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Weightlifting a year round proposition for prep athletes

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The motto linked to Whiteland Community High School’s approach to conditioning its athletes might lack flair, but the message is charmingly no-nonsense.

“Basically, we’re trying to get them to run faster, jump higher and throw farther,” said Whiteland strength coach Dameion Smith, who has held his title the past four years. “If I can do that, I’m giving our coaches a better athlete.”

Preparing one’s body and mind for the sports season or seasons ahead has evolved into a year-round practice at the high school level, one that in the mind of the teenage athlete proceeds to shrink summer break even more.

All of Johnson County’s six public high schools go about strength-training those involved in organized athletics in their own way; the constants being a commitment to self-improvement and the communication required between the strength coach and coaches of the various sports.

With success comes expectation. With expectation comes responsibility. With responsibility comes maturity.

Schools regardless of how much or little athletics success they’ve experienced in recent years understand that in today’s world summer weight training is what the competition is doing.

Join in or be left behind.

“It more goes along with the work ethic we have at Center Grove. The coaches push us; and being in the MIC (Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference), it’s such tough competition, and everyone wants to be a champion,” said senior Devon Hensley, a leading receiver during football season and the starting center fielder for the Trojans’ baseball team.

“I don’t necessarily look forward to it, but we know we have to do it to get better.”

“At the level Whiteland is at now, you have to train year-around. We’re growing as a community and as a school district and are probably going to be a (Class) 6A (football) program at some point,” Smith said.

“We encourage all of our athletes to train over the summer. I’m not always pushing them to do ‘X’ amount of weight. I’m looking for them to do it correctly.”

Strength coaches including Smith, Greenwood’s Brian Smiley and Center Grove’s Marty Mills are educated to inspire, monitor and instruct the young athletes at their school looking to progress to that next level.

Smith and Smiley both opt for a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday workout schedule; while Mills prefers Monday, Wednesday, Friday.

In all three cases the football players get use of the weight room from 7 to 8 a.m. Schedules differ after that.

Whiteland, for instance, uses the second hour for non-football-playing male athletes to go through their workout routines and the final 90 minutes for all girls sports participants.

Greenwood’s 8 to 9 a.m. window has Smiley focused on elementary and middle school training with the female athletes and males playing something other than football filling up the weight room from 9 to 10:30 a.m.

Indian Creek goes with an afternoon lifting schedule, with Braves athletes coming in from 4 to 6 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Meanwhile, at Edinburgh, the Lancers football players lift from 7 to 9 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Other coaches have their own hours.

How these local strength coaches coach depends on the athlete. After all, a girls cross-country runner will take a different approach to her training than will a starting offensive lineman in football.

“There’s a lot that goes into it, like what season do they play and are they a multisport athlete. It’s almost on an individualized basis, which can be difficult when you’re dealing with (approximately) 300 kids,” Smiley said.

“With football we have a general lift that we do with all of them. Then we get a little more specific based on the position they play and things like that. To destroy a kid at 7 o’clock in the morning, then ask him to go out to football practice, that can be counterproductive.

“I was doing this four or five days a week (in the summer), and the numbers would drop off,” Smiley continued. “This way it’s more quality time in the weight room. And it gives them time to be a kid.”

Mills likes to incorporate kettlebells into workouts of his younger athletes. It allows them to work on basic movement patterns while strengthening one’s core and improving flexibility.

“I think it’s silly to throw 14-year-old kids under a bar and expect them to squat,” Mills said. “That’s foolish.”

Sometimes the bitter aftertaste of disappointment is the best motivational device.

Mills remembers how on Nov. 18, the Monday following Center Grove’s disappointing 12-7 semistate football loss at Warren Central, roughly 50 of the program’s freshmen players were in the weight room eager to get started.

The Class of 2017 was prepared to make amends, even if it was two or three years down the road.

“One of the cool things about Center Grove is the kids hold each other accountable. You’re just expected to be there and to be committed,” Mills said.

“But I would say our biggest part of lifting is in class (during the school year). I think I have 600 kids in class every semester. All athletes. The summer is just an extension of that. When I talked to our underclassmen the last two days of school, it was like, ‘OK, guys, see you Monday.’ It’s continuous.”

Mills estimates Center Grove High School athletes train, on average, 48 of the 52 weeks per calendar year.

His tone of voice — be it instructional or motivational — isn’t altered based on the gender of athletes or the sport they play.

“I don’t change. They know me. This is what we’re going to do, why we’re going to do it and how we’re going to do it. And I’ll say it the same way. Everything goes back to what their goal is. I don’t care about the age or the gender. I care about the commitment,” Mills said.

“I’m pretty intense, but I’m not going to get in your face for dramatic effect. The kids know I care about them. They know me, and I know their families. I have the same expectations for all of them, and they all know that.”

Smiley added, “If I go in and bark and really get after (other athletes) the way I do football players, I’m hurting myself. It can be a challenge. There are days we nail it and days we’re like, ‘OK, let’s start over.’ But I do try to be consistent going from one sport to the next.”

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