The Dream: 

Becoming a new head coach was an exciting development in my young coaching career.  I was thrilled to have my first opportunity as Head Coach for a boy’s high school swim team. 

What came with my new job title ranged from the control of practice and line-up design…to the not so glamorous bus schedules and parent emails. 

Part of my plan for the first season was to integrate a strength and conditioning program with my 25 athletes. With a little digging, I found out that my athletes had little to no experience training outside of the pool. 

Ambitiously I wanted my athletes in the weight room 2 to 3 days a week, on top of practices and competitions.  

So I did it. End of the story…right?

The Reality:

I was met with a major roadblock as I mapped out our season’s schedule and training plan.

Practices were at an off-campus facility that had no access to a weight room.

Outside of our pool time, we were designated just a small hallway to use for 30 minutes before each practice. At first, I thought the cramped space with no equipment was a dead end for my strength and conditioning dreams. 

How could I introduce strength and conditioning without any real space or equipment to do it?

As a young coach, I decided to seek advice from coaches who had experience in high school athletics and strength and conditioning. I went to a mentor of mine and talked with Coach Breslin. 

A Simple Purchase: 

After explaining my situation, he suggested the hallway was not the wrong place to start my novice athlete’s strength and conditioning journey. 

Coach Breslin also encouraged me to keep it as simple as possible. But, I still wanted to add some equipment to try and give our hallway that weight room feel. 

As my mind raced, trying to think of the best equipment to purchase for our little hallway, Coach Breslin nudged me back towards the basics.

“If anything, start with PVC Pipes. Simple plastic tubing from the local hardware store. For $50, you now have one of the best possible tools for every single athlete on your team.” 

Although a little wary of such a simple purchase, I still went out and bought a bushel of 5 foot long, 1-inch diameter PVC pipes. 

A Simple Plan: 

It was week one and as we shuffled into our little hallway for training, I thought I was “keeping it simple”.

‘5 by 5 PVC Pipe Back Squat’. I went over a few points of performance, demonstrated the movement, and said go. I was met with a lot of confused looks. 

It was as I saw heels coming off the ground, backs being arched like cats, and knees going in every direction, I remembered the most important part of what Coach Breslin had told me, 

“You’ll probably realize pretty quickly that most of these kids are going to be starting from scratch, which means you will need to keep it basic. You won’t need much equipment to start…If any at all.” 

Coach Breslin was right. I took a step back from my lofty ‘week one, year one goals’ and kept it even more basic.

Our main focus became going over foundational movements, and in our ‘hallway turned fitness center’ spent 30 minutes a day quite literally building a foundation of fitness. 

Progress. Plain and Simple: 

A few weeks in, my athletes were showing substantial progress, and were starting to look the part. They moved well, had great range of motion, and were beginning to really hammer home solid form and technique in a variety of body-weight exercises. 

The athletes walked into the hallway every day and took pride in their ‘gym’. As I threw new challenges and movements their way, the athletes attacked each workout with excitement. 

The season came to a close, and athletes could move with control and command. Better yet, they were confident in themselves. 

What Comes Next: 

Now the weight room, a place many of them had never dreamed of stepping foot inside, was where they were eager to end up. Just about everyone on the team wanted to know what came next. 

Some athletes signed up for a fitness class offered at the school. Others sought me out for training plans so that they could take their training to the ‘next level.’ 

I even hosted a few Friday morning workouts before school, where we would review barbell movements and do a ‘finisher’ to wrap up the week. Even the seniors, with no more high school sports to train for, ‘wanted in’ so they could continue on a track for life-long fitness. 

We had taken an untraditional path, but as a team, we created our strength and conditioning program. 

Reflections of a Young Coach: 

As a young coach, I still have plenty to learn. I am starting to figure it out through trial and error (and of course, my daily dose of guidance from veteran coaches). 

When we hit our roadblocks as coaches, we can often make excuses as to why something will not work. For me, in my first year as a head coach, I was ready to throw in the towel on strength training and simply write it off to my unfortunate circumstances. 

Looking back, the hallway could have quite literally become a dead end to my first-year strength and conditioning initiative. Instead, it became a place where athletes developed life-long fitness skills.

And the only ground-breaking thing we had to do was start with the basics and own our circumstances. 

Meet the Author

 Doug Curtin
  • Director of School Partnerships
  • Host of PLT4M’s Podcast: Chalk Talk
  • Head Girls Swim and Dive Coach (Fall Season)
  • Head Boys Swim and Dive Coach (Winter Season)
  • Former Two-Year College Swim Captain