FINDING GOD IN THE WEIGHT ROOM
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June 8, 2021
For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, please visit the admissions section of our website here.
NOTRE DAME CONVERSATIONS
Notre Dame's strength and conditioning coach brought to the school a wealth of experience that included a stint in the Milwaukee Brewers baseball organization. Now, after nearly two years on campus, it seems to be a perfect match for both coach and school. Christian Polega remains focused on maintaining a top-notch fitness program that includes a daily dose of faith.
When Notre Dame's Strength and Conditioning Coach Christian Polega was hired in the summer of 2019, athletic director Betty Wroubel commented on how fortunate the school was in getting someone with such a wide range of experience.
"We are elated to be able to add someone with the experience and qualifications that Christian possesses, having worked in high school, collegiate and professional athletics," Wroubel said in a news release. "He came highly recommended to us and stood out among a field of who we felt were very strong applicants for this position. We believe that his vision and leadership will help build upon an already very strong program.”
Polega came to Notre Dame from Bloomfield Hills High School, where he was director of sports performance and had overall responsibility for the strength and conditioning of all high-school student-athletes in the school system. Prior to BHHS, he was a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Detroit Mercy, responsible for athletes playing softball, basketball soccer and track and field among others. Before UDM, Polega served in coaching or strength and conditioning positions with the University of Montana; University of Wisconsin; Brookfield East High School in Brookfield, Wisc.; and Muskego High School, also located in Wisconsin.
Polega's experience included a stint working as an assistant strength and conditioning coach within the Milwaukee Brewers baseball organization.
A resident of Shelby Township, Mich., Polega holds a master's degree in health services administration from UD Mercy and earned a B.S. degree in kinesiology – exercise science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he also earned a certificate in strength and conditioning from the school's College of Health Sciences.
He is certified as a registered strength and conditioning coach and specialist, and holds certification as a USAW level-1 sport performance coach. He also is CPR/AED-certified by the American Heart Association.
Wroubel recently added that the school was truly blessed to have someone like Polega come in and continue to build upon the foundation that Jake Siebert built prior to him moving to California.
"This is a very important position within our athletic department and I feel that we have one of the top trainers around," she said. "Coach P. has had experience at all levels: high school, college and the pros, and brings that wealth of expertise to our kids. He holds an outstanding reputation in the strength and conditioning field and is a tremendous motivator as well as innovator. An added bonus is that his personality and approach gel nicely with our Marist mission and values." Now, after nearly two years at Notre Dame under his belt — and as part of "NOTRE DAME CONVERSATIONS," a new communication initiative that will focus on conversations with members of the Notre Dame community — we thought it was a good time to catch up with Polega on what's been happening in his weight room and beyond.
Since coming aboard at NDPMA, how has it been for you in terms of support for strength and conditioning from the school community?
POLEGA: Support has been great! When you lose a fixture like Jake Siebert, you can't expect to come in and have the trust and respect of your coaches and student-athletes from the get-go. Relationships take time to build and coaches have to see that you really care and have their teams' best interests in mind before they start to buy into your program. Over the course of time, I believe I've built enough trust equity so that more and more coaches also want their teams to work with me. Individual student-athletes that I also worked with started seeing results and believed in my program and they too spread the word to their peers, which increased the number of students working out in their individual off-seasons. Now that my second year is wrapping up at NDPMA, I couldn't be happier with the positive feedback I receive almost weekly from administrators, teachers, coaches or student-athletes. It really makes you feel like you're making a positive and influential impact at an amazing school. I am ecstatic to finish out the year and get rolling into my year three here.
How do you like working in the Betty A. Wroubel Athletic Performance Center? Do you foresee any upcoming facility improvements in terms of equipment or floorspace?
POLEGA: The Wroubel Center is one of the best weight rooms in the area, especially for a school our size. The foresight that went into putting it together was spot-on at the time it was planned, developed and built. The equipment, layout and overall space is great to train about 15-25 student-athletes at the same time. A real bonus feature is all the window space that allows natural light to shine in on the room, making it a warm and inviting atmosphere to train. Most weight rooms I have been in at the high school, college and professional level are tucked away in a basement or in a room that has no windows, which can make it intimidating and uninviting to train.
As the number of teams and individuals continues to grow and utilize the Wroubel on a year-round basis, we could be outgrowing the equipment in the space. Adding a few multi-station rack systems, heavier dumbbells and accessory pieces of equipment will help meet the increased growth and demand. Equipment upgrades will help the program improve the flow, efficiency and effectiveness of training and will be a tremendous asset to the teams and individuals in the program. Better training outcomes mean better preparedness and protection for our student-athletes in their respective sports.
Can you talk about your experience with the Brewers' baseball club?
POLEGA: Working with the Milwaukee Brewers was an unbelievable time in my life. Training major league prospects, being around big leaguers, and working alongside retired major league players turned managers, coordinators and instructors is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. While part of the Brewers organization, I had the opportunity to work one extended spring training, one short season with the Helena Brewers (70 games), one Dominican winter camp (San Pedro de Marco), two spring trainings (Phoenix), and two full seasons with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (140 games each season).
What was a typical day like during that time?
POLEGA: A typical day at an affiliate would involve showing up at the ballpark around 9 a.m. for home games and a little later for away games. I would take our position players through their strength and conditioning program before they're on-field work for the day. Once batting practice would start, I would work with our starting pitchers on their daily program, which varied depending on how many days they had before their next start.
Following those workouts, the team would have about 45 minutes to eat a pre-game meal and relax before I ran our starters through the pre-game stretch. The games actually were the first time I had a chance to relax, eat seeds, and watch our players get after it. Once our starter came out of the game, I would take him into the clubhouse and run him through our post-throwing arm care program. Also, I would continue to take each relief pitcher who played in the game through the program as well. My night usually wrapped up about 20 minutes post-game when I would then write my notes, eat some food, and head to my residence to get a good night's sleep so I could do it all over again the next day.
Sounds like a pretty intense schedule. Are you glad you had that experience?
POLEGA: Although the days were long and time off was a luxury, the bonds, friendships and memories I made were worth every second of it. The players were hilarious, the atmosphere at the ballparks was first rate, and the overall experience helped mold me into a better and more professional strength and conditioning coach.
Can you discuss how you work the Notre Dame's school mission into your job with kids?
POLEGA: People from the outside looking in on the athletic development program might think I am only training to prepare our student-athletes for the demands of their respective sports. However, it's more than that. Much more than that. I always stress that teams and individuals show up on time with a good attitude and ready to give their best effort in the day's training session. I also stress that our kids always rack their weights and clean their station when they are done with it. This ensures the safety of the room and makes for a more inviting and productive training environment that each team or individual can enjoy. Also, I try to encourage our older, more experienced student-athlete to help a struggling newer student-athlete. This not only helps me coach larger groups, but gives the older student-athletes ownership in the program.
What about the relationship between athletic work and academics?
POLEGA: I like to focus on the whys behind all our training. Why they should do a certain exercise. How it should be conducted. And how it fits into their development as a student-athlete. I also encourage our student-athletes to ask questions and explore different areas of performance and fitness. There's a lot of poor information out there and I want them to be able to decipher good from bad training theory and advice, especially when they go out and train on their own. By creating an open environment where they can ask questions and are given sound advice, I think they can better pursue and cultivate life-long fitness habits. I think the nuanced benefits of physical training will have tremendous importance in a growing and developing teenage brain. Some of the benefits include better grades, better attendance, improved cognition, and better classroom behavior, all of which promote our student-athletes to be academic scholars.
How do you introduce faith into a school strength and conditioning environment?
POLEGA: Because God is always front and center at our school, including in the weight room, the very last aspect of any day's session is to gather everyone together and thank Him for allowing us to come together as a team or individuals. I will always ask the group for any intentions and then ask one student-athlete to lead us in prayer. By keeping the focus on God, it allows us to train harder, smarter and with a heart full of love.
What has been the most surprising and/or satisfying part of your time so far at NDPMA?
POLEGA: The most surprising and satisfying part of my time here is how amazing our student-athletes are. They are well-mannered, have good communication skills, care for one another deeply, and always strive to give their best. It makes my time so much more enjoyable knowing I get to work with student-athletes of their caliber. And if they're always striving to give their best, I myself better be working twice as hard to ensure their experience is the best it can be.
So what's life like for you outside of school?
POLEGA: I got married on May 29 to the beautiful Amanda Marsack. We like to spend time together going hiking, fishing, traveling to the Upper Peninsula and trying out new restaurants. I also enjoy playing softball in the summer, hunting in the fall, and snowboarding in the winter. I spend a lot of time outdoors and during most summers, I coach travel baseball. Outside of that, I enjoy my profession and learning new ways to help deliver a great experience to our student-athletes. They definitely deserve it!
For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, please visit the admissions section of our website here.
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the National Association of Independent Schools. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school’s home page at www.ndpma.org.