Ross Kolodziej is a fortunate strength and conditioning coach. As head of strength and conditioning for the Wisconsin Badgers football program, he has the opportunity to guide athletes who are not only incredibly gifted from an athletic standpoint, but also have the brainpower necessary to earn admittance to the University of Wisconsin. It’s this very combination that allows Kolodziej (pronounced Kuh-La-Gee) to quickly set expectations for student-athletes and immediately win their hearts and minds.
“First and foremost, the success of the program — and really for your in-state kids who have grown up around the program, they know what this place is about. They’ve seen the success and what goes on day-to-day and out on the field. So, the buy-in comes pretty quickly because a lot of these guys have grown up around the program and know what they’re stepping into. They want to be a part of this, so they are already willing to do whatever it is we do, even though they might not know the specific details of it,” he says.
While that aura surrounding Badger Football is what often brings recruits to the door, it’s the student-athlete’s intelligence that drives success when the polish wears off and “the grind” settles in.
“Intelligence is huge, because if you have a smart guy that you can sit down and talk to and explain scientifically what we’re doing, then there is even higher buy-in. You have the proven results; you have the science. And you have the guys in the locker room who’ve been a part of this thing saying, hey, I came in as a 200-pound player, and now I’m 240 pounds because I stuck to the plan and got my rest and did what they asked,” he says. “I stayed on top of my schoolwork so I eliminated the external stressors I have in my life. It’s all those little things that really add up.”
Kolodziej never assumes his student-athletes know anything about the program or the direction they’re headed. As smart as his guys are, it always helps to circle back and reinforce the fundamentals, because as he says, you never really get too far from that anyway. It’s this penchant for constantly providing context that keeps his athletes progressing.
“We are going to spend a ton of time talking about the training phase we are in and constantly remind them what the objectives are,” says Kolodziej. “We tell them don’t drift off or lose focus or get caught up in the mundane activity of routine. Whether it’s sprint mechanics or technique in the weight room or technique in individual drills in practice, it’s human nature to kind of adapt and tune out. But we want to keep sharpening the blade and get better at what we do. It’s our job as coaches to keep focused on those fundamentals and renew that, find different ways to keep it fresh, but at the same time be very good at what you do.”
Kolodziej regularly brings in outside speakers to address his athletes. He’s lucky, because Wisconsin is one of the foremost research institutions in the world. He has access to some of the top researchers in the country in nutrition, hydration, sleep, active recovery, passive recovery, mindfulness exercises, and so on. It’s easy for him to show his student-athletes real-world research and the science behind the concepts that drive athletic performance every day.
“We’re not making this stuff up,” he says. “We can show them, here’s the correlation between performance — whether that’s in the classroom or on the field — and the amount and quality of your sleep. Here’s how nutrition affects lean body mass. Here’s how stress affects it. It goes on and on.”
Kolodziej and his staff also come up with weekly topics and deliver information around those topics to players in a newsletter format. Each player receives the newsletter by email, but it’s also up in each of the bathrooms. They can pull it up and read it whenever they need to.
“At the start of the week, we’ll explain why it’s the area of emphasis we’re focusing on that week,” he says. “We do a lot more than just bring them in here for two hours and lift weights. A lot of our guys are smart guys. They take biomechanics or exercise classes, and they come in here and say, ‘my professor was talking about the same things we’re learning in here.’ You talk about buy-in. They’re college students and they’re interested in information being presented and sourced in a certain way. I think it would be a disservice to the process of coaching these guys — especially at this level — to haphazardly go about it and not be able to validate why we do what we do. When you do that, that’s where buy-in and all of those things go through the roof.”
This article was written by CSCCa Magazine managing editor Paul Markgraff. He can be reached at 608-423-2703 or email@example.com.