Sam Craven, MA, CSCS, USAW
Sam Craven became an assistant strength and conditioning coach for NC State the summer of 2014. He oversees and implements coaching in all aspects of speed, strength, and conditioning, working with NC State Wrestling, Gymnastics, Cross Country/Track Distance, Men's Tennis, and Women's Tennis. Sam also has responsibility for overseeing the department's internship program. Sam joined the Wolfpack from Purdue University where he held a similar position as a Sports Performance Associate. While at Purdue he racked up experience with Women's Volleyball, Women's Basketball, Wrestling, Softball, Cross Country/Track Distance, and T&F Sprints and Jumps. Prior to Purdue, Sam completed internships at NC State, Athletes Performance, and The University at Buffalo. He was a Graduate Assistant at Ball State University where he earned a M.A. in Sports Performance. Sam also has a B.S. in Exercise Physiology with a minor in Biology from The State University of New York at Brockport. He holds certifications through the NSCA (CSCS) and USAW (level 1).
1. How long have you been working in the field of strength and conditioning?
I have been working in this field for a total of four years. My experiences have been with the University of Buffalo, Ball State University, EXOS (formerly named Athletes’ Performance), Purdue University, and North Carolina State University.
2. What is your training style/methods regarding training?
Everything I do is geared toward creating efficient athletes. Efficient athletes should excel at their performance tasks with the least amount of energy spent. This allows for a sustained high level of performance through the duration of a play, game, season, and career. The methods I use to elicit this include building fundamental strength with multi-jointed exercises, enhancing mobility and stability, manipulating speed and reactivity of movement, developing the energy systems, and using ground-based movements.
3. Who has influenced you the most throughout your career and why?
I have been fortunate to learn from many strength coaches, sport coaches, athletic trainers, and athletes who are exceptional leaders and thinkers. Some that have been influential in my development as a coach include Zach Duval, Jason Roberson, Dave Feeley, Chang Lee, Craig Sowers, Bob Alejo, and Duane Carlisle, to name a few. Although I could list many more that have made a positive impact in my career, I have spent a good amount of time learning from these coaches.
4. How do you adapt your programming to fit the needs of each athlete you work with?
Each program will be tailored to the situation as a part of a carefully planned year-long cycle. This is finalized after conversations with the sport staff, athletic training staff, and supporting strength staff. On a more individual basis, my athletes may need time spent with individual needs in conjunction with the base program.
5. What do you think is the most overlooked concept in the field of strength and conditioning?
I think the concept of “process” is often overlooked not just in strength and conditioning, but in athletics in general. Safely developing an athlete to be the best version of themselves takes time and patience. The world of athletics seems to have a “win or get fired” clause in the unofficial job description. From a physical standpoint, this could be dangerous or adverse to the development of the athlete. Chasing numbers would be the strength and conditioning equivalent to “winning at all costs.” Athletes should have career-long improvements, and should not be only focused on the short term.
6. What resources do you use the most when it comes to getting continuing education as it pertains to the field?
I often use my professional network to bounce ideas off of, or get ideas from. Also, I reach out to other coaches outside my current network for their thoughts and insight. I read from peer-reviewed scientific journals and books on several topics ranging from the science to the art of our practice.
7. What is your take on “specificity” of training and how (if so) do you apply it to your programing?
To me, specificity refers to the type of athletic movement performed and the primary energy systems used while participating in a sport. I believe it is our duty to optimize athleticism, which means to make these athletes strong, fast, durable, resistant to injury, and efficient. The beneficial lifts performed are very similar across all sports. Periodization in load and volume vary greatly due to the nature of the sport seasons (e.g., in-, off-, post-, and pre-season).
In addition, plane of movement also needs to be taken into account. For example, I consider track and field sprints and jumps and cross-country athletes to primarily be linear movers. Thus, they do not need to spend much time performing rotational movement or change of direction drills. I see this as “specific” to their sport. However, they do often resist rotation and some time must be given to work on this quality. For another example, I would consider baseball and softball athletes to be more rotational movers. This means they should focus on rotational movements in conjunction with fundamental strength training.
8. What is your favorite tool in your tool box?
I would not say I necessarily have a favorite tool; only the best tool for a given situation. I try to keep my mind open to new and unfamiliar methods and exercises to see if I can fit them within my training principles and philosophy.
9. What are your 5 favorite exercises?
1) Back squat; 2) Power clean; 3) Deadlift; 4) Push-up; and 5) Pull-up.
10. What advice do you have for young coaches who are beginning their careers and hoping to “follow in your footsteps?”
My advice would be to treat each day as if you were on an interview. Somebody is always watching, whether you know it or not. Show passion and enthusiasm for what you do and always make sure you maintain a hard work ethic.