Strength & Conditioning Follow Up!

As a follow-up to our previous blogs about hiring a qualified person to handle your Strength & Conditioning… Once you do, let them do their job!

I recently attended our state NSCA (National Strength & Conditioning Association) clinic.  One of the presenters shared some great information but also shared something troubling.  He informed us that his head football coach told him that he needed to accomplish three goals:

1) Increase the player’s bench press max. 

2) Increase their squat max. 

3) Make them look good getting off the bus. 

He accomplished those three goals, but then shared the team has only won seven games over the past three seasons…

It is great to increase your bench and squat and doing so will likely make you look better getting off the bus, but that does not necessarily translate into wins on the field.

2017-06-19 bench & squat

The job of a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist is not to turn your players in to power lifters or bodybuilders but rather to make them better football players. Your job as coach is to effectively communicate the goals you’ve established for your team, and to help your strength and conditioning coach help you, by adding a “purpose.” If your S&C Coach understand “the why,” behind your goals, he or she can make decisions along the way to reinforce your success.

The goals of our strength and conditioning program have little to do with the aforementioned goals.

Our goals are as follows:

  • Decrease injuries,
  • Increase Rate of Force Development (Acceleration)
  • Increase Rate of Force Acceptance (Deceleration)
  • Increase mobility
  • Increase Power (Work / Time)

The purpose of our program is to build healthy, resilient teammates who are faster, stronger, more powerful, and more confident in themselves and their teammates. With an understanding of both the goals and purpose, we’re better able to discuss the program plan, implementation, and measures of performance/success.

Note that we focus on Power rather than strength.  We have no interest in seeing our players take 4 seconds to put up “three plates” (315 lbs) on their bench press.  We would much rather see our players bench “two plates” (225 lbs) in less than 1 second after a 2 second eccentric contraction and a 1 second hold.  

If you are unable to get a CSCS to work with your program and you, like so many other football coaches, are thrust into the position of Strength & Conditioning Coach at your school, please get certified. (read more bout certification here:                                                 2016-06-19 CSCS Logo

If you do not have the time to study for 3-6 months and take the CSCS test, consider taking one or both of the following classes and receiving their certification:

  • USA Weightlifting Level 1
  • NSCA Essential Foundations of Coaching Lifts. 

Both will make you a better Strength Coach and reduce liability in the unfortunate event of a weight room related injury.

Thanks for the questions and compliments on last week’s blog. One thing to note, last week I included the link to Coach Guyer’s website ( but should have included a link to his version of the guest post which can be found here:

As always, thanks for following us and participating in this journey!  Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss summer OTAs, coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for your time.

Tips for Summer Training Success

Thanks for all the great feedback on last week’s blog about preparing for summer Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and the value of a strength and conditioning coach. Building on last week’s success we have a guest post from Coach Adrian Guyer CSCS, USAW-2, CSAC. Coach Guyer brings an extensive athletic background coupled with over a decade of training experience. He’s been an invaluable colleague and helps both teams and individuals excel in their fitness and conditioning goals.

For a strength coach, the summer months are a true breath of fresh air when it comes to athlete development and preparation, and no my friends this has nothing to do with the weather.  For most high school and college athletes the summer months are an uninterrupted 8-10 weeks of training when an athlete’s physical preparation becomes top priority.  The strength coach can finally write a program that focuses on applying the right amount of stress to yield favorable results come the beginning of the fall competitive seasons.  The in-season struggle of not too much load, volume or intensity, training around travel, make up games, or injuries is gone for the next 10 weeks and it’s time to get to work!  For the athlete or sport coach this means you need to be ready to capitalize on this training block so as not to get to the fall wishing you would have done things differently…In this post I will list some of the places where many athletes and coaches miss the boat with their summer training programs and how they can capitalize on their athletic preparation this summer.

Have a Plan of Attack

2017-06-13 Plan of Attack


Sport is battle, and no soldier goes into battle without a battle plan and plan of attack.  Your summer training is no different and you must approach it as though it’s a win or lose situation.  A failure to plan is a plan to fail, and this mean’s letting down your teammates, coaches, school, and family.  Many will sacrifice or have sacrificed to help get you where you are, now it’s time to pony up and do the same yourself.  These two tips can be quite helpful in the process.

  1. Look at your summer schedule and figure out the days and times each week where you will train.  Studies have proven that we are far more likely to do something if it’s written down and scheduled, do this first.  Then sign it.  Yeah, I mean put your John Hancock on that schedule and be accountable to it.  Being accountable is the biggest struggle I find with athletes and adults in achieving their goals.  Although it may sound simple writing down your summer training schedule will pay off big 10 weeks from now when you are back on the field with your team and your body is physically prepared for battle.
  2. Hire a strength coach who is both vetted and will motivate you every time you step into the gym.  Find a facility like XIP Training Systems that will write you a comprehensive training program, your road map to success, but will also provide an environment that fosters growth and success.  You don’t need someone to scream at you every day, you need someone who has the knowledge to make you a better athlete and the ability to keep you safe in the process.  This summer training program is your ”Plan of Attack”, and is so very valuable to your success this summer.  If you don’t have a reputable coach nearby do some research and consult with one online instead.  Many of us have these capabilities in our programming and would love to help you or your athletes regardless of where you are in the world.  Trust me the money spent will be worth the return on investment and will save you much stress and wasted time each day you train.

Be Consistent

There’s nothing that thwarts progress more than an inconsistent approach to your training.  That’s why creating your schedule and having a solid plan or program are listed first, without them it’s hard to have any sort of consistency in your training.  The “shotgun effect”, or throwing every type of training modality you read about, watch or hear about will only get you so far, and to be honest this style of training will only provide results for the most novice athletes.  These athletes would generally get results regardless of how poor their program may be simply because they are doing something more than they were before.  Any stress will elicit a change if done consistently…

You see, one cool thing about the human organism is that it has the ability to adjust and change to the environment that it lives in, something I believe we all understand and can generally appreciate.  This is evolution as we know it.  With this established, our training program is the environmental stimulus and the work we do during training is applying the right amount of stress repeatedly so that the body will adapt.  Pretty simple really.  For athletes, we are speaking quite specifically about the musculo-skeletal system when dealing with performance variables such as speed, power and quickness.  Without getting too geeky here I will simply state that your summer training program of 8-10 weeks is adequate time to make some really awesome changes to the system, termed the “S.A.I.D principle”, or specific adaptations to imposed demands.  I know this because I have run summer performance camps with hundreds of athletes for over a decade now and have seen it firsthand.  Your body will also adapt to a poor stimulus or mechanics, as it is simply doing what the brain is telling it to do.  This is why it’s so important that we focus on our technique and skill development in our training, as we must create skills that will help us and not hurt us.  At XIP we call this building roads.  If you build a bad road through bad mechanics and do it over and over again you will pave that road, or pattern, and this is where poor performance or injury can arise.  Be consistently perfect in your skill development.

After all the hundreds of athletes that I have worked with I can tell you with certainty that the single best way to sabotage results is to be inconsistent in the application of your program.  Even the slightest trickle of water can eventually become a river, if the water supply doesn’t run out and if it doesn’t change course…Create a schedule that works and be adherent to the process and you will see you or your athlete’s performance improve.  Coaches must understand that not every athlete will be as compliant as your “studs” that do everything you ask and literally would take a bullet for you.  If you have an athlete that can’t make 3 but can do 2 days a week, so be it, just be sure they are 100% compliant to 2 days.  If one day is all they can get be sure they give you 100% compliance and they will also get better.  Yes, even one day a week will yield positive results, especially for those younger athletes who are maybe new to this whole training thing.

Rest, Recover and Refuel

2017-06-13 Rest-Recover

Although I list this last it is not to be taken lightly.  As mentioned above the human body can and will adapt to the demands that are placed on it.  This happens 100% of the time that any stress is applied to the body consistently.  However, the organism can also die from stress when not given enough time to recover and make the necessary adaptations.  One of my favorite phrases when it comes to training the human body; “repeated low doses of venom.”  Too much venom and we die, but repeated low doses over a long period of time and the body will form a resistance, a resiliency, and become more resistant to more venom in the future.  This my friends, is how I make a living.  I apply the right amount of stress to my clients and athletes week after week, month after month, year after year and good things happen.  I have complete control of the stress to be applied, which through a combination of art and science has lead to some really awesome results.

What I cannot control are how many hours an athlete will sleep, what they eat and drink, and whether they perform recovery modalities on their own such as soft tissue work, mobility and flexibility.  If you do not get adequate sleep, 8-9 hours for most HS and college athletes you will sabotage your results.  If you do not consume enough calories and the correct macro nutrient profile of proteins, carbs and fats you will sabotage your results.  If you don’t consume half your body weight in ounces of water each day you will sabotage your results.  If you do not do your soft tissue work, stretching or other flexibility techniques you can sabotage your results.  No matter how good your program is, or how consistent you are to your training schedule you will not, I repeat you will not get the results you are after without adequate R, R and R.  In many cases all you will get is an injury…Food, water and shelter(recovery) are necessary components of life.  If you can’t take care of these first don’t waste your time on adding more stress to your life because it won’t end well for you.  This is the case regardless of the level you are at, from youth to the pros.

Coach Guyer has more great info available at his website

I look forward to letting you all know how our OTAs and Coach Guyer’s strength and conditioning program support our development this summer.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss summer OTAs, coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for your time.

Summer OTAs: Winning Begins Here…

As the school-year comes to an end, our focus turns to summer Organized Team Activities (OTAs).  Although we have made numerous changes to our program in the past 4 years, nothing has made more of an impact on our success than the physical development of our players.  We tell our players, “games are not won on Fall Friday nights and Saturday afternoons in front of thousands of people…  They are won in the off-season when nobody is watching…”

2017-06-06 Agilities
Our student athletes begin training 3 days a week the week after graduation.  On Mondays, we work speed development (acceleration, deceleration, change of direction, lateral movement, as well as linear speed) followed by a 7v7 practice.  On Tuesdays, we work strength then have an OLine practice.  We have another strength training session and 7v7 practice on Thursdays.  We do not want to compete with weekend family plans and summer baseball or AAU basketball so we intentionally avoid Friday and Saturday.

What we do and how we do it is even more important than that we do it.  In college, you have a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS); A luxury frequently unaffordable at most high schools.  CSCS are professionals who apply scientific knowledge to train athletes with the primary goal of improving athletic performance.  If you don’t have one, find one in your area and recruit him/her to get involved with your athletes.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking you know enough to do it just because you get in the gym 3-4 days a week.

I came to that epiphany this winter when I was invited to join a round-table discussion of Strength Coaches at Burke Mountain Academy.  BMA is the premier alpine ski academy in North America.  Their strength coach, Darrell Gray, has become a friend and is a valuable resource. Also in attendance were strength coaches from the US Ski Team, the Philadelphia Eagles, Sherbrooke University in Canada, and a local coach who owns a training facility nearby.  I was awed by the scientific approach and level of detail each coach incorporated into their training.  It was far beyond my level of understanding.  I was with them when they addressed incorporating unilateral and bilateral lifts and movements in the sagittal, transverse and frontal planes.  They started to lose me when they discussed Rates of Perceived Exhaustion (RPE) and Undulation, and completely lost me when they shifted to Block vs conjugate periodization training!

2017-06-06 strength and conditioning
Even if I found block vs conjugate periodization training daunting, I’m perceptive enough to recognize a need for experts when I see one. We’re fortunate to have an all-star supporting the Hilltoppers when we start on June 12: Adrian Guyer CSCS, USAW 2, CSAC of XIP Training Systems, will implement our summer program and instruct our players on their warm up, speed training and strength program.  It seems the more letters after their name, the more qualified they are to create and instruct your program, but we’re equally lucky to have a professional who cares deeply about our team’s success and players’ development.

Over the next few weeks we will go into more detail on our athletic performance training, our OLine practices and our 7v7 preparation. We’ll conduct camps, clinics, host and participate in 7v7 competitions, and have fun working hard together. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, exchanging ideas, and preparing for all the new season brings.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss summer OTAs, coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for your time.

Talking the Talk!

As May comes to a close, I want you all to know how much I’ve appreciated your feedback on the “Making Your Program the Big Time” series of blog posts. “Big Time” programs use a variety of tools to help reinforce team culture and commitment. Over the past few weeks we’ve reflected on setting standards, building traditions, innovatively managing equipment and budgets, and how many of the concepts underpinning coaching apply regardless of the level of play.

This week I’d like to reflect on “Talking the Talk.” It may sound cliché, but words have meaning. Words, phrases, and sayings underpin every team’s culture, and an early measure of team and culture building can be assessed by the transition from students’ common speech patterns to the way teammates speak individually and collectively.

“Big Time” words matter. When we refer to things in our program, we use the same terms that our kids hear on ESPN.  In two weeks, we begin our summer schedule but we do not call them Summer Workouts.  We refer to them as OTAs or Organized Team Activities.  When we host our July camp we call it Mini Camp.  We never use the term 2-a-days but rather call it pre-season training camp.

2017-05-30 OTAs

On the first day of training camp, we will put our players though a Combine test much like the one we all see on TV. We also divide our players not as upper and under class men, but as Veterans and Rookies.  When one of our players gets hurt they are either placed on the Injured Reserve (IR) or Players Unable to Perform (PUP).  The IR list is for those who are out for an anticipated period of time.  The PUP list is for those who are day-to-day.

2017-05-30 Combine

Lastly, we no longer use the term Strength & Conditioning as everyone despises conditioning.  We call it Athletic Performance Training.  During the season, we train on Monday afternoons and Thursday mornings.  Since the boys do not have the opportunity to get breakfast on Thursdays, my wife sets up a table outside of our weight room with breads and muffins she baked the night before along with fresh fruit and drinks.  We call it our Team Training Table.

When my coaches and I hear our Veterans teach the Rookies our teams’ words and phrases, I know they are helping new teammates learn to talk the talk so they can walk the walk of a Hilltopper. When I hear Rookies talking the talk, and explaining our words to parents and friends, (with pride and a sense of belonging), I know we’re on the way to building something special; a Big Time program even in a small school in Vermont.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for your time. I look forward to continuing our conversation!

Big Time Standards

For the last few weeks I’ve been exploring the idea of how to make your program “The Big Time,” for your team, school or community even if you’re part of one of the thousands of relatively small programs in cities and towns across the Country. We talked about helmets, traditions, and how in programs large or small, the passion to make a positive impact in the lives of our student athletes makes “Coaching, coaching regardless of the programs budget (or lack thereof!)

My favorite part of these last few posts have been the responses from colleagues, players, faculty, and communities near and far. This week I’d like to share the perspectives of a colleague who was in position to see firsthand some of the things we’ve done to help make our program “The Big Time,” for our school here in the hills of Vermont. I hope you find his perspectives enlightening and can apply some of the same tenets to make your program “The Big Time,” for you!


May 2017

Coach Alercio,

Having read your piece on changing the helmet to change the culture of the program, I wanted to share the biggest change I have seen in our program over the last 4 years.  In the first year you set expectations high, players and coaches understood what was expected of them and you let people fail (and understand the consequence of their failure).  The thing you did not do was change expectation or standard.  

People lost privileges and responsibility, and unaccustomed to such accountability, some left the program.  Others worked very hard to meet or exceed the expectation.  That work either built those who remained into people who could sustain the program or broke people who eventually decided to leave so that the program could be what it would become (pruning).  

This was the hardest, but best thing for me to watch.  I knew then and there that I was not ready to be a head coach but wanted to be the best assistant I could be.  I knew I would have to find my own way to push and prune if I were ever to have a program to be proud of. The “Big Time” allows coaches to cut, recruit, or draft, all while drawing from deep pools of talented athletes.  Our school is open to everyone as is our football program… but we must remember football (and its inherent personal challenge) isn’t for everyone (lesson learned). 

It is our job as educators and influencers in the lives of young men; to both get the most out of those for whom football can be a formative positive experience, and help guide those for whom football will have a negative impact (either on themselves or others) away from the sport.

Football in the “Big Time” is about building the collective.  Being a judge of character is very important, and it is most important to think of character as a collective; effectively a culture.  I (as you know) think of those for whom football can be a good experience.  I think of football as a tool to form individuals, to build character, and to inoculate young athletes against the fear and failure they will unavoidably encounter in life.

What I have learned about “The Big Time” is that football as a game sometimes exists in a vacuum apart from character formation.  It has its necessities and mandates set by a program, with the central goal of winning well and secondary goals of being tough, smart and working hard (or commitment, competitiveness, and classiness).  

Within that vacuum there is the necessity of building the individuals committed to these goals as full rich human beings, but the goals of the program cannot be sacrificed for humanitarian efforts in fixing attitudes or building morals or ethics that do not already exist (if not in practice than at least in will).  These humanitarian goals are noble but come at an expense to the team. In a sport where placing service to team and teammates above self is a core tenet, such an expense can never be a worthwhile bargain.  For me this has always been family and religion, and now I include football (more specifically Team) in this area as well.  To use football as humanitarian aid steals that experience from the many to serve the needs of the one.  This is counter to good football culture.

 I would love to see sometime in this vein in your evaluation of making every program “The Big Time.”  A piece on program standards and their role in the education of young people might be eye opening to other coaches.  I have learned how sometimes exclusion from participation or challenging young people can be formative in their development; even if it is uncomfortable or difficult in the moment.  

Playing in your program should matter, and if it does, you are the Big Time, no matter where you are.  If kids are ready to fight (in thought, word, and deed) for your program, then you are The Big Time.  

Football would be easy if it was for everyone. The truth is football is not for everyone. Football is “Big Time” when people become special (not better, but special) through their commitment, courage, and belief that together we are so much more than any one of us could be alone. I know this email is a bit of a rant, but outside of X’s and O’s this has been the best thing I have learned from you.  

Hope this is useful.


Please keep the feedback coming! If you’d like to learn more about making your program “The Big Time” for you, please stay with us on We’ll be discussing more of the changes we implemented to cultivate success in the coming weeks. Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends.

PS: The Football Toolbox recently featured my presentation Special Teams:

Click here to learn more:”Going for 2 With the Swinging Gate

Going for 2

“Big Time” Traditions

More on making your program the “Big Time” for you, your team, school, and community.

Football is a copycat game.  We imitate (copy, borrow, replicate, clone) plays, schemes, formations, alignments, stunts, coverages, blitzes…why not traditions?

Heading into the 2014 season, after changing our helmets, we reinforced success by starting new traditions.  We looked at the best traditions in college football and sought the help of other coaches for creative ideas.

Since we are the Hilltoppers, my good friend and fellow coach who is an exceptional motivator/leader suggested we emulate Clemson’s run down the hill as they enter into “Death Valley.” We have a cross country trail that goes down a hill through the woods and exits at the entrance of our stadium.

2017-05-16 Down Hill Tradition

Then, we borrowed the “We Are…” call from Marshall and Penn State.  Now, before every home game we take the XC trail into the woods and at the top of the hill above our stadium, I yell “WE ARE” and the team responds “HILLTOPPERS”.  Then we run down the hill to enter our stadium.

To further enhance our look, we borrowed the Ohio State tradition of awarding helmet stickers.  Since we are not buckeyes and no one knows what a Hilltopper is, we use little white footballs as our helmet stickers.  Kids love the look and it causes them to watch more video as they email me on Sunday with how many stickers they believe they have earned.

2017-05-16 Helmet Stickers.png

To finish out the gameday experience, we introduced tailgating.  Please let me emphasize, tailgating does not mean alcohol or unruly behavior. It’s about family, fellowship, and team cohesion. We create an environment where parents, players, students, and faculty extend the Hilltopper team culture into the local community. We section off a parking lot that overlooks our stadium.  Our player’s parents set up a smoker, grills and tables.  Every parent brings something to share and contributes to the event.  The parents of our freshmen players often staff the smoker and grills so the parents of our older players do not miss seeing their sons play.  Win or lose, our staff, families and players head to the parking lot to tailgate after every home game. They share the Hilltopper spirit, extend the Hilltopper family, and reinforce the Hilltopper Tradition. If we do this right, players, parents, teachers, coaches, and the community may come and go over the decades ahead, but “tradition will never graduate.”

Thankfully, we win more than we lose.  Since the 2014 season, when we changed our helmet color and instituted these new traditions, we have gone 13-3 at home including a 4-0 playoff record.

Recent posts about “Making the Big Time Where You Are,” have really spurred great feedback and comments from readers. I look forward to sharing one reader’s reflections on our program in an upcoming blog post. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I did!

If you’d like to learn more about making your program “The Big Time” for you, please stay with us on We’ll be discussing more of the changes we implemented to cultivate success in the coming weeks. Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends.

Make the “Big Time” Where You Are.

Make the “Big Time” Where You Are.

Last week I began a conversation with you about making your program “The Big Time” for you, your players, your school, and your community… Some approaches are external, some internal, and some combine an outward facing symbol to help cultivate an internal change in team identity.

Few of us enjoy the bright lights or big budgets that seem to go hand in hand with an ESPN SportsCenter highlight reel. Big stadiums, celebrity coaches, and marquis branding seem to dominate the highest levels of collegiate and professional athletics. One of the hottest trends in Big Time college football is the changing of helmet color and design.  Programs seem to have a different helmet or uniform every week, and players project images or identity with little care or concern over the costs of such a metamorphosis.  While most high schools and small colleges may not be able to change every week, they can change every year at little or no additional cost. There are ways to emulate the “Big Time,” without the big budget.

SJA_Football_gray helmet
When I arrived at St Johnsbury Academy in the summer of 2013, the team had endured seven consecutive losing seasons.  The eighth, my first, was no different.  We made the playoffs but suffered a quick exit.  During all eight of those losing seasons, the team wore silver helmets with a grey face mask, green logo and green stripe.  Heading in to the 2014 season, the program needed a change; an outward expression of evolution and improvement.

One of the first, and most noticeable of several program changes that year was our helmets.  As a relatively small school in northern Vermont, we did not have the budget to make big changes. The same creative problem solving we emphasize on the field for our players would have to become the basis for what initially appeared to be an insurmountable fiscal challenge. Working closely with our reconditioning partner, Stadium Systems, we explained our intent, conveying both the importance of the change, and the reality of our limited resources.

We knew the helmet reconditioning process includes repainting every year and seized the opportunity to paint our helmets a new color.  Similarly, we order new logos each year, so instead of ordering green, we chose white. Although we could not afford to have our face masks dipped to change color, Stadium Systems worked with other clients and arranged a swap with a school who had white facemasks looking to go to grey.  Trading our facemasks for theirs, we found a “win/win solution” with no cost to either school!  The only additional cost was the painting of helmets not used the previous season in need of recertification, but that nominal expense was well worth it.

Beginning with their new look, our kids felt “Big Time” entering the 2014 season. They knew opponents would first see, and subsequently feel the change in our identity upon first contact. With our new found confidence, the Hilltoppers played like a “Big Time” program, going 10-1, and earning the school’s first trip to the state championship in 20 years.

SJA_Football_green helmet

If you’d like to learn more about making your program “The Big Time” for you, please stay with us on We’ll be discussing more of the changes we implemented to cultivate success in the coming weeks. Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends.