Creating Your Own System


Written by Kevin Cann


I coach quite a few other coaches.  I love doing this as I feel it is a way to give back to all of those that have helped me along the way.  I have a few personal trainers that are looking to get into coaching strength athletes as well.


This is pretty cool. To see people like the sport so much that they want to coach it.  This truly makes me happy.  What would not make me happy is saturating an already saturated market with more suboptimal coaching.


I feel the advice I have shared with them is worth sharing with everyone.  I did not just decide I wanted to coach powerlifting and began doing all of this unconventional stuff.  No great coach ever started out that way.  Zero of them.


You need to learn the basics first.  This does not mean reading some quick blog posts on western periodization and saying, “Got it.”  I don’t care if you think you understand it.  You can’t understand it unless you actually do it.


When you actually do it, you need to set it up so you can understand it.  I was fortunate enough to work with Boris Sheiko for over 3 years.  I learned the basics from the best to ever do it. I learned how to track data, how to manipulate that data, and what to look for.  I also learned the technique of the lifts from him, which cannot be understated.


I would run things as they were laid out to me, with classifying lifters, recommended number of lifts, average intensities, and exercises for that lifter.  We would test every so often and I could see if it was working or not.


As I went through this process, I would get stuck at times.  When progress would stop, I would then wonder why.  I would ask Sheiko questions, as well as some other coaches. I would take that feedback, think about it, read about it, and decide how to apply it.  Once I applied it, I tracked it, and observed it.  Oftentimes it took me a few tries to finally go against my bias and realize that they were right.


I would run into a wall again at some point and be forced to ask more questions.  Over years of doing this, I ended up where I am now.  I have been open minded and skeptical throughout the whole process.  I feel I can argue against certain dogmatic ideals because I went through this process.


Some of the coaches that I coach want to jump right in and start doing the same things that I have them do in training.  This is awesome as it shows how much they believe in me as a coach and what we are doing as a team.  It is actually pretty cool to see.


However, I also want them to succeed as coaches.  A lesson that I learned pretty quickly was that I am not Boris Sheiko.  I do not get the same results from my lifters with his program as he does with his.  I learned that I am a very poor Boris Sheiko, but a decent Kevin Cann.


My fear is that my lifters will attempt to coach my programs and not see the best results for their lifters. They understand this as we have had this conversation many times.  They also must put in the work and fail many times before they can succeed.


This can be intimidating for a coach, but it forces you to develop a relationship with your lifters. Kerry, Dave, Emo Danielle, and a few that came after them have been through every one of these failures with me. They are still here, and I am truly grateful for them sticking by me.


This is absolutely crucial, however.  Every failure I have had over the years has brought me greater success, and every failure I continue to have will hopefully do the same.  I am still trying to figure this shit out.


If someone is trying to mimic what I do, they are mimicking an unfinished copy.  This makes it even more difficult to see the results that the coach desires.  I use my own experiences and education to make intuitive decisions.  This is another reason why I could not be as good as Sheiko at running his own program.


Each coach needs to develop their own system that fits their expectations and beliefs.  We talk a lot about this stuff with training, that expectations and beliefs are part of the skill of strength.  This is also true for the skill of coaching.


This takes years to accomplish.  Sheiko told me that world level lifters need to world level coaches (he never mentioned anything about programming here).  I asked him how to get there and he said to think about powerlifting 20 hours a day.  I have literally done that.


I think about everything I see in the gym over short- and longer-term periods.  I think about attempting to understand them and how to make them better. I get ideas and I begin going through the literature to see where I can get some answers.  Believe it or not, more of my thoughts get dissolved pretty quickly when doing this.  The world only hears a fraction of a percent of my crazy thoughts that make it through the vetting process.


If a newer coach skips these steps, they will not have the long-term success that many of them dream of. There are no faster routes.  I sacrifice a lot as well.  I know how competitive this field is.  There are not too many full-time powerlifting coaches for a reason.  I am fortunate enough that that is all I do.


However, I work about 12 hours a day Monday through Friday, and every spare second, I get on the weekends I am reading about this stuff.  I never stop thinking about it.  It requires this type of effort to be an elite athlete and I will bet my life on it that it takes the same to be an elite coach.


I am not elite yet.  I have only been doing this for a little over 4 years (powerlifting specifically, I have 15 years of total coaching experience that has taught me a lot too).  I will be elite though.  There are zero doubts in my mind.  I have never been so sure of anything else in my life.  Writing this now it makes me realize that my focus has always been on being an elite coach and not an athlete in this sport.  I am sure this works against my total.  When I played soccer, or the mma thing, I thought non-stop about being a better athlete.  Perhaps those sports were preparing me to coach.


I say this in light of all the internet heroes talking shit about how we do things.  I don’t give a fuck about them.  It also takes not giving a fuck to put yourself out there and be ok with being wrong.


To quote Conor McGregor “If you can see it and you have the confidence to say it out loud, it will happen.” While they are worried about talking shit about me, I am worried about coming up with a plan to make us stronger than everyone else.  I am telling you; it will happen.  They can share this with negative comments so it can be in their archives so that when it happens, they can be reminded each year about what they said.


I think often that coaches will latch onto someone else’s system in fear of some of this negativity that comes about.  If you want to be a great coach you need to detach yourself from this fear, and know you are going to be wrong many times, but these failures all come together to produce high level success.


It is easy to regurgitate words.  Anyone can do that.  The ones that are willing to be wrong and tell you what they actually know are the ones that end up being great.

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