Christian: Today I’m joined by Derek Hansen. Derek is a fellow Strength and Conditioning Coach and Performance Consultant with 30-plus years of experience in coaching.
Derek was the Head of Strength and Conditioning at the Simon Fraser University for 13 years, has worked with various Olympic sports and consulted to professional NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS teams and has recently published a book.
Derek: Thank You, Christian. Great to be on and hopefully I can be of some service and knowledge to you.
How he got into Strength & Conditioning
Christian: What brought you into strength and conditioning?
Derek: I was involved in a lot of sports in my youth. By the time I made it through to the university, I was competing in track and field. I had competed in track and field since I was probably 10 or 11 years old and it was it was a good way to measure yourself.
Every year you would gain 50 centimeters, in something like long jump, or your 100-meter time would come down three or four tenths, as you got older. Having the ability to measure your performances every year stuck with me, where my thoughts were that I’m getting better physically just from growing.
I didn’t really think about the training too much. But then, as you get older and physiologically you’re not just getting better by getting older anymore, it has to come from the training you do. So I started making those connections and thinking that I have to be a bit smarter. I realized that it’s not just that I’m going to show up and be better.
As you get older, and you’re not just getting better by getting older anymore, it has to come from the training you do. So I started making those connections and thinking that I have to be a bit smarter.
So that really stuck with me, as you move up the ‘performance chain’ you have to get a little better at how you do things. It’s not just going to happen. I think even to this day, those are some of the things I think about in terms of, if I’m working with a young athlete versus working with a mature athlete, who might be very close to the top of their profession or their sport. There’s somethings you do similar, but there’s something you have to do a little different.
So just being a track and field athlete, some of the techniques of track and field, like the running piece is very important in everything I do. If you are an American football player, if you’re a rugby player, if you’re a soccer player, or if you’re a tennis player, the running is important to achieve your goals.
I feel, that sometimes people forget about that or take it for granted and those are parts of my educational courses that I offer. I say why it’s important and why it has to be done in a certain way. You have to be very particular about your mechanics and what you say to athletes. It took me 30 years to figure it out, but that’s kind of what I’m doing right now.
His darkest moment
Christian: If you look at your life as a Strength and Conditioning Coach and Performance Consultant, what was your darkest moment?
Derek: There’s always a lot of dark moments when you’re involved with sport, you’re always wondering what your relevance or your value is, because everything is expressed in winning or losing. Even some of the friends that I have who work in the NFL say, when you lose, obviously you feel bad. You wonder if this could have an impact on your career or job security.
You’re always wondering what your relevance or your value is, because everything is expressed in winning or losing.
Then when you win you hope that you keep on winning, so that you still have your job security. It never really escapes you the fact that you know that you’re in sports and that it could end very quickly and it may not have anything to do with you.
I think every once in a while when you’re involved with a team or an athlete, you’re always thinking about your shelf life. You ask questions such as am I going to stay relevant? Am I going to be still useful, whether or not you are useful? Then there’s always the ‘am I going to be perceived as useful?’
Throughout my career, I could probably pick a couple of different times when you wonder if you’re actually making a difference and if people are noticing that you are making a difference. If you’re like me and you probably are the same, you could have a thousand people say that you’re doing a great job and one person could tell you you’re doing a bad job and you’ll just focus on that one person.
I think part of this job is being kind of reflective and being philosophical about what your role is and not taking yourself too seriously because I think it’s very easy to fall into that trap when people are winning and you’re thinking, “Well, it’s because of me.” Or when they’re losing you’re thinking, “Well, it’s because of me.”
If you’re going to have a long and happy career, you can’t really think of it that way. You just got to think of it day to day and do your best every day and give value on a daily basis, rather than measuring yourself at the end of the season, where you finished.
If you’re going to have a long and happy career, do your best every day and give value on a daily basis, rather than measuring yourself at the end of the season.
Christian: And when these doubts creep in your head, how do you deal with it?
Derek: It’s really going to come back to examining your process and going like, “Am I covering all my bases? Am I doing my due diligence? Am I making sure that I spend the right amount of time on these types of things?”
And then also realizing that you could be doing everything right. I know a lot of people who are doing everything right from their job perspectives, but their team still loses because they don’t have good players or bad coaching or whatever it is.
So, on some level, you have to have some blinders on and just focus on what you’re doing because if you start looking to the left or the right, I think it can weigh on you. The other part of it is, it’s so easy to be immersed in your sport, in your season and the training.
You’ve got to spend more time with friends, family, maybe have a hobby that doesn’t relate to strength and conditioning. But it’s very tough because whenever I went on vacation, I’d always say that we should go somewhere where I can meet up with somebody who’s in my industry or go to a sporting event.
You’ve got to spend more time with friends, family, maybe have a hobby that doesn’t relate to strength and conditioning.
It’s good to do that, but at the same time it’s good to diversify your life and you could probably say that about any profession.
It’s like a life philosophy thing, where everybody’s going to have dark moments in their life, whether it’s their relationships, financial issues, health issues. And if you don’t have some diversification there and then, it’s going to be a bigger fall.
His best moment
Christian: What was your best moment?
Derek: I was just talking to my wife about this, but actually the best moment has been just going to sporting events that our kids attend. So I have three kids and I don’t overly coach them too much.
Actually the best moment has been just going to sporting events that our kids attend.
I give them some advice, we might go and do a few sessions here and there and we lift weights, I have weights in my home. We do a lot of stuff with the kids, but we try to make it fun. It’s not like this sort of regimented thing. We’re not that kind of family, the crazy family where we’re going to train our kids and our kids look like bodybuilders at age ten. We’re not those parents.
But going out and watching your kids succeed, like my daughter ran in a cross-country race yesterday and did really well. Seeing that is probably the highest moments because they’re with you all the time.
If you’re going to take credit for something, you should take credit for your kids because genetically you’re connected and then you’re providing the environment which they live in too. So if you’re going to see some successes, it’s going to be from that combination.
If you’re going to take credit for something, you should take credit for your kids because genetically you’re connected and then you’re providing the environment which they live in too.
So I would say that has been more valuable than any of the other stuff I’ve been involved with because like I said, it’s not always you. But in this case, it probably is you, right? You’re feeding them, you’re making sure they go to sleep, you’re spending time with them, you’re trying to make sure that they’re having fun and if they go out and they can succeed, then it’s great.
You’re just like, “Oh great.” And it’s not like I’m taking credit for it and patting myself on the back and going, “Yes.” But that’s probably the most valuable thing, is just doing stuff with family and seeing what the results are.
Christian: How old are the kids?
Derek: My oldest son is 15 and then I have a daughter turning 13 next week and then a daughter turning 7 next week. Good age grouping so we can see where they’re growing and they’re all getting taller than us now.
It’s nice if you’re involved in sport and then you can give it back to your family and make sure you don’t have some of those pitfalls that you see happening with other athletes and other parents, where they just want to push too hard too soon. We’re definitely very careful about that.
Christian: Out of personal interest, your kids accept being coached by Daddy.
Derek: Again, we’re very careful about that. If we coach them, we do something once a week. One time a week we’ll go to the track and you can read their body language and it’s not like they’re excited to go and be coached, especially if they’re a teenager.
That’s the last thing they want is being seen by their friends, being coached by their dad. So we’re very careful and we understand that maybe we can do it once in a while and we just drop a few hints. It’s not like a real training session or we invite their friends to come out with them so that it’s more of a social event.
I’m very cognizant of the fact that it might not be the coolest thing, but it seems to work. I don’t know. If it looks like they’re not having fun, then I’ll probably just end it and let them know we’re done.
Her advice to a younger Derek Hansen
Christian: You’re 30 years in coaching. If you could travel back in time 30 years, 20 years, what advice would you give a younger Derek?
Derek: I think about that a lot, the whole time-travel thing, if you could go back and change something. But, for the most part, I don’t know what I would change because everything’s working pretty good now and you’re always thinking that if I change that, maybe I wouldn’t be where I’m at.
I probably would have spent a little more time taking advantage of people and resources that I had that I was close to and just asking more questions. It’s tough though because people would always ask me about my relationship with Charlie Francis and ask what I learnt.
I was talking to somebody, Pat Davidson, who’s in New York City and I told her that a lot of the time it took me from the time that I might have been introduced to a concept by him. It might have taken me about eight to ten years to really fully grasp what he meant.
You get information and then you got to go and try it yourself and then you may mess it up, until you get it. Then after 10 years, you’re going to think that it took you ten years to figure out what he was really truly talking about.
I probably would have spent a little more time taking advantage of people and resources that I had that I was close to and just asking more questions. You get information and then you got to go and try it yourself and then you may mess it up, until you get it.
It’s tough if you’re a young person, let’s say you’re in your 20s and somebody gives you a book and says, “Here’s all the answers.” That’s not a really good way to learn. It’s not like you can just give people the answers.
They have to go through this trial and error process of living it and then that’s how you get better. It kind of begs the question of why you would even go to university or school because it’s a little different. It’s like, “Here’s information, just regurgitate it in an exam or a research paper and then you know more.”
Well, that’s really not how it works. I can’t even remember anything I took in university, but I can remember stuff that I actually went through and failed or succeeded or mostly failed. I don’t think I would really change much aside from the fact that you got to be in the moment.
Take that experience, then just file it and then you move on to the next one. Just give yourself more chance to have more experiences and be exposed to different ideas. Because it’s so easy, you see young people nowadays, they get a job and then they’re just in the same job or at the same, say University or same sports team and they’re just doing the same thing.
Give yourself more chance to have more experiences and be exposed to different ideas.
I know people who started very young in pro sports, like say the NFL, in their 20s and they’ve been there for the last 30 years. That’s all they know and that’s not a bad thing. From a career point of view, 30 years in the NFL is pretty significant. But they haven’t had a lot of exposure to other things, other sports, other levels of sport, other scenarios, so they only know what they know.
What I would offer to young people is, to try to diversify your experiences and your exposure. But it’s kind of like the multi-sport versus a sports specific thing, like early specialization.
If you early specialize, you’ll probably improve quite a bit initially. But there’ll be holes and there’ll be things that you’re missing, whereas if you diversify and do multi-sport, maybe you’re not going to be Tiger Woods, but probably you will have a better life overall than him.
You won’t have as much turmoil in your life because you’ve diversified your life, so I don’t know. Do you want to be Tiger Woods or do you want to be a guy who can golf pretty good, but also have a pretty well-rounded life? It depends on who you are.
His advice to young and aspiring Strength & Conditioning coaches
Christian: It ties pretty well into the next question. For young aspiring S & C coaches, what advice would you give to break into the industry?
Derek: Oh that’s a good question because right now it seems to be, at least in North America, you have to volunteer and intern and maybe live on very little money and work 18 hours a day.
Christian: Imagine you would want to fast track that process, so imagine your kids go into strength and conditioning, you would want them to get out on top, right? So what would you say?
Derek: My answer would be very unconventional. The way I did it is I volunteered, I just coached track athletes, like just me. So I went out and I would go and work with, I don’t know, say sprinters and hurdlers and long jumpers and that was my group.
The way I did it is I volunteered.
Everything that I did was on me, I handled the stuff on the track, I handled the plyometrics, I handled the weightlifting, I handled the rehab because I was the only guy there. Then again, I’m in an environment where they’re constantly going to a track meet, and I see them run and I see what their time is and I see if I’ve made a difference.
But if you work, say as a strength coach for volleyball, you’re probably going to get what? Vertical jump numbers? You’ll test them in that, you’ll test them in weights and then they go play volleyball, which may have nothing to do with anything you’ve done technically.
But it’s very hard for you. You want to know if you made a huge difference. Maybe somebody has a better jump, but there are still some gaps in what your involvement was and what your impact was.
And there are other coaches, so you think about taking them to the weight room, then you do the training in the weight room. But then there’s a two-hour practice on the volleyball court that you’re not involved in, whereas as a track coach, I was involved at every level.
So I was putting myself in a position where I had to learn and I had to address, maybe 10 athletes at once and work with them and deal with their individual differences. Somebody over here pulls a hamstring, so I got to bring them along and get them back into the flow and get them better.
So everything was on me. That’s not a conventional thing for people to do, but I would say that every strength coach should actually coach and be a coach. So whether you’re teaching somebody how to swim coach. Some of my better strength coaches that have worked under me were swim coaches or track coaches or rowing coaches or something, so they had to deal with the physiological requirements of that sport and coach technique; maybe a gymnastics coach. I found it a lot easier to work with those coaches and see how their development improved because they actually coached.
Every strength coach should actually coach and be a coach. Some of my better strength coaches that have worked under me were swim coaches, track coaches or rowing coaches.
I know a Strength and Conditioning Coach is a coach, but it’s still not quite the same. You should be a sport coach too, and it might be like you’re a soccer or a rugby coach and you learn strength and conditioning too.
That’s probably good too. But if you say that you are just a strength coach and you’re just going to work in the weight room, you’re not going to be as well-rounded as somebody who’s actually coached a different sport and brought it back.
I think you’re just going to have a better idea of where you fit in as a strength coach, once you’ve gone through these other coaching processes, in my opinion.
Does that make sense?
Christian: It does make sense and I also think if you are a sports coach, you understand a little bit more the whole picture that is involved. As S & C coaches, often we look at one particular aspect, but there are so many facets to the whole performance. So as a sports coach you understand that a little bit better because you’re either managing or you’re facilitating the entire process.
Derek: Yes, absolutely. I’s so easy to say that we have to go and improve their squat when it may have nothing to do or may have very little compared to all the other problems that have to be addressed.
His coaching philosophy
Christian: Let’s get into the nitty-gritty S and C coaching questions. What’s your coaching philosophy?
Derek: I would say in general, it’s just to make sure people improve. I think it’s a very general answer because I’m not going to say like, “Oh, it’s all single-leg versus double-leg or front squat versus back squat.” That’s totally irrelevant to me.
Make sure people improve.
I could care less, but it’s going to be like thinking that we can improve in something. And it might be something, one technical thing, so even in my running courses, I’m just offering to check somebody’s posture and make sure their posture is good through the drills or their ground contact.
But it might be one thing I say and one thing that we try to fix in that session so that when we leave the session we know that they’re better at that. Because if I try to fix 10 things in one session, it’s very difficult and it muddles the conversation and the communication between you and the athlete.
So my philosophy is generally; what can we improve? What are we able to improve? Or what is the low-hanging fruit in that session? They’re very loud when they run and you can hear their foot contact, ‘plop, plop, plop.’ So I just try to make them lighter.
My philosophy is generally; what can we improve? What are we able to improve? Or what is the low-hanging fruit in that session?
One of the things I use all the time in my coaching is I just say, “Just think up” because everybody’s thinking down, but guess what? Gravity is pulling us down anyways. We’re going to go down, but if you think, ‘up, up, up, up with your arms or your legs, everything kind of unloads a bit.
So in one session, I might just say that we’re going to talk about up and I want you to just think light and up. Then we just focus on that and that transfers very well. It’s a very general concept but it makes things better and they’ve improved.
I also use that concept in rehab and that’s all I’m trying to do in rehab is let’s improve on one quality in this session. But I think everybody thinks of one session is like we have to hit a homerun. We got to do all these things, especially with young people.
Even young therapists, they’ll work with somebody and their cueing them on 10 different things. Tuck in this and breathe this way and turn your head like this. You can see the patient is just getting confused and almost a little stressed.
So from a philosophical point of view is let’s make things simple easy and address one thing at a time, one variable at a time. So that’s generally my philosophy. I don’t know if it’s detailed enough?
Christian: I guess so. How would you determine whether then you have achieved your goal and can go to the next quality?
Derek: I’m a big proponent of filming a lot of things, like video and I know everybody can do that on their phone now. But unfortunately, they’re spending more time taking pictures of what they’re eating and posting it on Instagram.
Even at the physical therapy clinic that I help out, I’m trying to get the therapist to take more photos and videos, and actually video because the videos really good quality now. You can get what 4k, 60 frames per second. Sometimes 120 frames per second and if you film stuff, that’s data that you can interpret later.
So somebody comes in, I’ll get them to do a drill or just walk or stand and take a picture. So now I’ve captured what they look like before. Then we go through our session and I’ll show them the video of after and you can now draw angles and measure things and ground contact times.
So just a simple fact that you’re collecting video data and being able to show them later and even in subsequent sessions how much they’ve improved is pretty important. I don’t know if people do that, so I’m very careful about when I shoot it, how far away I am from the subject, what angles we’re taking it at because I know I’m going to make a comparison later.
So I’ve created some templates around how far away I’m going to shoot, where the angle and the hip height are. Then when I compare it again, it’s kind of apples to apples not apples to oranges.
So even though I’m not necessarily huge into a lot of things, like technology that a lot of people are using, like force plates and all these different things and whatever things that measure bar speed, I do use video a lot to give me a picture of where things are going.
My wife makes fun of me because I have all these portable hard drives and they’re just full of video and then you just shove them in a filing cabinet. So I’ve got all these hard drives of all this video, but I do have it.
So it’s there if I go back. I can say that this is them in week one and this is them in week ten. When people look at the difference, they are amazed. So from a scientific assessment and evaluation point of view, it’s useful.
Everybody’s about self-promotion and marketing now, so from a marketing point of the view you have to be able to show that you’ve made a difference. That’s what I’m always about. If I go through my phone now, you’ll see just videos of people doing drills or jumps or whatever.
I probably got to clean it up and create some more space on there, but I do have it. I think it’s important. I think from just a personal coaching-accounting point of view, if you’re not timing people or doing some sort of measurement, there’s going to be a problem that you don’t pick up on.
From a personal coaching-accounting point of view, if you’re not timing people or doing some sort of measurement, there’s going to be a problem that you don’t pick up on.
Then you should show the athletes too. If they do a rep and you show them and remind them of what you said. Show them that this is what it looks like because sometimes they can’t put together what they feel that it looks like.
I always talk about the arms and I’ll tell them that I want their arms to come away from their body because just from a physics point of view, it’ll pull you forward. Then I’ll show them that their arms are way away from them. They will say that it feels like their arms are closer. I’m like, “No, they’re here, but before you’re back here.”
So making that video connection with what they feel at the moment is really important. I learned this from Ralph Mann. He’s the bio-mechanist and he said if it doesn’t feel awkward or bad you haven’t made a change mechanically. It’s never going to feel like, “Yes, this feels really good” when you change something because people are so used to what they’re commonly doing.
His core values
Christian: What are your core values as a coach?
Derek: You’ll see all these people talking about the psychological piece. But I think as a coach, it’s important to make a connection with the athlete, so develop a relationship and a lot of that is going to be about trust and trusting the process.
I’ve been involved with different sports and there are different philosophies and cultures around how coaches behave. Sometimes you’ll see it in strength and conditioning, probably more so in North America, where the strength coach is going to be yelling and is an intimidating figure and overly dramatic.
So that seems to be very big now and I’m not that guy. I’m not the yelling, screaming type. I figure I would try to make that connection with people by gaining their trust and showing them that the process works or that what we’re doing philosophically and scientifically is working and then again, the video, showing them the results.
I think also not taking myself too seriously. These aren’t life and death situations, but at the same time, having some fun around the whole situation. So I value developing that relationship and making people understand it’s important, but at the same time if it doesn’t work out, we’re all human and we’ll just regroup and we’ll build off that.
As a coach, it’s important to make a connection with the athlete, to develop a relationship and a lot of that is going to be about trust and trusting the process.
I’m very careful about overstepping my boundaries in terms of making somebody feel uncomfortable with the situation. I think a lot of coaches like to make people uncomfortable. They think that they can drive a change from that and I think my value system is different.
It’s all around communication, education and like I said before, just making sure people improve because that’s really what you’re there for. You’re not there to entertain people. That can be an aside thing. You can have a few jokes on the side, but you’re not there to be a caricature or be an actor.
You’re there to provide guidance and facilitate success. I don’t know, it’s kind of the same in parenting. In parenting, what you’ll find is that you want to be there to facilitate their improvement, but at the same time, you’re not really being their friend, you’re being a parent. So there are boundaries, being a parent, that are kind of similar to being a coach where you understand your role.
Christian: I also think what you said about building relationships and understanding your athlete, that’s particularly important because you also mentioned some people if you confront them, some react positively to that and some negatively.
I think you said some people want to make athletes uncomfortable and I thought about that. I think if you handle it very well and you can drive change, but with a few, you might just ruin the relationship forever.
Derek: I agree because there’s going to be athletes who if you treat them well, they’ll be good. If you yell at them, they’ll probably still be good and there’s a natural selection where you could give that person a crappy coach and they’re still going to succeed because of say, genetics.
But those aren’t the people you’re targeting. Like you said, the people you’re targeting are the other people who need a little more specific individualization so that you hit the right buttons so that they do elevate themselves. But if you hit the wrong buttons, they will drop.
So I think people want to take credit. Al Vermeil would talk about Michael Jordan and Joe Montana and who he worked with and he said, “Well, anybody’s probably going to have success with them because they’re just superior.”
So I’m not going to take credit for those guys, I’m going to take credit for the guys who really needed the extra help and extra work, that supported those guys. I think that’s important. If we are only taking credit for all the superstars we trained all the time, we are missing the point of what we are supposed to do.
If we are only taking credit for all the superstars we trained all the time, we are missing the point of what we are supposed to do.
The person that has influenced him the most
Christian: What person has influenced you most and why?
Derek: There’s been a group of people, but they’re all kind of the same people. They came from the same area. So we talked about Charlie Francis who I’d worked with for ten years and even as a youngster, followed the athletes that he had coached.
So there’s a whole history of Charlie Francis and Gerard Mach in Canada where they developed the track and field sprinting from the mid-70s onwards. So from a technical and coaching point of view they were very valuable. Then from the strength and conditioning side, Al Vermeil was a good friend of Charlie Francis’s and I developed a relationship with him and learned from him as well.
Again, philosophically, I wouldn’t say these guys were hindered by science. They used science to support what they did, not the other way around. But they were the kind of coaches that sometimes there are things that they did that may not have been supported by science, but they knew as coaches it was the right way to go.
These guys were hindered by science, they used science to support what they did, not the other way around.
They weren’t so dogmatic about like, “I have to have ten research papers to show me this is right before I do it.” They would just go with their instincts. So they had very good intuitive knowledge. Like I said, Charlie, from a sprinting point of view and Al Vermeil from a more comprehensive strength and conditioning point of view.
Then on the rehab side, also a friend of both those guys is Rob Panariello, who’s a physical therapist in New York who also worked as a strength coach. He brings another sort of facet to injuries, injury prevention and return to play.
He also understands because he worked as a strength coach for basketball at St. John’s University. He understands how everything fits together. But they’re all very, what I would say, very intelligent and they are all very good human beings.
They don’t try to rely too much on science to say that science says this is why they should do certain things. They’re going on experience, they’re going on feel and they’re supporting it with science. So they’re all kind of the same and I would say those are the people who influenced me the most.
They’re all much older than me and I think that’s it’s important to have those types of mentors. Because most of the time, rather than throwing research papers at you, they’re sharing stories and they’re all pretty good storytellers and talking about what they did when they were younger and the athletes they dealt with and the cases.
The other thing is they’re all very good at reaching out and having a network of people that have supported everything they’ve done too. You’re not going to have one person who’s telling you everything and I think that’s important. You need different influences because one person can’t know everything. So have a good network of mentors that you’re working with.
His experience with Charlie Francis
Christian: I mean there’s a lot talk about Charlie Francis, and unfortunately, he’s not around anymore. I’ve read a lot about him, but again, a lot of things were pre-internet, so it’s all anecdotal reports. You worked with him for ten years. How would you describe him? What made him special?
Derek: I would say there’s two ways that people perceive him. One way is, that he was the coach of the guy who took steroids. But actually if you were around him, that was never really a topic of discussion. He was always focused on the athlete, the mechanics and the coaching part, so it’s kind of unfortunate for people who don’t know him.
He was always focused on the athlete, the mechanics and the coaching part.
There’s a lot of people who will speak about him, that have actually never met him, never spent any time with him and unfortunately, they’ve kind of missed the boat on who this guy actually was.
He was a very talented sprinter himself when he was younger. He went to the Munich Olympics in 1972, he competed for Canada in the 100 and 200 metres, and competed at Stanford University, as a track athlete. And then, he got into coaching, at a relatively young age.
It was never a career objective for, but he fell into it. Again, if you go through his book Speed Trap: Inside the Biggest Scandal in Olympic History you’ll see all of the different influences that made him who he was and it wasn’t one person. He was just a very thoughtful person in terms of, he wouldn’t say too much, he wouldn’t be in your face.
He would watch somebody run and then just give you a couple of details of what he saw. The interesting thing about him was he did everything by feel. There were a couple of higher-level athletes we had worked with and getting him to actually write out a training program was difficult.
He didn’t operate that way because he said he was being asked to write out 12 weeks of training and he would not know where they were going to be at in week six, seven, eight, nine, ten. He also said he needed to see what they did the week before and how that worked and then he could change the training the next week and the next week.
It was almost like he was doing jazz improvisational. He would look to see what a particular player was going to do and then based on that, he would go with him. So it’s very hard for people to understand that, thinking that he didn’t have a plan.
Well, he had a plan. He knew generally what would happen over that 12 to 16-week period and where he wanted to be, but he was not so definitive about how it was going to look every day for the next 16 weeks. So he never really wrote much down.
I think most of the stuff that we went through was through athletes’ journals who basically reported what they actually did and then he pieced things back from there. So I don’t know if anybody does that nowadays. It’s kind of like improv.
It’s not like stand-up comedy where you’ve written all the jokes out and this is how it’s going to go. You’re changing it as it goes. A lot of people say that that’s kind of lazy. However, I say that it actually works better.
I do some online consults with people and I’ll write out a program, but we’re checking in every week and we’re making changes every week to what we wrote. Sometimes it’s drastic changes because I understand that process now. I understand that I have no business trying to guess where you’re going to be in six weeks. I’d like you to be here, but if you’re not, then we have to change the path.
Even one of the actors that I work with, Benicio del Toro, he’s not big on just doing the script as it’s written. So he’ll rewrite his part all the time, every day shoots it, sees where it’s going, comes back, rewrites the next day and the next day and the next day.
Sometimes it’s a little unnerving for the Director or the guy who wrote the screenplay because they’re asking him why he’s making changes. He tells them that that is the direction his character is going as they do the screenplay.
So that’s kind of similar, but unfortunately, it’s not science-based, because it’s so hard for humans to be linear. We’re just all over the place. So that’s probably the biggest thing I picked up from Charlie, was that it’s okay to wait and see where things go.
His experience with Ben Johnson
Christian: Did you see Ben Johnson training?
Derek: Not back when he was at his peak, but he would come to the track when we were there after the fact and do some stuff. I have a lot of video of things that were done back in the 1980s.
But there was one time in 2001, we were there and so he would have been, I don’t know, like 40 years of age, and then he would come out and he would do block starts and they were still pretty impressive as a 40 year-old. He would just blow out of there. So yes, he was a unique individual and very impressive. Just from a reflex point of view.
He was a unique individual and very impressive.
Christian: How would you describe him?
Derek: I think the biggest thing that surprised me was that it doesn’t seem that a lot bothered him. You could see he was very good when he was competing from a psychological point of view.
He would just go on and run and run fast and beat people and then after all the suspensions and the all that stuff he went through, I’m sure it was stressful, but he seemed unaffected by it. I don’t know if he went into any deep depression and it just really ruined his life.
It doesn’t seem that a lot bothered him, after all the suspensions and the all that stuff he went through, I’m sure it was stressful, but he seemed unaffected by it.
He seems to go about his life pretty carefree and I think that was the interesting thing with him is that you think that this guy’s so focused and determined. But I think it was more that he just didn’t let outside things distract him or bother him. So that’s a place where we all want to be.
Charlie had this thing in his book where he would be just at his home and doing something and then Ben would just pull up, come by and then go into the fridge and make a sandwich, talk for 45 minutes or an hour and then take off. Then what they didn’t know was that Ben had a date with him, but just left her in the car and then came in made a sandwich.
Then when I was there, again, in the 2000s, maybe about 10, 15 years ago, we’d be sitting in Charlie’s house, and then same thing. Ben would just show up, come sit, talk for a while, eat something, take off. So it’s pretty interesting, kind of like Kramer and Seinfeld.
How to manage expectations
Christian: So as S & C coaches we’re dealing with individuals and very often we have to manage expectations. What do you do if the expectations of the athletes and what you think should be done don’t come together? How do you convince them that your course of action should be the course to be followed?
Derek: You’re pulling in a lot of information and the other part of it is you have to determine what you’re expecting. Again, we go back to that relationship with the athlete. If I have a very close relationship with the athlete, it’s usually an easier time. I can communicate what our expectations are, where they may have mis-stepped or missed something.
Pull in a lot of information, determine your expectation, and communicate your expectation.
But you can have athletes who don’t give a damn about anything and haven’t really put any effort into the relationship either, even though you’ve tried to.
It’s very difficult sometimes, in those cases, and I hate to say it, but you can’t save everyone. I think you have to go on with that attitude, that you’re going to do your best and you’re going to try to individualize as much as possible. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to them to make the decision to follow your direction or your prescription.
I’ve had that before where athletes aren’t very good at adhering to the plan or the program. Their compliance is poor and some of them still succeed and some of them don’t. But what really got me to the point where people would succeed or would start to comply and listen, is when they got hurt.
So something happens, they tore their ACL or pulled their hamstring and then now they really needed somebody to lean on. They would say that they’re not playing, they’re not scoring points and they’re not popular anymore, so they really need your help. I then ask them if they are going to really buy-in now because they have no choice.
Then once we rehab them, got them back, they were as good or better, now I have a very captive audience. So sometimes people have to fail before they really start to buy-in. When somebody got injured, it was always an opportunity for me to really build that relationship.
I’m not hoping people got injured, but if it did happen, there’s an opportunity for me to step in and remind them of some of the things we were telling them that they didn’t do before. I tell them that we have to do those things now. They have no choice if they want to continue as an athlete.
That’s something that I’ve learned through trial and error is that it’s very easy if I had a big ego and they weren’t listening to me and telling me like, “Piss off!” Then they got injured and if I was a jerk, I’d laugh that they got injured. But that’s an opportunity to me.
Whenever somebody gets injured because, especially in American football, if you’re not injured, you’re practicing, you’re busy, you’re in meetings, you’re all that and then when you get injured, now you get a chance to actually work on things.
So I get to work on things like lifting technique or running technique and movement quality because we never really get a chance to do one-on-one with them because they’re always in practice and maybe there are 50 guys that we’re working with in the weight room.
But now you’re injured, it’s just you and me. So I think probably, as a strength coach, you have to be involved in that rehab and return to play process so that you can help build that relationship.
Whenever somebody gets injured, that’s an opportunity to me, because we never really get a chance to do one-on-one with them. But when they are injured, I get to work on things like lifting technique or running technique and movement quality.
Christian: Yes, the legendary Russian weightlifter, Vasily Alekseyev said injuries are an opportunity and I think that is really powerful.
- Check out this short video on the legendary Vasily Alekseyev
Derek: It is because it’s a wake-up call. It’s like if you’re in a relationship and somebody just ups and leaves you, that’s a time for self-reflection. You don’t want to be too hard on yourself, but at the same time you’re thinking that maybe it was you or maybe you need to improve, maybe you’re a jerk, maybe you’re selfish, or maybe you don’t shower enough.
Again when you fail, you have to have this whole process of self-reflection and think how you can be better. That’s the same with injuries.
How to deal with decisions you don’t agree with
Christian: In a team of coaches and support staff, everyone is wearing his own hat. How do you deal with conflict or if there’s a course of action that is decided on and you don’t agree with that course of action, what do you do?
Derek: That’s a good question. You quit! No. That’s not a bad recommendation, but sometimes you have to know when to put up with it and then sometimes when to cut bait and leave.
There’s going to be situations where, even from a mental health point of view, if nobody’s listening to you, or people are blaming you or whatever, that’s not very healthy and if it’s not going to get better, maybe it’s not a bad decision to look for other options.
You really have to read the audience in the room and wonder why you’re not agreeing on something. If it’s just a philosophical thing or maybe you can bolster your argument with, again, more research, more case studies, somebody else’s experience using your techniques and try to build a case and document everything, so you can start building those bridges.
You really have to read the audience in the room, you can bolster your argument with more research, more case studies, somebody else’s experience using your techniques, and document everything, so you can start building those bridges.
But there are so many organizations I hear about where it goes beyond that. It’s not about just a simple disagreement on philosophy or protocol; it’s personal. You don’t know, like say you’re having a disagreement as a strength coach with the head physical therapist or the team doctor, you don’t know when that person goes home if they have a good home life.
Maybe their wife or husband is just a real piece of crap and gives them a hard day and they come to work and they take it out on you. So you don’t know. It’s so hard to tell sometimes why people act the way they do. You don’t know how they were raised.
But I don’t know, it seems like conflict is a part of sports sometimes, even within the team, like there’s more conflict within the team than there is on the field. When you find a group that actually works together and trust each other and communicates well, it’s kind of like “Wow! That’s pretty interesting!”
Conflict is part of sports, and sometimes there’s more conflict within the team than there is on the field.
Maybe it’s the competitive nature of sport, where if you feel like you agree too much or if everyone agrees, maybe you’re not productive. But I think you have to assess that on a case-by-case basis and wonder if the situation is real.
Is this a real problem or is it just somebody’s a little uncomfortable or a little insecure? So maybe I give them a bit of rope and then they’ll gain some trust and because I said that I really agree with them and like their suggestion. Even if you don’t, maybe that’s just a way to ease the tension and then, later on, you can get some of your ideas in.
There’s a lot of specific scenarios cases I can give you. I just don’t want to embarrass the people that I’ve been involved with or work with, but there’s certainly a lot of cases where people say that they can’t work for this person or they can’t work underneath this person because it’s horrible.
But they don’t want to leave because maybe it’s in a pro sport where they’re making a good amount of money and there’s a lifestyle associated with that. So if you’re working in the NFL, do you want to go to a college team or do you want to stay in the NFL? And a lot of people want to stay in the NFL. That’s their choice.
And again, people might have kids and a house and that they’re paying for and I understand all of that, but at some point, if you’re not happy, you got to change something. That’s not for you or me to tell people, it’s just for them to figure out on their own.
As a strength coach, it’s always good to have a good partner, like your wife or whatever, to ask what they think. They might tell you to get the hell out of there because you’re definitely not happy when you go home.
As a strength coach, it’s always good to have a good partner to ask what they think.
Even from a financial point of view, if you have somebody who’s earning an income that gives you a little more leeway to make a career change or a change to a different team or organization, that’s helpful as well. But it doesn’t matter where you are if it’s going really good, it’s not going to continue.
That’s what I tell people a lot. If it’s bad, it could change. But if it’s good, you’re winning, you’re winning, you’re winning, maybe if you’re with the New England Patriots, I don’t know. But if you’re winning, winning, winning, it’s going to change at some point.
Something bad is going to happen, so you got to prepare for it. It’s not going to be roses all the time. That’s kind of a negative way to think, but I think you always have to have contingency plans.
I know a lot of people who’ve done really well. They’re with a good team, going well and then all of a sudden it just takes a nosedive and then they’re totally unprepared, even emotionally. You always have to have an exit strategy and it may seem negative, but it’s just realistic.
You always have to have an exit strategy and you have to have some contingency plans around everything that you do.
Christian: I was about to say that there’s always this discussion, “is it realistic or is it negative?”
Derek: Yes, pragmatic. You have to be pragmatic to use a different word, but yes, you know how it is. One day everything’s going well and then the next day it could change. That’s just the way life is.
So you have to have some contingency plans around everything that you do. Even if you keep rolling sevens or whatever, at some point, it’s going to end, so have a plan for that.
Christian: Yes, I agree.
How to manage and liaise with the support staff in a consultancy role
Christian: In your consultancy roles with professional teams, normally professional teams, you need to have success pretty quickly. How does it work there to manage and liaise with the different support staff?
Derek: I think as long as your information is good because how do you define success?
Christian: Most often it’s defined by winning and losing, right?
Derek: Exactly. I taught my courses this summer or this year to the Seattle Seahawks and the Kansas City Chiefs and between the two of them, they only have one loss. But that’s totally out of your hands sometimes.
You can go in and you can teach somebody your method and if your method is very good and solid, you could still lose. Their star player goes down with an injury, which has nothing to do with anything you’ve done. Who knows?
For my NFL fantasy team, I picked Antonio Brown as one of my receivers, and now he’s out of the League. You never know, he was good last year. You just put your best foot forward and all I’m trying to do is give them simple solutions for things.
This is what I would do in this situation and usually they’re successful but there’s no guarantee that that’s going to translate into wins and losses as you said. So if you get yourself known as somebody who’s going to provide easy to implement solutions that will change the way people do things for the better, it usually is successful.
If you get yourself known as somebody who’s going to provide easy to implement solutions that will change the way people do things for the better, it usually is successful.
They know that there’s going to be wins and losses as part of it, that may have nothing to do with what you’re doing. But again, come in with a positive attitude, teach people something, give them more options, give them more tools. I think they’re going to feel better about the whole situation regardless of whether or not they win the Super Bowl or not.
So I mean, some people will hate your guts, regardless. You just got to do what you do, do the best you can, provide the best information and usually people understand that you’ve provided value, but there’s no guarantees.
Christian: There are never guarantees.
A typical day in the life of a Strength & Conditioning coach
Christian: How does a typical day in the life of an S & C coach look like?
Derek: It depends where you’re working, but it seems like in some cases it starts like 4:00 a.m. with about ten Red Bulls and then you just ride it out until 8:00 pm. I would think if you’re working with one team, there’s only so much you can do. Everything’s dictated by time.
I was talking to a fellow strength and conditioning coach yesterday, who works for an Australian rules football team. He’s in town, so we sat down and I said everything’s going to come down to time. Sometimes coaches will give you a lot of time to work with the athletes and sometime they may only give you ten minutes.
Everything’s dictated by time. Sometimes coaches will give you a lot of time to work with the athletes and sometime they may only give you ten minutes.
So you have to really build your approach to how much time is given to you and how much energy the athletes have. So if you want to train them for two hours, but they only have one hour of energy or they have all these overuse problems, you have to change.
So the day of the strength coach is really going to be based on how much time you’re given with the athletes, what your objective is that day, have they been beaten down by other aspects of their sport. I think you’ll see that a lot in US college sports, where there is a lot of demands on the athlete.
Like they’re talking about should athletes be paid in college now. There’s a law in California they’re talking about it and because they’re working more than 40 hours a week, so they should be paid. So you have to really be careful as a strength coach.
You have to look at all the other things going on in their lives and let them know that for that day this is the most you can give them. I don’t know if a lot of strength coaches think that way because they just think that this is their hour with them. They are going to maximize that hour.
And again, you’re not the most important person in this process, so you have to be careful. But I know a lot of strength coaches who will go to the school or the organization. They’ll start at 6 a.m. and they’ll leave at 8 p.m. I don’t know if that’s a good life.
Are you coaching people that entire time? What are you doing in that span of time there? And it goes back to what we talked about in terms of enjoyment. What are you getting enjoyment out of? If you don’t give time for yourself to do different things, I think you’re going to burn out.
I think that’s a problem sometimes in the industry is you have the wins and losses that are weighing on you. You have these long hours that people are putting in and this idea that you have to bring energy to the session.
So now that’s energy that you’re giving to other people. It starts to wear thin after a while. I think you have to be careful.
Christian: I’ve been talking to Dan Baker about that because he’s in the industry for so long it seems that at some point people transition out. Most often S&C Coaches become either S&C Manager or a Lecturer at a university, and he agreed.
He said that’s around the 15-year mark that people are starting to look for other options and it’s probably because of what you just said. The days are long, a lot of emotional investment into what you’re doing, so these 15 years, this chronological 15 years, might be 30 or 40 years in terms of experience time.
- Check out the interview with Dan Baker, where he explains that it seems like S & C coaches transition out at around the 15-year mark.
Derek: Yes, you’re exactly right and I don’t know how you resolve that. If you don’t move up to Performance Manager, what are your other options? Are there lateral moves you can make? Do you have to just become a personal trainer? I don’t know.
If you don’t move up to Performance Manager, what are your other options? Are there lateral moves you can make?
I really don’t know what that answer is and that’s what we talked about before, that you need to have a contingency plan around what you’re going to do. But a lot of people don’t want to do long-term planning and they may be really enjoying what they’re doing now. They might be in year five and saying that this is great. They’re impacting a lot of lives, they’re getting wins and it is really good.
But is it going to be that way in 10 years and who knows? It could be an entirely different situation. You could have your own family, your own debts and your own other stressors and you’re burnt out from your job and saying that you’re not spending enough time with your kids.
I was in that position too. So I think everybody has to make a decision on where this is going and what plans do they have? It’s a tough profession. Anything in sports is, for the most part.
How to design a training program
Christian: How do you design a training program, step by step?
Derek: I think the time thing is huge, so a lot of times people say they want a training program. I will ask them what they are working towards and how much time do they have. Then even from that time perspective, I would want to know how much time do they have in a week.
The time thing is huge, what are we working towards, how much time do we have, and how much time do we have in a week.
Because I’ll have a lot of people who are masters athletes who contact me and they want to run track-and-field or swim or triathlons. I have to start asking them how much time and energy they have in their week to do what I want them to do.
You have to figure all that out because it’s so easy for me to say that this is a great training program. Then you give it to them and they’re saying that they can’t train on Mondays because they have to walk the dog or something. But you really have to customize it to whatever their availability is, like energy availability and time availability.
It’s the same if you’re working with a pro athlete. I’ll do this for NFL teams, where I ask how much time they have. They may say I can only get them 90 minutes a day, four times a week. I have to think about what we are going to prioritize.
It might be by position group or it might be that the big guys have to work on mobility and flexibility. Maybe it’s not strength; maybe it’s just maintaining body composition and then you have the guys who are the fast running guys. They’re fast but they keep pulling their hamstring. So we work on their mechanics and building up that resiliency and maybe some strength stuff on them.
So you really have to do some sort of gap analysis and see what is missing, what we need to improve on and then how much time I have to put that plan together. That’s probably the biggest limitation for me is always there’s not enough time.
You really have to do some sort of gap analysis, see what is missing, what we need to improve on and then how much time I have to put that plan together.
So then you still have to start making compromises because in the off-season for the NFL, they have basically five weeks where they can really work directly with the athletes. After that, the football coaches take them over.
So how much time do you have? Then previous injuries or anything we have to address as well, but making effective use of time is probably the biggest priority when I look at somebody’s training program.
His online coaching services
Christian: You offer coaching services online? So who’s eligible to that?
Derek: Anybody can reach out to me. I have somebody who’s like a 58-years-old guy who wants to run in the world Masters Games or I have a college team who wants help with a training program for say their lacrosse team.
Anybody can register and we go through a process. Usually I get them to fill out a little bit of a questionnaire just to find out what they’re training for? Or how much time do we have and then we schedule a zoom call and we talk about it.
We ask a series of question like what would work for their schedule? How much time do they have on a Monday and a Wednesday and a Friday and what facilities do they have access to? What part of the country are they in? Can they train outside or is it going to snow in November and we have to account for that?
So a lot of it is just the practical stuff and then the training is the easiest part. If they got a place to run, then great! The training can be done in 30 minutes. I’ll get all their training done, but figuring out when it’s going to be done, how much and what equipment?
If they haven’t trained for a while, sometimes you have to have a very, very gradual progression back into training. But maybe they’re actually really fit and then you can jump into some things a little quicker.
So it’s that individualization that’s probably the hardest part. It would be very easy for me to say that the training program works for everybody. But I’m a little bit more of a stickler for getting things right.
His book Plyometric Anatomy
Christian: You’ve written the book Plyometric Anatomy. What do the readers get if they read it?
Derek: The way the book is structured when they came to me, I got Steve Kennelly, who does some of the rehab stuff. He’s from the New York Giants and it’s just a presentation of exercises.
They wanted a presentation of exercises, so it’s very visual like this is how you do a jump onto a box or this is how you do a hurdle jump. They actually wanted to highlight which muscles were involved, which is interesting because if you’re jumping, it’s like all the muscles.
They wanted to know if you’re going to do a box jump versus a hurdle jump, which muscles are involved. And as you know, it’s the same ones. So it was a little redundant but it gave me an opportunity to go through the finer points of each jumping drill and how it should be done, how it should be set up.
So everything from jumping on boxes, double leg jumps, explosive med ball throws, more elastic jumps, bounding and those types of things. So it is a bit of a menu of drills and what I tried to do was I try to make it a little more prescriptive like if you’re going to be training for this, these are the drills you would use, sample drills.
It’s a presentation of exercises, a bit of a menu of drills.
There was like a limit to the number of pages they could have in the book. I told them that the last chapter I created was for how you plan and integrate and put everything together. They said that they did not have room for that.
So when people buy the book, if they want to they can contact me and I will send them the extra chapter for free. But it’s tough. You’re trying to put your best foot forward in a book. It’s just like training; there are constraints, like the number of pages, number of words.
I think they only allowed one picture, sometimes for exercise and you’re wondering if you should show them when they’re gathering for the jump or when they’re landing the jump or if they’re midair.
So ridiculous things like that you have to figure out as well. I don’t know. In the end, I was pretty happy with it so if you just want a good basic book with a good list of exercises and how you should progress through them, it’s a pretty good resource.
Christian: You’ve got good reviews on Amazon, so people seem to like it.
Derek: I don’t know what that even means. It’s not something you get rich off, it’s just more like you just put your information at it.
His interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Derek: Always good interviews, like the people I mentioned that are still alive like the Al Vermeil and Rob Panariello. There’s a big athlete that I work with, his name’s Hunter Charneski and he’s 260 pounds and I think he was like 290 pounds.
So that’s almost 120 to 130-kilo athlete and he was a powerlifter. He said he wanted to start sprinting. So we got him sprinting and he’s running like 11-second hundred meters now and he’s still about 265 or two hundred and fifty.
Christian: Two hundred and sixty pounds?
Derek: Yes. So I was just talking to him about the journey would be interesting because we had all these problems in the beginning where when he was heavier and we’re getting him to run, he would get injured constantly. He lacks a lot of flexibility like he can’t get his heel to his butt, like just his quads are so tight because if you come from powerlifting, it’s all about just tension.
Long, slow high-tension and sprinting is kind of the opposite. So, it’s kind of an interesting journey that he could document with you in how he’s really into sprinting. He wants to do that and I told him that he should consider losing another 40 pounds.
He said that he likes being big. So we’re trying to fashion him. It’s like if you’re big and you want to sprint and be like him. But I can email you a list of people that I would probably talk to.
Christian: That would be really cool.
Where can you find Derek Hansen
Christian: Where can people find you?
Derek: Two websites are sprintcoach.com, so that’s pretty easy and then runningmechanics.com is where we do the courses out of. Those are the two main websites. Then on Twitter and Instagram it’s just Derek M. Hansen, D-E-R-E-K M. H-A-N-S-E-N. So I try to put as much content as I can on there; just little clips of some of the things that I’m doing.
Derek Hansen’s social profiles
Sprint Coach Website
Running Mechanics Website
Christian: Yes, really cool. For the online coaching, where do we send people?
Derek: The sprintcoach.com website, it tends to be for people who want to do running base stuff. We’ll do weight programs as part of that as well, but it really is getting all the technical running stuff and have a progression for them to run faster.
Christian: And you have the experience and expertise to put the weight training and the running together?
Derek: Yes. People always ask me what’s the best way to exercise for running fast. I usually say I don’t know, just run fast. Make sure you got the running in there first. Because there’s a lot of people who’ve done it different ways.
Some people have lifted with machines, some people have done Olympic lifting, some people have done more of just the bodybuilding program. So it’s not the weights aren’t important. It’s just you do something.
I think that’s what I ended up telling people is you have to have it in there. It may come down to individual preferences to what we actually choose for you or what you’re technically able to do. That’s a whole other podcast.
Christian: It’s what we said in the beginning about the sport coaches. The weight training has to fit the overall picture in the goal.
Derek: It has to. It’s so easy to say that this is how you do things and this is absolutely what we’re going to do with every athlete. As you get older you find out that everybody’s different. You have to make decisions based on their individuality.
Christian: Derek, thanks so much for your time.
Derek: Thank you for having me on Christian and yes, let me know if people will have any other questions or anything like that.
Just send me another email and I’ll forward them to you. I have like about 12 hours of Charlie Francis lectures that I can send you.
Christian: That’s really cool, so thanks a lot.
Derek: Thanks for having me again, and have a good evening.