5 Lessons I’ve Learned from Cal Dietz

By: Danny Raimondi

When I was as an undergrad, one point my professors obviously harped on was plagiarism and citation. The general advice seemed to go like this: if someone has said it better than you, then write that and give that person credit. It’s a simple concept, sure, but it’s one which has unfortunately been easily glossed over.

I’ll be straightforward here: I’ve never invented some unique or groundbreaking method.

That credit goes to great coaches like Yuri Verkhoshansky who made simple observations about his triple jumpers and ran with a theory. I don’t have great coaching tips; my advice derives from what I’ve read about guys like John Wooden and Vince Lombardi. I rely on what I’ve observed from mentors like Chris Stewart and Jason DeMayo. I also call upon, to a much lesser extent, my own meager experience as a coach.

I enjoy being an editor. Now, please bear with me for a second; it may seem off topic, but I promise I’ll get to the point shortly. Being an editor has allowed me to associate with some of the greatest names in this field. I get to see the unprocessed versions of how these coaches write, and what they really say before it gets spruced up to be put on the website. When J approached me about being an editor for cvasps.com, I was honored and excited to be a part of the project. When he asked me to write my own articles, that imaginary balloon that had swelled up inside seemed to deflate. How do I write for coaches who know far more than me and possess much more experience than me? What do I have to offer?

Thus was born the idea to simply write what I’ve learned from other coaches. Granted, this idea wasn’t even original (I stole it from Charles Poliquin). Nevertheless, my hope is that these articles will not only provide some thought provoking ideas, but also pay respect to coaches I have had the honor and privilege of learning under. Without delay, here are 5 lessons I’ve learned from Cal Dietz, Head Olympic strength coach here at the University of Minnesota:

Coach Dietz
  1. The importance of individualization. This doesn’t just apply to how Cal programs, which is a topic for an article on its own. It applies to how Cal approaches people. I remember when I was in Richmond I had a question for Cal about his oscillatory exercises. I emailed him asking what these exercises do, when he uses them, and why they’re important. Instead of brushing me aside and sending me a few curt words in an email, he gave me his number and asked me to call him. That’s how Cal handles people. He treats everyone individually and his results are the proof. Not only do his methods work, but his athletes return after graduating to keep training with him. This summer we had almost 2 dozen professional and minor league hockey players training in our weight room.
  2. Don’t shy away from a challenge. Surround yourself with people who will force you out of your comfort zone. Read as much as you can, talk about the issues, and see what works. If you’re not trying to get better, however you define that, you’re wasting your own talent, and, more importantly, your athlete’s potential.
  3. Experiment. If you read about a new method and understand the theory behind it, don’t be afraid to take a few guys from your team and try it out. Maybe you do this with your incoming freshman football players who’ll be redshirted; maybe you have a group of guys who may not see much playing time. It’s not meant to single certain players out; remember, this is research at its simplest. It’s not perfect, but then again, neither is formal research these days.
  4. Expand your resources. Just like a portfolio, don’t skimp when diversifying your human capital. That is, if you spend all of your time reading only books directly related to physical preparation( think: Supertraining), you’ll be ahead of most in the field. However, understand that the body is a highly complex organism, and a book about strength and conditioning can’t cover everything. Cal, for example, recently collaborated with a local doctor treats various disorders with sonic therapy. Sonic therapy is simply using frequencies to elicit neurological and nervous system responses. What prompted Cal to approach this doctor? A book called, Tuning Your Horse, by Sarah Wyche, made him think about the effect of music on performance and recovery. The point is simple: read about topics other than strength and conditioning, and think about ways in which they may apply.
  5. Understand stress. What is amazing to learn is not just the way Cal thinks of exercises and methods, but how he fits them in his program. Many coaches hear about a new idea or method and their instinct is to rewrite their program to include it. When you learn something new, as Cal taught me, ask first what the method/exercise is doing from a biomechanical/bioenergetics standpoint. Once you understand that, ask yourself if it’d be something that your athletes need to be able to do to improve their performance on the ice, field, etc… If it’s important, will it fit with what you already do? If not, does something need to be removed to make room for it? Finally, how will this interact with the other stresses in your program? Where is it best placed in the course of the year?

The lessons listed above are only a glimpse into the experience I have had thus far at Minnesota. In my next article, I’ll outline several methods and techniques Coach Dietz uses in the training of our athletes. This includes several autoregulatory and biofeedback methods as well as some energy system protocols. I hope you took something from this article, and maybe even reflected on some influential coaches you’ve had the opportunity and privilege to learn under.  Please ask any questions or leave any comments in the space below. Danny can be reached at [email protected]

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