Philosophy, Not Data, Drives Results

Written by: Kevin Cann

The world of sports has changed quite a bit over the years.  Coaches and athletes are often trying to gain competitive edges over everyone else.  This has led to a massive spike in data driven coaching.

This can be seen across all of sports, even the NFL.  In the documentary “The Art of Coaching” which interviewed Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, they discussed this.  These coaches are the two most successful coaches in the history of their sports when we define success by winning a championship.

Belichick was telling a story about how he stepped onto the team plane after a loss and saw every coach with their face in their computer.  He said to all of them that the answer to why they lost cannot be found in that computer.  They lost because they did not tackle well enough.

He continued to explain that coaches can rise in the ranks very fast if they are well equipped to analyze data, but that the majority of them can’t even teach the basic fundamentals of football.  The Patriots are very closed off to the public, but there are some things that can be seen from the outside.

The Patriots have a philosophy of “Do Your Job” and “Next Guy Up.”  They are meticulous in preparation.  This does not just mean the starters, but even players on the practice squad.  They understand the season is long and everyone needs to be ready to contribute when their number is called.  

They run a system where everyone has a job.  This system may require sacrifice of individual statistics in order to better help the team.  The Patriots do not typically have high sack numbers, but they are usually at the top in pressuring the quarterback.  The goal is to throw off the timing.  This requires defensive lineman to sacrifice those stats for the better of the team.  If everyone does their job, the team will be successful.

If Bill Belichick cared more about stats and data, he probably never drafts Tom Brady.  Tom Brady’s combine videos are famous at this point.  He was slow, skinny, unathletic, and did not have a big arm.  Definitely not franchise quarterback material.  Jerry rice ran a 4.6 40 yard dash at the combine, which is very slow for a skill player, was undersized, and played at a small school.

Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all-time and that small and slow wide receiver, Jerry Rice, has records that no one will ever even come close to touching. Between them they have played in 17 Conference Championship games and have won 9 Super Bowls.  They competed in 13 combined Super Bowls.

Why were they so great?  Because they bought into a philosophy of an organization.  They were meticulous in preparation and they strive for perfection.  You may never be perfect, but if you aim for perfection and miss you end up pretty good.

We see these scenarios in powerlifting.  Everyone in the sport seems younger than me and I am only 37 years old.  There is this huge push for data driven coaching.  I think this data gives people comfort in the uncertainty that is athletic events. They attempt to control the outcomes, when in fact you can’t control the outcomes.

People eat up which subjective and objective markers to track to keep progress from stalling out and to keep the lifter moving forward.  I used to be that way.  For me, I believe that the data helped me in a time of inexperience.

Let me ask everyone reading this a question, “What drives success?”  I am going to tell you all something, it ain’t a fucking piece of paper with some numbers on it.  If I give a lifter a lift to be completed at 70% of 1RM for 5 sets of 5 reps, this means nothing without the lifter bringing context to the training.

If the lifter just coasts through the sets, texting friends and making memes between sets, they will not get better.  If another lifter is focused and puts 100% effort into each repetition while analyzing their technique between sets, they will get a lot out of those 25 reps.  Your volumes and intensities do not create good lifters.  You do not have some magic scientific programs that are throwing the strength world on its head.

This is by no means meant to disrespect any other coaches out there.  There are a lot of coaches that utilize a data driven approach to training.  Many of which have had better success in terms of records and championships than me.  I am a nobody in powerlifting.

I do not get “big time” powerlifters.  I get a bunch of local, blue collar workers that buy into my philosophy.  We have had three raw 700lb squats, a 500lb raw bench, and five 700lb deadlifts.  We have had a 114lb female squat 305lbs, a 150lb female squat 370lbs, a 400lb squat by a female, and countless 400lb deadlifts by females.

We do well at Nationals every year and are represented at the Arnold every year.  We are not talented lifters.  Most of PPS started with me as complete beginners.  We see the success that we see by following a philosophy, not data.  Many of these lifters have made huge strides in their personal lives outside of the gym as well in terms of promotions in their jobs.  This philosophy carries into life.

Here is a list of some bullet points from my philosophy:

  1.  Focus on the process and not the results.  Whether you make the rep or miss the rep, your actions need to be the exact same.  You need to focus on the next rep.  You cannot get too high or too low at any point.  If you “do your job” the results take care of themselves.
  2. Commit to championship excellence from the beginning.  You do not become a champion standing on a platform receiving a medal.  That is when you are recognized as one.  Champions are made long before that moment.  Champions do not need medals to be recognized.  Champions carry themselves in and out of the gym with honor.
  • Dominate every repetition.  Every rep in training is an opportunity to get better.  Do not take a single one for granted.  You get out of a program what you deserve.
  • Outwork and out-think your opponents.  People can work just as hard, but never let someone work harder.  Keep an open mind and be willing to try things that others won’t.  This is how we can gain a competitive edge.
  • Keep showing up.  Bring that championship mindset with you into the gym consistently.  Attack each rep in training consistently, and just keep showing up.  You got to be in the fight to win the fight.  Commit with conviction and remember that champions always believe in themselves.  “If you believe it enough to say it aloud it will come true.”- Conor McGregor.
  • Execute the fundamentals with perfection.  Perfection is something that can never be achieved, but always strived for.  This allows us to continue to assess weaknesses and never settle.  If you aim for perfection and miss you will be pretty good.
  • Respect the sport.  This includes all other coaches and competitors as well as the gym and equipment.  

When things seem to be going wrong, I always come back to these points.  PPS will be able to tell you this.  I send out weekly emails and they tend to always be very similar in nature.  Usually something about intent on reps, or mindset in training, or being focused for the time you are in the gym.  We discuss leaving outside noise outside of our training sessions.

We discuss training philosophy and principles.  We have bi-weekly meetings where I teach them about technique, biomechanics, and decision making.  We reward those that adhere to the philosophy, not those that receive medals and we celebrate success outside of the gym as much as that success within it.

  You can never guess or estimate how much volume someone needs in training, or what frequency works best.  Often things will work for the short term, but then no longer work.  This is when coaches tend to change things up.

This is fine and will work until it doesn’t.  You can only change up so many things before nothing works because the lifter and the coach is not focused on the core philosophical principles that are required for success.

I am not saying that the program does not matter.  Of course it does.  However, the lifter brings context to that program.  They need to be given the tools to execute it at the highest level to get the most out of it.

I have my way of doing things with a program.  We take a lot of singles because it is the sport and it strengthens the body and the mind for competition.  None of this works if the lifters do not buy into my philosophical points (that clearly needs a name).

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