A pack of Monona Grove High School athletes gathers at one end of a hallway while strength and conditioning coach Andy Bellamy stands at the other end with a clipboard and stopwatch.
One by one, the athletes sprint down the multicolored, linoleum-covered floor while Bellamy stands with his back to the wall, preparing to time each student. Some students are dismayed by their times even if they were a small fraction slower – meaning tenths or hundreds of a second slower – than they were days earlier. Others smile and swagger as they walk down the hall if their times are personal records or PRs for short.
Bellamy and his assistants, Alex Burgy, Brittany Byrnes and Marcus Wallace, are often unsung heroes but very significant in a young athlete’s desire to become faster, stronger and more powerful on the football field, basketball court or golf course.
Strength and conditioning coaches are becoming a major part of high school athletic programs across the country. It used to be head coaches of different sports – such as football, basketball, volleyball, baseball and soccer – monitored their players’ development in the weight room and organized other activities aimed at improving athletic performance. Now, muscle development, speed, endurance and power are in the hands of specialists, who teach youngsters the importance of maintaining a consistent workout regimen. The goal is not just to make the athletes better but to reduce the possibility of injuries.
“The best ability is availability, and you can’t be available to your team or teammates if you are injured,” said Bellamy, a native of Mount Vernon, Iowa, and graduate of Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.
He is in his first year as the strength and conditioning coach at Monona Grove, although he has worked in that capacity for five years.
Aside from sprinting, Bellamy’s students also lift weights two to three times a week, and the workouts vary for in-season and out-season athletes. Sessions are scheduled mornings and afternoons after school. He said the focus is not bodybuilding but athletic performance.
“It doesn’t matter if you squat 500 pounds if you can’t perform on the field. It doesn’t matter if you can bench 315 pounds if you can’t make that tackle, catch the ball or shoot that basket,” Bellamy said.
Monona Grove’s strength and conditioning program is dominated with male athletes, and few females participate. But Bellamy said girl athletes in sports such as softball, volleyball, tennis, golf and swimming can benefit as well, because boys and girls execute the same movements in their workout routines.
“We take a general approach to speed, power and strength, and they are going to get that focus in their sport,” Bellamy said. “Girls can squat, do upper body movements, the exact things male counterparts do.”
Bellamy said athletes are not required to attend workouts, and some just rely on their inborn athletic abilities. In those cases, he tries to get his regulars to encourage teammates to participate.
“There is nothing mandatory about this, because they don’t get school credit,” Bellamy said. “We use the leadership (of regulars) to get guys there that are not attending. We try to get to the root of the problem, but you can lead the horse but you can’t make it drink. We don’t focus on the kids who aren’t here, and we are going to put our time and effort into the kids that choose to show up.”
Sophomore football player Grant Dahlhauser avidly works with Bellamy and has seen the results. He said he has added 15-20 pounds of extra muscle, and his running speed has increased.
“It’s going to be easier to tackle, because when you are going up against bigger guys who have more weight on you, it’s easier to drive through them,” Dahlhauser said. “Putting on weight is going to help not getting pushed around as much.”
McFarland has also seen more students limbering up in the high school’s new weight room, which was funded by a school referendum approved by voters in 2017. The weight room has also numerous female athletes.
Senior Maeve Christlieb said the new, larger facility is less cramped and intimidating, and it allows athletes to freely go about their business.
“Now that we have this open space, we have people stretching, doing jumps, everyone has their own plan,” said Christlieb, who plays golf and soccer. “This room allows us to do our own thing without worrying about what other people are doing. The number of knee injuries in girls soccer has gone down dramatically because of strength training and focus on ACL prevention.”
Senior Lizzy Fortune, a McFarland softball and volleyball player, has seen her athletic performance improve. She believes the improved facilities are responsible for the recent success of high school teams.
“Girls swimming made it to state, volleyball made it to state, boys soccer made it to state, the football team reached the playoffs the past two seasons. It’s benefited a lot of people,” she said.
McFarland girls golfer and soccer player Carson Eccles said her workouts have added yardage to her drives off the tee and have helped her with the mental aspect of golf and soccer.
McFarland strength and conditioning coach Ryan Rothwell said he and co-head coach Doug Peterson are constantly researching methods that will improve the efficiency of workouts. He said workouts for boys and girls are virtually the same, as most sports require the same motions and movements.
“We are always trying to sharpen our technique and figure out what is a better way to teach it. We are very interested in researching and watching videos, reading articles and talking to other strength staff at colleges and high schools,” said Rothwell, a native of McFarland and graduate of Winona State University. “We are expanding our knowledge on a continuing basis.”
Rothwell insists on high-tempo workouts through weightlifting and movements. The sessions are fast paced, and athletes are prompted to work together and not spend time chatting with each other between sets. The idea is to make it fun.
“Athletes want to get better, and we create a fun environment for males and females,” Rothwell said. “We want them to work hard without realizing they are working hard.”
Rothwell said his relationship with athletic trainer Jay Hanson is also important, and the two constantly communicate on injuries and how to work around them.
But the responsibility lies with the athletes and how much work they want to put in.
“It’s you versus you,” Rothwell said. “Your goal is to get 1 percent better than when you came in. Numbers don’t matter as long as they are making progress individually.”