Anthony Donskov is the founder of DSC where he serves as the Director of Sport Performance. Donskov holds a Masters Degree in Exercise Science & is the author of Physical Preparation for Ice Hockey.
Strength Coach Rule #1: Do No Harm
As Strength Coaches our job is three fold: prevent injuries in the weight room, reduce sport related injuries, and enhance performance. Unfortunately most coaches focus on the last two and ignore the MOST important! I don’t care if your athlete can back squat 400 lbs if he has a stress fracture and herniated disk and can’t participate in his sport. Bottom line: injuries in the weight room are the fault of the STRENGTH COACH….PERIOD! Coach Dan John, who has been coaching before I was born, most recently reinforced this concept in a lecture at MBSC in Boston. He emphasized, “DO NO HARM!” We need to reassess this concept, as exercise selection and protocol are the responsibility of the coach. It’s a simple concept, yet we make it inherently difficult. Below are four ways to assess/implement the “Do No Harm” philosophy.
Strength and Conditioning vs. Internet Gurus: Want to lean how to be a business leader? Read John Maxwell. Want to learn how to be a better basketball Coach? Read Coach John Wooden. Want to be a better Strength Coach? Look for leaders that have years of experience and evidence in their protocol. Listen, learn from their mistakes and take constructive advice/feedback. We have to many “arm chair” coaches these days. Please don’t sit behind a computer and preach exercise selection and programming unless you’re in the trenches. You will do much more HARM than good.
Personal Training vs. Strength and Conditioning: Strength and Conditioning and personal training are very different! Coaching eighteen athletes vs. one client can effect both exercise selection and program design. I don’t like the traditional back squat (especially in large groups), and I don’t care to speak Greek and argue hip, knee and ankle angles: bottom line, heavy loads plus flexion and shear force produces back problems. I have NEVER walked in a Strength and Conditioning facility, including College and Pro, and witnessed eighteen athletes back squatting with appropriate weight and flawless form. I prefer to use more self-limiting exercises in large groups where it’s much harder to lift with poor form; front squat and trap bar dead lift would be a great example. If your dead set on teaching the back squat or the traditional dead lift, a small group or personal training setting is much more appropriate as loads are much higher and technique is much easier to be compromised. Hyper-coaching is necessary! I can’t count on my fingers and toes how many high school athletes have come in my facility with stress fractures and low back injuries that were the potential result of poor programming, heavy loads, and just plain scary technique. Large groups plus heavy loads is a recipe for HARM!
Assess the Population: It goes without saying that a novice lifter and advanced lifter need different programming. One size does not fit all. Novice lifters need repetition to master basic motor skills and to build neuromuscular control, advanced lifters need undulating stress. Fat loss clients are another completely different population. The one size fits mentality leads to HARM!
Coach/Athlete Ratio: My philosophy is to have a coach/instructor ratio of 1:9, one coach for every nine athletes. Exercise selection and program design are greatly influenced by how many coaches are in attendance. Two sets of eyes are always better than one. Coach Dan John doesn’t have any plyo boxes in his facility! It’s not that he doesn’t like plyo boxes, but he has over 400 athletes that frequent his gym. I’m sure he has seen a lot of shin related abrasions in his day. He has opted not to have them. I think this is a great take home point for fellow coaches. If you’re overpopulated or under coached keep it simple. One Coach teaching heavy cleans to eighteen athletes might not be a good programming decision; this can lead to more HARM than good.
The older I get, the more appreciation I have for simplicity! Too many times we argue the minutia speaking Greek and defending exercise selection as if there were no better alternatives. We should all be seeking better ways to enhance results while keeping our athletes safe and healthy and away from HARM.
Anthony Donskov, MS, CSCS, PES, is a former collegiate and professional hockey player, founder of Donskov Strength and Conditioning Inc., (www.donskovsc.com) and Head Instructor/Director of Off-Ice Strength and Conditioning for Donskov Hockey Development (www.donskovhockey.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.