The importance of weight training can often be over-looked or not viewed as an essential component of training.  Additionally, we are still waiting for strength training in the early stages to be appropriately implemented on a wide-spread scale.  What does this mean for the collegiate strength and conditioning coach, though?  The combination of these two factors means often times S&C coaches find themselves working with student-athletes who are stepping foot in a weight room for the first time.  It also means coaches will be working with student-athletes who either do not understand the benefits of weight training or are uncomfortable in the weight room, or perhaps both.  As the coach, it is our job to teach, educate, and inspire every athlete to carry out the training programs we design.  This leads to the question of how exactly do we engage our student-athletes in “the process” of S&C, something they have little to no experience with, and something that pulls them out of their comfort zone? 

TASK #1: Build trust and respect

This must be the first step, as it is the most important component in developing “buy-in” and getting our student-athletes to become engaged in the training process, and can be applied to any sport.  A great place to begin is viewing the situation from the athlete’s perspective.  He or she has come to university to compete in a specific sport and earn a degree.  In some cases, the student-athlete may have met us (the S&C coaches) on an official visit, but in others, the student-athlete may have no idea that he or she will be lifting weights and doing conditioning sessions with another coach.  The student-athlete’s background will play a role in influencing whether he or she will be comfortable, let alone confident, in the weight room.  

Next, we need to educate ourselves in the sport, but look beyond just reading research and watching film.  We need to strike up conversations with coaches, spend time at practice, chat strategy and performance styles with the players, get out there and give it a go!  The more familiar we are with the sport, the more strategic we can be in developing a program and the easier it will be to explain our programs to the student-athletes in relatable terms.  That is the key-  the ability to effectively convey exercise selection in relation to what the student-athletes do in their sport increases the chance that they will come to understand the benefits and invest energy into the training.

Finally, we need to be accessible to the student-athletes.  While we do need to set limits (yes, we as coaches need our “official” days off, too), we also need to be sure our athletes know they can speak candidly with us, that an open line of communication exists.  We should be receptive and take their words into consideration.  We do not want to be the elusive figures of the weight room.  As coaches, it is our job to continually reassure the athletes (and the coaches) that we are here to help improve performance in their given sport through developing their physical attributes (strength, power, and speed).

TASK #2: Deliver a consistent message

After we determine what our message is- whether it revolves around our training methodology, the rules we will establish in the weight room, etc.- we must hold firm!  If a student-athlete acts against the defined message, we need to be sure to impose the defined consequences.  Every time.  There are no favorites.  We must apply the same consequences to both the top performer and the freshman redshirt on the bench.  Having this defined and consistent message is essential.

That being said, do not rule out evolution of the message.  We need to consistently be looking for better ways to help our student-athletes grow and develop.  New research, new coaching staffs, and our own personal experiences will play a role in how our messages evolve over time.  In order to maintain consistency, however, we need to share these changes and the reasons for changing with our student-athletes.  We need to make sure our student-athletes understand fully our expectations from Day 1.

TASK #3: Incorporate one-on-one interaction

As collegiate S&C coaches, we typically work in team settings where this may be more of a challenge, but it is possible!  Say hello to each student-athlete during a training session.  Provide a coaching cue and briefly ask how classes are going or ask how practice was.  If we let our student-athletes know we are interested in their general well-being and not just how much they are lifting that day, they will be more apt to trust the plan we have worked with their sport coaches to develop.

Another opportunity to incorporate one-on-one interaction lies in cuing.  When we work with student-athletes on technique, we can ask which cues are the most helpful or which cues “clicked” with them.  The student-athletes can then write these cues in their programs and we can use them in subsequent training sessions.  We may not be able to memorize all of them right away, but we can refer back to the programs and work to add a few each day.

In utilizing these two small steps, we can have a significant influence on a how a student-athlete goes about training and communicating with us. These will help to develop trust and engage the them more in their training.  It is not difficult for a student-athlete to blend in among teammates.  If we spend even a minute of our time during each session to touch base with individual student-athletes, we can better understand our student-athletes, perhaps develop better-suited training programs, and cultivate a mutual level of trust.

In the next installment, we will discuss three more tasks to use when working to have our student-athletes engage themselves more in their S&C training.  Stay tuned!

Who is Katlyn Haycock?

KH MichiganKatlyn Haycock joined the University of Michigan Olympic Sports Strength and Conditioning team as a graduate assistant in August 2011 and currently serves as a strength and conditioning coach for Olympic Sports. She is responsible for program design and implementation for men’s and women’s swimming and diving, field hockey, and women’s soccer. In her time working at the University of Michigan, the women’s soccer team has made three NCAA Tournament appearances, while the Field Hockey team made a Final Four appearance following their regular-season and tournament conference championships in 2017. The men’s swimming and diving team has been five-time Big Ten champions (2012, ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16) and NCAA champion (2013), along with the women’s swimming and diving team, who has been back-to-back -to-backBig Ten champions (2016-1 8). Additionally, Coach Haycock has been the S&C coach for Club Wolverine Elite since the winter of 2011 and designs the dryland training plans for the Club Wolverine age-group swim club. Prior to joining the Michigan staff, Coach Haycock worked as an undergraduate assistant with Syracuse University Strength and Conditioning (Olympic Sports), assisting with the women’s tennis, lacrosse, soccer and ice hockey teams. She also completed internships with EXOS (formerly Athletes’ Performance) and Etcheberry Sports Performance. Along with coaching, Coach Haycock is a contributor to the Volt Athletics Blog, and has presented on Off-Season Training for Women’s Soccer, and been a co-presenter for Gearing Up for Game Day: Game Day Conditioning, Fueling & Hydration and Hands-On Training for Agility. Follow her on social media here: Twitter: @KatlynHaycock and @umichstrength; Facebook: Michigan Olympic Sports Strength & Conditioning

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