What do junior college athletes need?
Ellisville, Mississippi, is known as ‘Winnersville’ because its Jones College Bobcats have won 5 NJCAA championships, 30 region championships and 85 Mississippi Association of Community College Conference (MACCC) championships. It’s amazing what they’ve been able to achieve, especially given the challenges they have with resources and equipment. Prior to receiving a $10,000 Life Fitness/Hammer Strength Equipment Grant through the NSCA Foundation, Jones College’s Director of Strength and Conditioning David Queck had to train his athletes on equipment welded together by the college’s industrial arts students more than a decade ago.
So, what is Queck’s secret? He knows what JUCO athletes need. And he shared those best practices with other strength and conditioning professionals at the 2023 Hammer Strength Clinic.
Why athletes attend junior colleges
To best serve JUCO athletes, coaches need to understand why they’re there. Many JUCO athletes were non-qualifiers. Attending a junior college gives these athletes the opportunity to elevate their grade point average so they are eligible to receive an offer from a four-year college or university. For them, academic performance is as important as their athletic performance.
Other JUCO athletes may have received an offer, but it wasn’t the one they wanted. Queck explains, “There’s so much talent in Mississippi, that kids will turn down a smaller Division I offer to come to a junior college to bank on themselves to get a better offer.” These athletes need support, encouragement and a chance to shine.
The third reason athletes turn to junior colleges is because they were simply overlooked. “Mississippi is the most overrecruited and under-evaluated state in the entire country,” Queck says. “We’ll be watching tape on one kid that every school in America is looking at. And we’ll see another kid on that tape and we’ll take him. And he ends up playing with a Power 5 school and no one even knows who he is. Those kids are absolutely everywhere.” These athletes just need the training and the opportunity to become who they were meant to be.
Despite his winning record, Queck says, “That doesn’t matter because we graduate everybody, which is honestly the most important thing.” It’s important because as a JUCO coach, you have the power to make a difference in every athlete’s life.
“This is the first time in a majority of my athletes’ lives that they are guaranteed three meals a day, a roof that doesn’t leak over their head, heat, air-conditioning and running water,” Queck says. “For a majority of the athletes that I deal with, this is the first time that someone in their family has finished high school, maybe even middle school, and certainly [they] are the first person to go to college.”
Being able to see the generational change that happens when these kids go on to graduate and play for four-year schools is the most rewarding part of Queck’s job. But sometimes their backgrounds provide challenges to overcome in the weight room.
What JUCO athletes need
Because many JUCO athletes come from impoverished backgrounds, they may not have had the high school resources or nutritional support available to other kids. “JUCO athletes have an extremely low training age,” Queck says. “They have anywhere from zero to maybe two years of weight room experience. They’re malnourished and underdeveloped, from a physical standpoint.”
However, this has an upside. The benefit of having little to no weight room experience means there aren’t a lot of bad habits to break. And once the athlete has access to three meals a day, they bulk up and grow quickly.
JUCO coaches need to teach athletes how to train and take care of their bodies. “My job from day one is [making sure] we’re moving correctly, moving with intent, the way that I feel the movement should be executed,” Queck says. Because 98% of Jones College athletes sign with Division I schools, Queck focuses on teaching them how to train not just for the here and now, but also to meet the demands of Division I training.
In addition to physical training and technique, JUCO athletes need mental support. “They need discipline,” Queck explains. “This is the first time in their life where they have to be somewhere [and] if they’re told to stand behind a line, they have to do it.” Once you put their athleticism into a structured environment, JUCO athletes improve at a startling rate.
Emotional support is also important. “They need love; they need someone to care about them,” Queck says. “This is the first time a lot of these kids have had someone legitimate support them and tell them, ‘Hey dude, you’re doing a great job.’ Just those simple words go far.”
Top 10 Takeaways
Being a JUCO coach is a vastly rewarding experience. It gives you the opportunity to make a difference in young athletes’ lives. In addition to helping them gain an education and increased personal and professional opportunities, you also help many of these students break a pattern of generational poverty and lack.
If this is a career path that interests you, bear these tips in mind. Here are Queck’s Top-10 takeaways for training JUCO athletes:
- Be clear about what you expect.
- Explain how to train in the simplest terms.
- Emphasize quality over quantity.
- Make the form perfect.
- Measure progress.
- Give praise, support and encouragement.
- Be authentic to earn trust.
- An athlete’s buy-in becomes loyalty.
- Help athletes accumulate volume safely, effectively and with maximum intent.
- When making the case to administration about needed investments, include what the cost of doing nothing might be.
Curious to learn more? Watch Queck discuss the impact of the NSCA Foundation and Hammer Strength grant on his Jones College athletes. And view the HD Athletic NX Racks he purchased with the equipment package granted.
By Kristi Casey