Guest Post: KU Staff Development

By University of Kansas

April 11, 2017

This weeks guest post was written as a collective effort by the Strength and Conditioning staff at the University of Kansas. KU has been a long-time partner with SPARTA and they continue to exemplify excellence and improve the industry leading by example. Join the KU Strength and Conditioning staff and SPARTA founder Dr. Phil Wagner at the KU Midwest Sports Performance Conference on Friday, May 5, 2017. More information can be found here.

From Caddyshack to Table Manners, and Everything In-Between...

Staff development is like training; one cannot just show up occasionally and expect to see results. At Kansas, we are committed to making this development process one of our highest priorities.  Through varied forms and consistent practices, we have platforms that allow for constant communication, open discussion of training methods, and guided mentoring of young coaches.

Staff development seems like a great concept, but where do you start?

The core of our staff development is a weekly meeting. From quick ten-minute check-ins to hour long focused discussions, our meetings are multi-faceted. Normally, we start by talking about our immediate departmental needs and anything that directly affects our daily function and flow: team training schedules, upcoming travel, competitions, and facility or equipment needs.

Our lengthier meetings tend to focus on long-term staff development. Some of that time is spent developing coaching and leadership skills with KU Leads, our leadership program for all student-athletes. We practice public speaking and mental ‘tightness,’ as well as discuss different learning styles.

To develop our individual coaching skill, we analyze each other’s coaching styles and give critical feedback. This is one of the best ways to connect and bond with each other. It is hard to criticize and uncomfortable to receive critical feedback, but this is one of the most efficient and effective ways to learn how to communicate in a non-judgmental way.  All together, these abilities drive how we communicate with staff, sport coaches and athletes.

Many impromptu educational sessions occur organically, as we never entirely know what to expect when we walk into Coach Hudy’s office. For example, one particular day the discussion was whether to use the Continental or the American method - not training styles, but proper table etiquette. Obviously, this might seem like an unusual conversation for performance coaches, but there is always a purpose to these discussions. Proper table etiquette may put us in a better position to connect with an important member of administration, a donor, or an interviewer should we be given a seat at the table. This lesson simply demonstrates that professionalism outside the weight room is as important as our intensity inside the weight room because we are representing not only ourselves, but our department and our profession. Through staff development, we work on behaviors and skills to improve as people, and in turn, as coaches.

What about training-specific development?

While many of our conversations are geared toward personal and pedagogical development, ultimately our responsibility is to improve performance and health. Therefore, we welcome challenging discussion on training methods. We promote dialogue through round-table discussions and formal staff member presentations.

Despite our commitment to in-house learning, we recognize that we cannot be experts in all aspects of performance training. So, we actively seek the expertise of others in the field.  Sometimes that’s as simple as walking across the street to our sports science department to conduct research and engage in interdepartmental collaboration with Dr. Andrew Fry. We have also utilized the university’s resources for alternative experiences like a month-long cadaver lab through our biology department.

Beyond our facility, we look to engage with coaches and professionals via conference calls and in-person guest presentations. In the past year, we sought additional advice from other professionals regarding neuroscience and coaching cues, nervous system management, partial range of motion techniques, etc. This spring, we are looking forward to hearing from industry leaders (Dr. Bryan Mann, Dr. Phil Wagner, Dr. Kraemer, R.C. Buford, Loren Landow, Zac Woodfin, Roger Marandino, and Dr. Andrew Fry) at our 7th annual Midwest Sport Performance Conference. Our staff also collaborates with outside entities such as SPARTA, Elite Form and different equipment manufacturers to support the constant pursuit of staff and facility improvement.

What about internships and formal mentoring?

Although much of our staff development is situational and context dependent, we also have a structured mentorship program for our interns and graduate assistants. This consists of weekly education sessions starting with discussions surrounding our philosophy, standards, and expectations. To develop abilities on the floor, we analyze the science of effective coaching practices, and study the different verbal and visual methods of instruction and feedback. After spending a few weeks on the fundamentals of coaching, we dive into specific instruction and discussion about training related topics like warm-ups, movement skill, strength exercises and programming. These sessions are often two parts, consisting of lecture and guided skill practice.  Interns also complete homework in the way of reading assignments, reflection, programming, and presentations. For additional “fun” we provide a required movie list to help generate conversation. In the same way that our staff development topics are varied, we use titles like Pumping Iron, Inception and Caddyshack (obviously) to discuss concepts related to training, career development and everyday life.

The bottom line:

Schedules are not always convenient, and time constraints are challenging, but staff development is essential. It requires commitment beyond just reading blogs (like this one) and watching YouTube videos. Through weekly staff meetings and regular classroom education sessions, we grow in our knowledge while learning from each other’s experiences. Everything and anything can be another opportunity to learn.  Our staff development goes beyond just understanding sets, reps and which fork to use. Even though we are continually working to become better coaches and a more cohesive unit, it is important that we challenge each other to become better people first.


Wake Forest Men’s Basketball Extends Contract with Sparta

Partnership Puts Rockies at Forefront of Training Science

The New Linebacker: Don't Measure Strength In Isolation