Meet Barrett Stover of Revolution Sports Performance [Interview]

Get the Basics…
  • The impact of mentors and role models in pursuing a sports performance career
  • The role of formal, science-based education in the fitness industry
  • The value (or lack thereof) of fitness advice on social media
  • The mentality of elite level and professional athletes that sets them apart

Background

Mathew Sims: My name is Mathew Sims, the editor in chief at Exercise.com, and today we have the pleasure of speaking with Barrett Stover from Revolution Sports Performance. And we’ll jump right in.

Barrett, can you tell us a little bit about your competitive background in sports?

Barrett Stover: Absolutely. I played baseball growing up as long as I could remember. My dad played professionally and got to AAA so it was definitely just something we always did together, and his dad played. His brothers played. Definitely a family tradition.

Played tennis, swimming, soccer basketball. Different season, different sport until I got into middle school and got more serious about baseball and played through high school and college. Just wasn’t good enough to play professionally. Was lucky enough to play through college, had a great experience playing through college, then moved onto the other side of the line.

SIMS: When or how did you realize, “I’m not going to make the pros but I can help train others” and how did you get into that sports performance side of it exactly?

STOVER: So I think like a lot of people in my field I started getting interested because I wanted to improve myself and max out my potential. Coming up, I started training as a sophomore in high school. I was a late developer. Slow. Not that strong. Definitely not fast twitch, so it was more of a need for me than a plus.

Going through, I was lucky enough to have a strength and conditioning coach in my life that played a big role and just helped me out a ton. I definitely would not have played college baseball without doing that, and it’s something that probably helped me outperform my natural ability to some extent.

So I was pretty much set on playing. Like I said, my dad played and it was just one of those where if I kept working at it I’d be good enough to get drafted or sign as a free agent or something like that. It wasn’t until late in my senior year when I was playing terribly that I realized I’m probably going to have to go and do something else next year and not play professionally.

That’s when I got serious about grad school. I was in a degree that had exercise science as a minor so I knew grad school was the right route for me. That’s when I was like this will be something that will be done now and not later in my life.

SIMS: How do you think having a degree with exercise science and that kind of background sets you apart or helps you where someone that doesn’t have that may not have the same expertise or science-based background?

STOVER: So our field is awesome in that anyone can get into it, and it’s also awful in that anyone can get into it because you end up with a lot of hype men or women that are really good at selling but not producing results in training.

It’s a double-edged sword. Where I think it gave me the foundational knowledge base and teaches you things like how to read a research paper, which going into grad school I had no idea how to do that, it was like a different language to me.

It gave me some further skills to develop along with the foundational knowledge that you learn of doing exercise physiology or exercise science with anatomy and exercise phys[iology] classes and that sort of thing.

Overall, just building that foundation and I was lucky enough to work under Dr. Szymanski in grad school. He was always looking to improve his own knowledge set and he was very accomplished.

Seeing him and learning how he continued his studies and continued his search for knowledge, it was something that was an eye-opener for me that this was going to be a neverending quest for improving myself and not just getting a degree and resting on that.

SIMS: I didn’t do the intensive probably doctoral-level research that you did in your Master’s, but we’re always looking at content ideas and I ran across something yesterday that said something like 70 percent of the exercise advice by Instagram influencers is bad for you.

STOVER: I wouldn’t doubt it. And it’s probably the guys with the most followers. That’s obviously a broad generalization. There are a lot of great people that have a ton of followers, and there’s also a lot of people that don’t know what they’re talking about, that are good at social media. You have to sort through that stuff with a fine comb.

Training Approach

SIMS: What’s one word that best describes how you train? Or a sentence?

STOVER: We want to produce results on the field. That would be the main thing that we look at. How does what we do in the weight room carry over to whatever field you’re playing on which in our case is mainly baseball. How do the results in the weight room transfer over onto the field?

SIMS:  And you already hit a little bit on this but what’s your approach now? You realized it was going to be a continuing journey to improve yourself? It sounds like you had that mindset when you played baseball and carry that over into what you do now.

How does that approach to learning and science relate to your training now, and how do you keep yourself fresh and constantly learning?

STOVER: Let’s start with the Instagram thing. There are a lot of great people on Instagram and Twitter that put our phenomenal information. Even just looking through your feed on social media, that work can be huge.

We’ve picked up numerous exercises from Instagram or Twitter and stuff that’s like, “That’s interesting, why is someone doing that?” and it cues you to look deeper into what’s going on there and maybe it’s not exactly the exercise that you use, but it sparks another thought in your head that leads to a slightly different approach or something like that.

That’s a big one. Always looking to try different conferences like PRI, different methodologies, Postural Restoration Institute, or FRC, those sort of things add a lot of value.

Again, it’s not a matter of totally changing what we do but adding another tool to the tool belt so we can better our assessment, better our quality of training, fix our mobility issue faster, take less time to make those changes in athletes.

Then looking at articles or reading on the websites like TNation or Simply Faster or just all the great information that’s out there and other guys that have sports performance training facilities across the country that put out a lot of great information as well.

SIMS: What would you say is the synergy between strength, power, and movement?

STOVER: Great question. I’m glad that you worded it that way because so many people see them as three opposite things, but definitely, need to work together to create an athlete that’s going to have a lower risk of injury and be better on the field like we talked about earlier.

So I think the biggest thing is understanding strength and flexibility create mobility. It’s not like if you’re strong you won’t be mobile which goes along with the power aspect of it as well. You’ll be powerful if you’re strong and can move well.

Your training, if you look at the speed/strength continuum, is more on the speed side of things. Being able to evaluate and see what the athlete needs first and foremost.

We’ve had some kids come in that are very naturally strong and don’t move well, so we’re going to back off the traditional strength training with those guys and lean more towards the mobility sides of things and maybe key in on some smaller muscles in the hips, scaps that need to be strengthened and focus on that more; instead of a lot of the 14-year-old athletes that we get in that have never lifted before, so any time you put weight in their hands it’s going to be beneficial.

Looking at those things and trying to get a determination on which athlete has what, if they’re a powerful athlete that doesn’t move well or vice versa, and figuring that out. And then understanding how you can customize the training to fill whichever bucket it needs to fill.

SIMS: How have baseball players evolved especially how it relates to training, preparation, that sort of thing in the last decade or more?

STOVER: It’s funny that baseball goes from a sport where, especially pitchers, it’s very frowned upon to lift to a sport that’s dominated by steroids in a matter of 10 years.

If you look at the steroid era, as terrible as this is, it really catapulted the sport into strength and conditioning, where guys went from just more of a natural ability or more of a flexibility approach to the guys hitting 60-plus home runs a year, and the guys throwing upper 90s more consistently and are able to rebound and recover better because of the performance-enhancing drugs.

Looking at that, that really obviously put a microscope on how important it would be, and when you’re playing 162 games in the majors [and] you’re not strong and you don’t do your work in the offseason, you’re going to deteriorate.

If you’re not doing your stuff in-season to maintain that strength, maintain that mobility, maintain that power, like we were talking about the synergy between the three, then you’re going to either get injured or your performance is going to suffer greatly.

That was the starting point, and I think it’s just been really smart individuals in the field doing it in the right way and moving away from the traditional football lifts; just copying the football programs from a college or NFL team and putting baseball teams through that.

Now people are like, “How do we make a baseball player hit a ball further and throw a ball faster and not just make them stronger?” I think that’s played a big part in it as well.

SIMS: When you’re training athletes, is there something when you see it, a trait or whatever, that you think this athlete is going to special or successful?

STOVER: Obviously there are some guys that just walk in the door and you’re like, “Ok, this guy has the potential to be an athlete.” There’s a kid that we’re training right now who could be very good at baseball and could probably go pro in two other sports if he grew up playing those sports primarily; he’s that gifted naturally.

I think the big thing is mentality and guys understand from an early age they just have that desire or obsession. I look at professional athletes.

They almost have an addictive personality, a lot of them, so it’s the guys that are willing to maybe go to the point of over-training and really push the limit physically on themselves. They just have a different gear with that. I guess its a mentality and physicality gear that some of us don’t have, something I didn’t have.

I wanted to work hard but I feel like I did almost too much in moderation so there’s a little bit of that crazy factor involved. There’s a little bit of that God-gifted ability, and there’s a lot of mentality of what I’m doing right now isn’t good enough I need to get better.

SIMS: What do you think the play between that God-given ability and having that crazy grit mentality to get it done and take it to the next level? I probably watch more basketball, but I can think of tons of athletes who all the scouts and combine things and measures are off the board, but they seem to peter out?

Then on the flip side, the guy who comes to mind is LeBron James, who obviously was super gifted physically, probably could have gone pro in several sports, but is spending all this money on his body, and you can tell now that it’s definitely paid off.

What do you think the balance is there between the God-gifted ability and that crazy grit to take it to the next level?

STOVER: I think it’s understanding that you’re training for the next level at all times; that’s something we try to preach to our kids. If you’re in high school, you’re a junior in high school, you shouldn’t be training to be a good varsity baseball player. You should be training to be a good college baseball player.

We have guys that are rising seniors in high school that if they stopped lifting for the next three years they could probably be able to compete at a very high level of Division I, Power-5 conference school because their strength plays up that much already.

Being able to understand that if you’re a hitter you need to be better than Mike Trout, not whoever is the starting right fielder for the college you’re committed to.

If you’re a pitcher you need to be better than Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer, that sort of thing and be pushing yourself because if you’re content with being the best at whatever level you’re at, even in the Majors…Max Scherzer isn’t like, “Oh yeah, I had a good year last year. I’m probably going to take the offseason off and travel somewhere.”

Guys getting after it every day and try to figure out how to make his pitches better. So understanding that concept, even when you’re the best in the world at something you need to strive to make yourself better and not rest on like, “Hey, did you see my strikeout numbers in high school?’ Dude, it doesn’t matter. That sort of thing, no one cares.

Next year when you go to college, no one’s going to ask you what your strikeout-to-walk ratio was or your K-per-9. It’s are you getting these guys out? Are you striking guys out? Are you getting weak contact? Those sort of things, not what you [did] in high school.

SIMS: Especially in sports, the memories are so short. You have a great year one year and a terrible year next year.

STOVER: You’re only as good as your last outing.

Business Approach

SIMS: How has having a niche really helped you as a trainer? I know you said you guys do mostly baseball, how has that helped you do what you want to do, find the kind of exercises you want to do, and market to your niche?

STOVER: I think this is also a bit of a double-edged sword because you can get stuck in a mindset. Obviously, specialization is great in any field, there’s a reason there’s orthopedic surgeons, heart surgeons, and not just surgeons. You don’t want someone who’s done your shoulder to do your heart the next week.

That obviously narrows down the field. We’re seeing a lot of the same issues with a high school baseball player that comes in for an evaluation. We’re going to face the same five issues the majority of the time.

It helps to be able to learn and put a system in place to say [that] we have this issue with the shoulder or this elbow pain, this hip internal rotation issue’ and we’ve gone through it with 25 other guys. We’ve had good success with 24 of them so we have a game plan in place.

The flip side is if you get stuck doing that and it doesn’t work, you’re just like why isn’t this working. You can’t see outside the box at all. A double-edged sword, but it does help to create systems to eliminate problems. We talk about faster as well as just help guys in the long run.

SIMS: So I saw on your Twitter I think Revolution opened in 2017. So talk to me about some of the growing pains involved with running a sports performance business. If there’s one thing you could go back that would have alleviated a lot of pain?

STOVER: I tried to read a lot of blogs by guys that started gyms that have articles like “Three Things I Should Have Done Better.”

You’re going to make mistakes. My thing was if I can make a $100 mistake that’s ok; I don’t want to make the $1,000 mistakes from the business side of things.

Limiting what you would think would be huge issues, learning from other people’s mistakes has always been a big thing I’ve tried to do in my life, talking to mentors. Obviously, there were a lot of struggles and a lot of things I would do differently, but I think one of the main things would have been automating payments earlier so I wouldn’t have to chase money every month.

I do at least a minimum of a three-month commitment. With that being said it’s easy to set up a payment for three months and not have to worry about it anymore. It’s coming off someone’s card as opposed to every month someone comes to the door [with a check].

That would have been probably the number one thing that would have saved me a lot of time. I was just kind of being cheap and saying I want to save the extra 1-1.5 percent. I only have so many guys right now, I can handle that.

But that ends up taking a lot of brain power and stress and that, in turn, takes away from writing programs and training and actually doing the things I need to focus on.

If someone started a gym tomorrow, I would say automate payments day one.

SIMS: For someone, maybe starting their own sports performance, or thinking about it, you talk about the articles, three things to avoid and stuff like that.

You already talked about automating payments. So, I’m guessing that would probably make your list, but are there any other tips you would give someone even just thinking about it, not even the point of starting yet?

STOVER: The first one would be to have a quality product. That’s any field. One of the reasons that we’re having this conversation is because you guys offer a really quality product in the app, the online services, everything you do.

Make sure that your product is top notch. You know how to get people better, you know how to get people faster, stronger, move better, more powerful, whatever sport you’re working with.

RSP-app-screenshot-1

Number two, I would create some type of system doing so. The other, I guess, bigger issue I struggle with now is scaling and scaling with quality, not scaling [just] to scale. Early on it’s a lot easier to set aside time if you don’t have as many athlete’s you’re working with. Set aside time to [coach and train], and write that down somewhere so you can easily refer back to it.

Also when you’re starting out don’t chase every dollar. Make sure that you’re putting time to continue your education, working out on your own, understand that there’s give and take. If you take every client that walks through the door and you bend to everyone’s needs and say yes all the time, you’re going to lose in the long run.

Again, that’s something I did, OK? Could have done a lot better with. For the first year I was doing this, I didn’t do much on my continuing education part. It was more writing programs, training, trying to work out myself, and repeat.

I said no a few times and it definitely helped and created a shorter window, smaller hours for me every day. I think I could do an even better job of that.

SIMS: It’s hard to say no when you’re starting that business and you know you need to grow. It’s hard to turn that down.

STOVER: Obviously every dollar counts so to turn down $10 now for $30 later when you’re starting out is not an easy concept to understand.

SIMS: Tell me how you’ve used your custom-branded app with clients. How has that helped you? You talked about scaling and payments already, but what are the benefits you’ve seen with having your own app?

rsp-app-screenshot-2

STOVER: The biggest thing that I use it for right now is the scheduling component that you guys just came out with, and I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to a few guys going through that process. It was a huge thing I was looking for.

We talk about scaling and offering quality. We try to keep coach-to-player to one coach to every four to five athletes, so with people texting me and trying to create a schedule on my iPhone every day with people and growing, it just became overwhelming and led to me saying yes or no to someone at a certain time based on a hunch of how busy we were going to be or how many people I thought had come in.

Now, I can come in say, “Here are the times, you’ve got to go sign up. First come, first served. It’s capped at eight people right now, so when eight people sign up, you’ve got to pick a different time or you can’t come. Sorry.”

That’s been the biggest thing. We have one athlete over in Asia now that’s using it. I’ll see him for probably maybe three months of contact time in-person [a year]. So to have something where I can track what he’s doing on the other side of the world is huge.

And then we are trying this summer to integrate into more of our everyday clients so they’re entering their weights and that sort of thing so we can use the tracking features and progress features.

Both use it to show results and to say ‘hey man, you’re not doing what we need you to do. You need to pick it up. This is what you should be doing. This is what you are doing. It’s right in front of your face.’ or ‘Hey man, this is awesome. Look how much you’ve improved. This is why you’re throwing harder.’ That sort of thing.

SIMS: From the big picture side of things, what’s one thing you would say that Revolution does better than other baseball sports performance [centers] in the field? What’s one thing that you’re really proud of that you do with excellence?

STOVER: I’m the kind of guy that thinks we always need to get better. I think we do a good job of using our evaluation in the workout and not evaluating to evaluate.

So taking what we get from the evaluation, I don’t think our evaluation is the best that anyone does ever or I’m the best evaluator of a baseball player by any means, or Jason is the best evaluation of a baseball player.

I think we both do a good job with that. We’re able to pick out what we need to, and we’re able to extract the information from the evaluation and then use it to make improvements and then make and track those improvements.

I’m sure a lot of other people do that as well, but I think that’s led us to be able to come up with some pretty good results and also then show people how they’re improving so the buy-in from athletes is going to be huge, the buy-in from parents is going to be huge. You’re going to get that unwavering support if you can do those two things.

SIMS: I think from the consumer side too, there’s nothing worse than taking evaluation or survey and then you get to the next step and you realize it had no relevance to what came next.

From the consumer side, engaging the athletes in that way kind of boosts the credibility. And the other thing I was going to mention, you brought it up several times through the conversation, but just in my experience, I think having that growth mindset where we’re always trying to get better is something that is unique as well.

That definitely stands out to me with our conversation, just talking about when you were an athlete and not being satisfied. It really sounds like that’s carried over to your business. I think if you’re willing to shift gears when you’re wrong, change, [and] improve, you’ve got a much better chance of being really successful as opposed to someone who doesn’t.

Maybe they’ll be in business for 10 years but once the tides change, there’s nothing that’ll be left.

STOVER: There are lots of great books out there like Ego Is The Enemy, where they speak on these [things] and just understanding how important humility is. I’m sure work experiences or people that you’ve known growing up that are extremely hard-headed or extremely arrogant in what they do or don’t listen to anyone, they’re just not fun to be around.

I didn’t want to be the person that was like a dictator running a business. If you’re working for someone where you don’t think what you do or say is going to have a difference on where the direction the company goes, then you’re not going to get good results from that person or those people.

And with us being a business of two people right now, it’s very important for me to listen. And then as hopefully we continue to grow, then making sure that each person understands that their contributions are taken into consideration.

If I have to say no to someone I have to have a good reason behind it and not just make sure it isn’t “Well, Barrett didn’t come up with that idea, so we’re not going to do it.”

SIMS: That’s a great point on the employee/partner side. Not necessarily looking for a yes person, but looking for someone with a good idea…

STOVER: I’m very lucky with Jason to have that. He’s pushed me very hard especially programming. He reads everything under the sun and knows all these different program methods that, like we talked about, I didn’t do a good job of prioritizing.

So our training philosophy has taken a huge step forward since he came on in December and is going to continue to grow immensely because of the contributions he’s bringing to the table in that regard.

SIMS: That’s great. So last question here for you. What’s next for the Revolution? What’s on the horizon for your business? Anything else you want people to know about what you guys have coming up?

STOVER: A few things would be we want to get more into online training with the app, do more distance training. Figure out a way to do that, like we talked about, effectively and offer a quality product that way.

Figure out how to evaluate from a distance or have people come in and take a program with them on the road, which is a lot easier to do now with the app to have the videos and track their workouts.

That would be, from a business standpoint, the biggest dollar and cents thing that we’re missing out on along with adding some other rotational sports like golf and softball would be great.

I’ve worked a lot of golf in the past. We have one long drive guy, Eddie Fernandes. That would be the big thing.

And also using the app to track progress better. Again, that evaluates us as well. If a kid’s working really hard and his weights aren’t going up then that’s our problem. If the kid’s not working hard and his weights aren’t going up, that’s his problem.

To be able to identify those sort of things and make those changes, and have the objective data instead of us being like “well, we thought we did this better in our program and we thought you were getting stronger.”

No, these are the numbers and it’s very black and white. I think that would be something that we’re trying to work towards over the rest of the calendar, into 2020.

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