| | | Coach Like a Pro, Not Like a “System Guy”

Author / Donald Ricci

In the world of performance it’s common practice for a coach to label themselves as a system guy: “I’m a conjugate guy”, “I’m an weightlifting guy”, “I’m a HITT guy”, or “I’m a flat earther guy.” Mostly the latter if you’ve ever listened to Power Athlete Radio. Either way, labeling yourself as a coach limits your potential to train athletes. Think about it, if you specialize as a coach you limit the number of athletes coming to you and the different sports or goals to develop programs for. Not labeling yourself adhering to one “system” and aiming to learn from all different systems, approaches and methodologies can be a game changer for your coaching career.

First, unless you coach competitive powerlifters or weightlifters, you’re not a “conjugate” or “weightlifting” guy.  And second, if you dogmatically latch on to one “style” or “system” of training, you’re an amateur and are running the risk of being a couple tools short when you’re working in the shop. There’s SO much more that goes into strength & conditioning than just heavy barbell training and chasing numbers; it’s time to turn pro.

Being a pro comes down to, among other things, the ability to completely dedicate yourself to mastering EVERY aspect of your craft, AND not being afraid to seek and ask for help outside of your comfort zone.

To be fair, I’m a “weightlifting guy”

Look, I coach athlete’s in the sport of weightlifting, so anything I have my athlete’s do in their training should ultimately have the goal of improving their snatch and clean & jerk – it’s what the sport demands. (Better than being a flat earther, though, right?) BUT, the path by which I get my athlete’s there has evolved into a more robust and comprehensive approach since discovering Power Athlete and learning the approach to unlocking athletic potential.

As John Welbourn, Power Athlete CEO, repeatedly says, and I’m paraphrasing, “At the end of the day, I’m a performance whore.  Whatever is going to improve the performance of an athlete in their given sport, I’m going to use.”

Hearing this over and over on the premier podcast in strength and conditioning-ing-ing eventually made me realize I had nothing to lose by getting outside of my “weightlifting guy” comfort zone and seeking more knowledge. There was more to mastering my craft outside of just knowing how to teach and coach the snatch and clean & jerk.  It was time for me to seek out and ask for help. My blade was becoming dull, and it needed sharpening after being so deep in my “weightlifting guy” vortex. Iron sharpens iron!

The student was finally ready, and the master, that had always faintly been there, appeared vividly in the flesh for me.  I was ready to become a pro. Are you ready?


The ultimate goal of any well-designed program is to improve performance – this is nothing new.  But can you, as a coach, look at an athlete or a program and take a Sherlock Holmes-like approach? Meaning, can you look at a program through the lens of what’s missing, or what’s out of place? An important skill set of coaching is being a good problem solver. Can you figure out a performance-limiting factor within the athlete or their program, and find a way to fix it so it’s not going to affect the athlete future performance?  Often times, just barbell exercises in the sagittal plane aren’t enough, so do you have the knowledge or the tools to complement and augment what you’re already doing?

This is a piece of the puzzle that can separate the good coaches from the great ones.

It’s easy to fall into that sexy trap of only citing numbers in the weight room to validate success.  Why? Because it’s binary and easy to tout these successes. But outside of numbers, what can you do to ensure your program is truly improving performance and helping your athletes succeed on the field of play?

This can be a tricky question to answer, but it ultimately comes down to teaching MOVEMENT in ALL planes and patterns.

We’ve defined athleticism as “the ability to seamlessly and effortlessly combine Primal Movement patterns through space to accomplish a known or novel task.”  The Power Athlete Methodology revolves around developing this athleticism and unlocking the Athletic Potential of those athletes we coach. The best way we know how to achieve this in our programs is through a BALANCED approach of prudent exercise selection.

For example: If you only bilateral squat and do not incorporate unilateral work, you’re not balanced – and vice versa.  If you only do vertical pressing and pulling with no horizontal pressing and pulling, you’re not balanced – and vice versa.  If you’re only developing sagittal savages, you’re not balanced.

Muscular and movement imbalances will start showing up in your athletes at some point, and if you’re tied to one “system” instead of trying to create balance through exercise selection in your programming, your athletes will become less durable. They will begin to experience movement deficiencies that will limit their ability to unlock their athletic potential over time.

A more balanced athlete is a more durable and more “athletic athlete.”  But, what is our process for going about figuring out where balance is needed for our athletes to progress and improve their performance? We’ve got you covered.


The pathway to achieving balance through programming and exercise selection is first addressed through the SAID (Specific Adaptations to Imposed to Demands) Principle.  What SAID allows you to do is to first evaluate the structural, biomechanical, and metabolic demands of the sport. Secondly, SAID allows you to determine the performance limiting factors that exist with individual athletes or a group of athletes.  This is where taking that Sherlock Holmes approach becomes the secret sauce.

This evaluation will provide you with the framework for what specific adaptations your athletes need, and what specific exercises, including their set up and execution, will lead to the highest transfer of training for their sport, while continuously making a dent in an athlete’s performance limiting factors.


Determining an athlete’s “performance limiting factors” is where we figure out where the imbalances exist.  This is an ongoing and continuous process, and is where the true value of a coach is earned in terms of x’s and o’s. So what do I mean by this?

As a coach, we should always be looking to challenge posture and position.  When we challenge our athlete’s posture and position, we need to use our coach’s eye to observe  and recognize the point in which our athletes experience unconscious failure. These unconscious failures are where performance limiting factors exist.

But how can we start to minimize from these imbalances?  It’s one thing to unearth and find where imbalances may exist, but it’s another to figure out how to minimize them.  Again, great coaches are great problem solvers.


The key to solving some of these problematic imbalances revolves around the concept of training MOVEMENT, not movements! This is where our Primal Movement Patterns come into play.  All movement in sport can be broken down into what we’ve classified as our 7 Primal Movement Patterns: squat/hinge, step, lunge, horizontal, and vertical pressing and pulling.

In order to create balance, a program needs to include all seven of these Primal Movement Patterns in all three planes of movement – sagittal (straight forward and backward movement), frontal (lateral movement), and transverse (rotational movement).

Let me be clear, however, that a balanced program doesn’t mean equal distribution of all 7 primal movement patterns and planes of motion.

We’ve discussed previously about the importance of using the BIG ROCKS, but the special sauce of creating balance in your program comes from the implementation and incorporation of the remaining primal movement patterns and planes of motion in the supplemental and accessory work – the small rocks.

When coaching your athletes through one of the big rocks like the squat, bench, deadlift, or power clean, and you observe some unconscious failure or movement deficiency, it’s important that you recognize and take note of where the breakdown occurred, and incorporate additional primal movement patterns in the accessory and supplemental work. In turn, that will complement the big rocks and help create better muscular and movement balance.

Depending on the severity and intensity of the performance limiting factor for that individual athlete (or team as a whole), the distribution of those primal movement patterns will fluctuate in terms of dosing frequency, volume, and intensity, based on what you’re seeing and what the overall focus on the training is at that time.

In short, the key to improving performance is to create balance through programming.  The pathway to creating balance is achieved first through evaluating the specific demands of the athlete’s sport, AND the athlete’s performance limiting factors, in meeting those demands.  From there, we can reverse engineer a program that incorporates all 7 Primal Movement Patterns and 3 planes of motion to meet the demands of the sport and attack the performance limiting factors of the athlete.

If you’re a coach looking to turn pro, expand your knowledge base, and dive deeper into what the Power Athlete Methodology is all about, enroll NOW!  Remember, KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!

If you’re an athlete and are looking for a program that will create balance and improve performance, start unlocking your athletic potential today!


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Donald Ricci

Don was a two time National Champion and All-American water polo goalie at the University of Southern California prior to getting involved in coaching strength & conditioning and weightlifting. He is the founder and head coach of DELTA Weightlifting, a high performing USA Weightlifting Club and is a Police Officer in Central Virginia.

The Power Athlete Methodology has been a crucial component in developing better overall athleticism not only for his on the job performance in law enforcement, but also for his competitive weightlifters with international level athletes and national medalists to show for it. In addition to proudly being a Power Athlete Block One Coach, Don is also a USA Weightlifting Level 4 International Coach, a USA Weightlifting Lead Instructor USA Weightlifting Coaching Courses, and a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA). Don has coached and trained athletes from virtually every sport at levels ranging from youth beginner to National Team level.


  1. Coach Like a Pro on April 3, 2019 at 10:09 am

    […] Check out the rest of what I had to write here. […]

  2. […] I’m a performance whore.  If there’s something that I think will improve the performance of my athletes that I don’t have a great understanding about, I’m going to invest my time and resources into gaining at the very least a base level of understanding so I can then effectively implement it with my athletes.  Why wouldn’t you want to do the same?  Don’t be a “systems guy.” […]

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