NSCA’s Coaching Podcast, Episode 90: Sam Melendrez

by Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS, RSCC*D and Sam Melendrez, CSCS
Coaching Podcast November 2020


Sam Melendrez, full-time strength and conditioning coach for Discovery Canyon Campus High School, talks to the NSCA Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager, Eric McMahon, about the value of strength and conditioning coaches at the high school level. Topics include advice for those who are interested in strength training youth and high school athletes, programming fundamentals, and the value of applying classroom management skills in the weight room.

Find Sam on Twitter: @sammelendrez2 | Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs

Show Notes

“…we're dealing with kiddos who I think, are dealing with some of the ramifications of lack of regular PE, lack of outside play, specializing in a sport too early.” 14:33

“Keep your system simple and then also remember that in this role, or I try to always remind myself to stay grounded in the fact that I'm not really trying to develop necessarily the best program with my kids, I'm trying to develop the best kids with my program.” 16:42

“That may never happen and we may never run into the situation where I'm dealing with high level athletes or even winning state titles, the national titles, but we are developing again, better kids, healthier kids, more robust against illness and disease.” 29:14

“…to be honest with you, one of my most proud things, one of the things I'm most inspired about doing this job is we'll watching kids go study exercise science and specifically pursue careers in health and athletic performance.” 33:18


[00:00:00.81] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast, episode 90.

[00:00:04.68] In this role, or I try to always remind myself to stay grounded in the fact that I'm not really trying to develop necessarily the best program with my kids, I'm trying to develop the best kid with my program.

[00:00:16.47] This is the NSCA's Coaching Podcast, where we talk to strength and conditioning coaches about what you really need to know, but probably didn't learn in school. There's strength and conditioning, and then there's everything else.

[00:00:27.40] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast. I'm Eric McMahon, and today our guest is strength and conditioning coach, Sam Melendrez. He's in his 13th year as a full-time strength conditioning coach at Discovery Canyon Campus High School. Sam, welcome.

[00:00:43.77] Thanks, Eric. Appreciate you having me. I'm excited to be here.

[00:00:46.53] Yeah. So I'm excited to have you on. And I think it's a great opportunity to talk about the state of high school strength and conditioning. And you are a member of the NSCA high school strength conditioning special interest group executive council. So you're part of that leadership team helping to take that forward within the NSCA community. And I just want to give you the opportunity first to tell your story. How did you get into the field and what led you to where you're at today?

[00:01:16.53] Yeah. Probably like a lot of strength and conditioning coaches, grew up playing a lot of different sports and I found myself really gravitating to the sport of wrestling, for the reason that it's a sport where hard work and preparation can really help make up for a lot of genetic shortcomings, let's just say. And so I fell in love with that because I had already been interested. My dad was a weightlifter and power lifter and so I'd already been interested in the idea of strength training as a means for preparation sport. And having doing that allowed me to have some success in high school and college with the sport of wrestling. And then that taking me into college where I decided to study exercise science. It's Colorado State University Pueblo now, it was University of Southern Colorado back when I was there, a while back. But George Dallam, a professor there was so passionate about the field of exercise science, and more specifically athletic performance.

[00:02:09.12] And so while competing and being able to have these discussions in an academic setting, I really got to see it kind of, to be honest with you, the shortcomings of the things we were doing in terms of preparing. That was in the day where very few small colleges had strength and conditioning coaches. It was the role of an assistant sport coach. But listening to Dr. Dallam talk about this, I really got excited about this being a potential career. And at that point it was collegiate strength and conditioning is what I wanted to do.

[00:02:38.01] So I was pretty fortunate to get an internship at the Olympic Training Center just a little north of Pueblo here in Colorado Springs. And even more fortunate to really work under Jim Kramer. He's now at North Dakota State. He was there at Olympic Training Center. And I always say I got to cut my teeth under a pretty bad dude. Man, he was awesome about teaching me the ropes and the expectations of what it would take to become a strength coach and a pretty no nonsense guy. I was really grateful to be under him.

[00:03:03.66] That led to after the internship at the Olympic Training Center, that led to a part-time position at the United States Air Force Academy, strength coach there. And again, got to work under some pretty awesome guys to help mentor me. Allen Hedrick was the head strength coach at the time. Buck Blackwood, who's still there now as the head of the Olympic sports. And these two guys took me under their wing, watching the deliberate, detailed programming of coach Hedrick and just all around coaching of both of those two was so important, so fortuitous for me to be under these guys at this time.

[00:03:36.66] And then again, now, then it opened up a door to graduate assistant job at the University of New Mexico. After that, went down, I'm from New Mexico originally, so it's nice to head back to that neck of the woods in Albuquerque. Coach Paulsen, an incredible strength coach as far as captivating the room and running large groups and Joaquin Chavez was his head assistant, an amazing coach on the platform. So I got to learn a lot of things.

[00:04:00.44] And again, just really right place at the right time early in my career. And at this point I still am wanting to be a college strength coach. I can't see anything else. There's nothing else in my way. I found some notes a few years back of where I said I wanted to be a full-time head Division I football strength coach by the time I was x age, and nothing was going to get it in the way of that. And as luck would have it, we had a few afternoons off during my second year as a GA there Christmas break time. Apart from those 80 hour work weeks, I got to go volunteer at one of the local high schools and I got to step inside for the wrestling practice. I still had a wrestling itch to me.

[00:04:37.93] And within a couple of days working with one of the local high schools there, I knew that was the age group I wanted to work with. And so had another semester of a GA duties at UNM. I told Coach Paulsen I think I want to try this high school thing out. And at the time that wasn't a thing. That was 14, 15 years ago and he was like, OK, give it a go. You have a little bit of time to go figure out if this is actually a position. Moved back to Colorado Springs because I had a connection here with my now wife and, yeah. When I got back here I found out pretty quick that that was not actually a job. It was PE teachers running the weight room and assistant football coaches doing the weight room duties. And I started to decide I'm still not going to let this stop me. I was very determined to make this a career and I was substitute teaching, just trying to meet people, trying to meet athletic directors, trying to really basically create a position.

[00:05:33.12] And at that time, like I said, wasn't really a position. There was Coach McHenry was up the road a little bit. I believe he was at Castle View at the time. And he was one of the only full time strength coaches that I knew of in the state, and there may have been other ones, but it was pretty sparse as far as this being a thing. And I got to be honest, I got lucky again. I had some great luck at working with some great coaches up to that point. I got lucky again in that I happened to substitute teach. I'm here with a master's degree and background and a couple of roles division with a strength coach, but now I'm substitute teaching to pay the bills and happened to substitute teach for a teacher that was going to open up a new school the following year.

[00:06:11.75] That new school happened to be Discovery Canyon Campus. It's a K-12 campus. And he wanted there to be a vision of strength and conditioning being a fundamental backbone of the athletic culture at the eventual school that was going to open up. So left him a note on his desk telling him a little bit about who I was and what I wanted to do, called me up, and man, the rest, as they say, is history. He's now my athletic director 14 years later now and again, just really fortunate to get in there and realizing that had I not had some of that wrestling perseverance, I probably would have thrown in the towel a lot longer before I got lucky enough to meet the right people at the right time.

[00:06:50.81] And now I really want to look at how do we pay that forward? How do I figure out a way for guys who are considering this? It's a lot better than it was then, but like we've been talking about, there's a lot more room for growth as far as promoting this as a potential area to work within strength conditioning. So that's how I ended up there. And now like you said, it's 13 years full-time.

[00:07:11.60] There was a year in there where I was just running the after school duties, where I was working on my teaching licensure because again, I came from a background of exercise science and sports management while I was a GA. I didn't have a teaching credential, so at that time, there was not even any conversation about it. If you wanted to work in public education, not a lot of people understood alternative licensures or other pathways for you to become a full time educator and work in strength and conditioning. So had a year there where I needed to work on those credentials and yeah. That's 13 years full time and here I am in the midst of probably the craziest of all of those 13 years.

[00:07:47.78] Wow, man! You pursued this career that essentially didn't exist and you did it in an area just through networking. And I want to ask you about that. As it relates to high school strength and conditioning, one of the areas I see that lacks is that it's hard to know, who are the leaders in the field of high school strength and conditioning? You know you are so lucky that Patrick McHenry is right down the road here from us in Colorado Springs and you had that resource available to you and you had unbelievable mentors. You mentioned Allen Hedrick and all these local resources that you have here in Colorado Springs.

[00:08:33.70] That network in that guidance into this profession, in this area, the profession is very uncharted at times. And so do you recommend for people pursuing high school strength and conditioning, that teacher licensure, do you feel that that's essential? And talk about that a little bit as it would relate to a public school setting, a private school setting, and everything in between. And yeah, I'm interested in your thoughts here.

[00:09:04.48] Yeah, it's a great question and unfortunately, the answer is it depends because it varies from state to state and educational organizations in different states have different requirements for licensure. I can speak to what has happened here in Colorado where if you had a four year degree and you had content area in a speciality-- for example, exercise science related very closely to physical education endorsement. But I still needed to do an alternative licensure program where I was fortunate enough to still get a full-time position while working towards an alternative licensure. Essentially, not having to go back to school and take teacher education and enter a teacher education program.

[00:09:44.24] So to answer the question for somebody maybe aspiring to look into this and maybe a young man or woman in their undergraduate work, or even in their graduate work, I would heavily consider keeping their options open and maybe looking at minors in education, but also not closing the door on-- I know I've talked to a lot of people when they leave this, and maybe people even working in the collegiate setting say, well, I don't have a teaching license, so I'm not even going to bother exploring this, and make sure that they understand that-- I'm fairly confident that in at least most states, there are opportunities for somebody without an educational license, a teaching license to gain that credential while working full time.

[00:10:25.21] And now especially with teacher shortages, I think, to be honest with you, it could be a potentially really good time for qualified people to pursue this full-time position in a physical education department. Private schools, a little bit different. I can't speak a lot to what they have in terms of entry requirements for their staff. I know it's definitely a little bit different than a public education setting. But yeah, there's definitely ways in. I tell coaches all the time that are interested in this. I've had this conversation with a lot of people looking to switch fields or maybe deciding where they want to work and saying, you had to work real hard to get into this.

[00:11:05.74] We all went through the time when there was hundreds of people applying for a volunteer internship. I think back to that OTC internship. It was a rigorous interview process for me to volunteer to drive an hour each way at 5 o'clock in the morning, and if you want something, you work hard for it, and I think obviously strength coaches embody that very well. And so if this is something that interests you, go to work.

[00:11:30.44] Figure out a way and make it work and know that there are resources, that we're getting better with that, and the NSCA, especially in high school special interest group and some of our initiatives of creating material for administrators and athletic directors to become more aware of this. Like you talked about, maybe us really starting to develop a better network for people to find information and find resources, so that it's not just one guy in the state that we can go to now. There's a list of qualified professionals who have done this and maybe done it through a non-traditional path like myself.

[00:12:01.54] And I'm loving what the NSCA is doing. It's part of the reason I serve on the executive council because a lot of our plans, a lot of our initiatives and actions that we're doing are exactly that, are centered around growing this, helping people understand that this is a potential avenue for employment and good employment.

[00:12:21.73] Yeah, a little plug for the special interest group. And I do want to ask you some things about it, is one take away from this time during COVID is that we've had a lot of virtual and online meetings and it's really brought together some great conversations in the special interest group community. This is an underutilized resource, special interest groups within the NSCA community that have been around for a long time. If you have an area that you're interested in within the field, we likely have a special interest group for that sport, for that area of training, so get on Facebook, look that up. Go on nsca.com. The special interest groups are a great resource.

[00:13:02.23] Sam, I want to ask you a little bit about programming. Traditionally, you go back in time strength and conditioning truly started for freshman in college, going through that four year college strength and conditioning model, and then they were on with their lives, and the lucky ones went on, played professional or whatever it was. Now we get this four year head start, high school strength and conditioning. What does programming look like? What are the core areas that you focus on with your athletes?

[00:13:30.61] I knew that was going to come this way, too, and that's always one that pops up, and it's one of the most challenging areas, but it's also one of the funnest and most rewarding. When I got here 14 years ago, I thought I was going to be able to have a scaled down version of what I'd seen at UNM, or you saw for the Olympic Training Center and everybody listening right now is laughing because they know how bad of an idea that is. But as a young professional, I didn't really know what I was dealing with. I got here, and at that year, we actually only had freshmen. We were opening up with just 14-year-olds.

[00:14:03.64] I guess I didn't really understand what I was going to be dealing with and the fact that we're dealing with generations of kids who didn't grow up like you or I, Eric, probably a lot of playing outside, playing multiple sports. I grew up in a small town where we worked manual labor jobs, bucking belles, digging post holes. And so coming into even high school back then with maybe some more fundamental levels of strength and movement abilities. And every time I speak and talk a little bit about-- and again, I can only speak to Discovery Canyon. It's the only place I've been, but we're dealing with kiddos who I think, are dealing with some of the ramifications of lack of regular PE, lack of outside play, specializing in a sport too early.

[00:14:42.74] So in essence, programming becomes relatively simple in the fact that we've got to address some fundamental concerns that are pretty universal across, I would say, most of the kids that come in as freshmen. They're not strong enough, they don't move well enough, they don't move often enough, and they don't have a lot of range in any of those things. So essentially, the program is challenging, but the program is simple at the same time because we've got to address those and some of the maybe more advanced concerns of developing energy systems and addressing some of the other demands of a specific sport aren't as important for me.

[00:15:16.32] I look at it from a general standpoint. Like I said, we address fundamental movements of squatting, unilaterally, bilaterally, and multiple planes, hinging, both unilaterally, bilaterally, pushing, pulling, carrying, dragging, we make sure that we can do those movement patterns well, and then we progressively overload them. So from the standpoint of programming, I always tell coaches that are interested in finding out what we do, I caution them about getting too fancy too soon, and reminding them that for us to produce some adaptations at this age, doesn't require a tremendous amount of-- I don't want to come across that it's not important for us to be diligent and apply solid, practical science and principles, but we get too fancy, a lot of high school strength coaches and a lot of high school programming.

[00:16:04.30] And so look at those fundamental movements, load them safely, load them intelligently, and you can produce some pretty significant adaptations in a pretty short amount of time because they're sponges at this age. It's another one of the really cool things of being able to watch them be so receptive to the training and to improvements. But then also reminding people that from a programming standpoint, not getting too caught up in finding the best program, especially with, say, something developing strength and realizing we're tasked with developing so much in a limited amount of time with limited staff.

[00:16:38.56] Just from a performance standpoint, mobility, speed, power, recovery, generation, we've got a lot on our plate. Keep your system simple and then also remember that in this role, or I try to always remind myself to stay grounded in the fact that I'm not really trying to develop necessarily the best program with my kids, I'm trying to develop the best kids with my program.

[00:16:58.48] And so that's a really fundamental thing I like to go back to and saying, there's a lot of important other elements that we're trying to develop in here-- hard work, perseverance, teamwork, especially now the ability for them to set a goal and follow through with that. So programming can become a very simple thing. From a specific standpoint, to maybe answer that question to people who are maybe more interested in how we program for multi-sport, multi-season athletes because that is a challenge. That is something I've had to play with and get better at in the last several years.

[00:17:31.04] I really look at a system that carefully watches and manages volume. I learned a lot from reading the book The System, and maybe not taking things exactly from there because it's written for a higher level athlete, but some of the general concepts from there of carefully watching my volume. I think that's probably the biggest area that leads to concerns as far as lack of performance is overdoing the volume with our kids, keeping that carefully managed. There are some concepts and components of undulating periodization.

[00:18:01.90] But really, our kids are on a unified program. We don't differentiate by sport until I get into a class-- and we've been pretty fortunate to have a class of maybe, a majority of the kids are varsity football players or a majority of the girls are varsity volleyball players-- and at that point, we'll differentiate a little bit just based on the idea of achieving PE performance at a time of the year, but there's not a volleyball program or a football program. At this age, I think addressing fundamentals, addressing some of the basics and how we get there are general ways. And also, I think for us, at Discovery Canyon, we're a relatively small school 1,200 at the high school.

[00:18:37.15] We rely on a lot of kids playing a lot of different sports. So for me having a unified program really, really falls in line with our mission of kids playing multiple sports. I think too often kids are forced to maybe make decisions. And if there's a program that's, quote unquote, "the basketball strength program," then that young man decides, well, I can't play a spring sport because I got to be doing the basketball strength program. And I have a lot of concerns with that. I don't know that's really that rooted in science at this age, to be honest with you. So yeah, to answer the question of-- a long winded response to probably a shorter question.

[00:19:10.39] Sorry, Eric, but a unified program that addresses just the fundamental concerns because at this age, we're having a lot of those same fundamental issues that we need to fix and, improve and that makes programming challenging, but at the same time, somewhat simple.

[00:19:24.85] That's actually a really bold approach. I mean, we want and our field strives to be so specialized. And to do that, a unified approach justified by science and by the research that we have. It makes total sense, given how we look at long term athlete development and where the athletes that you have are along that continuum. I really liked how you said developing the best kid with my program versus the opposite. That's really powerful. I want to ask you something about the kids you work with.

[00:20:04.28] I think as we get older, it's easy to say, man, this generation doesn't get outside like we used to or that they're so different. Well, speak to the skill set of the generation you're working with in terms of, what are they great at and how do we leverage that in the weight room to make it even more productive?

[00:20:27.80] That's a great question. And I always try to hold myself accountable to not becoming the older guy that's just shaking his fist mad about the generation of these kids-- kids these days. And the reality of it is we can't change that. That is what we're dealing with and so let's control what we can control. And I will right away say especially in the midst of the pandemic and us moving remotely to-- we're in a hybrid model right now where I see kids one day a week and then they're remote the other day.

[00:20:55.54] And a lot of the complaining about kids being on devices and too involved with technology has actually worked in its advantage for us with us being able to utilize that. We use Train Heroic. It's been great for us to be able to have remote programming for us to get the quality academic material and then to be able to use that and be able to get on their devices and navigate through electronic platforms and software to where I can get them information and get them instruction.

[00:21:23.44] It's not a replacement for in person, it's not it's one of our challenges right now, but I think going back to answering the question of what kids this generation are great at and that's that. They are much more technologically savvy than kids were in the '90s, where we were. The other thing I think is they're pretty good about evaluating quality information. And so I just got done with parent-teacher conferences and one of the nice things to hear from some of the parents were that the kids were saying like they can tell the information coming through is backed by peer-reviewed journals and quality organizations, such as the NSCA, and the kids are pretty good about evaluating information because they have so much at their disposal.

[00:22:07.70] And so when we start talking to them about being intelligent consumers of fitness, and specifically strength and conditioning, they're pretty good about deciphering some of the garbage out there. And I think that's a skill, or maybe because they have so much of a method, so much of that at their disposal and all the information is within a click of their phone. That's something they're able to do better than maybe the past generation. So that's something that's really come to light with our current setup of the hybrid model and I know there's a lot of people that are still completely remote during this.

[00:22:38.92] So I think if you look at that, maybe leverage that, leverage those skill sets of the kids that are of this generation, are much better with technology than maybe past generations.

[00:22:49.71] Sam, I want to give you the opportunity to talk about the special interest group now and some of the initiatives and goals of that group and where things are at. So what are we working on right now in the high school special interest group for the NSCA? And just share that with our audience here today.

[00:23:07.23] Yeah, you bet. When I first got involved, one of the first things we did was-- one of the first subcommittees I was on was outlining the ways that this rule could be constructed or ways that high school strength and conditioning could be done. And it was outlining a potential part-time position, a full-time, all the way down to the continuum of a full-time position. So just mapping that out for ultimately the decision makers of the school administration and school boards. That was huge. That information is out there on the NSCA website and high school special interest group subfolders.

[00:23:44.07] Right now, we're talking about doing a lot more virtual meetings and having discussions, discussing issues that are relevant right now to specifically to the high school strength coach. I know that was probably part of the reason that this got started was a lot of times at professional events, there's not a lot of information specifically for the high school strength coach. So right now, just looking at emails going back and forth between myself and some of the other people on the SIG Executive Council, looking at maybe some virtual roundtables. So I would encourage listeners to keep their eyes out on the Facebook page that you mentioned earlier for that information.

[00:24:23.50] One of the things I'm pretty passionate about moving forward with the SIG is really creating some more awareness of this position and who do we talk to, how do we get involved in all of that? One of the things that I really like to push is getting involved at the undergraduate level with department chairs of exercise science and started making sure these students understand, hey, this is a potential area for me to go work into.

[00:24:49.47] I just got done meeting with a professor at UCCS and the tremendous Sports Performance Center here at the Hybl Sports Center, and Dan Hutchison, the state director NSCA, and talking to him about we need to really start making sure kids coming out of undergrad understand that this is a potential field and I think the NSCA's position and quality infrastructure can really help out with that, so that's part of the reason I'm excited to be part of that special interest group.

[00:25:13.80] That's some of the stuff that's on the table and we've got thrown for a loop like everybody else with COVID and starting to really maybe looking at seeing like, how do we adjust our efforts to meet the demands of the current situation as well? So lots of stuff in the works. Again, I would encourage listeners to get involved with that Facebook page, continue to look to the nsca.com website and investigate that further or reach out to the members on the committee. And that's something I wish 15 years ago I'd had knowing who to go to. I can't even remember how I found out.

[00:25:46.65] I think I probably saw his name next to a journal article, Pat McHenry, and happened to look up and say, he's in here, he's in Colorado. But finding people that are willing to discuss high school strength and conditioning with you that are members of this organization.

[00:26:01.36] Yeah. One of the things that I think about with the high school special interest group that makes it a little bit different, and part of this is how we've talked about maybe this is an area of the field that isn't as established. We have to go back to the question of what is the high school strength and conditioning coach. Your full-time at Discovery Canyon. There's part-time high school strength and conditioning coaches, there's non-PE teachers working just as a little bit after school in the weight room, there's private coaches in private facilities contracting in high school settings.

[00:26:36.61] So it's a very diverse group of coaches when you just say high school strength and conditioning. What are some of the ways that the special interest group can account for that diversity in that small sector of the field?

[00:26:53.78] That's a really tough one as well, because I think you-- and you touched on why that's so difficult because it's so spread out. It's not like college where there was a guy working at the collegiate setting. He's the guy, he's in charge of running that program or she's the person in charge of running that program. We have a lot of different ways this can be structured.

[00:27:10.49] I got to be honest, it's hard because it's so diverse, but maybe just continue to unify the idea that we all have a pretty similar goal. And going back to that statement I said earlier. And I feel like even if you're a, let's say, for example, a part-time, you're coming in after school and running the athletic performance program or you're contracted out from a private facility.

[00:27:33.68] I think if we as the special interest group starts to really unify the same goal and that we're not necessarily competing, but especially right now and really looking at the health crisis we're facing and saying there's a lot of things that we can do for this age group from 14 to 18 years old that can help maybe offset some of these challenges we have. I'm a big believer in and this is why I'm a huge fan of people being involved with the public education setting and saying this should be for every person. This should be for every student. Everybody should have the opportunity to have a quality health and wellness program and specifically centered around strength training.

[00:28:15.13] So and I think that most people, even in such a diverse setting from, let's say, for example, at the end of the continuum, a private strength coach who's working with high school age students to myself, who's in a public education setting working full-time, I bet if we sat down and talked we would probably realize we're in this for a lot of the same reasons. And if you're not in it for that reason, then maybe that's something you should examine because like I said, I really do believe we're-- and this may be getting a little more idealistic here but it's really made me reflect on our honor on the power of the role that we have of developing really solid, lifelong fitness and health behaviors.

[00:28:55.14] And so above and beyond athletic performance and reducing the risk of injury, that's great, that's cool, but the reality of it is, Eric, most of my kids are done after their high school year. We've been there 13 years now and we've only had a handful of kids go on to play collegiate sports, even less at the Division I level and none of them professional yet. That may never happen and we may never run into the situation where I'm dealing with high level athletes or even winning state titles, the national titles, but we are developing again, better kids, healthier kids, more robust against illness and disease.

[00:29:28.77] And so I think if we can unify that goal across these the varying roles of people working with this age group, I think that can only help and unify us because ultimately, we are in it for the same reasons.

[00:29:42.38] Developing a united approach to how we serve high school athletes across the board, that's what I'm hearing and the one thing I like that you mentioned you connect with college professors. Well, that's an institutional goal. You want your kids to go on to college and get educated. And these aren't only athletes that you have at the time, they could be future leaders in our profession. So speak to high school strength and conditioning as a career development initiative.

[00:30:18.01] It may not be for everybody, but I think all of us in this field, when we get our feet wet with strength and conditioning, we connected to it. And so this is that first strength and conditioning experience for probably most of your athletes and that leads them down the same path that we essentially went down. Talk about that a little bit.

[00:30:38.86] For sure and just to talk a little bit about enticing maybe some of the listeners for this film and some of the most rewarding things I've had happen don't occur until kids are long gone. I was at the National Conference in DC two years ago, and somebody behind me yells, coach, coach, and everybody's yelling coach. So I ignore it, I turn around and there's this young man, he's got his college insignia on his shirt, and I'm like, I barely recognize him. He's one of my former students. He's working as a grad assistant at a Division I University back East.

[00:31:10.27] I've got to be honest with you, I'd lost touch. He was in an exercise science class in the program, but now he's working as a collegiate strength and conditioning coach. And we've had a couple more of those kids go on to do that at different levels and that is really cool because now we're talking about going back to paying it forward and kids moving on and moving into this career.

[00:31:28.81] So I think you're absolutely right, the potential for a spark in the interest for these kids and right now with us in this hybrid model, I've adjusted a lot of my instruction to make the course more robust and us looking at training principals, looking at the science of training, and it's really cool to start seeing some of the discussions come my way of some of our juniors and seniors asking questions like, coach, what do I study when I get to school? What did you study? What should I be looking for in a college program if I want to do this, if I want to do what you're doing?

[00:32:01.91] I just had an interview with a young man at BYU the other day for part of his undergraduate exercise science project and it's so rewarding to do that and to see these kids start pursuing that. We actually have an exercise science class in our International Baccalaureate program at the high school. I have a man teaching that right now with a strong exercise science background. So we're going to try to do some co-curricular content stuff with what's happening in the weight room practically with some of the educational concepts that I'm talking about and they're doing an academic setting.

[00:32:32.66] But just getting those kids excited about it right now, so it does end up being a potential career. And I tell my students all the time, if you're the student who's maybe struggling, finding something that you're academically very interested in. Now if you're like me at 18 to 21 years old and having a hard time sitting in a lecture hall of 600 kids for a subject you're not that interested in, started looking into something that you're passionate about. And if you're passionate about training, health, performance, fitness, look into it for something you can study.

[00:33:04.35] I don't know about you, but that made college, undergrad, and graduate a lot more interesting and a lot more doable for me to be studying something I was passionate about. And so that has led to a lot of kids-- to be honest with you, one of my most proud things, one of the things I'm most inspired about doing this job is we'll watching kids go study exercise science and specifically pursue careers in health and athletic performance.

[00:33:26.56] And we have a good chunk of knowledge from Discovery Canyon doing that. Yeah, I think if you get qualified professional in front of these kids at a very impressionable age where they're still trying to figure out what they want to do, that's huge. And the NSCA's mission and vision of growing this for a variety of reasons from a national health standpoint, getting kids excited about this. And I think if you put qualified people in front of them who are passionate about it and knowledgeable, that only increases the chances of that happening in my opinion.

[00:33:59.12] Yeah, as a high school strength coach, you are vaulted into this mentorship and leadership role. And I know when I've been in situations where people say, well, ask me for that similar type of advice, I find myself a lot of time saying, well, I did this and it benefited me this way, but now I would also consider this, this, and this for these reasons.

[00:34:26.03] So I want to ask you, you've been through the path of strength and conditioning and maybe in a lot of ways, it's a traditional path, but how is your perspective towards the field changed and how does that impact the advice that you give to students that are seeking your input.

[00:34:45.11] Ooh, boy, this is one of those hindsight in 20/20 questions. I think if I could go back and talk to a young Sam Melendrez, for what I would say, definitely keep my options open as far as where I was going to be able to work. I think back to a young lady who left to a major SEC school. She wanted to study exercise science, she wanted to get in there and volunteer with the other hundreds of kids wanting that same role.

[00:35:10.09] I kept trying to encourage her, don't close the doors right now, don't limit your opportunities. I met a gentleman, a little side story here of a thing and I disregarded this information. After my Olympic Training Center internship, I got a small role at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. They were in a transition period of having the strength coach they needed. They basically needed somebody to go man the facility for a few weeks in December. So I got to go out to Lake Placid and manage the facility, but while I was there, I'm eating at the dining hall and there was a gentleman-- I wish I could go back and find out who he was-- he was a strength coach at a major university and then pursued his athletic career as a bobsledder.

[00:35:53.98] And I was telling him how excited I was to be a college strength coach and I was getting ready to take the job at the United States Air Force Academy, talking to him about my goals, and he's like, yeah, keep your doors open, man. There's a lot of really challenging aspects to that role. He was really good about saying, I'm not trying to discourage you, but I couldn't quite understand what he was telling me at the time about keeping my perspective and my doors open of where I could potentially work in this. And so I wish I listened closer then. I may have been able to move into this role sooner, not that I would trade some of the experiences that I had at the Academy or at UNM.

[00:36:28.15] But that's the advice I would give to somebody looking into this right now, whether it be in high school and considering a career or undergrad or even graduate degrees of saying, keep your eyes open on multiple opportunities. I tell people all the time that probably during undergrad if you told me I was going to be working as a high school strength coach employed as a full time physical education teacher, I would have said why? What did I do wrong to do that? Why am I going to be penalized with that?

[00:36:56.29] And just young and didn't understand that that was going to be an incredibly rewarding career because at 21 or 22, you don't have that perspective and you don't really know what's coming your way. So again, going back to answer that question, I would say, kids, don't close any doors, be open all opportunities when you're engaging at professional conferences, whether it be virtual now, listen to everybody, gain an insight from everybody, and keep your options open, especially because as you know, it's hard to come by the Division I strength and conditioning job, even harder to come by the professional setting jobs.

[00:37:33.92] There's a lot more high schools than are colleges and definitely a lot more high schools than there are professional settings. So again, to plug the idea of this being a great career, keep your eyes open, keep your mind on potential opportunities.

[00:37:47.69] That's great advice so you spoke to a little bit of the mentors that you've had in the field and some of the people that have really impacted your path. What are some of the biggest resources, articles, research, that's influenced what you do?

[00:38:06.77] Honestly, the biggest resource and probably the best resource for me and the one I'd most recommend is finding people working in the high school field, if you're interested in this, and being able to find a way to talk to them. And now with us being able to meet virtually with potentially a lot more people from a variety of areas that we wouldn't otherwise be able to, explore that option. I was really fortunate that Pat McHenry gave me an afternoon several years ago to talk to me a little bit about what he was doing and how he was doing it. That was huge because like we mentioned before, at that point, especially, there wasn't a ton of specific resources for the high school strength coach.

[00:38:44.93] And so maybe taking programming advice from elite levels of professional sports and collegiate sports, you'll get some great concepts and ideas, but maybe not always the things that fit for your specific setting if you're looking at working or you're currently working in the high school setting. So find other professionals, don't be afraid of reaching out. As we know, a lot of people in this field are willing to share information if you're willing to reach out to them. That's been big, but at the same time, continuing to extend yourself to looking at some of these higher level professional resources.

[00:39:16.43] And I mentioned earlier that a lot of the system we use for progressively overloading our strength moves has some tenets in it from Prilepin's Chart and from the book The System with some elite strength coaches. And I'm not able to maybe implement all of those things in their fullest and exactly the way that they're written in some of the publications and articles, but you get good concepts, you get good principles and ideas to measure your programming against or to measure your coaching against.

[00:39:43.55] I'm excited to dig deeper into Nick Winkelman's Language of Coaching book. I mean, right now, coaching with a mask on and making sure that all of your cues and all of your coaching verbiage is solid and as good as possible, I'm really excited to dig deeper in that. When I heard Nick Winkelman speak here at the NSCA headquarters several years ago about internal and external cues and I was like, that is huge because at this age, being able to be real concise and powerful with your cues is huge.

[00:40:15.87] So I'm just at the beginnings of that, but I'm excited. I think that's going to be a really good one. But yeah, reaching out to other professionals, continuing to stay involved with peer review journals and taking bits of information, especially if you're already working with a high school-aged athlete, and staying what fits, seeing what works, and being open all of those ideas. I think that's huge. The NSCA High School Manual is still in the works.

[00:40:40.39] I'm excited to be a contributor to that. It's in the editing phases right now, I think that's going to be a really good resource when that does come out with the pandemic, put a little bit of a wrench into the process of getting that done but myself and some other-- I think there's some really reputable people contributing to that manual. That's the NSCA High School Strength Coach Manual coming out in the near future, hopefully. I think that's going to be a great resource specifically to professionals working with this age.

[00:41:09.48] Now I want to take it really specific to coaches pursuing high school strength and conditioning, and you had mentioned that you took an alternative licensure track or program to basically become a licensed teacher as a strength conditioning coach. There was a time in our field when it went the other direction, where you were essentially the PE teacher. You think of the early strength coaches were essentially PE teachers and it's become more specialized. And it's almost you took the track of becoming specialized as a teacher to bolster your knowledge and skill set as a strength coach.

[00:41:57.19] What takeaways from teacher education programs relate well to strength and conditioning, speak to pedagogy, and other areas that teachers receive training in that maybe we aren't as well versed in as we used to be?

[00:42:13.93] Classroom management. Right away, as soon as we were starting to talk. As soon as I got involved in the alternative licensure program and having no formal teacher education program. My undergrad was specifically exercise science and sports performance. So I had none of the classes that other students and other teammates were taking to become PE teachers.

[00:42:34.99] And I didn't have that background in managing a classroom, setting expectations, especially with the adolescent-aged individual. We take for granted, or at least in the small time that I was at the collegiate setting, you're dealing with kids who are young men and women who want to be there, they're pretty motivated, they're already pretty good at what they do. At the Olympic Training Center, I was literally working around boyhood heroes. Those guys didn't need to be convinced to come in and dial in and focus.

[00:43:02.92] And as soon as I got to Discovery Canyon, I found out real quick, that first day, that I was going to have to do a good job of managing the room and then and essentially becoming my classroom. So I definitely feel like again, this goes back to keeping your eyes and ears open for other resources. Maybe not just in traditional strength conditioning or performance, but listening to teachers that talk about managing the room, setting expectations, and like you talked about, the latest research and what pedagogy works best, how to design quality assessments. I got thrown into the midst now of designing an online curriculum to make our class more robust with this hybrid model and really having to rely on other qualified teachers who are not strength coaches or even PE teachers on helping me design better and more reliable assessments.

[00:43:51.42] So yeah, there's a lot of particular skill set for the high school coach, maybe even all of strength coaches on looking at how we connect better with our athletes, and in this case, my kids. And I got to be honest, I think the first time that I heard the saying, I'm not sure who originally coined this, but I think the first time I heard the saying of, these kids don't care about how much you know until they know about how much you care was from an educator or from an education program. I don't know that I had heard that before in my limited time working with the higher level athletes earlier my in strength conditioning career.

[00:44:23.56] And that just really clicked. And I've heard that on this podcast multiple times and it's become almost cliche now, but it's so important. But I think that's the first time I heard that and it became so important to me connecting with kids and making sure. Because I'll be honest, I came in here thinking like, I've got all this education and I've got what I thought was pretty good experience, they're just going to be at my feet because of where I've been. I've been at a high level of strength coach working under some pretty good dudes and that was not the case until they understood that I was genuinely concerned and passionate about making them better people, they weren't buying it. And that's good.

[00:45:03.79] Again, that came from teacher advice. I know it's infiltrated the coaching world, as it should, but that's huge. I think keeping ourselves grounded and making connections with our kids, our clients, our athletes, whatever situation we're working in. I'll be honest. I think now that this profession has grown and I've gotten to talk to some other really impressive strength coaches. Mike Nitka-- he's dead now, but he's the editor of the chapter I'm working on, that manual we're talking about.

[00:45:29.65] And when we got done talking business about the book, I just said, Coach, I can I pick your brain about some issues I'm having even before the pandemic, and it was a wealth of information. 30 some years being incredibly successful and a pioneer in the field of high school strength and conditioning where he was at and he had some tremendous general teaching advice that I think all coaches at any level in any sector could really have used.

[00:45:55.62] So yeah, I think there's a lot of things from the educational world that can be very beneficial to the sports performance specialist.

[00:46:04.79] I'm glad you mentioned Coach Nitka. He's had a huge impact on the NSCA community over the years and I think back to when I was reading the Strength and Conditioning Journal in college and seeing Allen Hedrick, as you mentioned, that's a local coach now for me that had a huge impact on my career just by what he was putting out there, but Coach Nitka as well was a huge influencer in our field for so many of us.

[00:46:36.32] And although we have a long way to go in high school strength and conditioning of building that network and growing it, there are those resources out there. So going back to what you said of finding those conversations, those mentors, that's really powerful. I want to ask you something. As a former professional college strength coach, I think we all have said, man, if I only had this athlete in high school, I wouldn't have all these challenges I'm having right now. I could have totally gotten out in front of this thing and really done a better job.

[00:47:11.36] You're working at the high school level, so you're really that foundation. But I think as human beings, we always look to that. So let's talk about youth, athletes, and training leading up to high school. What do you wish that the athletes you had leading up to when they start with you, or do you take that block zero approach the minute they get in the door?

[00:47:34.82] Yeah, it's something I've become increasingly more passionate about now that our two sons are starting to be involved in organized youth sports and being really interested in the LTAD area of NSCA as well, and very concerned about some of the things that are going on with youth sports in our country, but we do have a block zero program.

[00:47:55.58] Right now, we're set up to where our freshmen can't take the strength and conditioning class for credit. And so all of my work with them is done either before or after school in a normal year-- right now, it's mostly after school-- in a block zero program where we're really just addressing fundamental movements and the most basic regression of those movements for them. I would love for them to come in with a little more experience with that. But even more so, Eric, just the understanding that I need to prepare for a sport. I can't just play sport.

[00:48:24.89] We're starting to see more and more kids come in, 14-year-olds, male and female, and mom and dad bringing them to me in the summer and say, well, we've been on this travel team. He's on an elite team that travels all over the country. And I go, ma'am, he can't do a push-up. You can't do a body weight squat, but you played 75 games this summer. And he only plays one sport or she only does one sport on an elite travel team, but has no understanding of the importance of preparation along with competition. And so that's concerning to me from the standpoint of we're starting to have these young athletes specialized too soon.

[00:49:02.60] And I'm not against-- I'm actually a product of somebody who decided midway through high school that I was only going to wrestle. And that's a conversation for another time and the regrets that I have and the limitations that it ended up having on me as a wrestler, and even as a person. But we're starting to see that at a younger and younger age, this increasing demand to specialize and parents feeling like they have to do that to keep up. And it comes at the expense of them preparing and we're starting to see a lot of the overuse injuries of a female playing nine months, 10 months of competitive volleyball or travel baseball, and just to pick a few, not to pick necessarily on those sports, but it's in all of them.

[00:49:40.13] And so I see kids come in, even at 14, that are probably some of the similarities that a high school or college coach sees with some of the overuse injuries or those compensation patterns from not being well rounded in movement and their movement repertoire. I've seen that coming in with 14-year-olds. And so that's concerning to me right there that they're coming in. And they have a tremendous background in competitive sport, but not in athletic development, not in fundamental athletic movement.

[00:50:07.13] So that needs to be something that starts getting addressed. Like I said, I like the LTAD model. Back in the normal year, I was helping coach my son's youth wrestling program and really started to address some of those fundamental movements at a very young age-- skipping, crawling, rolling, these things that aren't being developed, I think, a lot of times when we start specializing in a specific sport to soon.

[00:50:30.05] So I'm seeing that. I'm seeing that rear its ugly head with even our 14-year-olds coming in as freshmen. I don't know what the answer to that is except for maybe again, getting more qualified people at the ground level and educating-- the decision makers at that point are parents. Educate parents for them to understand. As an 11-year-old, they don't know that I need to have my kid playing one sport all year long without any emphasis on preparing their bodies for the demand of that sport. So just educating them, I don't think anybody's woefully doing it to hurt kids. I hope not.

[00:51:02.49] I just think it's a lack of understand, but ultimately it leads to some problems and things that I'm faced with trying to deal with and trying to improve by the time they leave here as 18-year-olds.

[00:51:14.12] So this relates to LTAD and your role and background also as a PE teacher. What is the value of strength and conditioning for non-athletes, for the other students that may just get it as a module in their physical education classes or however else they get it. But speak to the value of strength and conditioning for the general population.

[00:51:38.87] I'm really glad you brought that up. A big part of what we did this semester to go back to adding a content piece to my classes was helping them understand that eventually they're all going to be done being athletes, at least competitive athletes, and most of them done before they leave Discovery or by the time they leave Discovery Canyon. And for our students who aren't currently athletes, we have a pretty robust curriculum that involves strength training.

[00:52:02.61] We've got a nice set up for the facility, another very qualified PE teacher on staff who teaches what we call our general fitness class that has a giant component of strength training in it. Because everybody listening now understands the value of strength training and resting metabolic rate, body composition, and all of the things that it does from a disease prevention standpoint, but our kids don't. And so making sure that our kids understand that and maybe even that the science, the basic physiology of what occurs through strength training to be beneficial to you as a human and not just as an athlete, has really been exciting to see maybe the improved buy-in from our students.

[00:52:40.91] When they start to really understand the why behind why we've got a barbell in our hands or a dumbbell in our hands or performing any resistance training to our wellness, to our overall health, to the ability to prevent some of these co-morbidities that we keep hearing about, especially now, it's huge. It's so important. So the message continually to my students right now, and again, our strength and conditioning curriculum is set up for our athletes primarily. But like I said, we've got a really strong physical education curriculum where we address this to all of our kids, and letting them know that training, specifically strength training, is not just for athletes.

[00:53:17.63] And we're all going to be at a point where we're done being athletes and we've got to take care of the one body we have and preaching to the choir here, the people listening to this now, we know that the weight room was a great tool for that. We know that strength training is ultimately maybe the best vehicle for us to get to developing healthy bodies. So that's been big, that's been a really big fundamental understanding the why, if you will, I know that gets tossed around a lot. That's a big one now in strength and conditioning and Simon Sinek's get to the why, and that's huge for our kids being able to understand, OK, I've got to continue to staying here in this weight room, following this progression, doing things correctly because it's going to serve me very, very well later in life, long after I'm done being a competitive athlete, if I was ever an athlete.

[00:54:04.81] We get so specialized, as we mentioned in this field, and even as coaches, I think we get specialized in how we think our role applies only to athletes. There truly is so much value to the curriculum of strength and conditioning for everyone. One of the hashtags for the NSCA is everyone stronger. Maybe that's one that we don't leverage enough because it truly is vital and important from a general health standpoint and I'm really glad that you have that program in place. And I also think that strength and conditioning professionals have so much to give in terms of their leadership and knowledge.

[00:54:48.98] And COVID has been a great time to showcase that as leaders at are institution. We have a unique skill set and knowledge and background and training that is so relevant right now just to maintain essentially what we considered normal to be, and how do we do that safely under this new landscape? And so truly, I really appreciate having you on, talking about high school strength and conditioning, our special interest group, long-term athlete development, and everything today. So thank you, man.

[00:55:21.81] Yeah, thank you for having me, Eric. I really appreciate, this a lot of fun.

[00:55:26.19] Yeah, that's Sam Melendrez, the full-time strength and conditioning coach at Discovery Canyon Campus High School here in Colorado Springs. He is a member of our High School Special Interest Group Executive Council with the NSCA. That is a resource for any aspiring high school strength and conditioning coaches to check out and join on Facebook. You can find that link at nsca.com. Sam, thanks. And we'd also like to thank Sorinex Exercise Equipment, our sponsor. We appreciate their support.

[00:56:02.37] And as you know, we at the NSCA love research, especially applying that research. If you're not a member yet, join us and get access to the best strength and conditioning journals available. Just go to nsca.com/membership. And to all of you listening, we appreciate your support. Again, if you like the podcast, make sure you subscribe wherever you download your podcasts from, write us a review, and keep listening in. Thank you and I look forward to talking with you all soon.

[00:56:24.99] This was the NSCA's Coaching Podcast. The National Strength and Conditioning Association was founded in 1978 by strength and conditioning coaches to share information, resources, and help advance the profession. Serving coaches for over 40 years, the NSCA is the trusted source for strength and conditioning professionals. Be sure to join us next time.

Reporting Errors: To report errors in a podcast episode requiring correction or clarification, email the editor at publications@nsca.com or write to NSCA, attn: Publications Dept., 1885 Bob Johnson Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80906. Your letter should be clearly marked as a letter of complaint. Please (a) identify in writing the precise factual errors in the published podcast episode (every false, factual assertion allegedly contained therein), (b) explain with specificity what the true facts are, and (c) include your full name and contact information.

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Eric L. McMahon, MEd, CSCS,*D, TSAC-F,*D, RSCC*E

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Eric McMahon is the Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager at the NSCA Headquarters in Colorado Springs. He joined the NSCA Staff in 2020 with ove ...

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Sam Melendrez, MS, CSCS is in his 13th year as a full-time strength and conditioning coach at Discovery Canyon Campus High School, in Colorado Springs ...

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