My Personal and Coaching Philosophy

Written by: Kevin Cann

The last year has been pretty rough for a lot of us.  I had a team of over 50 strong, 10 of which were qualified for USAPL Nationals.  We were cruising right along as a team.  Then the pandemic hit and I saw a large portion of my roster quit the sport of powerlifting all together.

Out of the 9 that went to 2019 USAPL Nationals, only 4 remained.  This has been a problem in powerlifting, lifters quitting after just a few years.  If we want the sport to grow, we need to find a way to keep the lifters engaged.

I was also losing lifters at a rate much faster than I was getting them.  This is expected during a pandemic when gyms are closed down, but I still have to eat.  I put a lot of thought and effort into what came next.

The first thing I did was ask all of my liters to tell me their “why” for lifting.  Many of these got very personal and actually taught me a lot about each individual that I coached.  I really enjoyed reading these.

This was a self-reflection exercise to help remind everyone why they did this sport.  Keeping a copy of it and looking at it when things get tough is a good exercise to help create some resiliency and motivation to keep going.

My personal reflection went far beyond just my “why” of lifting weights.  I was not sure what was going to happen with me financially and before the pandemic I was beginning to get very burnt out.  There are only so many times that you can listen to a grown adult whine about not hitting a PR on a given day in the gym.  It wears on you after a while.  The constant trolling on the internet from 20 somethings was also getting to me.  

Throughout the pandemic I have shared some personal stories about my upbringing.  These came about from my self-reflection.  This whole process started with the question of “who am I and what do I actually want to do?”

When I thought back to the adversities that I have overcome in my life to be sitting where I am today, I realized that I sure as shit am not a quitter.  I have never retreated.  I have always faced every obstacle head on and attacked every problem with every ounce of my effort.  This is where my personal philosophy of “Stand Your Ground” came from.

I made a video for the Precision Powerlifting YouTube channel explaining this in more detail.  Stand Your Ground means always facing the opposition bravely.  You defend your values and who you are as a person at all costs.

Once I understood who I was as a person, I began to ask myself the same question as a coach.  I hadn’t narrowed my personal philosophy down to those 3 words yet, but I had a good idea of who I was.  Just needed to now figure out who I am as a coach.

I thought back to my life of playing sports, which now has been over 30 years.  I have thought about all of the successful teams that I had been on and the ones that were not as successful.  In fact, the most talented team that I was on never lived up to its expectations.  Ironically, one of the least talented teams (although we were very good) far exceeded expectations.

I began to read and reread coaching books written by John Wooden, Bill Walsh, and Nick Saban (currently reading Pete Carrol’s book now).  All of these books echoed the same principles of being process driven. Hearing the trials and tribulations of each coach was really motivating too.  It took John Wooden 16 years to find his groove as a coach.  Everyone thought Bill Walsh was crazy for wanting to do what he was doing, and he actually broke down crying in his office a number of times.

They all had their own personal philosophy and also a philosophy that drove their decision making.  These philosophies were not X’s and O’s for their sport.  They were X’s and O’s on how hone carries themselves as a human being and how one becomes process oriented.  I realized that this was something I needed to do.

I always knew being processed oriented was important, but I was terrible at actually communicating it.  I also lost sight of it very easily.  If someone went through a training block and did not hit a PR, I immediately would change things up in the program.  Over time we have changed our programs up a number of times.

An interesting thing emerged from constantly changing the programs.  The same people were the ones seeing the most success, no matter what type of program we were running.  Interestingly enough in Pete Carrol’s book, he talks about this topic.

He said that he literally runs the same defense today that he learned in the 1970s.  He said that anyone can learn the nuances of football, it is not that complicated.  However, the thing that matters most is what the players bring to that defense.  That “Legion of Boom” defense that won a Super Bowl, and lost one to the Pats, was one of the best in the history of the league and that was an old scheme in modern day football.

This made me think a lot about powerlifting.  Everyone is so program driven.  Everyone wants a fancy spreadsheet based on “evidence” because they think that is a ticket to high performance.  Newsflash, it isn’t.  It is extremely misguided and completely misses the mark of high performance and also what sports gives as a gift to each participant.  

My goal is to make everyone realize that they have greatness inside of them and show them how to release it onto the world.  When I shared this with PPS, this is a comment that I received:

“You definitely make me a better lifter and a better person.  My mind is stronger, and my mind is open because of you and PPS.”

There is no better compliment than that.  This is the gift of sports.  This lifter is about to embark on a big task in life, and hopefully these characteristics that have been built up in training let them dominate this task. 

With all due respect, fuck your block reviews.  If all you do for someone is adjust volumes and intensities, or maybe throw a different exercise in there, you aren’t a coach.  You are actually communicating the wrong things to your lifters.  You are telling them that the program is what matters, when in fact, it matters the least.  It is what each individual brings to the program.

The program should complement and train the characteristics we want of each person.   Training should have consequences so that each individual can develop resiliency.  It needs to slightly exceed their current skills, so they need to apply a focused effort to get better.  Learning situations should be built into the program.  Also, rewards for doing things well should be included.  These are the ideas behind our programs.

Lifters are forced to make decisions.  They will make mistakes, but with a student mentality, and developing mindfulness, we can view these mistakes as opportunities to improve.  You cannot succeed without failing.

They will miss reps.  Again, with mindfulness we will view each miss as a learning opportunity.  These scenarios in the gym come with fear as the weights get heavier.  We learn how to use fear as a weapon for us.  We continue to show up, even when things do not go well.  This develops resiliency and grit.

I came up with a hierarchy of success.  Each level builds the foundation for the next.  Some reading this will say “His total sucks and he has never coached a national champion.”  That is true, but I have also faced more adversity than most in my life, and I am here.  No one competes better than me.  At the end of the day, you have to compete against me and more often than not the resilient someone is, the greater the success.  My resiliency has been forged over 30 years of adversity.  Adversity that goes far beyond failing acting school.

This hierarchy comes from reading other coaches, high performance research, interviews with high performers, and my own personal experiences.  Here it is.

The base of the pyramid.  These are foundational pieces needed right from the start if the goal is to develop high performance.  They are resiliency, integrity, mindfulness, student, and effort.  

The first level is work capacity, technique, intent, baseline focus.  Developing technique can take quite some time.  I have learned that lifters expect it to happen on the next rep.  That is why we need baseline psychological traits to develop before we worry about certain technical aspects.  You can’t have intent if you don’t have effort.

The second level is skill, confidence, and consistent focus.  Once we have baseline psychological traits, we are learning as a student, and improving our mindfulness, confidence begins to show itself as well as a certain amount of skill within this sport.

The third level is where we see poise under pressure and leadership.  This is where the individual is who they are under any circumstances.  They know how to harness fear and frustration to boost their abilities.  They begin to display leadership and start becoming a teacher.

The top level is greatness.  When you develop all of the qualities found in this hierarchy, you have developed greatness.  Nowhere in this pyramid does it say anything about lifting a certain weight.  Ironically, this will lead to lifting the greatest amount of weight for each individual.  Lots of research on high performers backs it up.

I was doing a lot of these pieces throughout the years but had no structure for it.  I have had team captains as I knew leadership was important.  I have discussed many psychological traits of top performers.  However, this will allow me to communicate these ideas better with the team, and also gives us guidance to improve.

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