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Why Strength Coaches Should Know About "Productive Disruption"

Nov 28, 2016

Most people hate change. To the majority of people, the thought of altering processes, ideas, skills, rules, etc. is horrifying. It’s easier to just remain stagnant and comfortable where you are in life, just moseying right along.

Notice I said most people. If you’re reading this, you most likely are a strength coach, which automatically disqualifies you from being like most people. We sacrificed 8-hour days at office jobs for 15-hour on-your-feet-all-day jobs. We are wired differently – which is a good thing! But being wired differently than the general population doesn’t pay the bills. If you want to get really great at your job, land a new & better job and push yourself to the furthest potential in all aspects of life, you have to have the right mindset.

This is the mindset of being productively disruptive. Disruption can cause change, and change can cause advancement. In our field, advancement and progression is the name of the game.

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Look at any successful industry leader dating back to however long ago you’d like. You will notice they all share one common trait. Here are a few that come to mind.

  • Michael Jordan.
  • Rosa Parks.
  • Steve Jobs.
  • Martin Luther King.
  • Albert Einstein.
  • Hell, even Lady Gaga (I can’t believe I just typed that in front of a bunch of meat heads).

All of these people are productively disruptive in their profession. They brought something to the table that no one else could. And even better, they did it in a way that any attempt to replicate would look unauthentic and probably wouldn’t be nearly as productive as the original. There is a reason, way beyond luck and talent, why every single person on that list is iconic. It’s their ability to create separation from the competition.

If you want to set yourself apart, in any industry, you have to offer a valuable change. You can’t just be an oddball for the sake of standing out, your methods must have substance. Want to advance in your career? Look to one of my favorite quotes, “If you change nothing, nothing will change.” In other words, you need to put ideas into action to become productively disruptive.

So, how does this apply to the world of strength and conditioning? As coaches, we need to adapt this mindset first. Then we need to instill it in our athletes and/or clients.

Become a Disruption

As a coach, you need to be a disruption in the field. Take the negative connotation out of this term and let’s break it down. According to, a disruption means a radical change in an industry, business strategy, etc., especially involving the introduction of a new product or service that creates a new market.

So what I mean by this term is being an impactful, impossible-to-ignore spark to the industry that has never been seen before. Find a way to productively stand out with a purpose and efficiency, not just for the sake of being different. Accentuate what some may consider your flaws and turn them into positive energy and change.

I can’t tell you what that looks like for you because I don’t know your personal situation, but here are some great general ideas to get the ball rolling.

Think about these things and how you can become a disruptor with how you approach them.

  • Programming for athletes & clients
  • Educating your staff and athletes/clients
  • Structuring your program operations & systems
  • How you carry yourself in front of others
  • Your overall persona and attitude
  • How you demonstrate and implement exercises
  • How you sell your product, if needed
  • Marketing strategies for your services

These are things every trainer or coach will have to do. Do them your way. If you aren’t the best at your current way of doing things, create a new way that makes you the best by default – meaning no one else can do it like you.

Look at Apple, the powerhouse tech company most known for the iPhones, iPads and MacBooks. Oh, and the iCloud – whatever that is. They didn’t make the first cell phone. They made the first iPhone. They didn’t make the first computer. They made the first MacBook. They created a spin on something that already exists and did in a way that only they can. Now they have built one of the largest, most loyal consumer bases of any company in the world.  Seriously. Have you ever tried to switch a Mac user to a PC computer? It’s as if they think they’re going to die in the process! But I digress…

You aren’t going to be the first strength coach ever, or maybe even considered the best or most popular. But you can find a way to do things in such a way that yields huge client success, breeds loyalty and captivates your crowd to buy-in to your approach.

Be edgy. Test the waters. Question status quo. Think outside the box. Believe in your vision. Put in the work. Become productively disruptive, then pass it on to your clients and athletes.

Passing the Torch

Okay, I’ll admit it. The first time I gave this spiel to a 15 year old athlete, he was bamboozled. It’s hard to tell a kid to be disruptive, but explain to him that does not mean cracking jokes on his algebra teacher in front of the entire class.

Remember, go back to the most literal definition of what a disruption is. Remove all biased definitions from the term. When you pass this attitude on to your student-athletes or clients, make sure they are clear on what you mean.

Stand out.

How you can introduce this to your consumers is by starting with a few outliers who are natural leaders. Let them know they have something special that can make their team, themselves and those around them better; the ability to naturally lead others. The best way to introduce the concept to someone is with a challenge.

Challenge that person to do something they have never done before. For clients and athletes, young ones especially, it could look something like this.

  • I challenge you to plan and host a team-only after school activity that has nothing to do with sport.
  • I challenge you to ask coach if you can make an adjustment to a play based on in-game feedback that you have experienced, but hasn’t been addressed yet.
  • I challenge you to publicize one of your personal goals on social media and stay accountable for achieving it.
  • I challenge you to start some sort of beneficial and strategic tradition with the team before, after or during the game(s).

Simple things like that will turn people into true leaders, make it cool to be a leader and then spread like wildfire.

We see it especially at the middle and high school level, the “leaders” are often just the best players. Being a good player doesn’t make you a leader. In fact, some times the start athletes get treated with such special treatment, they don’t get the opportunity to be a true leader.

Those small challenges turn into big boosts of confidence. Kids can turn confidence into productivity – in sport or in the gym – with the blink of an eye. One of the most important aspects of a school athletics program or a private gym is the culture and environment. When the environment is full of people trying to push themselves to their full potential, that creates a winning culture of likeminded individuals uniting as one group.

Now you’ve got a staff doing things in a unique, efficient manner. You’ve got athletes buying-in and going the extra mile to set themselves apart. Mix that with some talent and work ethic and you’re on your way to great places.

Final Words

I grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana – where Peyton Manning is a God. One of my favorite aspects of Peyton’s game is his ability to dictate the game from the line of scrimmage. This was his way of being productively disruptive.

He would call multiple audibles at the line, some were real and others were just dummy decoy calls. But the fact of the matter is defenses knew that Manning was cerebral enough to actually be changing the play, so they had to adjust to it. Many times, the play never changed. The defense changed their entire scheme because they were trying to react to Peyton’s productive disruption at the line of scrimmage. Then he’d snap the ball and, more often than not, he’d get exactly what he wanted out of the play.

You can be Peyton Manning, in a sense. Change your mindset and approach to something so awesome and exclusive that it demands the respect of your competition. And when they try to duplicate it, they just can’t seem to get the formula right, leaving your program scoring touchdown after touchdown until you win a Super Bowl and retire.

Justin Ochoa is a strength coach and personal trainer with 1 & Only Fitness. He holds multiple certifications including the NASM and CPT.


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