At Centennial Junior High School in Utica, Nebraska, the commitment to excellence and championships has already begun.
By Todd Halvorsen
Published: Spring 2001
There are 39 seventh and eight grade boys and girls who are laying the foundation for their future, and it's coming in the form of the Bigger Faster Stronger Readiness Program. Thirty-nine is nearly 50% of the entire Junior High population at this Class C-1 school in Nebraska.
One of the things that sets this program apart form most others, is that nearly all of the athletes live outside of the town of Utica (pop. 718), where the Junior/Senior High School weight room is located. Some travel as far as 15 miles to get to the school to participate in this two-session-per-week program, with each session beginning at 7:00 a.m. It's not only the athletes who are experiencing a vision for the future; the parents are providing the commitment, encouragement, and transportation that will help them meet this lofty end. Kevin Sullivan, parent of eighth-grade athlete Dylan Sullivan, had this to say about the commitment toward the new weight program: “It's been a long time coming, and not only are the kids gaining strength, but the kids and coaches are developing unity.”
Having coached the BFS Program for eight years at other schools, hosted a BFS Clinic, and assisted Clinicians Jim Brown and Greg Shepard, I was easily sold on the benefits of implementing the Readiness Program at Centennial. As a head Football Coach and Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, I believe many people are cautious, or maybe even fearful, of athletes as young as seventh and eighth grade beginning a structured lifting program. Most of that thinking is based on misinformation. Our BFS Readiness Program is based on teaching lifting technique, weight room safety, record breaking and goal setting. My son Jordan, who is in the seventh grade, started the Readiness Program the spring of his sixth grade year. When asked why he wanted to make the commitment to the weight room, he gave me this answer: “I'm inspired by P.J. Brown (son of BFS Clinician Jim Brown) and someday I would like to be a BFS All-American.” At this young age, Jordan was already setting his long-term goals.
We are attempting to instill a work ethic in our young athletes that will carry over into their high school years. In other words, we are developing good habits when they are young. Daily, our young athletes complete their logbooks. By using the logbooks we have measurable progress on all lifts. This helps the athletes see that they are reaching the goals that they have set for themselves. Testing the vertical jump and 10-yard sprint every four weeks is also an excellent indicator of progress. I have observed that when athletes can see direct results from documenting themselves, they are encouraged to stick with it and push even harder to reach their next level. Goal setting is a foundation for success. Teaching the athletes to spot properly and encourage each other is another element that is imperative; not only for safety reasons, but by working together to make each other better, they are developing a sense of unity that they will take with them throughout their athletic careers. These are all habits that I, as their coach, hope they will never break.
Technique-perfect technique-is the emphasis, not poundage. We approach the weight room as if it were a practice. Our goal is to have perfect practice. Each lifter is expected to complete two sets of ten with perfect technique on the bench press, squat, box squat and towel bench before they progress to the next level, which equals another five pounds. They must do two sets of five repetitions on the power clean and power snatch. The only core lift we don’t currently do at the Jr. high level is the dead lift, due to time constraints. We do, however, do the straight leg dead lift with very light weight.
Two important elements of the Centennial BFS Readiness Program that must not be overlooked are the flexibility and conditioning sessions. Our philosophy is to develop explosive power for speed in the weight room, and then teach them the proper sprint techniques. Form running, box jumping, upper-body plyometrics, and agility stations are all huge parts of this program. Flexibility should never be overlooked. I spend a lot of time verbally explaining and emphasizing the importance of flexibility. If these young athletes know at an early stage in their athletic careers that this is part of the entire package, it will not be a stumbling block at a later age when trying to implement flexibility and conditioning into the ‘lifting’ program. I am a firm believer that these ‘non-lifting’ elements give the added advantage of quick and safe gains in strength and speed.
In rounding out the BFS athlete, we at Centennial have incorporated the Be An 11 Guidebook into our seventh grade health class. The Guidebook is being used as part of their daily coursework. Instilling character and championship principles extends far beyond the weight room. It can even reach beyond the arena where the practice and competition actually take place. In our case, we are teaching character and championship principles in our classrooms! With the support of our administration, we all share a common goal of teaching young students the principles of character building that they will not only use in their sports, but also in their daily living. And through a good strong character, championship principles can be used in any facet of life to gain the success that they will all be reaching for-not only while they are teenagers, but also as adults.
We will continue to use the BFS Readiness Program here at Centennial Junior High School. I have found it to be a program that sells itself to the athletes. When done correctly, and with commitment, it builds champions. Already, our upperclassmen have made great strides. At the high school, the advanced BFS in-season program found our varsity football players gaining strength in poundage, and height in their vertical jumps. This itself is the testimony that sells the program. The kids see results and believe. When these younger athletes begin to believe at an early age, it will then lead to nothing less than winning championships at Centennial High School.
As an administrator, it is very exciting to see thirty-nine junior high students commit to a program which will assist them in reaching their athletic and personal goals. I am amazed that not only the students, but also the parents make the sacrifice to bring their children to the school at 7:00 a.m. to participate in the program. The students are genuinely sold on the program and are maintaining their enthusiasm by seeing improvements in all of the tested areas. In addition to the obvious benefits the students are gaining physically, they also are learning the discipline which is required to be successful in all aspects of their lives.
Doyle Denney, Principal
Centennial Public School