American Football

Raising the Bar: 4 Ways Strength & Conditioning Can Help You Win the Offseason

<p>Your preparation for next year begins now. Get off to a strong start by stressing the importance of strength and conditioning.</p>

Everyone knows that the 2016 season is over. The great teams, those that will be competing for state championships next year, are the ones that realize that means the 2017 season has already begun.

No games have been scheduled and schools are forbidden from holding official practices at this time. But the work that is done now will create a foundation when summer practice officially kicks off in a few months, and strength and conditioning is at the heart of that.

Just ask Jason Negro, the national coach of the year in 2013 and head coach of recent California champion St. John Bosco.

“Our strength program is far more important than the calls we make on Friday night,” Negro said. “We believe that we win here because of what we do on our offensive and defensive lines. We believe that we win because of what we do in the weight room from January until the end of the season. We lift four days a week in season and five days out of season. It’s something we take a lot of pride in and a culture we’ve developed at Bosco. The kids buy into it, they embrace it. They know it’s not easy, but when you’re dominating people up front and you’re physically stronger in the fourth quarter, they can see it.”

How you structure your offseason program is going to directly affect what happens between the lines next fall. With that in mind, we gathered some tips from fellow coaches on how to establish a strong culture and effectively implement a successful strength and conditioning program.

You likely have some gym rats that have to be dragged out of the weight room, athletes that thrive on the thought of bettering themselves. Those players need no added motivation, but not all athletes are wired the same way. Some need that extra push to really get going and embrace the grind.

So give them a reason to. Tim Rulo, the head football coach and strength and conditioning coach at Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City, Mo., uses social media to praise his top lifters and shine light on their achievements.

Take your team to local weightlifting competitions, allowing them to win awards and see how they stack up against their peers. If you don’t have the time or resources to do that, simply hold your own competition. The desire to prove one’s worth will motivate your players to put in some serious work.

Athletes need a baseline to start from so they know where they need to improve. So pretest your athletes in specific lifts and athletic tests.

Sit down with them and set goals for what gains they should make in the coming months. Set periodic intervals to meet with them and get updates on their results. This will help hold them accountable.

“Just like in the classroom, you’ve got to pretest your athletes,” Rulo said. “Is there a way to show growth? In the post-test, you can say, ‘Look, this is where you need to get stronger. This is where you ran this much faster. This is where you jumped this much higher.”

This option might not be available for every team, but if you have the resources it’s something to look into. St. John Bosco hires an outside company to come in during the offseason and work with the team on conditioning and speed. Not only are the athletes hearing a different voice, but the outsider’s ideas and workouts could really connect with certain players.

“That way they don’t receive burnout on us from 12 months of grinding on them,” Negro said. “It kind of breaks it up and our kids get really excited about that.”

The first few months after each season are a strange transition. Your team’s senior leaders are no longer around, and underclassmen have their first real opportunity to fill those shoes.

Offseason workout programs allow them to do just that. By monitoring both attendance and tenacity of each individual’s workout routines, you’ll quickly discover which players you can count on next season. Empower them to lead, and give them tips on how to best motivate their teammates.

“You’re going to see some guys just fully understand that and embrace the idea,” Rulo said. “They need to be lifting and they need to work hard. They’re not only shooting for personal goals, but goals for the team.”

Have any other interesting ways to get athletes engaged in the offseason? We'd love to hear from you. Tweet us your ideas at @HudlUSFootball.