By Kate Kalnes, Ed.D., C.S.C.S. & Jim Davis, Ed.M., RSCC*D
Strength and conditioning is one of the fastest growing fields in high school sports. Many have recognized that stronger, faster, and safer athletes have a better athletic experience; additionally, students who participate in a coordinated strength training effort have more 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. or other reputable experience/licensure) lead successful programs; however, the challenge to those programs comes in the alignment of training with athletic schedules.
Games, practices, and coach-lead training sessions might not align with what’s going on in the P.E. setting. Add in club seasons and private trainers, and this can seem nearly impossible.
And that’s just the beginning! 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 an athlete’s 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 (previous injury, biomechanical differences). It can be a lot to work through… With these considerations in mind, schools across the country are hiring full-time Strength & Conditioning Coordinators to serve as the resident expert in the field. A school’s S&C Coordinator is tasked with, among other things, aligning a P.E. strength curriculum with other school-directed offerings.
At our school, we serve 10 sections of an “Athletic Strength and Conditioning” course which aligns with our before and after school athletics lifting options. Depending on the time of year, we see as many as 70 sessions over the course of a week, in addition to the class. In total, we have more than 2,500 weekly visits. To keep things running smoothly at this scale, we adhere to three essential principles to bring this work to life.
Identify a Shared Purpose
Too often, having different goals between Athletics and P.E. undercuts alignment. 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.
When we have a scheduling concern, no problem – we begin with a return to our purpose: how does the adjustment we’re about to make help us educate young people through strength training? Are the decisions we’re making allowing for more education, or are we complicating things for students? Identifying a shared purpose serves as a guiding light for our work.
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 for us. 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.
This allows for a bit of humility as well. By adapting programs to the academic calendar, we might not be able to replicate the programs seen at Alabama or Michigan, but we’ve found that we don’t need to… being humble, flexible, and willing to adapt has served our students far better than strict adherence to what worked for someone else.
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.
Strategies for this will certainly vary by location. For us, we send a group email every Sunday called “This Week in Strength” which gives a preview of the week to come, noting any major adjustments to the schedule and celebrating the accomplishments of our students and coaches. From there we send text messages and meet in person during the week, as needed.
The Next Step
Aligning Athletic Strength Training with Physical Education offerings should be a priority for all high school programs. 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!
And if you are interested in getting support with aligning or beginning a strength program at your school? REACH OUT!!