Van Meter High School in Iowa is no stranger to athletic success. The small school just outside of Des Moines has brought home numerous state championships over the last few years.
After winning back-to-back 1A titles in 2021 and 2022, the Van Meter football team faced a new challenge in 2023 when they were moved up a division. But the team was up for the challenge, winning a close 2A state championship game, capping off a third straight year of state title success.
And football isn’t the only team at Van Meter seeing success. The title was Van Meter High School’s 15th team state championship and the 13th since 2016. Van Meter’s previous state titles came in 1946 (fall baseball), 2003 (baseball), 2016 (softball), 2017 (football), 2018 (girls’ golf), 2019 (baseball), 2020 (baseball), 2021 (girls’ golf, baseball, & football), 2022 (baseball, girls cross country, & football), & 2023 (girls track and football).
What is the secret recipe to this school’s success? Van Meter has developed a year-round speed and strength program for 9th-12th-grade student-athletes.
A Unified Approach To Strength, Speed, & Conditioning
To achieve school-wide success, the coaches and teachers at Van Meter know the importance of working together. Eric Trudo, Jay Olson, and Dustin Wright have led the charge in creating a unified approach that supports all boys and girls athletes at the school.
As a result, Van Meter has a well-oiled machine that runs through physical education classes, before and after school, and during the summer. The coaches have worked to adapt and innovate to keep seeing the benefits of a comprehensive strength, speed, and conditioning program. For example, head football coach Eric Trudo explains how the program shifted to balance speed and strength work,
“When we first came back after Covid, we had a small window to prepare for the season, which led us to focus on more speed and agility. Since then, we have shifted to have 30 minutes dedicated on the track and field before we head into the weight room.”
In total, Eric says that these adjustments and tweaks are all in the effort of growing a program that helps build the best possible athletes and teams,
“For high school athletic programs, depth is one of the most important factors. Teams’ success lies in growing and developing an entire group, not just a few stand-out athletes. Strength and conditioning plays such an important role because it is where student-athletes can see some of the most significant growth and improvement.”
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Starting Strong – Supporting Incoming 9th Graders
To help with the journey of long-term athletic development, Van Meter pays special attention to incoming 9th graders. Over the summer, 9th graders have a separate group where they come to train and learn the ropes of the speed and strength program.
Jay Olson says that this separate group allows students to learn and develop form and technique,
“We spend a lot of time building skills with our 9th graders over the summer. By doing so, they can focus on building a strong foundation that will translate to even more future growth.”
Jay describes how, in recent years, Van Meter has seen a growing number of 9th graders come to join the program,
“For example, we had a huge group of 9th-grade girls this past summer that were really invested. It is exciting to see the program continue to build.”
And now a few years into this major push for unified strength and conditioning, Eric says the results are showing with upperclassman athletes,
“It takes time, but it has really started to evolve and take shape as our athletes become juniors and seniors. You can see the difference as they start to become key players on their teams.”
At Van Meter, 9th graders learn to move with great form and technique with empty barbells. Check out an example of the barbell back squat from PLT4M’s library of instructional videos.
Physical Education’s Important Role
While summers are a highlight at Van Meter, a bulk of the weightlifting happens during physical education throughout the school year. Dustin Wright leads 7 sections of PE classes where students get into the weight room twice a week throughout the year,
“I have anywhere from 25-50 students in one class. And I can get our athletes into the weight room so that our strength training is consistent even with busy sports and school schedules.”
And because Dustin knows that not all athletes love weightlifting, he works hard to keep them focused, motivated, and having fun while working out,
“It is about making the weight room a place where athletes see the positive benefits of training, especially within the context of the sports they love.”
Putting All The Pieces Together With PLT4M
All combined, Van Meter has built an impressive year-round strength and conditioning program. To help support its year-round initiative, Van Meter has implemented PLT4M as a strength and conditioning software. Jay, who had used Trainheroic in the past, found out one of their opponents had been seeing success with PLT4M and thought it could be a good fit for Van Meter,
“We wanted something that was geared towards high school athletes. And after talking with other coaches in the area, making the switch was a no-brainer.”
Eric, who was initially hesitant about letting students use phones in the weight room, says it has been a game-changer,
“We set the expectation that phones were a privilege and something to support training with personalized weights and percentages. And our kids have been great using it as a tool in the weight room.”
With PLT4M, Van Meter takes PLT4M’s strength and conditioning programs and tweaks them to fit their weight room, schedule, and needs. Dustin says that this allows them to adapt everything from school year to summer workouts seamlessly,
“It gives us the perfect level of flexibility. By tapping into technology, we can reach more kids and make the biggest difference throughout our school and sports teams. It has allowed us to grow the mission of our strength and conditioning program throughout the school.”
Key Takeaways On Van Meter’s Success
Van Meter has found its footing in the realm of Iowa high school sports. The school sees the benefits on the field, court, and track of a unified strength and conditioning approach across PE and Athletics.
And while Van Meter has celebrated a recent string of success over the last few years, Eric says that they are eager to keep growing the program,
“We can keep growing the culture to have an even bigger impact across all our boys’ and girls’ sports. The more consistent and committed we are across the board, the bigger the benefits can be.”
For a school that has already won an impressive amount of state championships over the last few years, don’t expect Van Meter High School to slow down any time soon.