This past summer our tennis coach had a major revelation that his team lacked sufficient strength. To remedy this, he signed up some of his summer tennis camp kids for our summer strength program. We were about halfway through our summer training program when we welcomed the tennis players into the fold. There were a few trial-and-errors when testing and training these beginner athletes.
After a good month of training, we tested the tennis players like we did all our summer athletes. This provided us with baseline data for the tennis coaches to use going into the start of the school year. The tennis coaches were thrilled to have some data to go by.
This positive experience prompted the tennis coaching staff to email everyone on the team, encouraging them to sign up for strength training as well. The tennis coaches mentioned our testing protocol underwent by the summer tennis lifters and encouraged everyone to get tested as well in order to gather helpful baseline data for everyone.
Our program views testing as a reward for completing a set program and learning proper technique and form before “maxing out.” Some of the tennis coaches and players didn’t quite understand this concept prior to sending beginner athletes into our program. At first, I found this a bit humorous, but it quickly became frustrating.
There was a significant disconnect between the tennis program and me. Kids and coaches didn’t understand why we couldn’t just max everyone out and start fresh. Many of the kids said they wanted to test immediately. One look at most of them suggested they were nowhere near ready to test in our 3 mainstay lifts—the clean, squat, and bench.
It depends on the sport, but we also like to test performance movements (vertical jump, broad jump, shuttle run, and 20- and 40-yard dash). We used data from the tennis kids that participated in our summer testing as an illustration to show the coaches and new lifters where athletes needed to be before testing. Most simply weren’t there yet.
Communicating with Coaches
The disconnect and confusion with testing this team was a result of in effective communication. I assumed the younger players were ready to test and the coaches didn’t understand our philosophy of training vs testing. Additionally, I assumed I would be training the tennis team. The tennis coach was fine with the players training elsewhere and just wanted them tested. Again, we did not clearly state that in our strength program we teach technique first and delay testing until we felt the athletes were ready.
Most kids understood why we wouldn’t test them out in any of our lifts right away. We did test their performance movements but not any of the primary lifts. A couple of athletes stated that they worked out with private trainers over the summer. They felt they were ready to test, but we explained that they would be unable to test because they didn’t work with us and we were unsure of their technique. (The kids who trained over the summer were allowed to test).
Importance of Establishing a Base for Beginner Athletes
Some of our coaches had a hard time understanding why we wouldn’t test them out first and go from there. I explained that it wasn’t as easy as having kids play a game of tennis and see who was better. We first needed to teach and coach technique and establish a base of strength for the sake of safety before moving on with testing. After this conversation they understood our philosophy a lot better.
In the end, we did manage the situation well but could have done a better job upfront explaining the importance of establishing a base of strength before testing. I guess I didn’t do a good job of explaining this at the onset of the school year, and the sport coaching staff may not have understood how hard the summer tennis lifters worked to be in a position to be able to test out.
Our summer tennis lifters quickly became group leaders. We split the team up into smaller training groups, and we used them as examples as they tested out. Not only did they provide great examples of how to perform the lifts in the proper manner, they also did a great job of indirectly selling our summer program as they were clearly advanced from the rest of the group. Our coaches really emphasized this aspect and I couldn’t have been happier!
We spent the last 3 weeks learning proper technique. The team has been improving at performing the movements we require prior to testing. We allowed everyone to test out in the bench press provided they have attended our workouts either before or after school. Next up will be the squat movement and then the clean. We used the workouts to motivate the kids to continue to train and understand the importance of a workout program.
Thinking back on the entire process, it is obvious to me that effective communication is vital to linking sport coaching staff with strength training staff. Our strength staff welcomed the opportunity to train a new group of beginner athletes. Though, we did have some philosophical bumps along the way.
The tennis staff were in a hurry to get going. Even some of the kids were too, however most were apprehensive of beginning a training program for the first time. Using the “Start with Why” philosophy of Simon Sinek I realized that I had told the tennis staff “what” I could do. I never told the tennis coaching “why” and “how” we test. That’s on me and I have made sure to keep this situation in mind as a measure of ensuring effective communication with my sport coaches from now on.
Johnson is a graduate of Normandale Community College, Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota, playing football at both NCC and Augsburg. “RJ” teaches physical education at Wayzata High School and is the Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for Wayzata Public Schools, a position he began in 2000. Wayzata Athletics have captured 52 team state titles in histenure; Johnson works directly with the three-time state champion football program as Director of Operations and Player Development. He is a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist as well as a Registered Strength and Conditioning Specialist – both certifications with Distinction and is the Minnesota NSCA State Director. NSCA awards include Minnesota High School Strength and Conditioning Professional of the Year 2010; State Director of the Year 2013; Strength of America Award 2015; and 2017 National High School Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year. In 2017 he became a founding Board Member of the National High School Strength Coaches Association (NHSSCA); and serves as a Regional Director for the organization. A former volunteer firefighter, he also received an Award of Merit from the Minnesota Department of Health and Safety for participation in a lifesaving CPR/AED effort to revive a player that suffered sudden cardiac arrest while at practice. Johnson is a frequent clinician, speaker, author and his Wayzata Trojan Power program has been visited by over 50 other high school and small college programs. He also volunteered his time in the Rockford School District where he and his wife and four children reside by serving as the Rockford Area Youth Athletic Association President and Youth Football Director.