Thursday, August 05, 2010

Super Trader Program

Super Trader
Question and Answers with Dr. Van Tharp on the Super Trader Program

Our Super Trader Program is the ultimate program for people who are completely committed to becoming top traders. The mission of the Super Trader program is a total transformation of your trading and your life. Over the program's two year period, you can expect to make dramatic improvements in your trading—although that requires a substantial commitment of time, money, and effort.

There are always a number of questions coming in about the Super Trader Program, but I haven’t written about it recently. While my most recent book, Super Trader, covers the main areas that traders need to concentrate on to become successful, the following questions cover the intent and structure of our two year Super Trader Program.

What’s the core of the Super Trader program?

I designed the program around three core phases that my research has proven must be mastered in order to trade at the highest levels. The first phase is core psychological work, which typically takes the longest time to complete. For someone working at a demanding job full time while in the Super Trader program, this core psychological work can consume two years.

Why is the psychology part of the program so important?

My personal mission has been to help others transform themselves, which I do primarily through a trading metaphor. It seems to work. Most of our Super Traders generally say that their psychological transformations are worth the price of the entire program and the trading/financial part is a bonus. I wouldn’t be happy with the program if they didn’t say that.

Second, I believe that trading is 100% psychological; it is entirely about your beliefs, mental states, and mental strategies. Because trading is entirely psychological, any unresolved psychological issues will show up in all aspects of your trading: your trading systems, position sizing™ strategies, discipline, mistakes, etc. If your problems are substantial enough, they may prevent you from even being able to trade. Unresolved issues tend to produce a very common pattern: you end up doing a dance with whatever roadblock is in your way not realizing that you are dancing alone with your psychological issues.

As committed as Super Traders are, I watch some of them dance with their roadblocks. They try to do a lot of trading system development work before they do their psychological work. They tend to get stuck on a particular system issue or they trade unprofitably. When they get stuck in these places, I gently remind them that they must do the psychological work first.

What are the two other core areas?

The second phase is to realize that trading is a business and a professional treats it that way. Thus, I require a business plan. Unlike many other business plans, however, an individual trader business plan is not to raise money. Instead, Super Traders need a very friendly working document designed to help guide their progression as a trader. The foundation of a trading business plan comes out of our Blueprint for Trading Success workshop.

It could take as long as six months to write this document thoroughly and the really good ones are usually 100 to 150 pages long. (Personally, I like to see colorful plans with lots of motivating pictures in addition to the text.)

The last phase of the program involves developing at least three good trading systems. These systems need to fit you, meaning they fit your beliefs and your criteria for being willing to trade them. They should have integrated position sizing strategies that help you meet your objectives. In addition, the three systems should be non-correlated and work best in different market types. This approach matches what I’ve said for some time: It’s easy to design a Holy Grail trading system for one market type, but it is almost impossible to find a system that does well in all market types.

Have you made any improvements to the program?

I’ve made numerous improvements to the program; in fact, I’ve made so many changes that in ways, it’s a very different program from what it was three years ago. Let’s start with the psychology area.

People used to complete the psychological portion of the Super Trader program by finishing the Super Trader Test. This was a series of essay questions I developed—actually it was more than 10 pages of questions. These questions required a lot of thought to answer fully. Some people who completed that test say it was similar to writing a thesis or dissertation for an advanced degree. I no longer require Super Traders to complete that test. I have something far better for them now.

As most of you know already, I introduced a major revision in the Second Edition of the Peak Performance Home Study Course a few years ago. What you probably don’t know is that when I finished that revision, I also developed a set of 15 lesson plans that can take someone more deeply through the course. The lesson plans make it virtually impossible to skip important parts of the course. When you finish all of the lessons, you really know yourself and have solved most (if not all) of your issues.

Right now, these lesson plans are available only to the Super Traders because I hand grade each one. It takes a lot of my time and energy to go through these and see if people are transforming themselves.

The lesson plans are a huge improvement over the old test in several important ways. First, it breaks down a massive task into much more manageable chunks. Second, due to the structure of the lessons plans, you focus in on one particular area at a time. Third, the composition of the lesson plans also shortens the time it takes to complete the psychological phase of the program.

How much time does a lesson plan take to complete?

When I developed these lesson plans, I envisioned people doing a lesson per week. Thus, I assumed it would take 15 weeks. I have one Super Trader with a Ph.D. who is working full time on the lesson plans. He started the lessons in March and as of early July he completed 13 lessons. That’s almost one lesson each week.

Most of my other Super Traders are working part time on the program and probably take several weeks to complete a lesson. At the other end of the spectrum, I have some individuals in the program who are almost at their two year point and have completed only a third of the lessons. They still seem happy with their progress, but it will just take longer for them to complete the program.

Are the lesson plans the only improvement?

Not at all!

Before beginning the program, each Super Trader must now sign a commitment statement. That statement lists everything that they are expected to do during the two years and by signing the statement they are committing to do all of the work. The statement acts as the basis for their two year timeline and their program plan.
I also developed a tool this year to help the Super Traders stay on the proper path toward reaching their objective. Every quarter, each Super Trader records his or her accomplishments in a spreadsheet that employs a progressive point system. The few Super Traders that don’t do the required psychological work fall dramatically behind the others and sometimes this helps them see they are doing a dance rather than making progress. I think it is pretty motivating to have that scoring system. Thus, on a quarterly basis everyone can see their progress or lack thereof.

The scoring system allows Super Traders to accumulate almost 200 total points, although 150 points would probably be enough to graduate. Thus, the scoring system allows you to see how far away you are from completion and graduation.

What does it take to graduate from the program?

Well, first, there are two distinct levels of achievement for the program: completion and graduation.

In December of each year we host the Super Trader Summit. At the Summit in December 2008, the Super Traders decided that completion meant that one had completed all the psychological work to my satisfaction.

So now, once you’ve completed the 15 Peak Performance Lesson Plans to my satisfaction, you have basically satisfied the requirements of the psychological portion of the program. This elevates you to “completed” status and I put your name on a plaque displayed at the Van Tharp Institute. You are still, however, nowhere near graduating the program.

In 2008, the Summit attendees also voted that to become a graduate, a Super Trader had to have completed their business plan and have three trading systems approved. In addition, those three systems had to have been actively traded to my satisfaction. Those are pretty high criteria, but I think you have truly reached Super Trader status when you finally meet them. And we have another plaque at the institute for our graduates.

Neither completion nor graduation is easy by any stretch. My guess is that by the Summit this year, we’ll have two more graduates and three or four new completions.

What can you say about the Super Trader Summit?

This is an annual three day event in early December. One of the goals for the Summit is to develop a Super Trader Playbook—a database of all the systems that we teach in our workshops and that various Super Traders use. By this December, we’ll have the beginnings of an incredible playbook. It’s a dynamite resource for future Super Traders trying to come up with multiple non-correlated systems or simply looking to trade new systems as they adapt to evolving market conditions.

Typically, each Super Trader presents at least one trading system at the Summit. All of the Super Traders know that you can trade only systems that fit you, so none are worried about anyone stealing “their secrets.” Usually, the more advanced Super Traders also present lessons from the program and share some of their personal transformations as an example for those just starting the program.

The Summit is open to all current Super Traders. It’s also open to those who have finished the program on a space available basis.

Do you have any other Super Trader-only events?

Yes we do. Our Super Traders get to attend all of our workshops anyway but whenever we develop a new workshop, we open it to the Super Traders first. For example, last year we had a Super Traders-only Peak Performance 203 Workshop and a Super Traders-only Bear Market Workshop when they were presented for the first time.

This year, I am going to teach a Trading in the Now workshop. The mental state required for that type of trading is so advanced that regardless of how often it is taught, it will remain a workshop only for our Super Traders.

Are there any other Super Traders-only perks?

Yes, several.

We will soon start recording the video for all of our technical workshops. These will be available for Super Traders who have completed the psychological portion of the work at no additional charge. We may make the videos available to regular workshop attendees, but at an additional price in relation to the live workshop fees.

Also, only the Super Traders can get a copy of Know Your System, our position sizing simulator. For a number of business reasons, we can’t make that simulator commercially available. One of those reasons is that I need to ensure that traders understand the limitations of a trading simulator. We go through those limitations at the Summit so the Super Traders can use the simulator in a safe manner. It is not available at all otherwise.

Finally, I share new research and writings with the Super Traders on a regular basis. Sometimes these ideas become books or products and other times the ideas simply remain private.

What if someone wanted to work for the Van Tharp Institute? Is the Super Trader Program a way to do that?

It is.

RJ Hixson completed the Super Trader program a few years back and now he’s our Vice President of Research and Development. I’ve put RJ in charge of the Super Trader Summit and he’s bringing a lot of new improvements to the program.

Also, we are planning several new workshops and have several of the current Super Traders interested in teaching them. I have trouble envisioning anyone teaching our workshops who doesn’t understand basic “Tharp Think” concepts. “Tharp Think” is one of the areas that a Super Trader must prove he or she understands at a deep level.

As a result, we’re considering a number of new workshops for the coming two years that will probably be taught by Super Traders. We are already planning one technical workshop next year in which several Super Traders will teach their favorite trading system in great detail. The Super Traders benefit because they’ll learn their system better when they have to teach it. The attendees benefit, of course, because they get to learn some great systems by people who are actually trading them.

You mentioned that RJ brought several improvements to the program. What are some of those improvements?

Well, RJ has been adding things to the program that he wanted to see.

For example, we now have monthly on-line meetings in which the Super Traders can present on something of interest to them or get advice from the other Super Traders.

We also have a Super Trader base camp. Here our traders can share files on-line and collaborate on systems or other projects. They can post forms that might be useful to other Super Traders or communicate trading ideas and keep up to date with all of the new ideas that seem to pour in on a regular basis. We also maintain the progress score sheet so Super Traders can access it and update it at their convenience.

Is it a disadvantage to try to go through the program for anyone who lives outside the US?

Long distance used to be a disadvantage for participation in the program, but I think we’ve solved most of the distance problems.

Amazingly, more than half our regular workshops attendees right now come from outside of the United States. We have one Super Trader each in Sydney, Hong Kong, Shanghai, South Korea (Pussan), Columbia, Spain, Germany, and Denmark. We also have two in the United Kingdom and two from Canada (who were originally from Vietnam and Iran). That’s 12 Super Traders who don’t live in the US. I think we have 11 from the US right now.

There are several ways we try to help our international clients and international Super Traders.

First, we almost always present workshops in pairs so each trip can cover two workshops. Super Trader-only workshops are done towards the end of the year in conjunction with the Summit. Last year we did the Summit plus two workshops and this year will be the same.

Additionally, much of the information exchange for the program can be done by email and Skype—which are free. Now we also have the base camp collaboration website, which is free for the Super Traders and is instantly available regardless of location.

This summer, we added the capability to record video of workshops. I plan to record only the technical workshops and never the psychological workshops. To benefit from the exercises in the psychological workshops, people have to participate and experience them rather than watch them. Additionally, attendees often share personal information in the psychological workshops that does not need to be publicized.

We still have a few details to work out, but I have the basic plan for providing the workshop videos to Super Traders. When a Super Trader completes the psychological section of the program, they’ll receive a hard drive with the video recordings of all of the technical workshops that have been recorded over the last 12 months. They’ll have all of that information at their fingertips with the ability to review it as often as they choose. That’s a big advantage to anyone who has to commit to 15 to 30 hours of travel to get to Cary, NC.

How much does the program cost?

The cost of the Super Trader program is $50,000 (broken into four payments) for a two-year period. You do get, however, a 50% credit on all of your previous purchases of core products and workshops. The cost, therefore, could be less than $50K depending on the work you’ve done with us already. The Super Trader program includes attendance at all of our workshops within your two years, all of our products, the workshop recordings when you complete the psychological work, Libby Adams' Transformation Mediation Program, unlimited access to me for the two years, plus unlimited access to RJ.

My current consulting rate is $1,500 per hour. Over the two years, I could easily spend 26 hours with each Super Trader just reviewing their materials:

* 20 minutes going through each lesson for a total of 5 hours for the 15 lessons.

* 5 hours reviewing a business plan, the various systems proposed, and the trading logs. (They usually arrive at various intervals over a six to twelve month period.)

* 10 minutes a week on progress reports, which amounts to 16 hours over the two years.

Without any additional consulting work, that time alone would amount to $39,000.

Most of the Super Traders spend significant time talking with RJ and benefiting from his experience and we haven’t even put an hourly price on that service.

What if I work full time and find that I can’t complete the program in two years?

Even people in demanding full-time professional positions have completed the program in two years. Anyone can—provided they are committed. If for whatever reason you don’t complete the work in two years, you can get extensions at the rate of $6,000 for six months. And for that, you continue to get complete access to me, RJ, the workshops, and all the other benefits. At that point, it’s a tremendous bargain.

Can anyone join the Super Trader program?

The program is not a good fit for everyone. There are practical issues to consider as well as psychological issues.

From a practical standpoint, you need to have sufficient capital for the program to make sense. I don’t have a strict minimum capital requirement but let’s say you have $250,000 in capital. If you spent $50,000 on the program and you believed you could improve your returns from 10% per year to 25% on your remaining $200,000, then the program would more than pay for itself in two years. With this example, the program may make simple financial sense. That being said, we make no guarantees about any kinds of improvement in returns.

In addition, because of the intense psychological nature of the program, you must totally believe that you are responsible for your trading results and be eager to work on yourself. That’s why people have to attend the Peak Performance 101 Workshop as a prerequisite for the program. I need to see you in action and evaluate your receptivity to certain ideas.

The program is a lot of work and some of it is very challenging. As I mentioned earlier, I ask you to sign a statement of commitment, which includes a personal statement to show me your commitment. This is the hardest aspect for me to evaluate in the application process. I’m looking for total commitment. People who are totally committed seem to reach their objectives regardless of obstacles. Representative of this, there is a no-refund policy for the program. That’s only a problem for those who aren’t ready to totally commit themselves.

What if something happens and someone can’t continue the program?

I do allow Super Traders to take sabbaticals from the program. Life happens and people get divorced, move their households, change jobs, have babies, etc. Super Traders are allowed to step back from the program for a set amount of time and rejoin it later.

Why do you have a no-refund policy for the program?

Our workshops and products have some of the best guarantees in the business. Try a workshop or two—they have a full refund policy. Try our products—they have a full refund policy as well. If you find our products and workshop unsatisfactory, then the Super Trader program is not for you.

Almost all of the Super Traders purchased many of our products and attended several workshops before they enrolled in the program. They based their enrollment decision on the high quality they experienced. They were satisfied with our training and committed enough to their goals to not need any more guarantees.

We want people who are committed enough not to need any guarantees because they will reach their goals. We also want people who are totally responsible for their own success. There are no refunds once you start the Super Trader program, but you are free to leave the program temporarily or permanently at any time.

What is the first thing people have to do when they are accepted into the program?

You need to look at your commitment statement and all of the things you’ve committed to do. You then need to develop a timeline for how you’ll get it all done in two years. I then expect at least a monthly statement (weekly is better) on how you are progressing with your goals.

I give people a lot of freedom to complete the Super Trader program in a way that best fits them. Once you define your program, however, we jointly monitor your progress using some very strong guidelines.

If I’m interested in the Super Trader program, what do I need to do?

If you are interested in the Super Trader program, the first step is to attend a Peak Performance 101 Workshop. At that workshop, I meet with everyone interested in the program and provide you with a blank commitment statement. If you meet all my criteria and you are ready to start, we look for an upcoming month with an open spot.

Because the Super Trader program is so intense and involves a good deal of personal interaction, we have to limit the number of people coming into the program to a maximum of two people per month. In the coming months, we may have several spots opening up. While a number of current Super Traders finish their program this year, I have already accepted a few new candidates who will fill some of those slots. In the worst case, people have had to wait two or three months for an open slot. In the best case, slots are available when someone is ready to start.

To learn more about the Super Trader Program, click here.

Remember, your first step is to attend a Peak Performance 101 Workshop. The next one is August 17-19. Register now to get a $700 discount.