Andrew Stone has set the bar high in his first year of coaching strength and conditioning for Virginia Tech athletes.
“One of my biggest reasons I love being a strength coach is the relationships I get to build with athletes. You're with them through the trenches and behind the scenes,” Stone said. “You're not put in the spotlight on the stage where they are, but instead helping them get to that point. I get every day to go spend that time with them and help them get to the point I know where they can be, or even get past that. It is such a huge opportunity to help the athletes to actually believe in something that they never thought they could do.”
While attending high school in a low-income area of Virginia Beach, Stone beat the odds and successfully graduated with a bright future. Playing multiple sports, he recalls being so sore after his first day of weightlifting his freshman year that he could not walk, but loved the feeling. He started to get into the weightroom during any off time he could find and eventually persuaded his baseball coach to open it up at 4:30 a.m. so he could lift before school started.
After being a successful high school athlete, Stone made the Virginia Tech cheerleading team, which fueled his passion for weightlifting. This eventually led him to find his calling and land his current job. Stone is in his first year as a strength and conditioning graduate assistant for Olympic sports with the Virginia Tech athletic department after volunteering for a year as an intern with the program.
Among the student-athletes in the Virginia Tech sports teams, Stone earned the reputation of a 23-year-old who is wise beyond his years. He designs training programs for the official cheerleading and dance teams and will add the men’s golf team to that list this spring. Stone also assists with wrestling, women’s soccer, women’s lacrosse, softball, baseball and sprinters on the men’s and women’s track teams. Rather than just listing exercises on a card, Stone hands them out to his teams. He has a process in place and regularly attends practices to keep up with what teams are doing in athletes’ respective sports. Those visits translate into weightlifting exercises that will aid in their performance. Stone has an edge to his strength training since as a collegiate athlete himself only two years ago, he understands the rigors associated with college sports.
“Coach Stone is a great person to have to talk to and learn from about training since he was an athlete himself not too long ago,” said Stevie Mangrum, baseball player. “He relates to us and understands the daily grind and balancing your sport and school.”
Constantly questioning athletes to learn what kind of exercises and training they like or would like to try, Stone does his best to implement these suggestions. If an athlete wants to lift an extra day, Stone gives up even more of his time to make it happen. If specific training exercises do not work for an entire team, such as flipping tractor tires, he comes in on the weekends and invites whomever wants to join.
The first athletic teams to lift weights start at 6:15 a.m.; however, Stone’s daily routine begins hours before. “I can't believe he even beats me in here every morning, and it drives me crazy that he does,” said Megan Evans, assistant director of Olympic sports. “I gave up after about the first week of school of trying to beat him into the weightroom, which is saying something when you come to work at 5:30 in the morning.”
Stone cherishes the quiet time he has in the weightroom before anyone else arrives. This time allows him to prepare for the day and anybody or anything that could possibly come his way. Stone maps out his entire day, such as how a warmup for a specific team will look or reminds himself to ask how an athlete’s test went after the last time he saw that individual. “Every day I think, what can I do today to make not only myself better, but someone else better as well, whether that is one person, the whole team or two people, whatever it is,” he said. “There's just little things to remember and then as teams come in, you put it in action and go from there.”
Stone’s position does not consist of normal work hours. He described it as a 24-hour job. During the first few weeks in his new position, he battled exhaustion. Stone mentioned that lately he has been waking up easily and eagerly as a result of his rewarding opportunity to coach athletes. Stone frequently attends teams’ games, even when the sport is not one that he coaches or assists with in the weightroom. He also attends practices and works with teams on conditioning sometimes until 9 or 10 p.m., which Evans stated most strength coaches would not even consider. “I attend practices to let them know that I care about what they're going through. Yeah, performances, games, or nationals, whatever it is, is great,” Stone said. “But what matters are these crunch times when no one's watching, when there's not a crowd in the stadium. When they know you're there to support them through that stuff, that is what matters.”
Before Stone begins weightlifting sessions, he meets the teams outside the weightroom. He never fails to put a smile on every athlete’s face when he reads a motivational statement before allowing them to step foot in the weightroom. However, the motivation does not stop there. Stone constantly evaluates learning how each athlete finds motivation in the weightroom. He uses whatever works best for the athlete, including that person’s ability, yelling, or using positive reinforcement. Knowing what drives an athlete can help a coach know what motivational techniques to use to assist that athlete in performing at a higher level, and Stone stops short of nothing. Many of the Virginia Tech student-athletes recall Stone speaking of their ‘why’ and how he uses it to motivate them.
“He always says find your reason why you do something, so I’ve applied it into everything that I do now; I always try to find the why behind things in what I do within my sport and outside of it,” said Juliana Plescia, dancer. “Honestly, part of the reason why I continue to work hard as an athlete and better myself is solely because Andrew truly believes in my potential.”
Stone believes that finding an athlete’s ‘why’ can only occur through conversation and trust. He runs on the fact that strength coaching, to him, consists more of relationship building than muscle building. An athlete building character and translating the confidence into their life and to their sport is a vital piece of the weightroom, yet it is often pushed aside and forgotten. "I've been lucky enough that a lot of athletes, not even on my personal teams, have been comfortable enough to come talk to me and trust in me with whatever is going on,” Stone said. “Lots of people just need two ears, to trust you as an individual and to trust your character, because if they don’t, where else are you going to go from there?”
His motivation does not end when athletes leave the weightroom or even the athletic buildings. One athlete recalled Stone sending a personal email after an optional Saturday workout that thanked her for coming and told her how much he already saw her growing mentally and physically. “He motivates me whether it is a motivational quote through text, or asking how are you doing with this specific aspect in your life and how is it affecting you,” said Amber Miller, cheerleader. “He always checks up on me, and I feel like that makes me even more motivated because I know that someone is watching me and that someone deeply cares.”
After his time at Virginia Tech, Stone wants to work with a football program because football strength and conditioning coaches spend about 70 percent more than Olympic sports. To him, that means a greater opportunity to build a relationship with the athletes. He does not care what division or even if it is a football bowl subdivision school where he ends up coaching, he only wants to land a job where he can make a difference.
“Coach Stone is one of the best things that has happened to Virginia Tech athletics,” Plescia said. “I don’t think he realizes that he has about 50 girls just on this team alone that look up to him so much and value what he has to say.”