National strength and conditioning group honors Sanford coach
For much of his life, Sanford Health exercise program coordinator Steve Bliss has helped people get better at what they do. This includes things like scoring goals, getting first downs, grabbing rebounds, and walking around the block.
With the same passion and expertise used to help college football teams win national titles, Bliss played a major role in the development of Sanford POWER and now helps people regain mobility after knee replacement surgery. and hip.
His successes don’t get the attention they got when this innovative, nationally acclaimed strength and conditioning coach was helping football teams in Nebraska, Miami, Ohio State and State of North Dakota to win national championships. But personal satisfaction is similar.
Bliss was recently named the 2022 National Strength & Conditioning Association Impact Award winner for his work in this profession over five decades. It’s a peer-driven honor that covers a lot of ground, like Bliss himself.
Through it all, he was considered a pioneer in the role that strength and conditioning can play in improving athletes and lives. This includes technical elements that can make a difference for elite athletes, but also never-before-seen innovations in how strength and conditioning can exist within the dynamics of a team and its athletes.
“My whole career, I’ve always enjoyed creating something out of nothing with a group of people,” Bliss said. “It’s not really me, it’s a group of people and we’re working on new ideas.”
The collaboration comes up often in conversation with Bliss, who along with wellness center director Cal Hanson (now retired) developed in 1998 what was originally known as the Sioux High Performance Program. Valley, then became Sanford POWER.
Strength and conditioning, plus power
The initial mission was to create unique training options for athletes. It would combine strength and conditioning with agility and plyometrics. It would be backed by the principles of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and it would be like nothing the region has ever seen.
“Right away, we had high expectations,” Bliss said. “We had to come up with innovative floor training because that’s how you do sports – the best athletes in the country don’t train on a machine. They train in the field.
Likewise, Bliss and Hanson built the program from scratch. He started out without athletes and after five years was the preferred source in the area for those seeking athletic development training.
Support from Sanford’s leadership was crucial during this time, Bliss said, as was word of mouth among athletes talking about how coaching was helping them.
“When we needed new gear, Sanford got it for us,” Bliss said. “When we needed more staff, they got it for us. We really kept the program unique. If we had tried to copy the competition, it wouldn’t have worked as well.
A persistent weightlifter
Bliss was a gymnast and weightlifter when he enrolled in Nebraska in 1970 and was going to pursue law school. During his first week on campus, he saw a class outside of his pre-law program that interested him, however. There was a guy named Boyd Epley who was teaching a weightlifting class.
However, Bliss had to get a signature from the instructor to officially register, and when he tried to do so, Epley told him the class was full. Then Bliss asked again two days later. Epley told him again that he would have to wait until the second half.
Then once more at the end of the week, just before he had to give up the quest, he spoke to Epley again.
“He says, ‘I’ve never had someone come back three times to try to get into my class. OK, I’ll sign it,” Bliss said. “It was 4:30 p.m. on the last day and I got his signature. It ended up changing my whole life.
By the late 1960s, Epley was beginning to establish a training schedule for the Nebraska football program – and all other Cornhusker sports – that would be the envy of college football and push the Cornhuskers to perennial national championship status. . After a month in the class, he asked Bliss if he would be interested in helping Epley work with the football team.
Bliss took the offer and worked with South Dakota athletes like Larry Jacobson (Sioux Falls) and John Dutton (Rapid City), a pair of defensive linemen who went on to be NFL draft picks in the first round. Over the years, many other outstanding athletes have enjoyed their time with Bliss, who became the first full-time strength and conditioning coach for the Miami Hurricanes and then the first in the same position for the Ohio State Buckeyes. .
‘Someone from Ohio’ called
His move from Miami to Ohio State came after the Buckeyes visited the Miami weight room while the team was in Florida to play in the Orange Bowl. Legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes saw his players using Hurricanes facilities and had an assistant ask Bliss for his phone number.
Bliss went out of town for a few days and when he returned his roommate told him that someone from Ohio had called and left a phone number.
Bliss thinks for a minute. He didn’t know anyone in Ohio.
“Yeah,” her roommate continued. “He said his name was Woody Hayes.”
Bliss knew who Woody Hayes was. So it was with every college football fan in America at the time.
“I flew over there and we talked for three hours,” Bliss said. “We got on really well. He wasn’t going to let me go until I told him I would take the job.
Early in his tenure at Ohio State, Bliss had a run-in with a freshman named Cris Carter, who would go on to pursue an NFL Hall of Fame career, primarily with the Minnesota Vikings.
“I met every freshman that came in,” Bliss said. “Cris said, ‘Coach Bliss, I’m not going to lift weights.’ I said, ‘That’s fine, Cris, but you’ll never see the pitch. You’ll never play a down.
Carter finally relented.
“After a few months on the program, he armed a guy in a nationally televised game against Iowa,” Bliss said. “Carter flattened him. Then he was in the weight room all the time.
Always helping athletes improve
Carter’s story is memorable because Bliss worked with an athlete who ended up being one of the greatest receivers of all time. But the real point was that a strength and conditioning coach helps an athlete improve. It’s the fuel that has sustained Bliss throughout a career now in its sixth decade.
“It’s that human connection that makes it worth it,” Bliss said. “When you’re dealing with athletes and involving them in your program – and all of a sudden they can jump a little higher or maybe they can play harder in the fourth quarter – that’s where the light comes on.”
When Bliss, Hanson and their staff began to establish themselves in the community, they sometimes worked with entire teams rather than individuals. This reduced costs for athletes and introduced a team culture for self-improvement.
A lot has happened since then. Sanford POWER now includes six locations in four states that are fully staffed with certified strength trainers and supported by orthopedic physicians, physical therapists, certified athletic trainers and sports scientists.
Throughout his 24 years at Sanford, Bliss has witnessed this growth up close. He can list dozens of names of people who participated in the process of building what he has become.
“It’s great to come to work every day and know you’re working with people who are going to support you,” he said. “It frees you up to think about new ways of doing things.”
Coach while learning
As an exercise specialist, Bliss is part of a team that includes a mentorship program that involves staff from their programs. He participated in its creation, maintenance and driving it to new places.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve never wanted anyone to look at me and think, ‘Here’s the guy from 1985,'” he said. “I’ve always tried to be an active learner. When we welcome new people here, I advise them to get to know the people and what they are doing. Don’t be a silo.
The NSCA that will present Bliss with this award was founded by Epley, the training pioneer who welcomed Bliss into this weightlifting class more than 50 years ago. The organization now comprises over 60,000 members with a mission to elevate strength and conditioning both in practice and as a profession.
As past president of the organization, he worked to establish the NSCA Challenge Scholarship, which has helped hundreds of students pursue careers in the field.
Bliss’ resume is filled with the work of someone dedicated to the profession. There are more than recognitions, however. As Sanford’s exercise program coordinator, the seemingly small victories are just as important.
“No matter what department you work in at Sanford, it’s always going to be about how you help the patient,” Bliss said. “I’ve worked with 10 national championship teams, but now when I see someone doing better, it’s a big deal. I look at it on the same level. You change lives.
Posted in Allied Health, Awards and Recognition, Specialty Care, Sports Medicine
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