Giving Back to the S&C Community: Ron McKeefery Joins Us for Episode #74

Ron McKeefery has been a strength coach for over 20 years, was named 2X Collegiate Strength Coach of the Year, has worked with Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Special Forces and consults athletic organizations around the globe.  Ron currently runs his podcast, Chalk Talk, and is the VP of Education and Performance for PLAE.


In This Episode We Discuss:

  • Humble beginnings
  • Mindset of a strength coach
  • Educating the misinformed
  • Giving back to the industry
  • 3 pillars of success for strength coaches
  • Looking outside of your network/industry
  • and more!

Stay in Touch with Ron:


Full Transcription of Our Podcast with Ron McKeefery

Interview with the strength and conditioning Coach Ron McKeefery talking about running his own podcast, and Performance for PLAE.

Corey Beasley [00:00:01]: Hey guys, is Corey Beasley with fight camp conditioning. And I’m on the phone with Ron McKee, Fremont. Ron, how are you doing?

Ron McKeefery [00:00:06]: Great to hear from you. How you been?

Corey Beasley [00:00:11]: Doing really good man. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today. So guys, just to give you a little two sense on Ron. Ron had a pretty extensive career in the collegiate professional world as a strength coach. He’s worked at Eastern Michigan University, university of Tennessee. The University of South Florida was named a two time collegiate strength coach of the year. And he also had extensive experience with the Cincinnati bangles, Kansas City Royals as well as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And he’s currently the VP of performance and education for play, which is doing a lot of cool things from equipment to educational summits. So even opening up performance academies around the country. So Ron, we’re excited to get you on, man. I appreciate you taking the time.

Ron McKeefery [00:01:07]: No, I appreciate it man really an honor and I listen to the podcast and think what you got going on is fantastic. So just an honor to be involved.

Corey Beasley [00:01:17]: I appreciate it. Ron, you’ve been in a strength and conditioning world for how many years now?

Ron McKeefery [00:01:26]:
 20 plus.

Corey Beasley [00:01:29]: And how’d you kind of get your start? Where did you start out?

Ron McKeefery [00:01:35]: Yeah. I kind of wrote about this in my book, I was forced to kind of backtrack and figure out what really was the catalyst and I traced it all the way back to I was in middle school and II lived in the inner city, Kansas city, which was not a nice part of town. And we lived across the street from a park and there was gang fights almost every weekend. And the high school had an ambulance and a couple of police cars are almost every day. That’s my memory of it. And one day I didn’t feel comfortable walking the way that I normally walked back home. And so I went the back way. And when you’re in elementary school, middle school, that’s a whole other world. And I walked by a football field and long story short I walk out on the football field, the coach could have said, get out of your kid, but instead he put me on the sideline and I watched practice. It was just enamored by it. And from that moment, all I wanted to be a quarterback and I went to sound the weight room through trying to become the best quarterback I could what the college is to kind of be a doctor but, but didn’t have the stomach to be able to do surgeries. And I wanted to work for that. So I ended up finding strength and conditioning because we didn’t have a strength coach and the school doesn’t, because the school that I went to NAI school there’s been about five pretty high level strength coaches come out at school and they still don’t have a strength coach. But I beg, plead and got an internship with the Kansas City Royals and always wanted to be in the NFL. That was my goal since walking out of that, up on that football practice field. And I got a job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers led to South Florida, which is really kind of the experience that I credit to is where I grew up as a strength coach I was there for years and was the head strength coach at 23 years old. And really grew up during that job and went from there to army special forces to university of Tennessee to Cincinnati bangles to most recently with Eastern. And where I got the chance to work with my college football coach my senior year and help turn around a program. So it was really cool. We ended up being three and a half years what we thought was going to be six months. And me being apart from my family when we got caught up in the coaching change at Tennessee, I went to Cincinnati and Eastern, but we left our family and in Knoxville. And we thought it was going to be six months. It turned into three and a half years of being apart. So ultimately I got the opportunity to go to PLAE as vice president of performance education, which allows me to do a lot of really cool things that were important to me, but more importantly it’s allowed me to be at home with my family when I’ve got all four kids are in high school and really life defining a period of time. I wanted to make sure I was part of that.

Corey Beasley [00:05:12]: So let’s talk about that a little bit. I mean, the experiences you had as a collegiate pro level is stuff I imagine most strength coaches would dream up. And then getting that opportunity with PLAE. Talk a little bit about kind of how that came about and what you’re doing with them?

Ron McKeefery [00:05:32]: Yeah. PLAEs has been a foreign company started as a foreign company and Brett is the president and does a phenomenal job. Just an awesome guy. And his parents were in the carpet business growing up and then he was an athlete and loved training and loved everything about fitness and wellness got into working with hammer and selling equipment and then, saw the situations, he knew that he could do it better and essentially created this awesome brand is awesome company from scratch. But when he started it, even though it was a foreign company he did find it as a performance brand. So just like, under armor is a shoe company or Nike, the shoe company, their performance brands and that’s the way that he always looked at it. So they sponsored many, he’s had a heart to give back to the strength and conditioning community sponsored my podcast for many years. And then we just kind of kept talking through the years and myself and Rich Gray who was instrumental in getting me a part of the company. Just about kind of this gap that exists in terms of performance and education and given back to the she community on a global level. And so my job really is kind of three buckets. It’s the ambassador piece. So I write it and I speak for them and kind of go out and do site visits and things like that. The second bucket is the education piece, which is the podcast the clinics that we run, the place summits that we’re going to be calling PLAE labs moving forward. And then we have a TV show that we started called beyond the chalk that we’re trying to get picked up and all those things. But we’ve been putting that out as well. And then the last bucket is the performance piece, which up until this point, it’s been me working with different teams around the world. Things that I used to have to say no to because football season is year-round, 24/7, now I’m able to go work with rugby team in Australia or the Chinese team or on and on, but now we’re branching into staffing coaches with teams. We’re started our first facility in Woodstock, Georgia just opened up this week. Where we’re training athletes from the elite level on down to the youth level and getting the certifications and all that kind of stuff. So we’ve got a lot of different elements come in that are all kind of been under wraps, but now we’re starting to come to fruition, which is really exciting to see.

Corey Beasley [00:08:37]: That is exciting and there’s a lot of cool, a lot of cool different mediums I guess to get information out to. And I’m guessing the audience is primarily strength coaches?

Ron McKeefery [00:08:48]: Yeah, up until this point, my whole career has focused on the strength coach and that’s what I’ve been. And the old adage is that coach the techs more person in one day than most people do in their whole life. And I truly believe that and I’ve always kind of looked at myself as much as I’ve enjoyed training the athletes, I’ve also enjoyed developing coaches and that’s been important to me. But what has been missed in that in my career and things that were important to me is having four kids that are all athletes the training at the use in high school level there’s a lot of well-intended people, but just misinformed, and I want to make sure that, I’m doing my part to try to change that. So I wanted to get to the athlete and then, we adopted all of our kids, three from Ukraine and one from Honduras and then being over in NFL Europe as a head training coach over there, it made the world really small to me and I wanted to use my platform, which is strength and conditioning to have a global impact, not just on athletes and coaches here in the US but athletes and coaches around the world.

Corey Beasley [00:10:11]: Now, from your experience, I mean, when you started with PLAE what kind of started first, was it the podcast or the performance where you’re traveling around and actually visiting with those other teams? How did it kind of start?

Ron McKeefery [00:10:28]: What’s fun is that my job it changes from hour to hour in terms of the different things that we have going on, which are quite honestly full disclosure and vulnerability that that’s been a challenge for me because as a coach I was focused on the winter program and then I’ll focus on spring ball and then I was focused on the summer and that was the extent of my entire that was my focus. And now I’m having to flip gears completely minute by minute and some cases. But to answer your question the podcast is going on five years now. So I did that before I got there and then we just kind of brought it into the brand as well. And so that’s five years of interviewing coaches all around the world and really cool project that I started when we got let go from Tennessee and it’s been fun and then, we started the TV show beyond the chalk, pretty much within the first quarter of being there. And then we really focused on the Summit’s and the masterminds, which are the summits are a variety of topics, variety speakers and masterminds are a deep dive on a specific topic. And it’s been a blast to dive into each of those, but the training and product development and things like that has been a common thread throughout as well.

Corey Beasley [00:12:05]: Very cool. So I mean, from your perspective, I mean, you’ve had the opportunity to talk with and hang out and visit strength coaches all over the world and for the guys, for people that are listening, whether they’re athletes or coaches and varying experience levels. What are some things that have kind of stood out to you on what has kind of helped some of these guys get ahead or be successful or make progress in that strength and conditioning world? Where other people kind of struggle and fail?

Ron McKeefery [00:12:44]: Well, I wrote my book that I think it’d be a success. You have to be three things and you have to be a great technician. You have to be a great manager and you have to be a great entrepreneur. And if you ask me what was with all those different coaches and I think we’re, 212 episodes in now, I’m not even sure exactly how many, but when talking to all those coaches at a high level, the great ones, they have an aspect of all three of those. And what happens a lot of times with the young coaches is, they’re just a technician. So they like lifting weights because they like lifting weights. They start to teach people to lift weights. And because they’re teaching people to lift weights, all they think about, do, read about, talk about is lifting weights, and that’s you have to be a great technician. You have to know your craft, you have to understand the extra nodes. But as soon as you start to take on a business and grow beyond just working for somebody or just being an assistant, as soon as you take on your own business or you become the head strength coach, you have to learn how to manage time people and resources, and that’s hard because we didn’t go to school for those things. We went to school for kinesiology and biomechanics and anatomy ANT on and on. We didn’t take economics classes and leadership classes and time management classes and things that wouldn’t normally be reserved for an MBA or a business major, but oftentimes that ultimately is, I mean, a lot of strength coaches they get let go or they’re in of a transition and they decide, well, I’m just going to go open a gym. Well, unless you understand economics and accounting and marketing and all that kind of stuff, you’re going to fail you’re going to go under so there has to be some understanding of that and some developing other skill sets. And it wasn’t until I started learning in and looking at disciplines outside of strength conditioning, did I become a better strength coach. And then lastly, you have to be, you have to be an entrepreneur. And it doesn’t mean you’re always looking for an additional stream of income. Although I think that that’s important because as volatile as our profession is, again, you have to, you have to plan for those periods of transition. But that means more is always, learning and constantly sharpening the sword and challenging your ideals and never be on this lifelong learner and people, they learn a certain system and then they stayed within that system. And then everything else outside of that system is not worth learning. Well, no matter what, you’re always going to find yourself in a situation where your system doesn’t work, maybe you’re an Olympic lifting strength coach and you get to a fight prep and all they got is a kettlebell what are you going to do now? Something along those lines. And you have to constantly challenging yourself and then you may say very well stay right with the same system, but at least you know why you’re staying with that system. So when I talked to all these coaches and all the successful ones they’re lifelong learners and they’re looking outside of their own discipline for inspiration, and they’re always sharpening their technical skills as well. And they’re lifted as they train themselves and they kind of use themselves as a Guinea pig sometimes and those are the great ones in my opinion

Corey Beasley [00:16:57]: Aside from the podcast, you have the TV element beyond the chalk now is that where you’re going and actually visiting coaches and facilities?

Ron McKeefery [00:17:13]: Yeah. So it’s kind of a cross between a day in the life and MTV cribs and I go and I hang out with a coach and we just kind of hang out with them all day long and train together, pick them up at their house tore the weight room really try to dig it behind I think strength coaches, I mean, how many professions are there, where people work for peanuts for many, many years just because they have a pure passion for it and then turn around and inspire on a daily basis the highest level of individuals and have to be in front of them and lead them. And it takes a special person to kind of command that kind of respect and attention. And they’re high performers, so doing that at any other business that, I always joke around my wife, I’m like, look, if I wanted a business or did the else I’d be a multimillionaire because strength coach just work at a different level than most people my opinion. And there’s some of the most humble and family oriented people and just all those things. So I wanted what the show is really to capture the person behind the coach the inspiration behind it. What was their story? What makes them tick? Why are they willing to work for peanuts or work 17 hours a day or whatever it may be and really dig into that. So that’s been a lot of fun. Getting to know these coaches on a little bit deeper level, but also sharing that story with thousands of people around the world.

Corey Beasley [00:19:09]: Yeah. And I think that’s important because, like you said, a lot of these trainers and strength coaches and stuff like that, they don’t last. I think at least as far as personal training industry, which is different, but it’s similar enough, right? There’s a huge percentage that don’t last two or three years because they can’t make it work. And they end up falling off and going and doing something else. And I think it’s good to hear, it’s always helpful, you’re not the only one going through certain situations or having to earn your keep or build your brand or whatever it is. But there are a lot of other elements for sure.

Ron McKeefery [00:19:50]: No question. I asked that questions my podcast, the journey question and kind of how they got to where they’re at. It’s never an overnight success. It’s always been I did this, or I did that, or a wash cars or whatever it was, in addition to trying to make it. And there was a series of things just like fighters, I mean, that’s a long journey to get that opportunity and it’s like constant daily investment that take place. And it’s almost always darker before there’s light, and so you’re always going to go through that time period. And sometimes that’s the difference between the ones that make and the ones that don’t are the ones that can persevere through that darkest moment. And to keep pushing forward and have belief when it’s not easy and that’s oftentimes what I tell my young coaches is that, when working with athletes, it’s easy to coach the ones that love it, it’s easy to preach to the converted already. The toughest part is there’s a first in the Bible where it talks about you don’t throw a light into the light, you throw a light into the darkness that’s where I think maybe I’ve been able to separate myself like, I like working with the tough kids. I look at that as a challenge. I don’t look at that as a like poor me, I’ve got to work with this athlete that doesn’t care about the weight room at all or doesn’t want to show up or the sound of the other. Those are the ones that I enjoy the most because when you do convert them, it’s so rewarding.

Corey Beasley [00:21:37]: That in particular your last statement, just working with those tough kids reminded me a lot about a lot of the stuff that Brett Bartholomew was talking about in his book which again is a lot of topics and stuff like that that aren’t discussed in school or certifications or at programs and stuff like that. It’s that communication aspect. And I think it’s huge, because there are a lot of different people and especially in the fight world, there are a lot of different characters that are coming through the doors with different backgrounds and different challenges and all kinds of stuff. So that’s cool.

Ron McKeefery [00:22:20]: I steal a lot of this stuff from people that have been on my podcast, but I can’t remember who said it, but I gave credit the first two times and then you get to steal it in the strength world. But they said that the weight room is a laboratory for life. And I firmly believe that. I mean, where else you have to walk in with a plan and then as soon as you get there, you’re going to get smacked in the face with a hard workout. You’re going to have to learn how to deal with adversity. You’re going to have to learn how to deal with success and work as a team and do all those things and in a one hour session and it’s a great breeding ground for life. And I think that’s what I love the most. I mean, early part of my career I thought about going and being a football coach, but that was the difference was that those guys had to go out recruiting and they weren’t working with them on a daily basis. And I wanted to touch them every day. So that’s the fun part. And at the end of the day, if you’re listening to this and you’re a young coach and you don’t give a crap about the athletes, you’re just doing it for the logo on your chest or the T shirt or whatever it may be, then you’re not going to make it because it is very difficult and you will give up when it gets to that darkest point. And it’s just not worth it to sacrifice if that’s not why you don’t truly love doing it for the kids and that’s why there’s people out there that work 17 hours a day and make peanuts and do all that. I did the exact same job put in the same effort when I was making $9,000 a year for my first year at university of South border, or when I was making $275,000 a year in my last year at Tennessee. I did the exact same job.

Corey Beasley [00:24:20]: Well, but there’s a lot to be said for that because I don’t think it’s any different between strength coaches, between business owners of any type, between sales guys. I mean, the more I dig into it and talk with clients or people that are walking through the door to more similarities I see. The guy who you know, like I was with this morning, he worked his tail off. And he’s actually from Kansas City as well. But I love picking their brain and guys. I’m super fortunate to get around guys that do really well in business and it’s fun to me to talk to him like, Hey, what’s the worst job you’ve ever had? They talk about working in factories when they’re young or grinding it out when they’re getting started. And it’s crazy. Everybody digs, they grind, they figure it out, they screw stuff up, they keep going and eventually maybe they’ll make it. And that’s the hard part I think for a lot of people is maybe.

Ron McKeefery [00:25:29]:
 The Navy seals have a saying that embrace the suck and it’s funny you say that, because the worst job that I ever did to try to make it as a strength coach against was I had just gotten back from NFL Europe. So here I had worked for the Kansas City Royals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and NFL Europe, but I was jobless because the job and NFL Europe was just a seasonal job. So to make money, I had to go literally to one of those little labor ready type places. And almost like the great depression, you’re sitting out in the waiting room and you’re waiting for somebody to come in and say, Oh, I got, I need nine people to go do this. And so freaking nine people run up and that’s what it was. And I remember riding in a freaking pickup truck, because to drive, you got a little bit extra money or whatever, so there’s one guy drove like 10 of us out to this, this trash place like I don’t even know what landfill type place. And my job was to get into the big ovens and I had to climb through this little freaking hole and you’ll get in there. And I was taking a shovel and I had to freaking scrape trash off the inside of this oven off the sides. Basically. If somebody closed the door and turn the oven on, I was cooked, I was done. That was it and so I’m sitting here doing this for nine hours that day and I get home and I’m freaking dead tired of freaking smell like garbage and just the worst job. And I get home and I walked in the door and knocked on the door. I told my wife, I’m like, go get a camera. And she went to get the camera and I got a picture of me freaking just look like crap and I remember being in that moment saying, you know what? I can’t wait till I make it because I can’t wait to show this picture of somebody and tell them what it takes to make it. And so I embrace the suck and just found like, still had belief even on one of the worst days that like, this is part of the process this is part of the journey. And at some point I’m going to look back on this and be like, I get to tell us the Corey Beasley on a podcast about making it as coach.

Corey Beasley [00:27:58]: That’s pretty awesome life’s a long race. And I love hearing stuff like that because I mean everybody has got to go through their own pile. So Ron, we talked about the podcast, we talked about the TV show, the summit in mastermind are basically just kind of like, are they a weekend event that you guys are doing?

Ron McKeefery [00:28:36]: Yeah, this year we were doing nine total events. We did six summits, which are the variety of topics where I do speakers, which is just a Saturday event. All of these are just one day events. We did three in the US and we did three internationally. And so we did Canada, we did Australia and then I’m doing Ireland and here in a couple of weeks. And then we did three in the US and then we were doing three masterminds we did a speed deep dive or we had some of the top Dan and Derek Hanson and Brett Bartholomew some of the top minds out there deep diving on strength where it was more of a workshop we’re doing a professional development one in Atlanta at our corporate office here in July where it’s resume writing and interview skills and writing programs and all that. And then we’re doing a slim one in August specifically about working with people at the elite level as well. And they’ve been fun they’ve been one day events, next year we’re going to do probably significantly more and grow it more internationally as well. And so people can definitely find that, at the end of July we’re going to release a summit pass where people can buy the presentations for all of the different events if they missed it live but as well as I do that go on to the live event. I mean there’s so many conversations that take place and getting a chance to network and interact with those speakers it’s hard to replace.

Corey Beasley [00:30:36]: Well, aside from that, I know you guys also have a relatively new project that you guys are working on opening up the performance facilities?

Ron McKeefery [00:30:55]: Yeah. So we opened our first one up in Woodstock, Georgia, which is just North of Atlanta. And we have a training programs for the lead athletes on down to the youth athletes. So I know there’s a lot of fighters that listen to this and a lot of coaches that have athletes that travel, they ever need a place to train reaching out to myself or Viola, who I brought on to run that facility we’d love to host them, but it’s the fun project. And again, trying to make our mark on that long term athletic development model of working with an athlete from youth on up through the lead status and trying to do it the right way and pour into them as the 360 degree athlete as opposed to just this transactional, come in and get your training now go out and do your club sports or whatever. More of an integrated model of mind, body and spirit and trying to really, lock in and teach them the why behind what they do and then understanding that there’s, that you have to be a good human to really be successful in sport you can rely on your talent for up to a point, but eventually you’re going to last by being a good human being and trying to instill that early.

Corey Beasley [00:32:26]: Well, and plus for a lot of those athletes, I would imagine the athletics don’t last forever are just wondering like, what are these guys going to do after? Because like we said before, life’s long race and you only compete for if you’re competing in your thirties, it’s a long time. And you got 30, 40 years afterwards where it’s like, now what, so you talk about being a good athlete, that’s one part. But just like you were saying with the other pillars of success for a strength coach being accounted athlete is kind of like being a good technician in the weight room. And that’s not the full puzzle. So they got to be a good person really, you have to deal with time people and resources. You got to do something, so these guys got to think that way. So that’s a good point.

Ron McKeefery [00:33:27]: Yeah, and when I worked with, even professional athletes that was a thing, we sit down and in our goal meetings, I call it the why meetings in it. It’s one of those things where I’m trying to get to their why and there’s the Simon Sinek book start with why, which is really kind of you go almost to any conference right now and somebody’s going to throw up that bullseye with the why in the middle and say, you’ve got to get to the why, but they don’t really tell you how to get to the why and so one of the questions that I ask to get to why is, if you weren’t a football player or basketball player or fighter or whatever, what would you do? And you’d be surprised how many athletes get this blank stare on their face and they’ve just never thought about life out of sport. And when you press him on it now, you get to really see what makes, what’s their makeup, I want to be a cop or I want to want to help people, or I want to I had one guy that wanted to sail around the world and you start to learn a lot about a person and you’re right until you kind of put that in perspective for them it’s just a sport last forever. So that’s why a lot of these pro athletes, when they do get a little bit of money, they blow it because they think they can pass their mortality in the sport. So the ones that do make it I always tell my college athletes, I’m like, look, if you’re that good, fantastic. Now, go get a degree in either, something, an exercise science related or something, economics related. So you can learn how to take care of your body, learn how, take care of your money, because you’re going to ultimately pay somebody to do that for you later on if you don’t know how to do it yourself. But I think that’s an important piece. And again, I think go back to that transactional coaching, if you’re going to do a workout and you’re just going to take them through and you’re going to be robotic and you’re going to talk about exercises and sets and reps than it is, that’s what it’s going to be and there’s not a whole lot of meaning to that it’s easy to give up. And if you do, like you did today and you’re talking to the guy about his worst job ever, and he’s from Kansas city and probably how many kids he’s got and this had the other, I mean, there’s a whole host of reasons why you’re working with that guy, and you can really motivate the person. And I tell people all the time that I’m a hundred times better behavior coach than I ever was. A strength coach. And that’s ultimately what we’re doing every day is we’re changing behaviors.

Corey Beasley [00:36:20]: Absolutely. That’s very true. So, Ron, I appreciate you wanting to share and I mean, there’s so much good information in here for young coaches and, you know, athletes alike, but I really do appreciate you sharing with us for the guys that want to learn more about what you’re doing on all the different fronts. What’s the best way for them to reach out or find more info?

Ron McKeefery [00:36:48]: Yeah, I’ll give you two websites. Ron is kind of where my personal stuff lives. And I’m identified mostly by my family and by my job. So it’s a little bit of both of them there as well. But then also is our new website that we launched with PLAE that you can get to the summits or the labs, what they’re going to be called and the TV show and things like that. And then you could also, I’m pretty active on social media and you can find me @RonMcKeefery on pretty much all the channels.

Corey Beasley [00:37:29]: Cool. And guys, I’ll put that information down below for sure. So you guys can get access to that stuff. But Ron, thanks again man. I really appreciate you sharing with us and talking for a little bit. Awesome stuff.

Ron McKeefery [00:37:45]: Thanks man. And just as again, as somebody that runs these and does these, I know how much work it goes into producing these and doing them. And just truly appreciate you given back to the community and providing a resource. And it takes a great heart. And it’s admirable what you’re doing. So I appreciate that, buddy.

Corey Beasley [00:38:08]: Thank you very much.