How Covid Changed Me as a Coach

Written by: Kevin Cann

Before the pandemic of 2020 hit, I was doing most of my coaching in person.  I love the atmosphere of being in person.  The intensity of the environment, people yelling, and weights banging.  These sounds become my beating heart in a training environment.  I love sports, and even more, I love to fucking compete.

As a coach your programming and coaching needs to be an extension of who you are as a person.  I am more intense and aggressive as a person and our programs capture that perfectly.  I honestly believe that if a coach’s program does not align with their personality that it will not be effective.  A coach needs to know who they are in order to help people achieve the success that they are looking for.

So when I was in the gym, running a program that is an extension of who I am as a person, it became a major part of me.  It was a major part of my identity and supplied me with something as valuable as oxygen.  Words can’t adequately describe what I lost when the gyms were forced to close.

At the beginning it was “15 days to flatten the curve.”  I didn’t believe that for a second because the incubation period and the time someone was believed to be contagious definitely did not line up with the 15 days.  I was really worried about my future at this point.  How could I stay in business if people could not train?

Eventually the 15 days got stretched out further and further, and gyms were closed indefinitely.  A few lifters were able to scrounge together some weights to do some stuff.  A lot would never come back to the sport.  My roster dropped from 51 lifters to 28 over the pandemic.  Ones who stuck around were really struggling to find the drive to train, and quite a few saw a significant drop in their numbers.

I had nothing but time to think about this while staring at my walls until 5pm when I could pour a glass of whiskey to change the pace of my day.  It was hard to think clearly during this time.  It felt very similar to when I had a kid, was placed on federal house arrest, and fired from my job in the same 2 months.  

Having that reminder of that period in my life was actually a huge catalyst to where I am now.  I told myself that I have been through worse and came out of it better and that I can do the exact same thing here.  So where do we get started?

The first thing I asked myself is “Why do you do this?”  It be easy to just give up here, but I didn’t.  My first thought was to keep pushing forward.  I needed to know what was driving me on this journey.

This brought me to the importance of sports in my life.  Sports got me out of an abusive home and gave me an outlet.  Sports gave me almost every friend I have ever had, a ticket to college, and let me see different places of the country.  Sports showed me my every weakness, but did it in a way where it would celebrate my strengths.  In doing this it gave me the desire to keep getting better and competing became a part of me.  Sports gave me the strength to do hard things and to count on myself to do those hard things.

I realized as a coach I was not giving my lifters these tools.  I was chasing national qualifying totals and 5lb PRs.  It was no wonder why lifters were giving me an attitude when things didn’t go well or having temper tantrums after a missed lift.  This was a reflection on the message that I was sending with my actions.  My words were saying the right things, but my actions did not line up.

Covid came and over 20 lifters quit and others struggled to handle the adversity of the situation.  This was my fault as a coach.  I did not prepare them to handle these difficult things like sports had done for me.  I took the gift and didn’t pass it on.  This was sports way of punishing me for not doing what I should have.

I realized that sports are just an extension of life.  As a coach, I am coaching humans, not 5lb PRs.  It is my job to help them find the potential that already exists inside of them.  I am a guide to their lifelong journey of self-discovery.  As they learn more about themselves, the PRs will come to them.  When we chase something, that something will always run away.

I read every book I could get my hands on that was written by an elite coach.  This included John Wooden, Nick Saban, Bill Walsh, Pete Carrol, and others.  I listened to countless interviews of high performers and actually took a performance psychology class to work on myself.  I realized that there were a lot of similarities between these coaches and high performers in all walks of life.

I began to make a list of those themes.  This is where the PPS Pyramid of Greatness came from.  Once I had these common themes, I wanted to know why they were important.  This took me down a deep rabbit hole of neuro anatomy, neurology, neurophysiology, and performance psychology.  However, it also led me to a lot more philosophy.  

We figured out how to get people strong in the 1970s.  Not much has changed, even though we try to act like we are doing things so much differently.  However, this world that I was diving into was very new and there are still a lot of unknowns.  I realized the importance of ancient wisdom to close those gaps of the unknowns.

I was introduced to the Daodejing, an ancient Eastern philosophical text.  This text will really make you think.  It used a lot of contradictions to explain things.  This really resonated with me because sports are one large contradiction.  For example, you can’t have the good without bad.  Good literally does not exist without bad.  This philosophical text really spawned my creativity as a coach and helped me understand how to deal with the issues that surely arise with every human being that I coach.  A human problem will very easily transform into a lifting problem.  These problems cannot be solved by measuring velocity, but instead can only be solved by another human.  

The belief in something larger than yourself is so important to finding fulfillment in life.  I know we want to sound smart by posting a scientific study that we specifically selected to highlight something that we have said, but how high can you go if you don’t have faith?  I don’t need science to tell me what I need to do to be great. I can feel that deep inside of me in the core of my being.  I feel it so strongly that I do not give a fuck what anyone thinks of what we are doing with PPS.  Finding this spirituality in conjunction with knowing who I am has made me feel more powerful than I ever have.

I always hid my dark side to the world.  In fact, my wife found out about it because people were posting about it on the internet.  I hid that part of me from everyone because I was ashamed.  I would share pieces of it, but not the whole thing.  Once I put it out there and owned it, it became a driving force for my progress as a coach.  I have overcome some pretty serious shit in my life and it prepared me to help those that I coach now. 

 How can you coach people to handle adversity when your parents spoon-fed you bullshit your whole life in telling you how great you are?  Scars are life’s medals that we should wear proudly.  If you don’t have any, find a way to fucking get some to see what you are made of.  No one achieved greatness without getting a few scars along the way.

I decided to test everything out and take singles for an entire year.  I wanted to know what it was like so that I could be better at programming them.  I knew it wasn’t the most optimal way to train, but I am going to do it to be a better coach and to really challenge myself physically and mentally.  I have worn gear almost every training day for the last 2 years for the same reason.  I want to catch up in experience.  I don’t care if it is the best way or not to train.  It is about the knowledge derived from experience and becoming the greatest coach that I can become.

Just like with the other adversity that I have faced in my life, Covid couldn’t break me.  It gave me a scar or two, but I came through the other end more powerful, more knowledgeable, and a much better coach.  As a team we are all leaning into difficult and earning the right to do more and more difficult things.  Not just on the platform, but in life.  You need to compete with us.  Good luck.

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