How to Plan a Productive Off-Season

13 Dec, 2016

Jeremiah Chapman CSCS, SCCC, Pn-1

As the high school football season comes to an end, most athletes will be heading into a critical period from a developmental standpoint: off-season. This is the longest portion of the year and accounts for almost two-thirds of the time spent with your athletes. Over the next few weeks, we are going to focus on planning and executing an annual training plan. Throughout this planning process, we will look at how to develop the plan from start to finish along with the objectives of each phase throughout the year.

When to Start

The plan will start immediately after the last game has been completed and will take you through the projected end of the upcoming season. The initial period will account for the downtime used by players and coaches to recover from the past season. Player exit interviews, equipment return, reflection by the staff and off-season planning will take place during this transition phase.

It Starts with a Plan

To paraphrase Ben Franklin, “Failing to plan, is planning to fail.” Take time to reflect, evaluate and plan your direction first. Do not go into the off-season blindly doing what has always been done.

As you sit down to develop your plan, there are several factors you want to take into consideration. First, look back at the past season and examine things that went well, as well as the things that may not have gone the way you planned. Were there any recurring non-contact injuries? Were your athletes outmatched or oversized anywhere? Look for themes that came up throughout the season that you want to address during the time you have with your athletes. What do you need to continue building upon during this next year? Take notes so these factors can be accounted for in your upcoming off-season.

Next, sit down as a staff and come up with the expectations for the upcoming season. What is the vision and end goal for twelve months from now? What are things that you can address throughout the rest of the school year that will benefit you next August? Size, strength, speed, discipline, etc.? Compile a list of qualities you want to improve along with the review of the past season to use as your outline.

Look at the Calendar

As you map out your plan look at the different breaks in the school year calendar and decide how long each phase can last. Using the calendar determine what weeks you will want to test throughout the off-season. This is an extremely important piece but should not be overdone. While measurement does provide feedback and motivation during the long off-season, if performed too frequently, it will lead to no significant improvements. Try to leave at least 6-8 weeks between testing periods if possible. Another option is to use a multi-rep max in the weight room that can be improved upon during the workouts. See Jim Windler’s 5/3/1 a for way to observe steady improvements without wasting time testing every other week. This allows for more feedback and provides the athletes motivation between scheduled testing.

PS- When looking at the calendar be sure to account for school holidays, half days and state mandating testing. Use these as deload days/weeks.

Work Backwards

Begin with the end in mind. While taking the calendar and your vision into consideration, it is time to work backwards. Based on your discussions as a staff ,you should have an idea of what you want to accomplish prior to two a days in August. Knowing the destination, begin to work through the summer months, Spring Ball (if applicable), and eventually all the way back to January. Working backwards allows you to detach, look at the bigger picture and put a plan in place. This will ensure that you are not going into off-season and winging it day to day. Each phase should have a purpose and allow you to build momentum as you head towards the season.


There are a million different ways to program an off-season from a strength and conditioning standpoint. Performance Course has been working with high school athletes for nearly two decades and throughout that time we have found that less is more. When in doubt, utilize the KISS method. Keep it simple, stupid! You are working with high school athletes that have anywhere from 1-4 years of actual training experience. There is no need to get fancy. Sound, fundamental movements executed effectively throughout the year will be your best chance for success. Bruce Lee stated, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Young athletes should become brilliant at the basics. Avoid wasting time learning lifts and movements that look “cool” on YouTube but have no carryover to sport. Basic movements executed with precision and performed with great effort over time will trump any Workout of the Day performed randomly.

If you are looking for a resource, Joe Kenn’s Coach’s Strength Training Playbook is a great book for any coach to read regardless of sport. In his book, he lays out a very straightforward and common sense approach to programming that is referred to as the Tier System. If you are involved in off-season planning of any sort, we highly recommend this book and the Tier System method of training. The Tier System is based on compound, multi-joint movements that train the entire body as opposed to a split training routine. To paraphrase Coach Kenn, you can’t play sports with only the upper or lower half of your body, so why would you train it that way. Each day has an emphasis and the movement categories are rotated daily throughout the training week to ensure maximum benefit for the athletes. As fans of this approach, we utilize the Tier System for all of our programming at Performance Course.

This should give you a 30,000-foot view of how to approach the annual plan and your off-season. In the next article, we will break down each phase and go into more detail on programming for each period.