Over the weekend I had the pleasure of attending the NSCA Indiana State University Strength and Conditioning Clinic. I’ve been fortunate to be able to attend a few of these now, and they are always progressing and bringing in some top tier speakers. The education component is a vital aspect of our field, and getting the opportunity to network and learn from some of the best coaches is always something I enjoy. Below is a brief recap of each presenter and some great take home points.
Building the Total Athlete: Implementing Mental Toughness in a Strength & Conditioning Program
David McMannus, Director of Strength and Conditioning, Indiana State University
I’ll first begin by saying that I’ve been lucky to intern under Coach McMannus and his staff for a semester, and the improvements he’s made to the program and athletes at Indiana State have been amazing. The football team used to be the laughing stock of the NCAA, and they are now consistently ranked in the top 25 of the FCS. So my hats are off to him and his staff for doing an amazing job.
Coach McMannus’s presentation was by far one of the most interesting of the clinic. He’s an avid MMA fighter, and there is no one that I know better to speak on mental toughness when in comes from being in the trenches. He explained that while mental toughness is hard to define directly, it is still a trainable trait, and that coaches and professionals are usually responsible for this within their programs. Sure, you’re always going to get your few bad apples, but many of the athletes come in with some sort of mental weakness or barrier. Coach McMannus described some of the programs he uses for his football team to build their mental toughness in the off season to prepare them for the grueling summer training programs before season. He’s having kids swim in ponds, get in mud, hike through the woods, and other interesting obstacle courses that are not only physically challenging, but mentally as well. He calls these the “Madman Games”, and rightfully so. He wants to put his athletes in situations that make them think and make decisions under pressure, just like in game time situations. He stresses that it’s okay to not succeed (he doesn’t use the word fail), but that not doing so can be detrimental to the team’s success. He stated that the students have more confidence on game day, or big plays that may alter the course of the game. This presentation was very eye opening to how much he can get out of his athletes, and really how much they grow off the field, as well as on.
Speed and Conditioning Concepts for Program Design
Jeff Friday, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach, Cincinnati Bengals
Coach Friday’s presentation covered speed, agility, and conditioning concepts for football, and how he implements them with the pro-level athletes for the Bengals. He went into great depth scientifically of why they do what they do. His amount of time to work with the pro-level athletes without there being any other football is very slim, so he’s got to milk everything he can from them when he gets them for the few weeks that he does in the off season.
Coach Friday of course tries to replicate the work and rest ratios that the players see on the field (based upon the GPS data they get from the previous season and adjustments that are planning to be made to the offense). This works out to be about 5 seconds of work, to 38 seconds of rest for their team. They run with the high-low system based from Charlie Francis, and he said this has allowed their athletes to be fresh when they need to be able to train their quality of speed. They also train Monday through Thursday, as the staff knows that during the off season most of their athletes are checked out on a Friday as they are going to travel or be out enjoying their weekend since they are so limited each year.
Their high stress days have their speed and acceleration training and lower body lifts (Monday and Wednesday), with their upper body lifts and change of direction and tempo work on Tuesday and Thursday for their lower stress days.
Their go to speed and acceleration training usually involves 10-20 yard sprints with 50 pounds of chains dragging the ground. They use these over sleds as they are just much more feasible to set up and tear down, and change the load for each athlete if they need to.
Overall, it was just cool to see how he and the rest of the Bengals’ staff implement their speed and agility work based upon positions and data they collected from the previous year.
Movement and the System
Ross Jirgl, Strength and Conditioning Coach, University of South Alabama
Coach Jirgl broke down the systems and methods that he uses to screen and improve the movement of his athletes. He uses the FMS for his screening, and then is constantly assessing around the year on the improvements being made. Of course, getting the proper correctives and mobility work in can be tough with the vast amount of athletes that come in the doors, but he explained how he implemented this with his athletes. He uses the overhead squat, lunge, and crawl as part of the warm up to constantly monitor this.
He tend to break his athletes into groups based upon issues they have within their movement patterns. So those that might have a hip shift would squat together and his similar correctives as active rest. This is a pretty interesting concept, and that way when he is at a rack he knows what to watch for with each athlete. He picks one major thing that they need to work on, usually starting at the hips first and working his way out.
Coach Jirgl also valued the emphasis on mobility, then stability, and then strength. He said it is not uncommon for many of this athletes to use primarily bodyweight exercises as freshman until many of the kinks are worked out and improved over the year. Most of his freshman are not seeing a vast amount of playing time, so being able to do this is feasible for his program. Obviously if you’ve got a starting freshman, he said this might change a bit, but they still try to drill what they can, especially over the summer before they get any real playing time. This is a very FMS heavy based approach, but Coach Jirgl gets it to work and has had great success with his athletes.
Implementing Strongman Training in A Strength and Conditioning Program
Jason Nunn, Owner, Nunn’s Performance Training, LLC
I’ve known Coach Nunn for a few years now, and he’s one strong dude. I’ve got great respect for him and what he does, and being the meatheads that we are we see eye to eye on a lot of different topics.
Coach Nunn explained how he programs and implements some of the strongman techniques and movements in his programming to help his clients and athletes, as well as how collegiate coaches can do the same. What I really enjoyed was that he brought implements and went into depth about how to properly use them and key coaching points to stress for the athletes.
A fast majority of the programming for athletes tends to revolve around the bigger movements, but during off season, the strongman movements are great for building mental toughness and conditioning that is specific to the sport of football. He stressed that football tends to leave the athlete in awkward positions, but yet they still need to be able to perform and absorb force applicable to the game.
Coach Nunn provided some programming examples, energy system specific medleys (or off season activities), and a vast array of how to use them based upon the coaching and programming model to the coach – allowing for any coach to find a way to fit this in their program.
Oh, we also had some good meathead conversations during breaks…of course.
Offseason Programming for Strength and Power
Keith Caton, Director of Athletic Performance for Football, Indiana University
Coach Caton is new to Indiana’s program as of this January, and I appreciate the fact that he was still able to attend and show what he’s been able to do at IU (as hard as that is for me to admit being a Boilermaker). Over the past few months, he showed us many of the things that were at the core of his philosophy and how he has implemented and instilled those into the athletes.
Coach Caton broke down how he started to implement his offseason program with a new set of athletes. He mentioned that of course it was hard at first to get the athletes to buy in to what they were trying to do after coming off a bowl season, but that he had many of his athletes start back towards square one as he and his staff wanted to have an accurate assessment of where all his athletes were, and then build off of that with some new found progress.
He broke his athletes into levels, but starting out, everyone was placed at the same level. Then as they moved through spring ball, he had a better idea of how to create new levels within the program and how to progress and improve each level based upon where the athlete was. Now moving into summer, the program is at four levels, and will eventually get to five or six by the time season rolls around.
In terms of programming, his guys are gearing up for six days of training, three with a lifting and three with recovery and regeneration methods to help facility better recovery for practices. Their split is based upon a lower, upper, and full body lift. They stick to the basics and progress slowly as needed and based upon the coach’s decision. It looks like a rather simple approach, but the detail and variety of groups based upon the athlete’s level was great to see broken down into so much detail.
The Science of Coaching: Coaching Theory Applied to Strength and Conditioning
John Stein, Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning, Indiana State University
Coach Stein went into depth on the science of coaching and how we as coaches can better reach our athletes and clients. This is a pretty valuable aspect of performance, as how we cue and coach athletes through movements and exercises can yield different outcomes. Coach Stein broke down how things were better retained based upon internal or external coaching focuses and why certain ways in which we deliver our cues can be ingrained.
It appears that external focus coaching cues yield better performance, and that we need to coach our athletes to “push” but not HOW to push. He said, “they aren’t stupid, they can figure this stuff out”. Reminding an athlete to push the heels through the floor, rather than telling them to put weight on their heels can yield different results. One they can feel, the other they would need to see.
Granted with the limited amount of time the coach gets with the athlete, and based upon the size of the coaching group or team, we realize that we have to focus on the big take home points. Most circumstances ideally are going to have 5-9 coaching points, but we can only cover 2-4 based upon time. These 2-4 points need to be safety-centered and outcome-centered points first and foremost. We also have to remember the first and last rule, in that most people will remember the first and last things of a subset of information. So make the first and last coaching cues (of a group of cues) the most important ones you want to ingrain within your athletes.
Sports Nutrition: Fueling the Elite Athlete
Lauren Link, Director of Performance Nutrition, Purdue University
Lauren went into great details of how she works with the athletes at Purdue, and how we as coaches can help influence the nutrition and food choices our athletes make. The reality is that many college athletes are skipping meals, missing out on vital nutrients from fruits and vegetables, and just making bad food choices due to busy schedules.
Having good quality snack available for the athletes, as well as recovery nutrition can help fill this gap. Lauren went on to show how we can simplify how we’re breaking down the plate of the meal for the athlete based upon the meal. Most meals should have the plate split into thirds, with a portion for meat, fruit and vegetables, and carbohydrate based sources split rather evenly. The based upon the needs of the athlete, we can change this split to help yield the desired outcome (by merely increasing or decreasing the carb portion to start). Lauren provided some examples of how to easily combine something from each group to get a fulfilling meal that will help with performance.
Lauren also went into good depth about supplements and what is and isn’t approved for the NCAA. Obviously, there are people at supplement stores making sales to these athletes to benefit their pockets or they just don’t have the proper education of what is allowed for the athletes to take. It’s the responsibility of the coach to stress that the athlete should bring the label to the nutrition department or coaching staff to double check that it is indeed okay to take. But for simplicity, it’s just better that NCAA athletes stay away from supplements and only take what is provided by the nutrition or coaching staff.
With nutrition being one of the key factors that college programs are trying to improve, it’s our role as coaches and trainers to provide the correct information and resources to guide our athletes and clients to what can help them succeed and see their best performances.
The clinic was an amazing one, and I took many great things away, even though I’m not in the NCAA realms. There were some good programming, recovery, nutrition, and movement aspects that I am going to look to implement over the coming weeks to help my clients. And if nothing else, it was great to network and just get a good heavy dose of education with like-minded people. I’m looking forward to next years, and I thank the Indiana State University Strength and Conditioning department for putting this all together.