Huge Potential in High School Strength and Conditioning Programs for 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.
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!