This article was provided by Coaches Network
By Patrick McHenry
One of the most challenging aspects of training high school athletes is balancing the needs of an entire team with individual players. Utilizing the Four Step Method provides a solution.
The Four Step Method covers these critical areas: testing, evaluating, setting goals, and developing a program. Below is a closer look at each one.
1. Testing refers to assessing the athletic levels of your team members. It identifies the strengths and weaknesses of student-athletes individually and as a team, and enables the coach to design a strength and conditioning program that is specific to the needs of each student-athlete.
The three recommended tests are the Vertical Jump, Pro-Agility Run, and 10-Yard Dash. Other tests that can be included are the Long Jump, the Medicine Ball Throw, and the Three Cone Drill. (You can find more detailed instructions on these tests in this previous article.) Note that these tests are for “power” sports, not endurance sports. They also fit into a combine style set up so I can perform multiple tests in a time efficient manner.
Testing should be performed at several different times:
• Before developing a training program
• To assess progress at regular intervals throughout training
• As a way to have your athletes compete against each other in the off season, which helps keep them motivated.
The great thing about performance testing is that you can see how well your athlete is progressing without undo stress and potential injury. Ask any professional strength coach how often they require their athletes to perform one rep maxes and they will say the same thing: NEVER. If a professional athlete gets hurt maxing, the coach will lose their job. The risk is too great.
There is no reason to risk an injury at the high school level by performing a one rep max. Many of our athletes have a training age of one to five years, which suggests their lifting technique may not be as high quality as a college or pro athlete. What about doing multi-rep maxes? A multi repetition maximum may be safer, but it will not give the same performance measure as we can get from a vertical jump, pro agility run, and 10-yard dash.
2. Evaluation entails analyzing the test results of each student-athlete and the team as a whole. This is a vital step so you know specifically what weaknesses each individual needs to work on and what weaknesses the team has. It will then help you design the most effective program.
After testing I have each athlete graph their results and then chart them so they can compare their scores to athletes who are the same age and gender from all over the county. I use the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA.com) Performance Assessment package (free to members)
3. Goal Setting requires athletes and their coaches to identify a reasonable time or score to achieve within a certain time period. Setting performance goals allows coaches and student-athletes to have a focus point to strive for every time they come into a workout. This helps each athlete stay motivated to improve, not only individually but also for the team.
I like to talk to each athlete about goal-setting so they understand its importance. I explain how their lifting and work effort will help achieve their goals if they use the program correctly. Then each athlete has an opportunity to write up their own goals.
Goals should never be set too high or too low. They should be challenging, yet realistic, and allow for the student-athlete to see improvements each time they test. They should also be specific. “I want to improve my vertical jump” does not tell me much. “I want to improve my vertical jump by two inches before the end of the second term” would be a good goal.
A vital step in goal setting is to not only write down goals, but the steps for achieving them. For the athlete who wants to improve their vertical jump, steps might be: working on their cleans, focusing on their squat technique, and putting all their effort into plyometric days.
4. Program Design refers to the training regimen that the coach designs to help the student-athlete achieve his or her goals. Ultimately, effective training programs will result in an improvement in athletic performance.
The program should be designed (or modified) depending on the athlete’s goal. If an athlete is trying to improve their vertical jump, we will focus on cleans, jumps and squats, for example.
Before we start the lifting program, we make sure the athlete is using good technique. We check over the athlete’s knees to make sure they are positioned properly. We look at arm mechanics and assess if they are using their core fully and going through full range of motion. One area that is often overlooked is the deceleration (or eccentric) phase of a lift. We will go down slowly in the eccentric phase of the lift and then explode up in the concentric phase.
One note of caution is that eccentric loading will break the athlete down. So only do this in the off season. If an athlete wants to work on speed, we will use the same lifts and work on technique.
Patrick McHenry, CSCS*D, is the Director of Strength & Conditioning at Castle View (Colo.) High School. He has presented to sport coaches, strength coaches, and physical education teachers at state, national, and international conferences. He is the former Colorado state director for the NSCA, was the chairman for the NSCA High School Special Interest Group, and is currently on the NSCA Board of Directors and Coaching Performance Committee.