The Need for High School Strength Coaches

Lately I’ve been playing on Twitter, and the other day I posted a tweet that kind of exploded. Here’s what I posted:

The tweet sparked quite the debate and an outpouring of coaches and parents expressing their views on the subject. There were several good points I want to talk about. First I want to state why I believe having a certified strength and conditioning coach in high school is important.

LIFELONG INJURIES

Most athletes (heck, most people) are introduced to weight training and fitness in their local high school. That’s where we learn to squat, deadlift, clean, press, bench, row, and more. So here’s the first problem: if a coach doesn’t know what he or she is doing, basic functional movement patterns (such as squatting and picking things up off the floor) are messed up from the beginning. Most people will continue those patterns throughout their adult life, leading to all kinds of dysfunctional movement and possible injury.

As this article is published, it’s a few days after I received a hip replacement at 45 years old. Most of you probably think the surgery is a result of heavy squats, deadlifts, and cleans. If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re wrong. My doctor, Dr. John Howe, said the main problem was a growth plate injury that probably first happened in middle school or high school. Was it because I was loading a dysfunctional movement pattern? Maybe, I definitely didn’t have my form perfected in high school.

However, there is another reason that makes me even more passionate about the issue. Major injuries and even death can happen in the high school weight room. The rate of injury per 100 contact injuries in weightlifting is 0.17. That’s a low number and what we all want to see. However, that number comes from athletes who are directed by qualified coaches like Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists and/or USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coaches.

NEGLECT

Anyone who’s in this industry is familiar with what goes on in some high schools. A coach comes in the room, puts a workout on the board, and then goes to his office to do who knows what. That’s neglect. But what about the person who’s present but simply doesn’t know what to do? I’ve been a consultant to hundreds of colleges and high schools throughout my career, and most of you wouldn’t believe the things I have seen. If you all had seen these things, you probably wouldn’t let your child participate in high school weight training.

There’s one more thing to consider other than our children being put at risk. They are missing out on all the benefits they would reap if they only had a qualified coach. They could be learning functional movement patterns that could help keep them strong, mobile, and fit throughout their lives. Nothing makes me happier than seeing one of my former students training long after sports are over. One of my guys, Gunnar Anderson, is now a fitness model – and several others are still training for fitness. I love it.

FUNDING ISSUES

So what’s keeping the schools from bringing in qualified strength coaches to teach our children these valuable skills that could benefit them for life? The biggest reason I heard was money… or really, a lack of money. I get that education is going to come first, but dang it I want the kids safe. I just don’t think that the people making decisions are familiar enough with strength training to make a good decision. That’s why we need to educate the country about the dangers present in high school weight rooms and the benefits that students are missing out on with an unqualified strength coach.

I hope this article will spark you guys and gals to share this blog and to write your own articles. Maybe we can hold free clinics. I am holding one Saturday, January 12th at 10:00 AM at LEAN Fitness Systems (the home of Mash Elite Performance) in Lewisville, NC. It’s titled Jump Higher and Sprint Faster from Work in the Weight Room. We have to approach this thing from an education standpoint.

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A suggestion a few people made was to find teachers who like to coach in the weight room and certify them with the NSCA. I think this is a great idea. Lots of P.E. teachers double for weight room teachers, and some have a bit of knowledge. It they took the time to study for their CSCS, this would be a step in the right direction along with a commitment to pursue their continued education in the field. However, now people are saying that some schools are swaying away from teachers who are also coaches because the perception is a lack of concern for academics. Come on now, my best teacher in high school was also a coach.

CONCERNED

There were a few comments that simply alarmed me. My friend, Coach Zach Even-Esh, commented on my tweet that he had offered his services for free multiple times to the high school in his hometown of Manasquan, New Jersey. They turned down each free offer. How can they justify that? Several qualified coaches responded with the same thing.

Here you have amazing certified strength and conditioning coaches offering their valuable services for free, only to be turned down by the powers that be. At this point, it’s obviously not about money, but this is pure neglect of our children. Sorry to sound so harsh, but with three little ones coming up, this is concerning to me. It should be concerning to you as well especially if you have children.

ADDRESSING THIS

Here’s what we can do:

  1. If you are a parent reading this, call the principal of your children’s school. You can call the athletic director. I encourage you to call your superintendent. Most of all, I hope you will form groups in your area. Groups create more noise than one person, so tell your friends and neighbors. If they are concerned as well, get together with them. School boards might ignore one person, but if you put together a group of ten, they will be on their knees.
  2. If you are a coach, we have some work cut out for us. I am committing to host one free seminar to be held quarterly with all coaches, parents, and athletic directors invited. Imagine what would happen if we all committed to doing the same?
  3. Write blogs and articles like this to inform your neighbors, coaches, and school board. It’s not their fault if they don’t know. If you tell them and they ignore you, now they are at fault.

A few of us bound together can make some major changes regarding this issue. It’s easy to look the other way. It will take some work on our part, but we can educate the world about the importance of strength and conditioning coaches in high schools.

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REMEMBERING THE BENEFITS

Before I close, I want to name just a few advantages of having a certified and qualified strength coach:

  • Safety of the athletes
  • Ability to teach athletes and students functional movements that will keep them strong, mobile, and fit for years to come.
  • Improving the athletic abilities of students – making them faster, stronger, and bigger
  • Teaching athletes lessons in the weight room that they will carry throughout life: goal setting, perseverance, dedication, and commitment.

My strength and conditioning coach in college, Coach Mike Kent, influenced my life in a way that no one else on earth ever has. He taught me that a good program could literally transform an athlete. He taught me respect. He was the first person to acknowledge my strength, and he pointed me toward Olympic weightlifting. It was because of him that I moved to Colorado Springs to be coached by Wes Barnett. Where would I be without that coach? Our high school students need such men to lead them down the right road with strength.

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