The idea of strength training for high school athletes should be non-negotiable. Some high schools have a full-time strength coach to make sure their players get proper training all year round. Strength training is an important part of every athletic program at the next level in college and the professional stage. Even if an athlete doesn’t aspire to play their sport in college, they can still reap the benefits of strength training while playing their sport in high school. If the goal is to play in college, exposing a high school athlete to strength training gives them a solid foundation of ability and knowledge for college workouts. Stepping into a campus weight room as a freshman can be intimidating, especially when you have no idea what basic lifts or movement patterns are. An experienced high school athlete who has spent time with a knowledgeable strength staff can go into the weight room as a freshman with confidence. They will have confidence in their ability, knowledge and will also have a head start on the other freshmen who don’t have that experience. If the other freshmen are constantly getting coached up and corrected, who stands out? The freshman who doesn’t need to be coached on every lift, because they have been doing it for the last four years and can complete a whole workout. That athlete will stand out to coaches and teammates. They will likely have more athletic ability and skill than the other players who don’t get the exposure to the weight room ahead of time.
Young athletes need a long-term athletic development plan. It is similar to building a house - everybody knows you cannot put a roof on the house without a foundation and walls. Starting with the essentials and basics will give the athlete that solid foundation. From there, progress can be made in strength, ability and skill. Long-term in this case means consistency and dedication to training while playing their sport (in-season), but also when they aren’t currently playing (off-season). In-season training and off-season training differ in many ways other than training volume and training focus.
The Off-Season: This is where the true athletic gains are made. For both coaches and players, the off-season training can be more important than in-season training. This is where the athlete’s work in the weight room can transfer to being faster, jumping higher, gaining explosiveness and power. It is the time to really build up those traits and improve for the next season. A lot of athletes want to get stronger, run faster, and jump higher in-season. Off-season is the correct time to do that and improve the most contrary to in-season. With less practice and game volume there is more available training time. Therefore more effort and time can be spent in the weight room. Off-season is when the true athletic potential can be unlocked and progressed. Then, next season all the improvements will show up on the field or court.
The In-Season: This training period is important to maintain or even build on all the improvements the athlete has made during the off-season. It depends on the volume, frequency and intensity of the practice and tournament schedule. Sometimes practice and games can be so demanding there are not many positive adaptations made in the weight room. In-season training isn’t the time where an athlete should look to vastly improve speed, power and other athletic abilities. In-season means the skills, practices, and game volume and frequency will increase. Therefore, the strength training volume decreases. A great frame of mind for a coach is stimulated and doesn't annihilate. Basically, that means in-season, it is very important to be fresh for practices and games, so strength training changes the focus. It switches from greatly improving athletic ability to maintaining what was gained in the off-season. Bottom line, in-season is mostly about maintenance, athletic gains will be marginal, not significant like off-season training.
Mistakes with Sport and Training Relationship: With year-round sport play or sport specialization, where an athlete only plays one sport near year-round, there is no time for off-season training – it’s in-season all the time. If an athlete is always in-season they never get the chance to greatly improve their athletic qualities and traits with off-season training. The athlete will always be marginally improving, and not reaching their true potential if they don’t take time to train without the demands of practices and games. They will be maintaining, but what are they maintaining? Marginal improvements? If you ask an athlete who wants to be the best, would they pick constant marginal athletic gains? Or would they pick greatly improving their athletic ability, then maintain that ability, and then improving again? They most certainly would choose the latter.
These are two very real scenarios that high school athletes are faced with, and most will choose the first one. #1 Skipping off-season training or always being in-season playing a sport. Likely achieving a level of four or five out of 10 athletically in high school. Then proceed to show up on a college campus being 40%-50% of the athlete they could be. Or #2, training during the off-season and, likely performing at a level of nine or higher out of 10 athletically in high school. Which will allow an athlete to show up on a college campus being 90+% of the athlete they could be? Option 2 is the clear answer, ask any coach and you will get the same answer. Train during off-season to attain maximum performance and progress that will transfer to in-season play and well into the future.