Coach's Corner: Tony Smith

Tony Smith has been coaching strength and conditioning for over 20 years. He has worked in numerous settings from high school to collegiate Division I settings. Smith has worked at Clemson University, Ole Miss, Florida Atlantic University, University of Tennessee, and Duke University working primarily with football and a variety of other sports as well.

Originally from South Carolina, Smith settled back into Gaffney High School to build a program complete with brand new weight room, and be closer to home. He spoke to Perch recently and provided some insight into coaching all over, how it impacted his philosophy, and what he sees the future of weight room technology being. Thanks Tony!

PERCH: TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF

Tony Smith: I started off at North Greenville College [coaching football] which was close to the house and I got involved with some younger coaches and became the D-Line guy. And the coach said for an extra $1000 he needed someone to be the head strength guy. So I volunteered because personally I liked lifting weights and that’s how I started in getting into strength & conditioning. Then of course as you continue to grow you try to gain more knowledge. I was reaching out to people who were a whole lot smarter than I was, so guys like Joey Batson at Clemson, and John Siss who’s now at Georgia State. And finally a GA spot came open at Clemson, so I went there for two years. And that really set the tone as far as my foundation in strength & conditioning.

Then I left and became the head guy at Finley University for about 8 months, and then became an assistant at Ole Miss under Rueben Mendoza (who was an assistant coach at Clemson while I was there). And I worked with basketball and football there for about 5 years. And then I became the head guy at Florida Atlantic for about 3 years. And then I came back to the high school setting here at Gaffney High for 7 years and it was really good!

Somehow an opportunity came at University of Tennessee, so I left and was there for a year before an opportunity popped up at Duke. It was too good to be true to work with people you know and like and work together, so I went to Duke for about 3.5 years. And then this opportunity to come back to Gaffney came up and what really set the tone for that was that they are building a brand new weight room here. That weight room should be finalized in another month or so, and we’re going to be putting the Perch units in there. And the main reason to come back to Gaffney was to be able to put my finger and my blueprint on that while being closer to home and still coaching. I’ve been a few stops, but like I said, I’ve worked with a lot of great people and that’s what it’s all about. I’m still always willing to learn.

I’ve been a few stops, but like I said, I’ve worked with a lot of great people and that’s what it’s all about. I’m still always willing to learn.

Tony Smith

HOW HAS YOUR BACKGROUND SHAPED YOUR PERSONAL COACHING PHILOSOPHY?

TS: My mentor is Joey Batson, he’s the one who set the foundation for a bunch of us. When we were there, he had this powerlifting type of background where we were trying to get these guys as strong as possible. When I went to Ole Miss, I got to see a side from Noel Durfey, that you better be explosive! It’s not just about being strong and big. He really helped us understand the Olympic type of movements. And now I’m a hybrid of both of them together as far as my own philosophy goes.

WHAT ABOUT THE PROGRAMMING PIECE? HOW HAS IT SHIFTED OVER THE YEARS?

TS: The periodization part I had taken the old school approach. As I’ve learned more and more I keep realizing that there are much smarter people out there than me. Personally, I love the triphasic stuff from Cal Dietz, and I met him when I went to Finley University (I had taken his spot there when he left for Minnesota). So I like that stuff, but it all depends.

At this point, everything feels rushed, like it seems like you don’t have a lot of time to get guys strong. Especially at the college level. You’re usually only going to get about 6-7 weeks and all the sudden you’re playing spring ball!

What’s good about the high school level is that you have a lot of time. We lift through the football season starting in the summer. And then when these guys get back in January, we have these strength meets that we prepare for. I spend about 8 weeks trying to get them as strong as possible for these strength meets we have. We have a regional meet and then a state meet, so we’d try to get them strong as possible and qualified. Without spring ball season, we can really focus on getting these guys strong in the second semester.

WHEN DID YOU HEAR ABOUT VBT AND WHEN DID IT START MAKING SENSE TO YOU?

TS: I met Dr. Bryan Mann at Ole Miss and started following him and when he published his VBT book, I started reading it and liking it. When I was at University of Tennessee, we got to playing around with some [VBT systems] and got to see Tendos and GymAwares, but didn’t get really full bore into it until I was at Duke with Noel Durfey.

There, we used velocity every day there in the weight room, no matter what we were doing we were using velocity to measure load. The athletes loved it. It was an easy transition because it created a really competitive environment, it was an easy process for the players. They were competing between racks and really trying to get better.

We used velocity every day there in the weight room, no matter what we were doing we were using velocity to measure load. The athletes loved it. It was an easy transition because it created a really competitive environment, it was an easy process for the players. They were competing between racks and really trying to get better.

Tony Smith

And then I was at a Hammer Strength clinic maybe a year ago and I ran into Jacob from Perch and he showed me what y’all have and I was like “man!” At the time we had been having issues with our Tendos because of the string breaking, and we could never figure out a way to do it wireless obviously. And of course it existed, so I loved Perch from the get-go. Noel was there at the clinic and once I showed him, we got some demo units at Duke. And those kids loved it immediately. I think that is where the future is going, the wireless is key, and that’s how we found out about Perch and started really liking it.

HOW DID YOU BRING VBT TO THE HIGH SCHOOL SETTING?

TS: I talked to Jacob and he sent me a demo unit. Honestly, we couldn’t keep the kids off of it! We hooked it up and they’re better at computers than I am. They would go over, hit their name and get to it. With the demo unit, we only had one and all 25 guys in the weight room at any given moment wanting to be on that one platform. I told them we can’t be doing that! So I’d limit it to 5 guys but it became clear this was something they were really taking to.

Athletes of this generation make the transition to technology really easily. In our school, we give them computers and that’s just how everything is. We’ve been doing zoom stuff with our players lately. And like I said, having Perch in the weight room, the kids loved it and they were using it better than even I did.

Athletes of this generation make the transition to technology really easily. In our school, we give them computers and that’s just how everything is. We’ve been doing zoom stuff with our players lately. And like I said, having Perch in the weight room, the kids loved it and they were using it better than even I did.

Tony Smith

HOW HAVE YOU WOVEN VBT INTO YOUR PROGRAMMING?

TS: Educating these guys and telling them why we are using it has been big. Instead of telling them a percentage, giving them a threshold and they can then see when moving the bar what velocity they need to be lifting at that day. And load will be based on that. If there are reasons they aren’t able to lift at that speed, we can engage in conversations. Ask them what’s going on: did they get enough sleep, did they eat enough, you know? At the high school level that’s different, sometimes the only meals they’re eating is when they’re at school. And right now [with COVID19] they don’t have that opportunity to eat the way they need to.

DOES THE VELOCITY COMPONENT WITH HIGH SCHOOLERS MATTER MORE BECAUSE OF THEIR INCREASED VARIABILITY (FOOD, HORMONES, SLEEP, ETC?)

TS: Definitely. This young generation has a high stress level. Whether it is school, or girlfriend or boyfriend problems, that outside stress still exists. Unless we get to see it by the velocity on the barbell that day, we won’t be able to account for it. So having that allows us to measure and have conversations as needed, but also make sure the kids are training and adapting properly.

This young generation has a high stress level...Unless we get to see it by the velocity on the barbell that day, we won’t be able to account for it. So having that allows us to measure and have conversations as needed, but also make sure the kids are training and adapting properly.

Tony Smith

We use velocity in a warmup set to understand where a kid is at for the day. Say we’re doing 6 sets, the first three will be what I call “getting there” sets. And then when we get to those last few, if they’re not really hitting the velocities that’s when we can take them aside and say “hey, what’s going on with you?” and just check in with them. At the high school level, I hear a lot of “I’m hungry coach” and I’m fortunate to have a good budget here at Gaffney, so I can run in and get them a protein bar and try and fuel them a little bit more.

TS: To me, the data is going to be how you build a profile for every player primarily. And then watching them progress from a freshman up to a senior kid. Once they’re at that training age, they may not be making those big gains anymore, but regardless we’ll always have the parameters as to what they should be lifting. And if we’re hitting those parameters, we know what we’re training for instead of just guessing at it.

Now looking forward, everybody wants the best gear and the best way to train their athletes. We’re just now building this brand new facility and we’re competing with schools who did this ten years ago. Now all this technology is now coming out too, at Gaffney we’re going to be the first to install Perch in our weight room, but as the years go by this is just going to become the norm. Everybody is going to have a Perch in their weight room. And it’s just going to help progress our athletes and do so safely.

At Gaffney we’re going to be the first to install Perch in our weight room, but as the years go by this is just going to become the norm. Everybody is going to have a Perch in their weight room. And it’s just going to help progress our athletes and do so safely.

Tony Smith

ANY LAST THOUGHTS?

TS: Every sport is different, you’re going to train athletes in the weight room a little bit differently. But you’re still not reinventing the wheel. You’ll still have to squat and press and do some kind of olympic movement. You just have to find out what your athletes need and give it to them. If that sport coach is all for the weight room, it’ll make life a whole lot easier. And that sport coach can see the importance of the weight room a lot easier with data points from velocity. So it lends itself to a better training environment across the board, and I hope it’ll help all these kids motivate themselves to get better as athletes.

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