Lessons Learned as a High School Strength and Conditioning Coach

Early in my career I viewed high school strength and conditioning as a “retirement” job (at least for myself). Something that sounded fun after getting too old for the college grind, or too sick of your livelihood depending on wins and losses or where your head coach wants to go. It didn’t take long (11 or so years) for me to decide to give this “laid-back” lifestyle the old college try. What I got was eye-opening, and I am thankful for the opportunity.

Initially I did this to have a better work: life balance and to make a bigger impact on the athletes I trained. What I got were many lessons that have made me a better coach and a better man.

Work: Life Balance

This was not all it was cracked up to be. And the more high school coaches I meet, I realize (in large part) this is across the board. I have heard of some jobs, where the coach runs classes all day and at the end of the school day they are done. Turning this into a nice little 8-3pm type gig, but that is far from the norm. Many of us must run groups in the early AM before class, and then all afternoon long, after school and often post-practice. Games are often on the weekends, and sometimes you may need to run weekend groups as well. This can easily turn into a 60-70 hour a week situation. While there are nice built-in breaks throughout the year, you generally don’t travel, and you can make the summer time fairly easy by chunking all the groups around one time; much of the year is not the kind of balance most people are looking for. Especially considering that, besides a few unicorn jobs, high school strength coaches aren’t taking home high salaries.

The Kids

Many of them hear you’ve coached at the college level, see you’re stronger than them, or realize this is your life and they will literally do whatever you say. I have never tried to see how dumb I could get with this, but I have often wondered with a few of these athletes if I told them to smash their hands in weight stacks to increase testosterone, how many would come back with flap jack hands the next day. While I feel that many of the high school athletes are willing to run through a wall just because you said so, I feel that there are also more internet gurus at the high school level than there were at the college level. Maybe I just needed to put my ego aside and be grateful to have so many experts running around my weight room. I mean, they did read an article on bodybuilding.com last night.

The impact you have on them is huge. I have seen it time and time again. A kid comes into the weight room, head down, shoulders slouched, not an ounce of confidence. Suddenly, 2-3 months later the same kid is walking around with his head held high, shoulders pulled back, chest out with a confident grin from ear to ear. This is all because that kid has accomplished something physical. They’re strong, and they know it. Strength breeds confidence!

The change in the kids is dramatic. A lot of physical and emotional growth can happen between the ages of 18-22 with your typical college athlete, but it is nothing compared to the changes you see in these guys from age 13 to 17 or 18.

Lastly is the dramatic difference between one kid to the next. One may be a legit D-1 athlete, while the other may be a 13 or 14 year-old without an athletic bone in their body. And both kids are lifting during the same time, maybe even on the same platform. This will force a coach to get creative with their programming in hurry.


This is another that can go one of 2-3 ways. Many coaches have immediate respect for you having the experience, degrees and certifications necessary to get the job in the first place. Many others have trouble handing someone else the reigns to their team. Old school also reigns supreme amongst the high school ranks. Coaches that played high school, maybe college, 30-40 years ago, and have been running their old system for the duration of that time. Old dogs are hard to teach new tricks, especially if they have seen success (even if it was over a decade ago).

The support can vary from the coaches, but this is everywhere and in every setting.

Overall Takeaways

While I may not have gotten everything I expected, I learned more than I would have ever imagined. An amazing experience that made me take a new look at the way I coach and conduct myself. While at the college level, everyday was an interview because you never know who is watching. What coach is going to take notice and bring you along? At the high school level, you are not trying to impress, you are trying to improve. Make sure you bring you best each day, because these kids are watching, and they look up to the “weight guy”. Be the right kind of example. Carry yourself as a man (or woman) of integrity. Be true to your word. Own up to mistakes. Our youth needs this!

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