By the Coach for the Coach: An Interview with Andrew Paul

TAGS: softball training, andrew paul, todd hamer, training athletes, strength and conditioning, physical training, baseball

elitefts™ Sunday Edition

As we all know, we have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak. This month, I'll hand over the reins to a good friend and great coach and listen to a great mind—Andrew Paul!

Todd Hamer (TH): Tell us about yourself (and I know that you're modest, but don’t leave out your athletic achievements).

Andrew Paul (AP): I grew up in the city where baseball was invented. Of course, I’m talking about St. Louis, Missouri. I was raised in a great family and had the luxury of having some of the best high school coaching that I could ever ask for growing up. I got into strength and conditioning at a very young age by going to a high school strength and speed camp during the summer. The camp was run by Coach Kevin Kinney, who is still coaching in St. Louis and is, I believe, the best coach I’ve ever seen. Period. He taught me the basics of weightlifting, and eventually I signed up for an Olympic weightlifting meet just for fun. I was hooked. I was blessed to compete at the international level as a junior Olympic weightlifter, having won the Joe Joseph Award three times for having the highest Sinclair formula (basically a measure of pound for pound strength) in the Midwest.

Outside the weight room, I played baseball, football, and lacrosse. I was fortunate enough to compete in all three in college. During my last semester of college at Missouri State University (MSU), I served as an intern for our strength and conditioning coach, Rick Perry. This is where I was first introduced to the profession. At that point in time, this profession really wasn’t on my radar. MSU had a great core of coaches including Coach Perry, Dr. Bryan Mann (now at Missouri), and Coach Zach Dechant (now at TCU). Zach really took the time to give me the materials I needed to get a start in the industry. I credit those three coaches for inspiring me to look into strength and conditioning as a profession.

Following the internship, I took a teaching position in St. Louis for a semester before applying for an internship at the University of Missouri. I remember talking to the principal of the school that I was working for at the time and telling her that I just wanted to try the college setting to see what it was like and that I would be back teaching soon. Seven years later, I was still at Mizzou under Coach Pat Ivey (by the time, this gets posted, he'll be Dr. Pat Ivey). I had climbed the ranks from intern to graduate assistant to assistant director of strength and conditioning and finally to a new position called director of transitional therapy. Transitional therapy is a relatively new concept centered around the combination of rehabilitation and performance training. This brings me to the next step in my journey.

In 2010, I made kind of a “hold your nose and jump” decision to attend physical therapy school at Mizzou. At the time, I believed that my coaching career was over, but I was fortunate enough to be able to stay on staff full-time and attend school full-time. Three years of no sleep and a lot of caffeine later, I graduated with my doctorate of physical therapy. During that time, I'm proud to say that I was able to help forge great relationships between the physical therapy department on campus and the athletic performance department at Mizzou.

So where am I today? Upon graduating, I wanted to be in a place where I'd be able to use the skills I had learned to serve those who needed serving as well as be put in a position to be challenged and learn as much as possible. Athletes’ Performance offered me a position to work with the men and women of the military. It was an awesome opportunity and one that I am happy I took. It was definitely another one of those “hold your nose and jump” moments, but I do feel like I'm using the skills that I have to the utmost and I'm being challenged daily to think and work harder than ever before.

I’ve had the fortune of being influenced by some really great people along the way. Outside of those whom I’ve mentioned already, I've been heavily influenced by Dr. Pat Ivey, Scott Bird, Todor Pandov, and the rest of the Missouri athletic performance staff. Josh Stoner at Coastal Carolina University had a major impact on how I operate now. Keith Caton at Baylor and Antwan Floyd at Houston served as mentors for me growing up in the Missouri system. Dr. Kyle Gibson is the chair of the physical therapy department at Missouri. He and his staff have really been influential on me as a physical therapist. I'll argue with anyone that the physical therapy program at Missouri is the best in the country! And the people at Missouri Orthopedic Institute in Columbia, Missouri, are doing unbelievable things as well.

I'm surrounded by phenomenal people here at Athletes’ Performance. In the Florida location in particular, Russell Orr has done it all as far as performance training is concerned (Yankees, Florida State, and now Athlete’s Performance). I learn a ton by watching him operate on a daily basis. Anthony Hobgood is our facility leader and provides a vision for us to continue down our path. I have the luxury of learning from the best athletic trainer I've ever met, Tyler Wilkins. I can’t say enough about the job Bob Calvin does as our nutritionist. I learn something from him every time I talk to him.

As far as others in physical therapy, I've been fortunate enough to spend time with Gary Gray, one of the best people you’ll ever meet. Thomas Knox of the Washington Wizards really has a big impact on how I practice now. There is a great group of people in Columbia, Missouri, at the Missouri Orthopedic Institute who are doing some unbelievable things with technology. Gray Cook, Charlie Weingroff, and Eric Cressey have really influenced me a lot as well. I could name a lot more.

That is probably a much longer answer than you wanted, but there isn't any way that I can talk about who I am without acknowledging those who have influenced me.

TH: Now that you're in the private sector, what do you feel is the biggest difference between private and collegiate strength and conditioning?

AP: There are several very obvious differences. The biggest is that in the private setting, the emphasis is performance enhancement. People come here solely to train. In college, there are a ton of other things going on (classes, sport schedules, tutors). The private setting has the ability to control many extraneous variables. Athletes tend to come to a private training facility more motivated (maybe because they paid for it). In college, the coaches have to sell themselves and, more importantly, the program. Athletes have a tendency to take it for granted because it’s always going to be there for them.

I’d have to say that the single biggest difference is the accountability factor. In the college setting, you're accountable to the head coach and the athletic director for how you operate with the team. This has a huge impact on how you coach and program. Your job becomes building an effective team as opposed to building effective individuals. In the private setting, you're much more accountable to each individual.  Therefore, designing programs to attack the individual’s goals is paramount. I always see this concept get lost in translation when those who work in the private setting evaluate collegiate coaches and vice versa. Each subculture has a different perspective that must be respected by the other.

TH: Let’s talk baseball and softball. I know that you wrote an invaluable book about the shoulder. What are your take home points in regards to training these athletes?

AP: The book that you’re referring to was actually done as a masters project. I've since stopped selling it for a couple reasons. First, my ideas have changed so much since I wrote it that I couldn’t, in good conscience, take someone’s money for it. Second, I really would like to establish myself in the medical community before writing again so that I'm able to connect the dots a little better than I did in the past.

Baseball and softball are probably my greatest passions as a performance coach. Being a collegiate baseball player, I understood that weight room strength didn't equal batter’s box strength. I've spent a long, long time trying to figure out why. I’ve gotten a few answers but continue to search.

Here's what I learned from years working with softball.

  • Baseball/softball isn't really a rotational sport. I’ve had the luxury to sit down with some of the best hitting coaches on the planet and break down the swing. All of them say the same thing without actually saying it. It is more of a lateral movement than a rotational movement. The rotation is what we see, but if you break it down in slow motion, the rotation is nothing more than a byproduct of strong push off from the inside of the back foot and a strong post with the front leg.
  • What makes baseball/softball players good at their sport sometimes makes them poor in the weight room. I really started looking at body types a few years back and spending time measuring femoral torsions and humeral torsions (natural bony twists). Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), the college community that I was testing seemed to have more drastic changes in bony alignment when compared to the general population. This taught me a couple things. First, some of these athletes were made to play their sport, not be beasts in the weight room. There isn't any need for me to force them to. Second, I became a strength coach because I was successful in the weight room as a young athlete. More than likely, my body was structured in a way that allowed me to be successful. This isn't the case with all the athletes I train. I have to respect that, not force their bodies to do things they aren’t meant to. The classic example is forcing someone with large amounts of femoral torsion to do max effort squats and continually coaching them to push their knees out. Back and knee pain will come very soon. These people haven't been naturally selected to be weight room monsters and that's OK. But they may have been naturally selected to create large amounts of hip internal rotation very quickly, thereby making them ideal for baseball/ softball.
  • The last one is the most important—have fun! Laugh with your athletes, listen to them, and hold them accountable at the same time. This is possible. Training should be fun and filled with enthusiasm. I loved my job as a coach and I miss it every day. It was my goal for the athletes I coached to see my passion in every session.

TH: What advice would you give to a younger you?

AP: This one is easy. I have two. My first piece of advice would be to help your leaders lead. In life, there are easy things and there are hard things. I took the easy way out as a player and even a young professional by criticizing my leader’s decisions and actions. I really played the locker room lawyer quite often. I’m OK admitting that. I found out later (as most people will) just how difficult leadership is. Everyone is much better off helping a leader be more effective than turning his back on that leader. During the last few years, I've made a conscious effort to support the leader’s message regardless of personal opinion and, as appropriately as I can, voice to the leader (whoever that may be) when I see a more effective path. Am I perfect in this regard? Absolutely not. I can always improve. But the intent is there. Learning to actively follow (as opposed to passively following) may be the most underestimated form of leadership.

Secondly, I would tell myself that you will be nothing without others. Everyone is better with good people around him—people who think better than him, have different talents than him, and even disagree with him. Always, always, always follow good people, not salaries or job titles. Good people will lead me where I need to go wherever that may be.

I have the luxury here of having people all around me who help me be effective. We all work within the same system, we all communicate well, and, at the end of the day, our clients have infinitely better outcomes than if they were working with me alone. The therapist’s job is pain management. Our performance specialists teach them to move properly, and our nutritionist works on lifestyle changes. They are truly different people when they leave due to the people we have around them. The impact that you can have on others is remarkable with the right people around you! I'm sure that in ten years I'll have much more to say to myself now.

TH: What are the biggest mistakes that you see collegiate strength coaches making?

AP: Probably judgment. I have a strong passion for the strength and conditioning profession on a global level. Going to physical therapy school wasn't my attempt to leave the profession. Instead, it was my attempt to do my part to move it forward as so many others are doing in various ways. It disheartens me to see the comments made about other programs or other coaches on social media. I really feel that on a global scale, our profession is struggling for credibility in many ways and we may be our own worst enemies.

Here's a quick example. The show 60 Minutes just did a great piece on Alabama’s head strength and conditioning coach, Scott Cochran. There were many comments made on social media from other professionals and most that I read weren't positive. I was very proud to see that piece. Regardless of what your personal opinion was, the big picture was very clear. 60 Minutes did a story on the most successful major college sports team of our generation. They did a special on the head coach first and the strength and conditioning coach second. What a huge boost for the profession! 60 Minutes equated strength and conditioning with success on the field. We should all be thanking Coach Cochran for what he is doing for our profession, not evaluating his coaching style.

TH: What are the biggest assets that you see in most collegiate strength programs?

AP: The people and their passion. Passion is the most remarkable trait that I see in the profession. Oddly enough, this may be the number one reason why we have the issue discussed in the last question. I have yet to meet a strength and conditioning coach who didn't want to give his athletes the absolute best coaching possible. The intentions are always spot on regardless of the strategy used to get there.

I love going to the CSCCA conference every year because you see people going there in search of answers. We've gone beyond asking about sets and reps and now ask how to work better with the medical community, how to communicate properly with the athletes, how to supplement properly, and how to become better administrators. The great thing is that everyone has different answers to these questions, but the intention is always the same. And it’s driven by an underlying passion to serve in the absolute best possible way.

TH: Any last thoughts for us?

AP: I wanted to thank you, Coach Hamer, and elitefts™ for allowing me to share my thoughts. I hope that it was helpful to someone out there. My job title may now be physical therapist, but I'm still a strength and conditioning coach at heart. I’d love to help anyone I can. My email is apaul@athletesperformance.com.

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