The Education of Chris Korfist


I think I did like everyone else during the “down time” from the Coronavirus closings and cancelations; I cleaned and organized things that have always been accumulated and stacked over the years. For me, my number one task was to go through all of my training books, manuals, videos, DVD, research etc. from the last 32 years of my life.

All of the books and research journals that didn’t survive the purge.

My title is in reference to the book, The Education of Henry Adams (I would use a photo of my copy but it is locked in school and I am forbidden to enter the premises). This auto-biography was a published in 1918 by the great-grandson of John Adams, grandson of John Quincy Adams and son of Charles Adams who prevented the British from joining the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War, which is really one of the amazing stories of the Civil War. The point of the book is that his formal education really did little to prepare him for life and his self-education was really the basis for any type of growth. Told in the third person, he reflects on the changes from the Civil War to the coming of WW1. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1919, one year after he died. Some say it is the best nonfiction book written in the last 200 years. 

While I did not receive the Harvard education that Henry Adams received, I did go to the Harvard of the Midwest, Northern Illinois University.

Various books and experiences served as sign posts in my own education, whether formal or self-taught. 

“Five years from today, you will be the same person that you are today, except for the books you read and the people you meet.” ~Charlie Jones

Chapter One

My athletic development education began as a self-taught, experimenter with various gadgets, books, and suggestions from different people in my high school years. It really started in 8th grade when I decided my goal in life would be to play football for the University of Illinois. I went to their summer camp and was inspired by their strength coach who said that anyone who could squat 500 pounds should run a 4.4. So, I started to squat a lot. 

My freshman year, a state qualifying 300m hurdler, Doug Womack, told me that the Nautilus hip extension machine would get me faster. Two days a week, I took the city bus to the other side of the town to workout at the YMCA, the only place in Elgin featuring Nautilus equipment.

Even though I dabbled with my Speed City books and experimented with their equipment (the annual Christmas present was usually an item from Speed City), I did what my coached wanted me to do and lifted weights. I loved it and I got really strong (but I didn’t see big speed gains).

I was so good in the weight room, my first actual coaching job was a grad assistant position for NIU. There were two of us under Jim Zielinski. We all worked in football. I had men’s basketball, women’s volleyball, and men’s baseball. We were all hardcore, replicating the model of Boyd Epley’s Nebraska strength program. “Z” was a GA for Boyd Epley when Nebraska was winning National Championships. Nebraska’s Bob Devaney was the first football coach to hire a strength coach (Boyd Epley 1967) . So, for the time, we were cutting edge. We even had an Apple computer to kick out the programs. ”Z” taught me about organization of a program and implementation with groups of people.  

“Harvard College was probably less hurtful than any other university then in existence. It taught little, and that little ill, but it left the mind open, free from bias, ignorant of facts, but docile. The graduate had few strong prejudices. He knew little, but his mind remained subtle, ready to receive knowledge.” ~Henry Adams

I am grateful for my experience at NIU, but this was the state I was in when I started my career as a high school coach. I had a knowledge base, just enough to be dangerous. I was given the job of a strength coach my first year in a high school. The weight room was under a pool which leaked. We had equipment from the 60’s. Most of the Olympic plates were a nice burnt orange color from the chlorine vapor drifting in from the pool filtration room which was next door and boarded up with a 2×4. 

“Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man.” ~Henry Adams

I had to organize and get the program started, so I went back to what I knew, “Husker Power”. At this point, it seemed more important to be organized and have the athletes with a piece of paper in their hand, rather than actual workouts. I had to get athletes in the weight room, so I used the sales pitch, “This is the same program Nebraska is using.” I used the same computer program, so everyone had their name on the top of the paper. It worked. When I started, we had 6-8 kids in the room. By the end of the year, we had 40-50. Before I started, we were at the bottom of the conference. I got the program in place, and we won 2 conference championships. 

I felt reassured with my program and its direction when I met with my first NFL strength coach. He was the uncle of one of my players. He gave me one of their workout books. The workout book made me feel confident in the direction of my program. Our program resembled and NFL program. I was too star-struck to realize that my suburban kids were not quite NFL athletes. You don’t think about those things when you are 24. 

In my drive for order in my fledgling program, I discovered Tudor Bompa. I bought the book and tried to apply it to my football and track programs. One night, I caught a break. Tudor Bompa was coming to DePaul University to speak. My excitement was quickly dulled by a snow storm on the night he was speaking. I would not be deterred, so I got in my 1984 Ford Bronco and back-streeted my way to the campus, 15 miles on Ogden, which takes you through some of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago’s West Side. When I got there, the room was empty. I waited for 15 minutes and in walked Dr. Bompa. To my surprise, no one else weathered the storm. The two of us spent the evening talking about periodization. We mapped out possible workouts and how cycles worked into each other. By the end of the night, I felt I had a pretty good grasp on organizing my programs. 

Stay tuned for PART TWO.

Showing 2 comments
  • Chris Grayson

    Amazing story. Can’t wait to read part 2. Being able to sit down with Bompa alone like that is incredible. I have two of his books but all the different concepts on different periodization models is confusing for me.

  • Stevegharrispro

    You spent one on one time with Bompa?! Wow Coach!😉💯

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