High School Athletic Development – bridging the Gap (Part 4)

The high school sector is a vital missing link between junior and senior sport – in terms of the foundation of physical development. Australia lags laughably behind other nations in this respect – particularly for a nation that still likes to call itself a ‘sporting nation.’ We have been looking at the specifics of why, when, what and how – in regards to the high school sector providing the key strength and conditioning/athletic development services to young developing adults.


In part 1 of this discussion, we delved in detail into why the High School sector is the key missing link (and very realistic option) between junior and senior sport


In part 2, we went over the depth of options that exist in other countries as well as took a look at when in the school day such a program would run.


In part 3 we looked at what exactly this can look like at your school, depending on the number of days per week, when you would run it, the facilities at your disposal, the year levels it would be available to, and how it could be run. The general key point here being that it need not be too large, too complex, and implemented fully from day 1. In fact I would say that this is far less likely to work, than stating out small (at 1 day per week for example), and then building it out from there.


So that is what we will look at in this discussion today – what that initial ‘toe into the water’ could look like at your school – and outline clearly, just how simple this can be – and then how it can be built on over a number of years to eventually develop into a well run full time program.


We will look at this in 2 scenarios;


1.Your school has an existing gym facility (an actual weights room)

2.Your school does not


No Current Facility

As we mentioned last time, having no current gym facility set up, or a very small/minimalist set up, is probably actually a good thing in getting started here. That is because;


Young people must master bodyweight first – in all planes, and different speeds, in different combinations, etc, before the external resistance is added. Operating within a facility will make this harder to enforce for the required length of time to build the appropriate foundation – as the equipment temptation will always be there.


In fact, even with a facility – it would make sense that year 10’s (the first year the program is available to for example) need to complete an entire 10-weeks initial program without external weight – or with nothing more than med balls or similar, until they earn the right (physically speaking) to progress to the actual weight room from there.


Additionally, with not having a facility, a school is forced into starting small, and then building on their program in layers – rather than feeling like they need to implement a full time (in terms of availability) program and all the planning and preparation that this entails from the outset. As with almost anything – the best idea is to start with a small program of well run quality – and build out the quantity bit-by-bit, maintaining the quality, and dealing with a smaller amount of potential road-blocks each time, rather than dealing with a whole heap of things at once (which end up making things impossible.)

Furthermore, starting with minimal to no facility, a high school can also test the waters with what type of facility (size, equipment, location, etc) they would look to eventually roll out, after say a couple terms or even yeas of running a smaller minimal-to-no equipment program, and assessing the timetables, weekly layouts etc.


When prioritising students in a program, year 11’s and year 12’s are generally where resources should go. Yet when beginning a program from scratch, with the intention of building on it year upon year, it actually makes the most sense to begin with the year 10’s. They are the group who will stand to benefit from a program that starts small and is then built on – as the following year they become the year 11’s in a program that is expanded slightly to include year 11’s and 12’s, and then the following year in a program that is expanded out again to include year 10, 11 and 12 – where year 11’s and 12’s are the priority access. On the other hand, lets say you start with the older students, with a minimalist program that is small – it is still beneficial to a group that wouldn’t otherwise be doing it. But 1 day per week, of largely bodyweight work with light external resistance as well, but then they are gone the following year – there is less potential benefit for these students.


So start small – 1 day per week with year 10’s the ideal starting point, with year 11's the next best option.


Which year 10’s? All of them? No, as for starters, not everyone will be interested. There will also need to be a cap for roughly 70 (which is still plenty of spots.) Priority goes to the students who represent the school in a sport.


Next up, what day per week involve these year 10’s? What day each week do the year 10’s get their free lesson cycled in? Tuesdays? Great – that is where these sessions initially can start – as the simplest solution. Numbers capped at 12 students ideally to maintain coaching quality – and as much one-on-one time within that environment as possible.


Then roll through 6 groups of students through for their 45-50 minute session, in each of the 6 free lessons for that day. 8-12 students in each, with the less number of students included in each session as possible the better, for quality purposes (remember we want to coach movement quality and provide actual benefit – we don’t want to just ‘make them sweat’ and get 30 students doing burpees and star jumps.)

                                6 free lessons for the day - a maximum of 12 students per session

If you don’t have free lessons laid out in such a way, you can look to try to include something similar – with a little planning. This is merely a guideline as an example – where the main point is that the simplest initial starting point is to include a program run on the same day, with 1 initial year level. Existing free lessons provide the ideal option, but the same principles apply when trying to initiate the set up.


In these initial sessions, what is actually included?


The answer to this  question could fill a book, but being very brief with key points;


Everything will be based around building on the primal movement patterns – referred to by some as foundational movements;










“Immediately I can hear the cry that ‘we do all those – we squat under a bar; we lunge with a bar, we bench press.’ The key issue is that there are far more elements in the creation of a movement vocabulary than any such narrow interpretation of each of the exercises. These movements should be considered in every direction, plane, amplitude, speed, and every conceivable complexity if we are truly going to develop am appropriate movement vocabulary.”

Kelvin Giles


For starters, it isn’t merely a case of doing all these foundational exercises, but being coached to do them properly. That means perfecting all the smaller details and postures and full and controlled ranges of motion of the basic versions, and then building on with the following principles;


-Double leg to single leg (squat, deadlift)

-Slow to fast

-Simple to complex (Combination movements)

-Static to dynamic (stationary lunge/split squat to alternating lunge to bounding)

-Unloaded to loaded (bodyweight, in a variety of directions and speeds and levels of stability THEN adding an external resistance)


So for example – the squat doesn’t just mean do an endless stream of bodyweight squats. Once a student has perfected the standard bodyweight squat (posture, alignment, range of motion and control at each joint – remarkably rare as it is), this squat can be progressed to be an overhead squat (dowel rod, then a very light med ball), then a single leg squat (partially assisted at first), then combined with other movements (squat into a light overhead dumbbell press and then a fast med ball squat throw.) Even just progressing the standard bodyweight squat to one where there is a 3 second isometric hold at the bottom, before a fast concentric acceleration upward provides a clear illustration of a great progression (much harder than it sounds) without needing any unnecessary external load. On top of this, that fast concentric squat may eventually become a squat jump too. And this is just a very brief snipped of 1 of the foundational movements.


In regards to warm ups – these are a good opportunity to work on stability and range of motion – with exercises that lead directly into the training component itself (as all good warm ups should.) So 4-point positions (bird dogs etc), 'thread the needle' type hip and torso stretches, etc (endless potential specific exercises – but these type of exercises I just mentioned are the theme). Then as the students progress, the warm ups themselves also progress in difficulty – where exercises that were once the 'work' exercises themselves are now the warm up (bodyweight RDL, bodyweight push up, walking lunge, overhead squat etc.)


Ideally, all the foundational movements are hit in some way every session.

Additionally, along with the foundational movement patterns, focusing on stability, range of motion and strength, some foundational acceleration and deceleration as well as direction change can be incorporated in layers.


This along with landing mechanics – in double leg first, then progressing to single leg – once again, in different directions, speeds and levels of complexity (built up to from very basic technique to begin with).


So the sessions in a summary;


1.Progressively learning and building stability, range of motion and strength via the foundational patterns (7 of them) as the primary body of work


2.Some stability and range of motion specific exercises as part of a warm up


3.Acceleration, deceleration, direction change and landing mechanics as smaller add-ins as the program progresses.


That is it in a nutshell is what the program should include – and it isn’t complicated, and you can literally progress an entire year – 4 terms – with 1 day per week – with no more than a hand full of kettlebells and dumbbells – which wont even need to be used a majority of the time.


One final important point on not ‘needing’ any external equipment

The reality is that some external loads and tools must be added in (appropriately and progressively in layers) – with a few dumbbells and kettlebells and medicine balls being cheap and easy and highly flexible in use – purely as a result of maintaining the interest levels of a teenage population. As much as there is an infinite amount of quality progress that can be made with bodyweight variations – especially once adding in the acceleration, deceleration and landing/jumping work, young people will soon require the external tools to remain interested (especially if we are talking about a male population here.) So introducing these in small doses from early on makes sense – but it should not become the focus.

There will not be any ‘fitness’ or ‘conditioning’
– as there is enough of this sort of work out at sports training, and even simple enough to implement in their own time. Once again to reiterate, these shouldn’t be sweat sessions where the aim is to get them working hard. Rather it is quality coaching of teaching of movement abilities.


Having a collection of young people who can do these things effectively before hitting a weights room, makes things infinitely easier and smoother operating when they do actually get into the weight room. For example getting a 15 year old who understands and can hold certain postures – being able to maintain a neutral spine and correct alignment in a hip hinge – all of a sudden makes teaching a deadlift variation much more basic, and is likely to be far more beneficial, and result in far quicker progress, than trying to teach all these things at once. Ditto a young student who can goblet squat perfectly with a light kettlebell, or do perfect push ups, with pauses as various stages of the range of motion – and hold perfect alignment throughout, at different speeds.

Redefining junior Development

Prioritising better physical development for young players

Why to raise the draft age

Existing Facility Present

Everything that we have just covered applies to you if your school has a facility present – or is building one. The only difference is that there are slightly more options at your disposal, as well as the fact that you have a specific designated location to run the sessions from.


The actual potential downside of having this facility – especially when running the sessions from within the facility – is that there will be the temptation for progress way too quickly – especially with the younger years. Ideally there still will be 1 term completed without any equipment, and perhaps not even in the weights room – but rather out on the field (term 1 while the weather is fantastic) or in the school hall.


In part 5, we will look at a few more little details around the introduction and running of a program in these early stages;


-Who to run it

-How to document it

-How exactly to progress it (the overall program)

-How to progress the specific exercises and sessions

-If and how to grade it or include it formally


Hopefully the picture is starting to become a little clearer, and there is more of an understanding of how simple – yet brilliantly effective – even a small introductory program done consistently within the high school setting could be.

Strength Coach


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