The Trouble with High School Athletes




High School Athletes Training Programs

Okay… So the ‘trouble’ really isn’t with high school athletes, per say,
it’s with the training programs they’re often forced to use.


And frankly, they don’t know any better.


But then again, neither do many high school Coaches.


Not a targeted shot, just reality.


So here are some of the problems I’ve seen –


1) Train Versus Teach


From Day 1, many incoming high school athletes are asked to ‘perform’.


Using lifts they are often unfamiliar with and receiving little to no
technical instruction, they are often left to their own devices.



That is without question problem number 1 with high school athletes.



2) Loading


Keeping #1 in context, the race to the ‘3,000 Pound Club’ is an
overt ‘motivation’ method that high school Coaches often employ.


If you’re not familiar, ‘The Club’ is your combined weight lifted on
bench, squat and clean.


So rather then learning HOW to lift, high school athletes are encouraged
to simply lift as much as POSSIBLE.



3) Competition


I’m all about natural competitive fires, but young athletes should never
be encouraged to compete against one another in terms of load.


And this happens A LOT more than you may realize.


Who can get to ‘The Club’ fastest.


Who can out-squat who.


These not-so-subtle forms of competition have been used frequently
in the high schools I’ve consulted with.


Again, I don’t blame high school Coaches.


Their job is tough enough without having the added responsibility of
finding the best and most credible training system with which to use.


But ignorance has never been a good defense so culpability does
reside at least partially in some Coaches hands.


What do you think?


I want to hear your thoughts on typical high school athletes strength and
conditioning programs.








Let me know what your experiences have been.

19 Responses

  1. Josh Fagan says:

    Most coaches I have seen tend to use the “Go big or go home” mantra, usually resulting in rounded backs, and overall lack of posture.
    The good coaches are guided by principles such as “body-weight before external loads”. This tells me that the coach has a system and more than likely, a progression for the young athletes to follow.
    Like you said Brian, its not a race to get the Club t-shirt, its more about personal progression and consistent improvement throughout the career of the athlete.

  2. Josh Fagan says:

    PS –

    Keep up the good work on the site!

    Josh Fagan MS, CSCS

  3. jayne says:

    I agree. I have worked with a high school swim program. This swim coach has a handle on what he wants for his athletes. The strength coach didn’t get him. The training provided at this school is not dynamic or sport specific. It’s all about the weight room and since most of the athlete’s they target are boys who aren’t done growing, it should be more teach! The coaches want them in the gym all the time. All weights all the time… with the girls volleyball team? It’s discouraging. And I’m sure the poor strength coach has too many kids and not enough time to properly supervise

  4. M. says:

    I’ve invited every high school phys-ed teacher to come to our large modern facility for FREE classes and instruction for any and all of their interested students. I’ve even offered perform ‘master classes’ in their school envioronments. Only two of at least 25 teachers have taken me up on this offer in the last 4 years. Of the two teachers only one has ever invited me back. The other teacher actually wrote a letter of complaint to my employers suggesting my methods where contrary to his teachings and therefore he was foeced to refute all my claims as garbage because I encouraged his students ask him questions he couldn’t answer thus maknkg him ‘look bad’ .

    It has become abundantly clear most teachers particularly Phys-Ed teachers let their pride get in the way of increasing knowledge. As authority figures teachers seem to have difficulty accepting alternative views to their long held historical beleifs, (even when proven otherwise). Continuity and maintining status quo seem to be the main focus of most professional teachers as they seem to have placed the job (teching) before the purpose (educating).

    This is in no way a blanket endictment of all teachers as many are passionate and excited about exploring the frontiers of knowledge with their students. However for some reason the fear of change or “looking bad” has made it easy to hide behind the board mandates and rubrics and simply do the minimun required to get the job done.

    I’ll keep offering my services (all on a volunteer basis I might add) to whomever wants them in the education field, however I wont hold my breath.


  5. Mike Kozul says:


    Great insight, thank you.

    As a High School educator my biggest worry is about the non conditioned, overweight High School student. As you well know it is not getting any better
    out here.

    Any thoughts on how to engage and reach this ever growing population.


    Mike Kozul
    YMCA Personal Trainer

  6. Rob says:

    As always Brian great stuff,to many coaches are using the “Go big or go home” approach and sadly they don’t understand that the athlete suffers tremendously. When the athlete gets to college he has to unlearn all the crap that he/she has been taught at the highschool level. To me the problem is two fold: 1)Parents who watch to much ESPN and are trying to use their child as a retirement investment and 2)Coaches who think they know it all just because they win a few games but have absolutely zero knowledge when it comes to athletic developement and movement in general.

  7. phillip says:

    As an athlete/coach who volunteered as a class A (MI) JV/Varsity (basketball) coach last year – I was shocked at current practices and perspectives!

    I saw most “coaches” still using decade old methods/beliefs or “pro” magazine style workouts and wonder why there are so many ACL tears these days??

    It seems everyone defaults to the “old school” “more is better” fat football strength coach as the “know all” training guy.

    Based upon my observation over the past year, my belief is that the “professional” HS coach is a dying position due to many factors – I don’t see this changing until coaching is allowed / forced to be a private or sub contracted service.

  8. Frank Dolan says:

    I try my best these days to not point fingers but in this case I can’t help myself!! Have you seen the BFS (Bigger, Faster, Sronger) protocols and materials that are put up in H.S. weight rooms lately?!!!! A big part of the problem is the lack of responsibility companies like them exhibit. They should be hiring someone like IYCA to come in and consult so they can evolve with the rest of the industry. Is it laziness, complacency, or just that it is easier to appeal to the market?

  9. Douglas says:

    There are a couple of problems that you didn’t address here that I believe also factor into this problematic situation. First, you address this as a high school athletics problem, however it is indeed something that occurs even at the middle school level. I have an eight grader and I believe his coaches have done a fairly good job of instructing him in his sports and weight training but I know that he too has come home excited about the fact that he tested out the strongest at the bench and squat. Luckily the thousands of air squats he perform while on my teams and at home helped grease the groove for good form which I’m sure helped him. Yet even with solid instruction from both my wife who is a certified trainer and myself, I still catch him at times wanting to use poor technique and really load up the weights. Something I think he has acquired through the school sports programs and the fact he is a teenage boy. In addition to your train or teach section, most schools do not have true strength and conditioning coaches they have sport specific coaches. So there is somewhat of a knowledge gap. Also they don’t have enough time or at least feel that they don’t to show proper technique. I know most of our programs here have sessions/class time for the younger grades which gives them roughly 40-50 minutes of practice time. I think most coaches and trainers for that matter, feel as though they must get through several exercises in order for the athlete to have had a good workout, Like you said though slowing down, focusing on good technique with low weight, low sets and high repitions will indeed do the trick even if you only get to do 1-2 exercises.

  10. David Walencewicz says:

    I have spent some time with high school football players in pre season conditioning. The head coach who i knw pretty well has let me do some “movement” and body weight training with the young men, but he will be the first person to say after a session that he is “big” on weight lifting (squates, cleans, dead lift, benching, etc.) . when i visit the weight room whic is the same room i used in high school in 1975 and watch the players lift with “push type encouragement” from an assitant coach i have to cringe. The majority of these players can not even do a proper body weight squat…now they are doing these with weight! It is all abput the 3000# club. As acompromise to the coach i offered to get kettle bells for training..because you know you have to lift a weight!
    My guess is you need some one at the top that believes in the proper developement for the athletes to make it fly..otherwise they are flying by the seat of pants and risking injury to the players before they even hit the field.

  11. Cindy says:

    I see the problem as this: we (society) give too much responsibility and credibility to the history/science/math/etc. teacher who doubles as the basketball/football/baseball/etc. coach who has no fitness training background but relies on a few programs they pulled from their high school/college days and just changed the name at the top of the workout card. They may not know any better or have the resources to train any other way. The coaches succumb to the pressure to perform and win from the parents, community, boosters and the administration by using programs that are too hard, not applicable to their situation or totally innapropriate just because they were used by someone else who saw some success. Instead of blaming them, we need to educate them. Afterall, it (the training, performance, well-being) is not about the coach but the athlete. They (the athletes) are the victims or the beneficiaries. This is where we step in and initiate the change we all talk about by offering our services and our expertise. If we are the experts we claim to be and we sit by and do nothing to help our athletes, we are just as much to blame as the coaches.

  12. Chuck says:

    Good posting. No question, technique before weight. I work with athletes and non and I will tell you that the non athletes come farther on technique than the athletes. Many of our male athletes have a testosterone mment and have no clue on program depth and sequence. There are too many coaches who single rep without strong technique. Their philosophy is give me your maxes and I will give you a program. Yes there are too many coaches and not enough teachers.

  13. Rob says:

    As a personal trainer in a health club setting, we are constantly being pushed to come up with “new” programs that will generate income. Much like the music industry says that a three minute song is the song that sells, we are pushed to keep the programs to six weeks. This is what “sells.” I know logically that six weeks is way too short a period to accomplish any real, and safe gains. The pressure of the coach, the pressure of the parent, combined with the pressure of management creates an environment that is ripe with inadequate control, over stated potential, and incredible stress on the kids.
    At a seminar you told me to be the catalyst for change in this situation, and to not take kids based on these unrealistic expectations. I find myself turning down clients only to have them go to another trainer. I need advice from someone, whom like myself, cares about these kids, more than the money. My problem is that in this day and age, turning down income is not a painless thing. Your thoughts

  14. Magnum says:

    As a high school coach, I have to agree with you. Two biggest problems: Pressure to win at all costs. Unfortunately most high school coaches are hired and fired based on the scoreboard. Secondly, MOST schools, public schools anyway, have not figured out a way to bring someone in that is able to teach proper technique. High school coaches often go to local colleges once a year to some sort of seminar. They bring back the college program to the high school kids (yet without the ability to teach good technique). It just doesn’t work very well!

  15. Doug says:

    Sounds like we agree! There is a problem in our athletics programs with expectations, knowledge base, execution of technique. As Cindy stated we can’t just sit and watch. If you have followed Brian’s blogs you know he has said make yourself available to these programs. If each of us were to volunteer time to help with the offseason strength program at a school in our community we would be changing the world around us. In addition, Rob this would increase your client base because you now have a relationship with the athletes prior to the them seeking services. I know of a school that allowed a certified usawrestling coach to come in and help the school coaches with the wrestling program because the coaches knowledge base was inferior. This dad basically did it for the love of the sport and to help get a wrestling program for the kids. Turned out to be a win-win.

  16. Frank says:

    Keep it coming Brian-

    Still in my first year as a High School S & C coach. I am proposing to the AD that all off-season spring athletes that plan on training in the school wieght room, must register with me first. I am trying to bring more structure to the program, just as any other sport coach would want from their “team” training sessions. With over 70 kids in the weight room at times, about half know what they are doing. (fortunetly we have volunteers assisting)If training is an athletes choice for the spring, than I am their coach. Up to now what we have seen is mostly strength training without any R.O.M/hip mobility, coordination, speed, agility or plyo work. I propsed a 30 minute dynamic warm-up session that would include all of the above before any athlete touches a barbell. My motto to the coaches from jr. high to varsity is “Let me make them better athletes, so you could make them better players.” I would consider myself negligent, if I don’t provide the total package to the athletes. I hope they buy into it.

  17. Frederick Smith says:

    I found these articles very interesting,because I am an instructer for over 40 years and I can attest to everything you have said I have found every word in these articles to be factual because I found them In my daily routine,so I can endorse every word in these Articles Because Couching Is not an easy Job,you have got to be everything to everyone that you couches.

  18. Brian Quick says:

    I am a certified personal trainer and was recently hired by a local swim team to over haul their dryland training and we used nothing but body weight exercises and towels. I really focused on form and technique. The coaches and swimmers bought into it and did very well. Through that work I was hired by another local swim team to help out with their weight room work. I stressed the fact that I didn’t care how much they lifted I cared how well they did it. Again they did a great job and nobody got injured. I am now working with a local track team as a hurdles coach, but have found myself also helping out in the weight room as well. I am correcting some really bad form. Again, I am teaching these athletes on not how much to lift, but how to lift it correctly. They are buying into it and now ask me all of the time on how they can do not only the lifting, but other things such as stretching, nutrition and sprinting better. It is a slow process. I have had success by being patient with the athletes, but most of all with the coaches. You don’t want to come in and start changing things right away. If you first build the repoire with the coaches they will trust and respect you, that is the number one thing you must do first. The athletes will follow in suit because the coaches trust your judgement. Once that repoire is in place then you can start to weild your magic and help these kids become stronger and less injury prone.

  19. Donell Evans says:

    How did you go about getting involved with local sports teams to help with strength and conditioning? I am also a certified personal trainer and do one on one training but want to get involved in one on one sports specific with kids and would love to help coaches with their teams just don’t know how to go about it or get involved.

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