Coaches Coach, Players Play

Written by: Kevin Cann

I love sports, always have.  Being from Boston I am a huge New England Patriots fan and I have had the pleasure of getting to watch a 20-year dynasty up close and personal.  I read a book by Michael Lombardi titled “Gridiron Genius.”  This was a book that covered his experiences and knowledge from being an assistant on the New England Patriots coaching staff.  Probably the closest information to seeing how Bill Belichick operates.

I read this book recently and at the time the AI powerlifting programs were starting to come about at full throttle.  It seems like anyone with a following started to market their own AI coaching app.  They will say that an app does not replace coaching, but to a population that puts accountability in the program and not themselves, it becomes easy to the coach and lifter to fall in love with it, that way neither needs to be accountable, it is just the program.  I honestly feel this why everyone views the program as the most important piece in training, they don’t have to be accountable.

The program is important, but how we manage the program is more important to our own personal success. What we do inside and outside of the gym matters to us being the best that we can we be.  The app sells lifters on this piece.  You put in data, and it will tell you what you should do on that day.  How the fuck do you know what I should do?  The app doesn’t know me.  I am not just a string of metrics.  It sure as shit doesn’t know me better than I know myself.  This is why awareness is the bottom center of our pyramid.  Everything can build from us being aware of who we are and what we want.

Lifters need to learn about the training process and develop the ability to navigate it appropriately based off their understanding of themselves.  This includes the metrics an app will typically calculate, but also what drives them to do this in the first place.

I would say that most coaches aren’t much better than the apps.  For a significant amount more you can hire a coach that views the program as the holy grail of success and then they will throw some lifting cues in the comments of your posts.  If you have been lifting for more than a few months, you know how to do the lifts.  It is now about exercise selection and managing energy levels to get the technique to be more efficient.

I don’t tell people to bench in a straight line.  If they don’t, we hammer their back and triceps.  If you want them to bench back towards their face you need to implement exercises that will strengthen those areas.  This would include a lot of incline pressing.  You can’t just tell them to push the bar back.  Even typing this, this idea of bar path going back makes no sense as it removes the back muscles and relies less on the triceps and increases ROM and shoulder stress due to increased internal rotation, but somehow that is more efficient.  People who bench like this like the fat pads because they get rebound out of the upholstery.  Learn to drive your back into the bench and you get that rebound more out of a hard bench.  It is like always benching on a fat pad.  But I digress.

The coach’s job is to teach the lifters the sport so that they can go out and play it.  It should be no different in powerlifting.  The New England Patriots are known to be a well-prepared team.  They all sit in the film room together and go over offense, defense, and special teams.  The offense watches the defense and learns and vice versa.  If you know how the defense is going to respond, you can adjust better to counteract.  It is why they are always a step ahead.  It is why Troy Brown was able to play cornerback even though he was a wide receiver.

New England only runs a few base plays and then from there the adjustments are infinite and required of the players to make.  This is why some highly talented players struggled in New England and also why some players did really well here and not in other systems.

They are given the knowledge all week long, and all season long, to then go out and make the decisions as they play the game.  Having few options also allows them to play fast as they don’t have to think as much, but they can naturally use their athletic abilities at full speed.  It is both complex and simple at the same time.  This is what Belichick is referring to when he says that coaches coach and players play.  The coaches give them the information and help them prepare but come game time it is time for the players to take what they learned and do their thing.  This idea really resonated with me and had a huge impact on my thoughts about coaching.

My job is to keep the training simple and structured and then to teach each lifter how to best exist within that box.  They need to be invested enough in their success to want to learn the fundamentals of training and then move onto more advanced topics.  Louie was huge on education and told all his lifters to read certain books.  Sheiko went as far to call his lifters students.

This process takes a long time.  In old articles that I read it sounds like it even took the lifters at Westside over a year to learn it, but eventually Louie was able to teach them the system in months.  I am not Louie, and it takes me over a year to teach this system to the Precision Powerlifting Systems’ lifters.  In some cases, much more as they are starting with zero knowledge about strength training.

Many lifters do not want to commit to this process.  We have a very active Slack channel, weekly emails, bi-weekly team meetings, and 1-1 discussions to get this information across as we are navigating the program. The lifters that leave and say that the program didn’t work for them did not open emails, did not come to meetings, never had 1-1 discussions about training, and even skipped accessories.  It is not for everyone and that is ok, but it is that accountability again playing a role.

However, those that commit to the process, are hungry to be better and want to learn more do exceedingly well.  We have had 8 top 5 finishes at nationals, 3 national champs, a national runner up, and medals at the Arnold.  Out of the 8 top 5 finishes, one was a natural at the sport, the other 7 built that success through learning and hard work.  The program is not going to make you the strongest that you can be.  You make you the strongest that you can be.

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