Coaching Philosophy: Properly Training Football Freshmen at Georgia Tech

About the Author: 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. (Photos courtesy of Kendall Webb at

Georgia Tech Hammer Strength Clinics

Football players live for competition. Sometimes their competitive fire fuels them into being great players once they reach the college ranks. Other times they end up burned out or seriously injured – or both. The collegiate strength and conditioning coach is responsible for the route these hungry young players end up taking. They have the unique responsibility of preparing players to make the jump to college competition, and showing them the importance of knowing their own bodies, before they try and push themselves to new heights.

Developing Players at the Right Pace

John Sisk, Georgia Tech’s director of player development, has developed a transitional training period for new recruits designed to prevent injuries while cultivating their competitive nature. “Proving Grounds” as Sisk calls it, is an opportunity for young players to demonstrate they are ready for the rigors of competition at the elite levels of college football.

John Sisk, Director of Player Development, Georgia Tech

“They’re competitors," explains Sisk. "The whole time we’ve been recruiting them, they know they are being recruited to beat somebody out or they think they can be as good as somebody already here. They want to come in and compete with that guy,” Sisk says. “My job is to not let that kid hurt himself as a competitor. I don’t want to take the competitor out of him, I want to try and enrich that and make it even better.” 

With the vast majority of high school players never even getting a look from FBS schools like Georgia Tech, it isn’t an exaggeration to say that every single player on the roster was recruited for a reason. But, in order for players to reach their potential, they need to have more than talent and competitive drive – they need the maturity to trust the developmental process.

Georgia Tech game day

“It’s our role as coaches to push them, but make sure they don’t get hurt either. I think that’s the key,” Sisk says. “Obviously our head coach Paul Johnson thinks they’re good players or he wouldn’t have signed them. It’s our job to take them and enhance them and make them better, and help them gain confidence in what we ask them to do every day.”

Players at the FBS level attack each day with the intention of showing their coaches, teammates, and the world what they are capable of. Dealing with this pressure to not only be good, but look good as well, can be a huge part of the maturation process.

  • Georgia Tech
  • Georgia Tech weight room
  • Georgia Tech weight room
  • Georgia Tech weight room
Important Steps for Freshmen

Sisk says the first step to a freshman proving they are ready to take on college football is proper form. Players who are afraid to look bad have to get over this quickly. The amount of weight they are able to lift doesn’t matter if they can’t lift it correctly.

The other enemy of freshmen preparing to play at an elite level rears its head in the form of pride. Young players not only struggle with “knowing it all” when it comes to technique, it can also be hard to convince them they need to pace themselves.

Sisk has a remedy for that.

“The first time we run the freshmen, they’re flying on half-gassers,” Sisk says. “They don’t realize we are doing eight of them the first day.”

In the struggle to help athletes reach their full potential, coaches have to “be the bad guy,” and make sure their players don’t fall into the trap of overexertion. A competitive, headstrong player is no good to the team if they can’t suit up and play due to injury – no matter how talented or tough they may be.

Coaches are often quick to talk about safety when asked about the priorities within their program, and yet some coaches forget that safety doesn’t stop with safe equipment and proper technique. Coaches must save players from themselves sometimes.

The end result produces players who are healthy, hungry and ready to compete for their place on the team.