12/29/2023 Education
6 Minutes



By Tony Holler

While having dinner with Brian Kula and Les Spellman on the eve of the Track Football Consortium last December, Les brought up the idea of “gamifying” training. GAMIFY TRAINING. Yes, that’s what my program (Feed The Cats) is all about. Instead of needless hard work for hard work’s sake, I create performance-based work that athletes enjoy. I prioritize physical and emotional health by making practice the best part of a kid’s day. IT’S LIKE A GAME.

Let’s practice with a scoreboard. Imagine playing Monopoly without money? Scrabble? What if winning and losing in poker meant nothing? Can we create a system of training that resembles Minecraft, Fortnight, and Counter-Strike? Let’s create a sports world that athletes will love.

“If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” ~Steve Jobs

Traditional training ignored the game. We did mindless stretching, mindless warmups, and then did mindless workouts quantifying nothing. If the purpose of training is simply hard work, how can you keep score? Through exhaustion, athletes were yelled at to put forth tremendous effort. The intentional misery of training forced athletes to check out mentally. Survival became the objective. Survive until you finally get to play THE GAME. (this is why tools like the Universal Speed Rating are no-brainers)


My dad was a career basketball coach for 47 years at the high school and college level, 44 years as a head basketball coach. Back in the 1960s, I was his young sidekick.

ME: “Dad, why do you ‘chart’ free throws, rank your players, and then post the rankings on the bulletin board in the locker room?”

DAD: “If we didn’t chart free throws, making a free throw wouldn’t feel as good and missing a free throw wouldn’t feel as bad. I want free throws shot in practice to matter. I want to create game-like conditions in practice. I want to know if we are improving. I want to know who needs help.”

ME: “What about the guys who don’t do so well? Won’t the rankings embarrass them?”

DAD: “I want them to be embarrassed. I want them to care. I want them to compete. I want them to strive to improve and then see improvement as the season progresses. Seeing progress motivates athletes.”


Like my father, I wanted to coach basketball. I was the youngest head basketball coach in the state of Illinois back in 1982. I finally divorced basketball (or basketball divorced me) back in 1996 (an ugly divorce). With my winters free, I took charge of the winter training program at Harrisburg High School.

I had never run a weight room before but I had been a coach (football, basketball, and track) for 15 years. As Ted Lasso has demonstrated, coaching is coaching.

So what do you do with a group of 40 athletes during the winter? The conventional wisdom was to lift weights and do conditioning. For the first couple years, I basically supervised the weight room on Monday-Wednesday-Friday and we did a workout on Tuesday and Thursday. Workouts were basically, “let’s work real hard and get real tired”.

In 1999, I transitioned to “Feed the Cats.” I then read the book “Bigger, Faster, Stronger”. BFS was a data-driven program that encouraged athletes to break records every day. You can’t break records if you don’t record numbers. As a disclaimer, I don’t necessarily endorse “chasing numbers” in the weight room, but from 1999 to 2004 we did, and the results were outstanding.

Bigger, Faster, Stronger had core lifts that were done every week. The sets and reps changed every week for four weeks, then the cycle started over again. I loved the idea that in the fifth week, athletes would be breaking their week one records. In week six, they would be breaking their records from week two. Being a track coach and understanding the power of the “PR” (personal record), I immediately saw the value of BFS.

I didn’t like the complicated BFS Record Cards that, of course, you had to buy. I also didn’t like every athlete filling out his own card. I simplified the process and adapted BFS to our situation.

By 1999, I had graduated from an Apple IIe to a Macintosh computer and became a spreadsheet savant. Ranking athletes had entered the digital age. I posted printed rankings on the bulletin board every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Every athlete checked the bulletin board at every session. I developed records by freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior, AND by the weight class of the athlete. Young skinny kids broke school records just as often as the hairy-legged, barrel-chested seniors.


On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we did speed drills on the track. Every kid was taught to sprint at every session. Our speed drills included plyometrics and lots of stuff from Loren Seagrave. I wanted speed training to mirror NFL Combine training. I recorded, ranked, and published timed 40s. Kids would often go shirtless despite 30-degree temperatures to achieve faster times.

Looking back, we were doing enough things right to really make a difference. The athletes bought in. Skinny guys got stronger. Slow guys got faster. We lifted heavily and sprinted maximally, but dosage was minimal. We never let today ruin tomorrow. We never burned the steak. We accepted small gains daily. We never did ANYTHING that resembled “getting in shape”. We were 100% alactic all winter. No track workouts. NO CONDITIONING!

We stopped the traditional hard work mantra and gamified training. We broke records daily. Athletes loved their training. Athletes stayed healthy. Everyone improved because we measured things that mattered.

I’d like to think that my work helped to produce an amazing five years at Harrisburg H.S.

♦ Football: 3A Runner Up 1997; 4A State Champions 2000
♦ Basketball: Class A Super-Sectional 1997, 1998, 2001
♦ Track: Six Class A state trophies 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004; two State Championships
♦ Baseball: 239 wins, 67 losses; Class A Runner Up 2003, Class A State Champions 2004

The S&C world now makes fun of Bigger, Faster, Stronger, but BFS record-keeping made a huge impact on how I approached training. The Feed The Cats approach took the RECORD part of Bigger Faster Stronger and added RANK & PUBLISH. Today, I believe Record, Rank, and Publish to be the FOOD OF CATS.

My findings of a quarter century ago has led me to a partnership with Les Spellman and Universal Speed Rating (USR). Even though he’s half my age, Les is wise beyond his years, an old soul. The brilliance of the Universal Speed Rating is in its simplicity, not its complexity. If speed matters, let’s measure it. Let’s record it. Let’s rank it. Let’s publish it. 



Just like my father’s poor free-throw shooters back in the 1960s, we want to identify weaknesses and improve them. We want athletes to COMPETE. We want athletes to compete against their former selves. We want athletes to find motivation by seeing progress.

What does Universal Speed Rating look like where the rubber meets the road… where the work really happens?

My athletes typically speed train 2–3 times a week, usually just two. We do X-Factor Workouts on non-speed days. We prefer a four-day work week with three days off (not active recovery, totally off… cats sleep 20 hours a day). On speed days we wear spikes and time all sprints. Our favorite sprints are flys (30y run-in, max velocity). We time with Freelap. We convert flys to MPH. For example, 20.45 divided by 10y fly = MPH. Athletes win MPH wristbands for 20, 21, 22, and 23 MPH. (I coach high school boys at a school of 2500 kids. If I coached girls, I’d use wrist bands of 17, 18, 19, and 20 MPH).


I met Tyler Hoosman in 2013, the summer before his freshman year in high school. Tyler was participating in Plainfield North’s summer camp for football. I was the head freshman football coach.

Every summer workout had three objectives: get faster, get stronger, and learn to play football. We stayed general in the weight room, extreme in speed training, and specific on the field.

By starting kids in June before their freshman year, athletes could theoretically train speed year-round until May of the senior year. That’s exactly what Tyler Hoosman did. Tyler was either playing football or speed training for four consecutive years. Speed grows like a tree. Play the long game!

Tyler’s average 10m fly time as a freshman was 1.37 (16.3 MPH). Tyler Hoosman was a running back but ranked 47th of 72 freshman football players. Tyler played on our B-Team the entire 2013 season. Our A-Team went 9–0 and our defense outscored our opponents.

As a senior, Tyler Hoosman’s average 10m fly time was 1.00 (22.4 MPH). His fastest time of 0.97 (23.1 MPH) ranked 2nd at Plainfield North. Only Illinois 100m State Record holder, Marcellus Moore, was faster. Marcellus ran 10.31 in the 100m and once hit 24.3 MPH in practice. Last month, Marcellus set the 60m record at the University of Texas (6.56).

In 2016, Tyler Hoosman led Plainfield North to the IHSA 7A State Championship game where we lost to a nationally ranked East St. Louis team 26–13. Tyler was our star running back.

Tyler had a stellar career at Northern Iowa and last season played at the University of North Dakota. In January, Tyler Hoosman declared for the NFL Draft and recently had his Pro Day. Tyler hopes to sign with an NFL team this summer.

Maybe Record, Rank, and Publish played a part in Tyler Hoosman’s development. One thing is for sure, Tyler’s speed improvement allowed him to play at a high level. Speed is the tide that lifts all boats.

Looking to Record, Rank, and Publish in your own program? Click here to check out how partnering with the Universal Speed Rating can help you learn more from my Feed The Cats principles, Les Spellman, and other proven speed coaches dedicated to helping you train your athletes faster. 


Picture above shows Tyler Hoosman as a freshman running back playing on Plainfield North’s freshman b-team.

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