Want to know why you should get all your athletes in the weight room? James Coffey, Maine high school athletic director and coach, can explain.

Starting and maintaining a unified strength program for your entire athletic department is easily one of the most beneficial things you can do as an athletic director. It’ll help you build a winning tradition, prevent injuries, improve physical and mental strength—and definitely help you tally up wins.

So why doesn’t every high school in the country have one?

Well, that’s complicated.

Certainly there are schools in this country that have top-notch weight rooms that rival many colleges, but that’s the minority. There are also schools, particularly in districts where money is tight, that have nothing. No weight room, no strength coach, and maybe not even an athletic trainer. 

In my previous district, it took a full five years to entirely implement our strength program. We had some resources, but it still involved a lot of trial and error before we really had high participation and a rock-solid program. Once it was implemented, we offered the program after school, and in the summer, we had a program running three days a week. The first summer after implementing the full program, our combined athletic department fall record was 92-13. 

We’re now in my current school’s fourth year of having one strength program. After some improvements to our weight room, and settling in with a highly respected local strength coach, we’re starting to see player improvement and fewer injuries. 

Athletes at all levels in any sport benefit from time in the weight room.

If you’re looking to start a strength program at your school, there are two main elements you need: a room and someone to run the program. 

Use what you have

Do you have a weight room currently? If so, is the equipment safe and up-to-date? If you don’t have one, try to find an open space you could use. 

My school’s weight room was super small. It was cluttered with old Nautilus equipment and big bulky machines. We actually gave away a bunch of the old equipment we weren’t using to create more space. Then we discovered a storage room adjacent to the weight room that was full of old, unused equipment. We got rid of a lot, found another space to store the rest and knocked the wall down between the storage room and our weight room. That expanded our weight room by over 500 square feet. 

We laid down a new rubber floor, bought a mint condition rack of dumbbells (5’s-100’s) from a local resident, and were able to secure three new power racks. In a few months, spending just the money we had available, we were able to significantly upgrade our facility.

A lot of second-hand equipment is still in great shape and costs a fraction of what you'd spend on new weights.

Who runs it? 

In a perfect world, you’d have an expansive weight room and a nationally certified strength and conditioning coach, but it’s just not the reality for most schools. For a lot of athletic departments, only the football program does any strength training and that’s usually run by the coaching staff. 

So what resources do you have that you could leverage? Do you have a PE teacher, coach or an athletic trainer that has a background or certification in strength training? Is there a local gym you could contract through? Is a parent/guardian or booster group connected with a strength coach in the area?

In one school I worked in, we contracted a respected national organization to come in and run a two day, in-service workshop for our coaches. All of our coaches were certified to their standards, and we used that training to implement a strength program for our athletes. It worked well for us.

My current school contracts through a respected local gym that’s geared toward athletic performance. They provide us great service at a reasonable cost.

Create a program for everyone

Our program is simple, yet effective. We aren’t sport-specific, and that’s key. Our goal is to make our kids stronger, better athletes through a foundation built on basics. We change the exercises each session, but every workout follows the same simple structure:

  1. Push something
  2. Pull something
  3. Squat
  4. Hip hinge
  5. Carry something
Make sure to have a lot of varying weight options to cater to all your athletes.

This broad framework allows you to differentiate instruction between kids based on their abilities. Not by sport. Every athlete in every sport can benefit from a strength program. And so can your school.

James Coffey attend­ed Endicott College in Beverly, MA where he got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Sport Management. He has spend the last four­teen years as an ath­let­ic direc­tor at three dif­fer­ent high schools. Coffey was named the Massachusetts Secondary School District A Athletic Director of the Year in 2012. He has also spoke about the pos­i­tive effects of social media on ath­let­ics at sev­er­al New England conferences.