In May 2014, I opened the doors to O.B. Training & Sports Performance in Utica, New York. If you haven’t heard of Utica, we split the map between Albany and Syracuse. Which means we help put the “up” in upstate.
Now, I love Utica, but love for Utica is hard to come by. Forbes named it the third-worst place for business and careers in the U.S. in 2015, and it’s also been described as one of the worst places to live in New York.
I beg to differ, but I’ll say this: One of the reasons I chose Utica was because sports performance training for young athletes didn’t exist there. I’d be the new guy with new ideas. That’s good and bad—good because I didn’t really have any competition, bad because I was a baby-faced 22-year-old trying to convince parents and coaches to trust me when I pitched a completely different approach to training.
That pitch was especially difficult in a place like Utica, with its deep roots in powerlifting and bodybuilding. (Back in the ’70s, Utica hosted the first drug-tested bodybuilding contest, using a lie detector instead of expensive lab tests.)
How do you sell established coaches—with established programs—on why their kids need to focus on movement patterns instead of body parts, and why mobility, stability, sprinting mechanics, and proper deceleration technique matter more than their PRs in the Big Three powerlifts? How do you convince parents their sons or daughters are less likely to get hurt by doing something new?
To succeed, I had to connect with my community on three levels: coaches and administrators, parents, and the athletes themselves. I had to do more than show them how this type of training would benefit the kids; I had to win their trust.
Here’s what I did to make it all happen, and to establish the area’s most popular athlete-training facility in the process.
Step 1: Create your Dream 100
Digital marketer Russell Brunson talks about the concept of your Dream 100, which is essentially a list of 100 people you need to connect or work with to move your business forward. The idea is that by reaching out to every person on this list, just by the law of averages, you’ll establish some sort of connection with a small percentage of them.
For me, this meant sitting down and listing all the high schools and middle schools within a 10-mile radius of my business. Then I hit the staff directories on the schools’ websites and collected the names, email addresses, and phone numbers of every coach, athletic director, and phys ed teacher.
Step 2: Introduce yourself as a resource, not a savior
Once I identified my Dream 100, I crafted a letter to introduce myself, explaining exactly what I do and why it would benefit their school and its sports teams. Here’s an example:
To Whom it May Concern:
In this day and age, bringing together the most skilled athletes no longer guarantees an elite program. Over the past couple of decades there have been huge advancements in sports science and the way athletes train. Today, the teams with the top-rated strength and conditioning programs and facilities are the teams to beat. Elite athletes are no longer a result of good genetics but rather a combination of natural ability and the right training program. The right program is now the difference between good and great.
This letter is to serve as confirmation that O.B Training & Sports Performance is the only facility located in the Mohawk Valley that is capable of providing these keys to a successful strength and conditioning program:
* Private Access to a Fully Equipped Strength and Conditioning Facility. O.B. Training has the ability to close its doors to the public and allow up to 20 New Hartford student athletes to have sole use of a state-of-the-art strength and conditioning facility.
* Indoor Speed/Agility Turf Field. A key part of any strength and conditioning program for an athlete is the development of proper speed and agility skills. Having an indoor turf field dedicated to this allows athletes at O.B. Training to work year-round in any weather.
* Certified Strength Coaches. O.B. Training has three Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists, the gold standard certification in college and professional sports.
* Strength and Conditioning Manual. An often overlooked part of a good strength and conditioning program is education. O.B. Training is the only facility that provides its athletes with a collegiate-level strength and conditioning manual. This allows the athletes to educate themselves on proper form and technique for each exercise, as well as learn about the human body and how it relates to the program they’re following.
Ryan Obernesser, CSCS
I ended each letter with an invitation to ask any questions about training for their athletes. It’s important to highlight your credentials and experience in a “cold” introduction, but I knew the coaches in my area would be suspicious of anyone who came off like he wanted to take credit for their athletes’ accomplishments. I had to let them know I was there to help, but would also respect boundaries.
Step 3: Offer a free sample
It’s hard to get someone to pay you for your services when you don’t yet have a reputation, especially when they aren’t even familiar with what your services are. To get my foot in the door, I had to offer my time and knowledge for free to anyone willing to listen. But even though I wasn’t charging, I still had to deliver something of real value, without expecting anything in return.
Instead, I focused on making connections with three key groups. Here’s what worked best for me:
Connecting with coaches: Prepare to be ignored
I sent letters to every coach in every nearby school district, offering to meet with them, at no charge, and discuss how to put together an offseason training program for their team. Out of the 100-plus letters I sent, only one local hockey coach replied. That one coach has now brought his team to train with us each of the past three summers.
Another way to connect: Offer to train the coach’s son or daughter gratis for, say, four weeks—just long enough to show how your program can boost performance. Once the coach sees his own kid’s improvement, he’ll be much more likely to refer the rest of the team.
Connecting with administrators: Focus on what’s new and innovative
My approach to local athletic directors focused on the Functional Movement Screen, which I presented as a tool to identify athletes’ risk of injury. (And before you say it, yes, research has since shown the FMS isn’t a reliable injury predictor. But even though we no longer use it that way, it still plays a role in our program, as you’ll see in a moment.)
This got the attention of one athletic director, who invited us in to do a presentation on training and nutrition, as well as the FMS assessment for every student during a full week of gym classes. This allowed us not only to win over the administration, but also to make our case to hundreds of students and their teachers.
The investment paid off in a big way. We landed a contract with the school to train all their athletes at our facility, and have continued each year since.
Connecting with parents: Promise performance and safety
If you’re the parent of a young athlete, the dream of seeing your kid excel is tempered by the fear of seeing that dream derailed by a catastrophic injury.
I started with a big advantage on the safety side, thanks to the FMS. But even after research debunked it, we found it’s still a great way to open up conversations about the “why” behind our training methods. Parents are impressed when we show them specific movements their athletes can improve, and explain why it matters.
One thing about parents: They almost always equate speed with performance. That’s why I put together a free clinic to show athletes how to improve speed, quickness, and agility. The clinics focused on drills and activities I knew they’d do in practices and training camps. By showing immediate improvement in those drills, I planted the idea that my methods would correlate to them earning more recognition from their coaches, and with it more playing time. Which, of course, is exactly what parents need to hear.
Connecting with athletes: Speak the language
You can get coaches to buy into your methods and parents to trust you with their kids, but if you don’t win over the athletes, they won’t be your clients for long.
If you ever needed an excuse to catch up on the latest video games, or spend more time on social media, or binge-watch TV shows, here it is: They help you speak young athletes’ language.
But even teenagers aren’t going to spend time with a coach just because he got a Victory Royale on Fortnite, hangs out on TikTok, or has seen every season of Supernatural. You still have to earn their respect. The best way to do that is by showing you can perform the way you expect them to perform.
It goes beyond demonstrating the drills with competent form; you need to use them in your own training, giving you the ability to blow the kids away from time to time with your strength, power, or agility. Kids not only become more coachable, they turn into your ambassadors when they brag to their friends about how high their coach can jump.
One last way to connect with athletes: Showcase their progress and celebrate their success. Our athletes love being featured on our Instagram page or in our monthly newsletter.
Five ways to tell an athlete’s story:
- Before-and-after photos
- Videos showing improvements in form
- Game highlights
Incorporating the things I just described helped my business get off the ground. That gave me the opportunity to get results, which in turn built trust. Along the way, I made sure never to act superior or belittle coaches, parents, or athletes who’d never been exposed to the information or methods I brought to them. First and foremost, we connected. And if we could conquer Utica, New York, with these simple methods, what can you do in your market?