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Dos and Don’ts of Off Season Training for Youth Athletes

3 Goals for Off-Season Training for Youth Athletes

Alex Slezak discusses off-season training for youth athletes

By Alex Slezak M.Ed, Youth Fitness Specialist

“The more you sweat in times of peace, the less you bleed in times of war,” is a saying that is certainly full of wisdom. Off-season training is one area where athletes can get a tremendous bang for their buck. This article aims to provide wisdom, based on knowledge and experience, for training in the off-season.

Before we get into specifics, we have to define what the off-season actually is. The off-season is a period of time when an athlete is not participating competitively in their sport. Team sports like football, basketball, and baseball have a clearly defined off-season. Seasons in other sports such as tennis are not as easily defined. And with the oftentimes overly demanding schedules of many youth sports teams, many young athletes jump from travel to all-star and then varsity high school teams hoping to get ahead, never leaving any time for an actual off-season.

You don't need much equipment for your off-season training for youth athletes

It is critical for all athletes, professional to youth, to have some sort of off-season built into the year. Playing sports at competitive maximums is taxing on the human body. High school pitchers undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery, tennis players with wrist and rotator cuff issues, and knee/ankle problems from the repetitive stresses of jumping and landing on the basketball or volleyball court are all predictable consequences associated with overuse and lack of rest for young athletes. It is what would seem to be common sense: You cannot race a car hard every single day at the track without something eventually breaking down. The human body responds in much the same way.

If you cannot play your sport in the off-season, then what can you do? First, I am not going to tell you that you cannot play your sport in the off-season. What I will tell you is that you should not be competing in your sport in the off-season. In fact, competing in your sport is the definition of being in-season. This downtime is an opportunity to perform technical skill work or practice but at a much lower intensity and volume than during your competitive season. For example, this would be the time a basketball player could improve dribbling skills or a tennis player technical stroke work. The key takeaway here is you are not playing your sport at competitive max or “racing speed.”

So what should the training be like when an athlete is not in season? Off-season training for youth athletes should focus on improving foundational movement patterns and general strength and conditioning. In fact, this should be the bulk of the work done in the off-season. This work helps establish a base for the future. Improving fundamental movement patterns like jumping, landing, decelerating, squatting, hinging at the hip, pushing, and pulling all improve overall athleticism. The conditioning work done to the aerobic system in the off-season provides the base for the higher-intensity demands to come in the pre-season and competitive seasons. The improvement of general strength creates the potential to sprint faster, jump higher, and throw harder during the competitive season. You simply cannot build these qualities in the middle of a competitive season. Instead, you must build these qualities in the off-season so they can be expressed during the competitive season.

Each sport and athlete has specific needs, and if you are serious about getting the most out of the off-season time, I would hire a knowledgeable and experienced trainer. The gold-standard for anyone working with youth is to be certified by the IYCA, but the bottom line is to do your homework and find someone who thinks long-term and has your best interest in mind. With that being said, in a typical 4-12 week off-season, three of the most common goals are to develop the aerobic energy system, improve general strength, and clean up movement patterns.

Regardless of the sport, a well-conditioned aerobic system is essential. Obviously, a well-conditioned aerobic system will benefit someone like a distance runner or soccer player. However, what most people do not understand is that a fine-tuned aerobic system provides benefits in almost all sports. This is because the aerobic system (energy with oxygen) is responsible for replenishing the fuel for the anaerobic energy system (energy without oxygen). In other words, football and tennis players need their aerobic system to replenish the anaerobic systems that allow them to perform bursts of high-intensity work intervals. This is a tremendous advantage late in the game during the competitive season, and it can only be accomplished by doing some work dedicated to improving the ability of the cardiovascular system to deliver oxygen to working muscle. Although training for peak aerobic performance has been shown to compromise anaerobic performance in elite athletes, this potential drawback is not typically significant enough to be of concern to a young athlete who has far more to gain in terms of positive body composition and overall fitness levels.

Aerobic training is done at 130-150 bpm during the off-season

Another benefit of aerobic training in the off-season is that it promotes recovery. Delivering oxygen-rich blood throughout the body aids in rebuilding tissues that take a beating during the competitive season. In addition, it is relatively easy on the nervous system. The nervous system is typically taxed heavily during the competitive season with all the quick movements and maximal muscle contractions. Conversely, aerobic training is characterized by sustained or repeated submaximal efforts, providing low-level neurological stimulation. Examples of aerobic training include long runs, swimming, or biking at a heart rate of 130-150 beats per minute,

Off-season training for youth athletes should also have an emphasis on lifting heavy things and putting on some muscle mass. The force a muscle is able to produce is directly related to its cross-sectional area. If you want to be able to run, jump, and throw harder next season, strength training is essential. Strength training simply means you are going to stress the muscle by lifting something heavy, and your body will respond by making it bigger and stronger. An athlete does not have to go to the weight room or have access to fancy equipment to strength train. In fact, for most youth athletes, bodyweight is the best place to start. After all, if you cannot move your own body weight appropriately, adding 50 pounds on top of your back is asking for an injury.

When strength training, the focus should be on movement patterns rather than on specific muscles. For example, you want to improve strength in fundamental movement patterns such as squatting, hip hinging, pushing, pulling, and core stability. This is easily done with body weight, free weights, sandbags, and resistance bands. It is not easily done with the machines you find in most gyms that isolate specific muscles and joints.

Building a solid foundation of strength in the off-season is followed by learning how to express that newly developed strength during the pre-season and fully expressing the strength in the competitive season. The key here is to focus on improving general strength in the off-season and then working during the pre-season and competitive season to apply it.

The final objective of the off-season is to clean up movement patterns. This is the time to make sure you can absorb force correctly, clean up fundamental patterns, and develop good posture. This aspect of training is becoming even more important in today’s society. Think about the amount of time children spend sitting on the computer, texting on their phone, and sitting in classrooms. It is causing an epidemic of bad posture and inefficient movement in those compromised positions. Even worse, training and competing in them is a major contributing factor to several youth sports injuries such as spondylolysis (stress fracture in the lower back) and shoulder injuries. When you spend all day hunched over and your lower back is in excessive curvature, you develop poor posture, and this can set off any number of ailments when training load is increased.

Pyramid of athletic development shows the importance of developmental off-season training for youth athletes

The above pyramid of athletic development shows why movement patterns are so important to develop in an off-season training program. Clearly, movement is the base for all sports skills. You cannot layer fitness and sports skills on top of dysfunctional movement without eventually paying the price, and the off-season is the best time to develop those skills since time and effort playing sport are at a minimum.

It is impossible to prescribe an all-encompassing general workout for the off-season because the needs of each athlete and sport are unique. Some athletes may need to spend more time developing strength and others improving conditioning. However, below is a very general look at the typical week of training in the off-season. Planning training or periodization is a science in and of itself, but one of the biggest things to notice below is how the training is spaced out. An athlete cannot work hard 3 or 4 days in a row and then take 3 or 4 days off. Training is nothing more than applying stress to the body. The body then adapts to the stresses placed upon it. The real physical changes happen between rather than during workouts. Understanding the importance of rest and proper nutrition between workouts will maximize success and allow you to train both hard and smart.








Dynamic Warm-Up

Aerobic Training

Dynamic Warm-Up

Strength Training (AM)

Sport-Specific or Agility Work (PM)

Dynamic Warm-Up

Aerobic Training

Dynamic Warm-Up

Strength Training (AM)

Sport-Specific or Agility Work (PM))

Dynamic Warm-Up

Aerobic Training

Dynamic Warm-Up

Strength Training (AM)

Sport-Specific or Agility Work (PM)


Recovery & Regeneration

If you look at everything presented about off-season training and put it in the context of the bigger picture, it becomes clear how important it is when thinking long-term. If you understand that, then I will let you in on a little secret about developing champion athletes.

Most parents and coaches are only concerned with the short-term. They want to win the big game next week, win the tournament this weekend, or make the U-12 all-star soccer team. They may achieve those things, but they take shortcuts to get them, such as skipping the off-season. Those shortcuts eventually catch up.

On the other hand, the true champion athletes are focused on the long-term from the very beginning, and they never take shortcuts. They do the work in the off-season, and over the course of years, they develop outstanding conditioning and strength while often avoiding injury. They also are the ones who may have missed out on winning the championship in 7th grade, but they eventually end up with scholarship offers and notable accomplishments when it counts.

To conclude, I hope this article sheds some light on just how important off-season training really is to in-season performance. If you pay the price of time and sweat during the off-season training, you certainly will reap the benefits during the heat of the battle in-season.

Alex Slezak is a Youth Fitness Specialist and Tennis Coach in Pittsburgh, PA. He has authored books and articles for such organizations as the IYCA and works in the trenches training youth daily. He frequently develops programs for off-season training for youth athletes. You can find more information or contact Coach Slezak at

Why Games for Young Athletes Are Beneficial

Why Games for Young Athletes Are More Important Now Than Ever

By Scott Abramouski

Games for Young Athletes provide many life lessons

We all know intuitively that games for young athletes are beneficial; after all, the very young athletes are still discovering the world and what their bodies are capable of. Focusing on the fun of the game rather than the outcome of fitness allows the kids to receive a huge training effect while having fun, which will make them want to do it even more. But today, perhaps more than ever, games for youth athletes are an extremely important training tool that calm the fears of parents while preparing young athletes’ bodies and minds for what they will encounter later in life.

With athletes beginning to train at earlier ages, coaches and trainers have found they’ve had to deal with more questions and stronger opinions from parents on how their children should be trained. These questions and opinions often cause parents to doubt the programming their child is receiving or the athletic participation of the child. If a parent is told their child should not undertake a weight-training program until high school, they may strongly avoid any resistance-training program, which can actually hinder their child’s athletic development in terms of functional movements and strength benefits. Everyone wants what’s best for their young athlete, but often misconceptions about what’s best get in the way of finding the proper program, meeting the proper coaches, and placing the athletes into the correct situations.

Alongside proper training and nutrition, the athlete must develop on a cognitive level in order to influence their attitude and drive later on in sports. Playing in a game setting, even if the games are unrelated to their favorite sports, provides the intangibles that no other situation in life can provide. The positive, as well as the negative, experiences that youth athletes have to combat while playing various games help create a well-rounded, motivated individual. The five characteristics that result from playing games with youth athletes are a positive attitude, mentorship, dealing with pressure, teamwork, and playing by the rules.

Positive Attitude

With the ongoing adversity that our athletes come across in their daily lives, there is nothing better than some positive influence and attitude implemented into their lives. The successes children can have from winning and from the constant memorable events within a game situation can advance them in the right direction. The athlete’s self-esteem will increase with interaction and completing task-oriented goals. Even losing has the possibility of motivating the athletes to work harder in other arenas and ultimately become victorious on their next go around. We have to remember that even some of the best baseball players strike out over fifty percent of the time.


Coaches, trainers, and parents alike can all agree that one of the hardest tasks for young athletes is for them to engage and give their full, undivided attention. With the lack of authority or trust in their superiors, sometimes youths will look elsewhere for learning guidance, which could make them disinterested.  During games, our athletes look up to these mentors and place trust in them, knowing that if the game play is executed correctly, there will be a positive outcome. It is important for our children to listen to their coaches and trainers without negative reinforcement; that way, they will want to better themselves.

Dealing with Pressure

As we grow older, maturity and pressure situations parallel one another. Test taking, job interviews, and state championship games are all examples of some of the pressure we are confronted with. It is ultimately how a person deals with these situations that will define their characteristics and ability to persevere. If youth athletes become accustomed to high-pressure situations and have experience dealing with them, willingness to accept more difficult tasks will rise. Limiting stress, relaxing, and feeling prepared for difficult game scenarios will provide the athletes with confidence, control, and centralized concentration.


Teamwork is experienced throughout life at every stage. The ability to understand the positive benefits of a joint and equal effort from all the team members is a huge step in developing young athletes. Just as the team needs all the individuals, the athlete must understand that their personal needs are not met without the team. No football team is going to expect to win with just one player on the field participating. Teamwork will also help advance the social skills of the athletes and help them communicate with one another. It is the lack of communication and mistrust in all ages of sports that has been seen to greatly hinder a great team from winning even one game.

Playing by the Rules

For athletes, playing by the rules can be frustrating, but it is crucial for the flow and integrity of sports. Athletes learn the importance of rules and value them highly simply by breaking them. The earlier athletes understand rules for their given sport, the better off they are. This way, they can understand why circumstances may not have gone in their favor or why something they did may have lost them the game. The thrill of victory is heightened when you know you outplayed and outperformed your opponent and did so within the rules. Rules in games for young athletes are quite trivial when compared with the endless rules we are faced day in and day out as citizens.

Benefits of Jumping Rope for Athletes

How to Incorporate Jumping Rope for Athletes into Your Programming

By Tim Meyer

If your child plays sports, then you know that the quickest, strongest, fastest, and most agile players are usually the most successful. What if I could give you a simple exercise that, done consistently, could increase just about all of those attributes with a minimum amount of expense and time? You’d jump all over it, right?

Well, that’s just it. Your kids need to jump. Specifically, they need to jump rope!

Benefits of Jumping Rope for Athletes

Let’s take a look at what actually happens when you jump rope.

First, your brain must communicate with your arms and legs simultaneously to turn the rope and hop off the ground. So, right off the bat, we are working on neuromuscular patterns, body awareness, and coordination. Once you integrate more complex jump rope patterns, you further increase the level of effectiveness of the exercise. These issues are highly overlooked in the athletic development of young athletes, yet they are critical to their success.

Next, let’s break it down into the physical world to see how it can help us from a movement standpoint. Moving from the ground up, jumping rope strengthens the muscles of the feet, ankles, and knees, lending active stability to the joints of the leg. Sport movements like sprinting, cutting, jumping, and landing significantly stress the ankle joint. The stronger the muscular support, the less stress on the joints and ligaments, and the decreased likelihood of injury.

In addition, jumping rope is a precursor to bigger jumps—and bigger landings. Consistently landing from a jump incorrectly is a surefire way to get injured. Jumping rope properly teaches the athlete how to land and absorb impact with “soft knees” and by landing on the toes before transferring pressure to the balls of the feet.

Finally, it is a speed and strength developer. Jumping rope strengthens the Achilles tendon and trains the gastrocneumius and soleus (calf muscles) to be able to absorb force and quickly transfer it back into another jump. In other words, jumping rope is a highly effective yet low risk plyometric activity.

Programming Jumping Rope for Athletes

Try integrating this simple jump rope progression into your programs. It should only take 10-15 minutes. Rest for 15 seconds after each “style,” 1 minute after each round. Complete three rounds.

Regular hops: 30 seconds

Scissor hops (feet split on each jump): 30 seconds

2-foot side-to-side hops (skiers): 30 seconds

Jumping jacks: 30 seconds

Single leg hops: 30 seconds each

Get your young athlete to jump rope and you might just see a real change in how athletic they can be!

Coaching an Unfamiliar Sport

How to Field Questions and Prepare for Coaching an Unfamiliar Sport

By Brad Leshinske BS CSCS

What do you do when coaching an unfamiliar sport?

As sports performance coaches who are often found coaching an unfamiliar sport, a question we sometimes get is, “Did you play this sport that you’re training my son or daughter in?” If you’re training many athletes, chances are you haven‘t played every sport your athletes are training for. If you are in a special niche, that may be a different story. But for those who coach many sports, this is an important question you may face. How do we answer or recognize that it’s not necessary to have played the sport in order to be an effective trainer or coach?

When a parent or coach asks this question, there are many ways to respond. Take a look at the following scenario:

Coach – I really liked how you trained the basketball team, and I noticed they got great results with your training. I was wondering if we could meet and discuss training our swimming team. I have some concerns about whether you are prepared to train swimmers since you haven’t swum competitively before.

Sports Performance Coach – I would love to sit and speak with you about your program and how we can help. While I was not a competitive swimmer, I know that swimming requires core strength, explosive power, and strong and healthy shoulders.

Coach – That sounds great. Let’s meet.

At this point, you have gotten yourself in the door, which is a great first step when coaching an unfamiliar sport. The next step is to get yourself familiarized with the sport. As sports performance coaches, we have to understand the movements and demands that various sports put on our athletes, especially as they get older and more competitive. For instance, grammar school is about great movement, body awareness, and technique. For high school, you can focus a little more on sport demands, especially in athletes’ junior and senior years. With college athletes, you have to be the most specific in your protocol for training. So in your meeting you need to express a few things:

Coaching an unfamiliar sport is easy, as long as you are at least familiar with the demands of the sport

  1. Know what movements are necessary to help their athletes. For example, swimming is approximately 33% plyometric depending on what race they are involved in, shoulder health is a huge concern, core strength and power are very much needed, and muscle endurance for some swimmers is hugely important.
  2. You have to assure the coach that all sports need strength and conditioning and movement skills. When programming dry-land training with water sports, you have to get the coach to realize that efficiency in movement will help their athletes in the water, and the power you build in their bodies will help them excel in the race they are preparing for.
  3. Conditioning is always a demand of any sport, and a good coach will realize that.
  4. Tell the coach that in-season lifting and maintenance of their strength and movement skills is very important. We know that as the season continues, strength and technique, if not maintained, will degrade. The goal of any sports performance coach is to make sure their athletes not only get better in the off season but also maintain strength and skill during the season.

All this is not to say that you can be completely unfamiliar with a sport and still be an effective coach. Like mentioned previously, you must know the sport and its demands. A coach shouldn’t expect you to have played every sport that you train, but they have every right to expect you know the demands for the sports you do train. If you can come into the meeting with knowledge of their sport, it shows that you care about them, their athletes, and their sport, and it gives them confidence you can train their athletes.

Coaching an unfamiliar sport should not be something you fear or avoid. Instead, you should view it as a challenge to overcome and an opportunity to expand your knowledge and improve your craft as a coach.

About the author: Brad Leshinske BS CSCS is the founder of Athletic Edge Sports Performance in Evergreen Park and Owner of Athletic Revolution in McCook, IL. He has trained over 4000 athletes in 9 years in many sports. He also serves as an adjunct professor at North Park University in the Exercise Science Department.

Ranking IYCA Products: Best Youth Coaching Resources

I get a lot of questions regarding what IYCA product other coaches should buy. To my inbox, in person, and on Facebook, the question is always, “I am thinking of buying Product X and product Y. If you had to rank them, what would it be?”

Continuing education is one of my favorite things to spend money on. I know that there is a big return coming on the money spent on products that help me improve as a coach. So in truth, any information gleaned from a text or DVD is valuable for me, but if I had to rank them here is how it goes.

Youth Fitness Specialist Level 1

This product really is what sets the IYCA apart. There is no more complete text about training athletes from ages 6-18. This text defined for me what youth athletes need when it comes to training. It underwent a recent update and has been improved even more from the original.

IYCA High School Strength and Conditioning Coach Certification

This was the first product I was ever involved in creating and is the most practical text I have ever read about training high school athletes. There are dozens of done-for-you high school training programs. If they don’t fit the bill for your training situation, there is a huge text book giving you the tools to replace movements with ideal choices. The fact that it was written by Mike Robertson, Eric Cressey, and Toby Brooks makes it even better. Normal texts talk a lot about theory but this one really does tell you how to apply theory to make great high school athletes.

The IYCA Youth Speed and Agility Specialist

Written by Dave Jack, Latif Thomas, and Toby Brooks there is not a better text about speed and agility available anywhere. It is required reading for all interns with me, and for all the coaches that work in my facility. The section on lateral speed alone is worth the investment. That being said I have never read a more practical de-construction of the mechanics of acceleration and high speed running than what is provided in this text.

IYCA Kettlebell/Olympic Lifts/Resistance Band Instructor Courses

I grouped these together because there is always a weak point in coaches arsenal that needs to be improved. The IYCA has provided 3 manuals that can help you eliminate those points to become a better coach. There are no better kettlebell instructors than Jason C. Brown and Pamela MacElree at teaching kettlebells in an easy to process way. When it comes to resistance band training, no one surpasses Dave Schmitz in his knowledge, I have seen him train elite football teams with only resistance bands, creating some of the fastest and most explosive athletes I have been around. The Olympic Lifts course is designed by me, and in my honest evaluation, it is the only product that comes from someone with an elite Olympic lifting background that uses the lifts primarily to train athletes and not competitive Olympic lifters. Each of these products can help make you a better coach in a chosen weak point.

There are plenty of other awesome products from the IYCA. The Youth Fitness Specialist Level 2 and Level 3 products can only elevate your knowledge, and are the most thorough texts I have ever seen on a given subject matter.

Youth Training Variety for 6-9-Year-Olds (Discovery Classes)

Programming Fun, Function, and Youth Training Variety for 6-9-Year-Olds

By Dave Gleason

Dave Gleason shows how to program youth training variety for 6-9-year-olds

Programming for our youngest champions can be a tricky endeavor. Our primary focuses for our Discovery Classes are to a) create a broad, wide-ranging base of activity and b) allow our champions to explore movement through fun.

That said, in order to teach movement patterns without running the risk of repetitive motion injuries it is imperative to use as much variety as possible. The phrase we often use when describing how to effectively program in this manner is “repetition through variety”.

Now the question is how to provide this concept without seeming randomized or having no rhyme or reason.

Here are two things to consider:

  1. AR Programming Templates. Our proprietary programming template system will not only save you time, it will ensure your sessions will incorporate all of the important elements of training young children every time.
  • Body Awareness and Movement Exploration
  • Object Manipulation
  • Coordination Enhancement (Rhythm, Reactivity, Spatial Awareness, Kinesthetic Differentiation and Balance)
  • Game Play and Cooperation

Pick two to three activities for each category. The categories are a constant. What changes are the activities, exercises and games you choose for your young athletes. There will be high likelihood of crossover meaning you may choose an exercise that covers more than one category. Your decision to choose the proper category depends on your goal(s) for each class and or individual. This is the art of coaching.

  1. The Desired Movement. A prime illustration is triple extension of the hip, knee and ankle. Commonly called a squat by most trainers, triple extension can be achieved in several ways. Here is an incomplete list:
  • Squat
  • Alternating Lunge
  • Lunge Walk
  • Lateral Lunge
  • Back Lunge
  • Back Lunge with Rotation
  • Split Squats
  • Jumping

Do not forget that all of these examples can be very effective for your younger athletes, however they need to be administered in a FUN context. Consider “monster walks” for lunge walks, embellishing the role of a monster! Play “Levels” when administering the squat or split squat with cueing of “high, middle and low”. Your athletes will be required to move to each level as you call them out verbally or by hand signals.

Use repetition through variety in your programming for effective and FUN classes and your younger classes will not only grow rapidly…they are a feeder system to your older classes!

Keep Changing Lives!

Youth Training Templates for Ages 6-9

Easy-to-Follow and Very Fun Youth Training Templates

By Dave Gleason

Dave Gleason shares some tried and true youth training templates for ages 6-9

As a coach, I’m sure you agree that although each kid is unique, having a tried-and-true youth training template to work off can spark a lot of fun and innovation in your sessions. So I’m going to do my best today to give you something valuable that will serve you for a long time.

The athletes in our Discovery classes are generally ranging in age from 6-9 years old. There are commonalities as well as the potential for vast differences between the participants in this stage.

Using our program templates we can ensure that all participants in this stage are having a remarkable experience while they are discovering human movement. The self discovery aspect of this stage is crucial. Taking advantage of a plastic central nervous system our programming should be wide ranging and varied in order to develop a broad base for future mastery of movement skills.

Keeping that in mind, there are certain factors we need to be mindful of when creating your programs. Using a template system sets you and your young athletes up for ultimate success.

Below are the parameters to work with in the form of a template with examples of activities and or further elements to consider when creating your programs.

There always exists the risk of an activity being able to be applied to more than one category. This is perfectly acceptable as long is there is justification for where you place a specific exercise… this is the art of coaching.

Body Awareness/Movement Exploration

Monster Walks (Lunge Walks)

Bear crawls

Monkey Walks

Monkey Bars

Dragon Walks

Log Rolls

Side Shuffle


Object Manipulation

Medicine Balls

Battle Ropes

Hula Hoops


Dodge Balls

Tennis Balls

PVC Pipes

Resistance Bands




Rhythm Machine

Clap Jacks


Helicopter Variations

“Coach Says”




Holding Positions


Balance Beams

Around the World

Scramble to Balance

Spatial Awareness

Tag Variations

Dodgeball Variations

Kinesthetic Differentiation

Jump to line

Target games

Game Play/Cooperation

All of the above plus an endless supply of childhood movement based games such as:




Sorting/gathering games

Tag Variations

Capture the Flag

Duck Duck Goose

Tug o War

Target Games

Make sure you allow you young athletes to be creative and take ownership over what they come up with.  Some of your best activities will come from the minds of your athletes.  Continue to observe with a watchful eye because you never know when you will be shown an absolute gem of an exercise!

Keep changing lives!

Your Human Capital: The Key to a Fruitful Youth Fitness Career

Education Can Catapult Your Youth Fitness Career

By Alex Slezak – M.Ed, YFS, YSAS, HSSCS

Alex Slezak discusses ways to improve your youth fitness career 

In Economics 101, you learn about all different types of capital. One example that applies to fitness businesses is financial capital, which is the money used by businesses to lease a facility or spend on advertising. Another example is capital goods such as the kettlebells, bands, and equipment utilized to deliver your services.

Today, I want to talk about a much lesser-known type of capital: human capital. Human capital is the measure of the economic value of an employee’s skill set, and it is extremely valuable. In fact, Human capital might be the most important form of capital for fitness professionals.

Why is human capital so important to our niche? The youth fitness market is a service-based career. Regardless how fancy your facility, savvy your advertising, or cool your training equipment, ultimately people are paying for your services.  The more you know and the more experience you have, the better you are at delivering your service. You simply cannot fake being knowledgeable and good at what you do.

To put this in concrete terms, the concept is simple: The more human capital you possess, the more valuable you are to your employer and/or your clients. It is not the facility or any set of tools that really sets coaches apart from one another; rather, it is their human capital.

So how do you grow your human capital and become more valuable? You invest in yourself. You can start by approaching your career in a whole new mindset. Have an inquisitive mind each and every day. Look at every day and every challenge not as going to work but as a way to improve. If you are an intern, learn as much as possible because it will build up your human capital. If you are already employed, view the situation as though you were getting paid not just to do a job but also to learn and invest in yourself.

When it comes to investing in your own human capital, nothing will pay off more than educating yourself. Spend your free time reading blog posts from the IYCA or books from people in the industry with tremendous amounts of human capital. In addition, do not be afraid to spend some of your hard-earned money on attending workshops or conferences or on purchasing reputable certifications or courses from organizations like the IYCA. Although spending money is a barrier (and the aforementioned blogs are a great way to learn without spending money), the value of building your human capital will more than make up for the amount you spent.

If you follow the suggestions I’ve given, you will be impressed at how quickly your human capital can grow and how much more valuable you can become to your clients and/or employer. In a service-based industry like the youth fitness market, human capital is what separates the contenders from the pretenders . If you keep growing, your youth fitness career will, too.

Time Management in High School Football Training

Putting Athletes on the Clock: Time Management in High School Football Training

By Shane Nelson, MSS, CSCS


Time management in high school football training is always a big issue. In fact, when working with large groups of athletes in any sport, we are always limited in terms of time and space. This is especially true in high schools, where several teams are competing for time in the weight room after school. High schools usually don’t have the luxury of scheduling teams in the weight room during the day or late into the evening. Therefore, coaches and athletes must make the most of the time they get in there, which is typically about an hour or so after the school day ends. By their nature, coaches are constantly doing everything they can to make the most of their time—high school athletes, on the other hand, not so much.

I’ve worked with the football team at my high school for around five years. Through trial and error, the head football coach and I have come up with a system of time management in high school football training, which I’ve carried over to the other sports I work with, that holds them accountable for getting the required number of sets and reps during the lifting session, while at the same time leaving little or no time for them to lose focus and goof off.

Using a timer for better time management in high school football training

In our weight room, we have a 3-foot by 4-foot timer that we use to time our various stations. In our current mesocycle, we set the timer at fifteen minutes and it counts down to zero from there.  There is a horn that sounds to begin and end the “quarter.” The football team uses that term to stay in a football mindset. Below is our current Monday/Thursday lifting routine. We also lift on Wednesdays; however, the lifts are different. The four “quarter” concept is still the same.

Station One       Station Two            Station Three        Station Four              

Bench Press 5×5   Squat 5×5                  Bicep Curl 4×8          Speed/Agility

RDL 5×6              Bent Over Rows 5×5    Tricep Pushdown 4×8

.                                                           Step-ups 4×8

In general, we have four people in a group, and four groups at a station, which allows us to work with up to 64 athletes at a time. As you can see, the athletes must stay focused on the task at hand in order to complete 10-12 sets in 15 minutes.

Here is how the athletes rotate through the stations. In station one, one person is bench pressing as he is spotted on each side. The fourth person in the group is doing RDLs. The group rotates as the lifts are completed.  The bench presser moves to spot the right side of the bench. The spotter on the right moves to RDL, the RDL moves to spot the left side of the bench, and the spotter on the left moves to the bench press. This circuit must be completed five times in 15 minutes. Station two is completed in similar fashion. We like this approach because the athletes are recovering between sets as they are spotting and then performing a lift with an entirely different muscle group. Station three is completed in a separate room, and the athletes circuit the three lifts with the fourth lifter spotting the step-ups. Station four is run by another coach in our fieldhouse and consists of 15 minutes worth of various speed/agility drills.

Throughout the entire workout, our timer is prominently displayed in the weight room, and the athletes can see how much time remains in the “quarter” at any time. Because of this, they all know whether they are on pace or need to pick it up to get the lifts done in the allotted time.

I highly suggest this type of approach to time management in high school football training really for anyone who trains large groups of athletes at any one time—not just with football players. I’ve experimented with many different approaches over the years, and this one seems to work really well. I’ve tried giving the kids the entire hour to get the prescribed sets and reps of a workout done. From that, we found there was a great deal of time spent walking around and talking with each other. I’ve also tried the other extreme where I’ve used our timer and timed every set (say 15 seconds) and every rest period (say another 15 seconds) between sets. To me, that approach seemed overly micro-managed.

The best part about our current setup is that it keeps our kids engaged and motivated. It gives them a sense of urgency as the clock ticks down. They know what the expectation is during each quarter, and overall, we’ve had a tremendous off-season so far.

I’m fully confident you will find great success with a similar approach to time management in high school football training. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Until next time,

Shane Nelson, MSS, CSCS

Incorporating Acceleration Training for Athletes into Every Workout

Simple Warm-Up Provides Acceleration Training for Athletes

Josh Ortegon discusses acceleration training for athletes

By Josh Ortegon

Developing proper acceleration mechanics in young athletes is essential to improving their performance, so acceleration training for athletes is important to train whenever possible. This skill should be considered no less important than learning a proper squat, jumping and landing technique, and multi-directional movement skills. The High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist (HSSCS) typically has limited time to spend with the athletes under his or her charge and therefore must take advantage of every opportunity to coach this skill.

Many times, acceleration training for athletes is neglected by placing too much emphasis on peak speed and high-speed mechanics. While being able to hit and maintain high top end speed can be a positive quality for an athlete, very rarely does an athlete hit and maintain top-end speed during play. As a result, being able to accelerate properly (often out of a change of direction) can be much more beneficial to the athlete’s performance.

One of the most effective ways to incorporate acceleration training for athletes into programming is to build it into the warm-up. Here is an example of how to incorporate acceleration mechanics into the warm-up:

1. Movement Prep

Cradle walks and other movement prep is crucial for incorporating acceleration training for athletes

5-10 yards of the following:

  • Stiff legged leg march
  • Single leg walking dead lift
  • Leg cradle
  • Walking quadriceps stretch
  • Elbow to instep
  • Backward lunge to twist
  • Knee hug to a lunge

2. Linear Progressions

(Measure out 40 yards with a cone at the 10-, 20-, 30-, and 40-yard marks. If space is limited you can shorten the distance or use a gymnasium. The only consistency needs to be 4 equal-distance phases.)

Perform the following:

  • Linear march 0-10 yard mark
  • Linear skips (A-Skips) 10-20 yard mark
  • High knee trot 20-30 yard mark
  • Accelerate through the 40

3. Linear Buildups

Acceleration training for athletes can take place outdoors

(Measure out 40 yards with a cone at the 10, 20, 30 and 40-yard mark)

Perform the following:

  • High knee trot 0-10 yard mark
  • Accelerate “1st gear” 10-20 yard mark
  • Accelerate “2nd gear” 20-30 yard mark
  • Accelerate “full speed” through the 40

The amount of time spent on this will be determined by how much time is available in the workout. If time is limited, the athlete should perform only a single set of progressions and build-ups. Often, if acceleration is the focus of the workout or if more time is needed working on the skill, it is typical to perform four sets of each.

With proper setup and instruction, the warm-up can be narrowed to 10-15 minutes from onset.

After this, the athlete may transition into a strength workout or continue into more linear training like resisted starts, sled sprints, or wall drills.

To get the most out of this warm-up, we suggest teaching it to the sports coaches and explaining to them the benefits of this warm-up prior to practice or incorporating some of these drills into a full pre-game warm-up and adding in some multi-directional specific warm-ups.

Like most skills, acceleration training for athletes requires repetition to build proficiency. With practice and in combination with an appropriate strength program, any athlete can learn to improve their acceleration, and the entire team will enjoy improved performance!

How to Become a Strength and Conditioning Coach

Opportunities Abound—Consider Your Strengths

Jim Kielbaso explains how to become a strength and conditioning coach

By Jim Kielbaso

The field of strength and conditioning has exploded over the past 10-15 years, and more people are wondering how to become a strength and conditioning coach than ever before. Unfortunately, most young professionals simply don’t know what options are available, where to start, or what it will take to get there. Because of this, many professionals end up moving on to other career pursuits. The purpose of this article is to give you a basic understanding of the strength and conditioning profession, what is available, and which paths are typical for each scenario.

Opportunities Available to the Strength and Conditioning Coach

How to become a strength and conditioning coach: 4 main tracks

Strength and conditioning job opportunities are typically found in four main career areas:

  1. Professional sports
  2. Collegiate sports
  3. Private setting
  4. Volunteer or part-time positions

Entrepreneurship has become an ever-important aspect of this profession, and having a great business idea can open up additional career paths such as speaking, writing, web-sites, product development, product sales, and more. Those areas are not the typical paths, so we won’t be spending much time talking about them. Keep in mind, however, that an entrepreneurial spirit can open the doors to a wide variety of additional opportunities in this field.

The Power of Networking

Most strength and conditioning coaches who have been in the game for more than a few years have worked very hard to get where they are. Almost all have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a related field and at least one major certification. Many coaches have a master’s degree, own multiple certifications, and have done internships or graduate assistantships to gain experience and connections in the Strength and Conditioning world. Like any other profession, some coaches simply fall into incredible positions and may even be ill-qualified for the job. Most, however, are “connected” to another coach. When that coach gets a new job, he often takes “his people” with him.

University of Tennessee Strength Coach Ronnie McKeefery puts it best: “Networking is an absolute must when you’re trying to break into this field. Knowing the right people can move your resume to the top of a large stack or even let you know about job openings you otherwise wouldn’t have known about.”

There is no objective way to determine who the best strength coaches are—there are no win/loss records attributed directly to the Strength and Conditioning coach—so “who you know” plays a big role in how many opportunities come your way. Unfortunately, many good coaches lose their jobs because they are connected to a sport coach who loses his/her job. That’s part of the game, and it’s the state of the profession. If that’s not appealing to you, you may want to find a job outside of college or pro sports.

More and more, sport coaches are learning about strength and conditioning and developing their own opinions about training. If you hope to work with a sport coach like this, your training philosophy better match his/her opinion of what works: The sport coach is in charge of the team and he/she may carry a lot of weight in the hiring/firing process; if you do things in a way that contradicts the coach’s beliefs, you’re probably not going to be hired. This reality has gotten many coaches to reevaluate what is important to them, and compromises have been made in order to keep jobs. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing, but it is a part of the profession.

Nearly Endless Options

If you’re just starting out and have a real passion for strength and conditioning but haven’t gotten too far into the business, you need to know that there are many options and paths to choose from. If you just want to be part of the scene, there are endless opportunities. There are a lot of schools, teams and athletes that would love some free or very inexpensive help. If you want to get paid, however, there are fewer opportunities. And, if you want to make a lot of money, your path is even narrower. That’s not to say that there aren’t good jobs out there, but there are a lot of quality coaches vying for a relatively small number of coveted jobs, so it’s very competitive. No matter which path you choose, you’ll probably have to pay your dues, unless you’re one of those lucky people who fall into a perfect situation.

“Putting in a lot of hard work and spending time developing as a coach is an absolute requirement,” says McKeefery. “This is a tough job, so you have to be willing to work. If hard work and long hours are a problem for you, this probably isn’t the job for you.”

You also need to keep in mind that not everyone is a good fit for this profession and different personalities fit better down certain paths. You don’t want to be the square peg trying to fit into a round hole, so it’s a good idea to figure out which path presents the best opportunities for your strengths. As you read through the rest of this article, you may connect with certain aspects of each job. Try to be very honest and objective about which environment you are best suited for. The coach who is perfectly suited for college football may be the wrong person to work with professional basketball players. An incredible Olympic sports coach may be terrible in a business setting.

You also need to understand that each situation has pros and cons. Working with professional athletes may be your dream because you love Sports Center. That dream could be completely shattered when you find out the realities of the situation. You may start out being driven in one direction, but don’t be surprised if your outlook changes as you mature in the profession.

Let’s take a look at some of the opportunities available in the field and the most common paths taken to get there. While you read, think about which situations you’re best suited for. Also keep in mind that there are always combinations of these positions available, and you may have an opportunity to create your own job in certain situations.

How to Become a Strength and Conditioning Coach in Professional Sports

(Salary range: $500/month–$300K+/year)

How to become a strength and conditioning coach for professional sports

To some people, this is the pinnacle. To others, it’s a terrible situation. There are a very limited number of jobs available in pro sports, so you’ll certainly have to pay your dues, get to know the right people and be in the right place at the right time to make it happen. Professional sports have evolved to the point that the athletes often have more power than the coaches, and some coaches aren’t right for that environment.

The path to success in professional sports is generally to pick one sport and go full tilt in that direction. You’ll probably get pigeon-holed early on as a hockey guy, football guy, basketball guy, etc., so be sure you like the sport you’re dealing with. That’s not to say you can never switch sports, but once you’re in, you’re kind of in.

Like college coaches, many pro coaches start out as a Graduate Assistant or intern for a collegiate program. From there, they often intern or volunteer for a pro team to get a foot in the door. Sometimes a player you’ve worked with puts a word in for you to get you into an organization. Once you get a foot in the door, it’s much easier to move ahead. It’s pretty common for a part-time coach or intern to be promoted to assistant coach if he/she is doing a great job. From there, many assistant coaches move up to a head coach spot when one opens.

MLB seems to have the largest number of opportunities, but many of them are internship positions with minor league teams. Inexperienced coaches have the opportunity to get jobs in pro baseball, and it can be a good learning experience if you are lucky enough to work under a good coach. It can also be frustrating because moving upward in an organization is difficult and competitive. The people at the top of the ladder typically stay there for as long as they can.

In baseball, you generally go from being an intern with a minor league team to being a minor league coordinator and finally to MLB head strength coach. Many teams hire from within, so it’s often a game of attrition: How long can you wait for a good job to become available?

“I spent time in three different organizations waiting for an opportunity to present itself, but it never happened,” says Nick Wilson from the University of Detroit Mercy. “I stuck around baseball as long as I could, but when a college position became available, I knew I had to jump on it.”

Your ability to connect with coaches and athletes will often outweigh your knowledge, so keep in mind that you have to be the right fit if you’re going to make it very far in baseball.

The NBA, NFL, MLS, and NHL are a little different because there aren’t many lower-tier or minor league positions available. The path noted above (intern–>assistant–>head) is similar to the path taken in collegiate sports. The big difference is that most “farm” systems of these sports simply don’t have full-time strength and conditioning coaches… yet. That may change in the future.

To get into one of these sports, you typically have to pay your dues for a while, making very little money, working very hard, traveling A LOT, and connecting with the right people in order for it to pay off. More importantly, you typically need to ride the coattails of a coach or high-profile athlete to get into a good position. For example, you may be a volunteer coach for an NFL team just at the time that the assistant Strength and Conditioning coach gets a new job. If you’ve done an outstanding job, you might get the Assistant position. From there, you may become great friends with the Defensive Coordinator. The next year, that coach may get a head coaching job for another team, and he may bring you with him because of your relationship. That’s a typical situation, but it doesn’t always work perfectly.

You also need to understand that pro Strength and Conditioning coaches are often hired and fired depending on how the players feel about you. It’s not uncommon to see a coach get hired or fired in pro sports because a star player either loved or hated him/her. It’s also not uncommon for someone to get hired by a professional team because he/she had developed a relationship with an owner or high-level manager. That’s certainly not typical, but you just never know how things might work out in professional sports.

If pro sports is your true passion, you’ll probably need to start out by volunteering for a team. Call the strength coach and ask if you can be involved in any way. If you’re lucky enough to get your foot in the door, take advantage of that opportunity by working your butt off. Hard work will often impress someone, and that could give you the opportunity to take the next step in that sport.

You’ll almost always need a strong educational background to land a good pro job, but there have also been plenty of ex-players or personal friends that get hired.

The NFL typically has one head strength coach and one or two assistants. Many teams are going with a speed coach instead of an assistant. Because of the schedule, NFL jobs require the least amount of travel and often have the most authority over the actual training the athletes engage in.

The NBA typically has one head strength coach, and some teams have intern positions. Travel can be grueling because you’re on the road most of the year. Not many NBA strength coaches have the authority to “make” a player train, so developing relationships is very important.

Not every NHL team has a full-time strength coach; many are also athletic trainers, and most have additional responsibilities such as minor league training or making travel arrangements. The MLS is still in its infancy. Most teams have someone working on fitness, but the quality of the position varies greatly from club to club. MLS and NHL have plenty of room for growth in this area.

How to Become a Strength and Conditioning Coach in College Sports

Salary range: $500/month–$300K+/year

Becoming a college strength and conditioning coach is easier than getting into pro sports

There are certainly more opportunities in college athletics than professional sports simply because there are more colleges than pro teams. Many colleges also employ more than one strength coach, and some employ several. There seem to be two distinct paths here: football and everything else. There are now several basketball-only Strength and Conditioning Coaches, but the majority of college coaches can be divided up by football and what they call “Olympic sports.”

In either situation, you always need a degree and national certification (usually NSCA or CSCCA), and most coaches now have a Master’s Degree and experience as either a Graduate Assistant or intern. If you want to get into college Strength and Conditioning coaching, you’re definitely going to need to pick between football and Olympic sports and work on getting a G.A. spot or internship. Getting a G.A. position at a large school is quite competitive, so you’ll need to make connections early and talk to college coaches about upcoming opportunities. Many G.A. positions are filled internally by former athletes, so you need to network heavily to get your foot in the door.

If you’re just starting out, try to get your experience at the biggest school possible, especially one with a good athletic program. That’s not to say you can’t get a fantastic experience at a small school with a great coach who gives you lots of responsibility; you can. Unfortunately, Athletic Directors (who are frequently doing the hiring) are often pretty uneducated about this, and they love to see successful sports programs on a resume, even if you didn’t do that much there. So, when choosing a Graduate Assistantship or internship, look for a big school or one that will give you plenty of hands-on experience.

“Having a resume is not good enough anymore,” comments McKeefery. “My last job listing, I had over 400 resumes, and 97% of them had a degree and certification. Having the education is a given. You must have practical application and experience.”

You may also want to look at the track record of the coach getting his people better jobs. Some coaches don’t help very much in this department, while others do everything they can to help people succeed.

Similar to pro sports, football Strength and Conditioning coaches often attach themselves to a coach and ride him as far as possible. With that in mind, a perfect scenario would be to become the assistant strength coach at a large school where the assistant football coaches have a good shot at being a head coach in the future. Keep in mind that when that coach moves on, you may be taken along for the ride.

If you really want to get into football strength and conditioning and you think you’re the right fit, contact as many football strength coaches as possible while you’re an undergrad so you can land a good G.A. position. G.A. positions are often filled a year in advance, so do plenty of networking by attending clinics and making phone calls to meet coaches.

Once you get a G.A. position, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s going to be happy times for two years. On the contrary, most G.A.’s get worked to the bone, so get ready to put in some serious work. A Graduate Assistantship is basically a two-year interview just to get a recommendation. Of course, you get your graduate school paid for, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get a job. You still have to do a great job and impress the head coach just to be in the position to have a favorable recommendation.

In general, Olympic sport strength and conditioning coaches are more laid back and focused on teaching an intern or G.A. how to be a great coach. These G.A.’s still work their butts off, but it’s generally a different attitude. There are often more jobs available because many schools have multiple Strength and Conditioning Coaches working with Olympic Sports, but those usually aren’t the huge-salary jobs. There are many excellent opportunities for quality female coaches in this setting, because many female sports want a female strength coach. There is a lack of quality female strength coaches, so good ones can often have plenty of opportunities.

The road to a big-time job can be long and full of ups and downs. The big-money jobs are typically associated with college football, so you have to be attached to the right coach and be willing to make a move when the timing is right. A typical path to the top involves several moves, so your family needs to be on board early in the process. It is common for a G.A. to get an assistant coach position and work there for a few years before getting a head job at a medium-sized school. If things work out well at that school, and your head football coach wins a lot of games, you might get the opportunity to follow him to a big school and a big-time job. From there, the program better keep winning, or you can lose that job as fast as you got it. Some guys will win a National Championship one year and lose their job the next (yes, it has happened), so don’t get too comfortable in any position.

Keep in mind that head strength coaches often do the hiring of assistant coaches at large schools. Athletic Directors are usually involved and will probably be part of the interview process. A.D.’s at smaller schools are much more involved in the hiring process. In both situations, a call or recommendation from another influential coach can often go a long way toward getting you an interview. If you don’t know anyone at the university, it’s very difficult to get noticed in a stack of resumes.

Don’t be too discouraged if you don’t even get an interview for a job. Many jobs get posted but have basically been filled internally. It’s not often that a great job gets posted and the school has no idea who they’ll be hiring. Again, networking is the key here.

How to Become a High School Strength and Conditioning Coach

Salary range: $10/hour–$100K/year

How to become a high school strength and conditioning coach

The high school scene for strength and conditioning is very interesting and very different from state to state and region to region. There are some states such as Texas, California, and Ohio where strength coaching jobs are fairly common in high schools. In other states, there may not be any school-sponsored positions. High school jobs are often filled by volunteers, assistant coaches, or sub-contracted employees who fill part-time positions to help a school. Most often, physical education teachers fill the role by default. Still, there are schools in certain areas that have multiple full-time coaches with large budgets and the full support of the administration. Private schools usually lead the way in funding these positions.

Helping at a high school can be done for a single team or an entire school. If you’re volunteering your time, you need to decide how many kids you’re willing to work with or how much time you can put in. Interestingly, many high school sport coaches are even more controlling than college coaches when it comes to strength and conditioning, so you have to be prepared for different personalities.

“I believe High School Strength and Conditioning is a great opportunity for newcomers to strength and conditioning,” says McKeefery. “If you combine that with a teaching position, you have a stable income and time at your disposal. With that financial stability, you can use the extra time to network while being able to practically apply what you learn with your athletes.”

Unfortunately, the high school scene has been inundated with sub-par programming from poor coaches. This often happens because the sport coaches choose a program based on marketing hype or because an unqualified coach fills the position. With all of the information available today, it’s almost unbelievable to see what some sport coaches come up with, but it’s the reality of the situation.

Landing a Job

To get a job at a high school, a strength coach usually needs to win the respect of a sport coach or A.D. Sometimes a degree and experience are necessary. In other situations, you just need to be the friend of a coach. If you’re looking to be a part of a program and have the time to volunteer, it’s possible to get your foot in the door of many schools.

Some schools fund the strength coach through school funds while others pay with booster club money. If you think this is a setting you can see yourself fitting into, think about getting your teacher’s certification. It doesn’t mean you have to teach, but it certainly opens a lot of doors in public schools.

How to Become a Strength and Conditioning Coach in a Private Setting

Salary Range: $10/hour–over $200K/year

How to become a strength and conditioning coach in a private setting

Over the past 10 years, more and more opportunities are springing up for strength and conditioning coaches in private settings. You can be a personal trainer who works with a few athletes, or you can run a complete business focusing exclusively on athletes. Entrepreneurs have established businesses like these all over the country, often focusing on a specific niche of the market. Some businesses focus on football combine training, while others are geared toward soccer or hockey players. Some deal mainly with younger populations, and others strictly run camps. You can pick your niche or spread out and train lots of different athletes. The key here is that you get to create your job and decide who you’re going to work with as long as you can get them to pay for your services.

You can operate an independent facility or be part of a large network of training centers. Athletic Republic is the largest chain in the world with over 160 centers, but there are also smaller chains. Athletic Revolution offers franchising opportunities for those who like control over how their business looks and feels.

Some training centers make good money, but most have found that this business does not have a very high profit margin. You can make a very nice living, but there aren’t many people getting rich in this business. Even the most successful facilities in the country supplement their income with personal training, nutritional supplements, or information products. It’s a difficult business, and the use of a consultant or outside expert is highly recommended when getting started. Many new facilities go out of business quickly because of bad decisions made early in the process. I have consulted with several facilities, and it’s amazing to see the mistakes that put people out of business. Again, Athletic Revolution (and personal training franchise Fitness Revolution) can provide business solutions to ensure you are efficiently running your business and allowing you more time to spend in the coaching aspect.

The surge of private training centers has created a lot of jobs for young coaches, however, and this segment of the field is expanding faster than any other. It is a great option for a young coach who may not fit into the college scene, can’t get a foot in the door in pro sports, or doesn’t have the demeanor to work with large groups of high school athletes. One of the most difficult aspects of this job is that you need to be nice enough to get people to pay for your services and stick with you yet demanding enough to get results. People who can talk comfortably with different athletes and parents and have the ability to make training somewhat enjoyable can just about write their own ticket in this industry. Many college and pro coaches lack these skills, so don’t underestimate how difficult it can be to run a successful sports performance business.

Most private facilities require a degree in the field and a certification from a nationally accredited agency such as the NSCA, NASM, or ACSM, but each business will have its own requirements. Doing an internship at a facility is probably the best way to get a foot in the door, but completing a graduate assistantship or internship at another facility is also a great start. These facilities often have a decent amount of turnover, so they hire on a fairly regular basis. When there is a job opening, the owners often hire coaches they don’t know very well, so opportunities abound, especially in metropolitan areas.

You’ll usually make the most money in the private setting when you own the business, but there is certainly a downside to ownership. The first, and most obvious, is the financial risk of spending a lot of money on a business and having it fail. Other downsides include having to do marketing, paperwork, accounting, and hiring and firing of employees. It can be difficult to find good employees you can trust, and this is a huge source of stress for many business owners. The upside is that you’re more in control of your career, and you can reap whatever financial rewards come your way.

It’s OK to be an employee if you feel that is where you fit the best. Not everyone needs to own a business, and the additional money may not be worth the stress.

Many gyms or fitness facilities have personal training programs, and these trainers always have the option of working with athletes. It’s a great option to do personal fitness training most of the time (to pay the bills) and train a few athletes as well; this is a very common situation. You don’t have to train athletes exclusively to make this work. You have to weigh your options and choose the best path for yourself.

Interning or getting experience at a private facility may also help you move into the college or professional setting. For example, Total Performance Training Center in Wixom, MI, has had several interns/employees move on to full-time college positions, paid college internships, or GA positions at major universities. Sometimes this kind of experience can really benefit you because you bring a different outlook to the table. Again, it all depends on your personality and determination.

How to Become a Part-time or Volunteer Strength and Conditioning Coach

Salary Range: Negligible

How to become a volunteer strength and conditioning coach

If you just want to be involved in athletics, there are a ton of opportunities to be connected without it taking over your life. A great option is to have another well-paying job that you enjoy and volunteer with athletes on the side. You may even get paid a little for your time, but it doesn’t have to be a full-time job. This can often keep things interesting for you and not turn training into a burden because you have to do it all day, every day. If you only spend a couple hours a week volunteering at a high school or with a sports club, you’ll probably continue to stay excited about it and keep the enjoyment factor high.

Many high schools, and even colleges and pro sports teams, love volunteer help from qualified coaches. Limited budgets often cause staffing problems for athletic programs, and a qualified volunteer can be a huge help in many situations. That doesn’t mean you can just call up an NFL team and ask to volunteer in the weight room. You still have to be qualified, and you need to network. Once you get to know a strength coach, you might have the opportunity to talk about being involved in some capacity. If you’re not asking to be paid, it’s always easier to bring this up.


I hope this article sheds some light on how to become a strength and conditioning coach, including the most common paths in the strength and conditioning profession and what type of person would excel at each. Of course, every coach has his/her own path, and there are many ways to achieve a goal. The point of this article was to show you the most common paths taken by coaches to get to each position.

To sum it all up, here are the things you need to do to become a strength and conditioning coach:

  • Get a great education: at least a bachelor’s degree, probably a master’s degree
  • Get certified by a nationally recognized organization
  • Learn from great coaches and hone your coaching skills
  • Network with as many coaches as possible
  • Seek opportunities and jump on them when appropriate
  • Work hard and put in long hours
  • Do an outstanding job training athletes day after day
  • Have a little bit of luck

If you do all of those things, you’ll certainly have opportunities in this field. If you have the right personality and meet the right people, you’ll probably get a decent job. If you work really hard, do a great job, and have a little bit of luck, you just might hit it big and become a leader in the field. Whatever you hope to achieve, I hope this article sheds some light on how to become a strength and conditioning coach and helps you choose the path that suits you best.

High School Strength and Conditioning: Small Schools, Big Profits

Huge Potential in High School Strength and Conditioning Programs for Small Schools

Shane Nelson discusses High School Strength and Conditioning with small schools

By Shane Nelson, MS, CSCS

As the high school strength and conditioning coach at Chesterton High School, a growing town in northwest Indiana, I’m fortunate to work in a school district that takes a great deal of pride in its athletic programs. Several years ago, our athletic director and administration decided it was time to have a strength coach, someone who has a firm understanding of strength and conditioning both in theory and in practice. This was a good idea for many reasons, as it brought new ideas and enthusiasm to the table, and it also gave each sport’s head coach (or an assistant) a lot more free time during the off-season. It was not a very hard sell to many of the coaches when they were asked if they’d mind turning their off-season conditioning programs over to someone else, giving them more time to spend with their families, while at the same time giving their players a break from seeing them during the entire off-season. It was a win/win situation across the board.

Keep in mind, I work at a large school. In fact, we were recently moved up to the 6A class in football, which is the largest class in the state based on school enrollment. In addition, we are a member of the Duneland Athletic Conference, arguably one of the toughest conferences in the state of Indiana. Our school was not the first of its size, nor the first in our conference, to hire a dedicated strength coach for its programs.

Since starting in this position, one of my early goals was to try to get our younger kids involved with and excited about strength and speed development. I accomplished this through running speed/agility and strength training camps. I began the speed/agility camps in 2010 and focused on grades 4-8. I began the strength training camps in 2012 for kids in grades 5-8. It quickly became clear to me that kids (and their parents) really loved these 12-week camps. The students were seeing results and having a lot of fun! Time and again, we’d receive comments or emails from parents describing how their child loved the camp and couldn’t wait until the next one. We would regularly have between 50 and 70 campers signing up per session.

Somewhere along the way, I had a conversation about my camps with a woman whose son I had been training. I didn’t know it at the time, but this woman happened to be a school board member of a rural school district about 15 miles from mine. This school district is very small. In fact, it is in the smallest class in the state of Indiana based on enrollment. She told me that there wasn’t anyone in her school district that was doing anything like this, and she asked me if I’d be willing to run this type of camp for their kids. I agreed to do it, and after agreeing on the nominal fee for the use of their gymnasium, we ran a very successful camp there as well.

Shortly thereafter, an old friend of mine who lived in another rural town about 25 miles from mine heard about the camps I was running and asked if I’d be interested in running one in her school district. Ironically enough, this school district is also in the smallest class in the state of Indiana. I told her that I would, and within a day or two, she contacted me with the phone number for the school’s athletic director. When I contacted him, he was very excited and had been expecting my call. That spring and summer, I ran two very successful camps, and the best part was that I wasn’t charged a dime for using their gymnasium. These camps were attended by the son of the superintendent of schools, who really loved what we were doing for his students. At one point, he admitted to me that he wished there was money in the school’s budget to pay for a position like the one I hold. Unfortunately, he explained, the money just isn’t there for small schools like that. For this reason, I was given an open invitation (more or less urged) to run camps at this school whenever I wanted to. His exact words to me were, “Our kids need someone like you to do this year-round.”

That statement got me thinking and brings me back to the point I referenced earlier. Small schools (you know, those “small-town, country, 30 kids in a graduating class” places) offer a great deal of potential to those of us in the sports performance business. As was brought to my attention, these school districts don’t have the funds that the larger schools have to pay for “strength coaches” or “strength and conditioning coordinators.” Therefore, they most likely do not have anyone in their system actively trying to improve the sports performance of their young athletes. This is where we in the sports performance business come in.

Small schools are passionate about high school strength and conditioning, and the money is there

One thing I can tell you about these communities is that they are very passionate about their sports. Like their bigger city counterparts, they are looking for ways to enhance their children’s abilities on the field or court. The problem they face is that they lack the same opportunities to do this. We need to create these opportunities for them. All it takes is making contact with the right person. Superintendents and athletic directors are excellent choices. If you have friends or acquaintances in small towns like this, they would also make great candidates (especially if they have school-age children), because chances are they know the decision-makers in the school system.

If you’re trying to pick up some new clients or add to your current income, I strongly suggest you look at this market. Camps are a great option to do just that. If you are willing to put it on at the school, odds are you’ll be able to do it for a minimal fee. In addition, if you’re lucky (as I was), the school will advertise for you. In my experience, all I had to do was make the camp flyer; the school made copies and gave them out to all their students.

If you start a high school strength and conditioning program in smaller schools like this, you’ll be amazed at the difference you can make for these kids and at the happiness you provide to the parents and school administrators through your desire to make them better athletes. It is a tremendous feeling!

Never Give Up: Athlete Development for Life

Perseverance Serves Young Athlete Development Outside of Sports

By Cory Sims

soccer athlete development

When it comes to athlete development, we need to be teaching our kids more than just strategy and technique. Indeed, it is imperative that we expose them to situations that can instill real life lessons. One of the most important character traits they can develop through sports is perseverance, but it can only happen if we are not too quick to protect and shelter our athletes but instead follow a long-term athletic development approach.

Never Give Up!

I’m not sure there is a better and more succinct statement about perseverance than the phrase, “Never give up.” It means that despite whatever setbacks or obstacles come your way, you may have to jump, crawl, scratch, run, and do whatever it takes to get through. It’s this attitude that establishes a winning mentality that will help you in every area of your life. How we teach our youth to handle adversity at a young age can have an impact on the way they deal with tough situations later in their lives.

I coach youth club soccer, and every year there are tryouts to determine the makeup of teams. The tryouts end up being something like the old playground pick-up games where someone has to have the stigma of being picked last. In this case, that would mean being selected for the “lesser” of the teams. It can definitely be a bit damaging to the psyche of an 11-year-old not to be picked for the “good” team, especially if the majority of his or her friends made that team. There are a variety of reasons why someone might be selected for a particular team, which could be an hour long seminar in and of itself, but regardless of what those reasons might be, we should use these moments as teaching points to encourage athlete development.

A lot of parents will step in and advocate for their child, which is the natural and normal thing to do. In fact, I believe all parents should want what is best for their children. However, I’m not convinced that being on the best team is really in the best interest of each child.

Long-Term Approach to Athlete Development

I prefer to take the long-term athletic development model approach when looking at these situations. Simply stated, this model for athlete development values the growth of the athlete throughout their entire career over the perceived value of playing for a prestigious team or club. Perhaps a young athlete might be better served on a different team where they’d have more opportunity to really master the essential skills of their given sport.

Let’s take soccer for example. Would a tentative child fare well on a team where every other kid’s first touch on the ball was better than theirs—so much so that they were nervous about messing up every time a pass was made in their direction? I know from experience that these players tend to kick the ball away as quickly as possible so as to not be criticized for making an error. How much benefit is that child receiving from being on the so-called good team? Not much if you ask me.

Now put that same child on a team where he or she is one of the faster and stronger players. They will likely feel more comfortable, and in this environment, they can work on developing the foot-skills that will help them at the next level. They will also get an opportunity to develop leadership skills. As it is said, you never feel the sun if you’re playing in the shadows. That is, until you’ve been called on to lead, you’ll never know what it means to inspire others with your actions, words, and demeanor. These are life lessons for both sport and the world outside it.

Be Like Mike

Giving up or quitting because an athlete didn’t get selected to a particular team is the last thing we should encourage (or even allow) our young athletes to do. There’s so much adversity in life, and youth sports should be an opportunity to face adversity in a less turbulent manner. Overcoming adversity makes victory that much sweeter. Think of Michael Jordan, who was cut from his High School basketball team. Instead of quitting, he worked harder than ever before to make sure he made the team the following year, and we now consider him one of the greatest athletes of all time. Soccer star Cesc Fabregas, who has now rejoined his boyhood club, FC Barcelona, was further down the pecking order than international stars Xavi (Hernandez) and (Andres) Iniesta both at Barcelona and in the Spanish National Team. Rather than give up the dream to play at the highest level, he took the opportunity to develop further at Arsenal, so much so that he became their captain. While not a starter for Spain during their 2010 campaign, he ended up making the assist for the goal that won the World Cup. He never stopped trying to improve and it certainly paid off.

If you work hard and persevere, you’ll be ready when that opportunity comes. Instead of encouraging our children to quit because we feel they’re being conspired against and engendering the belief that the world is a bad place because they’ve been picked last, let’s start looking for positives to take from the situation.

First, our young people are staying active in ways they can maintain for a lifetime. Second, if we remove these unnecessary stigmas attached to “good” and “bad” teams, they’ll have a lot more fun. Third, if your athlete is striving to make that better team, give them this opportunity to work harder and smarter to improve their game.

Let’s make sure we’re not getting in the way of providing young athletes the tools they need to become well-rounded citizens. This includes learning to deal with adversity, competition, and disappointment. When children learn that there is a lesson in every setback, they’ll learn to conquer any and all obstacles they face later in life.

I think that there are many great things children learn from sports, but mental fortitude is one of the most important for athlete development. We can teach our children to keep learning, to stay focused, to work hard, to play well with others, and to practice fairness. We can teach them about teamwork, respect for the game, and having fun while trying to win. But if they are going to get anywhere in this world, they need to learn one thing: No matter what life throws their way, no matter what unexpected things arise, they can find a way to win if they never, ever give up.

Improving Youth Fitness: Let’s Get Rid of Sports in Schools

A focus on sports in PE should be replaced with a focus on youth fitness

Alex Slezak

By Alex Slezak – M.Ed, YFS, YSAS, HSSCS

The headline Let’s Get Rid of Sports in Schools was meant to be eye catching to get you to dig into the content of this article. I am not calling for an end to all Varsity and Junior Varsity athletic programs. In fact, as a Varsity coach myself, I think those programs are a wonderful means to get youth active, competing, and learning valuable life lessons. Instead, what I am advocating is eliminating sports from Physical Education curriculums. In fact, just think about what the name Physical Education implies. It certainly is not basketball, football, or soccer. It implies that we teach youth about their bodies, how they work, and how to operate them.

There are two basic models physical education programs have traditionally adopted. The first and most traditionally used is the sport-based model. Basically, this model exposes kids to a bunch of different sports in hopes that a child becomes passionate about one of them and the sport then becomes the means to stay healthy. In my experience, this model flat out does not work. It is like throwing a bunch of darts at the wall and hoping one hits the bull’s-eye. This has been the predominant model for the last few decades, and it has not worked. The proof? Youth who went through this sport-based model are the adults of today who are overweight, obese, diabetic, sedentary, and placing little emphasis on the value Physical Education could possibly have in the lives of their children.

Now let’s look at a different model, the fitness-based model. In this new model, physical education class is basically a private gym for youth. In this model, the kids are taught nutrition, exercise physiology principles, and the value of taking care of their bodies instead of learning to shoot a basketball, which, while fun for some, objectively is far less valuable in the long run.

In this fitness-based model, classes are based on developing fitness and general athletic ability. Elementary students are having fun playing games developing their kinesthetic awareness and coordination. At the secondary level, students are on programs that develop integrated strength, quality movement patterns, power, agility, etc. The non-athletes are engaged in learning how to take care of themselves for their lifetime, and the athletes are doing the same along with training for performance. Everyone is getting better and engaged for uniquely individual reasons. After all, who would not want to be engaged in learning about the body they are going to live in for their lifetime? This is the kind of program that develops children who turn into adults who value taking care of their bodies.

Now, if you still are not sold on this fitness-based model because you love athletics, think about this—if a child does become involved in a sport, they will be more likely to have initial success because of their experiences in Physical Education. In my opinion, there is nothing more motivating to a young child than success early on with something new.

So in closing, let’s stop the fight between athletics and physical education. Let’s allow athletics to teach sports skills and physical education to take on the role of personal training and general athletic development for our youth. In a few decades, we’ll have adults who value their health and the role of physical education in the lives of their children.

Alex is a Physical Education teacher who operates a tennis and fitness training business in Pittsburgh, PA, and is an advocate for improving youth fitness. You can learn more by visiting his website at

Popular Adult Programs for Youth Speed and Power Development?

Are programs like CrossFit or P90X appropriate for youth speed and power development?

By Mike Martin

Adult training programs are often inappropriate for youth speed and power development

When it comes to youth speed and power development, as a former high school teacher, coach, and now current owner of my own sports performance training business, I have a pretty good feel for what middle school, high school, and even collegiate athletes in my area are being given for training programs to “improve” their speed, agility, and vertical jump at their respective schools. Believe it or not, quite a few coaches and teachers are using P90X, Insanity, Tap Out, and CrossFit as speed and jump training programs. A quick search of internet message boards also reveals a common theme that programs such as these are fine for improving speed and vertical jump performance in youth athletes.

The problem is that these types of programs are meant for adults. As we all know, taking an adult program, implementing it on a population it was not intended for, and using it in a way it is not suited for, is certainly not going to help our athletes get more explosive, and it may even injure them.

A review by Johnson et al., of youth speed and power development and plyometric programs for young children ages 5-14 noted that a structured plyometric training program performed twice a week for 8-10 weeks, beginning at 50-60 total jumps and gradually increasing intensity, resulted in an increase in running, especially 30 meter sprint, and jumping performance (2). Additionally, Donald Chu PhD, recommends 60-100 foot-contacts of low-intensity drills per session for a beginner entering off-season training. He also stresses recovery between jumps and sets of jumps as crucial for plyometric training to improve power instead of muscle endurance. As an example, he recommends a 1:5-1:10 work to rest ratio for optimal power development, meaning if 5 hurdle jumps took 6 seconds to complete, the proper rest interval should fall between 30-60 seconds before the 2nd set is started (1).

On the other hand, the adult training methods in the above programs are based around repeated jumps for time or to exhaustion, and they are completed with very short rest intervals, counter to what research shows is the best way to improve speed and power through plyometrics.

Here’s the bottom line: Just because the aforementioned programs include jumping doesn’t make them suitable for youth speed and power development.

1. Johnson, Barbara, A., Salzberg, Charles, L., and Stevenson, David, A. A systematic Review: Plyometric Training Programs for Young Children. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: 25(9) September, 2011

2. Chu, Donald, A, PhD. Jumping Into Plyometrics: Human Kinetics, 1992. Champaign, ILL.

Mike Martin, MS, CSCS, owns Next Level Athletic Development in Harrisonburg, VA and train athletes of all ages and abilities with a special emphasis on baseball players.

Training Young Athletes with a Low Balance Beam

kids fitness, young athletes

By Dave Gleason

What is one of the biggest keys to having success in training young athletes?


The dictionary defines “variety” as something differing from others of the same general kind. As coaches we are striving to incorporate repetition of skill sets via variety. Using a template system to ensure all required developmental elements are contained in our programming, the optimal environment for our youngest athletes (6-13) is a broad base of activities and exercises to take advantage of the plastic nature of their CNS (Central Nervous System) and their ability to adapt and learn.

Training Young Athletes with the Low Low Balance Beam

Far more than just an implement to train static and dynamic balance, the low beam can be utilized as a fun way to explore new movement as well as alternative modes of performing previously practiced skills.

Kinesthetic differentiation and body awareness, increased range of motion, static and dynamic balance, contra-lateral coordination, movement exploration, and systemic strength is a short list of training elements that are accentuated with a low balance beam.

A beam 1-inch high by 4-8 feet long and 4-inches wide is a fantastic addition to any coach’s toolbox. Here are some training ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

Beam Monster Walks (Lunge Walks) – Placing multiple beams together in a single straight line, the athlete performs a lunge walk landing the left foot on the balance beam and the right foot on the ground. The athlete will return placing the right foot on the beam and the left foot on the ground. Progressions/variations may include lunge walking with both feet on the beam, staggering, paralleling, or creating patterns out of the beams and stepping over and across the beam with each step.

Beam Bear Crawls – Placing multiple beams together in a single straight line, the athlete performs a bear crawl keeping his/her hands on the beam only with their feet straddling the beam. Progressions/variations may include keeping feet on the beam and hands on the floor (straddling the beam), only right hand and foot on the beam and vise versa, moving backward, moving laterally, staggering, paralleling or creating patterns out of the beams.

Beam Crab Walks – Placing multiple beams together in a single straight line, the athlete performs a crab walk keeping his/her hands on the beam only with their feet straddling the beam. Progressions/variations may include keeping feet on the beam and hands on the floor (straddling the beam), only right hand and foot on the beam and vice versa, moving forward, moving laterally, staggering, paralleling, or creating patterns out of the beams.

Up/Up/Down/Downs – In a push-up hold position with the athlete’s body orientated perpendicular to the beam and their hand on the floor behind the beam, the athlete will “step up” on to the beam with their hands. Once completed, the athlete “steps down” placing their hands back on the floor. Variations can include stacking the beams for a higher step and orientating the body position parallel with the beam.

Galloping/Skipping – Placing multiple beams together in a single straight line, the athlete performs a gallop with the lead foot on the balance beam. Progressions/variations include skipping, galloping with the lead foot on the floor, and using two parallel lines of beams.

Now that you are beginning to think about how you can infuse low beam training into your programming, be creative and have fun with as many variations of movement you can think of. Observe your athletes closely, and you will quickly devise an endless variety for your youngest athletes to learn from.

When in doubt, remember you can always count on your athletes to discover and create!

When training young athletes, keep changing lives—one at a time!

Working With High School Coaches: An Insider’s Perspective


By Shane Nelson, MS

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the IYCA International Summit in Louisville, Kentucky. To say the very least, it was an incredible experience and one that I’ll remember for a very long time. I was completely blown away by the knowledge of every speaker I was fortunate enough to listen to and their graciousness and willingness to share this knowledge, both on stage and off.

I had a four-and-a-half hour drive home after the event, so needless to say, I had plenty of time for reflection. One of the recurring themes I heard over the weekend from speakers and attendees alike was the fact that, in their opinion, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to gain access to athletes through coaches or school systems in general. This sentiment was repeated more than a few times, and it really struck a chord with me. I knew right away that I wanted to share my own personal experience on this subject and hopefully offer some insight to other sports performance coaches on how to tap into this market.

I am in a unique situation in that I am both a high school strength & conditioning coach and a personal trainer and sports performance coach. So I’ve sat (and continue to sit) on both sides of the fence regarding this very topic. And I can tell you with 100% confidence that it’s not as hard as you’d think to be granted access to these athletes. Will it require some work? Absolutely. But the rewards are large and many.

High school coaches, by their very nature, are protective of their athletes. The last thing they are going to do is turn their players over to someone they don’t know anything about. And why would they? Most of the high school coaches I’ve ever dealt with (especially the “old school” types) see personal trainers and sports performance coaches as individuals who are only in business to make a profit, with little regard for the athletes they work with. What’s more, these same individuals still believe it’s 1985 in terms of training protocols, so the thought process is, “What do these guys know that I don’t?” They are very ignorant of the training modalities of today and the benefits of them. Terms like functional stability, suspension training, corrective exercise, and force-absorption training are foreign to them. They have no comprehension as to the benefits of all of these and the huge difference they can make on the field or court.

So how exactly does a sports performance coach get a foot in the door with a coach or school? Well, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s going to take some work. Here goes…


Barrier #1 – The idea that sports performance coaches are only concerned with making a profit.

Solution – Volunteer your time in some capacity, any capacity, for FREE. Start in the town you live in. If you have children who attend school there, that’s even better. But it’s not necessary. Attend a few varsity football, basketball, or baseball games and take note of what the hometown team is lacking. Is it power? Top-end speed? Lateral speed or the ability to change direction quickly? If you feel that you are in a position to help correct these deficiencies, contact the coach and let him know. A friendly email that begins with something like this may work wonders: “Hi coach, my name is _________, and I’m a performance enhancement coach here in town. I’ve been following this year’s team all season, and I’ve been to every home game. As a trainer, I see a couple things that, if improved, would make a world of difference to the success of the team. I’d love to sit down and speak with you about these if you have time.” The fact that you’ve invested your time watching his team and are now reaching out to assist him with facets of the sport that are beyond his expertise will speak volumes to him.

When he contacts you about this, (if for no other reason than to ask you your thoughts on what you feel his team is lacking) take that time to educate him on how you can assist him in getting his team to the next level. Offer to come in and speak to him or the team about whatever your specialty is (speed training, Olympic lifting, etc.) at no charge. Find out when the football or baseball team (or whatever team you’d like to work with) workouts are held and contact the head coach to see if you can come in during this time to assist. Generally speaking, most of these workouts are held right after school, somewhere between 3:00 and 5:00. If you’re in the business of training kids of this age, you’re probably not very busy during these hours anyway because your client base is in school and then in the weight room. My point is that it’s probably not going to kill your business to spend an hour at your local high school during this time.

Here’s something very important also to consider: There are A LOT of high schools out there that don’t employ strength and conditioning coaches, so usually it’s the head coach of the team who runs the strength training program. This is especially true at the smaller schools out there, those that don’t have the funding in the budget for one. These schools are not fortunate enough to hire someone to run the training programs and thus are the schools and coaches you should seek initially. Here’s why…

One of the reasons the strength & conditioning coaching position was created for me at the high school I work at is because the varsity football coach was getting burned out due to the grind of the football season and then having to be in the weight room the entire off-season. His exact words to me (and I’ve heard similar words from many other coaches) were, “I need a break from the players, and they need a break from me. When they hear the same voice all season long and then again the entire off-season, they begin to tune you out. They need to hear another voice in the weight room.” The problem for the coaches at the smaller schools is that there is no money in the school’s budget to hire someone to run the weight program. These are the coaches who are looking for help. They may not even realize that they are, but I promise you they’ll take it if it’s offered tactfully and with the right motivation. A great time to do this is right after the team’s competitive season draws to a close and off-season training is about to begin. This is how you get your foot in the door.

It is very important, however, that this doesn’t come across as merely a sales pitch. Coaches will be very much on guard, so you have to be sincere in your approach. They need to know that you care about the kids in their program. By donating some of your time at their facility, they will begin to see this. At that point, you can begin to make some suggestions and modifications to the current training program. Give the coach time to see that you have a very specific skill set and you’re using it to make his team better or more competitive. Make him feel like he and his players NEED your help to attain their goals. Once this occurs, you are now in a position to offer “additional” training a couple evenings a week at your facility.

Explain to the coach that this will be when very specific types of training (functional, explosive, speed training, etc.) will take place. The key here is to make sure that this additional training will complement (and not replace) the training that is happening at school. Most coaches want their athletes to train together as a team as often as possible. They don’t like it when select players are missing team workouts because they are training on their own with “personal trainers.” Therefore, offer to train as many of the kids at one time as your facility will allow. This makes it very inexpensive to the kids, enables them to keep training as a team (which coaches love), and makes it profitable for you. If you’ve left a positive impression with the coach, he will most certainly be a sounding board for you and will do everything in his power to make sure his athletes are getting to your facility to train. Before you know it, the football team won’t be the only team training at your facility. The basketball, baseball, soccer, softball, and every other sports team at the local high school will be knocking at your door.

Barrier #2 – Many coaches aren’t in tune with the training modalities of the 21st Century.

Solution – You’d be surprised by the amount of high school coaches out there (especially football) that still operate under the assumption that all you need to do is bench, squat, and power clean to be successful. In their minds, things like power sleds, TRX bands, and medicine balls are nothing more than gimmicks. They need to be educated as to how these devices can be used to make their athletes more explosive and thus better at their sport and position. Coaches also need to be made aware of the concept of muscle imbalances (and the potential injuries as a result of them) and mobility drills and exercises to alleviate them. If you are well-versed in these, you need to get your name out there with these coaches because I’m telling you most of them don’t have a clue about either of these. Once they learn something about these, however, they quickly come to realize the importance of them and will use you as a resource to implement them with their athletes.

This is your chance to make an impression on the coaches at the local high school. When you’ve been granted permission to come in and speak to the coaches and athletes (or better yet work with them a little bit in the weight room), bring some of the tools that you utilize in your facility. Demonstrate a couple drills or exercises that you use and discuss what they do and why they are important to a particular athlete in a particular sport. Take some time to let the athletes perform some of the exercises. This would also be a good time to speak to the coaches and athletes about muscle imbalances and injury prevention. Most coaches and high school athletes aren’t aware of techniques such as foam rolling and mobility drills (and the benefits of each), so a quick tutorial on these two topics will go a long way with both populations.

The bottom line in this discussion is that you can gain access to high school athletes through their coaches with the right approach. For the last two years, we’ve sent several of our football players to an outside facility for this type of training. The biggest reason the head football coach and I agreed to do it is because the owner approached us in the manner I discussed and runs a program that coincides with what we are doing in the weight room. Another major reason I agreed is because, as the strength coach, I am responsible for training athletes on many of our teams. Therefore, I don’t always have the time to dedicate to this type of thing after school. Not to mention the fact that there are restrictions as to the number of contacts a coach can have with players during the week in the off-season.

I hope this article has shed a little light on the mindset of a high school coach. As I said, I sit in an interesting position, as I am a coach, but I’m also a personal trainer. In fact, a facility just opened in my hometown recently, and they’ve asked me to start training athletes there in the evenings. Beginning after our kids return from spring break, they will be training with me at this new facility. And I will be reaching out to other local coaches then as well.

Good luck! If you have any questions, feel free to email me at

How to Build Trust When Training Softball Players

4 Steps to Successfully Training Softball Players by Building Trust

By Susan Wade, M.Ed., CSCS

Successfully training softball players is made easier by following these 4 steps

Over the last few years, I have experienced a higher demand for training softball players in strength and conditioning, especially for pitchers and catchers. This, I believe, is due to the growing popularity of softball and the increased number of overuse injuries. Ever more softball athletes are competing on more travel teams, playing for more than one team at a time, practicing longer and more intensely, and (for pitchers) playing more innings per game.

Typically, coaches are hired for their experience as a “winning” coach, and they tend to focus on skill development. There are, however, a few exceptions. I have encountered a few coaches who incorporate running drills, a few push-ups and sit-ups, and a brief warm up drill, but few possess the knowledge to run a safe and effective conditioning program. However, on the positive side, I am seeing a slight shift towards independent or travel teams seeking to hire expertise in this area.

As a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, or high school coach, an important—maybe even the most important—component of sports is to keep our athletes healthy, motivated, and injury free. Over the past twelve years, I have learned that healthy high school athletes have more playing time, continue to grow and excel, and may even earn a scholarship to a college and become college softball players.

However, overuse injuries are on the rise with softball athletes. On a weekend of tournaments, it is not unusual to discover that your athlete pitched four-to-five of the six games played, usually back-to-back and with no rest. Most coaches will support their decision by saying, “There is no stress to the arm in softball.” As a result, the athlete is completely depleted of energy and faces a setback only to face the same regimen the following weekend.

So what can we do as sport performance trainers when we are faced with a fierce battle of over-proportionate playing time, practice schedules, increased volume, and heightened intensity? I will share with you one component that is often overlooked when training softball players.

Education is the foundation of success when training softball players

First and foremost, I believe our responsibility as trainers is to educate our athletes, coaches, and parents on many facets of training and overuse injuries. Too often we are caught up in the program of proper exercise progressions, recovery time, hydration, and nutrition. However, there is a key component to training softball players—and any athletes in general—throughout their high school career: It is the need to build lasting and trusting relationships. Once you have earned their trust, they understand to put faith in your expertise. The athlete starts to recognize warning signs when their body is over worked and perhaps will avoid injury. This is the most important part of my job as a strength and conditioning coach. In fact, this component has grown my business immensely over the last several years because of the care I have for each individual athlete. This ensures repeat business, loyalty, and the best advertising, word of mouth. So how does it work?

Step 1: Ask questions of the parent

During my first consult meeting with a prospective athlete, I will ask broad questions to the parents such as:

  • What are your goals for Taylor?
  • Where do you see her by the end of this year/next year/end of high school?
  • What is she lacking, in your opinion?
  • What are her strengths?

Most parents tend to be all in when it comes to practice regimens and training schedules for their son or daughter. So asking about it provides information about their education or lack thereof. Much of the discovery during this time is current or past injuries and other extra-curricular involvements and commitments, including school workload, academic goals beyond high school, and other “fun” components of their life. In my time training softball players, I am beginning to understand some of the pressures that are on the typical high school athlete.

Step 2: Ask questions of the athlete

It usually takes some time for them to open up and have a dialogue, but I have learned to be an insightful listener and to create a relaxed environment. It is extremely important for the athlete to feel comfortable in order to share insights about themselves. Establishing a trusting environment is critical. Often, I will get opposite goals and ambitions from the athlete. This usually manifests after a few weeks of training. At that point, I will have another discussion with the parents—or the coach.

Step 3: Have a conversation with the coach

This provides an opportunity to discover the current intensity of the sport, additional background of the athlete, and perhaps the coach’s opposition to outside training. This is one component that I strongly suggest to sports trainers. We must work together for the benefit of the athlete. Often, we are on opposite sides from the head coach when it comes to training softball players and other high school athletes, but after having a conversation, I can more fully understand the coach’s philosophies, background, and training experience (or lack thereof). This piece is a huge component of your success. If you want to work with more high school and middle school athletes, the key is to have the coach trust what you are doing! It won’t happen without it. (More on this topic later.)

Step 4: Assess each athlete and individualize their training program

I have learned many assessment tools including the FMS, Top Trainers, Physical Therapists, and Educators. I have taken bits and pieces from all of these areas and compiled my own assessment for throwing athletes. This is the first step in writing a program specifically designed for each athlete. Each athlete has their own program designed for their individual needs and goals, which goes a long way to building additional trust.

When considering training high school athletes, the ability to build relationships is the most important component for your business. For many athletes, you may be the only person they can trust.

You may have heard the saying training athletes is a “people business.” I prefer the saying, “We are in the relationship-building business.” Whether you are training softball players or baseball, hockey, or lacrosse athletes, building athletes begins with building relationships.

Swim with the Current or Stand Like a Rock?

Stand by Your Principles, but Have Fun Along the Way

Alex Slezak

By Alex Slezak – M.Ed, Youth Fitness Specialist

If you are a young coach, then the 60 seconds you are going to invest to read this will save you a lot of mistakes. If you are a veteran coach, then you will certainly understand the value of what I am about to share.

Thomas Jefferson famously said, “In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Now take a minute to read the quote again and let it really sink in. Do you see the wisdom in that saying?

As a fitness professional, you will see styles come and go. If you are around long enough, you will see training with bodyweight, kettlebells, deadweight, elastic resistance, suspension trainers, and all kinds of other fads. These fads are matters of style, and that is not a bad thing, so learn and experiment with them. As trends change, as Jefferson indicated, swim with the current.

However, be careful never to compromise your training principles just to be a part of the latest thing. If you want to be a respected coach, you must develop a core set of beliefs and principles and stand by them like a rock. When you have these principles, then and only then, can you utilize different tools and fads as the means to deliver your training principles. Do not be fooled by letting the “latest thing” dictate your training. Instead, let your principles guide you through the fads and trends as they come.

Think about the heavy hitters in the industry like Eric Cressey, Mike Robertson, Dave “The Band Man” Schmitz, or Steve Long and Jared Woolever from Smart Group Training. These men all have sound principles with which they deliver their training. They never waiver from their principles, and it is why they are so respected in the industry.

So learn a valuable lesson from Thomas Jefferson’s wisdom and invest your time developing rock solid principles to guide you, and have some fun going with the current of the “latest thing” while it lasts.

Alex is a Physical Education teacher and operates a tennis & fitness training business in Pittsburgh, PA. You can learn more by visiting his website at

3 Ways to Grow As a Coach While Building a Team

Don’t Be an Island: Building a Team and Growing Professionally

By Wil Fleming

Wil Fleming knows the importance of building a team

Five years ago, when I was just opening my gym with my business partner, Ryan Ketchum, building a team was the last thing on our minds. Between the two of us, we had great ideas and great intentions. We even knew our roles: Ryan would train the adults and I would train the athletes. I can honestly say we thought that we were enough—enough to go it alone. 

In fact, looking back, we thought of ourselves as islands.

Don't be an island when you're building a team

Like an island, we had what we needed to survive: knowledge of good training techniques, a great facility, experience, and the will to succeed.

It turns out that our “island” philosophy actually worked for a long time. Our business grew and thrived for three years.

However, we were missing something.

Like an island, we were not getting an influx of new resources, new ideas, or even challenges to our own ideas.

Not only was our time becoming limited, but our abilities as coaches were becoming more and more limited, too.

That all changed two years ago when we hired our first full-time coach to train with us. For the first time, we were challenged on our ideas. A new influx of thoughts and interests were brought to our facility.

Since that time, we have grown so much. I am also a far better coach than I would have been on my own.

Today, I encourage you to grow your team. Building a team is not just to help your business grow but also to help you grow personally and as a coach. When looking to grow your team, I have found the following three things to be important for your own personal development.

Meet regularly when building a team

Building a Team Rule 1: Meet Regularly

For some reason, the staff meeting is a dreaded idea. Coaches resist and resist, but upon implementation, they realize that they have missed out on so much. There will be plenty of clerical things to go over during your team meeting, but always make time to discuss training. Bring up an interesting article, pop in a training DVD, or read a section of a book. Then discuss! These discussions have helped us grow as a team and helped me hear questions that I would have never considered before.

Building a Team Rule 2: Find passionate people

This sounds like a no-brainer, but often we look for people with the right experience or right education. Both of those are important, but they pale in comparison to identifying a new coach that has passion.

Building a Team Rule 3: Allow your coach to find his or her stride

Inevitably, there will be a time when your coach will have demonstrated enough that you will allow him/her to begin writing programs. Their first programs may be rough and might not look like what you have written, but stay the course. When you allow your coach to find their stride, they will begin to implement training protocols and movements that you would have never thought of. When this happens, the fun begins! You can ask why they chose the movements you wanted, or how to do them, and then your learning experience will explode.

Building a team is about so much more than growing your business; focusing on your team can make you grow as a coach as well.