I’ve been a strength coach, weight equipment entrepreneur and speaker for 30 years now, and I consistently get told by high school coaches, “I can never have a strength program like yours”. Well, the following story is about a real time “work in progress” at little Randolph High School, located in Minnesota, and football/strength coach Aaron Soule. Randolph has a town population of 436 and graduates around 40 kids per year. They play 9 man football in the Southern Confederacy Conference, and won 1 football game last year. Aaron’s story is interesting as he is in the middle of building the Randolph program. He lays out the steps he’s taken in developing this program, and the development is ongoing. Some interesting and unique points in his program is that he insisted that he be the Head Strength Coach and with input from the other coaches in the school he developed the only workout that would be used by the students. Aaron refused to do it any other way. He also picked 6:15 am on M,W,F for the times. Many thought that may not be a great time, but the numbers show otherwise. He has had tremendous growth in the 1 year he has been in charge. In June of 2013 (1 year after he started the program), he hit 46 athletes training at 6:00 am, which was an all-time record. From the 4-5 kids per morning they were averaging 1 year ago, the growth has been incredible. The following are many of the important points that Aaron has implemented/experienced in the past year:
Steps to building the Randolph High School strength program:
- Randolph was very fortunate to get a referendum passed in 2012, and they were able to get a new weight room with new equipment (4 platforms and 4 multi racks).
- Not a lot of athletic tradition. The football team has 1 winning record since the 1990s. Baseball and softball have been best sports and have been pretty competitive with each winning conference championships recently.
- Aaron wanted control and be able to run whatever program, times, days, etc. Randolph had 5 days a week after school and 3 days a week before school. ”I picked mornings from 6:15-7:30 for a couple of reasons – no conflicts and mental toughness”
- Previous year, the weight room averaged about 4 kids per morning, Aaron’s goal the first year was 10 kids per morning..
- Aaron wanted to be viewed as the weightlifting coach. It was important to present that image to the kids, most importantly Aaron did not want to be viewed as the weightlifting supervisor.
- Aaron wanted to get the gym closed down on Tuesday and Thursday after school to ensure that all kids are on the same workout on the same day.
- Aaron talked to Josh Hofstedt a lot about what they do at Cannon Falls High School, and he was convinced to attempt to get all athletes on same program. Aaron also talked to Cory Johnson (former D1 basketball coach, currently with the Minnesota Timberwolves), Randolph head football/baseball coach, Chris Stanton, and basketball coaches Mike Haase and Tony Linbo, David Flom, Head Basketball Coach at Eden Prairie High School, and Concordia University( MN) VB players (6 time DII Natl Champs). The goal is to create a complete athlete – we can’t focus exclusively on football because of the size of our school.
- Aaron and the rest of the coaches won over the rest of the athletes in the school mostly by listing who was all consulted with. The athletes had to be convinced that this was not just a football only workout.
Building the program
- Randolph bought a new Top 10 Board from Safe-USA. Kids love being recognized and it is updated after workouts.
- There was one meeting prior to the launch of our off-season workout. Aaron and Chris Stanton told the kids that there is only one workout. “We will do this workout.” You can’t bench on every day.” We will go low on our squats” (you’ve got to love this guy!).
- Aaron’s first goal was to make the weight room a place to hang out. If they come into the weight room, Aaron thought maybe he can get them to work.
- Aaron said, “Always be positive. It doesn’t matter what you know or what program you have. If there aren’t any kids, it doesn’t matter.”
- Recruit, recruit, recruit. During Aaron’s prep times at school he would walk down to the cafeteria and talk to the kids about basketball, music, girlfriends, etc but always mention something about the morning weight lifting program.
- It was important for Aaron to find out who Randolph’s high flyers were – the kids that were respected and would commit. Aaron pulled those kids in the corner and taught them how to be leaders. It was important for the kids to be leaders, but how can be a leader if they don’t know what a leader does? There are very few kids with natural leader qualities.
- 6th graders were invited into the weight room. Aaron wasn’t thrilled about allowing them in there that young, but they were eager to come in. They were taught safe and proper lifting form. Aaron figured since our older students were already stuck in their ways; he would try to win the younger kids over before they knew better.
- Celebrated anytime we set a record attendance with a group picture on Facebook. Aaron also emailed the picture to head coaches, the athletic director, the high school principal, and superintendent and encouraged them to thank the kids for coming in that morning.
- Buy treats. Sometimes donuts, but the local convenience store sells bananas for 39 cents a pound. Amazing what a kid would do for a banana. They would show up at 6:15 and work out!
- Hand written notes and mail them to the student athlete and their parents. Thank them for their work. Continued to tell them how they can be leader, resist drugs/alcohol, respect. Very personal. I received many positive comments from parents and players.
- Use an iPad and embrace technology. Take video and put it on Facebook immediately. The kids have contests who can get the most likes. Again kids enjoy being recognized.
- Randolph held a Lift-A-Thon. Aaron wanted the weight lifters to feel like they were a part of a team and not just lifting weights. Aaron wanted to raised money to buy some extra equipment that he felt was important.
- Kids were encouraged to get donations. If an athlete received over $125 in donations they were given a $25 gift card to Buffalo Wild Wings. If they received $10 in donations they received a T-Shirt. The Lift-A-Thon was hyped up around school, Facebook, and Twitter. To celebrate the accomplishments that were being made everyone was encouraged to stop their workout and cheer on their classmates as they were maxing out.
- Weightlifting awards breakfast. We took the last week of school off for a rest week, and that Wednesday we held an invite only breakfast. I put flyers around school with the guest list and put INVITE ONLY in big letters. Qualifications: 50% attendance, participation in the Lift-A-Thon. Named our first ever Ironman. Explained the importance of the Ironman award. Invited a senior athlete to talk about how the weight room has helped him in athletics. Too many times athletes heard the excuse, “I wish I would have lifted and now it is over.” Aaron said, “I didn’t want to hear about athlete’s sob stories anymore. I want to hear from someone who showed up and did it”.
- Our first year went from 4-5 kids per morning the previous year to around 23 kids per morning. Many of our lifters were 8th and 9th graders. We are waiting for the payoff, and will keep working until it comes!
So, if you are looking for a framework to start your program and are sick of excuses why you can’t, here is a great model to work from. I feel Aaron did a great job getting coaches and administration on board, inwardly and outwardly supporting the program. He also has the parents on board, and I think the hand written notes mailed home to Mom & Dad are one of the best ideas I have ever seen. I really liked his insight on starting the students in the 6th grade. What a great foundation he is building with this concept. It will be interesting to measure the results from Aaron’s new program. Truly a “work in progress!” With that in mind, good luck to Aaron and the Randolph Rockets!!! This story is to be continued…