A New Kind of Classroom

Neil H. Devlin, Sports Information Director
The days of kids casually showing up, laying down on the bench, pushing up some reps and then telling everyone how much they lifted have long been gone.

So are coaches loosely running today’s high-school weight rooms as well as bulk being the primary goal.
“It’s not a 24-Hour Fitness and you can’t do whatever you want, when you want and unsupervised,” Mullen Director of Sports Medicine Joey Mahmood said.

No, weight rooms on campuses have turned into classrooms. Teaching lifelong lessons and fitness, and becoming centers for decision-making, leadership and respect have taken precedence over getting out of the way of the football players and how much someone can squat or leg-press.
And everyone from cross country to volleyball is welcome.

Said Mullen Strength and Conditioning coach Grant Stewart: “(Training) can make your everyday life that much easier.”

And sports even better – in Colorado, Stewart is currently in the middle of the ever-changing workout, the evolving off-season program, the in-season analytical training, the long-term development and the ever-present I-know-more-than-you-do-about-it conflict that’s getting stronger for those associated with today’s schoolboy and schoolgirl athletics.

For him, it isn’t as much about looking like the Arnold Schwarzenegger set of the 1960s and ‘70s as it is being prepared, able to sustain the wear and tear, and delivering.

Stewart and the Mullen Sports Performance Team, along with assistants Jordan Boriack, Taylor Knestis and Bob Fernandez, are convinced they realize the size of the Mustangs, what they’re up against and how they should best approach it.

“Our main philosophy is movement-based,” said Stewart, who also spoke last spring at a National High School Strength and Conditioning Coaches conference held at Valor Christian in Highlands Ranch. “We’re more concerned with how athletes move than the weight they’re lifting. If they move quickly they can demonstrate their power more efficiently. It leads to (fewer) injuries.”

Mahmood said “injury resilience is probably one of the most-important reasons why this program was created and what the Mullen Sports Performance does well.”

According to Mahmood, in his ninth year with the Mustangs, the school, like so many others across Colorado, dabbled in the official strength-coach thing the past decade. And in 2013, they decided to go full-time with it, saw that it needed to be more comprehensive and had to have a hire exclusively for it.

Four years later, Stewart, a native of Eaton, came on board. He also bolstered it from a physical-education-based program to one of wellness.

“We have good kids here,” Stewart said. “You want to keep them getting stronger, faster and bigger, but I think what we’re doing is giving kids confidence. We’re improving team cohesion and I think the biggest thing is being a positive role model and making a positive impact on our students’ lives. I want to teach them more than lifting weights.”

Estimates have more than two-dozen others such as Stewart across Colorado schools as he’s in the mix of a growing trend. A former fullback at Black Hills State College, he has also worked at Greeley West High School, Colorado State, Arizona State and Wyoming along with a segment of the Special Forces, the Green Berets.
The program also centers on longer-term and year-round development, being informed about proper nutrition and rest, and the gains in leadership, teamwork, mental toughness and, according to Mahmood, a healthy-training atmosphere with the core principles of the LaSallian faith.

“Coach Stewart is very forward in letting people know that he is a man of faith,” Mahmoud said. “He has told me since the beginning, this is the place to work. He is able to educate student-athletes in performance and faith.”
With Stewart, lifting during the season is as important as lifting during the off-season. And it is adjusted accordingly.

“This is not a one-size-fits-all workout,” he said.

Tiers are built, strategies are planned, iPads are included, proper technique habits are encouraged to evolve and the journey toward development and staying healthy begins.

“Almost every (Mustangs) team is onboard team-wise,” Stewart said. “And some are really great about it.”
However, there are logistical issues, such as golf, swimming and tennis usually being off site for practice and matches. Still, Stewart welcomes the battle for all to buy in as well as, say, dealing with a 5-foot-2 female point guard all the way to a 6-3, 300-pound-plus lineman.

But many Mustangs coaches understand the universal aspect of the original idea.

“The strength-and-conditioning program gives our student-athletes an opportunity to utilize a solid workout program based on science and the latest, best practices,” Mustangs athletic director Vince Massey said. “It brings all programs under one directed program that addresses the needs of beginning athletes as well as those who are more experienced.

“While still in its infancy, the program is making strides and the coaches are working one-on-one with Coach Stewart to ensure that the program is addressing all of our athletes’ needs.”

Said baseball head coach Nick Arcuri: “I’m OK with it and it helps the team.”

It makes the most sense for the school, boys and girls soccer head coach Matthew Guglielmo said, because ”if we are here to help our student-athletes to perform at their best, a comprehensive Sports Performance must be in place.

“First and foremost, if athletes cannot participate in a contest due to injuries that are preventable, we are doing a disservice to them. A program like ours keeps players healthy, enables them to perform at their best and gives us as a school the best chance to be successful.

“How does our program aid my teams? Soccer players are frequently injured and this is due to the time we spend with Coach Stewart and his assistants. End of story.”

The program adds a specific, tailored aspect to training Mustangs teams, Mahmood said, which he insists is the key.

“I have heard Coach Stewart say so many times that students at Mullen are pulled in so many directions and they are (run) until they are empty,” Mahmood said. “For a strength coach to realize that and know less is more, is huge. I don’t think many strength coaches feel that way. They want to push and push and push until they have no more.

“Coach Stewart’s programs aren’t based on what he wants; they are based on what are best for Mullen students. The program isn’t an overnight program. It takes time, but most things that are done right take time. Coach Stewart is concerned with doing what is best and safest for our students. Period.”

For his part, Stewart said he enjoys doing his thing at Mullen and wants to make a difference.

“The field of strength and conditioning is ever involving,” he said. “Our department stays up on its scientific research to benefit growing adolescent athletes.

“We will change with the times.”