Coaching Philosophy: 3 Keys To Prevent Overtraining For High School Athletes

About the Author: Adam Reed is the associate editor of AFCA Magazine. The American Football Coaches Association is the only national organization dedicated to improving football coaches through ongoing education, interaction, and networking. The AFCA and Hammer Strength have teamed up to provide insights into the coaching profession, elite athletic programs, and more.

The fall sports season takes a toll on players. Regardless of the sport they play, and especially if they are a multisport athlete, it can be easy to burn out. Young athletes are in a particularly precarious position, running the risk of feeling too strong and too confident, while unknowingly putting themselves at increased risk of injury.

This complicates things for the strength and conditioning coach. With all of the demand on young players physically during this time of year the strength coach must find a way to maintain the progress athletes have made in the weight room without running them into the ground.

Reduce the Volume

Mike Winker, Strength Coach at Archbishop Hoban High School“I always say with any sport, when the volume increases on the field, the volume needs to be pulled back in the weight room,” says Mike Winkler, head strength and conditioning coach at Archbishop Hoban High School in Akron, Ohio. “Just the volume of exercises, volume of reps, it all gets pulled back quite a bit, even if it isn't less weight.”

Winkler oversees the athletic performance training for all sports at Archbishop Hoban, and while football may get more than its fair share of the attention, he’s quick to point out that every student-athlete deals with stressors that require tapering of the training from the staff. It’s easy for the strength coach to get too focused on their specific goals and trying to hit certain targets with athletes, while forgetting that their weight room training is only one small portion of what they have to deal with.

“Our kids go through an eight hour day of school, sitting at a desk, listening to the teachers, and then they go through a three-hour practice, and then they come to me,” Winkler says. “How much of an attention span am I going to expect these kids to have?”

Keep Training Simple

The demands of the school year not only reinforce the need to lower the volume of reps during the season, they also serve as a reminder to keep training simple. When athletes come into the weight room in the middle of a long season, they need to focus on the basics and emphasize quality over quantity, especially at the high school level. How many young people move on to college athletics without having mastered basic lifting techniques?

For Winkler, there’s no reason to add complexity to the training if athletes haven’t mastered the basics, and at the same time, keeping it simple helps keep the volume low as well.

“My goal in the season is to get my four major movers, or four major lifts,” Winkler says. “The chest, the quads, the back, and the hamstrings. We get those four major movers in –  good quality lifts – and that's the extent of our in-season training.”

Communicate with Players

Another huge responsibility of the strength coach when it comes to working with high school athletes is communication. If an athlete spends all summer putting in long hours and seeing his PRs get higher and higher, they may struggle to understand why they are tapering off. They may even go so far as to try and make up the time they are used to getting during a normal off-season training session.

As with most coaching messages communicated to this generation of athletes, coaches cannot fail to explain the “why” of reducing volume and complexity for athletes.

“I educate the kids on it,” Winkler says. “I explain that we're going from a two-and-a-half workout with conditioning to as short as a 35- to 45-minute workout now, and this is why. And make them understand that I'm doing this, so you guys aren't doing too much or over training.”

Once the sports season has concluded, Winkler recommends coaches follow the golden rule of recovery, and allow for six weeks of active recovery for every athlete, regardless of the sport. During this period, players can still engage in physical activity, but should shy away from any heavy lifting or high impact exercises – anything that’s going to be serious strain on a players joints.

Following these simple steps may seem like a no-brainer, but coaches have to be intentional in there execution. The last thing any strength and conditioning professional wants to have on their conscience is an athlete who is injured because they weren’t vigilant.