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Entries in msu clinic (12)

In Defense of Durkin and Friends

On Tuesday we did a 1-mile time trial as our workout. Danielle Schornack is bad at running, out of shape, and addicted to her asthma inhaler. So I took her inhaler from her and had her run an all-out 800m - which she pr'd - then tricked her into running another one - which she pr'd again.

The next day she bought me two packs of Starbursts.

On August 21, 2014 we did "Elizabeth," which is easily one of the worst short/intense benchmark workouts every created. Our soon to be Athlete of the Summer, Jason, was lined up against JZ and I challenged them to find "that place" and stay there. They agreed and I relentlessly held them accountable to that the entire workout.

JZ showed me his first breakdown, and that was basically the end of Jason at the Champions Club. I would love to have that one back.

...........

So in June, a kid on Maryland's football team died following a workout. The strength coach, Rick Court, came under fire because - I never read the entire story but my assumption is - he probably called him names and questioned his toughness in not-so-polite ways when the kid in question didn't perform well in a conditioning drill. And I'm also assuming he, Court, probably didn't take action after the kid was showing bad signs after the workout. This trickled upstream to the head coach (and former Michigan defensive coordinator) DJ Durkin because he apparently adds to this kind of intimidating atmosphere in the locker room and such.

I actually got the chance to meet Rick Court at the MSU clinic I did with Coach T. He presented after our weight room portion (if I recall correctly) and ended up complimenting us on our presentations. He talked about in-season training and the importance it played in a year-round strength and conditioning program. The specifics were whatever, but he left no doubt his goal was to keep players as safe as humanly possible in a game like football. And if I was a football coach who didn't know - or care to know - the specifics of loading the prime movers, periodization and scaling in programming, and post-game recovery, Rick Court would sound like a worthy candidate for my trust.

Look, I have no idea what should happen to those coaches. I understand that Rick Court failed on a test in an irreversable way. And I've watched enough of the Black Pearl to understand that The Captain Goes Down With The Ship. But I also know what it's like to look at Abby Walker and Sam Butcher as they are running in 90 degree weather, crying in panic as they struggle to breathe, and wonder if that's just them being soft, or if there's something legit going on. My job is to help people become the best versions of themselves they possibly can, and if they get away with being soft, then I fail. But if they quit, or get seriously injured, then I fail on the opposite end of the spectrum. It's a really, really difficult line to walk, and I know I've only been doing it for 9 years or so, but it doesn't seem to get much more comfortable.

I also know what it is like to have someone working under me act in a way - without me knowing - that I don't necessarily see as a great representation of the Champions Club. Am I ultimately responsible? Yes. Is there something I can do about it? Only in retrospect, which doesn't exist.

As Nas said, "when the pistol blows, the one that's murdered be the cool one." That kid is somewhere right now with his ancestors looking down on us with a surpreme understanding. Meanwhile his parents, siblings, and friends are mourning a loss I am incapable of understanding. But I can promise the two people who feel the absolute worst about the entire thing are 1) Rick Court and 2) DJ Durkin. I feel what they feel on a small scale, and can't imagine what it's like for this to happen on a national arena.

A Coach Named T

There have been so many people in this gym who give off the aura of respect, credibility, and knowledge to varying degrees. From Mr. Carey to Jacob to Shannon to Jason to Mrs. Pip to AJ to Murley to Brian the Trainer. These people often find themselves in positions of having to explain themselves and back up their performances or ideas. I have come to realize Coach T is in this category too, except on a little bit of a bigger scale. From the Michigan High School powerlifting community, to Warren Consolidated P.E., to the Michigan State football program (boo!), Coach T has built connections and gained respect in just about every relevant fitness-related community in Michigan. He even coached someone on the Biggest Loser TV show. I am lucky to be on his good side to the point where he strings me along and involves me in most of his side projects.

And the more I hang around him and realize how many top people rely on him, and how many professional-level coaches he talks to, the more I wonder how a little Champions Club weasel named Amy Potter is the one that changed his mind.

Right around the time this picture was taken - October 2013 - Amy was one of the little rascals in Coach T's Lifetime Fitness class at Warren Mott. After one of the workouts that had deadlifts in them, she went up to T after class and said in that classic direct-but-somehow-not-quite-rude-Amy-tone:

"T, you're teaching the deadlift wrong."

That is art at its finest, right there. No fluff, no filler stuff, no extra words or criticism sandwiches. Just facts. Coach T - who was just as respected then as he is now - had a very interesting reaction to this. He asked, "why?" I mean, sure, that was probably not the first thought that went through his head, but after the initial reaction of this tiny creature questioning the methods he'd been teaching forever, he put his ego aside and asked for an explanation. Fortunately, Amy is one of the best kids I've ever seen at backing up a point she wants to make. She even once convinced JZ he was wrong. And in this particular instance with T, she explained that the Big Butt Big Chest method of teaching the deadlift was actually unsafe in the long run because it puts the spine in overextension; from what I heard she used those exact words. I don't know if I had ever been so proud of one of the Champions Club kids up to that point.

I keep a coaching notebook by my bed that records my thoughts on significant days' events, business notes, and spontaneous 2 a.m. ideas, among other things. On January 11, 2014 I wrote in horrible handwriting,

Mott gym teacher texted me about doing some training there. I wonder how that will turn out... Pokemox X is pretty sweet. Hope it doesn't take up too much of my time.

As it turns out, it's 2018 I still have to use every bit of willpower to walk past the 3DS and not flip it on to see if I can finally add a shiny Rhyhorn to my collection. And as far as the Mott gym teacher part, on May 28 he became the first ever kind-of outsider brought on as an official coach at the Champions Club.

In the modern era of the Champions Club (post-Carl Paoli), Coach T has been the single biggest influence on my coaching. Going into his class to observe for the first time, I was so freaking judgemental. I was used to seeing Banets and Jasons and Mrs. Careys and packed classes of like 9 people. 3rd hour Lifetime Fitness had like 9 good people and about 50 shit kids. All crammed into a weight room expecting to do something productive in 37 minutes. Once I got the chance to actually run a class, I realized very quickly that the Champions Club standard of movement was not realistic everywhere.

An interesting thing happened as I continued to coach with T at Mott, though: I was forced to simplify. Remember when hook-grip on pull-ups was a thing? Or knee push-ups? Or straight bar path on presses? Well, they're all still things sometimes, but I cut those, and tons of other things out of the normal teaching rotation due to my time at Warren Mott P.E. I had limited time, limited experience, and 3 different languages spoken... and even without that there was still 6x more people in a session that I was used to. Adapt or die, as they say. And over time Coach T helped me simplify, and simplify, and simplify, to the point now where I literally teach three things and that's it. This came to fruition at Michigan State in 2017 when we presented at their annual Football Strength Clinic in front of 200 high school and college coaches from around the country.

Building a Champion pt. 9: Reflections of a Dropout in Sparta

Surprisingly, the preparation process for this clinic was not the thing that sold me on getting T to coach here. Instead it was the constant observation of his Mott classes. Early on in 2014, I'd be going to Mott once or twice per week. By 2016-2017, I'd make it to one or two classes every other month or so. And this distance between classes helped me get a better visual picture of not only how well his kids were improving, but the incredible acceleration of Coach T's ability to manage a big group with tough movement standards. It was really impressive to watch, and still is.

This past August was the first time I asked him to coach for me, and I was hoping to make it a two or three year project to work towards. I constantly made passive references and suggestions (Shannon knows how annoying these can get) this entire year and things were looking like it would take even longer until about 2 weeks ago, when I got a random text on the Sunday before Memorial Day from T talking about how he thinks it's time to make the jump right in time for Summer 2018.

What Coach T brings to the table is something that I'm not entirely sure yet. I don't know what his floor or ceiling look like. I just know that there are only a small handful of people in the state of Michigan who teach movement like we do, and even fewer still that do it as well as Coach T. This is a guy we need to have on our team, and by the looks of our record-number roster for Summer 2018, it could not have come at a better time.

I know you've been here before, and never really left, but welcome to the Champions Club my man!

From the Vault: The Takeover Goes to Sparta For Real This Time

So when Coach T and I left MSU last year, we both left a tad bit disappointed because, in our eyes, we did not think we got the point accross to Coach Mannie like we were hoping. But new info makes me think we may have been wrong about that assumption.

Neither Coach T or I went to the clinic this year, but one of T's assistants did and was shocked when hearing Coach Mannie give his weight room demo. I got an email from T this afternoon.

"So I think Coach Mannie was paying attention to us last year and did some reading of Supple Leopard 

Watch his weight room demo this year and pay attention at about 8:13 when he puts his guy through the bench. I have heard him talk about Bench for 9 years now and never heard about elbow position and bending the bar."

 

In addition, at the 16:40 mark you can watch Coach Mannie coach one of his athletes through the deadlift. And it's honestly incredible to hear him say the words "brace," "hip hinge," and "neutral midline". I have not gone to his clinic for 9 years like Coach T did, but I did watch about 20 hours of film on him in prep for last year's clinic and I cannot remember a time I saw or heard him fix someone's deadlift set-up when they rounded to grab the bar. This is very cool. Here's our weight room demo from last year for reference.

Slowly but surely the Movement Standards are getting spread around the athletic community. Stay tuned...

From the Vault: The Takeover Goes to Sparta

One year ago on this day Coach T and I made the trek out to Michigan State to speak at their annual Football Strength Clinic. To this day, this is probably my best non-Champions Club coaching performance, and Coach T can probably say the same for himself as well. We hit on everything we were hoping to, drew the most interest and participation from the crowd, and also acquired a good amount of follow-ups who looked for mentoring and collaboration after the clinic.

For a full review, see Reflections of a Dropout on Sparta.

Case Study: Teaching vs. Motivating

I wanted to call this "Teaching vs. Cheerleading," but I need to give credit where credit is due; college strength and conditioning coaches are great at motivating players. Like, supremely great, from the testimonials of most of the players I've talked to. So I'll keep this as unbiased as possible, Coaching vs. Motivating.

I think I summarized my thoughts on the matter pretty well in my latest Building a Champion installment after the clinic and nothing has changed since then. I believe the priority for strength and conditioning coaches should be the following:

1. Skill

2. Strength

3. Conditioning

4. Motivation/mental toughness

Teaching athletes proper movement technique and how to use gravity correctly can take care of a lot of other issues. Sports are not perfect, though, and sometimes we will find ourselves working against gravity (or a 300-lb. beefcake across from you), so we need to develop strength to endure this.

Next we have conditioning, and conditioning can be used as a way to test an athlete's strength and skill, and is probably the best diagnostic tool a coach can use to see what their movement looks like on the field or court. In my opinion, motivation and mental toughness can be developed from within the athletes that hold themselves to the movement standards coaches set. If it doesn't take mental toughness to keep your knees still during the last 9 cleans of Elizabeth, then I don't know what does. This, to me, is unnecessary...

Or is it? I am spoiled, remember. Every one of you I coach at the Champions Club wants to be here. No mater how much you claim otherwise, you pay money to be coached the way we coach. So motivation has always been an afterthought for me (sometimes to my detriment). But what if you guys were really just here for the goodies Mrs. Carey and Pat bring in? And what if in order to indulge in the Twizzlers, Gummy Worms, and Banana bread, you have to work out at a certain intensity? This is probably what Rick Court, head S&C coach at Maryland (pictured above) and fellow presenter at the MSU clinic in February, and other college strength coaches across the country have to deal with. Their kids are there to play football (or basketball, or whatever); not to work out. Yet, it is widely known that working out helps make better athletes. So maybe the goal is to get them excited to work out first and foremost?

Coach T sent me this article yesterday and we met up this morning to discuss it, among other things. Check it out.

He wasn’t merely off to the side observing the spectacle he had created.

Instead, he was running around like a madman with his muscles bulging through his white T-shirt, squatting closer to his players’ anguished faces as they raised absurd amounts of weight. He stuck ammonia inhalant packets near some of their noses to give the players an adrenaline rush, then congratulated them on their completed sets by violently slapping them in the chest. That’s how Court shows love.

I try to rationalize this with my thoughts above, and DJ Durkin likes him, which counts for a decent amount in my book. Still, I think this article is giving a misleading image of what is important. Rather, what is most important.

When announcers drool over Jabrill Peppers making a bone-crushing tackle on a Colorado QB, I agree it is exciting and I get as pumped up as anyone about it. But it is also overlooking the fact that Peppers makes countless plays during the game that are much less exciting, but have even more of an impact on the overall outcome. Having announcers like Gary Danielson and Kirk Herbstreit point this out to the audience is a great thing; seeing BTN announcers miss this is not.

When strength coaches around the country read articles like the one above or watch videos like this, they are usually seeing a very limited view of what makes a good coach. This has been the natural progression going down the line of coaches I have seen in my experience; it takes a very open mind to be willing to focus on what really matters (movement), because once you realize it, you will see how much work you really have on your hands.

In the end, our jobs as coaches are to make our athletes move better in whatever area matters to them (football, basketball, lifting weights, lifting grandkids). In order to do that, correct movement needs to be taught and held to standards that are non-debatable and set by gravity and our physiology. It is pretty black-and-white. In the realm of motivation, there are as many standards as there are athletes in the group; which is not to say that it should be avoided, but rather not be the main focus.

Motivating is not easy by any means. Neither is teaching. Motivating looks very exciting, probably draws in good recruits, and takes football coaches from 6 to midnight with every corny quote they hang up (did you guys know that Iron sharpens Iron?) Teaching, for the most part is very boring in comparison. There is a process to it, where most days are built on small progressions geared towards an endless end goal. Either the athlete has the right answer on that particular day, which then gets reinforced or progressed further, or they don't, in which case the teacher backtracks and builds more progression. The excitement comes when the athletes doesn't rely on the coach any more.

I don't think this kid needs ammonia packets. He has Jeff Martin.

It seems like there are two camps; great coaches = great teachers, or great coaches = great motivators. In my experience as an athlete, great teachers motivated me by teaching a new skill or technique that I can see will make me better. In my experience as a coach, I have reached "unmotivated" kids simply by teaching them to use gravity when running, or proper footwork on a jump shot, or correct reads in passing routes.

If we aren't teaching, and teaching with standards, then what the hell are we doing? Make that the first priotity and everything else falls in line.

Rx'd FYI pt. 2: Beyond the Code

We don't do the movements in a workout program for the sake of doing the movement. We do them because of the effect they have on our body and mind.

Why do I care if Aaron Sexton, potential All-State pitcher, can spin a jump rope under his feet twice before landing?

I think if you can understand that point, then everything else with the Champions Club's expression of CrossFit will become clear (except maybe Kris Campbell's dancing). The key to this understanding comes with moving beyond the "code" of movement.

Here's a test: what's the first image that comes to mind when you hear the word squat? Chances are it is something involving a barbell. The problem I have run into with my own training in the past and also see now with other coaches and athletes is their failure to see beyond the formal movement we do in the weight room. We have covered the squat example before first with Movement Shapes pt. 17 and with this recent post. So let's use a different example.

When I look at this workout, I don't see the specific movements of running and deadlifts, I see the general outcome we want to get from the workout. In my interpretation, that would be midline stability and bodyweight perception; 1) how intense can you work before you break midline stability? 2) how well can you keep Pose with a fatigued midline? I care very little what effect this workout has on your deadlift numbers or running times, and I think the CrossFit mainsite people share that feeling.

When we go into a workout, it is very rare for either the CrossFit.com people or myself to have the mindset of, "let's make our deadlift stronger," or "let's make our pull-ups better." Instead we would think, "I want to emphasize my midline stability today," or "I want to get better at upper body pulling." Once we decide on the general thing we want to get better at, the coach sets specific standards (rx'd) to get the athlete to achieve that. From that point on, everything we prescribe is scalable. Everything. I think I got that message across pretty well in our presentation at MSU (I cut right to the part below).

So when I hear Mel say, "your toes-to-bar should actually be touching the bar," or Brian say "you didn't stand all the way up on your deadlift," or Kroll ask why we did regular lunges instead of overhead lunges, or Jack say "more weight on bench press = better football player," I think that's just an example of not seeing past the code. More pushing strength in general makes a better football player, not necessarily the bench press in specific. Space and equipment and having handstands in the workout were the main reasons to scale OHL. The extra inch at the top of a deadlift has very little purpose beyond a competition where deadlifts are involved. And the 3/4 range of motion toes to bar I did this weekend on Liam still made my belly sore for a few days afterwards.

Abiding or not abiding by the RX is the difference between CrossFit as a sport and using CrossFit as a training tool. Both are legit, and I think both should be used. If you are treating it like a sport, then I think you need to go all the way with it; Football players don't play a game every day, and a professional CrossFit athlete needs to carry the same mindset. If you are using it as a training tool, I think you need to throw in an rx'd workout as a test to see how effective your training has been in this specific area.

In both cases, having a good perspective of the movements you are doing is essential to success. If a clean and jerk is the most athletic thing you are doing then you are probably limited in your view. My success as an athlete and coach started when I saw past the RX'd and the specific code of "front squat, back squat, overhead squat, squat clean, wallball" and I encourage you guys to do the same.

Quote of the Week vol. 182

"Remember this when working with young people... they will never cease to amaze you in a positive way, and they will never cease to disappoint you either."

- Ken Mannie. MSU Clinic.