Creating a Competitive Culture
In August of 2016, I was hired as the strength and conditioning coach for baseball at Washington State University. The baseball team was going through a major rebuilding phase under second-year head coach Marty Lees. The fall ball roster consisted of 23 newcomers and only 18 returners. With this many newcomers to the team, it only made setting my expectations for the team that much easier. I am fortunate enough to have a coaching staff that is 100% on board with what I want to accomplish in the weight room. During the fall semester, I was able to get 13 weeks of mandatory training, and an additional two voluntary weeks at the end.
Learning to Train
The first eight weeks consisted of fall ball practices, individual sessions, and lifting. We were in the weight room every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:30 am; while all practices and individuals were scheduled in the afternoon. The first two weeks were spent re-grooving our squat and hinging patterns, teaching main kettlebell movements, as well as teaching major pulling and pressing movements. We would finish all of our workouts with a high-intensity finisher to build our work capacity.
Establishing a base for what we will train on until next June is key during this time. The foundation for all of our major movements must be taught and taught again. We will squat (front and back) and pull from the floor (deadlift or Olympic style pull) year round, so establishing these movement patterns from the beginning will eliminate any headaches later in the year. By the end of these eight weeks, the guys are starting to move well and we are ready to increase volume and intensity for the rest of the semester.
With fall practices over, our volume and intensity in the weight room increased dramatically. We will still lift three days a week, but now we are also running on Tuesday and Thursday. Both running days will consist of high intensity, low volume sprint and plyometric work.
Fridays are our biggest lifts, so setting the mood the minute they walk into the weight room is EVERYTHING!!! The whole team will be at least 30 minutes early to the lift for foam rolling, stretching, or getting something from the nutrition station. The music will already be cranked up as the guys are getting ready to attack the lift. We will start the lift off with either a 1v1 or 2v2 competition, pairing the position players against the pitchers. There is a new competition every week, and the athletes won’t know who will have the opportunity to go. We will do a variety of competitions that favor different strengths. The competition could be anything from:
Climbing rack to rack from a rope:
A straight-arm plate hold:
Or a partner progressive load barbell hold:
The stakes are high during these competitions, as the entire losing group must complete a predetermined amount of burpees before beginning their lift. After each lift, we will pair the entire pitching staff against the position players. These competitions will vary in length and intensity based on the week.
They can be as simple as: A med ball plank relay:
Or a Sally-Up, Sally-Down push-up challenge: (insert video)
Finishing every week on a high note is crucial for a culture-changing program. It creates a sense of accomplishment, competitiveness, and pride. And most of all, it creates excitement for the next week of training.
Week 12 is four days entirely dedicated to competitions. Our roster was drafted into four teams of pitchers and position players combined. Monday morning consisted of a set distance for each team to complete on the Versa Climber, followed by a short relay, and then finished off with the entire team banded together racing through a predetermined route around campus carrying the Cougar Flag. Tuesday morning, each team reported to our Sports Nutrition Department for a surprise hydration test. Each team was either awarded or subtracted points depending on their level of hydration. After hydration testing was done, we headed to the pool for a mix of team and individual relays and challenges. With the weather in Pullman being hit-or-miss, we waited to do Wednesday’s challenges in the afternoon on the baseball field. We had six different competitions for each team to compete head-to-head against. The competitions included: sled push relay, tug-o-war, med ball relay, farmers carry relay, med ball scoop throw, and sled drag relays. Each event included a surprise twist that would require the entire team to work together before or during the event. The final challenge was held on Thursday afternoon. Each team reported to the weight room and we banded them together again for a campus-wide scavenger hunt relay. Before each team could begin, they had to complete a 10 question quiz about the history of PAC-12 Baseball (each incorrect answer resulted in a 30 second penalty). I had eight interns around campus and Pullman with a riddle for each team to solve before they could move on to the next checkpoint. At the final checkpoint, each team had to carry a sandbag, 100lb dumbbell, 32kg kettlebell, and a 25kg bumper plate back to the baseball field for the finish line. We finished the week off with bear crawl harness battle with the finish line being a College World Series home plate. The intensity was through the roof; it was a great way to finish off the week and head into Thanksgiving break.