Jan 29, 2015
Setting Summer’s Stage

By Christopher Holder, MS, RKC, CSCS

Any football strength coach who has been in the profession longer than a week knows that the programs you have your team on in the winter, during spring ball, and in the weeks prior to school letting out for the summer, are as important as the summer itself. We prove our worth in the summer, but the three or four months leading up to it set the stage for dramatic improvements that take place during June and July.

At San Jose State, we win with superior conditioning and speed. It’s plain and simple: Speed is the name of our game. I am fortunate enough to work with Dick Tomey, our head coach, who has been the architect of three major program turn-arounds in his outstanding career.

Dick understands the psychology of getting his players to be better than they are, and he knows what it takes to get a team to believe they can accomplish what most would consider impossible. Don’t believe me? Jump on our Web site and look at what he has done in only two years here at SJSU.

So when Coach Tomey comes in and hands me his “wish list” for the team, I listen. It’s my job to develop the program to bring about the changes he wants. I meet with him twice a week and the words he uses are: speed, quickness, explosiveness, and my personal favorite, “suddenness.” So, how do I fulfill his list? In the winter months, I re-tool everything and dissect each player’s technique in every exercise we are passionate about. Our lifting takes on a classroom-type setting and we hammer body position, movement patterns, and the why’s of what we are doing.

I believe my athletes must understand the WHY of what they are doing as much as they need to know HOW. That way, even if they hate an exercise, they’ll focus and give great effort because they know why it is important and how it will improve their game.

Let’s get real: No athlete “likes” to squat 450 pounds onto a bucket for five reps. It’s hard work and usually smokes you to the point of being sick. But players understand why it’s important to get past parallel, tighten their trunk during the movement, and sit back on their heels, etc. The winter months are the time to put size on those who need it, and unlock the joints of my “tight” athletes. We also do major running overhauls during this time, as I preach technique, technique, technique. As spring ball approaches, I don’t shift into a major “in-season” mode. Luckily, Coach Tomey lets me train our players in a manner that doesn’t force me to worry about making them sore. He understands that we can’t lose an entire month of training just because we are in spring ball. So I take this time to really focus my work on strength numbers and the introduction of the “cute lifts,” as I like to call them.

Cute lifts are exercises that are nontraditional in nature but that can turn out to be X-factors for our players by fall camp. I’m not talking about biceps curls and silly movements like that, but rather auxiliary exercises that can solidify lateral movement and address bilateral harmony.

For these exercises, we need to see proficiency in technique, so I use this time to teach proper lifting form. Our spring practices handle the conditioning elements, so I can focus solely on lifting and building muscle. Once spring ball concludes, my life gets scary. As a Division I institution, we enter what is called a discretionary period, an NCAA-regulated time when we cannot make any lifting mandatory and the kids come in on a voluntary basis only.

To make things even more nerve-racking for me, we are not allowed to give our athletes any structured programs. What does this mean? Well, the kids who are not “full partners,” as I like to call them, typically disappear and the bodybuilders start to surface.

This is where our winter form and technique work pays off and a core group starts to display leadership skills. This year, for example, our seniors became the long arm of the law for the team. They have been in the program for years, so they understand how important lifting and running are for them to have success in the fall. All of my teaching and preaching in January through April takes on a life of its own and the true “full partners” continue to show up and do the right things. I jokingly tell the kids who slack off at this time to keep missing workouts because I’m going to need someone to talk to on the sidelines on Saturdays next fall. We usually lose everyone during finals week, which is fine with me. The testing gives everyone a scheduled break and allows my kids to focus on what is most important during this time, academics.

As summer approaches, my staff and I really try to break the mold and get very specific with what we want each player to do. I feel we really shine during the summer. We open with heavy technique training, again emphasizing the why’s. I get to officially open my summer workouts on Monday, June 4, and the first thing I’ll say to my groups is, “Seniors, this is the last Monday of the first week of summer you will ever get, so you’d better not waste it!” My kids always rise to the occasion. What’s on deck for the San Jose Spartans this summer, you ask? Speed work, of course!

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

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