Even though my coaching career is in its infancy, I’ve been extremely fortunate to build relationships with coaches who speak the same language. Influences from Mike Robertson, Jay DeMayo, and Ryan Horn always leave me nodding my head in agreement after a presentation, podcast, or post on social media. Affirmation of one’s philosophy is powerful, and quite frankly, feels good. But what say you to the coaches who contest or even oppose your training means, parameters, and system?
It may be unsettling initially, which is fine. Progress begins where your comfort zone ends. The truth is, the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know as much as you thought. This is why I’m compelled to share my experiences with a handful of coaches who made me check my ego at the door. I describe my experience with five mentors, from how we met, the impact they have had on me personally or professionally, and a change I thought I would never make.
If you’re a coach, young or old, novice or master, this article will serve as a reminder that change is the only constant, and we should be adapting as much (if not more) than the imposed demands we prescribe our athletes. Otherwise, we are doomed to fail.
We’ve all had major influences on our career. Those who influenced us early (right or wrong) seem to be the most difficult to drift away from, and it’s hard to accept that there may be another way when it directly conflicts with their philosophy. In these situation, it’s prudent to own a beginner’s mind. It’s extremely liberating and it allows us to learn–rather than build walls to any new information that may contradict our own beliefs.
Andy McCloy, Alabama Strength Coach
I first met Andy McCloy in April 2016 at a private seminar held at Joe Kenn’s house in Clemmons, North Carolina. Interesting to note, the only reason I introduced myself was that, when the strength coach at my alma mater learned I was attending this event, he told me to make sure I made an effort to speak to Andy. Naturally, I looked him up on Instagram, and my initial thought was, “Who is this guy and why is he so good at taking selfies?”
Everything truly seems to happen for a reason. We interacted before, during, and after Coach Kenn’s presentation. Whether we were discussing postural restoration, integrating high/low into the Tier System, or Andy’s impeccable Adidas Ultra Boost game, we just clicked.
The impact Andy has had on me is difficult to put into words. For starters, not one week had passed after the seminar before we had our first phone call, discussing principles and philosophies of training in the private sector. That’s the type of individual he is. As I’ve mentioned before, my father was taken from me at the age of 14, and (knowingly or not) I was looking to fill that void. Andy has made that void disappear.
Since that seminar, our contact has been consistent, insightful, and never boring. I like to think I’ve also brought him value, giving him that extra push to embark on his journey of coaching others in the industry through the vehicle that is BCI Tribe, of which I am proudly a member.
Being a part of Andy’s tribe has instilled a mantra in me I never thought I would adopt: “Serve first, sell later.” It goes against what 99% of all the business gurus will tell you when it comes to your time and worth. At first, I was a bit perplexed that someone as successful as Andy would live by such a code. Other coaches who I respect and follow endorse such claims as, “Time is the one thing you can’t get back.” At first, I was skeptical and immature. I could not grasp the long game or big picture–I wanted to help my business here and now, months or even years down the road.
Regardless, I made a conscious effort to not treat Andy’s advice like a buffet, picking and choosing what I want, while leaving what didn’t agree with me behind. I went all in. Why? You get paid for done, you don’t get paid for completing seven out of tent items on your to-do list. You don’t get paid for doing 99.99% of the work. You get paid for done.
To my surprise, I’ve been happier since I began giving my life away. It’s enabled me to build meaningful relationships in our community, develop an unbreakable level of trust through honest and open communication, and establish a culture in West Michigan that is second-to-none. As Bruce Lee said, “If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.” In my opinion, paying it forward is time well spent.
Joe Kenn, Carolina Panthers, NFL
Long before meeting Coach Kenn, I was fascinated by this eccentric strength coach and his presence on social media while bringing it “from the sac!” Coach Kenn posted an Instagram video in early April of 2016 where he asked anyone interested in attending a private seminar at his house (this is the type of individual we’re dealing with here) to comment why they believed they should be there. Based on the responses, he would choose who could attend. As irony would have it, no one was selected based on response alone. Many of the coaches (including yours truly) called in favors to plead our case to attend this event. Why not? It’s who you know, right?
If I could boil down Coach Kenn’s impact on me personally as well as professionally to one word, it would be challenge. This past January, I reached out to Joe before my first combine training season. I’m sharing our conversation, as it is pure Joe Kenn:
Me: “If I got a combine guy for nine weeks, how much time should be spent on each strength? (Absolute, Accelerative, Strength-Speed, Speed-Strength, Starting Strength) and in what order?”
Kenn: “You have nine weeks of preparation for seven tests and position drill tryout. I would start with what are the tests he will be measured in and make your assumptions from there.”
Me: “Could you expand on that a little bit?”
Kenn: “NO! If you are going to do combine prep, you should have been preparing all year for this. Players’ careers are in your hands. You are a smart guy. Evaluate the needs of the athlete for the combine.”
Kenn: “I have spoken to you, you are a smart guy who knows training. If I don’t challenge you to think diligently, who is?”
To say this was a wake-up call would be an understatement. Coach Kenn is the epitome of a teacher who chooses not to give you the answers but rather the tools to learn. I remember walking into the bathroom of my facility, looking myself in the mirror and saying, “You don’t know anything.” There is no elevator to success; it was time to take the stairs.
Coach Kenn’s presentation in his home that weekend shook my training philosophy like a sapling that had not taken root yet. The change I made since meeting Joe may seem underwhelming, but to me it’s as profound as it is simple: total body training sessions. Nothing earth-shattering, right? I wish I could have said the same. At the time, I was an avid fan of Buddy Morris, James “The Thinker” Smith, and Joe DeFranco, all of whom still use split routines, Westside-esque templates.
As a young coach, in a time where novices covet what they see, the Tier System was not sexy enough for my endorsement–until I stopped trying to impress and was open to learning.
If we truly adhere to the Law of Dynamic Correspondence, training must mimic the sporting activity to transfer to the sporting activity. Last time I checked, sport is total body in nature, head-to-toe, and toe-to-head. Why would we not train our athletes in the same fashion?
Now, all roads lead to Rome, and nothing is set in stone. James and Buddy are excellent examples of this, as they are some of the best coaches in the industry who have found success year after year utilizing split routines, so who am I to say I’m right? As Kenn would say, “I know what I know, I know what I don’t know, and I know what I don’t care to know.”
Since adopting the Tier System at my facility and in my coaching, I have nothing but good things to say and have found success with those I train. Effective and efficient training sessions run rampant with my athletes. Simple may not be sexy, but it produces the intended result, a la Bruce Lee.
The Tier System has not only made me a better coach but has also developed my leadership qualities. The simplicity of the template has empowered the coaches who work with me to have the confidence to write programs of their own, which is making them leaders. That is a #wordswin.
Jorge Carvajal, Florida Performance Coach
The demigod that is social media led to Jorge, and I had an enlightening Skype call after he came across my first article on SimplifFaster, How to Build the Ultimate American Football Player. Jorge may not know this, but I had studied him for some time, as we share mutual friends in Carl Valle and Derek Hansen. I had no idea who he was at the time, but if he’s friends with two people for whom I have much respect, he can’t be all that bad. After conversing with him, I came to find that he’s the new guy who’s been around for 25 years. I had some catching up to do.
“Build a coaching practice around a life.” This was not as much a claim as it was a request made by Jorge. As he explained his life to me, and how he goes about his day, I could not help but reference The 4-Hour Work-Week, and we chased the Tim Ferriss rabbit-hole for the following half hour, discussing the application of production > being busy.
The change I’ve made in my life since speaking with Jorge is saying, “yes” to everything. Before that, if the proposal made to me did not invoke a “hell yes!” my answer was “no.” Jorge made an interesting point that transformed my decision process. He explained, “Say ‘yes’ and then figure it out, because if you say ‘no,’ that opportunity is gone forever.”
Since taking his advice, I’ve experienced some alluring observations. As I’ve found myself saying “yes” more often and exposing myself to not only new opportunities but also different, I’ve invoked a fear response in my amygdala. This has been exponentially beneficial; it’s provided a form of checks and balances. I’ve been far more objective in coaching because I’m constantly thinking in the back of my mind, “How do you know you’re doing a good job?” Evaluations aplenty have led to consistent 1% improvements in those I work with, which is a huge win.
In addition to my new affirmative lifestyle, I’ve found enlightenment in accepting that there are no bad decisions, there are only decisions, and we must deal with the consequences of our choices. One of my crucial decisions has been the concept of “n=1” which is a prerequisite I have strayed from in recent months.How can I coach an athlete to push if I’m not doing the same in my own training? Click To Tweet
I have not been a coach of integrity; meaning I have not been doing the things I am prescribing my athletes to perform. How am I able to coach an athlete to push during the acceleration phase, if I’m not doing the same in my own training? The consequence of that decision was hiring Derek Hansen to prescribe a sprint program for yours truly. I can live with that.
Although I have known Jorge for the least amount of time compared to the other four coaches, the relationship between time knowing him and his impact on me is inverse. My life is fuller, and I’m a better coach and a man of integrity. Thanks, Jorge.
Derek Hansen, Vancouver Speed Coach
Every autumn, my team and I travel to Indianapolis for our continuing education event of choice, the Physical Preparation Summit. I glanced at the list of speakers and saw the name Derek Hansen whose presentation was about speed training considerations for non-track athletes and the high/low approach. I’m a big Buddy Morris fan, whom I met at the Cardinals’ facility two years ago; he was a raving fan of Derek’s. I had to meet him.
After the first day of presentations, there was a social gathering where attendees and presenters talked shop. Derek was gracious enough to indulge me for what was close to an hour as I presented my entire program to him. I was astonished by how generous he was volunteering his information. It was refreshing that a coach of his reputation was willing to give a young coach direction.
When one thinks of Derek, one word comes to mind: sprint. It’s probably the smallest change I’ve made from the five coaches, but it may be the most powerful for its impact on my system and my athletes. For years, I believed in the school of thought that football is simply a game of repeated accelerations, which is not false. But there is more to the story; that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The benefits I’ve seen since implementing (max velocity) sprinting in my system include, but are not limited to:
- Weights follow speed: Weights will make an athlete faster for only so long before diminishing returns are realized. Why? Sprinting is 5x ground reaction forces and 7x muscle-skeletal forces every time an athlete strikes the ground.
- Sprinting is a plyometric: There is a flight phase where both feet are in the air. I still prescribe jumps and plyometrics, but the ground contact time won’t be nearly as brief as it is when sprinting. The goal of the bulk of jumps I prescribe is to develop stiffness.
- Evaluation: Want to know if you’re dealing with a fight-or-flight athlete? Prescribe sprints with a partner chasing them or vice versa.
- Speed reserve: By building a bigger engine, your athletes will be able to perform at (higher) submaximal speeds for longer durations. It is conditioning without entering a lactic environment.
- Builds other qualities: Aside from addressing conditioning, strength, and plyometrics through sprinting, there’s also less need to address change-of-direction and agility. The ground forces exerted at top-speed may be 800-1000 lbs per That’s far greater than any force output during cutting or chaotic drills and without the wear and tear.
This word keeps popping up since meeting this incredible cradle of coaches–simplicity. Simplicity triumphs over complexity every single time. I have found that complexity is a symptom of confusion. Our speed development system is extremely vanilla, and it could be considered boring by other coaches. But it’s been the ultimate performance enhancer for my athletes.Our speed development system is extremely vanilla, but it’s been the ultimate performance enhancer. Click To Tweet
Derek’s message has also contributed to the success of my consulting career. I work with my alma mater’s basketball and football teams as well as a small handful of coaches in the industry who have leaned on me for guidance and direction in the development of all training means, parameters, and systems of their programs.Derek Hanson has given me a new passion: Speed kills. Click To Tweet
Since meeting Derek, I’ve become enamored with the most coveted bio-motor ability in the world of physical preparation. Speed separates the poor from the average, the average from the good, and the good from the great. How I continue to push my athletes towards great gives me purpose, and Derek has given me a new passion. Speed kills.
Brett Bartholomew, Atlanta Strength Coach
Education-wise, I am fueled by speed. Naturally, I could not pass up the PLAE Speed Mastermind in Denver, CO at Landow Performance this past April where Brett was presenting, (Derek was also presenting, go figure). Between presentations, I approached Brett, introduced myself, and we began talking about my facility and what takes up most of his time. Of course, I bought his book there and then. Pay it forward.
Brett is only a few years older than I, and this alone has given me the confidence to accomplish the lofty goals I’ve set for myself. What’s more, I have found out more about the athlete I was, and still am, after reading his book, Conscious Coaching. Now, I’ve always thought my strength (no pun intended) is my ability to relate to any individual. Whether I’m working with an eight-year-old, an NFL athlete, or a division one female soccer player, I can build a relationship, get their buy-in, and help them succeed.
The change Brett has instilled in me is to be relatable, not their friend. I’ve always said, “I am a relationship coach.” Brett’s work has heightened that awareness, and my athletes have benefitted as a result. Not only have my coaching skills spiked, as I study the person as well as the program, but my mentoring and leadership abilities also have received an upgrade.
Since meeting Brett, my staff and I pride ourselves on the idea of “one session.” If an athlete is on the fence about training at my facility, or their parents are a tad wary about my system, we assure them that all it will take is one session for the parents and the athlete to be sold.
The one session guarantee drives my staff and me when an athlete walks through our doors for the first time. We want them to have a “wow” experience and know we care about them and not their performance. This is our competitive advantage, and Brett has influenced this process greatly. I look forward to our relationship blossoming into something great in the very near future.
Find Your Mentors and Change for the Better
In an industry where change is the only constant, take time to expose yourself to innovative ideas, systems, and patterns. If you stop learning, you stop growing. If you stop growing, you limit the development of your athletes. The world of physical preparation may seem as big as it is daunting–it isn’t. Coaches, myself included, are more easily accessible than they’ve ever been. Just look at my interaction with Jorge Carvajal. Don’t be afraid to reach out to some of the great minds out there. It will challenge your beliefs, but I promise you’ll have something meaningful to contribute to them as well. This is not a zero-sum game.