How to keep your employees motivated and working hard.
What is your background prior to your time with Limestone?
I am a graduate of Iowa State University (BS) and Central Missouri (MS). While at Iowa State I worked as a volunteer student coach in the Olympic weight room for 3 years working with men’s basketball, baseball and softball. After graduation I interned at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA working with athletes preparing for the Sydney Olympics. I then went on to CMSU and worked as a volunteer strength coach for their women’s basketball program and a teaching assistant in the Physical Education Department.
After finishing my master’s degree I went to work for the Milwaukee Brewers as a minor league strength coach with the High Desert Mavericks of the California League, and I also spent time in the Anaheim Angles organization in the same capacity for the Cedar Rapids Kernels of the Midwest League. Once I decided to leave baseball in 2002, I then went into the private sector (which was not for me) and then in 2005 I landed at Limestone College as the school’s first ever strength coach.
What coaches have been most influential to you at this point in your career?
I really don’t have a huge influence on my career. I didn’t go the normal route of being a GA then an assistant to get to the big chair so did not have all of the connections that I do today to land that first job in college athletics. Now, I have friends that are coaches around the country, and when you are growing a program from scratch you speak to a lot different coaches and picked their brains to see if something they do might work. I think every coach has different strengths and different viewpoints that can work. I just try and take what I can and figure out how or if it can work for me and what I want to accomplish with my athletes. Not all programs or ideas work in every situation and you have to be adaptable. I cannot take what they do at the University of Iowa or Clemson and drop that program here. It wouldn’t work! We have almost 900 athletes and 25 sports. We have some very good athletes, but all have limitations or areas that they need to work on. I focus my attention on the details and make sure that they developed over the course of their career with in my program. I have found what works for Limestone College, it may or may not work somewhere else.
You are a very popular lacrosse strength and conditioning coach, how did you find that as your training niche?
To be honest completely by accident….being from the Midwest it’s was not much of a lacrosse hotbed. I had seen it played in college (Iowa State) as I had friends that played on the club program. I did not start working with lacrosse athletes until I arrived at Limestone.
Once I was hired at Limestone College I quickly learned that lacrosse was the flagship program. I studied the sport so I could understand how they move and how best to train them. I have even started playing the sport myself. I have been lucky to have our Athletic Director, Mike Cerino who started the program back in the 90’s at Limestone in my corner. I was lucky enough to work with him and learned a lot about the sport and the type of athlete that migrates to playing lacrosse. His contacts then opened the doors for me in the field of lacrosse strength and speed training as a niche. He introduced me to alum of the college who now works in New Zealand and that’s how I was introduced to the NZLA and now have had the opportunity to be the strength coach for the Men’s World Championships teams for the past two World Championships (2010 and 2014) and still continue to work with this program. The work with the men’s team has now lead me to assisting the U19 Women’s of New Zealand as well as being asked to be the strength coach for the Charlotte Hounds of the MLL this past March.
Do you have a general training philosophy you use with your program design process? (maybe get into different influences, protocols or modalities you have implemented successfully, or just general guidelines).
With the number of athletes that I oversee everything we do has to be manageable, measurable and motivational. It has to be practical and proactive and finally I stress how well over how much. I am not a numbers chasing strength coach…..I really don’t care how much an athlete can lift. I want to know how fast and how well they can move the weight and how well they move on the field.
I established a grading system based off our athletes strength-to-mass ratios about 4 years ago and it allows me to grade all of my athlete ABCDF on power, strength and speed. Now I can change anything I need to in order to make the program work for that individual or team that I am working with. If an athlete is an A in squat but a D in cleans then I know that have the strength necessary so now I need to focus on the speed of the movement, so I need to modify their training modalities to get the most out of them.
I’m definitely not reinventing the wheel with anything I do….I just make it manageable for my current situation, stress the small things and coach the hell out of everything we do in the weight room and on the field, but don’t overload my athletes with too much talk. I think this is where coaches lose their athletes. They talk to damn much and give speeches at the end of workouts that the athletes don’t pay attention to. I give my athletes the information they need when they need it. I don’t over complicate my instructions with a bunch of big words. It goes back to they don’t care what you know until they know you care mentality. I give a pat on the back when it is needed and a kick in the butt when necessary.
How does a normal annual cycle look for your Limestone lacrosse team? (you can be as vague or detailed as you want here)
Probably going to disappoint you hear, but my training cycle probably does look much different than anyone else.
Post-season/Rejuvenation – This is the first major stage of the annual plan for our athletes and begins the day after the last day of competition. This is a 2-8 week state with the main goal of rehabilitating the body from in-season physical stresses or injuries. Post-season training is two to three days a week for up to 45 minutes with little or no conditioning. It’s a high-volume, low-intensity workout.
Off-season – Emphasis on strength and power development Olympic weightlifting exercises paired with light conditioning. The point of emphasis is to enhance strengths and diminish weaknesses while increasing the athletes work capacity. Off-season training is three to four times per week for up to 60 minutes with two to three days of moderate conditioning early on and progressing to three to five days of conditioning leading up to preseason. It’s moderate-volume, moderate to high-intensity training.
Preseason – At this point, athletes should be close to peak physical condition if I have done everything right up to this point. Emphasis is placed on enhancing power endurance. Exercises are performed at a sub-maximal level with minimal rest (30-45 seconds) between sets. This exercise combination is designed to ease athletes into the start of individual practices, adjust to increased training volumes outside the weight-room and avoid over-training and over-use injuries. Preseason training is two to three times a week for up to 45 minutes with two to three days of moderate to heavy conditioning. It’s moderate to low-volume, high-intensity training.
In-season – Athletes are in peak physical condition and ready to handle the mechanical and physical stresses of the long season. Emphasis is strictly strength maintenance and active recovery with an emphasis on continued improvement of physical preparation from the previous cycles. This exercise combination is designed to maintain strength and conditioning levels enhanced from off-season and preseason training to avoid injury. During the season, athletes should train two times a week for 20-30 minutes and have no outside of practice conditioning. It’s low-volume, moderate-high intensity training.
Championship Season – This program is a continuation of the in-season program. If there is a break between the last in-season game and the start of the first competition of the championship season, we will train similar to the pre-season until 10 days before competition starts again. With longer periods of time between competitions we will raise the volume during the first 2 weeks of training to help increase work capacity and further enhance the conditioning level of the athletes.
Do you have an initial athlete evaluation process?
We do complete annual testing with our athletes. We test 10 yard, 20 yard sprints, pro agility, Vertical Jump, broad jump, cleans, front squats and overhead press. With so many athletes and having an abnormal roster size I evaluate on the fly and through our movement sessions and corrective sessions. I do not train our freshmen or transfers with our returners. They have not been through the program and I have not seen them move so I separate them to give me a chance to work with them and correct any underline issues they might have. I slow cook my new athletes. I have 4 years to get them where I need to. I have a “selective advancement” type model that I use with my athletes. They have to accomplish certain goals and strength to mass ratios before I will advance them to the next phase of the collegiate training. I will not advance just for the sake of advancing. I will not compromise my ideals just for numbers. I want all of my athletes to experience success.
How do you manage the training of so many teams, both at Limestone and the professional teams you train?
Time management and organization are key. Not only do I oversee 25 sports and 900 athletes as well as work with international and professional lacrosse athletes, but I am also and Assistant AD with program oversight for track and field, wrestling and volleyball. I am on the senior management team for the athletics department as well as serve on various committees on campus. I am very rarely in my office if I am not coaching, so having a great staff of young coaches that help me out a ton. We do not have a very large weight room, so creativity and being able to think on the fly is a must. I always tell interns and young coaches that work for me…you learn to coach at Limestone College! You have to be able to think outside the box and use anything you can to make your athletes better. The other thing that helps is the expectations that I have set for the program and the standards that I uphold. Working hard at Limestone is just something that has become a culture. All the coaches that I work with have bought into what I am preaching to our athletes which is huge. They are my sales people to the program so I don’t have to be. The culture took time to develop, but once it did then the success started to follow in all of our sports not just lacrosse.
When dealing with so many athletes, how do you implement new protocols and training modalities for the masses?
Keeping it simple. I’m not an exercise of the month type guy. I research everything that I want to incorporate and evaluate it prior to implementing. If I cannot use it with the masses then I probably don’t use it. Again it goes back to my situation is unique and I cannot always do what I want, but I always give the athletes what they need to be successful physically though our program.
What training protocol (system/exercise/software/anything) have you implemented in the last few years that has given you the biggest return on your investment? (investment being time/energy/athletes time/whatever)
Honestly, the biggest thing that I have done is to focus on leadership with our athletes and elevating all of our teams internally. I have always said that my job is to develop these student-athletes for things after their competitions are over. Now, I ‘m not a life coach and don’t what to be, but I want to give them some tangibles that they can take with them after college. 3 years ago I sat down with my AD and set a goal to win the conference cup for the Conference Carolinas. We had been so close on numerous occasions. We evaluated all of our successful teams and came up with 5 categories that we felt all teams need to focus on (community service, academics, compliance, sports medicine, and quality of season). All of our teams want to improve on this competition board. They check it daily! It has created a sense of ownership within their programs. In order to elevate nationally like we have over the past 10 years we had to first become the toughest kid on our own block first!
In dealing with international training and coaching, have you noticed a difference in American coaches and athletes vs international?
Some international programs are a little more relaxed then here in the states. Internationally strength training is not a huge part of development in some cases. Luckily in New Zealand it is as it is highly influenced by the All Blacks Rugby club so these guys and girls are a little different bread of athletes to work with. Now it is a growing sport in NZ so skill level is still behind in some cases, but I have seen them advance to the #12 ranked team in the world (out of 38 competing nations). It just comes down to building a relationship with the athletes and gives them what they need. I also give the internationals a little more ownership and decision making into their programs as I don’t have my hands on them as much as I do with my college athletes.
If you could recommend three training books to everyone, what would they be?
Legacy – 15 Life and Business Lessons Learned from the New Zealand All-Blacks.
Game Plane for Life by Joe Gibbs and Jerry Jenkins
The Greatest Coach Ever: Timeless Wisdom and Insights of John Wooden
I think working on yourself and working on how to better the students that you work with outside of the weight room is just as important as what you do in the weight room and on the field. I am a big believe on that I can make an impact off the field as well. I have a lot of alums stop in all the time and thank me for being so hard on them while they were here. It clicks with them once they get their first job that the my 10 minute rule, ingraining 5 yards past, tuck and tied in the weight room all have more significant meaning that me just being OCD about little details. It is setting them up for life after college as well as for what they do in college.
Any last piece of advice for the coaches reading this blog?
Set your personal core values and do not waiver from them. To be successful you have to want to be successful, you have to believe that you and your programs will be successful, you have to expect this daily, you have to work hard daily (don’t just punch the clock) and you have to work hard early one to get everyone to buy into what you are selling. I came in with a 5 year plan 10 years ago (ha-ha). It took me 7 years to complete my goals. I adapted to my situation, but did not stray from the path that I wanted the program and our athletic department to be on. Sometimes you can have the best plan on paper, but things happen and things change. If you cannot adapt then this field will swallow you up quickly. Be adaptable, but do not waiver from your values as a person or coach.
Part 3: Putting it all together with Implementation and periodization strategies Welcome to the final installment of this 3-part series