S & C Coach Understands And Accepts His Role

All college football players need as much strength as they can muster. Their opponents are working out constantly, so they must also. The role of a strength & conditioning coach appears extremely important, and it is. But new Illini coach Aaron Hillmann refuses to take himself too seriously. He realizes the limits as well as value of his role.

Aaron Hillmann plays a vital role for the Illinois football team, but he doesn't wish to glorify it above other Illini staff members. He clarifies his job description.

"Here's the deal, and maybe this is why people get confused. I don't train lifters, I don't train powerlifters, I don't train track athletes. I train football players, field sport players whose sport requires multiple elements to be good at.

"No one ever made a great football player in the weight room because the sport doesn't involve a barbell. The barbell is a fabulous tool to use as general physical preparation, but that's all it is. As strength and conditioning coaches, it is a matter of supporting the process and allowing the process of sport mastery to happen."

Hillmann has the self-confidence to admit the limits of his role for the team.

"Probably the three biggest things for success in college football from my experience, one is the selection during the recruiting process. And then the technical and tactical skills of the coaching staff and getting the players to play at a high technical and tactical level."

Despite the importance of coaching and recruiting, Hillmann knows his value for the team.

"You might say what we do is meaningless. It's not because it has to support the rest. If the selection and recruitment process is done well, a big part of our job is keeping them on the field, keeping them healthy. Callousing their body if you will to allow them to demonstrate the skills that they have on the field.

"The other part of that is the technical and tactical. The one thing we know about acquiring skill and perfecting skills is repetitions one can get in a given timeframe of the highest quality. The more that skill is honed in and becomes habit, the higher the aerobic capacity.

"A great term to use is their biological power, increasing and raising the threshold of that organism, which is the player. We can create habit, we can acquire skills and all those things."

Hillmann is working with an age group ideal for demonstrating physical improvement with proper training.

"We're very fortunate to work with kids in the developmental stage between the ages of 17 and 22-23 years old. This is my theory or philosophy, but a young man between those ages is in a physical developmental stage.

"If during that stage their bodies are exposed to proper stress in an exercise fashion, in a progressive manner and allowed to recover well, they take off. They get bigger, they get stronger and faster, they get more powerful. They get increased aerobic capacity.

"I've had kids go from freshman to senior year and gain power. I'm not dealing with fully matured bodies, although sometimes they look like it."

The methods for achieving strength, flexibility and endurance gains are well known. Adapting them to the individualized needs of each player is what separates great S & C coaches from the rest.

"One of the first things you have to do when you're going to train someone, you have to answer these questions: who am I training, and what am I training them to do? If you don't have solid answers on those two questions, your approach is going to be very haphazard.

"When you have a solid grasp of who I'm training and what I'm training them to do, then the whole integration of what I do and what we do with our kids to what they need to do and why they're training, to me it becomes very clear.

"It allows you to sift through a syllabus of exercise right now in terms of physical preparation of a football player. There's a lot of stuff out there that don't ever stray very far from the basics. It works."

Hillmann continues his discussion of his role on the Illinois football team in part 3 of this 5-part interview.

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