Coach Joe Fitzgerald Offers Great Advice for High School Athletes

Posted on Jan 7 2018 - 12:43pm by Jeff Pexton

Editor’s Note: The following is the first in a series of monthly articles provided by our friends at O.B. Fitness Training. This piece is submitted by Coach Joe Fitzgerald.

By: Joe Fitzgerald

I didn’t live up to my athletic potential.  I didn’t give it my all.

As a now twenty-five year old this is incredibly painful to say.  I think back to when I was in high school and college and can recognize now that I wasn’t even as close to being as good as I could have been.



They say that hindsight is 20/20.  Looking back on your life can provide an interesting vantage point for the decisions you made at the time.  Being in a career where I interact on a daily basis with young athletes ranging from middle school through college allows me a chance to pass along some wisdom that I may have picked up when I was in their position.


I get to help them with their form on various exercises, explain why we do them and how it can help, and push them harder than they want to go.  On most occasions however, I don’t get to sit down with them to explain the bigger picture.


So this is for you guys.  Not just our O.B. Athletes but the high school athlete who thinks getting a little bit of playing time is as good as it will get.


This isn’t just for the kid who is unsure if making the team is even going to happen.  This is also for the athlete who is the best player on the team, but in a small town where there has never been any real competition.


The D-I dreamer who currently doesn’t even have a D-III work ethic.


When you are in high school you have so much more control than you believe.  So hopefully some of these principles will hit home and change the trajectory of an athlete who has more in the tank.   I didn’t live up to my athletic potential but that doesn’t have to be you.



Principle #1 – Strength Matters


As a freshman and sophomore in high school I would see some of the older guys in the weight room squatting what I thought was an impossible amount of weight.  Granted, most of them were football linemen who were roughly twice my bodyweight, but still to me it was incredible.


Fast forward to my senior year and I was still lifting roughly the same weight I was when I started high school.


What happened?  Was working out a total waste of my time?


The answer of course is a resounding no.  But what I was doing was absolutely a waste.  I thought just going in there and doing a few sets of this and that, texting and basically just hanging out with my buddies was going to make me strong.


I had no plan.  There was no structure.  Just clocking in and clocking out, with no system of checking if any progress was being made.



In my head I was pretty good on the field and didn’t need to work hard in the gym to improve physically.


When I got to college I was very quickly put in my place both on the field and in our athletic weight room.  Competition got more intense and it was our athletic trainer who pointed out to me how haphazard my “workouts” really were.


After beginning an organized strength program my numbers in the gym improved drastically but more importantly my on-field performance was totally different.


Working with a ton of high school athletes I very often see this same attitude where the belief that working on specific sport skills trumps developing a solid foundation of physical strengths.  I would never say that practicing your sport is not important, but if you aren’t strong or fast enough to be able to compete on the field there are no amount of fancy skills that will help you.


Strength matters, and given similar skillsets the stronger and faster athlete is going to win every time.


Take some time to get bigger, faster, and stronger and you will accomplish things on the field that you never thought possible.



Principle #2 – What You Put In Is What You Will Get Out


I remember walking with the guys to go to a local pizzeria before every lacrosse game in middle school.  Looking back this is absolutely baffling to me, but talking to the athletes I work with now it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.


Nutrition is such a big component in the fitness world.  Whether you are trying to gain or lose weight, take your performance to the next level, or just be healthier in general, there is no getting around the fact that food is what fuels you.



While breaking down what to eat and when is outside of the scope of this piece there is still reason to bring it up.  I’ve seen kids go from being lethargic and lacking energy all day to switching up their food intake and becoming a totally different athlete.


Most of the time overeating isn’t a problem for the athletes I work with.  Encouraging them to eat more is the norm, and a phenomenal problem to run into.  The reality is that the combination of “traditional” breakfast foods, nutrient deficient school lunches, and the American dinner everyone thinks of are not enough to fuel a competitive athlete.


I hear time and time again when I ask about the diet of the athletes that I work with that they wake up and eat some cereal, wait 5 hours to eat again and get whatever the school offers, and then oftentimes go that same amount of time before eating something mom or dad bought, or even worse.


Whoever is reading this, have a conversation at home.  Talk to mom and dad and try to get them on board with eating more quality foods.  Talk to your son or daughter and explain the idea that they aren’t competing as hard as they can because of their lack in care for their nutrition.  This is an opportunity for the whole household to make a positive change.


If you are serious about being a competitive athlete and making it to whatever the next level is for you, start taking your nutrition more seriously.  If you put in garbage for fuel you are going to get a garbage for performance.  If you put in high-quality fuel… you see where I’m going.


Principle #3 – Recover As Hard As You Play


This is without a doubt the most overlooked aspect of training as an athlete.  If you would’ve told me in high school or college to go to bed a little earlier and more consistently I would’ve laughed.


It is easy as young athletes (and adults) to let sleep take a backseat to everything else and get to it when it is convenient.  The top athletes in every sport on the planet prioritize sleep above so many other things, and if you want to take your game to the next level you should too.


Without getting too science-y, if your body doesn’t get adequate sleep it simply cannot perform how it is meant to, and while getting a good nights rest is a great start to your recovery, it certainly doesn’t end there.





The ability to fully recover from your last workout before your next one can be a huge separator over time.  If you are consistently performing at only 80% of your potential you are going to fall behind the athlete that is day-in, day-out firing on all cylinders.


While going to bed earlier and turning off your T.V. and cell phone may sound ridiculous right now, after some dedicated practice you will undoubtedly notice a big difference in your sleep quality and energy levels.  You may even be able to stay awake through Geometry.

We all know that sleep is a major contributor to our recovery, but what if we could just cut back on the need for recovery?  What if, dare I say it; we actually had fewer travel games, showcases, specialized skill sessions and late night practices?


Principle #4 – Play For The Moment


Almost all athletes today are playing on some sort of travel/club team throughout the year.  Stack that on top of their multiple varsity sports and sporadic strength and conditioning workouts and I’ll show you a burnt-out athlete, even if they don’t recognize it yet.


A coach that pushes you to play on multiple teams 12 months of the year just doesn’t have your best interest in mind.  Your body is not meant to perform the repetitive movements involved in sports for prolonged periods of time.  Injury rates are at an all-time high and most likely this is a major reason behind it.


Years ago it was completely normal and expected that a kid would play football for a few months in the fall, hang up the cleats and lace up either hockey skates or basketball sneakers for a few months, again put those away and break out their track spikes for the spring.


Somewhere along the line it transitioned into having your soccer cleats on seven days a week, often practicing or playing multiple times a day.  The once “three sport athlete” is such a rarity now with the introduction of travel teams and showcases every weekend year round.





My prescription for this is one that is starting to gather some momentum.  Play your sport with all of your heart and when your season comes to an end move on to the next sport.  There are countless college coaches who will echo this idea over and over again.  The athlete that has been exposed to multiple sports will in the long run outperform their counterpart.  Just about every professional athlete out there could have gone pro in another sport if they wanted to.


This isn’t to say do not practice your sport out of season, but more to do that on your own time.  Play the sport because you love to, not just because you always have and now it is expected of you.


Parting Wisdom


If you made it this far I want to say thank you and I hope you make some positive changes.  You may be thinking “what does this washed up guy know about me?” or “I’m better than everyone and still eat candy before games”.  I already said it is too late for me, but it is not for you.  If you give even one idea from this piece a chance, you will be better for it.


Play your game, but trust others who offer their assistance with YOUR best interests at heart.  Maybe it will help you live up to YOUR true potential.  And if it does, you too can help somebody else out down the line.


Special thanks to Coach Joe Fitzgerald and the folks at O.B Fitness Training for this series opening article as well as their unparalleled commitment to local athletes.

For more information on how you can benefit directly from the expertise available at O.B. Fitness Training, visit them on the web at or give them a call at 315-765-6332.

Be sure to follow Coach Joe Fitzgerald on Twitter at @ob_coachjoefitz