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10 takeaways from the 2023 Hammer Strength Clinic

Strength conditioning professionals attended the 2023 Hammer Strength Clinic in Hamilton, Ohio in May. “This is probably the best clinic in the country,” says Lance Walker, director of the Human Performance and Nutrition Institute at Oklahoma State University. “[It] gets high marks because of the community it creates. This is a powerful community.”

Time and again, Hammer Strength Clinic speakers reminded the attendees to take advantage of the generational wisdom present in the room. “If you don’t leverage this community, you’re missing out,” Walker says.

We don’t want you to miss out. So, if you couldn’t attend, here are the Top 10 takeaways from this year’s clinic.

No. 1: Things constantly change. You need to be willing to adapt to succeed.

As Charles Darwin discovered, survival of the fittest doesn’t mean the animals who are smarter or stronger win. The adaptable ones are the ones evolution favors. That’s as true with coaches as it is in nature. Al Johnson, chief development officer for the Collegiate Strength Conditioning Coaches Association, points out that because things constantly change, if you don’t adapt, you’re going to fail. There’s always more than one way to get the job done. And when there are 25 or 26 different personalities on your team, plus an age gap of maybe 20 years or so between the team and coaching staff, you need to be able to adapt, change and customize programs.

No. 2: Integrating psychological training programs should be a coaching priority.

Training programs tend to focus on the physical and physiological. However, that ignores the full spectrum of athleticism and performance, which also is impacted by mental and emotional factors. Studies show that interventions based on psychological training programs are perceived to decrease injury risk by way of decreasing the stress that athletes go through daily. Director of speed and movement with UCLA Football ProgramCorey Miller says this is one reason why strength coaches should integrate psychological training programs. Another is that the NCAA is putting as much emphasis on sports psychology in their new job task analysis as they do on sports nutrition, kinesiology and biomechanics. It’s an important component strength coaches will need to implement by 2030.

No. 3: Communication and alignment are the key to success.

Coach-to-coach communication is critical, says Tommy Moffitt. In his 30 years of coaching experience, he’s learned that if you can’t communicate and execute it, it’s not going to happen. The success of the organization is based solely on your ability to communicate and get your message across to everyone on staff. Similarly, effective coach-to-player communication drives successful outcomes. The more the player knows, the better they’re going to do it, the fewer questions they’ll have, and the more they’ll get done.

No. 4: Everything you know about acceleration training may be wrong.

Most acceleration training needs to be thrown out, says Lance Walker, director of the Human Performance and Nutrition Institute at Oklahoma State University. We need to stop focusing on straight-ahead speed and start teaching angular acceleration, he says. The fastest people are propulsive, and most sports require athletes to move in a curvilinear acceleration pattern. Look at a variety of sports and you see crossover runs everywhere. Athletes rarely run in ten-meter straight-ahead sprints. They run crossovers, accelerating laterally before they move forward or accelerating going backwards. Injuries happen when you start throwing in deceleration angles.

No. 5: Know who you are, what you value, and what you believe in because that will become your program.

Be a sponge, learn from everyone you work with, and steal from the best. Then make it your own. Those were some of the tips Niko Palazeti, director of football performance at the University of Cincinnati shared. What you believe in, who you are and what you value is reflected in the program you create. Anyone can be a director. But if you’re not invested in what you care about, what you value, what your coaching philosophy is, and what you want to achieve, you won’t be prepared to direct anyone.

No. 6: Athlete buy-in and trust is the foundation for any successful program.

When you’re working with populations of kids and young adults, they’re not always going to do what you want unless they understand why it matters. Take the time to understand who your athletes are as individuals, what they care about and work with them to set goals before you build training programs to help them improve. By seeing who they are and showing that you care about them, you’ll foster loyalty and trust, says David Queck, strength training coach at Jones Community College. Meet them where they are and let them get to know you. That relationship helps you achieve more than yelling at them or telling them what to do.

No. 7: What’s best for the kids will always be what’s best for the program.

What do kids need? Clear communication, instruction on perfect technique, encouragement, a way to chart their progress and clear goals. If you do that, you’ll see your compliance problems decrease year over year. Auggie Promersberger, head strength coach at St. Edwards High School, says that coaches working with populations of student athletes need to remember that they’re building adults as well as athletes. That requires you to learn how to coach and communicate with anyone. Building rite of passage moments that celebrate when athletes ‘level up’ help you create and nurture a strong and supportive weight room culture.

No. 8: If your warm ups aren’t creative and fun, you’re missing a huge opportunity.

Until players are in their mid-20s, their prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed. Adults may be able to do things they don’t like because they know it’s good for them, but kids don’t necessarily have the same kind of discipline. And no matter how old they are, people want to have fun. That’s why Molly Binetti, director of women’s basketball performance at the University of South Carolina, encourages coaches to make warmups fun. Don’t do the same old stuff, she counsels, mix things up by incorporating games that engage the mind and emotions as well as the physiognomy of your athletes. Warmups set the tone for the day. And if you make them unexpected and playful, you can develop stronger, more flexible, creative and confident athletes while creating an hour that they look forward to every day.

No. 9: When a coach asks you a question, you better have an answer. But beware of one-size-fits-all solutions.

No two athletes are the same. And sometimes the answer to ‘What’s wrong with that athlete?’ is not immediately evident. Coach Garret Medenwald, director of men’s basketball sports performance at the University of Tennessee, says to look for solutions using a combination of data and limiting factors, and use stories to help coaches and athletes understand how to do things differently to correct the situation. For example, if an athlete ranks among the top three in physical conditioning for the team but is exhausted after four minutes, the problem isn’t his physicality. It might be nerves, or some other mental or physical issue. Once that’s been identified, work with all the coaches and athletes involved to develop a plan to course correct.

No. 10: It’s never about you. It’s 100% about your athletes.

Adam Smotherman, director of football performance at the University of Virginia, encourages strength conditioning coaches to remember they are a part of a chain of things that impact and influence a student athlete’s life. The word coach comes from the 1500s to denote a covered carriage that carries an important person from where they are to where they need to go. Coaches need to get their athletes to where they need to go physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually. To do that successfully, it can’t be about you. It needs to be about the important people you’re serving. So, focus on them and being a strong link in that chain.

Want more essential education and professional development? Sign up to receive updates and be the first to know when registration opens here. Find more Hammer Clinic recaps and stories here.

By Kristi Casey