Coach Tyler Ray is a pioneer of modern vertical jump technique and a 20-year veteran strength coach. Tyler’s early days as an athlete truly informed the coach he has become today. He competed for the University of Windsor Track and Field team and was part of three National Championship teams during his time there, competing as a multi-event athlete in the pentathlon.
Following this, he moved into the world of professional dunking and was able to increase his vertical jump to a staggering 48 inches, competing in shows and contests around the globe. With a background in human kinetics and education, Tyler quickly found his calling in working with athletes. Now, 20 years later, he is considered to be at the top of his field, and through the help of social media, he has grown his private-sector business to have more than 150 certified jump technique coaches worldwide (and growing). Tyler works out of his private gym at his home in Harrow, Ontario, Canada, right on Lake Erie.
Freelap USA: How valuable was your playing and performing experience in terms of helping develop your content and coaching and build buy-in with your athletes?
Tyler Ray: It’s really the second half of the coin. For a coach, it always helps to have that reference point (playing), especially with what I do with vertical jumping. The “feel” aspect of jumping is so important. As my track and field career came to a close (as a multi-event athlete at the University of Windsor in Canada), I was exposed to the world of professional dunking through the medium of YouTube.
Flashing back to the archives of YouTube in 2005–2006, when it was just becoming a burgeoning source of entertainment, there happened to be a channel called Team Flight Brothers that featured random guys who just seemed to be on a different level athletically. Then, with the NBA and streetball came this specialty of dunking. Thankfully, with guys like Vince Carter and others following the lead of Michael Jordan in the early 2000s, dunking became something that was much more sought after.
I feel like I got into it at a really cool time, and I had a lot of really crazy experiences traveling around the world and competing in front of large crowds. That gave me a unique lens to coach through because it was in this kind of niche sport. I was creative with my workouts, and over the period of two years post-track and starting in the dunk scene, I added about 10 or 11 inches to my approach vertical jump—which was a really, really cool feeling.
Especially being in it myself, as it was this fringe sport and had such a specific focus on “how do I get my body, a human body, to displace itself the largest amount off the ground?” I firmly believe that jumping is one of, if not the most, all-encompassing human actions and movements that we have to display elite athleticism. Pro dunking was a really unique experience that is invaluable to who I am as a coach now.I firmly believe that jumping is one of, if not the most, all-encompassing human actions and movements that we have to display elite athleticism. Click To Tweet
Freelap USA: How would you boil down the biggest rocks and summarize your overall jump philosophy, and how did you go from there not being much information out there on this topic to becoming one of the world’s top coaches?
Tyler Ray: Technique is everything, and you work technique until the day you retire. It’s like weightlifting or any of those sports with such a high demand for efficiency; it requires constant touchpoints on technique. I was very used to technical practices with track and field. Since the combination of my training and coaching careers, I had worked with people who wanted to jump higher. They knew me as the guy locally—that’s where the name “the jump guy” came from.
I have athletes in multiple sports trying to optimize vertical jumping, which really is optimizing athleticism, just with vertical jumping being a measure of that. But from the world of pro dunking, how high you jump is so incredibly important to your success as a dunker because it gives you so many more options.
Efficiency is the vehicle; all the work you do in the gym is building the engine. It’s like, “Why wouldn’t I want to place that engine in a much higher-performing chassis, something that can really manage the forces and manage the power that it’s creating?” And that’s how I’ve always understood vertical jump technique. We create strength/power output—if you’re leaking energy in any one area through that sequence of jumping, then why have we worked so hard to create this power that you’re not using?
Aside from the concept of efficiency, a key is helping athletes determine what their body can tolerate and then finding out how close you can push it to that limit. Learning how to create and manage your maximum controlled velocity is a big misnomer. I think in the industry right now, it’s believed that more speed is better, right? And yes, it is, until it’s not.
We know that there’s a point of diminishing returns when speed becomes something that the physical body can no longer tolerate, and therefore, we have a breakdown in technique. Helping people find and establish that helps them craft a much more intuitive feel for the action of jumping.
There are people who just really spent more time jumping—when you distill it down to the core, they just did it more. We have patterning and priming for jumping, so I knew I could help people experience more of that. I hated hearing coaches and trainers say, “You either can jump or you can’t.” It was intellectually lazy. In my mind, we train every other skill, right?
Of course, you can train your efficiency and technique to be faster, so you can train your body to be more efficient in jumping. It’s simply allowing them to have a deeper understanding of when and why they pick up speed, when and why they lower their hips, when to accelerate, etc.
My job was to find a way to package and communicate that on a global scale because it was something that I inherently understood. I can tell when I coached it in my early years that I was speaking it in a way that I understood it, but not everybody initially got what I meant. How do I make this as palatable as possible to a large audience? I looked for things on technique over the years and never really found anything, so I just assumed that I was kind of doing my own thing.
Thankfully, the medium of social media allowed me to get a lot of that information out much further. Lo and behold, I found a large tribe of individuals who understood the importance, and it’s kind of just grown and scaled from there.
Freelap USA: In the last three years or more, you’ve had a business partner in a different country. How do you make that work at a world-class level?
Tyler Ray: It was challenging, for sure, to have a business partner three time zones away. And also because he was also a full-time engineer on top of being a full-time coach. Our meetings were challenging to make happen. I made the trip to him a couple of times a year and spent a week, and we would do a lot of our kind of brainstorming and things like that.
Being in the private sector before I brought a partner in, every decision that I had I could just commit to fully and move forward with. When you bring a partner on, you now have two different views on the same topic. How and what you communicate (to others) is now filtered through two layers to ensure both voices are heard and understood. Within the business, their voice needs to be understood, and their vision needs to be taken into consideration.
There was a period when we were feeling each other out, figuring out how to work with each other, and determining what each other’s strengths were so that we could use our time together efficiently. If you’re getting into business with someone for the first time, be prepared to have a longer period in the beginning, even just to yourself, when you can determine exactly what roles each individual will take on. This will ensure your business stays efficient so that you’re not trying to do the same thing or do it in a different way.
You also need a very clear-cut vision of how to move forward. That was the biggest thing—I noticed the amount of checking in with each other that had to happen. In a lot of ways, it eased some of the workflow. But in a lot of ways, I felt it doubled my workflow.
I had to do the task mentally first, then explain it, justify it, and execute it. In the past, I would’ve just thought it, brainstormed it, and then committed to it and moved forward. A business partner adds a layer of decision-making I wasn’t prepared for, but the benefits are you have another person to spitball ideas with, so it doesn’t feel like you’re in it alone. If you’re an individual who works well within a team structure and you’d like to be able to bounce ideas around, it’s ideal to have someone in your corner to help you out with that. There are pros and cons on both sides, for sure.
Freelap USA: What was your process from the first thought/idea of the home gym to the first day of opening it up? And your thoughts on renting space versus investing and creating your own?
Tyler Ray: I started in commercial spaces, larger gyms, as I think a lot of people do in their early years. You had to cut your teeth first. Now, there’s not necessarily that same barrier to entry with having to cut your teeth and put your time in. I think social media has provided a layer of presenting yourself where you can walk into a lot more (training spaces) now than you could when I was first coming up. But those were invaluable times in my career because I learned how to work with multiple populations and troubleshoot with individuals who aren’t necessarily athletes. It gave me a really strong sense of how to communicate with different populations.
Ultimately, if you think you’re headed toward the home gym setup/private sector life, you also have to be prepared for the fact that, depending on what you have access to and what your space is like, it will filter out a certain amount of the athlete population. Some like bigger group environments; some like the look of a certain type of gym, maybe a more professional-looking space.
I had two iterations of home gyms before I ended up in my current private space here. I went first from parks (a neutral location) to a bedroom. I had literally taken one of the bedrooms in my house and built a platform and a squat rack out of wood and had just a few pieces of equipment where athletes would train with me. Then, it was a detached garage that was 350 square feet. At each step, I upgraded some of the equipment, and that attracted a few more individuals.
But I had a vision to work toward something that felt very exclusive. That’s when I had the opportunity to buy a piece of land out here on Lake Erie in Ontario, and I knew I had to build the vision that I had. Two years before we started building this house, I had actually drawn a picture on a whiteboard of this gym that I’m currently in, and it looks identical. I was very fortunate to be able to do this, but it was off the back end of all those different chapters of my life. Stepping out of “Mom and Dad’s house,” which is what the commercial gyms were to me, I wanted to earn my stripes on my own and end up in something a bit more exclusive and elite.
Then I built, and built, and built until I had this private facility vibe where people travel in. It’s more of an experience than necessarily the day-to-day training. I do have athletes that come in here throughout the week, but I keep it small just to keep my coaching sharp. Then I have athletes traveling from all over throughout the year to spend a weekend or a few days in a row with me, so we can really do detail work. Because, again, what I’ve kind of worked myself toward is this more specialty type of coach.Are you a FAN of the idea of being a successful coach, or are you actually WORKING toward becoming one? Click To Tweet
It’s a grind, but I’m super happy where I ended up. If you’re on this path, if this is what you truly want, it will challenge you to constantly revisit, “How important is it actually to you?” Are you a fan of the idea of being a successful coach, or are you actually working toward becoming one? And that was the question that I asked myself over and over again.
Freelap USA: Having a very specific niche, how did your certification come to fruition, and what are the keys to consistently offering a high-quality product where the customers get a lot of value?
Tyler Ray: I wish I had an exact formula for you. It was such a product of trial and error. I look back, and the one thread of consistency throughout the whole process was that I committed to every decision I made. I believed wholeheartedly that I could figure out a way to package it and create a certification, even though the majority of people I talked to about this said, “You can’t have a certification.”
People who knew me locally, who I grew up with and were in the industry with me, for some reason thought only accredited certifications were important. And I realized very quickly that I could continue to ascend in the ranks of the private sector without dipping my finger into the accredited side of things.
Out of the gate, I was a CSCS, got a master’s degree, and put a lot of work into being an accredited coach. But after the first five years, when I had to recertify, I realized I didn’t have to just pay. I wasn’t going to become a collegiate-level strength and conditioning coach; I’m not a good employee, if I’m being honest. I’m not good at working for other people because I like to do what makes sense in my own brain. But I would love to be the person who that team’s professional sources information from.
In my mind, I’m at the collegiate and professional level because people have sourced and implemented my work into their programs. I built the confidence that I could and then found some people who would give it a chance.
You can have an idea and put it all together and package it, but if no one pays you money and trusts you enough to do it, that only has as much value as you give it. Thankfully, because I put so much emphasis on building my social media community, building trust, and showing people how passionate I was about teaching, it was just a matter of people saying, “As soon as you offer something, we’ll take it.”
Cutting my teeth on those first couple (certification) groups was helpful because I got a ton of feedback from them. Then it was trying to figure out what my certification is useful for. Why would someone want to take it? It becomes part of a toolbelt, like anything else. That’s what I think certifications are, especially specialty certifications: just another tool in the belt. I’m trying to pack as much value into my one individual tool as possible.I think certifications, especially specialty certifications, are just another tool in the tool belt. I’m trying to pack as much value into my one individual tool as possible. Click To Tweet
The point of the course is to teach jump technique—its importance and how to teach it—but also to help you become the best coach and trainer that you possibly can be. I’m also there as a resource. You take the course, then you have access to me for your questions moving forward. If you’re working with an athlete and have questions, let’s chop it up together. We’ll figure it out together. It was adding as much value to it as possible. Thankfully, enough people got the certification, and it was good, that now, it’s just word of mouth at this point.
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