by Bill Starr
“I made it a point to push them to personal records on several of the exercises in the program for that day. I wanted to show them that they did have control over their bodies, even when they wanted to throw up or just go lie down on the sit-up boards”
Over the years, I’ve had occasion to visit with many collegiate strength coaches, and one of their concerns always seems to be what to do with the athletes who show up in the weight room with gigantic hangovers. While colleges and universities are certainly citadels of learning, they’re also Party Central. This is more the case at some places of higher learning than others, of course, but even at the most academic of institutions, there is a great deal of chugging and toking going on.
For some athletes at some schools, partying takes precedence over studying or even going to classes. It’s the primary reason for being there. This is what I encountered when I assumed the job of Strength Coach at the University of Hawaii in 1974. I was hired by the football coach, but in a short period of time I was also working with all the other sports teams, both men and women. Fine with me. The more the merrier. I loved my job. What’s not to like? Working with enthusiastic, highly-motivated young athletes, and the strength coach is in the unique position of never having to bench anyone. All he’s trying to do is get them stronger, and with the males, significantly bigger as well.
I was, of course, aware of the wild drinking parties at the frat houses, and the ensuing panty raids and “streaking” by large groups of males through campus, though I had never had to deal with it before. But at UH, it was a major concern since it was affecting my program. And it wasn’t alcohol that was the problem – it was weed. Some of the finest marijuana in the entire world grew on the islands, and the Hawaiian athletes had access to all of it because it was their relatives who were growing it on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island.
Not only was excellent weed readily available, it was not expensive like it was in other parts of the country. Twenty bucks for an ounce and because it was of such high quality, that oz. lasted a long time. In addition, the athletic dorm, Hale Anuenue, was the main distribution center for the users on campus, both athletes and non-athletes. That’s where I lived when I moved in from the village of Kaaawa on the North Shore. You could get a nice buzz just walking in the building.
The problem wasn’t the weed, per se, but rather the way the athletes, especially the locals, were using it. I should mention that of the entire football team, I only knew one player who actually attended all his classes, Keith “Hoot” Gibson. There were some who never went to a class and just before the finals they would go in a group and intimidate the professors. They always got a passing grade. So the football players had lots of time on their hands. They would get up late, drive to one of the many beaches in Waikiki, off Diamond Head, Koko Head, Makapu point, and all the way around the eastern tip of the Koolau Range to Waimanalo Beach.
They would get high on weed, sometimes adding in a few beers for good measure, lay on the beach, swim, snorkel, surf, and, of course, hit on the babes. Which were plentiful and looking for a good time as well, particularly on those strips of sand that were loaded with tourists.
Then they would come dragging into the weight room for their workouts. At first, I was completely at a loss as to what to do. It wasn’t because I was unfamiliar with marijuana. I am a product of the sixties and started smoking weed when I was at the York Barbell. It was the drug of choice for nearly all of the lifters. We used it to relax, it helped with mental preparation, and no one ever abused it. We only smoked about once a week and then a joint would be enough for a group of four people. And no one ever dreamed of getting high before a workout.
I knew there was no way under the sun that I was going to get the athletes to change their habits. It was too ingrained in their culture. Yet they were all eager to pack on more muscle and get considerably stronger. The Hawaiians, in particular, respected strength and they wanted all they could get. Since I wasn’t going to get them to stop their pre-training partying, I was going to have to teach them how to train when they were high.
While it sounds like a daunting task, it wasn’t. I started with the leaders of the two main groups that were always off to the beach every morning: the Hawaiians, and the “Haoles,” the local name for Caucasians. The black players, Popolos, weren’t any problem. They didn’t frequent the beaches nearly as much.
The first thing that I did was to tell them that they weren’t allowed to miss a single workout and they had to do whatever was scheduled for that day. What had been happening was when they got really stoned, they would skip the session and later on come to me with some lame excuse. I knew they were testing me and I didn’t buy it. Or they would show up on time for the workouts, but had piss-poor sessions.
They wanted to see if I would rat them out to the head football coach, Coach Price. If I did that I would never be able to gain their confidence again. The one thing you never wanted to do was shame a Hawaiian. This was true for every islander: Samoan, Tongan, Tahitian, Fijian, or any other Polynesian. I learned this when I taught Anthropology at York College, and it was reinforced even more strongly by living with them for six months out in the country. And this was also the case for the majority of the Haoles, which were mostly rednecks, and everyone understands how a redneck responds to any sort of insult.
So what I did was tell them that if they skipped training or failed to do the entire workout, I would not allow them to train in the weight room. I would not say a word to Coach Price unless they complained to him and if they did, I would tell him why they were 86ed.
This hit home. Like I mentioned, they coveted the idea of getting bigger and stronger. I also came with credentials, having worked with the Baltimore Colts and Houston Oilers, so they respected me and believed that I could deliver on my promise to make them considerably stronger. And now that I had their full attention, I told them how they could continue to get in plenty of partying and still get very, very strong.
They listened. Basically, I suggested that they go easy on the weed and alcohol and the psychedelic mushrooms they found on the island the night before a workout and also to back off on intake on the morning of the workout. “Don’t drink any alcohol if you’re going to be training that day. It’s harder on your body than the weed. And only smoke about half as much as you normally do when you’re at the beach. A couple hours before you train, drink some coffee and eat some fruit. Then when you come to the weight room, you’ll be ready to handle some weight.”
For the most part, they heeded my advice, but invariably they overdid it the night before a tough session. Usually some party for someone’s birthday or something of that nature. Then I had to work on them, psychologically. I impressed upon them the importance of informing me if they were feeling punky. They trusted me and knew it was in their best interest to confide in me. The first thing I did was have them drink some extra strong coffee which I brewed in a percolator in my minuscule office in the weight room. Whenever I needed a boost, I double perked it and it gave me, and everyone else who drank any, an excellent jump-start.
May 25 Training Camp (The Squat) : Chicago, IL
June 7-9 Starting Strength Seminar : Wichita Falls, TX
July 12-14 Starting Strength Seminar : Denver, CO
August 9-11 Starting Strength Seminar : Springfield, MO
September 6-8 Starting Strength Seminar : Brooklyn, NY