8 Physical Traits Every College Bound Athlete Needs

I believe that most high school aged athletes are being done a disservice with their training.  As a former collegiate strength and conditioning coach and someone who works with a multitude of high school aged athletes it is clear that they are being lead in the wrong direction. 

Almost every kid I speak with can tell me his bench max without hesitation, which is typically higher than their squat and power clean numbers.  In my current role, I prepare athletes to make the transition from high school to the collegiate level.  With this, I pride myself on giving the collegiate strength coaches an athlete that moves efficiently, lifts properly, and has exceptional mobility and stability.  From there, the collegiate strength coaches have 4-5 years to develop them into the athlete their respective team desires.

While coaching at the Division 1 level as new freshmen would arrive on campus it was extremely rare that they were physically ready for that level of competition and physicality.  Most had undeveloped posterior chains, rounded shoulders from excessive benching, and almost all of them had either a knee or back issue. The great majority I spoke with, when I ask them what their training background is, would respond with one of the following ‘yea, I got a trainer at 24’ or god forbid ‘I do CrossFit’.

Side Note: Let’s be real clear, I am CrossFit certified, and there is no way in hell I would ever have my athletes do a WOD and pretend like it’s going to transfer to their respected sport.  Like a bunch of burpies, kipping pull-ups, and thrusters is going to do the trick.  CrossFit is not a sports performance program and does not prepaid athletes for anything remotely athletic.  Just my opinion.

At the college level a young athlete will most likely be thrown in the mix with everyone else.  Unless they are at a major university there will most likely be 1 or 2 strength coaches for an entire team.  Collegiate strength coaches have a tough job and are asked to do much more than they are paid for!  With that in mind, I have compiled a list of 8 attributes that a high school athlete needs to have in order to make a smooth transition to the collegiate level.

  • Competency with bodyweight movements: Can he/she control their body without an external load?  Movement mechanics must be flawless or you are doing your athlete a disservice.  Every athlete should undergo an extensive stability and movement preparation phase before being introduced to weight training.  I will not have an athlete bench if they cannot execute a textbook push up, they will not squat if they cannot perform a bodyweight squat. During this phase I use a ton of isometric holds – this allows you to manually get the athlete into the proper position and teach them how the movement should feel.
  • Proper Running Mechanics: Training proper mechanics and neuromuscular efficiency from day 1 of training will allow your athletes to see greater gains. In addition, movement and speed sessions at the college level are often taught in large groups with a limited number of strength coaches.  By instilling proper mechanics this will allow the collegiate strength coaches to have a greater impact and make them more effective.
  • Ability to Decelerate: Deceleration is an extension of the previous attribute, however based on its level of importance; it deserves its own section.  Most ACL tears and other knee injuries occur when the athlete is decelerating or changing direction.  If you train your athlete to properly decelerate you will allow them the opportunity to decrease their potential for injury.
  • Mobility: You know how important this is and I’m willing to bet that you overlook it during your program design!  Most trainers sit there yelling ‘LOWER’ while their athletes chest is caving in, their pelvis is tucked, and their heels are an inch off the ground.  Start implementing 2-3 mobility exercises at the start of the workout and throw one in during your rest period between sets.  In addition, you should be implementing some form of movement/mobility screening on a regular basis.
  • Train the Back: The fact is that for a high school aged athlete the most important thing is structure.  Your ratio of pull/press exercises should be 2:1.  A strong back will allow for greater gains in Olympic lifts. Personally I have all my athletes do band pull apart as part of their pre-activity prep work.
  • Proper Deadlift Technique: Teaching proper deadlift technique will allow for transfer to Olympic Lifts, build structure in the posterior chain, increase grip strength, release testosterone, and make a machine out of your athlete.  Any questions?
  • Instill Squat Technique: Teaching the squat is not hard.  Start light, work mobility, and take your time.  Any athlete entering college should be proficient in both the front and back squat.
  • Trunk Stability: Yes, trunk stability.  Don’t confuse it with core strength.  Trunk stability is the ability to squat with your chest up, power clean with a natural spine, and run without looking like Gumby.  How do you develop trunk stability?  Follow the previous 7 steps and you should be off to a good start.

There you have it, the 8 attributes that will allow any incoming freshmen to be successful within a collegiate strength and conditioning program.  Every collegiate strength program will have a different method.  From a program centered around Olympic lifts, a Westside Barbell approach, to the HIT method if you develop the 8 traits I have outlined for you your athlete will be set up for success.

Remember, the program is not about what the coach believes in or likes to train.  This is about the athlete and the program design should reflect that.

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