Lessons New Coaches Can Take from the Belichick Blueprint - I'm a big Patriots fan not only because I was born in New England, but also because they always seem to find value where others miss it. Some of the personnel decisions during Bill Belichick's tenure have come under scrutiny, but they always seem to work out. This article shares some invaluable lessons that carry over across industries.
It's a big Wednesday. The Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2017 is announced, and our family is actually closing on our new house here in Florida. And, it's a beautiful sunny day outside - and I'm headed to the fields for throwing, hitting, and sprint work with our pro baseball crew. Who says hump day has to suck?
I really enjoying creating features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic that interests both me and my readers. It’s like writing a short book, with each post being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2016 at EricCressey.com:
1. Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training
I really enjoyed writing this series, as I can always build on current events. This year, I drew inspiration from everything from off-season baseball preparations, to the Olympics, to new books and DVDs I'd covered. There's an article for every month:
3. Random Thoughts on Long-Term Fitness Industry Success
While most of my writing folks on the training side of things, I do like to delve into the business side of fitness, too. These posts include various pieces of wisdom for those who make their living in the fitness industry.
With 2016 winding down, I'm using this last week of the year to direct you to some of the most popular content of the past 12 months at EricCressey.com, as this "series" has been quite popular over the past few years. Today, we start with the most popular articles of the year; these are the pieces that received the most traffic, according to my hosting statistics.
1. 5 "Combo" Core Stability Exercises - Great strength and conditioning programs are all about delivering results as efficiently as possible. Here are some exercises that'll help you do so by making your core stability training more efficient.
2. 10 Ways to Remain Athletic as You Age - The popularity of this article makes me realize that I need to devote more of my writing to the more mature athlete who still likes to get after it in the gym!
As you’ve probably already noticed, it’s been a bit quieter on the blog of late. Normally, I try to get up at least two – and usually three – new posts per week. Over the past few months, it’s been more like 1-2 posts.
With two facilities in two states – and a pair of two-year-olds at home – life has a very brisk pace to it right now. The baseball off-season keeps me very busy, so when October through February rolls around, some things just have to take a back seat. For me, that’s usually writing and traveling for speaking engagements. In-person coaching is what I love, and this is the absolute best time of year for it.
Fortunately, though, it doesn’t have to be “either/or” for me; rather, it can be “and” if I select a convenient medium. To that end, I’ve done more video content on the social media front with my 30 Days of Arm Care series and some random videos of our pro guys training.
Right now, I’m prioritizing the most time-sensitive demands (in-person training), particularly because they’re the part of my professional responsibilities that I love the most. And, obviously, it’s a goal to prioritize family time above all else, and I need to get my own training in.
Simultaneously, while I’d much rather write detailed content and film longer videos, it’s not always feasible – so I’ve conceded that some quick social media posts and even the occasional guest contribution from another writer are solid ways to keep the ball rolling in the right direction with my online brand while I manage the pro baseball off-season.
As I thought more and more about this time crunch conundrum, it goes me to thinking about how it parallels what folks deal with on the training front. Two key principles – prioritization and concession – really stand out in my mind.
The best training programs are the ones that clearly identify and address the highest priorities for the lifter. If a 14-year-old kid can’t even execute a solid body push-up, putting him on a 3x/week bench press specialization program probably isn’t the best idea. Likewise, if a 65-year-old women can’t even walk from the car to the gym without back pain, she probably shouldn’t be learning how to power clean on her first day. These prioritization principle examples might seem obvious, but not all scenarios are as clearly defined. There are loads of factors that have to be considered on the prioritization front once someone has more training experience: duration of the window to train (off-season length), injury history, personal preferences, equipment availability, etc. It’s not always so black and white.
If you’re going to prioritize, it invariably means that you have to concede; very simply, you can’t give 100% to absolutely everything. If you go on a squat specialization program, you need to concede that you’re going to train your deadlift and bench press with less volume/intensity and later in your training sessions. Not everything can be prioritized all the time because of our limited recovery capacities.
Looking back, while I didn’t realize it at the time, these two principles help explain some of the popularity of my High Performance Handbook. By giving individuals various options in terms of both lifting frequency (2x/week, 3x/week, and 4x/week) and supplemental conditioning protocols, it afforded them the opportunity to prioritize and concede as they saw fit while still sticking to the primary principles that drive an effective program.
Additionally, because they were the ones selecting which route to pursue, it gave them an ownership role in the training process. My good friend (and Purdue Basketball Strength and Conditioning Coach) Josh Bonhotal went to great lengths to highlight how important this is to the training process in this article. I love this quote in particular:
As I wrap my head around this even more, it makes me realize that when we educate an athlete about prioritization and concession - usually in the form of a thorough evaluation where we demonstrate that we want to individualize our programs to their needs - we're empowering them as part of the decision-making process. And that's where "buy-in" and, in turn, results follow.
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I hope your week is going well. I had a blast in Nashville this past weekend while speaking at the Pitchapalooza event, but now it's back to the regular craziness of the baseball off-season. I'll have some new content later in the week, but in the meantime, here are some good reads for the week:
30 Days of Arm Care Updates - You can see all these videos (currently on day 23) via the hashtag #30DaysOfArmCare on both Twitter and Instagram.
Pre-Suasion - This is the second book I've read from Robert Cialdini, and while neither of them were directly written for strength and conditioning coaches, they can both really help the way we interact with our athletes.
The Ideal Business Show with Pete Dupuis - Pat Rigsby interviewed my business partner, Pete Dupuis. This is a great listen for all fitness professionals interested in the business side of the industry.
New Boss Derek Falvey Looks to Make an Imprint with Twins - Derek Falvey is the new team president of the Minnesota Twins - at age 33. That's an incredible accomplishment, and this article sheds some light on how he quickly ascended through the MLB front office ranks. There are great lessons in here for up-and-comers in any field. Derek has become a good friend, and I'm really excited to see where the Twins go in the years ahead behind his leadership.
Top Tweet of the Week -
A minor-leaguer just told me he's had 10 pitching coaches in 3 yrs. It's a good reminder that you always have to be your own best coach.
Happy Election Week! I'm happy to report that today's recommended reading list has absolutely nothing to do with politics, as I'm sure you're all sick of hearing about the election on social media. Enjoy the following non-political reads:
The Art of Relationships Based Coaching - This article from Purdue Basketball strength and conditioning coach Josh Bonhotal is one of the best coaching reads I've seen in a long time. It's must-read.
An Interview with Doug Kechijian - This is a fantastic interview with a former CSP intern who is currently doing a great job in NYC as a physical therapist. It's free to the public for the week (Sports Rehab Expert is normally a members-only site).
Gym Owner Musings: Installment 3 - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, always has some great thoughts on the business side of fitness - and this series has been the beneficiary of what pops into his head.
Top Tweet of the Week
It's unfortunate so many coaches meticulously monitor arm action with throwing, but ignore ugly band warm-ups in bad positions.
I hope everyone had a great weekend. I made my second Massachusetts-to-Florida drive over the weekend. I was going crazy not being able to watch playoff baseball, but I did manage to crush some audiobooks and podcasts along the way.
EC on the Jim Laird Show - I really enjoyed being interviewed in Jim's podcast, and feel like we covered a lot of great stuff.
ADHD Nation - I listened to this audiobook on my ride from MA to FL over the weekend, and it was eye-opening, to say that least. One statistic that really blew my mind: there are over 10,000 2-3 year-olds in the U.S. who are on some kind of ADHD medication.
Last week, in the midst of a great conversation with a college pitching coach who is a good friend of mine, he said something to the effect of, "You guys do a great job of creating a culture where guys want to work hard to get better."
Culture. That word seems to pop up in almost every discussion I have, whether it's on the training or business aspect of things in the strength and conditioning field. And, it seems to pop up a ton of time at this time of year with playoff baseball, the NFL and NCAA football regular seasons, and NBA pre-season all in swing.
[bctt tweet="There's no recipe for an ideal culture, but if yours is poor, you'll probably have terrible results."]
Everyone talks about how Joe Maddon drives a clubhouse culture where guys have fun and play relaxed - and the Cubs have won 100 games. The New York Times celebrated his "Zaniness" earlier this year in a detailed article.
Meanwhile, Bill Belichick drives a culture of preparation, accountability to the team, and personal responsibility ("Do your job."). The Patriots have won four Super Bowls during his tenure, and he's 3-1 in the 2016-17 season without Tom Brady under center. I'd highly recommended you read this fantastic collection of quotes from his players and coaching peers.
Source: Keith Allison
From the outside, Maddon and Belichick couldn't be more different, yet they have both had tremendous outcomes. Each culture is unique and successful for different reasons. As my business partner, Pete Dupuis, has written, there is no single recipe for a great culture - and it actually might have subtle changes depending on time of day. Our gym culture is very different when our adult strength camps are running at 5:30AM, as compared to a crew of professional baseball players getting after it at noon. If you look the Wikipedia entry on culture, they cite anthropologist E.B. Tylor as defining it as "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society." In other words, there are plenty of different ways one can tinker with it to suit their liking - whether this tinkering actually improves the culture or not.
With that said, I do think we can look at commonalities of success. And, there are three things that I think every successful culture shares:
1. Good People
As has been often said in the fitness world and beyond, "They don't care what you know until they know that you care." This is why some corporate and athletic cultures improve dramatically just by getting "bad apples" out of the mix. I call it "addition by subtraction" - and it's one reason why we look really heavily at "fit" on the personality front before bringing someone into Cressey Sports Performance family as a staff member or intern.
I think Josh McDaniels (Offensive Coordinator with the Patriots) is an awesome example. From the outside, he seems like the complete opposite of Belichick. McDaniels is a younger, high-energy, super emotional guy. However, maybe it just works so well because Belichick understand how to complement his skill set and personality - and they both work well together because of a common vision of continuous improvement. This leads us to...
2. Dedication to Continuous Improvement
As I look around the country at the most successful strength and conditioning facilities, companies in other industries, and sports teams, the thing that stands out to me the most is innovation. Whether it's Apple always trying to improve on its product offering, Amazon taking convenience to a whole new level, Joe Maddon employing never-before-seen defensive shift approaches, or the Patriots finding creative ways to use their personnel, the best are always finding ways to differentiate themselves from the competition.
Regardless of your industry, it's really easy to get comfortable and stop innovating, or to drift away from the practices that made you successful in the first place. The best cultures preserve the good while always finding ways to bring up their weaknesses.
3. Targeted Approaches to Social Facilitation
Referencing Wikipedia again, social facilitation "is the tendency for people to perform differently when in the presence of others than when alone. Compared to their performance when alone, when in the presence of others, they tend to perform better on simple or well-rehearsed tasks and worse on complex or new ones."
"Facilitation" is a bit of a misnomer, though, as it implies that performance gets easier or better in front of crowds. For this reason, social facilitation is often referred to as the "audience effect" instead.
In a strength and conditioning culture, social facilitation can be wildly important and helpful. It's the loud music and energetic training partners you want around when you're trying to set a personal record. It may also be the driven individuals around which you want your impressionable teenage son training in order to foster habits that will lead to long-term success in sports and life.
It can be easily problematic, though, too. Putting a rehabbing athlete in a high energy environment can force him to skip steps in his return-to-play progressions. Likewise, some individuals who are new to exercise may be intimidated in these environments. Having lots of eyes on an athlete who is learning a new skill may put too much pressure on this situation for optimal learning to occur. Finally, social facilitation tells us why a 350-pound offensive lineman probably isn't going to be sold on a 120-pound female training him, and why a 14-year-old female gymnast isn't going to be too keen on a 300-pound monster with a 500-pound bench press training her.
For this reason, the best coaches, leaders, and business owners understand how to specifically target social facilitation to drive athletic and business success.
Culture vs. Systems
A few years ago, a strength and conditioning coach from another facility came to observe at our Massachusetts location, and she remarked to me, "I love your business model!" Apparently, at the facility at which she worked, it was a "one program on the dry erase board" model where coaches would wind up coaching large volumes of athletes through the same exercises all day. She liked the fact that our coaches had a lot of autonomy; they interacted with a wide variety of clients and coached dozens of unique programs each day.
What she might not have realized is that our business model would fail miserably with the wrong people. If I had incompetent coaches who weren't able to work across multiple populations or able to think on their feet, they'd really struggle. And, if they weren't dedicated to continuing education and always delivering the best quality product, we'd be forced to use more "mundane" programming. She actually really liked the Cressey Sports Performance training and coaching cultures; the business model is just structured to allow them to shine through.
[bctt tweet="Systems are important, but it's your culture that determines whether those systems actually work."]
In the aforementioned article's title, Bill Belichick is referred to as the "Greatest Enigma in Sports." I don't think there is anything puzzling about his success, though - especially after reading this article. He's an immensely driven person who is wilding committed to avoiding complacency, and he surrounds himself with people who are like him in this regard - but complement his personality in other ways. Then, he uses social facilitation to foster an environment of continuous improvement and accountability to the team. That's one approach to a great recipe for a winning culture over multiple decades.
However, what flies in the NFL might fail miserably in MLB, the collegiate realm, or the private sector of strength and conditioning. The trick is for you to find the right mix that works for you in establishing the right culture in your world.
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