Speed Coach Ryan Flaherty
Speech Coach Ryan Flaherty Trains Top Athletes for Life On and Off the Field
Written by Jim Rooney
In the world of athletics, there are two thoughts that are universally held about speed. The first is, “speed kills.” Coaches, programs, owners and even fans know that the faster you are as an athlete, or even as a team, the more productive you can be on the field. Much attention these days is given to how fast a player can be or how much team speed a particular squad might have. Time and resources are given to finding and featuring fast which in turn leads to the second widely held belief about speed, which is this, You can’t teach it.
Ryan Flaherty, founder and owner of Prolific Athletes in Carlsbad, California, disagrees. His entire business and training philosophies are set up around teaching speed. He loves leaving the myth, Either they got it, or they don’t, in his ever accelerating dust. Prolific Athletes teaches speed. They teach it well, they teach it consistently, they teach it scientifically and they teach it liberally. Thousands of hours of research have helped to carve out ridiculously predictable results for all ages of athletes that walk through the unassuming garage style doors for help.
The stats have more than spoken for themselves. Since opening those doors in 2012, the relatively unassuming warehouse on a back business block in the sleepy, surf, seaside village of Carlsbad has turned out some of the most prolific (pun intended) athletes of present day. Jonny Manziel, aka Jonny Football, the former Heisman winner and current Cleveland Brown, took off nearly half a second while training with Prolific for less than two months before last year’s NFL draft. If that isn’t enough to quickly turn heads in the sporting world, Manziel’s favorite target at Texas A&M, Wide Receiver, Mike Evans also trained at Prolific. His increases in fast twitch production saw him selected seventh overall in that same draft. Both athletes rocketed up the charts thanks to Flaherty’s potent application of Prolific’s fast-making formula.
Other athletes who have benefitted include Jameis Winston (Florida State University quarterback & youngest player to win the Heisman Trophy), Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers & Five-time NBA Champion), Barry Zito (Cy Young Award Winner & World Series Champion), Kai Lenny (Stand Up Paddle World Championship winner), Meb Keflezighi (2014 Boston Marathon Winner & 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist), the Philippines Olympic Track and Field team, and over 250 other professionals. All gained “unteachable” speed through Flaherty’s approach. And while Prolific boasts a very impressive client list of professionals, these same extraordinary results have been conspicuously noticed by local parents of players at the youth and high school levels. As the result of Flaherty’s coaching, parents attest that their kids seem to have gone from being the slowest kid on the team to the fastest.
The passion Prolific has for accelerating the careers of the younger generation is not surprising considering Flaherty’s own rise to the NFL began in the same zip code where his business now resides. A football and track career at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad sent him on to the gridiron at Utah State and eventually a mini camp and pre-season with the 49ers. Injuries then sidelined him from playing the game permanently. However, his love for helping others could not be hamstrung. He came back to his roots, wiser for the wear, and began passionately sharing what he had discovered, athletically, spiritually and practically. Whether Pro, or Joe, Flaherty wants all his athletes to be more prolific than he is, on and off the field. The problem is keeping up with him.
It’s not hard to see his star will only continue to rise. The sporting giant Nike has already taken notice of the productive people and processes Prolific has churned out. They have brought Flaherty on as one of 18 experts from around the country to sit on their Performance Council. A distinctive honor, Flaherty still doesn’t let it get to his head. Despite all the athletic success he and his clients share, nothing makes him happier than seeing them succeed on the fast track, in the game of life.
Risen caught up with Flaherty at the Prolific Athletes facility, to chat with him about being an influence in the world of sports, why he treats people like he does, and how he gets premier athletes to take it up a notch.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: Was it always your dream to train professional athletes? Where did that desire come from?
Ryan Flaherty: No! I never set out to train professional athletes. From what I saw at the collegiate level, I realized there was huge lack of this knowledge in high school and below. I thought, “How can I get the training that I had to the youth and high schoolers?” It all really built from there. I always took the philosophy that whoever I was training, I would make their experience, whether it was a youth or a pro, the best I possibly could and I would take their results on as if they were my own. I make their goals my goals. So whether they are an eighth grader, or sophomore in high school, or a professional athlete, it has really served me well. It’s all really built from there. Every athlete I’ve worked with has been based off word of mouth referral from the last athlete. I’ve been blessed in that. It was a matter of not setting my sights too high, but just focusing on what I could do that day, doing the best job I could with the athlete I was working with at the time. That’s lead to me working with some of the best athletes in the world.
Risen Magazine: What part did your faith play in that journey?
Ryan Flaherty: It’s crazy. It’s been incredible to look back and see how integral God has been in the process, where I’ve come from and where I am today. When I first started training athletes, I was a young Christian. I didn’t fully understand what it meant to live by the Word God gave us and how to be that example for others. My career has grown with my faith. It’s been amazing to see those two coincide with each other.
Risen Magazine: Your company name is Prolific Athletes. What’s the meaning behind that?
Ryan Flaherty: It’s all based off of [the Bible verse] John 15:5. To me, it just talks about keeping Christ at the center of your life and you’ll bear much fruit. When I first started reading the Bible ten years ago, it was a verse that stuck out to me. I just held that really close. If I held Jesus really close, I would bear much fruit, and at the time, I wasn’t bearing any fruit. I was in a really difficult time in life. My Mom had just passed away, football had ended for me, and my career was over. I had a big injury, and I really didn’t know where I was going to go. That verse really stood out to me and I held it really close to me. Then around the time I was starting the business, I had a number of people mention the word “prolific” to me. I just knew that I wanted my business to bear that same kind of fruit. It’s been a great way to subtly introduce our athletes to God.
Risen Magazine: It’s clear that you really have a heart for your athletes off the field as well as on it. You want them “bearing fruit” on the field as well as off. Where does that come from in you?
Ryan Flaherty: To me it all goes back to God being the center. When I was first beginning my journey, I found the way I had first experienced Christ to be the best. It was through people who had been through similar struggles that I had been through and they shared their stories with me – that really rang true to me. Initially, when I was training with athletes I found the best way for me to connect to them was the same way others had connected with me – just being real and just being myself. Telling them all the mistakes I’ve made, and that these are the consequences of those mistakes, and this is the reason I am where I am today. I have been where they are now.
Having someone around who has been where they are instantly drops walls. It allows us to connect on a deeper level. I’ve been there and I know that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. The average NFL career only lasts 2.5 seasons. So I know the work we do off the field will last far longer than our work on it. I know it’s not all as glamorous as it’s made out to be in the newspapers and on ESPN. I experienced it. I knew what it was to have your identity wrapped up in it and to have that taken away. But I also moved on from that too.
It’s like, “You’re just a normal guy and I know where you are and I know how to help you.” I want them to know that I’m not just hanging around them because they’re stars. I’m not wrapped up at all in who they are on the field. They always get surprised that I don’t ask for tickets. That becomes evident as guys come back to train with me year after year. I care more about them as people then I do about them as players. It’s not by me immediately talking about my faith, it’s more about me setting an example. Regardless of how bad they screw up I just try and be there for them. It’s how the relationship continues to grow. It’s amazing how God keeps bringing me guys who need guidance. Johnny Manziel was a big one and now Jameis Winston. They hear about me through the training results, but I know that it’s the character development stuff that will really last.
The only problem we run into is that most approaches are based off of one philosophy or another. Our approach is based solely off science.
Risen Magazine: Who is an athlete that you have really connected with off the field?
Ryan Flaherty: I’ll give you two stories. The first is Mike Evans. He had a really tough upbringing; sports was his “out.” His dad was killed in a gang shooting when he was nine years old. He was raised by a single mom in a really rough neighborhood and then had a daughter when he was only eighteen years old. Through that, he would talk about God, but he didn’t have Him at the center of His life. He didn’t want to lose the tough exterior.
For the four months he was with us before the combine, we saw a ton of growth in him. We were able to do a lot of character development workshops with him. The big break through came when we saw him on stage after being drafted, he gave praise to His Lord and Savior in front of the commissioner on live television. I put my hands in the air! It was really confirmation that the work I was doing off the field was working. We still keep in touch and he’s really sticking with making great decisions at Tampa Bay.
The other story is Manziel. I almost hate to say it, but people see Johnny Football and that’s who they believe he is. Really he’s a 21-year-old kid from Kerrville, Texas –population 23,000 – who overnight became a star and didn’t have the skills to handle that type of success and access to these celebrities. More people around him at Texas A&M wanted to be his friend, but no one wanted to keep him accountable. Right away we established a relationship based on trust. He trusted that I had his best interest at heart and that I was going to keep him accountable. I didn’t want to be his friend. I didn’t want to go hang out with him and some rapper. He saw that. He and I have developed this relationship where I am at least able to be an example for him. I’m just there for him. We both know it will be a process but he knows I’ll be there for him no matter what.
Risen Magazine: It’s amazing to have that influence. Obviously you have to have the results to attract guys like Manziel and you have a very unique system. Where did that come from?
Ryan Flaherty: Growing up I was always held back by my speed until I was introduced to a track and field coach who taught me how to sprint. From that point on, I went from being known as the slow kid to being known as the fast kid.Even from my experiences when I was young, a lot wasn’t right, and no one really understood where speed came from. So I set out to learn that. Through research and studies we did, I found out that speed is all about your strength to weight ratio. Simply, if we can improve this ratio, then we can improve speed. We rate that on a number scale between one, being the least, and four, being the most.
When Manziel came in, his force number was 2.4. We improved his force number to 3.2 in 8 weeks. His 40 yard dash dropped .4 seconds and his vertical jump increased 8 inches. We had incredible results with that process. We’re in the process, partnering with Nike, to get that information out to youth and high school kids. There is a lack of information out there and coaches at that level generally don’t know what the top performance coaches and athletes do. The only problem we run into is that most approaches are based off of one philosophy or another. Our approach is based solely off science. We think that as we put out more results, more people will want to know what we know, and train how we train.
Risen Magazine: How did you get the attention of Nike?
Ryan Flaherty: The relationship really developed organically through them seeing the results our athletes were getting. Nike then approached me last year to help bring a scientific approach to strength and speed to their company. I was appointed to the Nike Performance Council, which is made up of 18 academics, coaches, trainers, M.D.s and Ph.D’s. They really want to make sure that they keep their approach in design as scientifically accurate as possible. They have a number of amazing designers, but they want to make sure they continue to help athletes as best they can. It’s been really great to have that influence in such a huge company. To make a suggestion about a new shoe and then see that shoe on the shelf has been an awesome process. They’ve really begun to dig deeper into what we’re doing at Prolific and we’re really hoping to bring it out to the masses as quickly as possible.
I was going to coach the person, the heart of the athlete, more than I was going to coach the on-the-field performance.
Risen Magazine: The most recent Nike Performance Councill you were at was envisioning what exercise is going to look like in the year 2040. What are your predictions there?
Ryan Flaherty: Man. There were a lot of big thinkers in that room. There were people from the technology space and medical space who have dreamed a lot about the future. I was the only performance coach or trainer in the room. They kept asking me, “What do you think?” I had to say that I didn’t think technology was going to go as far in helping us exercise as they thought it would. I think mostly our information is going to improve over time. For instance, we may improve the process of how we use tech to say, check our blood markers or certain genetic markers on a daily level. We may even use science to a more effective level in how we work out, but I still think there’ll be a premium on teaching people how to use their bodies correctly in exercise. I just don’t think it will change that much.
Risen Magazine: What’s something you wish you had have known when you were playing that you now know and use to train others?
Ryan Flaherty: We’re finding with the force number that there is almost no limit with human performance. If your goal was to have a 50 inch vertical jump, then we could get you there! We would just need to get your strength to weight ratio to what we’d need it to be to jump 50 inches. I wish I had that. It’s fun to dream about.
Risen Magazine: Having that combination of science with results while still maintaining a genuine heart for people had to develop from somewhere. Who have your heroes been?
Ryan Flaherty: Growing up as a young kid, Michael Jordan was somebody I looked up to purely based on his story. I wasn’t the best athlete as a kid – basketball, baseball or football player. So hearing about Jordan not making his high school team and the practice time he put in, and how many shots he took in a day and in a week, to make himself into what he became was really inspiring. To see a guy that was the best of the best and it was through, not just talent, but hard work. I really related to that. That’s what I truly believe and can attest to, having worked with some of the best professionals on the planet. These guys and girls are some of the hardest working people. They work harder at what they do than any other profession I’ve ever been around. They work their butts off! Jordan was the first one I saw exampling that and I truly believe mimicking his work ethic helped me to get to where I am and help others get there too.
Another is Mike Swider, the longtime head football coach at Wheaton College. He was a big influence on me as well, especially hearing him speak a few times on how he coaches the athletes he works with. Everything he said rang so true with me. He wasn’t in it to live vicariously through his athletes or for his own self-promotion. You could tell he was in it for the right reasons. I suffered through some coaches like that, whose hearts weren’t in the right place. He had such a grip on how his words could have a huge effect on a kid. It’s amazing how one derogatory comment can stick with a kid for the rest of his life. I loved that he talked not just about coaching football players, but coaching men, future husbands, brothers, cousins and uncles. I wish I could have played for him! Through hearing him, it really changed the way I coached and spoke to athletes. I know he changed my trajectory as a coach. From that day forward I was going to coach the person, the heart of the athlete, more than I was going to coach the on-the-field performance.
Coach Nick Ruscetta (Former head coach at Santa Fe Christian High School in Solana Beach, where Flaherty got his coaching start) was also a huge influence on me. He was the first man I ever saw who truly cared so much more about coaching the kid than what the scoreboard said. He always had the kids’ best interest at heart. He viewed football as a privilege, but if you weren’t doing the right thing off the field and showing the kids how to be men, then the football part was meaningless. He really helped shaped me as a coach. Being able to see that with Coach Ruscetta gave me the example to follow. So whether it’s Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers quarterback), or a local high school kid, then I want to coach them all the same way. They’re treated the same way. My investment is in them as people.
Risen Magazine: What’s some advice you would give to the training world in general? Are there any changes you’d want to see in that area?
Ryan Flaherty: Too many people are trying to make the weight room and the speed training the focus of the elite athlete. I would say that training should just be general. A majority of an athlete’s time should be focused on the sport or skill they’re playing. I’ll explain it like this. If a professional athlete is going to go practice today and then going to work out also, then their work out should only be a third of the time of what they’re focusing on with their skill. Usually in today’s training world, it’s opposite. In the off-season, I’ll see guys that will do speed and weight training four days a week and only run routes or catch balls one day a week. I think it should be reversed.
My other piece of advice almost contradicts this, but it’s specific for youth. I tell parents all the time to hold off on learning the specifics of a sport and help their kids learn how to run and be a good athlete. Sprinting is so technical. If they learn that technique at a young enough age, it changes the trajectory of their athletic career. The last thing I’ll say for all athletes is that over training is a huge problem. A lot of injuries are coming because of this. Each athlete we train gets 48 hours of recovery before the next training session. This is so their central nervous system has a chance to recover. Your body only grows and develops during recovery. If you’re shorting this than you won’t see the results that you want.
Risen Magazine: You see a whole gamut of athletes come through your doors. What’s one last piece of advice you’d give anyone who wants to take their performance up a level?
Ryan Flaherty: I’ll use the NFL as an example. Some guys have a ton of talent but below average work ethic. Those are the athletes who only play one to two seasons, they might make a team, but they’ll flush out pretty quickly. Then you’ll find the guys who have below average talent, but a really good work ethic. They too might make a practice squad, might make the team, but also aren’t going to last as long.
Then you have the athletes who have the talent and have the work ethic. Those turn out to be your pro-bowlers and make it the furthest. You won’t find a guy who plays a long time in the NFL if the work ethic isn’t there. These guys work really, really, really hard. Find encouragement in that. Couple that with the right knowledge on how to develop, using the force number I think would help, and you’ll accomplish far more than depending on your talent alone. Talent is easy to take for granted though. People think a guy like Cam Newton only has talent and hasn’t worked hard to get where he is. Nothing is farther from the truth. I have to kick so many of these guys out of the gym to keep them from training too much. Set a goal to have a world-class work ethic!
Risen Magazine: What’s one of the lessons that has stuck most with you on your journey?
Ryan Flaherty: Coming through a really tough time like I did, suffering a career ending injury and losing my mom to cancer all in the same year, it was easy to question God. I’d think, “Why is all this happening to me? Why did I have to go through this struggle?” Looking back on it now, it’s been amazing to see that God was just trying to get me to realize what my true passion was. I am so glad now that I didn’t play longer in the NFL. I am so happy to be where I am and be influencing the people that I am, at the level that I am. This is where God wanted me to be. We can be so near-sighted. We just see where we are today, but can miss His master play. Keep that faith. Know that soon you’re going to reach your passion. It might not be where you pictured it to be. It wasn’t for me. It wasn’t through me playing. But I have so much more joy and so much more influence with people than I ever could have imagined. It’s amazing once you find the passion God has for you in life. I think I’m a true testament to that.
Exclusive Interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Winter 2014
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