Williams College, The Student-Athletes Haven
If you’re serious about a quality education and an environment that ensures athletic excellence, consider earning your Ephs at Williams
By Kim Goss
Published: Winter 2003
It’s one thing for a college to have a good program in football, or perhaps another major sport, but Williams College is the rare exception in that it is successful in almost all its sports. As a case in point, for six out of seven years Williams has won the Directors’ Cup Trophy, an award that symbolizes athletic supremacy in NCAA Division III. Further, the college is highly respected academically, with an average student SAT of approximately 1400, and its beautiful campus is located in a rural setting in the Berkshires of northwestern Massachusetts
The Ephs, so-named after its founder Colonel Ephraim Williams, accumulated a NCAA Division III record 1158.25 points last year when they won the cup. Despite having only 2,000 students, last year Williams had 20 of its 31 varsity teams finish in the top 20 in the nation, with 15 teams in the top 10 and 10 in the top five. Says Williams President Morty Schapiro, “The Williams community takes great pride in the varied accomplishments of our students, including these impressive and inspirational achievements on the playing fields.”
One reason for the athletic success of Williams College is Fletcher Brooks, head strength coach. In addition to working with all the athletes, he also helps guide individual students and faculty who share the weight training facility. Fletcher’s brother, Ethan, is a starter for the Baltimore Ravens and was featured in our Spring 2003 issue.
“I’ve been coaching for 30 years at all levels of athletics, and Fletcher is as good as they come,” says Ralph White, who coached Fletcher in college and is currently the head men’s and women’s track coach at Williams. “Fletcher is like a magnet with our athletes, as they know he always has their best interests at heart. In fact, it’s not uncommon to go to the gym at ten o’clock at night and Fletcher having a one-on-one training session with one of our athletes.”
In this exclusive BFS interview, Coach Brooks discusses his conditioning philosophies and the special challenges of working with so many sports and athletes.
BFS: Coach Brooks, where did you attend college?
Brooks: Allegheny College, Western PA. I majored in English, and played defensive end in football and was a thrower for the indoor and outdoor track teams. I received my masters’ in physical education from Springfield College in Massachusetts.
BFS: What is your athletic background?
Brooks: In high school I was on the football, basketball and track and field teams. In college I focused on track, primarily the shot put and discus, and football. After college I concentrated on the shot in the hopes of making the Olympic Trials. My personal best was 59 feet.
BFS: Did you make it to the Olympic Trials?
Brooks: No, I got pretty severe tendonitis in one of my knees. It got to the point where I had to take time off and that pretty much killed my chances.
BFS: You worked for strength coach Charles Poliquin last year in his facility in Tempe, Arizona. How did you get involved with Charles?
Brooks: We first met at a strength summit in Victoria, Canada. Charles was one of the primary speakers, and we got talking between sessions. That summer I had been working for a gentleman he knew out of Boston and he said, ‘Ah, you should work with me instead.” So we got a dialogue going, and I went to some of his clinics, and last summer I ended up going out and working for him.
BFS: What was the main thing that Poliquin taught you? What distinguishes him from other strength coaches?
Brooks: What doesn’t distinguish him! Charles has influenced me more than anyone out there, from truly understanding proper rest intervals, to tempo, to the pairing of exercises. A big part of what distinguishes him is his ability to truly analyze an athlete and figure out their strengths and weaknesses. He doesn’t take a hockey player and say, “These are the movements in hockey,” but rather, “What does this individual need? What are the things we need to do as far as balancing an athlete out, regardless of what sport they do?”
BFS: Do you think a lot of strength coaches are caught up with trends, such as now with the emphasis on core training?
Brooks: A lot of coaches out there have gotten caught up in gimmicky stuff and truly don’t know how to get an athlete strong. They seem to have lost touch with the idea that if an athlete is stronger, he or she is less likely to get injured and is going to perform better.
BFS: How would you describe your weightroom?
Brooks: I have to start by staying that you’re not going to find a better weightroom anywhere. Equipment-wise we have exactly what we need, keeping in mind that I also had to address the student body’s needs as well. That’s because the philosophy of the college is that anything we have can be used by all, so we don’t have an athlete’s weightroom.
BFS: Can you give me some specifics?
Brooks: On the main floor we have eight platforms with cages and benches that allow an athlete to bench, squat, chin and perform Olympic lifting exercises. We also have machines on the upper deck, thick-handled dumbbells from 5 to 150 pounds in 2 ½-pound increments, four BFS mega-hex bars, and we have a couple of large crossover pieces.
BFS: Do you usually have three athletes per platform?
Brooks: Yes, that works out pretty well with teams. We could probably go four on a platform if necessary.
BFS: How many student-athletes can be training in your facility at one time?
Brooks: We could probably fit 24 people on the platforms, so we can handle a lot of teams because you’re not going to find many teams much bigger than that – certainly not a basketball team.
BFS: What’s the approximate square footage?
Brooks: About 5,300 square feet.
BFS: Are there plans to build a bigger weightroom?
Brooks: The room needs to be bigger to allow for more machines, platforms and other equipment. The fitness center gets a tremendous amount of use from the Williams community. We’ve talked about what needs to be done, but there are a lot of projects going on in the college and the administration tends to like to do one thing at a time.
BFS: Do you work with the regular faculty and the student body?
Brooks: Certainly, and I try to be as assessable as possible. I get a lot of requests for individual programs, but sometimes I just have to tell them I’m just too busy and can only give them general guidelines. But, at the same time, we also have physical education classes for the student body, from beginning to advanced, to help these individuals.
BFS: Do you work will all the varsity sports?
Brooks: I try, and I’ve even worked with JV and club sports. Also, I take a backup role with the football and lacrosse teams as they have their own primary strength coach. In fact, they use many aspects of the BFS program.
BFS: When you first came to Williams, were the students receptive to your training methods and how do they respond to what you are doing now?
Brooks: Most of the comments were positive about my changes right from the get-go. The students here are scholar-athletes and as such naturally want to not just what to do, but why they are doing it. If you can justify what you are doing and why this would best for them, that goes a long way. This includes my choices in equipment purchases and weightroom design.
BFS: Are the athletes working out at the same time as the regular student body?
Brooks: Yes – that’s probably the hardest part of my job: to coordinate any kind of lifts, especially with teams. With teams we either go early in the morning when it’s not too busy, or after 7:00 p.m. If we try to go between 4 and 7, that’s when there are no classes and everyone in the world is in there.
BFS: If a non-athlete is using a platform, the athletes would not get preferential treatment by you asking the non-athlete to leave?
Brooks: I could kindly ask t