Coaching 102

The question of “System” has been rattling around my brain lately. As I note in my workshops, “I (Dan John) am the problem.” So much of my coaching is based on a System that when you hear only one part of it or another, some run down the mental path that I don’t think “fill in the blank” is important.

This happened just the other day. I got an email concerning something Kenneth Jay wrote. Before I even begin writing, I spoke with KJ about this on Facebook and I think we both have great respect for each other, but you can see the issue that I am talking about. Kenneth wrote:

“We have all heard some variation of what is believed to be “primitive movement patterns”. Gray Cook has his set, Dan John has his and Paul Chek has his… the list goes on. What all of them have in common is a lack of spiraling and twisting along with kicking, throwing, punching and hand dexterity. For the full text, see here.

I wrote Kenneth about this and I noted how basically all of my career has been in the field of throwing (Ha! “Field of throwing”) and it is simple a part of what we do at least 10,000 times a year. His follow up is important, too:

“If I may ask: why did I never see you teach or talk about this stuff at the events we were at together?” I thought about this a while. I met Kenneth when he was my daughter’s Team Leader at the UCLA cert and I think once more when I did either another cert or something in Minnesota. In neither setting did I have really have the opportunity to really even do the basics of the methods that I use as a teacher or coach. I was teaching out of a manual that I helped add bits and pieces, but it was another “system.”

So, you might read my work for years and be absolutely convinced that I don’t teach twisting and rotation work. But, after two days with me at Discus Camp, you will have turned, twisted, rotated and spun so many times you may wonder why I haven’t mentioned the “Hinge” a single time, although that’s all I talk about with an adult population of office workers.

We are at a wonderful point in American Football right now where the game is reinventing itself as we watch. When I played, we were chess pieces. We set up, someone moved, we countermoved. Today, there are plays where literally no one on offense (the guys with the ball) knows whether the ball will be run or passed even after the ball has been snapped. The move and countermove today are made, figuratively and literally, on the fly.

Leading this Renaissance is a football offense called “The System.” Now, I love it, but the GENIUS of the system (now I can’t decide when to capitalize system/System or not…but in this case, I’m right) is in tossing out HALF of the learning process and therefore doubling the amount of work done on specifics in the same amount of time. I can’t explain it better than what I found in one of my favorite websites,

“While at Valdosta, they primarily engaged in addition by subtraction. They cut out a few passing plays that weren’t as useful, shrank the running game to little more than an “iso” lead play and a draw, and, most famously, made the offense asymmetrical: Instead of running each play in one direction and having “right” and “left” variations on each formation, they made the offense entirely right-handed, always putting the tight-end or “Y” receiver to the right and the split-end or “X” to the left, and only moving “Z” around. Both Leach and Mumme have said they were inspired to do this after a conversation with former Baltimore Colts great Raymond Berry, who told them that was exactly how he and Unitas and the rest of the Colts did it. If you flip all of your formations, every time you teach a route — say, a curl or a slant — each receiver actually has to learn two routes, because he has to learn it from both the right and left sides. And the quarterback has to get used to throwing it to each receiver to his left and to his right, depending on each receiver’s quirks. The number of techniques each quarterback had to learn would grow rather quickly.

Further, Berry said, he developed multiple ways to run each route depending on the leverage of the defense; if they asked him to line up to both sides he either had to give up those subtle variations or had to learn to run each of them to both sides, which was nigh impossible. Instead, he learned to run his routes on one side, and Unitas learned how to throw them to him on that side. Once Mumme and his staff made that change at Valdosta, the completion percentage of their quarterback at the time, Chris Hatcher, jumped roughly ten percentage points and he went on to win the Harlon Hill trophy, known colloquially as the Heisman trophy for D-II. Hatcher would of course go on to become an assistant to Mumme at Kentucky and is now the head coach at Murray State.”
For the full text, see here.

Raymond Berry was on par with Johnny U for being on just about everyone’s short list of heroes when I was growing up. As I recall, he was too short and too slow and too small to play in the NFL. So, he made it to the Hall of Fame.

So, I just exposed you to Rule One in a system: “Addition by subtraction.

When my young discus throwers go to a track meet, I always have to prep myself for the onslaught of questions upon our return. “Coach, this guy did this and that guy was doing that. Can we do this?”

Did you win?


Hmmm. Let’s stick the boring things we are doing.

My throwing practices are basically the same day in and day out:
Prepractice Drills

  • Five Sets of the Four Step Approach with a Powerball into a Wall
    Five Sets of the Four Step Approach with a tire overhead
    Five Sets of the Four Step Approach with the X Sticks
    Various standing throws with one foot on a box
    Shot Put Drills
  • It takes fifteen minutes, then we meet and gather and pray as a team.

    Out to the field. Half an hour of playing “catch” with…

  • The Four Step Approach

    Split up the group and work drills and out of the ring.

  • In an hour, my throwers average 100+ throws while the competition often hasn’t even gotten to the field yet as they are still doing jogging, plyos, mobility, flexibility, hurdles, sprints and whatever.

    My System? “Throwers throw.”

    The funny thing is this: I used to do everything else, too. Then, I started tossing stuff out when I realized that discus throwers need to turn and shot putters need to throw. What began to amaze me is that my throwers began throwing farther and farther by just…wait for it…throwing. Now, there is nothing wrong with doing all this extra stuff and, honestly, it might help your throwers ultimately throw farther than mine. But, how will you know?

    Rule Two of Systems: Additional components must improve the overall organism.

    I have been asking for years that the RKC move towards streamlining the HKC, RKC and RKC II by logically “adding” through each cert. Simply, going from Two Handed moves to single handed movements to double handed moves was my point. Simply:


    Two Handed Swing
    Goblet Squat
    Get Up

    RKC (for this example, just these three)
    Single Hand Swings
    Single Side Squats
    Single Arm Press (the Get Up being the teaching and supporting movement of grinds)

    RKC II (again, limited for the example)
    Double KB Swings
    Double KB Front Squats
    Double Presses

    So, even in the teaching of something, I like to have a logical platform of building qualities upon the base and foundation of known and mastered moves. In the world of Quadrant III, even these minor additions might not be that impactful on the big goal.

    In the case of throwers, I have read practically everything about strength training for throwers and every approach will work to get you to the top. It’s true; some athletes have hired a new strength coach and made amazing gains. The articles following this success will often be amazing stories of changing the grip or an advanced magical technique, but, years later, I will be told in confidence that the big leap was due to “better living from chemistry.” It was referred to as “dog tracks in the snow” earlier in my career.

    For a fat loss client, changing from Goblet Squats to Single Side Squats might zap off a few extra calories due to inefficient movement for a while, but, honestly, we make changes to the program usually because of boredom. And, speaking in total candor, I think combatting boredom is perfectly fine and part of the whole process of long-term training.

    The idea that I can do this and that and this and that and this and that and this and that and this and that and this and that and this and that and this and that and this and that and this and that and this and that and this and that and this and that and this and that and this and that and this and that and…is probably the number one problem with most training methods. For your Quadrant Two person, collision sports and collision occupations, it is true that you need to do a lot of things at a very high level.

    You are right, of course, but you have forgotten Rule One!

    The third and final rule is one that is uncomfortable for many. It is simply this

    Rule Three: A system survives the loss of the founder.

    This might be my religious studies background reaching up from my gut, but the key to long term success of any good idea is the next person in line. Things grow in interesting ways, both horizontally and vertically.

    Let’s start with this idea of vertical: If I coach you in the discus, I am going to tell you about Lindsay’s last throw in the State meet to win. I’m going to talk about Eric Lindquist’s first round personal record to win the same meet. I am going to tell you how Paul Northway so dominated in meets, I quit going to them his sophomore year because I always ended up running the events.
    You will hear about all the great Utah State throwers. You will hear about Coach Maughan and how at the Nationals, his competitor told him a secret to big throws. Coach followed it and won. I will expect you to be part of this tradition soon. That is vertical.

    A system needs to be able to thrive and survive over time by having a history, a family tree and a story. In the short article I quoted above, look at the family tree of coaches that influenced The System. That’s the vertical aspect and it is part of the survival of the group after the founder dies. As long as I breathe, the Utah State discus throwing tradition continues. Ideally, I left enough crumbs so that others may find that path.

    The horizontal aspect is the current community. With a system, we can grow out and discover, taste and test other ideas, programs and systems. We can stretch out as wide as we need to in order to improve our system. Our vertical axis allows us to test other things and still stay true to the original plan.

    My “Intervention” program is based on this idea. It is a System that walks you through everything from the original goal through exactly where you are today with your gaps and shortcomings highlighted next to your glorious strengths and super powers. If you want to be a thrower, we handle that the same way as if you told me you want to be a sprinter or lose a few pounds of body fat. A system must always be big enough, both vertically and horizontally, to add and subtract (and remember why we did either) when better ways of doing things come along.

    Review the way you look at training…and life…through these three rules. I am still jumbling my way through clarity, but I offer you this:
    Rule One: Addition by subtraction.
    Rule Two: Additional components must improve the overall organism.
    Rule Three: A system survives the loss of the founder.

    • Rich Ferrigan

      nice read, at the end of my day to begin the next!

    • Paul Lyngso

      You’ve done it again, Dan! You cut to the core of me…

    • Erik Blekeberg

      I got some very good advice regarding any system I set up. I work with high schoolers and I coach them to coach each other. I don’t know if this is a quote but, it should be:

      “The success of a man is not his work or accomplishments but, who he has left to carry on his work and forge their own accomplishments.”

    • Mark

      I had a hunch you read smartfootball. I remember reading an article on there about either Mike Leach or Chip Kelly’s practices that seemed like you could have written it. I think it was something about having a limited amount of time for practice due to NCAA rules, so changes were made rather than running an abbreviated NFL practice. Sounds a lot like managing options.

    • Lawrence

      I like the progression from HKC to RKC to RKC II.

    • Dan John

      It’s fun to reread one of these. I think this might be as good as anything I have written and few people will read it. This has to be the template of an upcoming book. Stevo, remind me about this when I forget.

    • Jamie Dreyer

      Addition by subtraction. I need to tattoo that on my forearm and look at it every time I write a program.

    • Jay Beito


      I’ve been keeping up with your blogs- thanks for the clarity on Nervous Energy & Peaking, Coaching 101 & 102. A colleague has requested his players be put on a 5 day a week lifting program- Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs, Sat. His athletes are between the ages of 15-18 with 1-3 years experience lifting. Most received passing scores on the FMS with minimal asymmetries.

      In preparation for his teams annual plan I have reviewed in depth:

      1. Southwood
      2. Big 5 (which by the way put on 10 lbs per player per month last April)
      3. Easy Strength
      4. 40 Day Even Easier Strength (increased Squat Max by 70 lbs in 6 weeks),
      5. Armor Building
      6. Priorities: Keep the goal the goal- Movement Patterns 1st, Rep Volume 2cd, Intensity 3rd
      7. Realistic reps- Rule of 10, 3 Ladders/3 Rungs, Fast 10/20
      8. Waving the loads: light, medium, heavy, light
      9. Percentages- 10% Weight Room, 10% Correctives, 80% Skill Refinement
      10. Timing- Park Bench, Bus Bench

      My colleague is very attached to the idea of having his players lift everyday (5 days per week). Provided we closely monitor the athletes recovery capacities, can I safely cycle this group through a series of 40 day programs or would it be better to shift to a regular Easy Strength Program once the season starts?


    • Dan John

      Five days a week AND football season? Call me…it is a lose-lose overtime for everyone. Two days lifting, three days moving and restoring maybe, but I had a hard time keeping them going two days a week.

    • Doug Parra

      Thanks for another great article. I love your outlook, writing style, thought processes, etc. etc. What would be your recommendation(s) to someone who really wants to learn and integrate your approach with their clients? Specifically which of your educational material books and dvd’s should one invest in? Intervention?

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