Meet Steve Kiely, Head Strength Coach at BC High [Interview]

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Get the Basics...

  • Mentors can shape a career path
  • The importance of mastering the basics and teaching technique
  • The BC Philosophy
  • The AWEMASSED Approach

Finding your life’s calling can be a seemingly impossible quest, can’t it? Some people spend their whole lives searching for meaning and purpose but never find it; while others stumble into their life’s mission accidentally.

Today, we’re talking to Steve Kiely who will discuss how he was served and guided by some of his mentors pointing him in the direction of his current calling as an educator and strength coach. He will share how he uses exercise and education as means of mentorship and character development for his student-athletes at his alma mater.

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Meet Steve Kiely, Strength Coach and Educator at BC High

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Schimri Yoyo: Welcome back. This is Schimri Yoyo with Exercise.com and we’re continuing our series of interviews with fitness experts. Today, I have the good pleasure of introducing you to one of my good friends and former classmates, Steven Kiely, who is now the head strength coach at our alma mater, Boston College High School.

Steve, welcome.

Steve Kiely: Yeah, thanks Schimri. Thanks for having me. This is pretty cool. Us both being classmates and being able to talk about this and our experience at BC High. You’re a little bit of a legend over here. So, I’m excited to talk to you. Thanks for having me on.

Schimri Yoyo: No, it’s cool man. So, let’s just start off: give us the background of what sports you played growing up?

Steve Kiely: Sure. So, I started playing a whole host of sports growing up. Mostly it was basketball and football. When I was in high school and middle school, I was always getting injured. I was this really tall, thin, lanky, uncoordinated guy, so that kind of led me to my fitness journey and it was just working out and being in the weight room and training was just something that I love to do and I was just drawn to it. My friends and I—we loved training and we loved playing sports. It was a huge part of what we did.

As I continued on in high school, I never thought that health and fitness and even sports would be in my future. I always wanted to be a teacher and a coach, but I never thought that I’d be doing what I am now. When I went to college, I played football at Colby College, studied history, and followed the track to be a teacher. I graduated there in ’06 and taught and coached at a prep school in Connecticut.

And an opportunity came up at our alma mater here, BC High, in 2007 and I jumped at the chance to come back and teach middle school and to coach a few different sports. And after a few years of coaching and teaching, I made the leap into strength and conditioning. So now I am the head strength coach here. I’ve been that for about eight years. I still teach middle school, seventh- and eighth-grade social studies. And it’s a blessing, man. I love it.

Schimri Yoyo: Oh, that’s awesome. So would you say that, was it in college or what, did you see somebody in high school to think that coaching and health and fitness could be part of a career for you?

Steve Kiely: Well, it’s interesting. I never really thought it was going to be part of what I did. I always wanted to be a teacher and maybe a head football coach, but it really had to do with the mentors and influences I had while I was here and when I came back to teach. When I first came back to teach here at BC High one of my colleagues and mentors, Dr. Mark Stonkus, he ran a gym called MBX Training Mind and Body Cross Training.

He also ran a company called Clutch Athlete and he was just looking for coaches and he came to me and was like, “Hey, you’re good with the kids. You’re good with training. Why don’t you come down and be a strength coach?” And I was like, “I don’t really know what I’m doing. I know how to train myself, but I’ve never trained groups before.” And he was like, “We’re going to show you everything you need to know. We’ll help you grow and get certified and all those things.” So I did and it ended up just being something on the side for me during winters and summers with him.

And I joined a current colleague and coach, Matt McClune, and those two really guided me and helped me get my first certifications, pass the CSCS, which is the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and got my foot in the door and I loved it.

Schimri Yoyo: Oh, that’s awesome.

Steve Kiely: But still, it wasn’t really something that I thought I was going to do for the majority of my day until the opportunity came up here at BC High to help direct the program, the strength and conditioning program.

Schimri Yoyo: Now, that’s good. I mean it’s always good to have mentors. And you answered my next question. I remember Coach Stonkus because he was our freshman football coach.

Steve Kiely: Yeah.

Schimri Yoyo: He’s a great mentor and he’s always looked to invest in the players. So, that’s great that you guys were able to have that connection and he helped correct you even off the field and [point you] into the current path that you’re in now.

Steve Kiely: Yeah, I always wanted to emulate those really good teachers and coaches that I had whether it was in high school or college. I mean that’s what drove me to education in the first place. And having a community like BC High and people like that who work here in it to help guide me along the way was really special. So I continued working with him for a few years and then the opportunity here came up and I jumped at the chance.

[Editor’s Note: As evidenced by one of its mottos to make “Men for Others,” BC High is a community dedicated to maintaining a culture of mentoring, community service, and leadership development.]

Our athletic director who was another mentor of mine really put his faith in me to help run the program. And I did. [I also had] some other mentors along the way. When I was down in Connecticut, I met a guy named Mike Ranfone, and Mike became a really good friend of mine and a mentor of mine over the years. And when I got the job here, he really gave me specific things that I should do, you know, “Take this seminar with me down here, come down, read this, read that, follow these people.” And he was really good about not letting me get overwhelmed with the responsibilities or with the job at hand. So he was really good.

But essentially I look at mentorship all over the place. We have amazing hall of fame coaches here and great teachers that I just watch and take notes. There are some great people here that I always can learn things from. And, I’m also part of the NSCA and the NHSSCA, which is the National High School Strength and Conditioning Association. And those two groups are really more of a digital community for me where I can share things and hear stories and have mentors there that I don’t even see. So I’ve been blessed to be a part of a community that’s been really supportive and has guided me along the way.

Schimri Yoyo: Yeah, you have a great lineage both in your training and your schooling. I know that was one of the things I always appreciated at BC High, too, just the lineage, the great coaches, and athletes, and mentors from there. And it seems like you’ve picked that up too with the National High School Strength and Conditioning Association.

Steve Kiely: Yeah, our weight room is the Trapilo weight room donated by Steve Trapilo, who was an alum. Donated the entire weight room no charge. He never took a penny from coaching football and he was my football coach and he passed a few years ago. But I just try to do the best I can to help out and still give that name some pride around here.

Schimri Yoyo: It’s a great legacy, a great legacy to be a part of. And so now when you’re not teaching and coaching, what are some of the things that you like to do for fun?

Steve Kiely: Yeah. I’m a middle school teacher and a coach so that doesn’t leave me a ton of time for fun. But when I’m not coaching them, I’m either grading papers or hanging out with my five-year-old daughter who is amazing. And that gives me tons of joy. But as of now, I work with my wife; my wife’s defending her dissertation in about a week or so and she’s a Ph.D. researcher in the health and wellness space. We try our best to help out family and friends in making good lifestyle changes. So, we’re working on that. But, in the meantime, I just relax with my family. That’s what I like to do for fun and relax[ation].

Schimri Yoyo: Listen, nothing wrong with that. That’s great. Being a family man, truly a man for others. That’s great.

Steve Kiely: Yeah, that’s right.

Mastering the Basics, Teaching Technique

Schimri Yoyo: Now, let’s get a little bit into your philosophy and methodology of training. If you had to describe your philosophy in one word, what one word would best describe your philosophy of training?

Steve Kiely: How about two words?

Schimri Yoyo: Yeah, that’s fine.

Steve Kiely: Alright. We use what’s called the BC philosophy over here at BC High. The B standing for basics in mastering the basics and the C standing for consistency. And that consistency is creating a system that is consistent and unified, but also consistent language across the coaches. Consistent expectations across seasons. This keeps it simple. We are, like I said, a unified program where we have a general athletic development program. We don’t get too complex or too fancy with what we do. Our programming is very simple and we just want to master the basics and be consistent in doing so.

When we look at what we’re doing in terms of programming, really it stems down to three goals for us. One is to build a foundation of athleticism. Two is to help sports teams create culture, a winning culture. And three is to prepare these kids for their life. Whether that’s a college sport or let’s say some type of competition they’re getting into or whether that’s just generally being healthy.

We have the responsibility with this strength and conditioning program to address all the student needs at the school in terms of their strength and conditioning and speed and fitness needs. So, that’s essentially our philosophy and the essential goals that we have.

Schimri Yoyo: That’s great. And then you actually mentioned it leading to my next question. You mentioned about creating a culture. How important or what role does the strength coach play in high school athletics in determining the overall culture of the athletic program?

Steve Kiely: Yeah, I mean, it can play an essential role. I was just mentioning the other day that our weight room is what I feel is the heartbeat of our whole athletic center down here. That’s where leaders are groomed. That’s where camaraderie is built. That’s where some of this grit and resiliency come into play. And the majority of these athletes spend their time in there. More time in there than they do during their sport, during their season. So it’s a really important place for especially an athletic program as competitive as ours to be.

I’ll give you an example the other day, we have 20, 25 lacrosse players in right now training as a team because they want to win another state championship. And they know that being here with each other being coached by us and being around the maroon and gold that they’re going to be in a better chance to do that. Compared to some teams or athletes that may not take advantage of what we offer here.

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So essentially building culture and being a part of the successes of a sports team. I consider myself an assistant coach on every single sports team and I consider every single sports coach an assistant in our program. We’re woven together to try to see and build what’s best for our student-athletes.

Schimri Yoyo: What’s the relationship or the nature between the strength and conditioning injury prevention and also the rehabilitation and recovery?

Steve Kiely: It’s all linked together and this is why we try to keep it simple because injury prevention or reduction, speed, strength conditioning, building muscle—these things are all connected and they’re all important when it comes to developing an athlete either in season or offseason.

So the way we organize our program is that movement quality is the most important priority that we have, [so] we need to teach technique. We need to teach the fundamentals. It’s part of the reason why we mastered the basics.

We spend a lot of time sprinting, jumping, throwing, squatting, hinging, pushing and pulling, working on stabilizing our core, building our hamstrings and our posterior chain, and doing the things that are pretty simple. They’re not easy, but they’re simple.

To be more resilient to injury and to get better as an athlete. Essentially, I mentioned that we have a unified program and on that unified program we have an approach with how we organize our training sessions. We use what’s called the AWEMASSED (Achieve, Warmup, Explode, Main, Auxiliary, Seasonal Specific, EDucate) approach. The ‘A’ stands for achieve. What specifically are we trying to achieve today in today’s training session.

And I have to really survey the crowd and understand how they’re feeling and what are appropriate goals going into that training session. The warmup, we follow a ramp protocol which is: we raise the core temperature, we activate and mobilize, and then we potentiate. So, we try to cover all the bases in the warmup. Then, we go into some type of explosive block where we’re doing our sprinting, our jumping, our throwing.

And then we go into the main lift which is essentially strength work, our heavier strength work. And our auxiliary work, which may be something super light or it may be something that we push a little bit to build some muscle. Then we finish off the session with something that’s more seasonal specific. So maybe that’s some conditioning, maybe it’s some recovery work, maybe that’s us just breathing and trying to get ourselves right.

And then we always end with some type of educational component. Why we do what we do. And we try to make that very clear to the athletes. This is why we took the time to cool down. This is why you need to warm up before you train. This is why sprinting and working on speed all year is important. So all these things are important and I think the best method to reduce the likelihood of injury or mitigate injury is just smart progressive training where you build and yet more difficult as you go along.

But essentially starting light and it’s better to go too easy than in too light and too heavy and too hard. [If] someone can’t do something, then we’ll find a modification or a substitution and work on why they can’t do it. And oftentimes, people get hurt. Either the athlete is letting their ego get in the way or the coach is putting their ego into place and trying to use fitness as more of like a punishment or to prove something that they want to prove with their ego.

So injury prevention and keeping these kids healthy and strong and building that foundation—that’s our number one priority.

Schimri Yoyo: That makes sense. And it seems like it’s like continual education and constant progression in that process so thanks for that elaboration. Now, we sometimes hear about athletes, especially in the high school and sometimes college ranks, having serious heat-related illnesses and issues. What are some things that coaches and athletes can do to prevent this from happening?

Steve Kiely: Yeah. Like I said it goes back to smart training and really being thoughtful about any type of load or stressor that you put on the student-athletes. I think it was Mike Boyle who said, “Think like a lawyer.” You have to be able to justify why you’re doing anything. And I think like a teacher also. Like, it wouldn’t make much sense if I put a summer reading test the first day back from summer break. The kids aren’t ready for it. They wouldn’t do very well and it wouldn’t make much sense.

But gradually easing into it and then providing something more challenging is definitely the way to go. And I think that by being thoughtful and intentional about what you’re doing, the intensity and the load that you’re providing, I think that can avoid some of those things.

I also think that—but let’s say something does happen. Our school prepares us really well for those types of situations. We have an athletic training staff that’s superb and we do our best to avoid those types of things. In our training, we don’t do a ton of hard, heavy conditioning where we’re outside in the heat. I have no problem saying, “Hey, it’s a hundred degrees in Boston in July. Let’s just stay inside today. Let’s instead push some sleds or let’s just recover.”

So, I try to avoid those situations at all costs. I’m pretty conservative with conditioning and going too hard. I would always like training to be a value add instead of something that completely depletes these students. I mean we’ve got to remember these are high school kids. They got a million different stressors going on and different things in their life, which we have to be aware of and that we need to be mindful of.

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Engaging Student-Athletes as an Educator

Schimri Yoyo: Well, thanks for that insight, Steve. And a couple more questions before I let you go. I know you’re on your break and you got to prepare for some of the classes and sessions moving on forward. But you know, can you just walk us through the typical day for you as an educator and athletic trainer? You know, let’s just say from the first period until your last training session with the athletes.

Steve Kiely: Sure. Now a typical training, a typical day for me: I try to get in here around 7:30, 7:45 and at that time our morning groups are pretty much finishing up. So I have a few coaches that do an amazing job. I check in with them, make sure I see how things go. Then, I’m teaching four or five classes a day, whether it’s middle school, geography or civics, or a PE class. But that keeps me busy from about 8:20 until about 2:40 and then at 3:00 or after school, strength and conditioning program starts.

Now one of the biggest challenges we’ve had is trying to figure out how to schedule so many teams. I mean, you remember Schimri, there’s just so many teams and so many kids. We’re a school of 1300 all boys and everybody wants to train. So the biggest challenge for us is creating a fair and equitable schedule for all teams to utilize the program.

And in doing so we’ve created staggered times. So, for example, I may have an in-season group at three o’clock which I bring through a warmup. They’ll do their blocks of training that may cut short about 30 to 40 minutes. At the same time, I am training an in-season group, my assistant Coach McClune is running an offseason training session in the adjacent gymnasium. So, by the time he’s done with the longer speed session that they have, the in-season group that I have is out.

When he goes in I go back out and I get another in-season team that I warm up and take through a workout. So then we’re shifting and making sure that there’s enough space in there, it’s safe, it’s not overwhelmed with the numbers, and we program accordingly. So each training day there may be only one exercise where you need a rack.

The other exercises may just be dumbbell or body weight. We may get out in the gym, so grab a dumbbell, go out in the gym. But that’ll go until about 4:45, five o’clock and then typically that’s time where some others that may not be part of a team or a group can come in and pick our brain a little bit, ask us to look at their form or help them achieve their goals. So, that’s typically three to six o’clock throughout the school year. That’s how it’s organized. You know I’m also here during the summer, we have a really popular summer program here. So, my coaches and I are here three days a week running that. But now essentially that’s a typical day.

Schimri Yoyo: That’s a pretty, pretty full load. I like how you’ve been planning the schedule and structure with the weight room because I remember those locker rooms could get pretty congested.

Steve Kiely: Yeah, and Schimri, it’s tough. We’re a commuter school as well, as you know. I mean we have a four o’clock for a weight train that probably half of our student-athletes if they’re not doing a sport, they have to make that train. And I don’t want to have a kid workout or train somewhere else. I’d rather them work out here. So we really had to be creative with creating a structure where kids can be consistent and they can train here and be comfortable and be able to get the coaching that they need.

Schimri Yoyo: And now two more questions before I let you go. One is how are you guys utilizing technology and social media to engage your student-athletes?

Steve Kiely: Yeah. So with technology, I mean on the day to day level, we use certain things within our workouts. So for example, we use timers. We’ve started doing a lot more timing of tens and flying tens this year and keeping track of that data. I’ve always been an Excel guy, but right now we’re starting to look into other methods of technology to house all of our data. And I’m trying to be really thoughtful of that.

How do we do that without slowing things down, without really affecting what we do? But we’re experimenting with a few things now but I’ve always been an Excel person, keeping track of data in Excel. But that’s definitely room for growth for us. We’re looking into some things right now. Oh and social media. I started about a year or two ago posting a lot of BC High strength on Instagram and just trying to showcase what our athletes can do and what they’re doing in the weight room and try to give them some love out there.

Schimri Yoyo: No, that’s pretty good. I mean I’m sure. Yeah getting engagement and I’m sure they’re really excited and want to get the shout outs from their friends from what they’re seeing on Instagram.

Steve Kiely: Yeah, a lot of, a lot of fist bumps and arm flexes on there.

Schimri Yoyo: That’s right. And the more you keep them engaged the more, like you said, they’ll want to keep training at school and not look also at a train. So that’s pretty cool.

Steve Kiely: The key is we want to use technology, social media, as a motivator, not a distraction. And as a teacher, you know these kids are on their iPads all day. It’s really difficult to find that balance. So it’s always something that you can reevaluate.

Schimri Yoyo: No, that makes a lot of sense. Motivation, not a distraction. That’s pretty great. I’m going to put that on a t-shirt. No. But lastly, Steve, what are some resources whether books, magazines, podcasts that you would recommend for those who are interested in sports performance training?

Steve Kiely: Yeah. I mean for resources, I defer. I find a lot of helpful things through the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the National High School Strength and Conditioning Association. If there are high school strength coaches out there that aren’t a member of those organizations they should get on it. There’s just so much helpful stuff and it’s not just sets and reps, it’s more about logistics.

Like we talked about today’s scheduling, we talked about things that someone who’s not maybe in a high school setting would even have to think about. So those are the two really good resources for me. In terms of podcasts, I love the Strength Coach Podcast. I love the Big Time Strength Podcast and you know, I like things that you guys do at Exercise.com. You guys highlight some really, really smart fitness professionals in the field that I can always learn from.

Schimri Yoyo: Thanks for that shout out and thank you for your time, Steve. And good luck with all the upcoming seasons in sports. You know I’m always keeping track of what our student-athletes are doing. And keep posting on Facebook and Instagram.

Steve Kiely: I will. And, Schimri, you’re welcome here anytime man. I’d love to see you back here.

Schimri Yoyo: Oh yeah, definitely. I’ll be up there later this spring visiting family so we’ll definitely have to connect.

Steve Kiely: Oh, that would be great. I’ll put you through a workout.

Schimri Yoyo: Alright. Not a problem. Thanks, Steve.

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