Wednesday, April 22, 2015

David Parry…and the Two-Minute Drill

Editor's Note: On May 2, David Parry was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in Round 5 of the NFL Draft. He will join former Stanford teammates: Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener, Griff Whalen, and Henry Anderson. 

The NFL draft is fast approaching.

For football players who have declared for the draft, the last few months have been packed with training, training, and more training. Although, the type of training they’ve been doing is slightly different from how they typically work to get ready for a football season.

Pac-12 All-Academic first teamer David Parry, a nose tackle, who played at Stanford, is one of these athletes. He was invited to the NFL Combine, participated in Stanford’s Pro Day, as well as regional tryouts for a few teams.

David Parry, No. 58, during the Foster
Farms Bowl in Dec. 2014. Photo courtesy
Last season, as a fifth-year senior, David tallied 34 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He was a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy and was All-Pac-12 honorable mention.

David has taken an incredible journey to this point. Coming out of Linn-Mar (Iowa) High School he played both offensive and defensive tackle. As a senior he was an Iowa Newspaper Association 4A all-state first team offensive lineman, made the Iowa Preps Elite all-state first team, All-Mississippi Valley Conference and all-Cedar Rapids Metro Area first team, and was selected to play in the Iowa Shrine All-Star game.

With all that, he wasn’t offered a Division I college scholarship. I still can’t believe that and I’m not the only one.

He walked on at Stanford and was awarded a scholarship during training camp of his second year. He quickly made an impact on the team.

David who stands at 6-2 and is 300+ lbs., made his first career start in his junior year at UCLA and had a team-high five solo tackles, a sack, and a pass deflection. In the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin that year he had three solo tackles. The following year he finished with 23 tackles.

The draft analysis on David points out that he: explodes out of stance and into linemen with force. He also: has strength and functional quickness to be a factor against the run while creating push and pocket disruption against the pass.

I sat down with David recently and he shared his perspective and what’s he’s been doing since the end of the Stanford football season.

PJ: What have you been doing since the bowl game?

David: After the bowl, then it was the East-West Shrine game, then the NFL Combine, then Pro Day. It’s been one goal at a time. Since then it’s been all football, all training.

PJ: Some players go away to train for the combine, why did you decide to stay at Stanford?

David: Throughout my career I’ve worked with Coach Turley. He’s tailored my workout for my body and how my body responds to the conditioning. It was about me trusting him fully. There was no question if I would get the same quality training here. There are lots of reasons to go elsewhere. Some think it’s more glamorous and some want a change of scenery. I had everything I need here, so there was no reason to go anywhere else.

PJ: What was the difference between training for the NFL combine and Pro Day?

David: The combine training is very specific. You know the position drills you will be doing. They’ve done the same drills for 20 years. You can train for these. Some argue that this is a good thing because you can take the results and compare them to guys from 10 or 20 years ago. At Pro Day, when it comes to position drills you don’t know what you’ll get. Coach Turley told us some (coaches) just like to work you until you drop. For Pro Day, you just have to be ready for anything.

PJ: How was your training for the combine and Pro Day different from how you train throughout the year?

David: During the year training is broken into four seasons. This training was like our spring training. It was about explosiveness, speed, and power. In the summer we do more conditioning to get our joints and muscles ready for the season. In-season we do maintenance and continue to do lifts and exercises to prevent injuries in games and practices.

Here, our favorite time is spring, as the sun is out more. It’s fun to run and lift. For my drills (at these events) my strategy on the 40 yard dash was to run a good 10 yard split. That’s what I focused on… as an inside linebacker the explosiveness was important for me.

PJ: So, break down your training.

David: Mondays and Thursdays we came in by 10am to lift for an hour and a half to an hour and 45 minutes. We were on the field and ready to run at noon for one hour to one and a half hours. On Monday we had speed-oriented runs. On Thursday they were lateral-based for drills. Tuesday was lifting. Wednesday was a day of recovery with the foam roller, yoga, and a cold tub.

PJ: Coach Turley is on the cutting edge of strength and conditioning training. How is his training different?

David: On functionality, each lift has a purpose. The focus is on detail. Each movement helps you stay on the field and perform at a higher level. At the beginning working with Coach Turley was definitely a learning curve. If you talk to every guy who is a fan of Coach Turley he probably hated him at one point! Initially, we butted heads a bit, but I looked at the older guys who played my position and realized if you buy in to what Coach Turley is trying to teach, you’ll be successful. There are a lot of factors that have gone into me getting here. Coach Turley has been very instrumental in my development as a football player and as a person. One thing that doesn’t get talked about much is that he also trains you for life.

David, No. 58, against Notre Dame
in Oct. 2014. Photo courtesy of
PJ: Has your dream been to play pro football in the NFL?

David: Almost unknowingly. I always dreamt of playing big time college football. Coming out of high school I had no scholarship offers, so I focused on playing football, strictly that. When I got here, I started playing for my team. Now I am on the verge of making this happen. It’s pretty cool.

PJ: Has not getting scholarships been a motivator for you?

David: It definitely will motivate me for the rest of my life. The idea of being doubted and underappreciated upsets me and is the fuel that has motivated me. It’s the chip on my shoulder for training and especially when I’m playing. I showed I can play at this level, now going to the next level, there are doubters again. They say my arms are too short and I’m not tall enough to play. I will end up thanking these people (for the motivation).

PJ: What was your ‘I made it moment’?

David: In the first Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. I faced the best offensive lineman (Travis Frederick) I’ve ever played against, besides David DeCastro (who is an offensive guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers and played at Stanford). I was making plays that game. I competed and even got the best of him at times. I showed I was in the right place. I was not complacent. After he got me on plays in the beginning, I wanted to still compete, and play against someone at that level and dominate them.

PJ: Where will you watch the draft?

David: I am going home to Marion, Iowa, to watch with Mom and Dad, my brother and his wife and their two kids, and a few friends from high school. I’m not planning a party as I’m not sure if I’ll be drafted.

PJ: Who was your favorite athlete growing up?

David: To be honest growing up my brother (George, who played football at Harvard) was my favorite football player. He and my dad taught me everything. My brother played with a physicality and tenacity I like to bring to my play. I was fortunate to watch him play growing up.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Kevin Nathan…and the Two-Minute Drill

When I first starting working with Kevin Nathan at 24 Hour Fitness in 2010 I thought he was a good trainer. We met my goals and that is all you can ask from your trainer.

But then, everything changed. 

Kevin Nathan and me
after a tough training session.
Kevin moved over to Bodies by Amorim (with Travis Amorim) and I was coming off a few surgeries, not having full mobility of my left arm, and both arms were very weak. I had done some physical therapy to gain more mobility, but wasn’t nearly ready for my next surgery. We had a month to get strong and were limited to training twice a week. So, we had 8 to 10 actual training sessions to move the needle. Any improvement from where I was would be a small win.

However, we were both unprepared for what happened next. I actually got so strong that my recovery was much easier. And, when I got back into the gym after a few months, it didn’t take as long to ramp up.

We didn’t achieve a small win; we achieved a big win. One that has stayed with me the past year-and-half and motivated me to accomplish even more.

And a win that made me recognize that Kevin isn’t just another good trainer. Kevin is an extraordinary trainer. He has helped me get back to normal and take these big and small wins to propel me even further.

I sat down recently with Kevin and he shared his perspective on training.

PJ: How did you get started as a trainer?

Kevin: For years my only goal was making it to the NHL. When I was growing up in California it was nearly impossible for a kid from here to make it to the NHL. So, reality was that maybe I won’t make it, but I can make it to the league in another way…take another path.

My mom has worked at Palmer College of Chiropractic for 30 plus years. I never wanted to be a chiropractor, but being around them, I thought this wasn’t a bad path. I saw the application. One of the guys (at Palmer) was active in sports, had seen injuries, remembers the process with his injury, and decided to pay it forward and help someone else. My situation was similar. I thought maybe I could help someone else, another athlete. Then it all clicked when I saw one of my best friends, Craig, working at 24 Hour Fitness. I saw all the things I could do….I could have fun doing this…I could see my path.

PJ: So for you it always comes back to hockey.

Kevin: Yes. Hockey is a huge part of my life. I can’t remember it not being part of my life. When I learned how to walk my dad had me on skates. The bond I have with my dad is from hockey. No matter what happened during the day or if I was in trouble, if hockey was on, we dropped everything. Hockey taught me leadership, how to have balance in my life, responsibilities, etc. This passion for hockey translates to the gym. I can do something and truly be happy.

I want to be part of keeping hockey in California. I want to develop a training center for kids to get better on and off the ice. I don’t want these kids to be at a disadvantage because they can’t just water the parking lot and play.

PJ: Let’s talk about how you’ve helped your clients come back from setbacks. Tell me about working with your client who had the stroke.

Kevin: For me it was something different than I had experienced in my 10 year career. He crashed his car and at the same time blacked out. He tried to get out of the car but couldn’t move his left side. The funny part was that the first thing he said to his wife when he woke up in the hospital was…you have to get a hold of Kevin and tell him I cannot make the session.

He’s 6-2 or 6-3 and when we first started working together, before the stroke, he couldn’t do sit ups on the ball…his knees would hurt. When he came back after the stroke he was a changed person…his priorities. His reality was…I am lucky to be here. The most important thing was to go back to the basics. To understand what his body was allowing him to do. First, it was, how do we get him through the day—get out of bed in the morning, go to work. How do we get him to have a normal life? Weight loss was not a part of it.

Trust was a big thing. Anything I told him to do was in his best interest and he knew that…that I would be there if his arm couldn’t do something. He wasn’t big into lifting heavy, but as a male there are certain expectations. He was under that level and he wanted to at least get to this level. Now he is back to normal, which is great. For me, my success is when my clients can do what they want to do. It’s about how good they feel inside accomplishing certain tasks. His measuring stick was going to the Dish to walk. He is able to do this now, and that is a big thing. You could see this brought him joy. This was one of my biggest journeys.

PJ: How did you help JJ Ambrose, a professional athlete, come back from an injury?

Kevin: The opposite spectrum is JJ. He is ready to go and sometimes I have to pull back the reigns. If I would to tell him to eat glass, he would, because he trusts me. When someone that motivated needs to pull back it’s hard to explain to an athlete you can’t do this. I try to create a program to go around it or word things differently. When he can’t do certain motions and he wants to, it’s about how do you trick him into not doing it. I need to distract him so he doesn’t get hurt more.

PJ: What was your plan when I came to you after my surgery?

Kevin: You trusted me and that was key. As I said before, it doesn’t work without trust. I knew that you would do what I asked and you knew that I wouldn’t injure you. It might hurt a little, but those were the steps you needed to take. I trust you to know when you say it hurts you are not trying to get out of doing it.

We were looking to wake up your muscles. After looking at your limitations, I did a backwards program. The idea was to start and progress forward. Progression is the key. With surgery you were limited to certain movements and some muscles were helping others to recover. The supporting muscles needed to be strengthened. So I thought about what we could to do work on those supporting muscles. Then, we could work on the progression from that point.

PJ: What was your plan to strengthen my arms prior to surgery?

Kevin: I looked at your limitation and time was a big factor. We only had a month to work. So I decided that what was best was to do function with resistance moves with bands and balls and adding weight…to do every day movement. We surprised ourselves. When you came back from surgery it was huge! You had exercised enough where your body had strength and your muscles had started to activate again. We couldn’t have done it without the resistance bands. It worked wonders in one month. Your recovery was better. So when you came back your muscles woke up, you didn’t have to start from scratch. Function and daily movements are big.

PJ: Helping your clients come back from injuries, surgery, and a stroke, is a relatively new thing for you. How do you like this aspect of training?

Kevin: Physical therapy is a great field. What I like about it is that my mind is active, it’s exciting. How do I make it fun for you and me? At the end of the day, how do I make you come back? It’s about doing a lot of functional moves with balls and bands. It’s intricate. To the outside person it just looks like throwing a ball. But to me, it relates to every day functional things. Can you reach up into the cabinet to get a glass with no pain and not reinjure yourself? That’s the everyday side of it.

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Check out Kevin on Twitter @meshKappaDoobie
Contact Kevin at

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Callaway Golf Driving Engagement

I’m always on the lookout for the latest on innovative ideas from sports brands.

A few weeks ago I came across the Callaway Golf website. Yes, it has things you’d typically expect like information on equipment and instruction, but take another look.

LPGA Tour pro Lydia Ko
and Harry Arnett. Photo courtesy
of Callaway Golf Company.
Callaway takes a different perspective. As Harry Arnett, SVP of Marketing, said, their marketing philosophy is “part newsroom, part morning show, and part agency.”

Their lineup consists of Callaway Radio (podcasts); Callaway Talks (videos); weekly wrap up videos; videos on new equipment, instruction, and tips; and The Backpage.

The Backpage is even more fun. It has quizzes from what style golf hat you should wear, to texts from pros, and videos of trick shots.

One recent video they shot is LPGA pro Lydia Ko hitting a ball down Lombard Street in San Francisco.

Recently I sat down with Harry Arnett to learn more about their strategy.

The history:
Harry: The company went from a mom and pop entrepreneurial start-up to the biggest golf company in the world…almost overnight. In the early 1990s Callaway introduced Big Bertha. This was the first product in golf that was used by everybody—from the best players on the pro tour to retirees in Palm Desert.

It was the first golf company to treat the brand with more marketing. In the 1990s golf was still a cottage industry. People working in golf were doing things the same way they always did. Callaway was the outsider. He brought different fundamentals (from business) to change the industry. And he built the biggest brand recognized all over the world. Celebrities started endorsing golf in the early- to mid-90s…Callaway was the first.

When Mr. Callaway passed away…it was the worst. The company lost its way, (yet) it was still
growing and had well-performing products. From 2008-2012 the business really declined—profitability more than top line. They lost focus on what type of company it was. The industry had changed in 2008 just as Callaway was starting to lose market share.

TaylorMade emerged and distinguished itself with product and marketing. In 2008 both companies
were the same size. However, by 2012, they were $300m apart in profitability.

Chip (Brewer), the CEO, hired me at the end of May 2012. Marketing needed to change…to think more about the consumer first. We wanted to create a communication/marketing model to match the way consumers were getting, transferring/sharing, engaging with information. We realized this had fundamentally changed.

We bet the marketing farm and created a new operating model. We think of ourselves and behave like a media company.

What they did:
Harry: Now, a lot of people say the word newsroom. I was inspired by the program Newsroom on
HBO. Having worked in radio we had to put on a topical show each day. I was thinking about story arcs with products, that could engage with consumers in a topical/real-time way. The show on HBO was fictionalized about a bunch of people creating a news hour every night.

But, how do we do this in our sport?

What about production value…how do we look at costs different…do we capitalize on in-house resources or outsource…where do we need speed and where don’t we need to be so fast? These are questions we asked ourselves. We turned everything on its head—quantity sometimes over quality.
We decided we couldn’t outsource storytelling…we couldn’t bring in an agency because they didn’t understand our story. We couldn’t be as fast as we wanted to be with an outside agency. So, we try to do as much as we can in-house.

We think of ourselves as a media company. For example, if the Food Network had a food brand, they
would market different than a packaged goods company would market it. It’s the human element, it’s organic…they would create a series around it, not commercials. So, we thought about the consumer experience different.

My office is different. It looks like SNL. All our shows are on a board…17 things up there. Two to
Harry and PGA Tour pro Patrick Reed.
Photo courtesy of Callaway Golf Company.
three years ago we’d typically script, for the storytellers to hit certain things. (Now we don’t) It takes practice to get comfortable, to capture the story arc and not specific words. It creates realism, timeliness, and approachability for Callaway, the brand.

For social media execution, we have an official Callaway account, but let consumers know individual accounts so they can connect with our people and talk about anything. So they can say…I have a guy at Callaway. It has helped build a loyal audience, organically.

While our followers may not be as big as Coke or Nike, we have a meaningful audience who feel like they have a direct connection with Callaway. So it’s a natural distribution channel.

How the brand has changed:
Harry: The brand went from old guys to young, fresh, fast engaging…almost overnight.

We’re seen as an innovation company. We have the brand we wanted: More aspirational, yet more accessible. No other brand can say this. We marry the two things together.

Just some of what they do:
Harry: Our biggest bucket of content is the episodic, serial pieces. They take more time and energy to produce with three or four people or more to create. This is where the rubber hits the road. These are the most differentiated in the brand. They include podcasts and Callaway Live.

Group selfie at the LPGA shoot on March 23.
Photo courtesy of Callaway Golf Company.
We do a podcast…we just did our 100th show where we interview employees and tour players.

Our talk show, Callaway Talks, has no script. We never edit. It’s always one take. It’s meant to feel organic.

The Backpage (on the website) is meant to be fun. It represents a look at exchanges of ideas with consumers. We’re not always doing the predictable things.

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Check out Callaway’s site at
Follow Callaway on Twitter at @CallawayGolf
Follow Harry Arnett on Twitter at @HarryArnettCG

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Stanford Pro Day…Sights and Sounds

I just got back from Stanford’s Pro Day. This is the event where the scouts for many (if not all) NFL teams come to watch the Stanford football players who declared for the draft. Some of the players were invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month (Andrus Peat, Alex Carter, David Parry, Ty Montgomery, etc.). Others were not and this is just an opportunity for them to get in front of the teams one more time.

AJ Tarpley getting ready to run
They do various drills, are timed, etc. As I am not an NFL scout, I do not know how they evaluate these players based on these drills. I just know what I have seen on the field on Saturdays.

Stanford football has tremendous athletes and Coach David Shaw and his staff do a great job at reloading every year. I look at many of these players and wonder how they will fill that hole next year, but someone is always waiting for their shot.

This is my second Pro Day at Stanford. And no, my first Pro Day was not Andrew Luck’s. I actually watched him on TV trying to release the ball before the broom attacked. I attended the following year.

One thing you have to know about going to Pro Day at Stanford. It’s going to be hot. There is no shade, although the athletic department does put up a few umbrellas. So bring plenty of water and a hat.

Many former Stanford players show up. This year I noticed Indianapolis Colts teammates Coby Fleener and Griff Whalen, among others.

Coby Fleener on the right
Coby, who is a tight end, had a breakout season with 51 catches for 774 yards and eight touchdowns this year. Something just seemed to click this year for Coby.

“Playing under Pep Hamilton’s (Colts offensive coordinator and former Stanford OC) system helped…and people don’t realize that the stripes on the ball are different and they are coming right at you. The pro game is much different than the college game.”

I also spied Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie talking to San Jose State wide receiver Jabari Carr in the parking lot. Jabari, who had his Pro Day yesterday and enjoyed it, said, “It was fun to get back out there on the field.”

The Stanford players also shared some thoughts.

Andrus Peat, an offensive tackle, who is predicted to go in the first round of the draft, stands at 6-7, 313 pounds. He made All-Pac-12 first team, Outland Trophy quarterfinalist, Sporting News and All-America, and on and on. Andrus is the son of former NFL offensive tackle, Todd Peat, who played for the Cardinals and the Raiders.

“Today was what I expected,” he said. When asked about San Francisco 49er Chris Borland retiring earlier this week due to concerns around concussions, Andrus said, “It’s his decision. I want to play as long as I can.”

Ty Montgomery
Ty Montgomery, wide receiver (and return specialist) who finished the season with a team-high 61 receptions for 604 yards. He was a Hornung Award finalist, All-America honorable mention, All-Pac-12 second team (return specialist), etc. He lost 10 pounds of muscle between the combine last month and today.

“I was lighter and felt more flexible (today),” he said. “My emphasis was on flexibility. I got a little stiff (at the combine). I felt fast and explosive today. It’s been a little stressful and tiring, but this is what I signed up for…what I want to do. I’m very grateful to be here.”

Now, all that is left is the waiting…until their name is called on draft day(s), April 30.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

JJ Ambrose….and the Two-Minute Drill

I have wanted to interview JJ Ambrose, the MMA fighter, for a few years. It took a while for us to set this up, but I guess it’s all about timing. He is in between fights at the moment, waiting for his petition to join the UFC to be accepted. Or, as JJ likes to say, he is waiting to join the major leagues.

The first time I saw JJ was at my gym, Bodies by Amorim. My personal trainer, Kevin Nathan, was telling me how JJ, aka Superman, was getting ready for an upcoming fight. It’s incredible to see what he goes through in the gym. I have witnessed all kinds of athletes train, but none can do what JJ does.

JJ Ambrose after winning a fight
For those of you who don’t know much about MMA, it is a combination of martial arts, boxing, and wrestling.

JJ, who turned professional in 2005, has an overall record of 21-5. He has been fighting in the Lightweight division for Bellator since 2012.

We sat down recently to talk and here’s what JJ shared with me.

PJ: How did you get started in this sport?

JJ: I started in 2005, my senior year in high school. A promoter from a neighboring city asked a group of us [at school] if we wanted to fight. Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV was just starting and it was popular with guys my age. It seemed natural. I went on the show and won. It felt good at the end to have my arm lifted above my head.

I didn’t have a lot of direction at that point. Thought I’d wrestle in school, but I wasn’t sure of what would have been next. When I ended up winning the fight I met people who helped me connect the dots. I spoke to people who pointed me in the right direction of where to go next.

I trained in SoCal full-time and opted out of Cerritos College for wrestling. It sounds silly not to go to school. But, I had no passion for any other career but this one. It was fulfilling a dream. In a sense I feel like the kids from Peter Pan—the Lost Boys. I don’t want to grow up.

PJ: How did you know MMA was it?

JJ: Part of me felt this was destiny or fate. I saw myself making it here. In the beginning I was na├»ve. When I first started out fighting I was sure of myself. Then I got older and realized, hey, I’m good at this.

PJ: What is it about MMA that makes you want to continue to do it?

JJ: It clicked from that first fight. All the martial arts pieces come together. It’s addicting in a way. Although, there are some scary things behind the scenes. The 24 hours before a fight I feel like I’m line for a roller coaster and I can’t get out of line. Every fight it’s the same mentality—the fear of the unknown. The waiting. It’s not like a street fight, there is no escalation. It is eight weeks of training, knowing who you are going to fight and having no animosity towards them. You just know that in eight weeks you get into the cage and fight.

It’s still an addiction. At my first fight camp, the night before weigh in I felt like I was going crazy. Part of me wanted to quit. One of the coaches said that it’s crazy to get in a cage and not feel it. This is going against the grain…starving yourself [for the weigh in]. The body and mind want shelter, enough food to eat, etc. Here you are willing to put yourself in harm’s way. It’s your moment of sanity thinking I want to quit.

But you can’t. The night before the fight all the nerves and pressure are there. After the fight you know exactly why you do this. It seems perfectly natural, not crazy. Then, a month goes by and you forget again and ask why am I doing this?

PJ: What are you top moments in MMA?

JJ: It’s hard to narrow down everything. Although, I have to say the travel around the world and the people I’ve met resonate. I’ve met the who’s who in MMA.

I remember as a kid watching [Jean Claude] Van Damme’s movie Kickboxer and thinking Wow, it would be awesome to train in Thailand. Then at 23 my bags were packed and I was going to Thailand. If I had gone to college I wouldn’t have traveled to all those places in the short life I’ve had.

PJ: What was it like in Thailand?

JJ: It was an eye-opener. The sport is more embedded in the culture. In American it is baseball, there it is Muy Thai. I’m not sure what percentage of the population fights there, but you are either a tuk tuk driver, a government official or a fighter. When they see a Westerner, they ask Muy Thai?
Thailand is a beautiful place, but people assume if you are a Westerner, you are there training Muy Thai.

PJ: How about the training?

JJ: Before Thailand training was different. It’s hard to break down. Before I fought with a controlled rage. I’d pump myself up over nothing and fight. There, both fighters are trying to get ahead. They accept losses and carry on.

In America, people are bitter and angry if your team gets knocked out of the playoffs. They are bitter and root against others.

In Thailand, it’s I lost, I’ll go back to the gym tomorrow. It’s business as usual…an acceptance. It’s not a change in training, it’s more of a change mentally. There is a lesson learned, now go back to the gym…now I know how to train.

PJ: How has your training changed since you’ve been working with Kevin Nathan and Travis Amorim of Bodies by Amorim?

JJ: As a fighter, my mentality was either to spar or do martial arts training to get in shape. I had read about strength training and heard others talk about it. It has made me more efficient. Now I am stronger and faster and my level of coordination has improved. This is the key to the puzzle…what makes me a complete fighter.

Year round I maintain a level of cardio. I am never out of shape. I can’t get stronger and faster at the same time. Sometimes I work on strength and other times speed. Right now, I am working on my skills sets—to get better. Recently, I trained for a fight that was cancelled, so I am ready to go.

In UFC fights get cancelled a lot. It is the equivalent to a pitcher on the sidelines waiting to go in. Now, I am just waiting for an opponent.

Fortunately, I am still young enough to make an impact in UFC. I have another 5-10 years in me. Luckily, I haven’t been injured and I am still coherent—no brain injuries, so it’s a matter of time.

PJ: How do you keep motivated?

JJ: I enjoy training. I enjoy the camaraderie with the other fighters. It is the sense of fitting in—like we are all crowded around the campfire telling stories. As fighter, it’s comforting knowing others are going through the same strife as you. You are not the only one.

It’s like two people tired and both look up at the same time and see each other suffering. I know what you are going through.

PJ: What is your favorite sport to train?

JJ: I get a different satisfaction out of all of them. I enjoy jiu jitsu, boxing, wrestling—all of it. It’s about landing a punch. I am not happy hurting someone, but I get a satisfaction out of landing a perfect punch. I want to make people quit—not die—that is the goal.

PJ: What are your goals?

JJ: I don’t really have goals, just the next step. I like the next 20 foot theory. If I had a flashlight and shined it, I can’t see 200 miles down the road, but I can see 20 feet. Now, it’s all about getting into the UFC. Once I get there I’ll see what’s next. I focus on being in better shape than I am today….If I had been too far-reaching, like a goal of UFC champion right now, I wouldn’t achieve it. I never think like that.

I think sometimes there is a problem with kids starting out…all they see is the glitz and glam. Yet, it takes years to get where I am now. You have to go through stumbles…that’s what makes great athletes—being able to pick yourself up over and over again when you fail.

PJ: You are spending your time now as a personal trainer. How is that?

JJ: I am pretty selective on my clients. I enjoy training my wife and friends—people I care about. I get satisfaction when I can see people I care about succeed in their goals. When I can help someone else and have some type of impact, I like it. I enjoy showing what I’ve learned.

PJ: How do you keep inspired?

JJ: I write a note for myself before my fights. The note is like an identity statement. [It helps] with the nerves in the 24 hours before a fight…there are a lot of what ifs…a lot of thinking. I have nightmares where I am afraid of the dark, like I am a 10 year old. I wake up and I forget I am an adult…a fighter. At this point there are so many nerves and wasted energy.

I have quotes from different authors and things from me. I trained really hard for this fight. I killed it in training. It’s like an affirmation to myself. Otherwise, I will revert to a child.

It’s hard not to think. I am reminded of the movie, The Last Samurai…there is a line “Too many mind…the sword…the enemy….” In MMA, this clicks. You think about what’s ahead of you. It’s the larger focus when fighting. It’s like anything in life. I ask my daughter…how many things do you do at once? She is drawing and looking at the TV at the same time. This lesson to her applies back to me.

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Follow JJ on Twitter @SuperJJAmbrose

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tyrone Brooks…and the Two-Minute Drill

It’s spring and for Tyrone Brooks, who is the Director of Player Personnel for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and that means he should be in Bradenton, Florida, meeting with the scouts and his team and getting ready for the season.

Instead, he is in San Francisco, waiting for the birth of his second child. San Francisco? Not Pittsburgh? That’s right. I know, it sounds a little confusing.

Tyrone Brooks
Here’s the backstory. From 2007-2009 Tyrone and his wife, Stephanie, lived in San Francisco when he worked as a scout for the Cleveland Indians covering the Pacific Coast League, Texas League, and California League.

He accepted a job with the Pirates as Director of Baseball Operations and a few days later his daughter was born in San Francisco. He and Stephanie want their second child to be born in San Francisco, as well.

So here they wait, as the Pirates start spring training in Florida.

For Tyrone, his path to this point started with the Atlanta Braves. He was an intern at first and then held various positions (in player development, scouting, and administration), throughout his 11 year tenure, as the Braves won 10 Division titles in 11 seasons and had two World Series appearances in 1996 and 1999. The organization won a total of 14 Division titles from 1991-2005—an incredible streak.

Tyrone knows how fortunate he’s been in his career and is grateful to those who have helped along the way the past 20 years. He also is not shy about giving back. He founded a group on LinkedIn, Baseball Industry Network, to help others who dream of working in baseball.

Tyrone and I sat down recently and he shared his story.

PJ: What is the outlook for the Pirates this season?

Tyrone: I think our club has the best depth as an organization I’ve seen here. It’s our best team on paper, but it’s a matter of us going out and taking care of business. The goal is bring the championship to Pittsburgh. This hasn’t changed. We have the same goal every year. We’ve taken little steps towards that.

In our division, we have to go through St. Louis. And the others have gotten better—Chicago, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee are all strong clubs. It’s going to be very competitive. We have to win every series. If you win two out of three games you are a very good team. It’s tough, but that’s what we have to do.

PJ: Who should we keep an eye on this season?

Tyrone: With the loss of Russell Martin to Toronto, we’ve brought Francisco Cervelli over from the Yankees. Russell did a great job handling the pitching staff and getting guys ready to pitch every game. Cervelli is an important player to watch. Defense is a big priority for us and if he can add some offense that will be good. It could be a pivotal spot for us.

PJ: Recently, Andrew McCutchen wrote a piece for the Players Tribune. What are your thoughts on this?

Tyrone: I was blown away by his message. What he’s dealt with growing up and especially with the resources he had and yet didn’t let the obstacles get in his way to achieve. It [this piece] opened a lot of eyes. It’s good to hear from someone like him. This should be a must-read and hopefully other players will chime in on how they can help.

What Andrew’s done on and off the field is exemplary. It would be nice to have 25 like him on the club, but that’s not possible. In the community he is helping kids and local charities and a lot of that goes unnoticed. He understands his position as a role model for kids coming up.

PJ: What can you tell me about the Pirates turnaround?

Tyrone: You have to look at the owner, Bob Nutting, and what he brought—a long-term vision for the franchise. He brought in the President, Frank Coonelly, and the GM Neal Huntington. Building from the bottom up with a process to develop a strong infrastructure from scouts to coaches to analysts. There is a lot of faith in individuals…there is also faith in leadership. All aspects have been part of this change.

One other thing that has been important is bringing in Clint Hurdle as manager. He has brought people in Pittsburgh together and is a leader on the field. He is a positive individual and has created an environment for the players to want to win. Initially, I saw the players hoped to win. Now, they believe in themselves and want to win every night. That’s how the mindset of our organization has changed.

In my first year, 2010, we lost 105 games. It was tough to get through. However, having gone through it as a group, we all want to do better, together. Neal, Frank, and Bob put this in place. They want to see people do well and gain opportunities. In turn, people want to do better and achieve because they understand what we want to do as an organization.

PJ: What is the organization’s biggest achievement?

Tyrone: Looking at the group that has been in place the last eight years, I would have to say sustainability…making the playoffs two years in a row. It’s one thing to get to the playoffs once. But if you do it the next year, it shows that you weren’t just a one-year wonder. It shows that things are going on here.

PJ: How has technology and information changed your role?

Tyrone: The stakes are so high at this point. More and more clubs need data along with the information they are getting from scouts. It’s the baseline of where a guy fits, to help make educated decisions.

The Braves were a scout-centric organization. Now, so much information is used, both data and from scouts. Teams are truly run like a big business and it’s a matter of showing results. The GM reports to the president…and having the information is valuable to show why they are making certain decisions.
The biggest thing now is that information flows much faster and we make decisions at a faster pace.

Information is so accessible and easy to get. So, it makes sense to do more due diligence. There have been so many changes in the front office, going back 10-15 years. Now there are diverse skill sets. There are obviously so many intelligent individuals drawn into the game now. It’s changed how the game is run.

PJ: What do you see as the next wave?

Tyrone: I definitely see that information is getting more in-depth every year. I think we will continue to see this taken to another level—becoming more measurable and more accurate.

PJ: Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

Tyrone: Looking back, No. 1 is John Schuerholz, who was GM of the Atlanta Braves and is now President. How he was able to trust people and put the right people in the right places. He had good instincts in reading people, understanding which players to bring in, and the organizational structure was just amazing.

It was an amazing streak—the Braves winning 14 straight division titles. Every year we expected excellence, we expected to be in the playoffs. Because of this, I challenged myself and asked “Is what I am doing making a difference?”

John did this. Not by micro-managing, yet when you needed input he was there. For me, I look at how he was able to be so successful for so many years…running this team and being so successful.

Paul Snyder [held various front office roles for the Braves] is another great…just being around him and Dayton Moore [also in the front office with Braves and current Royals GM]. How loyal they both were and how people were loyal to them. How they gave people opportunities, promoting from within.

These individuals challenged me…always allowing me to grow. I will always be grateful to them.
And, also Hank Aaron and Stan Kasten created an intern program [for minorities with the Braves] to get in the door at the ground level to learn and grow from there. If it wasn’t for that who knows if I would’ve been able to get my foot in the door at that time.

PJ: Tell me a little about working with Hank Aaron, who is one of the greatest baseball players of all-time, one of my favorites, as well as a great person.

Tyrone: You look at the struggles he had to go through from playing in the deep South and breaking the home run record and he is always so positive. None of this [his struggles] tainted anything for him. He has an understanding for each person…for who they are and trusts them. When I was in Atlanta he would talk to the young players about how he overcame obstacles and about treating others with respect. His love of the game would come out, as well as his positive frame of mind. He is a classy individual. As an industry we are proud of what he has done both on and off the field, and how he has conducted himself.

I came away with an understanding of him as a man and as a business person. He was an intelligent player and this has translated into being a successful executive. Seeing him as a person, his outreach in the community, and focus on education for people of color…this has had a great effect on me. For me, my education truly opened up doors for working in baseball.

PJ: As John Schuerholz, Dayton Moore, Paul Snyder, Stan Kasten and Hank Aaron helped you in your career. Tell me how you are paying it forward with your Baseball Industry Network group on LinkedIn?

Tyrone: I started this group five years ago. For me, it’s a passion to help people achieve in this industry and get opportunities. My thought behind it was two-fold—to bring professionals together to network and grow and to reach back to help those trying to break in.

This is truly a people business and it’s about building relationships. If it wasn’t for others I would not be where I am today—20 years working in baseball doing something I love to do. If I can help open doors to help others achieve their dreams, that’s great. When I get emails and calls from people who I may have helped by giving them advice, and hear their updates, I feel a lot of joy and take a lot of pride in that.

If we can continue to educate, even kids in inner cities, showing that if you love to do it, you can do it for a career [that’s a goal]. Most people only see the on field, but we can show them that they can still do things to work in sports, just behind the scenes.

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The Baseball Industry Network can be found at and followed on Twitter @tbrooksBIN