A Passion for Learning Combined with Super Strong Work Ethic has Allowed Wayne Burke to Make a Massive Contribution in how Guelph and Surrounding Community Moves.
The path to making an impact in a community and serving others can take many twists and turns. This week's The Physical Movement explores one man's unique journey.
Trying to figure out when the government will give the green light for athletic centers and gyms to open has been a bit of a puzzle for Wayne Burke and his business partner Adam Martin at The Pursuit Athletic Center in Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
They have thousands of square feet of space, enough equipment so those training don’t have to share with others, separate entrance and exits and lots of cleaning stations. They also have a clientele that are empowered in their training so Wayne’s coaching can happen from the other side of the room if necessary. Yet, athletic performance centers have been held back. It does not make a lot of sense when big bog stores are shuffling people in and out by the thousands daily.
However, this is one more challenge that Wayne will figure out and find a way like he has done throughout his professional career. He figured out how to excel at lacrosse, basketball and volleyball in high school and turned that into playing professional lacrosse for the Columbus Land Sharks and Toronto Rock of the NLL. He found a way turn a part time job at a big box gym into a curiosity in asking if that was the best way to train people. An opportunity to learn with an american sports performance franchise moving into Burlington, Ontario taught him the finer points of coaching movement. He found a number of good resources that allowed him to organize his thoughts into a training philosophy. Wayne has figured it out one step at a time. So this COVID19 mess is just another challenge to overcome. His clientele is loyal, his knowledge base is deep, his coaching skills are sharp and the culture he and Adam have created at The Pursuit is second to none.
Recently The Physical Movement sat down with Wayne Burke and found out more about his journey.
TPM: On the topic of running a small business in the heart of COVID19, and one that focuses on building up the health of your clients, it really shows how the government perceives the business of health and fitness does it not? To push the promotion of physical activity and workouts to the back of the bus is quite something.
WB: With what the research tells us around dementia, cancer, personal health mental health and exercise, you would think we would be a higher priority. I fully understand the cleanliness issue, but we have the space, the cleanliness is there. We provide programming, instruction, direction, we do not need to be hands on with anyone . We can coach from middle of the floor with everyone 10 ft apart. No shared equipment. 30 ft ceilings, separate entry and exit.
We have all covered, which most other businesses do not have.
We have eliminated change rooms, water sharing.
We have been grouped as a greater risk to get the virus, but not sure all that is true. So yes, a little bit frustrating.
TPM: Funny, because so much difference within offering fitness services, in the “gym category” right? Apples and oranges. Some fitness businesses promote social distance, others do not. Big groups in a small room is a type of fitness business for example has become popular and will now be changed forever.
Anyway, crazy times. Thanks for joining us.
Tell me about yourself growing up and the role of sports and what caught your attention as a young student athlete. How did sports influence growing up?
WB: Thanks for having me. I grew up in Hamilton, Ontario.
I think I wanted to play hockey when very young, but don’t think my parents could afford it. They registered me in lacrosse. Fell in love with it for 28 years. Was blessed to be able to move well and run well which led me to play different sports through my youth. Lacrosse took me to play professionally, which was cool.
Lacrosse, basketball and volleyball were my focus growing up. I thought at one point of pursuing basketball, but was not really big at 5.9 or so that option was a little limited.
I gravitated to lacrosse but for a long time alternated to always be doing something. If not lacrosse, it was volleyball or basketball.
Playing sports kept me focused in school. I was a good student but sports kept me motivated and drove me.
TPM: What do you remember as some of the best coaching influences growing up ?
WB: The greatest coach I had was volleyball Kim Klodt. He has since passed away, but was my volleyball coach in high school . He ran a year round program. Brought us to his cottage, his house, we met his family. He really committed to us and we had a very close team. We were Top 5 in OFSA, don’t think our high school lost in our city for 13 years. How he treated us was the driving force. He was player’s coach , very passionate.
Most guys from our team went on to go great things athletically and professionally Many of his players went on to play pro baseball, national team coaches, post-secondary volleyball, some of the best players in the country. His influence helped me fall in love with the game.
He created a sense of accountability but also hands on personal connection, regardless of your role, he made you feel important and part of the team.
TPM: Did you get the sense at that time during this experience that he really loved what he was doing, and enjoyed his time coaching?
WB: Yeah, he loved it, you could tell. He included us in his life, coaching was such a big part of his life. We met his family, his kids, they knew how important for him.
You could tell he loved the interaction. He was a little older but as fit as everyone else and led by example. Even after he left, everyone would come back for alumni events, which is pretty rare, I think in high school. A great influence.
TPM: How did the evolution evolve to lacrosse after high school?
WB: I knew I had to pick a sport, before the time of libero position in volleyball. I loved it so much, and that position might have influenced me towards volleyball, but I felt lacrosse gave me a better chance to keep playing at a higher level.
At Brock University, my coach there was also the head coach of the Columbus Landsharks of the National Lacrosse League. I then got traded to the Toronto Rock, and got to play there, for hometown team and play in front of friends and family. That was fun.
TPM: How did this interest evolve to training and exercise?
WB: Until 24-25 years old , I did not do much in training or strength and conditioning. I did Sport Management while at Brock and my exposure to strength and conditioning did not happen until a little later. In my early 20’s, I was very focused on playing lacrosse.
By chance I got a job at big box gym as fitness consultant. Being at the gym at that time was not that important to me, it was a job, and that’s it.
Once I got traded to Toronto, the big box gym realized they could promote me as a trainer because they could see me play on TV. So they realized I was marketable, and they promoted me to the training floor and very quickly was training folks 44 hours a week as a result.
That is where I started to take an interest in training. I started to develop an interest in coaching and the interaction component with the client.
However, I did feel that maybe what I was being taught how to train folks was not the best way. I was not sure of the better way, but I started to investigate.
That is when I discovered Mike Boyle’s Functional Training for Sport. That allowed me to organize my thoughts around training individuals.
It sparked my passion a bit and got me on a path where I felt more comfortable with a coaching approach that included progressions and regressions.
TPM: That is amazing, because having worked with you, one of your qualities is your knowledge base and your high level of coaching skills.
How did that evolve?
WB: After the big box gym, I ran the gym at Mohawk College, as the manager. I was more like the GM of the gym. Hired and trained staff, organized payroll etc.
I spoke at the college one day about the services around the gym, and this gentleman approached me about the opportunity and asked if I would be interested.
He had purchased a Velocity Sports Performance franchise and 18 000 square ft facility in Burlington. One of the largest at the time.
I was hired as the Sports Performance Director, which candidly I was under qualified for at the time, but he took a chance on me.
The orientation and training of the staff for the franchise included 3 weeks of training in Atlanta, learning their system and model with top coach Loren Seagrave.
I realized at the time that I was grossly under qualified but was determined to succeed. I made the commitment to learn the material, realizing that if I did not, I was going to fail.
I passed that mindset on to my staff at the time. The approach was that I did not profess to know it all or know everything, or have all the answers, but there were no other facilities that had this template of learning. Their training was incredible.
They did a great job in breaking down the fundamental components of movement. My knowledge grew in understanding acceleration, max velocity sprint, starts, agility time, break down the 40 YD sprint. We did football combine training.
They had a binder system with video attached.
For example, a simple wall drill, had 5 things that were important to its execution with 5 mistakes. They had this for approximately 3000-5000 exercises.
I absorbed myself into that. I felt I had an opportunity to learn and dove into it full speed. I convinced the owner to pay the staff for 2 hours of learning every day.
So for 2-3 years learning all I could.
I realized that in performance training and strength and conditioning, movement was a side focus . Most approached it with a lifting focus, and the movement side is what set me apart from other trainers.
We filmed ourselves and spend hours and hours critiquing our demonstrations.
For visual learners this is so important, to see the movement performed correctly.
This is based on the theory that if I cannot do it in a demonstration, then athletes will make the same mistakes .
This maybe gave me an advantage as a high level athlete, I could perform the movements.
Everything there was awesome unfortunately did not last as long as could have due to very high overhead. Big facility, with the best of all equipment, top flooring etc. Financially it could not make it.
But this experience pushed me and catapulted me as a strength and conditioning coach.
TPM: This is where strength and conditioning culture can be so positive. The focus on ongoing and continuous learning.
WB: I think the only way stick around is to keep learning
I think to be successful as a coach, can’t be afraid to evolve.
The older I get, I sometimes wonder if I know what I am doing?
There is so much information and research and things keep changing.
Currently, there is bilateral vs unilateral training and sports performance debate going on for example.
I think the qualities of being modest and humble come into play, as new information pushes us to change and adapt and realize there might be a better way.
At the same time, a training philosophy can still guide you while integrating all this new information.
TPM: Very interesting. I think this is where sometimes where the gym industry has let people down, only focusing on 1 way to train. For the longest time, and still prevalent, the steady state cardio and 3 sets of 10 on the machines are the go to programs. And there is so much more right?
But I do think clients are attracted to humility and honest feedback and proper instruction, and perhaps a different approach.
WB: a big amount of credit must go to people who keep putting out great content. Not sure where they find time to put out the resources. But they are great.
The sharing of what they do makes it easier for us to evolve and survive. I don’t pretend to having invented anything. These resources are a great guide for us in the field.
TPM : The credentials of high quality content are so impressive is it not?
WB: The shift in mindset of strength and conditioning from bashing other programs a few years ago, to now building each other up has been great.
In bashing, we look bad, but if we build together, learn from others, and even if we don’t do the exact same thing or have same philosophy, we have a great opportunity to learn from others.
TPM: Fast forward, now co-owner with Adam Martin of Pursuit Athletic Center in Guelph and you work with all kinds of clients, young athletes and non-athletes, pro athletes, average folks in their 20’s 30’s and those my age (55) and older.
What do you see now with kids, let’s start there, what do kids need the most help with?
WB: First and foremost they need to be exposed to a variety of movements.
I think they need to be taught first and foremost how to move. Teaching them how to run, stop and start. That foundation is critical and often missing in 1 sport young athletes.
If exposed to a lot of sports early, like those in gymnastics , tend to do well.
I also think that young athletes don’t get exposed to doing things fast enough often enough.
For example, in a 90 minute practice, a lot of standing around or moving slower that competition pace. Need to spend more time moving at game speed. And then lots of time recover.
Not necessarily more quantity but more quality.
Maybe not 15 x 20m sprints, maybe 5. High quality reps. Minor cues to improvement.
By lowering the volume, it takes the grind away and make it more fun.
The fun component is big. We don’t want working on better movement to feel like work. That’s why we want fun music and are particular about our exercise and movement selection.
The thing missing the most is working on top end speed and making training a fun environment.
TPM: I can attest to that to having watched you guys for years. Most often the young athletes are having fun. And that translates to all clientele, and creates a culture of fun and accomplishment.
In running the facility , you are responsible for bringing people on. Bringing on new coaches, hiring and training. What do you see in that process with today’s new coaches?
WB: The biggest change from years ago is the education on the theory of training. Young people come to us with much theoretical knowledge. Candidly they may know more than I do. The biggest need is more experience training on the floor.
As I mentioned earlier, when we started at Velocity training center we immersed ourselves into the training and practice of the coaching. Of the 5 people on that staff, all own a gym right now, and there is a reason for that.
It goes back to putting the time learning, but also to develop a philosophy and a system that is repeatable. Not everyone in here is doing a different program. It is mastering the progression and regressions so you can accommodate individual differences by coaching some basic principles.
The coaches who are succeeding are constantly practicing and developing their craft beyond the paid hours. My business partner Adam is one of them , I hired Adam 10 years ago.
Many tell me they want to work, but I rarely see it now.
If you are not practicing during your down time, you can tell. I think It is a detriment in the long term success of the coach.
TPM: That is like the athlete right? There is practice and skill development and trial and error. They have to absorb the skills and develop them on their own.
We get that in business, we bring people on board and give them a salary and incentives and often they want to know how they can make more. Well, the answer is move quicker, practice more, learn more, understand more, apply more. Whether it be business or athletic performance or coaching , performance can be moved quicker to those putting the effort .
WB: The other thing we get in interviews, is that most new coaches want to work with professional athletes.
I always counter that with why would a professional athlete work with you? What do you have to offer them? I am not trying to be mean, but rather to get them to think about the other side.
We have many pro athletes using our facility, some of which make millions of dollars. Their investing with someone to help them.
You have more chance of getting this wrong then getting it right. Our job is to help them and make them better for the field of play. As a strength and conditioning coach, you can do a lot of damage. Why would a million dollar athlete work with you? What makes you the suitable candidate?
Often that triggers the realization that maybe not ready yet. Maybe need more practice. It’s going to take time.
Most often, there is a realization that it is not a simple as one might think.
TPM: The glamour is appealing to working with high profile athletes right? But that is a great point. From the customer perspective, what will they get that they won’t get somewhere else. And I know they get tons at Pursuit that they would not get anywhere else. But that is the question not only pro athletes, but young athletes and anyone working out.
WB: 50% of my business is athletes and the other ½ is adults. From a business side, if just dealing with athletes it won’t do so well because of the cyclical nature of athletes availability. It does not matter whether we train athletes or adults, we can help everyone.
We train people differently than other places. We see that often when adults come to our place and they have often been let down by the fitness industry at some point.
When we explore what has been tried before, we quickly find ways we can help.
TPM: What a great environment to be in, where people are focused on helping others.
Interesting because in my business there are a lot of training modules and programs offered that teach sales people how to assess and listen before making recommendations to a customer and you have developed that instinctively. By being focused on helping others, you naturally draw into their history first, then assess and listen and observe, then move into how you can help. It is s slower more methodical process, but very powerful. I know I have experienced it and seen it in action over the years.
You have a young family, with Adam you work with pro athletes and elite amateurs in the the Guelph Storm hockey team, you run a business, how do you keep yourself fit and strong?
Well, the last 4 months have reminded me on the importance of daily demonstrations on your fitness level! Without it being there I am missing 3-4 dynamic warmups daily. Those reps help keep me in game shape!
We try to find time between 1pm-3pm a few days a week to workout. I practice on staying mobile. I want to be able to sprint and jump and perform technical moves. I don’t waste much time , not focused on aesthetics, more on performance.
I do the things I expect my athletes to do.
Great message for all coaches teachers parents. Credibility is big and role modelling is big. You guys have nailed it.
Whether we like it or not, our athletes and clients watch us, and our credibility is often based on how we act.
It’s tough to talk about regular workouts if not working out regularly! Tough to show people how to move if you can’t move
Leadership principle of role modelling is often forgotten.
Wayne, thanks so much. Congrats on everything. Can’t wait to get over there once open again!
WB: thank you, a pleasure!
http://jointhepursuit.com/ is the website. If you are within 1-2 hours of Guelph, Ontario and want to get the very best in movement and strength and conditioning tutelage, Pursuit Athletic Center is the place. I have trained there since 2013. My son has learned his way around the weight room since 2014, and now my lovely wife is training there. We can attest to the impact these guys are making and the culture they have created.
Join them as they re-open shortly in accordance to government regulations.
If this time has taught us anything, it is the importance of our health. Getting the right guidance is critical, regardless of age and experience.