Strength and conditioning is one of the fastest growing fields in high school athletics. Many have recognized that stronger, faster, and safer athletes have a better athletic experience; additionally, students who participate in a coordinated strength training efforts have additional opportunities to improve health & wellness, forge relationships with peers, and receive mentorship from dedicated educators.
The instinct to strength train is not new. For years, Physical Education departments have been offering weight-lifting options. In those cases, teachers who are experienced in the science of strength (often, those with credentials such as the NSCA’s C.S.C.S.) lead successful programs; however, the challenge to those programs comes in the alignment of training programming with athletic schedules. Furthermore, it is a tall task to ask the P.E. teacher to adjust their curriculum by sport (does a swimmer need the same training as a football player?), by peak (should an athlete who plays in the fall be on the same program as one who plays in the spring?), as well as other training accommodations. With this in mind, schools across the country are hiring full-time Strength & Conditioning Coordinators to serve as the resident expert in the field.
At New Trier, we serve 10 sections of “Strength and Conditioning” which align with our before and after school athletics lifting options (which can be as many as 70 sessions over the course of a week). In total, we have more than 2,000 weekly visits. We adhere to three essential principles to bring this work to life.
1. Identify a Shared Purpose
– We are in the business of educating young people through strength training – that is the overarching purpose agreed upon by all of our Athletics staff and P.E. teachers. We agree that creating a safe and fun experience for the athletes includes staying up-to-date on current science, and making accommodations for athletes when necessary. The purpose is not to roll out a cookie cutter program and hope for the best. Our decisions align with this purpose. Too often, having different goals between Athletics and P.E. undercuts alignment.
2. Program Alongside the Academic Calendar
– Take out a calendar and look at the whole picture. Identify big dates and natural breaks. Holidays and finals are natural “de-load” periods. Align the “peak” of a program with an athlete’s primary season, test, and use that evaluation as part of the class rubric. When we program day-to-day, timelines can get away from us, but programming based on sport seasons and the academic calendar offers an immediate (and logical) template.
3. Frequent communication between professionals
– Sustained alignment is an organic, continuing process. It requires regular feedback from participants, and communication between all members of the strength team (Strength teachers, coaches, the Strength & Conditioning Coordinator, the Athletic Director, and the P.E. Department Chair). There is no substitute for regular, optimistic, purpose-driven communication.
Return to these essential principles (especially the first) when times get tough. Remember, this won’t always be easy. But it will certainly be worth it!
By Kate Kalnes, Ed.D., C.S.C.S. & Jim Davis, Ed.M., RSCC*D
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