In this episode of the #DifferenceMaker podcast co-founder Matthew Caldaroni sat down with Hall of Fame strength coach Al Vermeil. Al is the only strength coach on the planet to have won a world championship in both the NFL and NBA. From having the opportunity to work with the San Francisco 49er’s, to the Chicago White Sox, and the legendary “Jordan Era” at the Chicago Bulls, Al has not only conquered the weight room, but also the personalities in the weight room. In this podcast, Al sheds light on how he was able to advance training techniques, create physical beasts, and deal with all the different personalities in the weight room on a daily basis. We summarized the conversation below, extracting Al’s 10 strategies on how he dealt with high-performance people in and out of performance.
1. Be authentically you…everyone can spot a phony.
Al said it best, “Everyone can spot a phony.” Al has well-established core values that he has kept as a strength coach since he entered the sport performance world as a high school coach. He’s obsessed with doing what’s best for the individual and mentions how it helped him garner respect from some of the world's best athletes, coaches, and management executives.
2. Self-education > new equipment.
We all have “shiny object syndrome,” but Al sees it differently; he mentioned that the key to his success, when working with world-class teams, was to buy the necessary equipment, then spend as much as possible on experts who could teach his team something. Al valued learning from others, and bringing in external consultants, to help his teams get an extra edge. He knew that shiny, new equipment is great, but the educational component trumps all.
Self-education > new equipment. We all have “shiny object syndrome,” he mentioned that the key to his success, when working with world-class teams, was to buy the necessary equipment, then spend as much as possible on experts who could teach his team something, says @AlVermeil.
3. “Don’t screw someone up who’s got it.”
In specific reference to working with Horace Grant, Al mentioned that he was an extremely talented athlete who already had fantastic genetics to be a dominant force in the NBA. So, instead of trying to change everything and push his theories on Horace, he instead let him “do his thing,” and splashed in the necessary help where needed. Sure, he could’ve changed things with Horace to fit his own personal agenda, but why fix what ain't broke? If someone’s got it, the best thing you can do is provide support to them only with what they need. Not only do you gain more respect from the individual, but the buy-in and trust go up as well.
4. Communicate with humility and be nice...it's really that simple.
A simple, but forgotten, value; as Al put it, be nice to people. High-performers appreciate it more than anyone knows. Think about it: a high-performance environment often comes with loads of pressure, stress, and anxiousness. When handled poorly, these individuals can be an emotional ticking time bomb. In high-performance environments, humility and being nice go a long way.
5. Show them what they don’t know.
Al said it best, “Not everyone bought into strength and conditioning. They knew how to play basketball and that’s what they did best. It was my job to educate them on what they didn’t know, which in this case was teaching these individuals how strength training could extend their careers and add value to them.” Al referenced making PowerPoints with graphs and charts that allowed his players to see exactly what the benefit was and how it correlated to longer careers and higher contact values. A simple education session can go a long way; teach them what they don’t know.
If someone’s got it, the best thing you can do is provide support to them only with what they need. Not only do you gain more respect from the individual, but the buy-in and trust go up as well, says @AlVermeil.
6. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
Another simple (no pun intended), but forgotten value: simplicity is the key. Al refers to all the complex theoretical language out there, but when it came to his strength training he kept it simple. As he mentioned, simple training goes a long way, and keeping it simple is what speaks to high performers. Not only did this help his players, but it also helped his staff to execute with precision instead of getting caught up in the confusion.
7. Get personal…it’s not just business.
Al shared some amazing examples of how he got personal with his teams; from hosting entire team dinners at his house to making it a point to take players, or staff, out to dinner just because - he did it all. Sure, there’s a lot of professionalism that must be met when working with high-performers, but the human element is what brings everything together. From earning more respect to building more trust, getting personal with the players was Al’s key for “total buy-in.” Even for players like the great Michael Jordan who didn’t train with Al (he had a personal trainer who was looking after him); Al still had buy-in from Michael on teachings and attention because he got personal with him.
8. If you can’t fully do the job, then just say no.
This is a point I think we all need to put some emphasis on; Al made it clear that he’s not saying “don’t take risks.” Instead what he’s saying is to make sure that if you’re going to take on a job, that you can complete it well. There’s no point in overwhelming yourself only to ruin your reputation, and as high-performers, we sometimes like to bite off more than we can chew. Al mentions how his ability to “say no,” to tasks that he didn’t feel he had a full grasp on not only helped his players but also him as well as a professional.
If you’re going to take on a job, that you can complete it well. There’s no point in overwhelming yourself only to ruin your reputation, and as high-performers, we sometimes like to bite off more than we can chew, says @AlVermeil.
9. Have a system with whatever it is that you do - from processes to KPI’s.
Al’s big on systems; going hand in hand with keeping it simple, he mentioned that systems are what allowed him and his staff to operate so consistently at high levels. One major part of his system was to have KPI’s or key performance indicators, that could easily be measured and held accountable. What can’t be measured isn’t respected, and Al picked up on that early in his career.
10. Success is progressive and gradual and has to be treated that way.
We hear this all the time, but it’s the truth: as high performers, we must still realize that success is progressive and gradual and has to be treated as such. As high performers, we sometimes look for immediate results, and although that’s attainable in the short term, long-term success is a different story. Al refers to the simple, “one percent better each day,” rule, and mentioned that was a key to his, and his athletes, success.
Al Vermeil is a GOAT when it comes to strength and conditioning, and not only was able to offer lessons in the gym but also lessons outside of it. He’s a well-versed individual who appreciates success and hard work, and for working with some of the biggest egos in the game, Al seems to be one of the humblest people we know. Simple, but effective, high-performance management strategies are what helped Al become the Hall of Fame strength coach that he is today, and it'll help you become a better leader as well.