Culture of Confidence: How Defiance High School Supports Its Female Athletes

During a cold winter day in Ohio, the Defiance High School Girls Basketball Team finished up an in season weight training session as Coach Rafael Manriquez posed a question to his athletes, “What is the one thing we have done differently this year?” Although many actions combined to their successful season of over 20 total wins, one thing that stood out to everyone was their increased physicality and athleticism that had been improved and developed by their newly devoted time to the weight room.  Manriquez had made it his mission this year to dedicate time for the Defiance girls to train off the court. Manriquez noted, “I had to prioritize the things I knew were most important, and that was getting into the weight room.” He knew, like many schools, the weight room was often considered a place for only the football team. Manriquez made weight training a priority even during their in season practices so that the weight room could become a place where his female athletes felt comfortable and confident. After winter sports ended, Defiance had formed a group of over 30 girls from different teams, embracing their spring off season training. Defiance’s athletic director had purchased and added a training platform that would help Manriquez and his fellow coaches to continue to foster their athletes’ confidence and skills in the weight room. The girls started using the PLT4M Intro to Weightlifting Program, and moved from bodyweight movements, such as the air squat, to squatting with PVC pipes practicing good form and technique. The girls confidence continued to grow and many started to use barbells, even adding weight. As the Defiance girls established their baseline numbers, there was a mix of excitement and surprise, with a palpable sense of pride. Some girls started with 5 pound plates, with the urge to strive for more. The enthusiasm in the Defiance weightroom is infectious. With each week comes a workset and a chance for a ‘pizza party’. Many of the older athletes have built to 45 pound plates on each side and in the words of Defiance girls “Two big pizzas!”. These large plates serve as a reminder of the athletes accomplishments and dedication. The culture has shifted and the girls’ inner drive brings weekly improvements and a healthy dose of competition with one another and themselves. Using Rack View, five girls share one device to work through their personalized workouts, building a sense of teamwork, and in the eyes of Coach Manriquez, “there is a certain toughness that is built in the weight room, with finishers, worksets, and having to get a workout done together.” Within the weight room, Coach Manriquez can see the teaching moments. Not every workset is completed and not everyone has weight on the bar yet, but in coach’s words, “It is okay. We are going to get there. Look at where these girls were 6 months ago! We can do this and you showing up and working hard will make that happen.” Defiance leverages leaderboards to show themselves just how far they have come, and the areas they can continue to improve. As more girls come to the weight room, they are placed in the Intro to Weightlifting program—allowing them to receive the proper foundational education and attention from the multiple coaches in the weight room. Manriquez and his fellow coaches are able to confidently move athletes to more advanced programs, knowing they can efficiently and safely accomplish the workouts. If the girls have questions they can turn to each other, the demo videos, or to their coach.
“For me it is a no brainer. You can do all the drills to try and get better, but the reality is if you can take an average athlete and get them stronger and in better shape, you will see more growth and improvement than you ever would hitting a ball a million times.”
As the number of Defiance students continue to grow in the weight room, the culture and atmosphere of fitness and strength is spread amongst the school. In the coming months, the Defiance coaches hope to have more athletes embrace the dynamic part of training that they believe plays such a vital role in success.

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