Jan 29, 2015Best Foot Forward
This winter, Rick Court, MS, SCCC, left the University of Toledo to take over as Strength and Conditioning Coach for the San Diego State University football team. In this interview, Court discusses the best way to make a smooth transition from one program to another as well as the challenges of adjusting to a different academic calendar and the benefits of encouraging competition in the weightroom.
A 2002 graduate of Michigan State University, where he played on the baseball team, Court began his career as an intern for the Spartans in 2001. After graduating from MSU with a degree in kinesiology, he received a master’s degree in sport administration from Eastern Kentucky University.
Court spent the next six seasons at Bowling Green State University and was promoted to Head Strength and Conditioning Coach in 2008. In January, Court left the University of Toledo after spending two seasons overseeing strength and conditioning for the Rockets. Here, he discusses his career and the move to San Diego State.
T&C: What excites you the most about this move?
Court: It’s another opportunity to be around kids and to implement a program my way. But it’s also great to know I’m coming into a program where the staff ingrained a strong work ethic in the players. It’s always a benefit when you’re entering a program where the kids want to work hard and are excited to get better.
What is the biggest challenge in working for a new program?
I think the most important thing, and what can sometimes be the toughest part, is getting to know the players as quickly as possible. Part of being an effective coach is knowing what makes each player tick so you can push the right buttons to get the most out of them. It’s the same process when it comes to getting to know the coaches. You have to make sure that you’re on the same page and that they’re aware of what you’re trying to do.
Staying true to yourself is another key factor. I hold myself to high standards of discipline, respect, and hard work, and I try to go about coaching in the same way. If I do, I know there isn’t going to be a drop-off from the standards the program already has.
Are there ways to make that process go smoothly?
It’s critical to be around the program as much as you can early on. You can’t just work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You need to come in early and stay late.
It’s all business when you’re working with the team in the weightroom, and that can be the easy part. But you also need to make sure that you’re going to the meetings, so if a player wants to talk with you or work with you after it’s over, you’re available. Even something as simple as going into the locker room with them at the end of the day can enable you to get to know them on a more personal level.
But you have to remember that it’s not something you can do in a week. You’re going to learn about some kids sooner than others, so you need to be willing to commit that time to do that.
You’re working with an entirely new football coaching staff. How do you get on the same page with them?
Our football program has an overall plan in place, which calls for bringing energy and improving a little bit each day. There’s an all-encompassing aspect to what we do.
The speed and strength work we do is in place to help the players become complete athletes and get in better overall shape. As time goes on, communication becomes key. The position coaches work with the kids all throughout spring ball and I’ll talk with them about the things those players will need to work on so I can implement them in our workouts. Hopefully those things will result in a good product on the field on Saturdays.
You haven’t been at San Diego State for very long. How important are the first few weeks at a new program?
They’re critical. In some ways, I’m fortunate because I’m taking over for a football program that had some success last season, and these kids are hungry and want to keep it going. My role in all of that is to make sure that the work ethics continues to improve and that whatever bar we set for ourselves we reach and then we move even higher the next day.
We’ve got a good group of veterans who really demand great things of themselves. Part of my role is to get the younger kids who are going through their first winter workout programs acclimated.
How do you go about evaluating where players stand?
I try to go in with a clean slate on all the players. It’s not always helpful to worry about the numbers they’ve had in the past because every coach does things differently. When I go about evaluating players, I focus more on how they train and if they push hard when they work out. One of the ways you can do that is by controlling the pace of the workout. If you want it to go at a fast pace, you push that on your players. If you demand that as a strength coach, you can see which players will respond how you want.
What sorts of specific things are you looking to implement?
One thing I really like to do is competitions. At the end of our winter program, we had a challenge where the seniors were captains and they chose teams and I would match up the players by position groups. They would go through all the agility stations and then I post all the scores and results. On a daily basis, we always have a certain exercise in the weightroom that’s competitive.
Why is that something you want to focus on?
In football, you only play, at most, 13 games over a 365-day span, so you have to come up with things that give the players a chance to compete during non-game days. It gives us an edge, so it’s something I want to do all year long.
One thing I’d like to do is implement a strongman competition over the summer, so the kids have something they can mark on their calendars. When you encourage competition and make the results public, that’s when you start to see that inner competitor come out in your players.
Have the players responded positively to that?
Absolutely. The first thing I do after we get done with a workout where there’s competition is go through the results and get it posted. Then I’ll get the matches for the next day’s competition posted. It generates buzz, and it’s similar to how they discuss their upcoming opponents.
There are times when you’ll be in the locker room and you’ll overhear them talking about what each group did that week in competition. It also helps break up the monotony of training. I don’t want them to get into a rut where they know what the workout is going to be every week. I want them to wonder, “What’s he going to throw at us this week?”
San Diego State is on a different academic calendar than Toledo. Has that changed how you’ve gone about workouts?
The main thing is that I’m used to having nine days of spring break for the players before we start spring practice. That gives the kids an opportunity to be fresh for spring ball. Without that buffer, what I decided to do this season was to take away some of the lower-body work the week before spring ball.
We have a new coaching staff here and I know the kids want to put on a good performance. So I need to make sure they’re not over-worked and sore and that their legs are fresh. But on the other side of it, our spring ball is a little bit shorter so I have some extra time to train those younger players.
Patrick Bohn is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.