Thoughts 10 – Alex Richard

Alex Richard is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at The University of Southern Mississippi

1. Play sport as often as possible

Accumulating a variety of sprints/jumps/agility/reaction NATURALLY is much better than the rigid speed/plyometric/agility programs with the meathead strength coach who probably can’t jump very high or run fast but can lift a lot of weight.

Sport is #1 for the athletes you work with. Too many strength coaches get this confused. Stay out of athletes’ way.

A lot of athletes get confused here too. Example: Season just ended, an athlete wants to get better at their sport this off-season. They go on to spend 75% of their off-season training time in the weight room. Play your sport a lot to get better at it, common sense, right?

2. Injuries are complicated

Most are likely a product of too much stress on the body from a variety of sources (poor sleep/nutrition, training, toxic relationships, practice, school stress, etc.).

Do not talk about injury prevention in the weight room! Nothing in the weight room comes close to mimicking the speed, chaos, and reactive elements of sport. NOTHING.

A well designed practice schedule by the sport coach best prepares the athlete for the demands of the sport. Some sport coaches get it confused here. Spending the entire pre-season practicing closed drills and small sided games of 4v4, 7v7, etc. but game day calls for 11v11. Athletes aren’t prepared because they never practiced it and boom injury occurs. Coach blames strength coach saying athletes weren’t prepared because of what they did in the weight room?? This is backwards.

3. Follow a general training program

Deep squat, hip hinge, press, pull, carry stuff, & throw a few fun things in to break up monotony (ISOs, sleds, crawls, etc.). The goal is to enhance general organism strength relative to bodyweight and keep athletes fresh for competitions/practices.

Give athletes the OPPOSITE stimulus of what they get in sport. Generally in most sports their muscles/tendons get plenty of rapid/low load velocity movements. Give their muscles tendons slow velocity/high load through lifting weights.

4. Conditioning

Hopefully it’s not needed if athletes are playing sport often. Playing sport is the most “sport specific conditioning” they can do!

5. Plyos

Hopefully not needed if athletes are playing sport often. Sport provides the best plyometric training out there!

6. Don’t use a rigid training plan

Be flexible. Give this younger generation of athletes more choices/autonomy. Get out of the rigid, dictatorship model that most strength coaches use.

Percentage-based programs suck. Use Neurotyping IF possible. Fit the program to the neurotransmitter preference of the athlete.

The training plan should not closely resemble another sport such as power-lifting, Olympic lifting, bodybuilding, or CrossFit. The goal of training is to improve in ONE sport not two. Many strength coaches fall victim to their own bias here because they like a “lifting” sport themselves or compete in one.

7. Avoid letting athletes fall in love with the weight room

It can be a medicine or a poison. Lifting 5 days a week could detract from the vital energy needed to improve the much more important sport skills such as the golf swing, shooting a basketball, striking a soccer ball, etc.

Strength-oriented sports like football, rugby, and throwing in track are prime suspects here. Athletes who are not very good at their sport to begin with are also prime suspects to become weight room warriors!

8. Get out of the athletes’ way

A strength coach’s role in the success of team based sports is a VERY gray area.

9. Don’t fall victim to “Sport Specific Training”

We know playing sport year-round is a risk factor for injury. Why would we try to further replicate those same sport movements during training in the weight room? Practicing & playing the sport is “Sport Specific Training”. Sport Specific Training in the weight room is for bodybuilders, power-lifters, cross-fitters, & Olympic lifters. 

10. Weight room vs. court/field

The weight room is for force development (strength). The field/court/diamond/track/etc. is where speed/power/explosive ability is developed.

11. Strength vs. Power/Speed

The deep squat and deadlift are great measures of strength compared to bodyweight. Vertical jump variations and flying 10 sprints are good measures of power/speed. Assess these often. Base foundation of an athletes’ training program around them.

Example: Athlete 1 is very strong on deadlift and squat but is below average on jumps and sprints. Jump, sprint, & play sport more often than you lift weights. Athlete 2 is good on jumps and sprints but below average on squat/deadlift strength. Squat and deadlift more often than you jump and sprint.

12. Get the feet and hands stronger

Both are often “weak links in the chain”. Do barefoot work, loaded carries, chin ups, etc.

13. Most sports are played in a knees over toes environment

Athletes better be strong/comfortable there. Just walk up the stairs. It’s very natural and normal. Watch a baby deep squat – not a box squat fan for normal functioning athletes.

14. AGAIN stay out of the athletes’ way. Keep them fresher.

Don’t try to prove your worth to the sport coach by how often you can get your athletes in the weight room to “grind and work hard”. This is probably doing more harm than good. The goal should be to keep an athlete’s central nervous system fresh year round for practices/competitions since most sports are being played year round. Don’t send athletes to sport practice extremely sore/drained. This causes more harm than good. Use the least amount of volume necessary to get the job done 

15. The mobility/flexibility/correctives world is funny

If an athlete has never done a certain “mobility/flexibility/corrective” they obviously will do poorly on it Day 1. Don’t jump to vague conclusions like “their ankles/t-spine/hamstring are tight”. If they continue to do these correctives daily, do they really improve their flexibility or do they just get more skilled/familiar with the drill?

The same principle can be applied to static stretching. Are there flexibility improvements or just less inhibition from the body because it is now familiar with the stretch? Strength coaches waste a lot of time in this realm. Time is precious.

16. The best conditioning test is the sport

Coaches just like to assert their dominance and see athletes suffer/grind/mental toughness. This is all very vague. Blah blah blah. If your best player doesn’t perform the best on the test, you are wasting your time.

If you think long distance training or mindless hard conditioning drills that don’t involve exact sport movements or tactical game-like situations transfer to games then you’re just flat out uneducated. We live in the Information Age. You can learn. 

17. Recovery methods

Sleep, nutrition, and stress management (practice, school, weights, significant other, etc.) are the best recovery methods. Strength coaches waste a TON of time with foam rolling, cool downs, Thera-guns, etc. Again, time is precious. If you sleep 5 hours a night and don’t eat vegetables, the cool down stretch, foam roll, & recovery boots won’t save you.

18. Agility exercises

Playing the sport is the best agility training. Nothing comes close to the randomness and situational context actual sport provides from a reactionary/agility standpoint.

19. Do we need weights?

Threatening to kill the profession I love, but could gymnastics classes being all the “strength work” athletes need to succeed in their sport? Zoom out and think about it.

20. Rethink warm-ups

We know that total fatigue/load management is a risk factor for injury. Why do athletes warm up so long for sports? B-ball 90 minutes and soccer 60 minutes? Is it a “warm up” if the athletes get tired before competition?

Strength coaches who try to look important on game day with these elaborate 20 minute “injury prevention” circuits. That’s just fatigue, no prevention or “activation” there.

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