Time to Compete

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Written by Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributor

_MCG5133.jpgIt's been just over a month since the USC football team played its final game of the 2013 season, but the team is already back at it in the weight room preparing for a new year. While the product is displayed on the field in the fall, the offseason is where the foundation for championships is built.

Ivan Lewis, the new head strength and conditioning coach for the Trojans, knows this well and is eager to get to work laying the foundation for the upcoming season. This week marked the beginning of official offseason workouts and the first opportunity for the new coach to start training his team. 

"It's awesome to be back," says Lewis. "It's a dream job for sure especially having been here before and knowing the tradition of Trojan football and Trojan athletics. It's unbelievable and it's a huge honor to be back. I'm excited to be here every day. I think it's truly the best place to be."

The past five seasons, Lewis worked with Steve Sarkisian as the head strength and conditioning coach at the University of Washington. Before that, he worked for three seasons at USC, coaching with Sarkisian under Pete Carroll. Lewis has a wide range of experience, coaching at the high school level, at multiple colleges and working for the San Diego Chargers for two seasons. The strength coach has a strong relationship with Sarkisian which is important considering Lewis and his training staff are the only coaches actually able work with the players in the offseason. Lewis says he and Sark have great communication that allows the team's development to be seamless throughout the year.

"This is going to be our ninth season together," explains Lewis. "Coach Sark is the best out there. He is extremely sharp. He has high expectations for what he wants accomplished and every day we do everything we can to help our guys identify and meet those expectations."

The expectation for a strength coach is to get the team ready. This process of preparation includes everything from injury prevention to nutrition to mental toughness in all areas of life. Lewis approaches his role as strength and conditioning coach with three major tenets that balance his athletes' training to better prepare them for their season and allow them to succeed on and off the field. 

"First and foremost, our job is to keep our athletes healthy so they can play the game of football. Second is to get them stronger and conditioned for the game of football and the different positions they play. We create workouts for each position individually so they are getting better at the skills they need for the sport," Lewis explains. "The third piece is to keep developing their mindset. It is mental toughness which is driven through competition and believing in yourself. The only way you believe in yourself is through competing and working hard and finding success in everything that you do. We talk about competing in everything. We compete in school, we compete in our social life, and we compete in football."

For Lewis, coaching is about developing relationships. He believes one of the most important aspects of his job is to be consistent, providing every player (whether the starting quarterback or the walk-on kicker) with the same training, same encouragement, and same challenge every day. In the end, he explains, his goal is to better prepare his team for life, both as football players and as men. 

"A huge part of my philosophy is developing trust and giving them the whys. When the guys understand how it translates from the weight room or conditioning to what we are doing on the football field, that's the key. Inevitably, I'm all about training these guys for the game of football and developing them as men. Not every guy goes and plays in the NFL, so it's about competing in life. It's manhood training, learning lessons from football and from your strength training that will eventually make you succeed in higher levels of life."

At the beginning of each season, Lewis assesses the team's needs, prepares training plans, and sits down with Sarkisian to plan the upcoming year. Coming into this offseason, his job was a little different as he had to develop relationships with an entirely new group of athletes before getting to work on the specifics. With the first week of offseason training under his belt, Lewis is confident he has a team that's ready to compete. 

"This team is full of really, really good football players and I think this team is full of really good kids. I think that they are very excited and eager to do really well and to compete. We've got a lot of dominant personalities that make my job easy," says Lewis. "They really want to workout. They really see the benefit of doing everything, doing all the little things, to be the best football players they can be."

Throughout the next few months, before even spring ball begins, the USC football team will be with Lewis. Workouts at 5 A.M. and conditioning drills between classes will train and prepare their bodies for the uptempo football that is to come. For most, college football season is still seven months away, but for Lewis and the Trojans, the work begins now. 

"I can't wait for the first game, to hear the fight song, and to come walking out of the Coli," Lewis says with a smile. "It feels like being back home. I cannot wait for that moment. I cannot wait to work with these guys and watch them develop and I'm really excited to watch them compete. I truly believe we have some extremely athletic kids and some excited kids to be here. I'm excited to watch what they can do."

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