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February 8, 2017 • Strength & Conditioning

Six common errors made by strength/conditioning coaches

Former Muskego High School (Wisconsin) strength and conditioning coach Mike Nitka spent nearly four decades piecing together the perfect physical education class, maximizing effort from his students while making the most of his abbreviated class periods.

It’s possible for others to do the same in just a few short years, he said, but there are several mistakes you should avoid in both your profession and building the right program for your students. Here are some common errors Nitka said you should avoid along the way.

1. Not belonging as a strength coach. It sounds like a simple inquiry, but Nitka cautions aspiring strength and conditioning coaches that just because you’re into weight training doesn’t mean this is the right fit. Qualified high school instructors should be a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. There are other certifications, but Nitka said CSCS is among the best.

After more experience, Nitka recommends becoming a Registered Strength and Conditioning Coach.

“I know if they have those certifications after their names, they’re qualified to introduce high school students to weight training and their knowledge of the technique should be pretty good,” Nitka said. “That child is not going to be hurt by those people.”

2. Lacking proper supervision. Remember that high school students are still children, and most are not yet qualified to establish and execute a proper workout on their own. You must always understand and be conscious what’s going on in the weight room.

“If a coach just says, ‘guys, I got this program from a local college, it’s posted on the board and I’ll be back after I check my mail …’ that’s wrong,” Nitka said. “They can’t stand behind a desk. They should be in perpetual motion.”

Nitka throughout his classes and workouts casually paces the room, but there is purpose to his actions. He places himself in position to observe as many students as possible and he comments on their workouts to let them know he’s paying attention.

3. Programs that don’t fit. Those intense lifting exercises put together by major universities are impressive, but are they right for high school athletes? Nitka said absolutely not.

Don’t get caught up in the hype from other programs or those that are featured in weight training magazines. You have to find what’s right for your situation because everyone is working with a different pool of students.

“You’ll look good for the team pictures, but I’m not sure this is going to help your students on the field,” Nitka said.  

4. Ignoring long-term development. Your students aren’t going to become bodybuilders or perfect athletes overnight, so don’t try to force it. Nitka starts with students as early as middle school during summer programs, working on movement, balance and body weight exercises.

“The whole thing is I teach, I teach, I teach until one day all the sudden that guy or girl has got it,” he said. “That’s usually their junior or senior years.”

5. Lacking a ‘recovery model.’ You should have an understanding of how much time between reps, cycles or seasons students need to recharge their bodies and minds. Coaches need time off too, so be conscious of what everyone needs and when they need it.

“The recovery model is critical and I’m hearing there’s not a lot of time,” Nitka said. “Let’s follow a scientific model.”

6. Ignorance of limits. Students get injured and they also seek out information about nutritional supplements. Unless as a strength and conditioning coach you’re certified to help them, you shouldn’t.

“You’re not an athletic trainer, you’re not a dietician, so I’m hoping all strength and conditioning coaches will refer them to licensed professionals when they need that help,” Nitka said.


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