Strength and Conditioning Coach, Paul Ratz
By Norm Newell
Photography by Janssen Photography
Some people have the physical power to lift a lot of weight. Some have the mental and personality power to uplift others, taking the weight off their shoulders, so to speak. The school system and the community of Fergus Falls is blessed to have someone who can do both.
Meet Paul Ratz, the head strength and conditioning coach at Kennedy Secondary School (KSS) in Fergus Falls. He is physically imposing at 6’3” and 240 lbs, but with his smile, genial personality and genuine interest in those he meets, he immediately makes you comfortable. Coaches, parents and the school administration all agree he has an uplifting effect on the youth he comes in contact with.
Ratz spends much of his day as a 6th grade teacher helping 12 year old kids learn and feel good about themselves through encouragement, laughter, fun activities, gentle discipline, goal setting, and a constant stream of positive attitude. There, he’s Mr. Ratz.
When the school day is over, he heads to the strength and conditioning room at KSS where he works primarily with teenagers amongst the sound of grunts, groans, and heavy metal. There he is Mr. Ratz to beginners, just Ratz to the kids that have been there a while and are comfortable with him and Ratzy to the coaches who work with him in setting up programs for their sports.
He is comfortable in both the classroom and the weight room using much of the same encouragement, laughter, fun activities and positive attitude in both places. His goal setting, along with regimented and disciplined strength and conditioning formulas, build the youth of Fergus Falls into well-conditioned athletes.
Legendary Clarkfield, Minn., high school football coach Gary Wolf encouraged him and others to get into the weight room. In 8th grade, Ratz started his journey into the world of strength and conditioning building up to 175 pounds by his senior year. He was a member of Clarkfield’s football dynasty that went 48-2 from 7th grade through his senior year, losing only to the state champions his last two years. Continuing to strengthen through his weightlifting, Ratz went to state in track his senior year in the shot put.
Planning to be a high school teacher, Paul completed a degree in secondary education specializing in science at the U of M-Morris. During the summers, he would work at the swimming pool teaching lessons to younger age kids. Loving their energy and enthusiasm, he decided elementary education would be the better fit for him. He enrolled at Southwest Minnesota State and got his Elementary Education degree in 1989.
Forgoing college sports, Ratz continued to delve deeper into weightlifting and conditioning, going from 175 pounds to a muscled and toned 275 pounds during his college years. He joined competitive men’s softball leagues and with his size and strength, became a premier home run hitter, playing for Viessman Trucking, a perennial power in the state of Minnesota. He would play in 125 to 150 games a summer and in 1998 his team won the Class B National Championship. By then he was married to wife Stacy and had started a family, so he decided to end top level softball and all the travel involved. Stacy, an excellent high school basketball and softball player, went on to play community college basketball after high school. They have four children who all play sports, Emily, a junior in cross country and track; Ryan a freshman in football and wrestling; Tori a 6th grader in volleyball, basketball and softball; and 3rd grader Jack in various youth sports.
Ratz will start his 27th year of teaching this fall and says, “I really can’t call it work, because I enjoy it so much. The days go by fast because of the enthusiasm and excitement of the kids. I feel it’s an age I can have a significant positive impact on the development of youth.”
After teaching and coaching two years in Brooten, Minn., Ratz came to Fergus Falls where he’s been ever since. He was an assistant football coach from 1992 to 2007 and worked in the weight room with kids as part of football coaching. In 2007, Fergus Falls joined the Central Lakes Conference (CLC) and the school administration hired Ratz as the year round coach of strength and conditioning, with the job of working with all athletic programs and all Otter athletes making them better conditioned and able to compete within the CLC.
The program is open for business throughout the school year, five days a week, typically from 3:30 pm until 6:00 pm. Paul Ratz is there all that time including during the holiday seasons. He is always encouraging coaches and athletes to get into his programs and works closely with all coaches at KSS to set time schedules for their specific sport athletes to get workouts in around their other regular sport practices.
Along with general programs based on age and size, Ratz has specific strength and conditioning regimens for different sports and for athletes of different ages and/or sizes for that sport also. He has developed these regimens through his many years of experience but also has made extensive use of the website XLAthlete.com, which contains hundreds of strength and conditioning programs for all types of sports and levels of age and physical ability. The website was devised by Cal Dietz, the well known strength and conditioning guru at the University of Minnesota.
Ratz’s “Big 4” for any strength and conditioning program are: (1) start young (2) be consistent with your program year round, (3) strive to get stronger in some area every day and (4) eat nutritious foods that can fuel your training, recovery and muscle growth.
How young is starting young? He says programs that teach proper running, jumping, agility, stretching, and light lifting should start around 10 years old or 4th grade. All kids are put through an orientation to the weight equipment, how to operate or use effectively and safely, and many weight regimens are with “spotters” who standby to help with weights if something goes wrong. Experienced lifters are taught by Ratz to encourage others as they start out.
How do you achieve consistency? Ratz has individualized regimen tracking sheets for every participant, regardless of age or strength level. Each tracking sheet has the days of the week and the types of strength, agility or conditioning exercise. When the participant completes his/her activities for that session, they check off their tracking sheet.
Where does daily improvement come from? Believe it or not, Ratz takes every single tracking sheet of every participant home each night and writes in a new set of goals or repetitions in the next day’s column to provide for improvement in some category every day. That’s the commitment he makes to his participants for daily improvement. During the peak of summer training, Ratz may have as many as 125 individual workouts to complete every night. He says, “From 6 pm when I get home until 10 pm is family time, then from 10 pm to midnight or later I fill in all the individual programs and their lifts, sets, reps and weights for the next day.” That is commitment to your program, and to the kids in your school and community.
Agility drills and diet information are included. Outside the weight room he has set up grids on the floor for agility drills. In the weight room are jumping apparatus, weights and goal markers. Additionally, he has several handouts for participants on proper diets needed to create the energy required for strength and agility gains. Handouts are available that recommend supplements to take and supplements to avoid. One handout is called “eating for muscle”. Included in those handouts are proper weight gain diets for football players to “bulk up” for the season, and for other diets to stay lean but strong for sports where size or bulk isn’t that important. Ratz’s programs have several notable protégés, including Josh Campion (Football-Minnesota Gophers), Adam Schueller (Football and 4 national championships with NDSU), Bri Rasmusson (Volleyball-NDSU), Haylie Zenner (Track-U of M, plus 4 time 800 meter state champion), Bailey Strand (Basketball-UND), and sisters Mariah Monke (Basketball-Wisconsin-Green Bay) and Anna Monke (Basketball-UMD).
Ratz also offers summer strength and conditioning programs four days a week through the city of Fergus Falls Summer Recreation program. They are utilized by many youth and high school athletes, as well as high school alumni who play college sports.
One myth Ratz wants to dispel is that females bulk up from lifting weights. There are many programs for females, he reiterates, that add muscle but tone at the same time and female athletes actually feel better about their firm but trim stature.
KSS Activities Director Gary Schuler sums up Ratz’s value succinctly in his comments, “Paul Ratz is so important to all of our programs. He brings a great influence in the development of our athletes both mentally and physically. He truly has the best interest of our athletes in mind and his nurturing not only brings physical results, but gives our athletes confidence in their improved strength and quickness. He tells our athletes that commitment and consistency in the lifting and agility programs are the keys, and those who have committed see marked improvement. He will work with our head coaches in developing a program both in-season and in the off-season and his dedication has given many athletes an edge when competing.”
When you think of the number of youth Paul Ratz has made stronger physically and the positive influence his dynamic personality has had on the growth and maturity of those he interacts with, it’s downright uplifting.