Coaching Philosophy: Progression and Athletic Development by John Garrish

Coach John Garrish John Garrish has been the strength and conditioning coordinator at North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek, Florida since 2014. He honed his skills during internships at the University of North Texas and Rutgers University. Coach Garrish is regional director (Southeast) for the National High School Strength Coaches Association. We asked him a few questions about his philosophy and approach to strength training for high school athletes.

Our students are not elite, not because they aren't better than their competitors, but because (hopefully) they aren't yet the elite version of themselves. They're all "developmental".

What are your coaching goals?

After the health and safety of our students, I believe my most important goal as our students' athletic development coach is to prepare them for whatever their college experience will be. My primary consideration is preparing our students for the ins and outs of college athletics; not because we care about our prospective college athletes more, but if we prepare all of our students to this standard we'll meet the general expectations of our program and ultimately our school.

Tell us about North Broward Prep.

North Broward is a college preparatory environment and the strength and conditioning program follows the model. Our teachers are truly among the best in the country. If they prepare our students in the classroom for a high academic institution they're certainly not failing to prepare them for a local college or a nontraditional academic experience. One isn’t better than the other, just as our teachers would argue that not all students find their best fit in the Ivy League, the same goes for intercollegiate competition. Some want to but aren't fit to. Some are fit to but don't want to. We love them all the same.

What’s do you see as the difference between athletic development and athletic performance?

A teacher doesn't just prepare students to score well on standardized tests. A high school strength and conditioning coach shouldn't just prepare students to win on Friday nights. That's not to say that the SAT doesn't matter, and if you tell a football player you don't care about his game's outcome, good luck ever getting him to care about your program. 

For a student, the prospectus of studying in college may hinge on a performance on that test. For a student-athlete, without impact performances in high school games they'll never be recruited. Friday nights matter, but in and of themselves, the outcome in the win column doesn't matter to me. In fact, no outcome matters as much to me as the process we take to get there, which is (part of the reason) why we term our program athletic development and not athletic performance.

Progression seems to be a big emphasis for you. Is that especially important at the high school level?

Progression is the fuel for development. This is true everywhere, but I believe it’s the most true at the high school level. Here it's much greater than sets, reps and intensity. Our perspective is the big picture.

One of the biggest eye openers for me was during my time in the college ranks seeing the preparedness of freshmen the day they stepped on campus. Many had never seen a weight room before. Some had seen too much of one and were already beat up. Few were prepared for their next four years of training and even fewer were prepared for the environment. Preparation for a college environment and exposure to a college-like environment are two entirely different things. I would never reduce a human being's development in all its unpredictabilities to a math equation, but you can't solve a complex algebra problem until you know basic arithmetic.

Mobility and technique seem to be a big part of your program too, even before kids start using the racks.

Mobility is a major component in our program. For some of our kids it's a larger investment than others. Our students know what's expected of them outside of our standard training times—to work on their own weaknesses.

Technique is ultimately what drives our program. Our annual periodization more closely mirrors a motor learning model than a strategic high-performance model. Our fundamental movement patterns require every bit of the technical refinement that in-sport skills do.

How does this help student-athletes down the road?

If our students go on to whatever college they decide, I hope they'll be equipped with efficient movement strategies in the squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull, brace, hop, skip, jump, sprint and throw. Whether a student is playing football at Notre Dame or baseball at Tulane—two programs that I know vary in methods extensively—I feel very good about their preparedness if they are competent in the above-mentioned skills.

How important is preparing your athletes for what happens after high school?

I feel even better about their futures because I know they'll soon walk into a college weight room as well-equipped and prepared student-athletes under the direction of experts in training 18- to 22-year-old student-athletes. We maintain the thought of their 18- to 22-year-old selves and design our program as an eight-year process, not four. Our students are not elite, not because they aren't better than their competitors, but because (hopefully) they aren't yet the elite version of themselves. They're all "developmental".