Freelap Friday Five with Bobby Stroupe
Bobby Stroupe is the founder and president of ATHLETE Performance Enhancement Center (APEC). Stroupe and his team built APEC from a grass field in 2005 to a worldwide training leader in human performance today. He serves as the president for APEC, making strategic decisions, designing training systems, and guiding an elite team of coaches that power two locations (Tyler and Fort Worth).
Coach Stroupe directed human performance systems for nearly 20 years, while expanding his influence as an author, consultant, speaker, and educator. His experience includes working with school systems, collegiate teams, professional teams, businesses, corporate fitness, and individuals. His coaching ranges from youth athletes to some of the top names in multiple professional sports, including first round picks and Super Bowl and World Series champions.
APEC has been a part of developing over 20 athletes who trained with its system from grade school all the way to the professional ranks. Stroupe and his team currently support over 100 athletes in the NFL and MLB alone. He has been credited with supporting arguably some of the best in the game of baseball and football, including NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. Coach Stroupe has been featured as a top trainer for multiple sports and athletic performances in Sports Illustrated and USA Today and on ESPN, NFL and MLB networks, STACK, Bleacher Report, and many more.
Freelap USA: It’s obvious that you have put the Tyler, Texas, area on the map with Patrick Mahomes. Yet there are more talented athletes from the area than just one big name. Could you share the LTAD success of athletes from Tyler and what is likely happening to sports success? There’s more than just what’s in the water, obviously.
Bobby Stroupe: Welcome to bEAST Texas! First of all, God made Patrick Mahomes, we did not, ha-ha. That said, we have worked with him consistently from the fourth grade to present day. Even though Tyler has just 100,000 people and is the biggest city in a 90-mile radius (between Dallas and Shreveport, Louisiana), we have serious talent in East Texas.
I started APEC 15 summers ago this year. In our first summer training system, we had 13 middle school and high school athletes combined. Eleven of those original 13 athletes played beyond high school: two currently play baseball at the major league level, two others played D1 football, one played D1 volleyball, and six more played various collegiate sports from D1AA through junior college levels.The lack of skill coaches in our area gives us adequate time for athletic development training instead of athletes putting the cart in front of the horse with skill training, says @bobbystroupe. Click To Tweet
To expand on those numbers, we have been privileged to support more than 25 athletes from elementary school all the way to the professional levels in six different sports during our time in Tyler. We have had the opportunity to train over 250 kids who made it to D1 football alone during our time here. Brandon Belt (2x World Series champ), Josh Tomlin (2x World Series starting pitcher), Philip Humber (pitched the 21st perfect game in MLB history), Michael Kopech (105.7 mph hardest throw in baseball history) and a few pitchers under 6 feet tall are just some of our baseball athletes who accomplished great things at the MLB level as well.
I have thought a lot about why we have so much talent coming out of East Texas. Here are a few reasons:
- There is incredible genetic talent in this region, with families that have lived here for decades. Earl Campbell, George Foreman, Adrian Peterson, and Chris Davis (MLB) are just a few of the athletes that came from East Texas before we got here. We have great people and great coaches in this area who care about the kids. It’s a unique culture and a very positive one for the development of young people in general. This is a blue-collar community, where we are all in it to help kids “get out of the mud,” as we call it.
East Texas athletes have a chip on their shoulder because, in the past, they got overlooked for Houston or DFW kids, but certainly not anymore. We have tried to help offset this with free combines and other ways to highlight kids from East Texas.
- We don’t have the big-city pressure for kids to play a single sport year-round. They would have to drive two hours one way several times a week to do that. This gives kids more time for free play and general training for long-term athletic development. Because the average school in this area is 3A (big schools in Texas are 6A), most kids play key roles in multiple sports due to limited numbers.
It is such an active culture for kids because we have safe communities where pick-up games in all sports are still a regular thing. I feel like all training before puberty is primarily neurological and they build a very diverse set of neuropathways by playing multiple sports and training in off-season periods. I believe this leaves the door open for endless athletic possibilities when the athletes enter peak height and weight velocity.
- When we got here, people didn’t fully understand what we were trying to do. It didn’t take long before parents took notice of other people’s kids, who they had thought weren’t very good, dominating on a level they didn’t think possible. Because of the lack of skill coaches in the area, we get an opportunity for adequate time for athletic development training instead of athletes putting the cart in front of the horse with skill training.
I have always been clear on my stance here: I don’t care how good your 8-year-old’s fastball is, it’s terrible compared to the worst player on any varsity team. Being a better athlete is the first priority for any prepubescent athlete. Your skill level has a ceiling that is dictated by your athletic ability. Youth athletic ability can most simply be broken down into the skill of developing skills, and we have a fertile culture for that development structure in East Texas. People have taken notice in the area and, whether they have athletes with us or not, they have changed their mindset in regard to the value of training and what it looks like.
Freelap USA: Teaching athletes is a long, patient process that is sometimes rushed or oversimplified for group settings. Any tips for young coaches who want to do a great job instructing but need to juggle larger numbers?
Bobby Stroupe: Great question. Using large groups as a limiting factor for quality training is a cop-out, in my opinion. I started out working in the high school setting for Hall of Fame coach G.A. Moore. One of the many things I learned is that structure and organization are key with big numbers and limited amounts of equipment. It’s not hard to produce great quality training if the athletes are slowly, appropriately, and consistently building skills.It’s not hard to produce great-quality training if athletes are slowly, appropriately, and consistently building skills, says @bobbystroupe. Click To Tweet
Start with the end goal in mind and work backward so that the timing is realistic to accomplish what you want to accomplish in the end. It’s easy to get discouraged in the short term if you don’t have confidence in a long-term plan. Don’t focus on your limiting factors such as equipment, space, etc. Focus on what you do have.
A great coach can get it done with space and broomsticks. If you only have racks, use them. If you only have dumbbells, use them. If you only have open space, use it as an advantage! There are training systems that work for any type of situation and you can build a positive culture around any circumstance if you are creative.
Knowing that what you need to accomplish in September looks nothing like what you will be doing in March is vital for your state of mind. In large settings, we like to say, “take scalps.” If you nail something, you put that scalp on the wall and move on. You will look back over time and have a lot of scalps (skills). Even more exciting is thinking about when you have had a program going for years, your starting point every year is more advanced.
Lastly, in big groups you need to build leaders and a culture of peer coaching. In our school programs, we challenge captains to memorize and lead warm-ups. They also take attendance, coach teammates, regulate discipline for effort, etc. We meet with them and invest in them because it is vital to have help with big groups.
Freelap USA: Medicine ball throws are great for training and teaching. Can you share some principles of training so we can keep the modality from jumping the shark? With so many exercises being created, how do you decide what to do with this great modality?
Bobby Stroupe: We love using med balls for training and teaching. I think it starts with your goals. We like to have a reason for everything in our training sessions, with no filler work, so it has to fit a specific adaptation or purpose. Here are a few examples for us.
- Max power
- Reactive/elastic capabilities
- Rate of force development
- Positional context
- Regeneration flow
Video 1. Medicine balls are a staple of athletic training. The ability to express power and entrench natural movements provides a combination of benefits that coaches love.
When we start athletes out in the initial phases, med balls serve as an isolated power development tool because they are much safer than subjecting the athletes to plyometrics right away. We have found that proper medball training helps self-organize the body for the demands of low- and high-impact plyometrics. Eventually, we like to use med balls primarily as a complement to our power or speed focus for the day.Using a #medball to express power capabilities is better than any coaching cue out there because the athlete makes the adjustment on their own, says @bobbystroupe. Click To Tweet
Using a med ball to express power capabilities is better than any coaching cue out there because the athlete makes the adjustment on their own. One example would be using a shot put or scoop toss variation on a multidirectional or transitional speed day. Another would be if we work acceleration on the track, we might also work reactive/elastic capabilities with a VBT-based rapid-fire squat. We could contrast that with a zero-step launch throw into the wall for positional context and max power. This helps our athletes hit the proper angles by seeing the trajectory of the ball or bag into the wall.
We love contrasting throws and jumps as well. It is not uncommon for us to use a progression from backward granny toss (vertical or for distance) with a vertical LB power set or a forward granny toss with a horizontal LB power set. One of my favorites is forward granny toss with single leg broad jump. The use of med balls for stability or regeneration could be integrated on regen-focused training days, especially if we feel the athlete needs more positional context in a specific skill.
For throwers, it depends on the sport, but there are some general progressions that we think all need to work through. In Patrick Mahomes’ case, we have always worked on producing power at eight different vectors with multiple implements and initiations since he was very young. We continue to keep this as a focus because he uses so many arm slots and positions to make throws from—it’s a signature of his playing style and a key performance indicator for him.
Freelap USA: Speed matters for all sports, but it seems that just getting some sprints in the workout is getting harder to do with all the drills and non-sprinting exercises. Can you explain how you work speed philosophically? We don’t need a full breakdown, but perhaps some example pitfalls to avoid.
Bobby Stroupe: You can drill to death. Our worst nightmare is a professional warmer-upper. If you want to work speed, you have to run fast. Therefore, everything you do needs to work toward two things:
- Learning how to safely and appropriately move fast with your body specifically.
- Moving as fast as possible.
From a programming standpoint, you also have to be realistic about how many days in a week you can truly work on speed capabilities. Professional track athletes sometimes can get three true speed days in a week; there’s no chance your football players can. With our highest-level non-track athletes, we can sometimes get five true speed days in a 14-day span.You can drill to death. Our worst nightmare is a professional warmer-upper, says @bobbystroupe. Click To Tweet
Have a clear focus for each day, with expectations of what you will accomplish. If it’s a low central nervous system day, you can work speed drills/technical concepts and it will provide value, to a point. But if it’s a day to go, you GOTS TO GO, BABY!
Freelap USA: You have a lot of experience working with different sports at a high level in the private sector. As someone who needs to combine business and results, can you shed some light on the difficulties of what you do? Most think off-seasons are easy because in-season training is very difficult, but many athletes are coming off surgeries or need to get ready in short periods of time. Could you expand on the challenges of private sector training?
Bobby Stroupe: Some difficulties include: having no control over what your athletes do 95% of the time; trying to work with skill/sport coaches when they think you are trying to compete; offsetting work schedules; educating parents; the overhead of facilities; getting bashed by school/program coaches; making sure your athletes show up, etc. However, the most difficult things in the private sector are getting opportunities to work with clients and sustaining your business. That is provided for you in the school setting and collegiate and pro sport sectors.
We take a lot of criticism from that part of the industry on our message to the public via social media, taking credit for client success, etc. Those people need to consider that we are subject to the perception of our consumers. Our prospective clients are not very good at discerning what actually matters and what does not. Most parents and kids base their decisions on who you have trained and not the value of what you provide, which we all understand is wrong. If you don’t appeal to their perception, you don’t get an opportunity to help the kid.
I don’t believe in lying or leveraging people, but my moral compass isn’t going to balance on how we get a kid in—it’s going to hang on what we do with people when they are here and what value we provide. I like to cheer on our athletes and support them, not take credit for performances. Credit goes to the athlete, God, parents, and all mentors in the athlete’s life. If you market the way most of these public-setting coaches want you to, you will go out of business or never get off the ground.In the private sector, if you market the way most public-setting coaches want you to, you will go out of business or never get off the ground, says @bobbystroupe. Click To Tweet
Furthermore, it’s worse to not market to get kids “inappropriately” and provide terrible training, advice, and accountability. So I’m fine with what we do to get opportunities because I believe in what we do when we get athletes. If you don’t believe me, look at who is the busiest in the private sector… It’s the loud-mouth footwork coaches talking about how they made guys, with a whole website that’s just a client list. You would be a fool not to understand the dynamic we are up against and play the game as responsibly as you can. Otherwise, you miss out on helping people for whom you can truly provide value.
The other option is to just bitch about it and lose all your clients to uneducated people who will say anything to work with a kid. Ultimately, my thing is this: I don’t disrespect the public sector coaches because I’ve been there, and I know they have incredible challenges that are unique to the team setting. I’m asking that they walk a mile in our shoes before bashing us and throwing us all in a pile together.
On the subject of off-season training: I know in-season training is tough due to time restrictions, expectations, athlete willingness to train/effort levels, head sport coaches, priorities in-season, etc. That said, most athletes come back from the season an absolute wreck.
While not all sports med/performance staffs are equal, it is the nature of the professional/collegiate season for that to be the case. We generally spend at least one month of every off-season trying to get the athletes healthy enough to train appropriately for the demands of the next season. Some athletes may even take up to two months, depending on the type of season or care they received.
With youth athletes, we get one to five times a week, 1-1.5 hours per session, depending on the time of year. Professional athletes are with us anywhere from six weeks to four months. We take the time allotted and set a priority list of key performance indicators for us to accomplish in our time together. One of the tougher things is meeting the demands of the teams while also protecting our clients for their career goals.One of the tougher things is meeting the demands of the teams while also protecting our clients for their career goals, says @bobbystroupe. Click To Tweet
For instance, a baseball team may want a pitcher to lose 25 pounds, but we know that will affect velocity and injury-reduction risk, so we have a decision to make for that athlete. Or an NFL team may want a speed receiver to gain 15 pounds, which is laughable. So, we have to decide to help do that for the team or do what is best for the client, knowing if he gets cut for being slower it’s harder to get picked up as a heavier but slow speed receiver. One of the harder situations for us is after the off-season because we cannot help with volume for an NFL running back or MLB pitcher, but if things don’t go well, they sometimes throw us under the bus. We have to try to find ways at times to please both parties.
The worst situation is when a team shoots up [with prescription pain medication] or uses short-term measures with a player all year to get game performance at the expense of health, and then they come into the off-season or draft prep process with a real problem. We get this a lot in the draft prep process. More than 50% of our athletes coming out of college football cannot participate in even getting a baseline test for at least one of the six pro day/combine tests in which they will be evaluated. Do I need to say what I think about that?
I do want to mention that there are some incredible sports performance teams and individuals who work in the high school, college, and professional levels, but in my experience (much like the private sector), it’s at most around 33%. That’s why I don’t appreciate them acting like they all have it figured out and that we in the private sector are bottom-feeders hurting their profession. You have CSCCa award-winning strength coaches doing “favorite all-time player” days (jersey number reps on everything) and you want to attack us for trying to get clients?
Some of the smartest coaches I have worked with are at the middle school and high school levels. The higher you go, it’s more hit or miss. There are a lot of hype men and coaches’ buddies working as “strength coaches” in college and the pro level who are no more than a disciplinarian or recruiter or model or someone who only understands strength. You have nowhere to hide when you develop youth, but when you have pros they are still pros at the end of the day, and you can add value or let it play out. You can be a terrible strength coach who works for a great talent evaluator or recruiter or game coach and you will “succeed.”
We can almost always tell you what problems we will have with athletes coming from certain programs, which is in direct correlation to what they do or don’t do in that program. I hate to say it, but most don’t evolve because they don’t have to. It’s like the Chinese gymnastic system at some of the big-time programs: Somebody will survive and that is who we will play, and they have so much talent it usually works out that way.
As for the challenges of the private sector: The first thing you realize is that being good at training doesn’t make you succeed in business. I had incredible teachers and mentors for training, but fell flat on my face when I started APEC. Business is a difficult skill for people who went to school for years to focus on it, and much harder for someone like me who devoted all my education to learning about sport, training, therapy, etc.In the private sector, the first thing you realize is that being good at training doesn’t make you succeed in business, says @bobbystroupe. Click To Tweet
You take so many things for granted when all you have to do is focus on getting results. It’s humbling because you can do the best work of your career with a kid who got a starting job when they couldn’t get off the bench in middle school, but that isn’t what most of your prospective clients care about. In the private sector, that is only 10% (at most) of what you need to master to sustain business. Coaching is the easiest thing we get to do.
If you want to make it in the private sector, you better be able to do the things you can’t afford to pay people for, and that is a lot no matter where you are in the process. If you are at Alabama, it is likely that you don’t have to serve as the strength coach, athletic trainer, PT, nutritionist, life coach, speed coach, marketer, custodian, lead sales person, accounting, payroll, etc. That said, we typically get to control our destiny more than most of the team-setting coaches are given a chance to.
The grass isn’t greener on either side, it’s just different, and I firmly believe some people are a better fit for one or the other and only a few could do both. The MLB hires a lot of private sector coaches for a reason, and I expect NFL and others to follow suit. In the private sector, you usually have to be able to do more things on a high level to survive, and those skills are valuable at any level. I respect the team-setting challenges, and I expect more of that respect in return if we are going to work together in the best interest of all athletes.