Sunday, September 1, 2013

Mental fitness at core of KU football’s workouts under Holsopple

Kansas University strength and conditioning coach Scott Holsopple conducts warmups during practice on Aug. 23. Holsopple — he always wears sweat pants and a hooded sweatshirt because “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with feeling uncomfortable. I think you should feel uncomfortable.” — is the man in charge of sharpening the Jayhawks’ bodies and attitudes.

Kansas University strength and conditioning coach Scott Holsopple conducts warmups during practice on Aug. 23. Holsopple — he always wears sweat pants and a hooded sweatshirt because “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with feeling uncomfortable. I think you should feel uncomfortable.” — is the man in charge of sharpening the Jayhawks’ bodies and attitudes.


The rules of the weight room ruled by Scott Holsopple, Kansas University football’s strength and conditioning coach, don’t all have to be written down.

“Obviously,” Holsopple said when asked to name some rules, “there’s no hats, no earrings, no cell phones, no yawning, no sitting, anything that represents anything that looks lazy.

“You’re always on the lookout for it. Whether a guy just got done working hard and he’s getting ready to lean on a piece of equipment, you yell at him for that. ‘I just got done working hard.’ ‘Still looks lazy. Ten more pushups.’ You’re always on top of them. It’s important they know they’re always being watched.”

His office extends well beyond the weight room and in a very real sense lies in the minds of every player. He’s every player’s mental interior decorator and his goal is to put each athlete in charge of his own and every teammate’s mental approach.

Slaying selfishness

Every lift, run, conversation is aimed at arming the athlete so that he can fight his toughest opponent.

“You’re always fighting the human element,” Holsopple said. “The human element is to be selfish, is to be an individualist. It’s all about me and I, not us and we. It’s a continuous process. It never ends.”

The body can expand, but if the mind doesn’t, the body’s growth ceiling is limited.

“If you’re required to be somewhere every day and you work, you’re going to grow,” he said. “That’s what your body does. It adapts. Your mind doesn’t. That’s by far the hardest thing to do: change attitudes.”

Holsopple illustrated an example of how he might challenge a player’s attitude. He cites two players from the same position group. One shows up at noon for an optional workout, the other at 1 p.m. He challenges the player who shows up at noon with a series of questions: “Why didn’t you come in together? If you’re coming in at noon, why didn’t you text him: ‘I’m coming in at noon. Can you come in at noon?’”

His job is all about team-building and bodybuilding is just one aspect of it.

“The greatest mystery in team sports is taking out the unselfishness in it,” he said. “Believe in something that’s greater than yourself. In turn, it makes yourself better than you could ever be by yourself.”

It’s always a good sign when an athlete repeats a coach’s philosophy in his own words.

Running back easily is KU’s deepest position and therefore the one at which selfishness is at greatest risk of polluting the chemistry. The plan calls for James Sims to get the most carries. Darrian Miller is back in the program, which won’t make it any easier for talented senior Taylor Cox to get carries.

“It feels good when we see another guy make a big play because he plays for KU,” Cox said. “You see a guy make a run and you say, ‘Wow, that was good. I need to make a run.’ It definitely pushes you.”

Mr. Uncomfortable

Call him Mr. Uncomfortable. Holsopple is the human antithesis of those heated benches the Texas football program brings on the road for games played in subtropical temperatures.

Holsopple wears one title, but so many hats for the program. He is part scientist, part caveman, at once a drill sergeant and a confessor, a preventative health-care practitioner and a man responsible for motivating young men to push their bodies to their limits.

His job involves heightening players’ expectations of themselves. In doing so, he makes players uncomfortable to a degree that they tend to become comfortable tackling whatever challenges a game can present.

He doesn’t ask them to do anything other than what he does. Holsopple’s uniform — sweat pants and a hooded sweatshirt — never changes, even if the thermometer does.

He looks a little puzzled to see so many puzzled faces asking him about his wardrobe.

“If it’s negative-10 in Milwaukee or the heat index is through the roof in Florida, same thing,” Holsopple said.

But doesn’t it feel uncomfortable?

“Does it feel the same as laying on the beach with a nice cold lemonade, no,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with feeling uncomfortable. I think you should feel uncomfortable. It keeps you driving forward.”

Promising freshman quarterback Montell Cozart from Bishop Miege High said he gained 12 pounds during the summer under Holsopple’s watch. He also has gained a great deal of respect for the man who helped him on the road to a bigger body.

“This summer it was 107 degrees and he still had the same outfit, came out with sweats on,” Cozart said. “It’s definitely a mental thing. We’d come outside saying, ‘It’s hot,’ and he’d say, ‘What are you talking about? It’s freezing out here.’ He has definitely been a great person for me to look up to during this process.”

During summer conditioning and winter workout portions of the schedule, nobody is more important to a college football program, particularly one that has to develop minds and bodies to compete against athletes who graduated high school with larger, faster bodies and more famous suitors. To hear Holsopple talk about his role is to realize the most important thing he gains from athletes is their trust and then it all sprouts from there.

“It’s just to keep the mindset we tried to create throughout the winter and throughout spring football,” he said of his role this time of year. “... Training camp gets hard, gets mentally challenging. It gets physically challenging. So you try to be in their corner, pushing them through everything, not letting them forget everything else we’ve worked up to to this point. That’s No. 1, from the mental side of it. Then you’ve got the physical side of it where you’re just trying to maintain strength levels, trying to keep guys as healthy as you possibly can, keep them in the greatest situation that they can to become the best players they can be.”

From the physical side, he has helped left tackle Aslam Sterling to shrink his body and All-America-candidate running back James Sims to get sleeker, faster, more well-conditioned.

Mind first

It’s when he talks about the mind that Holsopple is most interesting.

“The body is only going to go as hard as what the mind lets it,” he said. “People say workouts are hard. Workouts are only as hard as what you let them be. I always say a 12-year-old can train. Do pushups. I’ll do as many as I could until I couldn’t do anymore. That’s just the way it is when you get guys who are more able to understand that. Then you get guys that the workouts become harder because they’re willing to accept it. That goes back to guys wanting to get better.”

Holsopple keeps a close eye on body language to measure the mental and physical health of the players.

“Safety takes precedence over everything else,” he said. “That’s always something you have to watch. And you know any orthopedic concerns a guy might have and having a good relationship with your players, understanding what they look like and their facial expressions (is important). Understanding, ‘OK, this guy’s not feeling right,’ or maybe it’s something mental, physical, spiritual, emotional going on with him that you need to understand. It’s just about being around your guys and understanding them.”

Holsopple won’t ever stop trying to help players improve. It’s an endless job, but for the next few months, Charlie Weis and his assistants take center stage, figuring out how to align the improved bodies and less selfish minds in such a way as to gain favorable matchups. The better Holsopple does his job, the better shot he gives the rest of the coaches at accomplishing their ambitious goal of turning Kansas into a winning program.


Randy Bombardier 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Nice article. It seems to me that a lot of big guys have to struggle to get over this mental thing of taking it easy. I mean a guy who is 6'5" and around 300 lbs. is going to feel a like a bull in a china shop most everywhere he goes. I think there is probably a self-consciousness of being big that I don't quite understand that makes you want to shrink at times: a crowded room, a motel shower where the shower head is about 5'5". You see smaller, athletic guys and they seem wired. You see big athletic guys and they seem more laid back. I am hypothesizing that this is a mental way of "shrinking", not being in the way, ect. I suppose that a lot of big guys go out of their way to not be in the way and this mentality has to change. Just wondering aloud here.


Mike Bratisax 7 months, 3 weeks ago

'His job is all about team-building and bodybuilding is just one aspect of it.'

Strength training is NOT bodybuilding. Core body exercises are aimed at the trunk or abdominal regions and the muscles used to strengthen this area. Core muscles contract first in every exercise and increases overall fitness and athletic ability.

I'm guessing I'm preaching to the choir so time to shut-up.


Doug Cramer 7 months, 3 weeks ago

aphersIloveturnergilexperience - The optimism was worse last year...when Tavai and McKinney supposedly was gonna fix our D-line. lol But this year...I have to give both Tait and Keegs credit for model predictions with our season record. Keegs said we would go 4-8...Tait thinks we'll win anywhere from 2-6 wins. I think we go 3-9.


Janet Scott 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Not greatly impressive story. A lot of wind bag content, a blow hard, projecting hollow "tough stuff". Actually, almost humorous.


Jason Keller 7 months, 3 weeks ago

TCU is gonna murder KU. That is by far the best defense in the Big12. They easily could have beat LSU last night, just didn't happen for them.

I thought they represented the conference pretty well.


mikehawk 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Four wins and we lose our minds with excitement. The one advantage we have going into each week which few other teams everyone will have trouble getting their teams up for us. I guess the one exception is our first game which we need to win, and win with a decent level of decisiveness. In all honesty, and I can hardly say it myself, but two wins is probably more realistic than four. "Momma, where's my Blue Kool Aid...I need a fix!"


TexiCaliHawk 7 months, 3 weeks ago

A couple of observations while watching the opening weekend of College Football (can't bring myself to say NCAA):

1) K-State looked pathetic on offense, which is to be expected given they lost Klein and are starting a Juco transfer who wasn't bad -- he just wasn't great; however, it was their defense that totally wore down on the final drive as they just don't seem to have the 'studs' they have had in years' past. NDSU is absolutely legit as a 2-time Bowl Subdivision Champ, but they should not have been able to invade BSFS and overcome a double-digit deficit in the second Half on Opening Night in Manhattan against the reigning 'B12 Champs' . . . right?!

2) 'Johnny Football' is a First Class 'Jerk' in every sense of the word -- I guess I don't remember that attitude last year when he was en route to winning the Heisman. So tired of hearing people sticking up for him as he comes from a good family and, regardless of his relative youth (everyone in the 'spotlight' playing D-1 sports has advisers/handlers to help out), he should know better. Especially after getting a 'free pass' from the NCAA after his autograph signing fiasco by 'negotiating' for only a 1/2 game penalty. You know, it is the A&M student body and alums who should be upset that he violated their beloved Aggie Honor Code. Humility, character and sportsmanship should be a hallmark of a Heisman Trophy winner -- in addition to outstanding athleticism, statistics and playmaking abilities.

3) In that same game, while A&M pulled away late, Rice played much bigger/better than I expected -- their big Tailback and tall, rangy Wide Receiver may give us fits when we play 'em down in Houston in a few weeks unless our Campo-led Defense shows up big time. Our Defense definitely improved last year and -- according to many sources -- looks to have improved some more this year during Spring and Fall camps, so we'll see soon when the 'real games' begin if that is indeed the case.

4) I said in a previous post, the Big 12 is 'down' this year -- not bad, just not great = DOWN (see K-State & Iowa State losses; WVU barely won and many others who did so, did not do so very impressively); so if we are going to show 'program' improvement by sweeping our Non-Con schedule and winning a few Big 12 games, then THIS is 'our year' to show some progress. With outstanding QB play and better skill position players on Offense, a stout Defense and at least serviceable Special Teams play, I would take nothing less than 6-6 and a minor bowl game -- yet playing at a competitive high level in ALL 12 games to continue to be taken seriously as D-1/Big 12 Football 'program' and build on the foundation CW has been laying thus far. This progress, plus what I expect to be an announcement on Memorial Stadium renovation/expansion coming soon (once Rock Chalk Park is well underway), will result in better recruiting and even more success next year . . . and beyond!

We CAN do this . . . ROCK CHALK!


danno1313 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Good to see the KU players finally found the weight room. It was obvious the past few years they HAD NO idea where it was! WEAK!


John Fitzgerald 7 months, 3 weeks ago

For all of you who doubt, I say have faith. It seems to me the coaches are doing anything and everything they can to prepare these guys. September 7th will be the true test, but I'm confident that we will see the progress. It can only go up from here! RCJH!


Robert Brown 7 months, 3 weeks ago

While I'm sure Holsopple is effective, I'm sure there are similarly effective strength and conditioning coaches at every other major program. While this may be a step up from the Turner Gill days, it is hard for me to believe that our strength and conditioning program is any better than any other major program.


nuleafjhawk 7 months, 3 weeks ago


WOW. This borders on Neo-Nazi, war crimes kind of punishment. I'm surprised that we even have one player still out for football. Can anyone under 30 (or 40, or 50) survive for even an hour without a dam* cell phone ??????

Come on coach, what if they need to text their girlfriends? What if they need to do a little homework between snaps? What if they NEED to Shazam or Soundhound the song that's playing over the stadium loudspeakers? You guys need to lighten up. Don't MAKE me get the ACLU involved. Or is it the SNCC? Anyway, just lighten up.


jhawkrulz 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Is holsopple the only one doing interviews? This is like the 4-5th article about his training regimen, but now the mental conditioning is over and it is time to talk about games, players, chances of bowl games.


RibMan 7 months, 3 weeks ago

He sounds like a Grade A nutcase. Wish him and the team all the best.


Bryce Landon 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Somebody has got to whip these players into shape to get them ready for the rugged Big 12. Coach Holsopple was the perfect choice to do it, one of the best decisions Charlie Weis has ever made.


ahpersecoachingexperience 7 months, 3 weeks ago

I don't know. We've been sold a whole lot of optimism from the LJW writers since camp opened. I think I'll stick to the "believe it when I see it" approach.


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