by Steve Breazeale
Adrian Crook can remember a young Phil Coke, standing on the grass of San Gorgonio Park in San Clemente.
He can remember the “snap” and the “bang” made with just the flick of the young athlete’s wrist as he tossed countless baseballs into a net attached to a nearby pole. Only after he had mastered the movement of the hand and wrist could the aspiring pitcher move onto the next stage of his throwing motion: the shoulder.
The kid had reached out to Crook, seeking his guidance to help improve his overall fitness and mechanics in what was otherwise a fledgling minor league baseball career. Coke had been drafted by the Yankees as the 786th overall pick in the 2002 Major League Baseball draft and sought out Crook because of the certain skills and knowledge he possessed about the human body.
Fast forward to 2012 and Coke is pitching in the ninth inning as the de-facto closer for the Detroit Tigers, right in the middle of a pennant race. Coke and the Tigers fared well, winning the pennant but coming up short in the World Series. Coke, the 30-year-old lefty from Sonora, turned into an overnight sensation after his standout October performance.
But if it weren’t for Crook and his flexibility and balanced-oriented style of training, Coke—and dozens of other professional athletes—might not have made it onto the biggest of stages in the first place.
Crook, 59, moved to San Clemente in 1990, after living in the Santa Monica area for most of his life. While working for the Los Angeles County Lifeguards, Crook saw first-hand how the health and fitness craze took over the beaches.
He was into alternative types of working out, like rowing, surfing and swimming, but underwent a revelation when an elderly Chinese man, who doubled as an acupuncturist and herbal doctor, reached out to him, wanting to teach him the ways of Eastern philosophy and how it relates to the body and more specifically, flexibility.
“People weren’t even jogging, let alone stretching and attempting to become more flexible (back then),” Crook said. “I realized quickly that what I learned was the essence of all athletic movement…I knew what I learned was the missing link in athletics.”
Because of his diverse athletic background, Crook immediately saw the connection between, for example, a baseball pitcher’s throwing motion and how strong and in tune he was from the legs, to the core and all the way up through body. He had a knack for it, improving his body’s flexibility and overall strength by immersing himself in a strict regimen.
Of course, this was all to better himself, and his first real “gig” as a flexibility and movement consultant happened by chance, when he was asked to do a demo for a corporate function. Once that happened, the floodgates opened and Crook became a prized commodity.
His style revolves around breaking down each athletic motion in sequential events and focusing on making those movements as efficient and strong as they can possibly be (see: Coke throwing hundreds of balls with just his wrist and hand before moving on).
Crook eventually went on to help the Texas Rangers and NFL teams like the San Diego Chargers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. He also helped train San Clemente volleyball legend Karch Kiraly during his gold medal runs through the Olympics. His former home in San Clemente was the private training ground for dozens of elite athletes.
Crook says Kiraly is the most mentally driven and best-prepared athlete he’s worked with. The most natural? That would be former Anaheim Duck Paul Kariya.
His style of training has met with some resistance throughout his career but now, he sees the chasm between understanding basic movement and proper mechanics widening in every sport.
Crook no longer instructs and recently moved back to Santa Monica, where he works as a firefighter and maintains an active lifestyle. He does not have any immediate plans to return to training athletes.
“It’s appalling the misinformation in sport. The young baseball player going into his career, the coaches are the biggest jeopardy in his life. The teaching bodies of tennis and golf are almost evil in their dispersion of misinformation,” Crook said. “The truth has been the truth forever, especially when it comes to throwing and striking. We’ve been doing that since the beginning of time, it hasn’t changed.”
“Lack of understanding in throwing striking has hampered the evolution of the sport. If you keep practicing and not getting the correct info while you’re practicing, you can’t optimize your potential,” Crook said. “It’s kind of sad because in the world of elite athletics, those who succeed are the ones who survived. So many juniors fall by the wayside to injury…Rather than more patiently conditioning themselves to have the foundation to succeed.”