Coaching Philosophy: How Tony Rolinski Runs Notre Dame Basketball's Weight Room

Tony RolinskiTony Rolinski is the head strength and conditioning coach for the University of Notre Dame's men’s basketball and hockey teams. He has been on the Irish staff for 21 years. The Penn State grad was named a Master Strength and Conditioning coach by the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association in 2014. He has also earned certification through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

We asked Rolinski a few questions about his coaching strategy and what rewards the profession of strength and conditioning coach bring.

What is your strength training philosophy?

My strength training philosophy is based on a yearly plan using multi-joint movements and progressive overload in the following areas – hinging, squatting, pulling, pushing, jumping (landing mechanics) and change of direction (sprinting). Following this protocol allows me to focus on teaching strict technique through a full range of motion and affords me the opportunity to be adaptable with each individual basketball athlete for the six mentioned areas. I keep it simple and coach it hard. Leonardo di Vinci said that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” and I tend to agree.

Notre Dame Basketball Weight RoomHow does your specific training differ from preseason to in-season? And does it develop or change during the regular season?

Our goal is to always try and put as much force into the ground as possible to increase power (P=Force x Velocity). We still continue to train in-season using the same movements in the weight room, but the one thing that does change is the volume decreases during the regular season.

Offseason and preseason follow more of a planned non-linear program design while trying to increase strength and produce force. In-season is more of a “flexible” non-linear model as we want to continue to develop our power profile by focusing on velocity. Intensity is kept high during each in-season training session as we always want to work on strength development to help with injury management and performance while we continue to improve velocity.

Do you have your players in the weight room most months out of the year? When do they start strength training for each season?

Our players are here most of the year, with the exception of five weeks in the beginning of May to the second week in June and two or three weeks in August when summer classes end. We start training approximately two weeks after the end of our season. The team gets two weeks off to mentHammer Strength Rackally and physically recharge after a long, six-month season, then we start with simple general physical preparedness modalities to help them improve muscle tissue quality and get some movement deficiencies back to normal (anatomical adaptation). This helps them prepare for the offseason block while they’re here for the six- to eight-week summer session.

Do you train positions/players differently?

I choose different exercise variations of the six mentioned areas above for each individual athlete, but the song remains the same for all – get them as strong and as resilient as possible.

Everyone needs to develop the ability to load and decelerate, everyone needs to create stiffness (bracing) and compliance (rotational power), and everyone needs to have the ability to accelerate and be powerful. The exercises may change or be different for each athlete (guard or post player), depending on their current physical development, but the goal is the same – help each athlete maximize their genetic potential.

What are some of the biggest challenges training basketball players?

Keeping them focused on how strength training can help them improve their game and protect their future investment (their body). A lot of college basketball players have never had to participate in a physical development program as most of them have been the best athlete in high school and could dominate effortlessly. Teaching each player how strength training can help separate them from the competition—as everyone at this level is just as talented or more so—is very important. This builds and creates trust. The hard work follows, and “buy in” to the program now sells itself.

What are some of the biggest personal rewards that you’ve achieved?

Notre Dame DumbbellsMy biggest personal reward is having the ability to develop relationships with great young people.

When I was a young coach still feeling my way around the profession, I never knew if I was coaching kids “too hard”. After one of our athletes was selected in the NBA draft, he stopped by my office to thank me. He thanked me for never letting him do what he wanted, as he often did throughout his life. He thanked me for holding him to the highest standard and making him accountable to himself and his teammates. He thanked me for teaching him discipline. He thanked me for teaching him how to never let adversity conquer him. He didn’t thank me for strength and conditioning X’s and O’s. That moment helped shape me as a coach that I’ve carried with me through the last 20 years. Coaching young adults with firmness, fairness, dignity, and compassion builds lasting personal relationships you can cherish the rest of your life – whether your clientele goes on to play professional basketball, or more likely goes on to become successful business men and women or wonderful fathers and mothers. That’s what is most rewarding to me.