What It’s Like Writing Youth Strength and Conditioning Programs

What It’s Like Writing Youth Strength and Conditioning Programs

Let me set the stage:

It’s Sunday morning at 8am in a cafe in Baltimore, Maryland. I’m seated at a table with two cups of coffee, a pile of notebooks, and a desktop full of athlete evaluations. I’m nose-deep in my laptop with Microsoft Excel open, prepared to spend at minimum 4 hours of work.

While most outsiders looking in would think I’m a college student studying on a Sunday, I’m not.

I’m just a strength and conditioning professional writing athlete programs.

Here’s the thing: I view writing strength and conditioning programs as an art. I’m meticulous when it comes to designing them and selecting the appropriate exercises for each individual. And I set Sundays aside to write programs because I have nothing else going on and my mind is clear.

Of course, I’ve declined Sunday brunch with friends, woke up earlier when everyone was sleeping in, and said “no” to NFL games. But in order to deliver the best possible service to my athletes, I have to spend time writing programs when my brain is at its best.

Writing programs, to that end, takes time. A full day, even.

And not every strength coach in the private sector would agree with me on this, but I believe you can’t “wing it” when it comes to programming.

More often than not, guys are writing workouts on white boards the moment their clients walk in the door. 10 Burpees. 10 Push-Ups. 10 Air Squats. 10 Eye Rolls.

I call these “cookie cutter” workouts.

They’re written last minute.

They fail to address individual needs.

They don’t allot time for teaching.

They’re similar to Walmart: get your sh*t and and get out.

Don’t be a Walmart coach.

Instead of being a quick fix service, be a long-term, customized service.

What’s funny is, our high school and college workouts surpass 2 hours. The dynamic warm-up/mobility takes over 10 minutes to complete, the run (agility, speed) takes 45 minutes, and the lift takes another hour depending on what needs to be taught that day.

Whoever established “one hour” as the standard for training is an idiot.

Granted, our middle school and younger groups may spend a productive hour getting work done, but everyone else, goes far, far beyond that.

Taking the conversation back to the strength piece of programming, every athlete is different.

Some athletes may need to squat with a dumbbell. Some with a barbell. Some with a landmine. Some with a Zercher rack. All of their biomechanical tendencies must be considered when writing programs.

In my own programs, I’m spending 10 minutes debating whether or not an athlete should do lateral squats, or lateral lunges. And just like Pepsi and Coca-Cola, there IS a difference.

And truthfully, I feel like Samwell Tarly from Game of Thrones immersed in the Citadel library when trying to peruse the right exercises to use in my programs.

Too, if you’re not having athletes track their load, who even are you?

I find it funny when parents and coaches believe it’s easy to write athlete programs, as if we’re tossing a stale salad together.

This is far, far from the truth. It’s a lot of paying attention to detail and discerning what athletes need based on their evaluations.

There have been times when I’ve had girls with terrible core stability so we’re hammering that more in their warm-up.

There have been times when I’ve had girls with cranky hips so we’re attacking that more between Squat or Deadlift sets.

There have been times when I’ve had middle schoolers with cringeworthy gait patterns, so we’re reinforcing those every day before their sprint work.

And there have been times when I’ve had girls with awful balance so we’re addressing that at the end of each workout.

If you’re a strength coach in the private sector, I urge you to individualize your athlete programs.

Yes, it takes extra time. And yes, you may not be able to go out with friends on a Sunday.

But you know what? You’re better able to serve your athletes and set them up for success. Providing them with a customized experience optimizes their few hours a week with you. End of story.

So I have an idea for writing your athlete programs: instead of investing in white boards, invest in book shelves.

  • Mike
    Posted at 00:35h, 11 May Reply

    Do you keep back up notebooks, for lack of a better term, to deal with athletes that come in mid “cycle” with an injury, or do you rewrite the whole program. Granted, each athlete is unique, but some injuries can be “trained around” similarly, if you catch my drift. Thanks.

    • erica
      Posted at 11:18h, 11 May Reply

      Yes, all of the kids’ programs actually have a section I call “customized shenanigans” which is an area I write in injury considerations or progressions or extra things they need to work on based on their evaluation. Then, the rest of the program is general strength and conditioning. Overall the same for most, but some kids may do a KB deadlift, some a hex bar DL, some SL. The “customized shenanigans” section has boded really well for them. And yes, workouts change weekly sometimes – practice schedules, games, mood, school stress, etc. All these are considered.

  • sahil mohan
    Posted at 17:03h, 20 May Reply

    it is really nice the way you explain everything about strength and conditioning but i have a request if u can elaborate a bit on how to design a good strength and conditioning programs . How does periodization work with athletes . Thanks

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