditioning, I have learned that how well you do something is 10 times more important than what you do. Therefore, the first questions you need to ask are about yourself. What are you prepared to do well? What are your strengths? What is your background knowledge?

Who are your athletes? How experienced are your student-athletes and what are their goals? Are they the top 25 in your state, or are your rosters stocked with beginners or mid-level athletes enjoying their sport and learning lessons along the way? What motivates them, and what are they likely to buy into? How would you describe the culture and identity of your program? The identity and culture of your strength and conditioning program needs to reflect the culture and identity of your overall program.

Where are you? To answer this question, you need to consider the community where you are working. What is the community like? How much support are they able to give you?

Who is helping you? Your college coach probably had a staff of strength and conditioning coaches who were professionally trained and certified and who spent all their time focusing on designing, testing, implementing, and evaluating the best strength development programs they could. You can still do a great job if your staff is made up of one young volunteer from the local university, but what you do and how you do it will be different.

What are your resources? It may be tempting to try to recreate the strength program that worked for you as a college athlete. But what resources did your coach have at his disposal? Are they similar to yours? What kind of weightroom do your athletes work out in? What kind of equipment is available? If you have only one bench press and 100 athletes to train, your program will need to include another way to train the upper body. The budget you have for purchasing the equipment you want will be unique to your school, and understanding your resources will help you create the best plan for your situation.

What are your goals? Many people approach the weightroom and strength program as a black box. They think if they simply put their athletes in the weightroom they’ll get bigger, stronger, and faster. They think if they just use the right program from this university or that professional coach, they’ll get the results they are looking for. But what are the results you are looking for? If your goal is to increase agility, your program needs to look different than if you are focused only on straight-ahead speed.

Now the details. Once you have answered these questions, you will be able to come up with main exercises and accessory exercises your athletes will need to perform to fit your strength program and your sport program’s culture and identity. You can begin to look at details like how much time you will be able to work with your athletes and in what size groups you will work with them, using your understanding of the facilities, equipment, and staff you have available.

Someone once said, “Figuring things out for yourself is the only freedom anyone really has. Use that freedom to make up your own mind.” When it comes to your strength and conditioning program, you should make up your own mind. Don’t settle for a borrowed program that doesn’t really fit. Taking the time to think through these questions will help you design a program that fits the needs of your program.

Be yourself. You have a voice, and coaching within your own personality is something only you can do. Find out what that is and share that with the athletes you lead. You won’t regret it.

Stephen Venugopal, MAT, CSCS, is Head Speed, Strength and Conditioning Coach at Richland Northeast High School in Columbia, S.C.

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