CategoriesHigh Performance PLP Podcast

Episode 141 – Ian McKeown

Highlights of the episode:

  • What made him choose sports science
  • Mentors and people who influence him
  • Key points he focus for athlete development
  • Key workouts he recommend for athletes
  • How he gets buy-in with copenhagen and nordic programs to athletes

#ianmckeown #preparelikeapro #plplivechats #podcast #melbournestrengthcoach

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Interview Transcript

Jack: What made you choose to go down the path of sport science if your first experience was more tactical side, coaching these junior teams?

Ian: Probably a bit like most Northern Irish or Irish, or UK, or whoever you are in the world, when you’re an 18-year-old and if you’re half decent at sport, the ultimate’s being a PE teacher. Certainly, it was back in the nineties, the late nineties, whenever I was around. Says how long I’ve been around, guys. But it was probably the only thing that kept you in sport. Rugby Union wasn’t professional. I don’t know where AFL was at back in the day. For us, there wasn’t professional sport, really, apart from Premier League soccer and that was incredibly hard to get into. So, that wasn’t really an avenue for us back then.

Jack: And did you have strong mentors or people that influenced your career while you were shaping it in early days? Or is it something that you self-taught in a sense of reading books and putting yourself into workshops? Have you had mentors along the way or is it more something that you’ve done through personal development?

Ian: I would like to think that I’m really self-driven and there’s a lot that I’ve picked up by putting myself in really uncomfortable situations, whether that’s with learning environments and going into rooms where I’ve absolutely no clue of what these other people are talking about and trying to pick up things and learn that way. But that would be unfair for the people that have helped me along my journey as well.

There’s a lot of people that have helped me along the way, and probably it was good timing, whenever I was coming through sports science and like University of Ulster, where I did my degree. It was very tied with Ulster Rugby at the time, which is the only thing that’s worth doing if you’re an Ulsterman. I just happened to know the people that went into those roles. And there’s quite a lot of people that have come through there that are really successful S&C coaches in Ireland.

Jack: What are some key points at, whether it’d be at Port Adelaide or just your own personal belief that you focus on that are really, really important for a developing athlete, from an athlete development point of view in the sport of football?

Ian: If you want me to say, ‘You’ve got to do your AAA stuff as an example from the PhD. So, you’ve got to do your lunges, your squat, your push-pull. You can listen, there’s plenty of people who talk about that side of things. Get your fundamental movements. Spend the time to understand and really believe what you think is important from a fundamental or from a foundational movement pattern point of view for every player. What do you believe, because then that’s how you’re going to coach it. Don’t just take what I say as gospel. Actually spend the time to do that yourself.

The one thing I would absolutely make sure that you do is that by having that in place you end up with probably a little bit more accountability to your program. But then also just engagement where the 16 to 19-year-olds, even younger or even older, doesn’t matter, just make sure that they’re engaged in the process and that they understand to varying levels, like some of them will understand more than others and want to understand more, but just make them engaged in the process. And you show that you’re passionate about how this is going to help them. Hopefully, that’s the biggest, that’s the keystone for me if you get that right.

Jack: For athletes that it may be really hard, rural or financial, they don’t have access to a gym, what would you recommend that they do? Is it power bands, mini bands? Is it setting up a dumbbell at home? What would be your key pillars that you’d recommend? Is it just focus on the running side of things and bodyweight work?

Ian: There’s a lot of people exploring how to, and particularly during this last year, I learned how to do bodyweight stuff or how to do more stuff at home with little to no weight. There’s plenty people out there. From a strength & conditioning point of view, I’m an advocate of making sure that you’ve got your eccentric work in. So, doing your Nordics, that sort of stuff.

But again, whatever you’re doing, as long as you’re walking out, and don’t quote me on the numbers exactly, but if you can do Copenhagen lever for a minute each side or four reps of 20 to 30, if you can do single-leg calf raises for 30–40 plus, if you can hold yourself in a hip abduction position for a long period of time, if you get that right, then we can worry about how much you squat. All that other stuff, that comes later.

There might be people that can’t do those things and it’s only whenever things start to fall apart that you find out, ‘Oh, no wonder he’s getting his calf strains or his soles are sore, because his calf capacity is so poor.’ At least get that stuff knocked in the head and make sure that it’s not even an issue.

Jack: When you talk about Copenhagens and Nordics, these type of exercises, especially holding for a good period of time, you need that trust and respect from your athletes to buy into those exercises that, like you said, are not as sexy. What are some good ways for S&Cs to do that? Maybe they might be starting a new program, so they’ve got to build that from the ground up?

Ian: Whether that’s just appropriate progressions. If it’s working with teams over a long period of time, you start off with introducing it as, like isometrics, whether it’s fun, whether it’s in different things that you’re trying to play. You’re just sneaking it in and it’s age-appropriate or development-appropriate.

And I don’t mean that from like an under 16 versus an under 18, but in terms of their maturity. Like, can you actually get 16-year-olds to sit and do isometrics? Probably not. Because they’re little shitheads most of the time, they don’t want to do that. So, can you trick them into doing it in a certain way? And that’s going to change with different groups. I don’t want to say that this is how to do it, essentially.

I think by spending the time actually pondering, ‘Okay, what’s buy-in look like for this group at this time?’ We can all go out there and we read ‘Conscious Coaching’, for example, or we talk to everyone else that’s doing the staff and we go, ‘Okay, well, maybe I can take something from them.’ The greatest S&C coaches are the ones that steal the best and the ones that say they’ve made it up themselves are probably telling a few half truths there. So, try and steal from the people that you can.

Jack: Thank you for listening to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast. If you liked this episode, it’d be a massive help, if you could like, follow, rate, give a review or even share with your mates. The show is recorded in Melbourne, Australia. Be sure to follow our Instagram page for all updates on our latest and greatest. If you would like to get in touch to suggest a guest or advertise with the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast, please email me at Thanks so much for tuning in.

CategoriesHigh Performance PLP Podcast

Episode 140 – Stephen Kelly

Highlights of the episode:

  • Ways to accelerate your learning process
  • Strategies on how to sell a program to a club
  • Things to consider when introducing weights
  • Key areas of development for female athletes

People mentioned:

  • Damien Austin
  • Robb Spurs
  • Mark Kilgallon
  • Matt Cameron
  • Rob Inness
  • Shane Lehane
  • Paul Roos

#stephenkelly #preparelikeapro #plplivechats #podcast #melbournestrengthcoach

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Listen: iTunes | Spotify

Interview Transcript

Jack: Welcome to ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ live chat show. My name is Jack McLean and I am the host for the podcast. Today my guest is Steve Kelly. He’s the high performance manager of the AFLW and Head of Development for Female Pathways.

If you are new to the podcast, before we start Steve’s intro, for those that are following us on Instagram, YouTube, or LinkedIn, Facebook, wherever you’re on the socials, our podcast is on all your favorite podcast directories. So, Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube. It’d be great if you give us a follow. We post new content every week.

Today, as I mentioned, our guest is Steve. Since being at Sydney Swans for the last 10 years, he’s had a range of different high performance roles and has also completed his PhD. So, we’ll be talking a fair bit on the science side of things, as well as the practical side and the art of coaching. So, really looking forward to the show. He’s completed, as I mentioned, PhD Research on ‘Junior Athlete Profiling Within AFL’, he’s an assistant strength and power coach, assistant conditioning coach, NEAFL game day, which is the reserves, for those new two AFL. Prior to the Sydney Swans, he also worked at the Sydney Roosters as rehab coach and completed a sports science internship.

So, let’s get straight into the show. Welcome, Steve. Thanks for jumping on, mate. 

Stephen: No worries. Thanks, Jack.

Jack: Let’s dive straight at the beginning of your career, mate. When did you discover you had a passion for strength & conditioning and working with athletes?

Stephen: I suppose I played at a reasonable level soccer and gaelic football back in Ireland where I’m from, had a lot of injuries, a lot of growth related injuries that I know now. Certainly, didn’t manage them as well as injuries I managed within the Pathway systems that I’ve worked with now. It was a long time ago.

So, fell out of love with sports to a degree through my late teens. Just because of the injuries and I had a bad hip fracture. Moved to Australia early twenties and decided to go back, educate into a sports science degree. Opportunities were probably bigger over here than back home for that. A lot of practitioners would go to England for their education.

Managed to walk my way through, I was a little bit older probably than your average. I was still early twenties, early mid-twenties, a little bit older than the average student. So, I was pretty keen, pretty in your face to the lecturers and tutors to push on. You know, opportunities. When you look at a classroom of 300 or 400 students, you know you need to be proactive.

So, in my education through UTS in Sydney (very good university, connections, practical based uni), I got an opportunity in my last year of undergrad to do an internship with the Sydney Roosters. Obviously, took that. Mainly sports science of GPS. And it was probably at its infancy. Some clubs were doing it better, others at that stage. So, it was a bit of playing around with data.

A couple of years, two years doing that. First year was the 2011 Grand Final that I got this. So, that was a great experience. Lost to the Dragons in that one, but it was good. And then I did with the NYC at the time on their twenties, I did a year doing rehab. So, I’ve got a good, diverse look at areas of S&C in sports science.

And then I managed to pick up the PhD with the Swans. It began as a joint role, so it was PhD and work. That was a good opportunity at the time. Myself and another guy assigned from UTS, we started at the same time. And then that evolved. So, two years doing the joint PhD and work, evolved into a full role there at the Swans.

I’ve been there for 10 years now. So, it says I’m either good, or they can’t get rid of me. One or the other, I suppose. The beauty about it is I’ve evolved into a couple of roles. It was a combined head of physical development in the Academy and the assistant strength & condition coach for eight years. So, I got a diverse range of skills within the senior program. I suppose, I’d be the generalist.

And that probably came against me when COVID came around. I was the one to go, but I pivoted over full-time into the Academy. Which I was very happy about it at the time in a sense that the senior role always would take priority. But my passion was certainly within that development space. And that’s where my PhD evolved into as well. I’ll touch on the PhD in a minute.

So, two years doing the Academy and then just now got a senior women’s program. And I was asked to come in and lead that program and also lead the pathways within the female side. So again, it’s different athletes, different opportunity, good experience. Diversifying again. And probably, as you move to your S&C career, sports science career, you look for those opportunities to hone your skills again, bring something new. So, very happy about pivoting at the moment into the female athlete space. 

Jack: That’s awesome, mate. There’s a fair bit to dive in there. I guess, we’ll go back to, you mentioned the Sydney Roosters role and how you were in that mindset, where looking around at UTS, there was plenty of students doing the same role, so you had to find an edge to get opportunity.

For those students that might be listening into the podcast and are in that same phase of their development, you mentioned picking brains from lecturers. How did you actually land that role at Sydney Roosters, that internship? How did you get that foot in the door, do you think? 

Stephen: It was luck. Let’s be honest, it was luck. The guy that was doing sports science, strength and power role at the club at the time ended up getting sick, and they needed someone to come in and fill in, take portion of his workload. So, because I was in the tutor’s, lecture’s face asking for opportunity and marks and everything else were looking good, I was certainly putting the effort in in the degree, going above and beyond, I suppose, what your average student would do.

So, they were looking for someone to come in at no cost to the club, obviously, at that level. That’s where the opportunity really landed. It was certainly putting myself out there and then getting that opportunity based off that, really. And from there, I just took it and I put the hours in. I was still at the last year of undergrad, so I still had to get through that, but I’d be finishing at 10, 11 at night session. Once I was in there, just put the groundwork in and just put the hours in and just took it as an apprenticeship, really.

I have the pleasure now of teaching at UTS, so I’ve had plenty of interns come through the Academy. I use that as a source and I’m obviously looking to help and give a lot of people the opportunity. And again, my biggest advice to them is you’re not gonna come in at a certain level. If you need to come in and wash the bottles and be around the club, you need to do it. If you need to come in and put the cones out, you need to do it. You will get other opportunity to coach, but, realistically, it’s about opening your eyes, going in, seeing the opportunity that you have, and starting from there.

I suppose, even coming from, I did personal training and coaching on the background, but it is a different level when you come in professional sport and different skills are required. So, it’s been a little bit humble in that regard. And then just building your knowledge base from there. That’s probably the biggest. 

Jack: Some great points, mate. I think what you touched on there, how important it is to actually help the program. Even if that is just assisting the person leading the program by setting up their cones for them or helping the strength and power coach with weights, however you can help out. And then that will build confidence in the department where you are stuck in, to then get more opportunity to help out with more significant roles. But if you go into that mindset, you’re probably going to get a lot out of it.

Stephen: For sure. Definitely agree.

Jack: And you mentioned the PhD, which we’ll go into a little bit more detail later on. But how much of your career, when you look back on it now, was planned in terms of getting that internship in rugby, you mentioned playing gaelic and soccer yourself, then now working in AFL? When you went to Australia, obviously, you were looking for that development, like you mentioned, because it was a little bit more accelerated to sports science. But were you also looking for elite pathways in that move? Or was it simply, have you taken it one step at a time, when an opportunity’s in front of you, and put yourself into that and just let your career take care itself? 

Stephen: Yeah, for sure. Like, I’ve been lucky. I’ve had opportunity, and opportunity’s been there, I’ve then taken the opportunity.

So, initially, certainly, through those early stages of undergrad, and even prior to that, it was picking up little knowledge bases, doing your little short courses, doing the ACA, doing whatever it may be. Not just thinking, ‘Okay, I’ll get through my undergrad and then I’ll do it.’ It was certainly running them concurrently at the same time. It was getting the qualifications, as much of them done as you can, getting diversity.

And as you probably know yourself, Jack, that’s when you meet a lot of people in the industry. And you see them five years later and they’re in a good opportunity and they’re usually the practitioners that make it, or to a certain level. The guys that are educating and always thinking about what’s the next bit of education.

I suppose as well, when I got to uni and I got doing the undergrad, I did get a passion for research and reading research. That was probably the big one as well. It was, ‘Okay, where is this information coming from?’ And then digging a bit deeper and finding out and reading papers and probably going, ‘Well, maybe that’s not really, the practical application’s not really there in it. But it’s a nice paper or whatever it may be.’ So, looking at the science, but then looking at the practical skills that you pick up along the way as well. That’s probably it.

The professional side, it was, certainly, it was my aim. I had the drive to want to get in professional sport. But I did put the groundwork in a lot of personal training, a lot of just coaching, a lot of just ringing around and going working, putting cones out for semi-professional rugby teams, whatever it may be. I would just go at the weekend and help out.

I had no problem just making that cold call and going out and trying to help out wherever I could, with the semipro, amateur, it didn’t have to be professional. So, until you learn it, the knowledge base doesn’t just come. You need to put the groundwork in the foundation, for sure.

Jack: That’s awesome, mate. Great advice. Take ownership over your career.

Stephen: Yeah, for sure. 

Jack: What about support and mentors or influences when you think back to this stage of your career? Did you have people that you leant on during this phase, that you would pick their brain? Or what does mentorship mean to you, do you think, for developing S&Cs? You mentioned you’re giving back now through the pathway of the Academy with the UTS program. But what about for yourself? Is there anyone that was impactful? 

Stephen: Yeah, for sure. I don’t go chasing mentor. Sometimes I feel a bit like people want a mentor and they think automatically that’s going to give them a knowledge base. It doesn’t. It is working alongside them, seeing what they do, asking them questions, for sure. So, they invariably turn into a mentor.

I suppose early for me was Damien Austin, he’s up at the Lions now. Damien worked at the Roosters when I was there. Damien was very, very good practitioner. Science based, but also he was delivering his application, the practical side of it. So, I was very lucky in that regard.

And it was a smaller crew at the Roosters at the time and at the time the head of physical performance was Cherry Measures. He was the Next Player, played for West, and Cherry was just a great individual. Probably wasn’t as strong as Damien on the science from the practical side and the actual coaching and the art of coaching. Which I probably value more now that I think I’ve got a reasonable knowledge base. In the actual relationships and the coaching, probably, I haven’t seen anyone better than Cherry in that regard.

And he come from being the Next Player and he’d worked with the Tigers and they won the competition 2005, maybe. So, he had some experience. But probably the big thing I picked up from him, definitely, I’ve been very lucky, I’ve worked at a small group with the Swans, is they have no problem asking me my opinion. I work exactly the same in the Academy. It doesn’t matter where you are in it. I’ll get your opinion and we’ll make the decision based off that.

So, if I get the impression that someone’s really keen to learn, and they’re asking me a question and they might be going down on the wrong path, but they’re actually willing to go and try and find the information out. I’d rather that than wanting to be fed the information all the time or the knowledge. He’s actually going to search it. And if it’s maybe not relevant or practical, that’s fine. Then we’ll work it out and you’ll see what works for your group or your team. So, definitely Damien and Cherry early.

And then within the Swans, I got probably Rob Spurrs probably molding me the way he went about it. So, you soon realize when you’re a head of performance, you can’t cover every area. Micromanaging is not the way to go. You need to have confidence that staff working with you and under you are willing to be able to take it on. And Rob was certainly very good at, once he confides in you, you can cover areas and you nearly read what his thoughts are and what he needs to be done next, and you go and do it. And I suppose that develops over time as well.

So, Rob was massive influence. And then Damien was moved to the Swans. He was a strength coach, so I got to work with him again before I moved to Brisbane. That was great opportunity. We worked pretty close and he was on my research as well.

Mark Hill Galland came in then, so Mark’s not a good Irishman. He came over and probably from a knowledge base and an exercise knowledge and from a diversity in the program, but certainly target and ability to mold the program over season, Mark was probably a massive influence in that regard. So, program development, application, not scared to pivot and throw something in. Have your philosophies, have your lifts, have your key movements, whatever it may be, but certainly have a look at the program. How’s it evolving? What’s the injuries look like? Whatever it may be. Mark is really good on that.

And then we’ve had some really good practitioners from a medical side, Mattie Cameron as well. I suppose you’re very lucky when you get the opportunity to work with these practitioners. They’ve been here for a long time, worked in the industry a long time, so you take as much out as you can.

And then the current staff here, although I don’t work as close, obviously, with them, are very good, always open for conversations. Rob’s in it at the moment is and I see Rob as well. He’s very good at relationships and the way he goes about it with the players. And Shane Lehane is a strength and power coach.

So, that’s probably the area where I’m probably at now is that relationships and coaching, the art of coaching and getting athletes to do what you want them to do, really learning off those guys. But that takes time. You definitely need to get your foundation and your knowledge base and then you can develop those other softer skills, for sure.

Jack: As you mentioned in your intro, you’ve had a great experience at the Sydney Swans across a range of different roles in the gym, in the science and in the conditioning side of things. Is that something that you’ve had a bit to play with that, in the sense that you’ll help out in all areas, like you mentioned the fact of being a generalist, and that’s something that you try and do, if there’s an opportunity to help out in a department you’ll do that? Or is it something that there’s a hole in the program and a job offer has come in that place and therefore you’ve taken that opportunity and run with it?

Stephen: Well, I suppose, being the generalist, I’d have to help out on field conditioning. You’ve got a group of 47 athletes, you need to take a group for conditioning. You may need to help at the physio rehab. Haven’t done a lot in the rehab space, apart from back in the Roosters, that was early days for me, as well experience.

But you certainly need to chip in and help out where it needs be. Not more from training, coaching rather than a practical or a programming point of view. Gym, I suppose, that was a big area where I’d assist in gym, whether it was Damien or Mark. I picked up a lot of knowledge from those guys just from their programming and application and how they go about it.

And then GPS was probably a big thing when I was at the Roosters, but then through the pathway systems, it’s something you have to manage as well. So, I’ve managed to get back and I’m obviously managing it early now with the AFLW program. I’ve hit a lot of different areas, but it definitely helps when I’m in the position now where I need to cover all areas and have an understanding of where there may be a gap in a program or what needs to be covered. Because I’ve had that experience in the different areas.

So, I think particularly undergrads or people coming out, say they want to be in sports science. Okay, but what does that entail? Like sports science’s got a lot of different areas. I don’t think you can just solely go in that area. And if you do end up in a club where you’re doing GPS and its data, or you’re managing databases, look for the opportunity to go into the gym and help out in the gym. 

Look for the opportunity to go on field. Ask why they’re doing those running blocks, what’s the load management, what’s the thought process behind it in the background. Don’t just sit there and download the units. Cut up the data, send it out. You need to proactively ask what’s the background. Like, why are we doing this? Why is the load management over?

But I think as well, once you do manage something like GPS, you get a good understanding from looking at the data about what’s happening. Okay, that week’s a bit bigger than that week and that next week, and then they’ve unloaded. So, it certainly helps. But if it just means putting out cones and setting up and watching pre-training, if it’s an injury prevention component or if it’s a speed component or whatever it may be, get involved in every area that you can.

Because then, if you do get the opportunity eventually and build your skill base, you will end up probably having to move into different areas and not solely be stuck in one area. Particularly now, it’s probably less staffing post COVID than it was before. So, you’re going to have to help out. It’s just the necessity. You can’t just think, ‘Okay, I’m just going to come in and just do load management within a team.’ You’re going to have to help out in other areas.

When I pivoted over from the Roosters, I was setting up training, helping the logistics guys, bringing the water bottles out. No problem doing it. You’ve got to start somewhere. And then you go in to help out with training. Ask, ‘Do you need a hand here?’ Because invariably, and I know it now, you’ll have 10 things to do with training.

So, don’t just stand there, be proactive and go, ‘Is there anything I can help you with?’ And guaranteed there will be something there that needs to be done. It’s just, the head of performance or whoever’s leading a session might not mention it to you because they’re thinking about another five things, they’re thinking ahead, what may happen. So, proactive, for sure.

Jack: I love that mate. And you mentioned briefly as well, personal training and coaching outside of sport. How important do you think that is on this topic, where coaches need to take ownership and develop themselves and be proactive? You’ve talked about the relationship side of things, but when you look back on personal training and running your own business, how important has that been to your career in coaching athletes?

Stephen: It was massive. At the end of the day, it’s like an athlete, they develop through kid, play sport, play amateur, whatever it may be. And then, if they’re good enough, they hone their skills, they get into professional.

If you are a coach and you think, ‘I’ll get my undergrad, I’ll have a bar job, I’ll have whatever.’ And then you just think you’re going to get in and have those skills honed. Not gonna happen. Like you can hone those soft skills, being a personal trainer. And you’re probably even better at times, because you’ve such a mix of clients: clients that don’t want to train, but they feel the need to, clients that are pretty keen. And so, you can certainly develop that.

But even probably the big thing for me was just the foundational exercises and programming and understanding. Like there’s less, obviously, on the line when you’re coaching at that level. But certainly it’s your ability to go, ‘Okay, am I overcoaching this exercise?’ We really need to go into this detail. Like, ‘Okay, there’s little fixes I can do here.’ Have an understanding of what I do and then get creative with programs as well.

I’m not just going to throw out this generic program. Be a little bit more creative. There’s so much information out there now, even probably when we started, there’s so much information. But just weed through the good stuff and the stuff that’s probably not so relevant. I would see it as your apprenticeship. It’s a no-brainer to start. It’s just coaching. You’re learning the foundations of exercise prescription, and you’re also learning your soft skills of dealing with people. 

Jack: And what about, if you’re in a position, which I’m sure you’ve had, where you’re proactive and you’re doing everything you can. But at the end of the day, like you’ve mentioned, there’s a fair amount of knowledge and skill set that comes to being a coach working in this environment. And maybe at times you might be exposed in a position where you haven’t actually got experience on that skill set, whether it’d be GPS or a speed session or whatever it might be. For a coach finding himself in that position, obviously you’ll learn as you go, but what are some ways that you can learn to accelerate the learning process to make sure that you’re not failing in that environment, but you’re actually contributing?

Stephen: I suppose the big thing I picked up from Mark as well, Mark Galland was, ‘If you’re going to apply metrics in your programs, go and practice them.’ And certainly within the Academy and pathways kids are very much visual learners. So, your ability to demonstrate an exercise is going to have a big impact on the quality of what comes out at their end. So, certainly, simple things, just whatever lifts they are. You may not be very proficient at doing it, but certainly put the effort into doing it and understanding why you go about it. Because you will get to this stage where you will have to demo at times.

That’s certainly one element of it. It’s a hard one, I suppose. But if you’re putting something in your program, whether it’s speed, or agility, or acceleration work, whatever it may be, you need to go and find the information, go and find the exercises, go and get some technical information about those exercises. Maybe go down to the running track and have a chat with the track coach, whatever it may be.

It doesn’t always have to be in field sport. I’m in field sports, I’m doing speed session. Go and talk to the track coach, go and talk to the guys that do it for an hour rather than you who does it for 10 minutes. So, the people that have a bit more knowledge on it, that’s who I would like to seek out was people that actually probably do it a little bit more and have to deal with the athletes. That’s where you probably need to, like, if you start at a lower level, whether it’s kids pathway systems or personal training, if these are elements you think are useful within their program, put it in. Have a play around it.

I do it the same with the S&Cs. I get into the Academy, they’ll ask me about putting an exercise in. I’ll go, ‘Okay. Well, how have you progressed to that exercise? Have we created force development philosophy? Have they been exposed to get them here? Yeah. Okay. Well, put it in. Have a go, see if it works. If it doesn’t, we can take it out.’ It’s a forgiving environment. It’s not a win-loss environment. We’re in the pathways and it’s a development. It’s all about development. Getting people drafted.

That’s the way I look about it. So, put them in, have a try. If it works, good. And you’ve got to have the spectrum of athletes: obviously, good athletes – good force profile, some athletes – good velocity profile, whatever it may be. But certainly practice it. Implement it, put it in, practice yourself, put it in programs at the lower end. See how it looks and then, possibly, if you get that opportunity in professional sports, at least you’ve tried it. 

Jack: Yeah, absolutely. And on that note, we’ve asked a fair few questions for developing coaches, which I’m sure they’re appreciating. But for the footballers listening in, maybe they’re living rurally or remotely, or they’re in a program where there is no athlete development, strength & conditioning, what would be some key pillars that’s important for maybe a parent that’s listening for their child to start doing with them or a kid that needs to take it upon themselves? What are some key areas of focus? 

Stephen: I suppose for me in the Academy it’s certainly like in any sport speed and power is seen as very important. But I feel as well, sometimes we can miss the boat of creating force development. So, strength. Your ability to actually turn that force or strength into a speed or power movement.

So, getting that foundational, we start to talk about building the movement and movement and movement. But don’t get too hung up on the movement either. Get them to do the movement, get them to do the movement on the load, see how it looks, get them to a proficient stage, move that in, get those force and power qualities in there as well. Because, ultimately, that’s where most successful or key movements are.

So, if you try and increase speed, go out and run fast. Go and get a running coach if you have to, for technical stuff. But certainly look at developing that speed component. There’s plenty of body weight, power exercise you can do, plyometrics. If you need to create a little bit more stiffness, wherever it may be, just go practice those plyometrics. But certainly don’t neglect the force development as well. So, increasing the strength profile and then from there certainly working into the power profile.

And each athlete’s going to develop at a different stage, for sure. I definitely see that. AFL, obviously. Most of our athletes have a pretty good aerobic profile, aerobic capacity, aerobic power. We talked in PhD, we are going into bit of detail on that, but certainly it’s not something where we need to put a lot of work in. But it’s a bell curve. We have some really strong, most sitting in the middle. And then there’s definitely the outliers, but they’re usually the better footballers sometimes.

So, it’s developing those other qualities, but also understanding it is a high-running demand sport. So, I might do all the speed and technical work, but when you’re getting fatigued and you haven’t done those movements, you may revert it back to type A, depending on your movement. So, certainly helps. Adding that diversity to the component.

But the big thing I would say is developing a movement quality, depending on what you want to do. There’s a certain thought process about, ‘Okay, what’s the injuries true to different stages?’ It’s a lot of load management in the pathway systems rather than soft tissues, from what I’ve encountered through the years. Definitely, a lot of load management, bone stress, big ones.

So, being conscious of that. But being conscious of that, you need to build aerobic capacity, particularly through younger mid-teens. They don’t have to run fast for those conditions, but certainly building some central adaptions. And then you can develop more to a higher end aerobic power, your repeat speed movements later.

My philosophy is: if I build that aerobic capacity earlier and they get some exposure to it, you don’t have to put a lot of work into it later and you can really work on the higher end aerobic power. So, shorter runs, 2–3 minutes, one and a half, whatever it may be, wherever you want to cut it. And then definitely repeat speed, speed endurance as well is obviously a big one.

But if you’ve developed that early capacity, it comes a bit easier. And lucky enough, most of the draftees that have come out of here, the feedback I get is they’re relatively good-conditioned. They’re probably able to handle a little bit more load than the average. And it is very much dependent. Certainly because I was exposed to the two programs, I was able to bridge that gap a little bit easier.

Jack: Yeah. You know it’s relevant.

Stephen: Yes. And I know where they have to be and what’s going to give them the best opportunity. Because, ultimately, you just want to give them most opportunity to do their skills. I don’t want to get them prepared to do more running. I want to get them prepared to do more skill drills. Rather than having the modifications and skill drills. Because that’s ultimately their bread and butter and what’s going to make them most successful. You can make the athlete as resilient as you can to get as much skills as they can. And I think you’re doing a good job through those pathways.

But, certainly, the big one over the years is managing those loads. So, build your capacity. But if you’re playing a number of sports, school, club, whatever it may be, it is really managing for the parents. I’d say that that’s probably the biggest one. Because again, we have kids miss a year or two years from 15, 16, 17 years. That’s skill development. I don’t think you can make that up. That could be the chance between being drafted or not.

Jack: It’s a sly thing. Rather ramping it up.

Stephen: I’m not concerned about they’ve missed the year or two in their conditioning. No issue there. It’s the skill development. That’s probably the big one they’ve lost. So, manage your loads, force development, strength, and then you can work into your more power and velocity side of the core of your profile.

Jack: And on that note, it’s a good one for the parents and even the kids listening in that, like you mentioned, club football, school sports. And then maybe they’re involved in an Academy or they’ve got maybe some representative footy, state level football. They’re getting pulled from all different directions.

When you are managing in an Academy, how do you guys manage that in-house? What are some tips for parents to maybe be aware of if maybe their child is showing signs of fatigue? And then therefore what could be a good guide to help prevent some of those bone stress injuries, like you mentioned? 

Stephen: Yeah, it is a tricky one, mate. It’s a very tricky one. We do have some in-house measures. We’ve used load management documents, we’ve used currently, obviously, got smarter base in the pathways, which is very helpful.

Again, the challenge there is compliance, and within the athlete, but it is the parents. Parents are probably the biggest. Like I had those issues playing sport, so I have an understanding. Often didn’t manage them, the parents probably didn’t know at the time, but I had signs. I had soreness, prolonged soreness. I had times where I probably needed to have a bit of a deloaded period, but I didn’t, kept pushing.

I was a multiple sport athlete growing up, through teens as well. Multiple sport athletes, it’s going to be a risk. You can’t go 12 months in a year with load. So, there is going to have to be. It’s managing your body. So, it’s probably the signs, the prolonged soreness and the sights of your body, like where you’re sore. It is your ability just to go, ‘No, I’m actually going to sit out of this. I just can’t do.’

Because we do have athletes who will play with us and will say they can play. If they play Academy game, they shouldn’t play the weekend, they’ll play with the club. There’s pressures there to play it. I appreciate the pressures are there, but I just put it back on them and say, ‘Well, what’s your long term? What’s your long term goal?’ This is a risk. You may get away with it. You may not. But you’re increasing your risk.

So, get a diary, go manage, write down if you have soreness, whatever it may be, or just write down how you feel every session. ‘Feel okay. A bit sore today.’ Something where you can trigger you to, ‘Okay. Something’s happening here.’ And have those conversations as a parent. Because we usually have the conversations when the injury’s there, unfortunately, particularly with the bone stress ones.

The hard ones are nutrition and those components too. They obviously have a big factor as well. That can be the hard one for us to control. You just give them advice: sleep, eat, recovery. Give them methods. But again, most of it is external. They have to do it away from the club. And so, give them the resources and then keep asking how they’re doing it. So, having those conversations.

Probably the big key warning signs are, obviously, those plank soreness. ‘Is it affecting your sleeping, eating? How’s your sleep, eating going?’ And then just looking at your schedule and giving yourself window of a deload as well. We all probably did it through our teens and it’s just keep going, keep going, keep going, move from winter to summer sport. Different sports have different risks there as well. It’s just when there’s a window of opportunity, you may have to take it.

And from the parent’s point of view it is understanding the times through adolescence that are bigger risk as well. Okay, what are the risk period for a male or female athlete? When is it most at risk? What age group? And then you can make adjustments from there as well. So, we kind of play around them, but they are still different. You can’t prevent everything. 

Jack: That’s a good segue for junior profiling, mate. Talk us through your motivation to do your PhD, for those practitioners that are thinking about it. Obviously, it’s no mean feat. So, how did you find that side of things? But then also, how did you come up with the topic with Sydney Swans? Was that something that they proposed? Did you come up with it? Talk us through that process. 

Stephen: I suppose it’s quite a broad one. Like it’s not ground groundbreaking research by any means. But probably the beauty about it is I made changes based off that research before I’d finished the PhD. So, I managed to implement it.

When I took over the Academy, they had no-gym program. You had minimal S&C contact. It was a skill-based program, which was fine. Targeted New South Wales, Queensland was skill-based programs. But certainly an area we could look at developing. So, I come in, I saw a gap in the opening there. And lucky enough at the time Chris Miles was running the Academy and Paul Roos was the head coach. They were pretty keen to, ‘Yeah, let’s implement something. Let’s have a look.’ So, they gave me that opportunity.

It was pretty broad. I looked at strength profile, power profile, aerobic capacity profile, test as well. You probably need to look at repeat speed or game type movement and then GPS as well. What’s the game look like? The first study – just looking at the Academy and then I categorized the senior program into different groups as well. So, our development group, one to two or three year players, three to four, and then your plus seven. What’s the differences there?

We had no real difference in running capacity. We had very strong runners. Obviously, the profile’s pretty good, AFL athletes generally tend to be. It was that strength and power. So, pretty obvious. Different development times. But we know strength program. So, it was an easy sell. How we start a strength and power program? That’s where we started, the infancy of that. So, that was good. And then from there that’s developed over time as well for more access, more contact.

Then looked at the game base. Compared the Under 18s in a competition with our NEAFLs at the time, it’s VFL now, obviously, and the senior program, looking at the difference in variables there. What’s the big difference? The big one would be time. Simple one. They play more time if they’re in NEAFL. So, our Academy guys, the better end were lucky enough to play in the NEAFL team. They play more time, so they’re exposed to more high-intensity efforts, more accelerations, more decelerations and physicality from that point of view, which was harder to track, obviously.

But so, while the NAB league is, obviously, the goal standard for that youth program, if you can expose them to that bridge in having to do more repeat high speed efforts, more high speed running, bigger bodies, more physicality. If they can cope with it, obviously, depending on the athlete, and more game time, it’s got to be benefit.

So, play at the NAB league. Just have out there in front of the recruiters, but certainly get some exposure to some higher level competition. Or against athletes who are higher level, if you’re playing St. Johns or Brisbane at the time or Gold Coast Academy, their NEAFL teams. That was probably the big one.

The critics would probably say, ‘Yeah, we know that.’ But they all want to see the kids playing the NAB league anyway. So, that’s fine, but at least drop it in there: we need to expose the kids to this, because they’re going to hit these metrics and they’re going to see more high speed. That’s probably the most important factor they’re there.

Then I just looked at our first year profile within the senior program. What do we look like? What do we need to target there? What’s the main profile? Again, any study that I did was strength and power based. I came back to it in about three or four years. You’re kind of at that sweet spot of development for those areas. You have a big window between that one to three years coming out of youths programs for strength and power development.

And then after that, you plateau to a degree, I suppose. You might make small gains. And I’m just looking at pure numbers of strength testing and lifts, running capacity, whatever it may be. You hit your groove by that three or four years. So, I suppose for me it was: ‘Okay, if I can bridge that gap a little earlier, so if I can have the 16, 17, 18-year-olds somewhere in between a normal first year and a third year, it’s going to help.’ And that’s where I pitched the programs and development.

And then the study compared the Academy players who would get selected within our NEAFL team and the non-selected, looking at the profile. And there was certainly difference in strength and power and aerobic capacity. Like you could see there was a trend there of a better physical profile. So, their ability to actually cope with the bigger loads, that was a factor.

Then it’s, ‘Okay. So, how can we develop the bottom end of the Academy?’ I suppose, the age-old thing is: the small kid being given him enough time to develop, he may end up being the better-skilled, because he’s had opportunity and he’s had to fight all the way. So, are we missing someone?

And from a physical point of view, can we get them up to speed enough that they can get selected at a higher level and then maybe develop some skills that way? And then, I guess with any study PhD, you need to put an intervention in there. So, simple strength and power. Can I change the profile over a shorter window of time?

Yeah, certainly. So, from a group who weren’t exposed to the same type of gym program, and the difficulty of a study like that is it is very practical. Very hard to control a lot of factors, but I was able to control, like have a training program and a non-training group. And then just compare that profile after 12 weeks. And obviously, as you would imagine, the training group were able to develop even in that short window.

Very hard to get them published, because of the, I suppose, one is your subjects. You see one group of athletes. So, you start to delve into the research area, you start to see these issues that you encounter, your ability to control a lot of factors in the study. But from an actual practical point of view and the practicalities and what I was able to implement over my eight years, it was massive help to me.

Stuff you think is pretty obvious, but actual seeing it in hard numbers and facts and going, ‘Okay, we need to develop this physical quality. It’ll probably help them and then it’ll get them maybe selected for a better level. And we need to expose them to this better level, because it’s going to help them with a couple of qualities, whether it’s getting exposed to more high speed running and efforts or change of direction or the physicality of a higher level game.’

So, I really enjoyed it. Like I certainly said, it was a practical subject in that PhD and quite enjoyable. And probably the most enjoyable was being able to put those interventions in place within the Academy. 

Jack: And on that, for the maybe the NAB league strength & conditioning coaches or those working in junior pathways, you mentioned there wasn’t access to it. Well, gym wasn’t part of the program and then that you brought that intervention in place to help develop the players to get stronger and more powerful and progress that transition to playing high level football. Or for those that got drafted, you saw progress in their ability to be able to be more resilient.

So, clearly there’s value in it, in lifting at younger age to accelerate that athlete development. What would your advice be? It sounds like you did a pretty good job selling it to Paul Roos. How did you go about doing that? Did you put a presentation together? Like for coaches that want to sell a program to a club level or junior pathways level that we need to upgrade our gym because it’s limiting the impact on the program. What would be some strategies they could use?

Stephen: Yeah, certainly. I did present at the time and found some research and some gaps in where I’d see. And even just doing a pilot study at the time. So, I started in there and I was able to do a quick pilot study and go this is where. Uultimately, it wasn’t on their radar, but when I mentioned it was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ Because they knew it added value to the program.

Sometimes you can be restricted by, they might think, ‘Well, where are we going to find the time for it?’ But I sold it that we could fit it in around the program. I sold it that it would add to the program. And I suppose I was lucky enough that, say, Paul and Chris, they’ve been around footy, so they know it’s part of senior programs anyway, so they could see the benefit in that regard.

Probably the main thing is just selling it. Also have a bit of an idea about, ‘Okay, how am I gonna develop it from a 15, 16, 17, 18? So, how are you going to develop that program?’ You don’t have to have detail graphs and charts and sets and reps and so on, but a bit of, ‘Okay, they’ll start here. This will be the basis. So, it’ll be a movement based and then it’ll be a force or quality strength based. And then we’ll start to implement that strength and power.’

Jack: To sell the big picture.

Stephen: Yeah. So, like, ‘I’m trying to develop these qualities and this is how I’ll go about it.’ A bit of a builder block phase. It wasn’t a hard sell in that regard. It was more I find within these problems is, because you’re restricted by time, is then how can you fit it in with time? But we tacked an extra hour onto training based off it. And now it’s just part and parcel of the program. So, now it’s just what they do.

And I suppose we’re lucky enough these days that most kids have access, whether it’s through schools. Most of the schools, at least a lot my athletes go to, there are high level practitioners in there as well. The level of S&C practitioners is very strong these days, you would say. So, they’re exposed to more complex lifts than what it might have been. It might have been just a very basic program maybe 5, 6, 7, 8 years ago. Whereas now they do have that quality. They can progress. This athlete – maybe not. So, the ability then to work within even the bigger groups and pick the better athletes and not just hold them back with the other. So, being able to develop.

So, it’s definitely sell it. You will probably need to sell it, but first of all, find some research that shows it’s worked. Talk about the program itself, how we can fit it in, sell it. It’s just part and parcel of senior programs now anyway, and the ability to accelerate these kids’ development based off building their strength base, building their power base, building aerobic base is obviously going to help them as well.

Ultimately, we’re in the business and trying to get them drafted through the pathways. So, it’s not about win-loss during the NAB League or whatever, for me anyway. Obviously, games, but it’s always about the big picture. It’s always the big development picture. How can I develop from 15 to 18? What’s the stages we’re going to go? Presentation’s very good in that regard. Very powerful. 

Jack: And what about in your experience, what are some of your favorite lifts to develop strength in those age groups? The 15, 16, 17? What are your favorite key lifts? 

Stephen: From practical point of view, certainly, I guess squat would be a big lift. Front squad would be probably the main one. If kids can develop, and we do progress to some Olympic lifts as they’re going into a senior program, obviously, a component of that front squad position, but that’s long term. But also just limit the load they put on there a bit to a degree and you can get a good look at the movement profile. And I find it a little bit safer where they can just tip the bar off or add it on their back. So, it’s a bit of a safety element.

A bit of a long term, if we are going to put some power lifts in there from the Olympic lift point of view, at least they’re doing a front squat, so that catch position. And also I just think it probably limits initially what they load that they’ll add to the bar. So, lower body, certainly big lift. Trap bar would be probably what I’ve moved on to now. It was based off actual equipment at the time, but I just think a trap bar as well, it’s an easy lift to teach. You can load it up. And certainly if it’s done properly and you coach it properly, it is pretty safe. So, probably prefer that there.

A lot of accessory lifts around the program. So, I do usually a floor press just for shoulders, just a little bit nice on the shoulders. Particularly in AFL shoulders can get beat up. So, that’d be big upper body. Bench pull as well, because you can load up chin-ups. Like you weight your chin-ups well as a strength test. So, I have a big key and then a lot of accessory lower body. So, groin, hamstring. A little nordic will do it in a knee and a hip, an RDL.

The female side of it now, definitely more quad based as well. That’s probably the injury, I see a lot more in the female side of it. So, working on the quads a bit more, not so much in the men. I have my theory of why that might be, to a degree. So, I try to cover off a lot of bases lower body. Probably when they get the program, they’re a bit like, it’s not as exciting for them. And then if they are able to progress… Step-up as well, I like a step-up, the movement profile of it. And then add some movement complexity to them as well as you go.

So, have your key lift for strength and then add your lifts that you can add a bit of movement complexity as you move along. Definitely very much lower body targeted. I have my big key upper body lifts and rocks, some positional rotational work with that as well, or anti-rotation, whatever it may be, to try to create the variation in their program. But certainly big accessory lower body for injury and try to cover off as much as you can, whether it’s some isometrics, isotonics.

Again, the research is there and there’s research for and against. But from a practical point of view, is it going to affect them? Is it going to affect the program? Have I got the time to put it in? Okay, I’ll put it in and see. And that’s the beauty with S&C, you can get caught up with this person agrees, this person disagrees. Put it in, have a look. Does it affect the athlete? No. What’s your injury rate? Be forensic about what’s going on in your program. And it may not work, but at least you had a try. Put it in there and you can pivot and move to the next thing.

Core point of view. A lot of antirotation, more bracing. So, ability to be able to absorb contact, not being pushed out of position. That’s probably the main element of the core side of it. But then you do some flex extension as well. I mix it up. Like you do create the variation, but I certainly don’t create variation for variation sake. I try to keep basic, really basic within the Academy. But I’m not going to hold the kid back, if they have a strong force profile. I’ll certainly work on the power side and the velocity side with them more if they’ve developed that. So, they will get that variation.

And I think if you can set developing that young enough, 15, 16, by the time they’re 17, 18, you can provide that variation in the program. And essentially for me, it’s like the first year senior program. If I’ve developed them through their 15, 16, 17 years, by the time they’re in their 18 or draft year 19, their program looks a lot more like the first year players. Reps might be a little bit higher or might be still a bit more cautious on the load of the lifting, depending on the athlete, but certainly comparing to what the first or second year athletes can do. 

They usually lift in pretty similar weight, if not more at times. Just because they’ve had that time to develop it. So, keep it simple, but certainly if you see avenues to develop different qualities, when it’s a movement-based, power or velocity, or even strength, if it has to be, put it in there as well. Everyone’s program certainly doesn’t have to be the same.

Jack: Thanks, mate. Thanks for sharing in such great detail and giving us a good insight on your philosophy. What about power development? You mentioned Olympic lifting, you mentioned that you do it with younger athletes. Once they’ve earned their right, they’re doing power work, they’re doing speed work as well. Are there certain scores that you’d like to see or movement competency that you’d like to see before they start doing a clean? Or is it more just case by case on how they look and their technique and how strong they are? How objective are your decision makings to progress? And how much is it subjective or age based?

Stephen: It’s definitely age based. Like it won’t be till they’re at that last year. Now, warmups, we will try in progressions, regressions of a lift. We’ll throw elements in, it can be a lift off.

Jack: Skill development.

Stephen: Yeah. I use it as skill development. I’m not turning them into Olympic lifters and I know people are for and against it as well. Sometimes if they have earned the right, as you said, they’re strong, definitely it’s got a strength element to it from me, competency elements of if they’re front squatting at a reasonable weight. But I suppose from a practical point of view and quality within the program, load of jumps. That would be the one where I’d love to get a good transfer. But then the Olympic lift is more of a skill development, a bit of an air and the right. Let’s get some variation in your program. From 17–18 years put them in as part of the warmup. 

Jack: So, they’re ready, when they’re going into the Sydney Swans program. You’ve taught them the competency, basically, but you’re not loading them up. Like you mentioned, like in a squat jumps you focus on velocity.

Stephen: And not all the coaches would do it anyway within the senior programs. And so, a lot of time I do try and align my program here, so when they go into the senior program, that can be challenging when you get a change of S&C and they’ve got the new philosophy. But generally, the power profile or the force profile’s tracking in the positive direction, anyway.

So, I’m certainly not obsessed about, I need to get these perfect Olympic lifters. It’s usually a small cohort within the group that are competent because they have the strength base to do it. And it does take a fair bit of teaching. But they’ll have plyometrics in the program, they’ll have loaded jumps, just for a simpler lift to be able to create that velocity.

And beauty here, we have the gym awareness as well, so we can give them that feedback, so they can have a look at their profile. We’re lucky off here to be able to give them that feedback as they go.

Jack: Awesome, mate. I’m mindful of time. So, we’ll move into the last couple of questions. Over your career to date, what has been a major challenge that you’ve overcome and what did you learn from it? 

Stephen: I suppose the COVID was probably the big one.

Jack: Yeah. It’s a popular choice. That was the curve ball.

Stephen: Yeah. So, in one sense, it was kind of like: okay, being the generalist, I was the far guy. But also now having the position I’m in, the role I’m in, as I said, it’s probably helped me, because I know what needs to be done in programs and the areas that may need to be covered. So, certainly being good at something is helpful.

But having an understanding, like realistically, when you become a head of performance within whatever program it is, it’s probably your relationship thing. That’s where I see Rob Spurrs, Rob is very strong the way they run programs. You may not be doing prescription, or you may not be coaching as much hands-on. You’re dealing with a program, you’re dealing with the skill side, you’re dealing with the player’s side of it.

The skills coaches, the players, the other elements to the program. Players need to go and do whatever media. You’re trying to juggle everything. So, your ability to build relationships that way, but still understand why. Okay, why is the strength coach doing that? Why are we doing that on? Why these other elements happen?

So, COVID was probably the biggest one. I had a pretty decent trajectory along the way. And then that came in. And then I got the full-time Academy role. I was very happy with that, because I felt like I could actually put my time into this. I could concentrate and focus on doing that program. It was a challenge, but then you can get a bit comfortable as well, I suppose.

I’m very lucky. Like 10 years is not normal for being in a team. There’s plenty of people that could do my job out there that aren’t doing it. I’ve just been lucky enough in that sense. And then that probably was, ‘Okay, what do I need to do? Where do I need to pivot? Am I doing enough for my own career? Is there anything else I need to do?’ So, in one sense it was a negative, but then it certainly turns into a positive. 

Jack: And what about on the flip side? What’s a positive highlight that you look back on fondly? 

Stephen: I suppose working in the development space is having the draftees come true. That probably gives me the most. Like we’ve had some really good draftees come through the program here. When they give you a text or a phone call on draft night and say, ‘Thanks for your efforts.’ I’m not looking for it, but it’s certainly seeing them fulfill that, putting their effort in, that’s great.

I’ve worked with some high level senior players in the Swans program for the last 10 years, but the players getting drafted from the Academy is probably the biggest kick I get out of working in it, for sure. It’s like you’ve had a small little impact, you’ve helped them a little bit along the way, and you’ve seen them bear the fruit. And then, hopefully, they’re able to kick on for themselves.

A couple of grand finals, since I’ve been here. We’ve lost them, lost them all. I came in after the back end, when they were Swan’s 1:1. But again, great experience just being around footy clubs when they’re being involved in that. Definitely the pathways and players fulfilling their dream, getting drafted, probably has been the biggest. 

Jack: Super successful club and great systems in place, and you’ve been involved in all senior men’s development and senior women’s with the new role that you’re in. We’ve spent a fair bit of time on development. You’re now working with female athletes. For the female athletes listening in, or parents of female athletes, or coaches with female athletes, you mentioned the importance of quad development for preventing knee injuries. What are some other things that are key pillars of your focus from athlete development point of view?

Stephen: Yeah, it’s definitely different profile in the female space. Certainly a lot of the training problem would be similar and be crossover. I suppose the big thing that tends to hit the media now and then about the women is, obviously, injuries and knees and so on.

But the way I look at it is I’ve got a four-year-old and she does gymnastics. My eight-year-old boy couldn’t do what she does in gymnastics. When I watch the women out in the field, they don’t move quite the same as the men do. It is different. And I’m not sure if that could be, but they take up the game a bit later. It’s very multifactorial.

So, certainly having an understanding about the game and how it looks and how they move. And then you’re still developing speed and power and change of direction. My big rocks in the men’s program is speed and acceleration. Whereas in women’s program, I work a bit more on pivoting and change of direction and adding that element to it. Certainly, increasing their power and force profile.

From my experience of just even doing plyos and power-based exercises, it obviously doesn’t look the same as the men do. And that doesn’t have to look the same. But if it’s an area, where it’s rate of force development, there’s some area that you can work on. Just because they may not have had the gym experience. Like I have worked in the Academy, the female program, the last two years and the 16–17-year girls, they don’t have the gym exposure. They’re not doing it. They’re not creating that physical profile at a younger age.

So, you’re having to play catch-up to a degree. But it’s good. Like it’s what we do. We look at areas, how can we improve different areas in the program? So, that’s probably the biggest one. I’ll keep it pretty simple. Okay, I need to improve the force profile, the ability to increase the muscle contraction, more muscle fibers, whatever it may be. And then I can start looking at power and velocity and increasing that area too.

But certainly in the female athlete space, it’s very enjoyable. They do ask why a lot. Why are we doing this? What’s this? How does this help? From a practitioner’s point of view, it’s good, because it keeps you on your toes as well. And it means you need to know your stuff and have an understanding about why you’re implementing or prescribing.

But I guess it’s again looking at needs and what’s the training history, playing history to a degree, what’s the demands. Different demands, different games, 16 aside, 18–19 minute quarters. Okay. Physically, from a running capacity, what they got to do. And then from an actual physical development point of view, where do you see them? Like you can’t look at, say, male and female, and go, ‘Okay. The boy’s game’s like this. So, I need to get the female.’ It’s different. It’s a different game in that regard.

So, from a physical point of view, probably track similar, but there’s different areas you might look at from an injury point of view. Obviously, they tend to get different injuries than men to a degree, but they’re difficult. It’s not an easy, simple thing to go. Programs need to be better. Programs are very good. I’ve talked to guys in the AFLW programs, the high level practitioners, it’s a different athlete. You’re dealing with a multifactorial elements, different things, it is difficult to manage.

Jack: It takes time.

Stephen: It takes time. It’s an understanding about it. You’re going to cut the injuries. You’ve got this soft tissues probably in the male program more, just because of the speed of the game, the velocities. Whereas in the women’s you’re probably getting more joint injuries, bone injuries. So, how can you limit them? You’re never going to get rid of them. But what can you do to limit them? And let’s be honest, from everyone I’ve talked to, we’re all trying. Everyone’s trying. 

Jack: And we talked about some details, some strength areas for athletes to follow and the importance of the developing the front squad early on from a technique point of view, and to transfer to other lifts, and trap bar deadlift for force development. What about for rate of force development? For the girls listening in and boys, but they want to work on that thing and start a bit younger. What are some of your favorite drills to start feeding in when the athlete’s ready? 

Stephen: I like them to do even what we’d see as a force lift fast. Like central components extension. I like to see them fast, I just think it is key. Most of your key movements are velocity or speed-based on field. Some of it is aerobic, endurance in those sports that go for longer, your ability to tolerate. But certainly your ability to repeat speed in a game is important and key, because they’re generally when the key moments arrive.

So, doing those lifts at speed. Sometimes it’s going to have to be loaded and heavy to get the strength profile. But where you can get windows, even the trap bar, doing your trap bar jump. Just deloading and getting the velocity element to it. Your squat jump. Or you can do movements and loading them as well. They’re obviously simpler to do. We can put a gym wear on it, give them that feedback. Quite quick, quite easy. I do like to give them as much feedback as I can, breed competition as well, which is always a good thing.

Also, I’ll have the velocity-based lifts and then I’ll work around with plyometric as well. Just trying to work on the spring, particularly the lower body as well. And as you know, it can be challenging in footy because of tendon issues and calf and injuries and so on. So, you’ve just got to be conscious of that as well. But I generally go hand-in-hand with the plyos. So, working on the spring and working on the velocity.

And what I’ve found is just educating on, ‘Okay, you’re doing this movement for velocity. You’re not doing it for force.’ I find particularly young athletes just want to keep loading weight on, weight on, weigh on. They think that’s okay, now we need to do this. Okay, your Olympic lifts are obviously high load. You’re trying to lift quick. So, you’re trying to get the velocity element, but you know you’re resisted by your load. But sometimes you do a lift. I want to see the velocity side of it, not the force side of it.

So, have an understanding about it. Have your exercises where you’re chasing the velocity, have your exercises where you’re chasing the force. And then plyometrics, I think, are good, they compliment the program. They’d give you a bit of variety there as well. So, there’s a lot of plyometrics, a lot of simple ones out there. Grab a skip and rope. Go and grab a skip and rope, start from there. 

Jack: Awesome, mate. Well, we’re at the last part of the podcast. The get-to-know-Steve stage. So, just a couple of somewhat personal questions. First one is, which movie or TV series, can be a book as well, has impacted you the most and why?

Stephen: Don’t watch much TV, to be honest, mate. Too much going on. Geez, nothing’s really impacted me in that regard. Not career wise, anyway. I tend to like to switch off, so I’ll read. Rather than reading textbooks I read a lot of journals, to be honest with you. I like to chase the primary size, so I’m a bit of a nerd in that regard. I just switch off and watch something totally different, from a movie point of view. So, it’s more probably cultural. I’ll show my age, back in the days, like ‘Train spot’ in Ireland. All cultural type movies back in the 90s and 2000s. So, nothing related to footy or sport, really.

Jack: And what about in your work life, what are your pet peeves? What makes you angry? 

Stephen: I love working in S&C. I’ve been lucky enough to work in some great environments and reach out and touch base with a lot of great practitioners. I do probably don’t like the ego in the industry, to be honest. I don’t like the way it seems to be like you can’t be wrong. You need to be seen as knowing everything. Like I certainly don’t know everything. I certainly make mistakes. I certainly ask everyone in the room their opinion. Sometimes I have to make the final say, whatever it may be, depending on where you’re in the program. But probably that element, I think we could certainly be better at that.

And I think it is getting better. I think we are reaching out and being a bit better. But I think it is the understanding that you’re never going to know everything. Your program’s good. It’s probably the same as the next person’s, with some slight variations. You could probably do things better. But probably as an industry we could probably be a little bit better in that regard.

So, that’s probably part the ego a little bit. And let’s just help each other, because I know it’s tied for jobs and everyone wants to get in there, but probably not by tearing someone down. Because, ultimately, I’ve been exposed to some really great programs with some really great people and it’s not what they’re chasing from a character point of view. So, let’s just get around each other, I think. 

Jack: That’s a good one. What about your favorite way to spend your day off? 

Stephen: Day off? Get on the bike, go for a long ride. Go for a fish as well if I can. Get out and go for a fish. If I get a bit of time and the kayak, I suppose is probably do three. If I can get out and get outside and do something, certainly something active, anyway.

Jack: Awesome. Thanks, mate. And final question. What are you excited for the rest of 2022? Sounds like you’ve got a pretty exciting campaign ahead of you. 

Stephen: I’m very excited about this new program. It’s a lot to learn. But even just moving into that female athlete space, I’m very excited. I think as well, one thing I would say is, definitely look for challenges in your career as you go along. You’re going to get knocked, you’re going to get setbacks. You may be lucky enough to get into professional team, you’ll get knocked out of it.

I think we’re probably good in this industry. We’re not taking it personally. We move on and we go again. Because, ultimately, everyone has a high level skill base. We may just need to work on, depending on how your relationships go, your ability to do that. And then, whatever it may be, you need to then get in and take the setback as an opportunity. What we’re doing? What can we do better?

But yeah, I’m really excited about working in the female space and the new program. So, we’ll see how girls will be a challenge, I imagine. A new team, but an exciting challenge. 

Jack: They’re lucky to have you, mate. They’re in good hands and, no doubt, you guys will have a successful year for 2023. When is it starting, actually? 

Stephen: August.

Jack: August? It’s not far away. 2022.

Stephen: 10 weeks. 

Jack: Awesome. Well, thank you for everyone that’s tuned in as well live. If you tuned in halfway through or three quarters through, highly recommend listening to the start. Steve’s dropped gems for developing practitioners, as well as developing athletes, even parents will get something out of this podcast, so you can listen. It’s on our YouTube channel. And then for those that like to listen to the audio, the podcast will be released next Tuesday.

Our next ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ life chat show will be with Danny Kennedy, the founder of DK Fitness, at 4:00 PM on July, 1st. I’ll see you guys then.

Thanks again so much, Steve. Really appreciate you coming on and sharing your journey with us.

Stephen: No problem. Thanks, Jack.

Jack: Cheers, guys.

CategoriesHigh Performance PLP Podcast

Episode 138 – Simon Ata

Highlights of the episode:

  • How he started as a physio
  • The type of cues he use when he gives feedback to athletes
  • How he does programming
  • His fave movie or tv series or books that impacted him

#simonata #preparelikeapro #plplivechats #podcast #melbournestrengthcoach

To join our Coaches waitlist, fill out the link below:

Listen: iTunes | Spotify

Interview Transcript

Jack: Welcome back to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ live chat show. My name is Jack McLean and tonight my guest is Simon Ata. He’s the founder of Simoster Strength, a calisthenics expert and physio therapist.

Simoster is a world leader in bodyweight training. Starting gymnastics at an early age, he became passionate about mastering control of the body and immersed himself in the world of bodyweight strength training. Expanding his skillset with training in martial arts, circus, and breakdance, his movements and teachings reflect a mixture of knowledge from each of these disciplines.

Really looking forward to this episode. For those new to the show, our mission here at ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ is to empower aspiring athletes and staff with practical knowledge from some of the industry’s most inspiring individuals. If you liked the show, please show support by finding us on Instagram and subscribing to the podcast. We are on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube.

Welcome, Simon. Thanks for jumping on, mate.

Simon: Thanks for having me.

Jack: Let’s dive straight into the beginning of your career as a strength coach and a calisthenics expert. At what age did you recognize that you wanted to help people with their fitness goals?

Simon: I think that’s something that developed quite late. I’ve always been passionate about calisthenics and kind of the high-level motor control exercises you see in circus, breakdancing, gymnastics. And then as I got older, I thought I wanted to be a physio. And I still am a physio, but now I predominantly work with performance. And rather than injury prevention it’s mostly about people getting the most out of their calisthenics training or strength training.

Jack: Awesome. And what about yourself? In the bio, the intro is gymnastics or something. You started at a young age. What did a typical week look like? And what age did you start gymnastics? 

Simon: I started gymnastics really young. My parents got me into gymnastics probably when I was seven or eight. I had an injury there. I ran into some parallel bars and I split my open and I quit for a few years. And they got me back into that when I was a little bit older, about 11 or 12, I think. And I always liked gymnastics. I liked the gymnastics skills, but I didn’t really like how structured it was and how rigid the syllabus was.

They also taught breakdancing at the same room I did gymnastics at. And I went along to a breakdancing class and I much preferred that. I liked a lot of those skills and I liked the freedom you had with breakdancing. To me, it’s ultimately gymnastics, but you can take it whichever direction you want to. It’s just floor gymnastics, but you can do whatever you want.

So, that’s where I made the switch and always did calisthenics to help with my breakdancing performance. 

Jack: Interesting. So, the calisthenics was accessory work for you and your goal was breakdancing. For those new to the gymnastics, calisthenics and breakdancing world, what would a typical day’s training involve? Is that a lot of volume? Is that long duration or is it an AM session and a PM session? Take us through a typical day.

Simon: As a junior gymnast, you probably do a few sessions a week, maybe two or three sessions a week, maybe two hours. An elite gymnast train a lot more, all the way up to a full-time training schedule. But as a junior gymnast, you generally do it two hours. You do a warmup, you do some skill-specific work on each apparatus, and then you do your last 30 minutes as a kind of strength and conditioning circuit.

With breakdancing, it was just one breakdancing lesson a week, where you’d learn technique and skills. Then you’d be on your own, to do the rest of your training on your own. So, what I would do is, as I found that I wanted to do that more and more, I would see other classes and just try and get a lift with people when I could or catch a train out to Prahran, to go to a few classes throughout the week.

So, once I made the switch to breakdancing, it was generally about two or three breakdancing lessons a week. And then I would just train at home in my room for about an hour of really skill-specific work. 

Jack: Right. And is that stuff that you were asking friends? Was there a coach? Did you have some influences or were you self-practicing different drills at home practice? 

Simon: There was a little bit of coaching, but a lot of it was self-directed. Because you’d have one lesson a week where you’d have a coach who would teach you something and then you’d practice those drills at home.

Breakdancing is fairly new, though, and there’s always new developments with it, new skills being invented in it. Once you’ve been doing it for a few years, you’re often working on things that the coaches haven’t done or can’t do, or aren’t sure about. So, you and your friends just try and work it out together and break down a skill and think about how you progressed towards that.

Jack: And you mentioned in your journey into the industry physiotherapy was an area of education that you undertook. Was that because you had an injury yourself? Or were there clients that you were thinking at that time to potentially open up a clinic? Take us through the thought process for physiotherapy.

Simon: My first exposure to physio was when I was probably 13 or so. I injured my wrist. So, I was doing a lot of breakdancing, a lot of handstands. I got a sore wrist and I saw a physiotherapist. And my mom’s a GP, so she’s a doctor. She recommended I see a physio.

And I was really impressed. I thought he had a really thorough understanding of anatomy and physiology and managing injuries. I thought that would be a really fun career. I didn’t really have any idea of what I wanted to do at that age. And I also thought, a bit of a selfish reason, but I also thought that’d be really good knowledge to have with what I love to do, with breakdancing and with calisthenics training. And that’s what took me there. I didn’t really have a goal to open a clinic or anything like that in mind.

And then, once I got into the industry, started working as physio a lot of it isn’t that kind of work. Even if you work in musculoskeletal physiotherapy in a private practice, a lot of what you see is not athletes trying to return to high-level function. It’s more the general public, trying to be able to have a day without pain. And it’s not as much of an exact science, as a naïve 13-year-old Simon thought it was. 

Jack: Yeah. You got to try these things out. I think that a large part of people listening to the podcast is exploring different things through this journey. And it’s probably one element of the fitness, these findings that we can all learn off each other in different domains. And you mentioned trying calisthenics, gymnastics and how that’s evolved into your philosophy, which we’ll talk about in a second, but is physiotherapy part of that, or the injury prevention side of things part of your programming? 

Simon: I think rather than thinking of them as separate disciplines, I think there’s a lot of overlap. Physiotherapy and strength & conditioning, especially at the low level, when it comes to rehabilitation.

But the physio is something that I’m really happy that I learned. I think it’s helped a lot with my training, a lot with my understanding, a lot with being able to pick apart BS on the internet about this is how you need to do something, don’t do this because you’ll get injured. Having that understanding of anatomy, physiology helps a lot to decipher what’s the substance and what’s just a gimmick.

Jack: Yeah. Have a good filter. That’s a pretty important thing for a coach.

And exploring, you mentioned, the fun element and being able to learn new movements and break down skills. If you try to get your first chin-up or any goal, pushups, dips of the basic level of body weight calisthenics before progressing the skills of development, how important is it to develop strength for, let’s just say, using dumbbells and barbell and how important is it to put time into learning balance and coordination and the skill, sort of the motor learning component of it? 

Simon: I think that there’s not really a one-size-fits-all answer and it’s really dependent on the skill you’re trying to pursue.

I think most of the skills you mentioned, I’d consider them to have a really low technical component. I know a lot of people mentioned that squats are really technical exercise and in the world of powerlifting and lifting weights it’s fairly technical, compared to something like a leg extension. But if you’ve tried skateboarding, handbalancing, breakdancing, gymnastics, it pales in comparison to something like trying to balance on one hand or trying to spin on your head or trying to coordinate a back flip with a twist in it.

And I think when it comes to the really highly technical skills, you really need to address the motor learning component. But when it comes to something like a chin-up or a pushup, as it’s quite a simple motor pattern, I think some specific work is important, but it often does come down to just being able to generate raw force output. And a lot of that you can achieve with really basic exercises. You can often unlock your chin-up with just building strength through things like lat pull-downs, pushups with any kind of general upper limb strengthening work should help you get there.

Jack: And let’s talk about the business side for a second. Simonster was a brand that, like my partner being in the yoga world and then myself, at the time I was CrossFitting, put those two words together and were aware of the work you would do in that space, calisthenics. And that would have been about five or six years ago. At what point of your career did you find out about the power of the online world, social media, YouTube, and start putting yourself out there? How did that come about? 

Simon: I started putting myself out there online fairly early, once I had a camera and was uploading things. I would often get inspiration from breakdancers and power movers, seeing what they could do on the internet, before YouTube was even around. So, when I could afford one, I bought a camera and started just filming my training and uploading some stuff. And there were a few breakdancing websites where you could see things from other people around the world and get ideas and get inspired. And that’s how it started. But I don’t think I really understood the power of it until quite recently, and especially through COVID, when the world just went online. 

Jack: That’s interesting. So, it was more from your own training development was the focus. Sharing videos was part of that community in breakdancing.

Simon: Yeah. When I was younger, my main interest was just trying to push the limits with what I could do and in the world of breakdancing, tricking bodyweight movement basically. Trying to see what I could do on one hand, how many times I could spin on my head, could I do a flip with a twist in it into another skill, all of those sorts of things.

And as I’ve gotten a little bit older, my focus has shifted a lot more to teaching. And I think part of that is that breakdancing is very much a young man’s sport. It’s very hard to do things like headspins indefinitely. But still very much enjoy training. So, my training shifted from the more explosive things and the things that are a lot more stressful on your joints to more traditional strength training, but in the form of bodyweight exercises. Because I’ve always really liked the skill component of bodyweight exercises.

And then another thing I’ve always enjoyed is teaching and breaking things down and trying to have a really deep understanding of the things I do. So, now that’s predominantly what I do is apply strength science to bodyweight training or calisthenics.

Jack: That’s a good segue for the coaches listening in. But you mentioned that the motor learning, the complexity of these drills is higher from a movement competency point of view, compared to the basic movement patterns that we typically do, like squats, pushups, grip pinch and pulling. Because of that what cues do you use with when you’re giving feedback for some of these movements? Is it more external cues? Is it a feel thing? Is it a video analysis? What’s your favorite way to give feedback when you’re trying to progress an athlete that you’re working with? 

Simon: As the goal of what I do tends to be performance, I generally don’t like internal cues. I think there’s a time and a place for them, but when it comes to performance, I think there’s a lot of evidence that external cues lead to better performance and also a lot of evidence that that can lead to better strength outcomes.

And I’ve found that when people dwell on internal cues, it might work really well for one person, but I don’t think it’s really generalizable. And I think part of the reason for that is everybody understands things in a slightly different way. Everyone feels things in a slightly different way. And you can’t say, ‘In your deadlift, you should be feeling your posterior chain activating.’ And I would say, in your deadlift, if you’re picking the weight up and standing up and fulfilling the requirements of a deadlift, it doesn’t matter if you feel things activating or not. As long as you’re making making progress.

So, generally, I like to keep things really simple, focus on external cues, focus on concrete outcomes. I do really like video analysis and video feedback, especially for calisthenics. A lot of the things are really technical. And when people are trying to refine their technique or their alignment, it’s really good to just elucidate points and say, ‘If we pause this video here, we can draw some lines on it. And you can see where or when your center of mass is falling outside your base of support, where you’re losing balance, and break down why certain things are happening.’

Jack: That’s great. And if there’s any listeners in that are either trying to get their first chin-up or trying to develop that maximum force production, like you mentioned, does it change for the simple cues of simple tasks or does the process stay very similar? 

Simon: The way I generally break down all skills, just to give a general principle, is I think every single skill or every single exercise requires some level of skill, a technique or motor control, just to define what I’m talking about there, and some level of force output.

So, something as simple as reaching for a glass and picking it up requires a level of skill and competency to be accurate with that and move your hand in the right direction, grip the glass and lift it up. And then some level of force output. And we generally don’t even think of that, because it’s such a small level of force output and requires such little skill. Everyone can already do that, unless you look at a toddler or you look at a stroke patient.

And what I like to do is then break down the strength or the force output and the motor learning requirements, and think about what do I need to focus on. So, often with a pushup, it really is a matter of raw force output. And just to make the point with something even simpler than a pushup, something like an isolated bicep leg extension that really is just a function of force output.

Almost everyone can coordinate straightening their knee and raw force output will just basically come down to how much muscle mass you have in your quads. So, the way to improve that is just build more muscle. You could do a bit of specific high-intensity work, but generally that’ll scale really well with muscle mass. So, I think muscle mass is your ability to produce raw force. And then it’s the motor learning component that allows you to put that force into more complex movement patterns, or motor patterns.

So, something like a pushup, relatively easy, people should do pretty well with some pushup regressions and just building some extra muscle in the pecs, shoulders and triceps. Something like a handstand pushup becomes a little bit more challenging. You can have somebody, who can overhead press their body weight or close to their body weight. They’ve clearly got the the force output to do so, but they can’t balance a handstand. So, where do you go there? And that’s when you would have a lot more work on just balancing a handstand.

Then you have these people in the middle who can balance a handstand. They can do a handstand pushup against a wall, but they can’t do a freestanding handstand pushup. And in that case, they’ve got the force output requirements, they can do it against a wall; they’ve got the balance to do a handstand. But it’s really this specific motor learning and lots of really high-level specific practice of that skill of the handstand pushup. I know that’s too specific to your question.

Jack: No, that’s great. You can see you’re a coach. The different clients that are probably popping up and how you pull it all together, and progress someone. How do people typically work with you currently in the business? Is it group coaching? Is it face-to-face? Is it online?

Simon: Most of what I do now is put programs out into the world. I do a few workshops and I coach a few clients, but not very many. And most of is remote, people in other countries, it’s basically all online with video review and Zoom calls and that sort of thing.

Jack: And who would be the typical client? Is it those folks on calisthenics? Is it gymnasts that are wanting to explore outside of gymnastics? 

Simon: It’s generally people focused on calisthenics, from all levels. I get a few people that say, ‘I’ve been working for a long time, trying to unlock the chin-up. I’m getting some conflicting information online.’ And other people who really want to hone in on a skill like the planche pushup, things like that.

Jack: And in your experience over the last, how long have you been in the industry for now, would you say, in calisthenics? 

Simon: I would say a long time, 10–15 years, but probably 5 years coaching continually.

Jack: Had it a huge spike with home practice, because of lockdowns and COVID? Has that increased the awareness?

Simon: Oh, sorry, with the online thing. With the online thing, I’ve probably been in five years or so. And yeah, there’s a huge spike during COVID. 

Jack: Okay. And then now that things are going back to normal and gyms are open, is it that people continue their practice? Or are they getting hooked into the sport and the methodology?

Simon: If anything, I’ve seen the opposite. I’ve seen a lot of people who move to calisthenics purely because they didn’t have access to a gym, especially here in Oz, where you had these really strict lockdowns. A lot of people were trying to just maintain muscle with calisthenics, but I think a lot of those people also enjoyed going to the gym. If I wanted to build muscle and didn’t love calisthenics, I’d probably go with the weights option. That’s easier. It’s easier to scale. It’s easier to target specific muscles.

So, I think a lot of people made the switch as they were forced to, just to have a way of doing resistance training from home. And now that they have access to a gym again, they’re going with the option they prefer more. That being said, there’s a few people who fell in love with it, and they’re now doing a lot more calisthenics. 

Jack: And in this context would be massive with any of these type of questions, but you mentioned planche and developing some of these more complex skills. How long does it take? Talk us through maybe your top three movements that you get requested outside of the basic ones of chin-up and pushup, but more on the complex skills. How long does it typically take someone who’s pretty dedicated to give it everything they’ve got and they follow your program? How long does it take to learn some of these skills? 

Simon: It depends on the skill. I think something like the muscle-up is relatively easy. If you can do a chin-up and dip or a few chin-ups and dips through a good range of motion, you can probably unlock the muscle up in a matter of a month or two months, for most people. Something like the planche, that’s a really long road and a lot of people who even trained for the planche never achieve a full planche.

I think a good analogy for the planche is probably like how long will it take me to squat 200 kilos. And for some people, they’re a little bit more anatomically designed to be able to squat more. They’re bigger, they’re heavier. They can squat more. You see parallels with calisthenics, like someone who’s 7′ is probably never going to hold a full planche. Whereas the smaller guys will get a lot quicker. Some people will work towards it a lot over the course of years and get close and hold the straddle planche, but never unlock the full planche.

But just for a ballpark figure, I generally say if you’re coming from a good foundation of bodyweight strength, like 10 to 15 chin-ups, 15 to 20 dips, the planche is probably something like two years away. The front lever probably a year to 18 months away. And the muscle up you can unlock really quickly.

Jack: Thanks for sharing. And you mentioned five years ago is when you made that shift to online and then started doing online programming. For those that are thinking about developing an online coaching business, maybe they’re doing personal training full time, or they’re doing group training, but everything’s face-to-face, and they lost all the work during lockdowns and they don’t want to experience that again. Or maybe they just want a more resilient business model. What were some of your early challenges and how did you overcome them when you shifted to more online? 

Simon: I’ve actually been really fortunate and I’m probably not the best person to ask that question to, because I wasn’t forced to make that shift. The way that came about for me, was I had a full-time gig performing, I really enjoyed teaching, breaking skills down and I was creating a lot of tutorials, just as a hobby. And then in response to that, I had some people reach out about coaching and how can I learn this skill. And there is also a pretty small pool of coaches that specialize in calisthenics. So, I was very fortunate in that regard. Unfortunately, I don’t have any right advice. 

Jack: I think that’s good advice. Like success leaves clues. And tutorials is a valuable thing that you were giving away. Like you mentioned, it was a hobby project, but people were obviously getting something from it and then wanting more and seeking your services. So, is that something that was pretty instant once you started the tutorials or did you have free content for awhile?

Simon: I gave away free content for a while and it’s something that built. But then again, the goal wasn’t really to get clients. I just really enjoy doing it. I liked trying to explain how to learn skills in a simple and concise manner.

And I thought it’s a gap in the fitness industry. So, if I wanted to learn about how to improve my bench press, there’s endless resources online. And a lot of great people, even a lot of research around that area. But if I want to learn how to planche, no one. It’s like the blind leading the blind, or five years ago, 10 years ago it was. You had a few resources, but I didn’t actually think they were great.

So, I created a guide about how to planche, some tutorials about how to planche. And the more I created, the more interest I got about coaching and one-to-one paid business in that area. 

Jack: Awesome. And when working with your favorite client, what capabilities and talents do they have from a physical and mental side? Like when do you recognize from maybe your first consultation that you think you’re going to see some pretty special things from this person?

Simon: I’m never really sure on a first consultation, because people can say they’re really motivated and that they’ll train really hard. But generally if somebody reached out to me about coaching, paid for a service, they do commit. I’ve been lucky to have good clients, who’ve trained really hard. And generally, it’s hard to just see how far someone would go straightaway and what their potential is. But over the course of the next few months, you can get an idea of what they’ll achieve.

I’ve coached some people from just kicking up to a handstand to handstand pushups. A few of the guys are doing straddle planche pushups now. One of the guys in his forties is doing ring muscle-ups, band muscle-ups, holding a flag for 10 seconds. But you see a lot of variation. The same with strength. You can have someone who’s just extremely gifted, can just lift a lot. They get under a bar and no matter what they do there, they lift up. And you have other people have to work a lot harder for it. 

Jack: And does lifestyle come in to it as well? If they’ve got a certain goal, do you say, ‘Well, you know, dropping five kilos is going to significantly help that goal’? Or is that something that doesn’t come up that often, usually people come to you and they’re already in pretty good shape?

Simon: They’re generally in pretty good shape. I haven’t had anyone that I’ve said, ‘You really should lose weight to achieve this goal.’ Not that I don’t think it’s important in certain circumstances. But generally it’s just been quite specific work. A lot of people have been in the fitness industry or coaching themselves and really just want to hone in on the calisthenic skills.

And that’s the way I like to coach is rather than saying, ‘Here’s your program. This is what you have to do,’ it comes down to, obviously, it comes down a lot to people’s preferences and a lot of it is talking about the why behind things. So, this is why we’re doing this exercise. This is why we’re doing this intensity, this volume, this order. And discussing concepts along the way. And I think that’s really useful because I think that the goal of coaching or part of the goal of coaching isn’t just to get someone stronger, it’s to empower them with the knowledge that they can get stronger indefinitely.

So, a lot of my coaching relationships are, I might coach somebody for say a year and then I’ll no longer coach them, but every now and then they’ll reach out with a question and say, ‘Hey, can you take a look at this? Here’s my progress since I spoke to you,’ or just send me a message and say, ‘Hey, just wanted to show you where my flag is now,’ that sort of thing. And that’s really nice to see. 

Jack: Yeah. It’s amazing what we can do with video now. And you can pretty much, like you mentioned, you work with a lot of people all over the world. The fact that you can have the capacity to do that, it’s pretty awesome. For the business owners and coaches out there, do you use Excel? Is it Google Sheets or is there an app that you use? Take us through the programming side of things. 

Simon: When I put a template or a general program out into the world, if I’m coaching somebody one-on-one, I generally will send them a questionnaire and do a Zoom consult, get a history, preferences, goals, those sorts of things. And then I generally write up a program with their input on Excel or Google Sheets and make amendments to that over a training block.

Jack: Cool. And then you would catch up with them on Zoom, is that a monthly thing or are they just booking as they go?

Simon: It depends. I think with calisthenics it’s a lot more useful to have more frequent feedback. So, I’ll often do video feedback weekly. But it’s very individual. It depends on the person. I think one issue with a lot of coaches is giving too much feedback. So, I try not to do that and just give feedback where necessary and just try to guide them in the right direction. 

Jack: That’s an interesting point you make. Let’s dive into that a little bit. Where can that go wrong, if you’re giving too much feedback, from the client’s point of view, do you think?

Simon: I think you see this a lot. If you just take the handstand for an example, I think a lot of coaches make the mistake of giving feedback every rep. And the point I generally use to show that this isn’t helpful is I’ll just say to that coach, ‘Well, okay, just stand on one hand now.’ and they won’t be able to do it. And they might have all the answers and all the tips and they’ll know exactly what they’re doing wrong, but they can’t balance someone out.

And it just goes to show that no matter what you say, it’s not necessarily helping. So, for example, if I try and kick up and bounce on my left arm, I’m going to fall over. If I have a coach there saying, ‘Simon, you bent your elbow. Simon, you fell to your left. Simon, you did this.’ I’m like, ‘I know. I’m trying to balance. It’s not helping. I just need hours and hours of practice to refine these small, precise movements to be able to correct my balance.’

And it’s not to say that coaching isn’t helpful. I think it is extremely helpful. And a coach is really valuable to point somebody in the right direction. I just think that too much feedback is redundant, not helpful. And I think it often demeans how important repetition and high-quality practice is. 

Jack: It’s such a great point that you make, both for the athletes listening, but also coaches. Because I’ve definitely fallen in that trap before. Especially if you’re booking a one-on-one and you know you’re not going to see this person for another week, you feel like you’ve got to give them the most amount of value and the most amount of help.

And like you said, exploring and self-learning is so important and taking ownership of your practice. But also athletes are going to have awareness themselves, they’re giving themselves feedback. So, if you’re adding more feedback on top of that, it can make it more complex, opposed to the simple philosophy. And you talk about trying to just keep it simple. And then there’s that, like you mentioned, you’re just steering the ship from time to time and keeping them on track and being a soundboard, but not overdoing it.

Simon: I think like capacity takes time to build as well. Like, if you look at my bench press technique, there’s nothing you can tell me that’s going to make me bench press 200 kilos. Or 150 kilos, something that’s achievable. But it would take a long time to get there. And a lot of that is just coming down to consistent hard work.

And another thing I’ll add to that is that what I’ve found is that I tend to give relatively little feedback to other coaches, because I think there’s a lot of value in just building capacity. So, if you see something like an arched back in the handstand pushup, I think a lot of that is just due to weakness. Somebody can’t push out in the hand. The thing of the planche or the 90-degree push-ups, you’re moving down to horizontal, just to make the point a little bit clearer.

So, if somebody’s arching their back in the 90-degree pushup and says, ‘Simon, I can’t not arch my back.’ If they’ve only got one rep, a lot of that just comes down to building capacity. It’s likely that they’re arching their back because they don’t have the strength to do it with a straight back, because that lengthens the lever arm of the body and demands more force from the shoulders.

So, you can assess them and see what their motor control of their trunk’s like and whether they can maintain straight body alignment with easier skills, with band assistance, that sort of thing. But quite often, it’s just like, ‘Okay, well, let’s get you to three reps and then reevaluate.’ And if you’re going to do three reps with an arched back, you can probably do one with a straight body, assuming that you have the motor control to maintain straight body alignment.

And I think a lot of the time coaches will chime in too soon and often make errors, like, ‘We need to work on your core.’ And it’s like, ‘No, we just need to build shoulder capacity. And when you’re stronger, you’ll be able to do it with a straight back.’

Jack: So, you’ve got to give it time. 

Simon: Yeah. I think a lot of things correct themselves. And, as I said, it’s more like a compass to direct somebody to a point than an exact map of how to go.

Jack: And going back to the basic movement patterns again, you mentioned off-air the controversial topic of using bands for movements like developing your first chin-up. Do you want to elaborate on that topic, that can be controversial in the industry?

Simon: I’d love to. So, I think the time you see this is when you have a beginner, who’s trying to learn a chin-up. And you’ll see a lot of people online, a lot of well-respected coaches slam band-assisted chin-ups or pull-ups and say, ‘This is a stupid exercise, or a useless exercise, or an unhelpful exercise, because the assistance that you receive means that the resistance of the movement doesn’t match the strength curve of the chin-up.’

So, generally people are strong at the bottom of a chin-up, they’re weaker at the top, and a band will assist more at the bottom and less at the top. And when I hear this, I totally agree with their point about the strength curves, but I think it’s a little bit more nuanced than that. But I think, okay, if somebody is working toward their first chin-up, they probably have a lot of new beginnings to make and no matter what they do, they should make reasonable progress. And you don’t need to make things too complicated and you certainly don’t need to make them fear an exercise and think that an exercise is useless.

And I think you actually do a lot more harm by telling them that band exercises are stupid and kind of paralysis by analysis. They’re putting in work and if they have just directed that effort, if you just put in hard work and you’re doing something challenging and you’re making progress, you will achieve your first chin-up. Your training doesn’t need to be as intelligent as an elite athlete’s who’s close to their ceiling. You can kind of just do anything and it should work. Just do something hard and test your capacity. And if it’s improving over time, what you’re doing is working.

And I think even with a really, really detailed understanding of strength curves and of exercise science and principles of building strength and hypertrophy, I still think it’s a really useful exercise. So, the first point I made is just, it’s not good to discourage people saying this exercise is bad or stupid. And it’s certainly not dangerous. You just want to encourage, you just want to build character as somebody who’s starting to train. You know, work hard, push yourself through or close to failure and increase the difficulty over time. And if you adhere to those principles, that’s most of what you need to do.

But even with a good understanding of calisthenics and exercise science, I still think it’s useful exercise. And the reason is, firstly, you don’t have to pick one exercise. So, if somebody is comparing negatives dimensionals, it’s like there’s great things about both of them and why not do both. They’re not in conflict. 

Another thing is you don’t have to match strength to build strength. And I think a lot of people who slam band chin-ups, don’t acknowledge that the resistance in a barbell squat or a barbell bench press don’t match the strength curve of the exercise. So, nobody says barbell squats are dumb and stupid, and it doesn’t match the strength. You need to do banded or chain squats to build strength. 

Everyone knows that squats build strength. And when it comes to improving your 1RM, what’s better than the specific exercise of the squat? And a lot of people don’t acknowledge that accommodating resistance isn’t actually superior and it can go wrong in the squat, if you’re just doing band or chain assisted work. So, you can add too much weight with the chains and you won’t be challenging yourself at the bottom of the squat adequately.

An exercise doesn’t need to be perfect to be effective. Band chin-ups can still improve a lot of other things, they can improve rate of force development. So, even if it’s not really challenging at the bottom, you can just use a lighter band and just use all the power from the bottom to help you get to the top. It’s easy to scale. It’s simple. You don’t need a lat pull-down machine. You don’t need to hang any fancy equipment or make a harness system. It’s better than having somebody spot you, because you can actually get a consistent amount of assistance each rep. You can progress to thinner bands. If you do an extra rep, you know it’s because you got stronger, not because your coach helps you more, or the band helped you. It provides the same assistance each time.

And if you eliminate band assisted chin-ups, it’s like: what are you left with that’s simple to add a lot of volume? And you could say, ‘I’ve been through lat pull-downs.’ But if you’re training at home, it’s something that’s really simple that you can do at higher reps. And if you’re just doing negatives, you’re leaving that higher reps work out, and probably progress. You’re not going to build as much muscle doing singles, as you will doing more reps. You’re not going to get as much skill practice of actually doing the chin-ups if you’re just doing negatives.

So, I think my main problem with it is that it can be really discouraging to a beginner. But I also don’t think exercises need to be perfect to be effective. And I think a lot of people who slam particular exercises have some cognitive dissonance or double standards when it comes to other exercises.

Jack: That makes a lot of sense, mate. And, I guess, common sense isn’t that common sometimes. It’s like we talked about before, like everything needs a skill at the end of the day, even if it is a simple one. So, if you’re not getting the actual movement pattern, how are you expecting to get better at it?

Simon: Yeah. I’ll actually just make one extra point. I kind of headed in that direction, but didn’t complete this train of thought.

I mentioned that accommodating resistance can actually be harmful. Take the example of improving your one rep max squat. Accommodating resistance isn’t really better for improving your one rep max squat, because you’re still challenging the sticking point of the squat to the same degree. So, the sticking point of the squad is relatively close to the bottom. Chains are just going to build superfluous strength higher up in range and not challenge that point more than a standard squat.

And, in fact, if you mess the accommodating resistance up a little bit, you mess the weight on the chains up a little bit, you won’t be challenging that portion as much. So, let’s say the challenging part or your max squat out of the whole is like a hundred kilos. But you can squat like 150 for a quarter squat and you just put a ton of weight on with chains, it’s all chains. And at the bottom of the squat, you’re only doing 80. It doesn’t have the same stimulus for strength gains at that point as just doing a hundred kilos.

And I think this is something that people neglect to realize when it comes to band assisted chin-ups. Because if the part that you’re failing with is the top, the band assisted chin-ups is great. Because even though this part’s easy, there’s going to be less assistance and therefore it’s going to be challenging that sticking point, the part we really need to build strength. And if you had assistance that worked in the other direction and you had not much assistance at the bottom and it was really hard, and then too much assistance at the top and it was really easy, you’re going to build superfluous strength down the bottom, and you’re not going to adequately challenge the top part where you need it to unlock your first chin-up.

Jack: But you do see a bit of that with people’s first chin-ups. Getting that actual chin above the bar can take some time.

Simon: Exactly. And a band chin-up is great, because even if this part is easy, it’s still challenging that portion. As long as it’s challenging, that’s going to be probably the hardest part. So, just back to that point, a lot of people would just make one point that might sound intelligent at face value, but when you dig a little bit deeper, you realize that, things don’t need to be perfect to be effective.

Jack: And what about in your own journey? What are some of your favorite ways to develop your philosophy over your time? Is it reading books, reading research, listening to podcasts, YouTubing, or speaking to other practitioners, workshops? Talk us through that. 

Simon: I think probably my favorite resource, I get no endorsement from them, I just use their resource and I find it really valuable, is MASS, so “Monthly Applications in Strength Sport”. So, Greg Nuckols and Co. are doing that. I find that really valuable, so I subscribed and I try to use that to keep up to date with the strength science research.

I like to read generally more academic articles and resources. So, occasionally I’ll read articles outside of that, things that friends send me, things that pop up on social media, that I want to dig a little bit deeper in. But probably the main thing, the most consistent thing is that MASS resources.

Jack: We’ll add a link for those listening in potentially to a podcast. We’ll add a link in the show notes, so you can refer to that later on. But we’re coming to the close now, mate. Thank you so much for sharing your journey and your philosophy with calisthenics development and coaching, as well as your own training and what’s worked well for you. We’ll go into the personal side of the podcast, the get-to-know-Simon segments. So, the first one is which movie or TV series has impacted you the most and why? We can throw books in there as well. 

Simon: Books? Okay, I can tell you books. I would say, when it comes to books, ‘FreeWill’ by Sam Harris was probably my favorite. I don’t know if you’ve read that, but that can cause a little bit of distress for some people. But I found it really valuable and I think it’s got really useful moral implications. Another book of his is ‘The Moral Landscape’, that’s really good.

For movies, none come to mind. But I like Tarantino movies. I like ‘Fight Club’. When you mentioned that question, the first thing that came to mind with TV shows, the one that’s impacted me the most would be the ‘Game of Thrones’ because I thought the ending was terrible. And I was just so gutted that I’d made such a huge investment watching the show for so long and it felt so let-down at the end.

Jack: It is a big investment. That’s a good point. I actually have forgotten the ending now, it feels like a while ago. It’s been a Netflix series. There is a feeling of there must be another series coming or something. 

Simon: Yeah. What’s your favorite movie or TV show? A book? 

Jack: I would say recently the Michael Jordan documentary was pretty good on Netflix. That was pretty impressive. And I always loved like ‘The Lord of the Rings’, ‘Gladiator’ type, feel-good, inspiring movies as well. So, that’d probably be my favorite couple that spring to mind. Favorite inspirational quote or life motto?

Simon: I can’t think of anything off the top of my head in terms of, I’m not a big quotes person. I actually heard, just to follow on from what we were talking about earlier, I heard, I don’t know where that term originated or if it originated with him, but I heard on Greg Nuckols podcast, ‘The Stronger By Science’ podcast, I heard him talking about ‘not chasing the ghost of optimal, because you’ll never really know where optimal will be’. And if you’ve ever got there, you wouldn’t actually know that you’ve achieved optimal. So, you’d be better off kind of chasing progress or chasing improvement rather than perfection. And I think that’s a really good point. It’s related to the things that we’ve been talking about.

Jack: Absolutely.

Simon: Otherwise, I think simplicity is a really good value, something Occam’s razor, which is: if something’s simple, adequately explained, choose the simplest path, rather than adding extra assumptions in. I’ve butchered that razor, but it makes the general point.

Jack: Okay. And then what about in your work life, what are your pet peeves? What makes you angry? Like clients?

Simon: No, not much. I think I’ve been pretty lucky in my work life. Everyone’s pretty good and pretty upfront when they don’t do something or can’t do something. What about you? I’m going to throw the same questions back at you. Give me a quote and give me your pet peeves.

Jack: I think as I’m getting longer working in the gym world, I think not putting your gear away at first didn’t really seem to bother me. But I think I do see that as a pet peeve now, if you don’t put your own equipment back. 

Simon: Yeah. I think that’s a very much a written and an unwritten rule. You’re right. Get your weights

Jack: Yeah, get your weights. I think, that’s probably one that springs to mind. And that probably is just showing respect for others. Favorite holiday destination in the COVID-free world?

Simon: I really like Japan. Tokyo, Osaka. I love the culture there. The people there.

Jack: And what about, also in a COVID-free world, which we’re pretty much in now, favorite way to spend your day off? 

Simon: I really like training. Training with friends. Some of my best memories are training with friends.

Jack: Well, thank you so much, Simon, for jumping on and sharing with us your journey. But for those interested in finding out a little bit more and/or maybe hitting up with the question, where can people find you? 

Simon: The website is And the same handle on social media or Instagram.

Jack: We’ll add them in the show notes, guys. And what’s on for the rest of the year, mate? What are you excited about for the rest of 2022? 

Simon: I’m going to head to Vegas for a few months. 

Jack: You were saying you were performing there last year, was it? 

Simon: Yeah, before COVID. And then later in the year I’ll be teaching workshop in Nirvana Strength in Bali. There’ll be a workshop with some other calisthenics guys. So, that should be a lot of fun.

Jack: It’s good to hear Bali’s back on the map for Australians again. People going over there. That will be awesome. Is that booked out or can people still book in for it?

Simon: I’m not sure if they’ve even announced it yet, but I think it’s confirmed and they should announce it soon. So, that should be in October. And you will be able to find details about that through Nirvana Strength. So, their website, social media. 

Jack: Okay. We’ll add all the links, guys, that we’ve mentioned in the show notes. Thank you for everyone that’s tuned into this live show as well. If you tuned in late, it will live on our YouTube channel. So, you can and I definitely recommend watching it from the very start. Simon’s kindly offered us some good gems all the way through from the very beginning. And if you prefer to listen in the podcasting world, this will be related next Tuesday on our podcast. You can listen in your favorite podcast directory.

And our next live chat will be next Friday, the 17th of June. And that will be with Stephen Kelly, who’s head of development at the Sydney Swans Academy. I’ll see you guys then.

Thanks again, Simon. 

Simon: Thank you.


CategoriesHigh Performance PLP Podcast

Episode 136 – Mitch Greaves

Highlights of the episode:

  • Why speed, agility and quickness important for AFLW players
  • Favorite ways to improve efficiency with running
  • Should you do any agility exercises before a game?
  • Tips for quickness

#mitchgreaves #preparelikeapro #plplivechats #podcast #melbournestrengthcoach

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Listen: iTunes | Spotify

Interview Transcript

Jack: Next we have Mitch Greaves, the co-owner of the Melbourne Fitness & Performance. His topic will be placing a premium on speed, agility and quickness training for AFLW players. Welcome, Mitch. Thanks for jumping on mate. 

Mitch: Thanks for having me. It’s been a great night so far. 

Jack: It has. Fully entrenched in our conversations. It’s been really good. So happy to be in the audience seat and hosting this great show with all you guys and sharing your experiences and knowledge. We’ll dive straight into your topic. Why is speed agility and quickness important for AFLW players? 

Mitch: In terms of that question, mate, there’s probably two layers to it. I think if we look at speed, agility, quickness training globally, it’s important for all athletes, but it’s particularly important for AFLW athletes. We look at it kind of having two sides of the coin. It has got both performance benefits, as well as injury preventative benefits.

And then, if we dive into the performance side of things, AFLW as a game, they are shorter games with less players on the ground, so there’s more space. So, the quickest and most dynamic teams, they can do the most damage in the shortest amount of time. They’re the ones that win. You look at sites like Adelaide, you look at Brisbane this year.

Brisbane had rapid outside players that. You know, if you’ve got good inside midfielders, they can get ball outside and then into space and get it to those electric players. You can do some really good damage in a really short amount of time. And I think we saw that in Assad, like Brisbane kicking the most amount of points in an AFLW game ever.

I think the game in general is moving more and more towards an aggressive and quicker game. And compared to the men’s game, I think, speed, agility, quickness has a little bit higher emphasis than something like conditioning. Although conditioning is still super important.

And then, if we look at KPIs that we traditionally associate with speed, such as a 10–20 minute split or 20 minute sprint time. I think those are really nice metrics. And I think testing and recording athletes from a competitive standpoint is really important to drive standard and competition for those athletes to want to improve.

I think it’s probably too focused on and what we kind of neglect from this training is things like driving down injury rates. Which leads to increased player availability and improving things, like running efficiency and in turn running economy, which goes hand-in-hand with being a well-conditioned site. Running efficiency and running economy are two massive markers that we place a great emphasis on at Carlton, having good movers and developing good movers.

And therefore from agility point of view, if you can have a site that is full of better decision-makers, which is a key component of agility, as we know. Things like how to attack defense space, ignoring irrelevant information and choosing right decisions, focusing on task at hand, along with things like teamwork.

Those are the things that I think we traditionally neglect when it comes to speed, agility, quickness training. And we get bogged down in improving your first five meters or things like that, even though those things are important.

And then, if we’re looking at the second layer, which for these individual athletes it’s kind of like diving in what it means to them. We can look at things like, what’s their position? How do I buy into their story? As a key forward, what does speed look like to me? That means that once I actually create space off my defender, can I maximize and really capitalize on the space that I’ve just created from my offender, by bursting away from them and hitting a bullet speed, versus a midfielder that might look like being able to re-position yourself quicker than you’re opposing midfielder to get the ball quicker or exit stoppage quicker?

You can also look at things like the career time point. So, you’ve got the older players. If you talk to them about improving their first five meters of speed, they switch off, or they laugh at you. For them it’s more about maintaining or holding onto not what little speed they have, but to what speed they have. Because as we know, like aging players, it’s one of the first things to go.

Whereas you’ve got also personal strengths and weaknesses as well. So, rapid athletes, are we looking to improve your speed, or your agility, or quickness? Or are we taking on more of an injury prevention role, where we want you to break the rules that we’re teaching you, but we also want to teach you really safe positions to hit as well as expose your tissues and joints to a variety of positions that you might find yourself in on game day?

Jack: And on that point, from the biomechanical point of view, as a coach, when working with a group of athletes. And you work with individual athletes as well in your facility. Let’s start with a group dynamic. What’s some of your favorite ways to improve efficiency of running technique? 

Mitch: I think it comes back to, in terms of having a group versus an individual. An individual, to be honest, at the private level even, we don’t have access to individuals in one-on-one environment that often, because we don’t really believe in that model. We want to be able to service a lot of athletes. And we can’t do that in a one-on-one model. So, a lot of the time, it is in a smaller group setting.

So, having said that, even in a smaller group thing, there is an ability to individualize it a little bit more than there is in a big group environment at AFLW level. In terms of sessions design, it gives you a little bit more flexibility around what you’re programming for your athletes that come to you in a private or a semi-private setting versus an AFLW group.

Where AFLW group is really relying on the staffing that you have available. Whether you’re running a session by yourself or whether you’re lucky to have someone like Stevie Mordava to help you out and take half a group. It really comes down to context, but in terms of developing efficient movers in AFLW players and in a group environment, partnering up is a really great tool to allow an athlete to model off another really good mover.

And then as a group as well, I think this is where it comes down to, as a coach, if you can demonstrate really well. Then that’s going to give your athletes, who are most likely visual learners, a really good platform to attempt the movement that you’re trying to teach them or improve. And allow them to then go and have more confidence in expressing or trying what you’re trying to get across, if that makes sense.

Jack: Mitch Shafter* has just written in from YouTube. Should you do any agility exercises before a game? 

Mitch: Great question, Mitchie.

Jack: You know Mitch?

Mitch: Yeah. He’s actually from my local football club, Knox Footy Club. He’s a youngster, or not anymore.

Yes, Michie, you can include some agility exercises in your warmup. Warmup is one of the coach’s most effective tools in terms of it’s the most frequent time that you have available with your athletes. So, implementing agility exercises within your warmup usually gives you a good bang for your buck.

And then some athletes really enjoy incorporating some more dynamic preparation work prior to a game. So, depends on your athlete. If it’s something that you like to do, absolutely go for it. Just get plenty of rest in between, and don’t cook yourself before you get out on the field, mate. 

Jack: And you mentioned the decision-making element, which I think is a good one to dive into a little bit more detail. Like you said, warmups are a great opportunity for strength & conditioning coaches to work on these athlete development areas. How often would you change the stimulus when it comes to decision-making in your agility drills? Do you do like a fortnightly block or change it every week to drill heaps of variation? Talk us through that. 

Mitch: I think it depends on the skill that you’re trying to develop. And, obviously, the phase that you’re in. So, you might be trying to develop a particular skill that might be attacking space as a team. And so, within the drill that you are doing with the team, you might vary that quite frequently. But then the rest of the speed session that you’re building around that to support that might stay really similar. Because we can’t underestimate the cognitive load that comes with attempting decision-making drills and decision-making agility drills.

So, to answer your question, it really depends on what you’re trying to do. I really like Jamie Smith’s and Frans Bosch’s rep-by-rep approach in certain contexts. So, when you’re trying to develop a skill, particularly with more intermediate or advanced athletes, once you’ve built a really good understanding of how we want you to execute a movement, then we want to get to the stage where we’re challenging you rep to rep or set to set with different decision-making stimuluses or different constraints, that, hopefully, lead you to better decision-making outcomes and better movement in general.

Jack: And what about from the quickness point of view, what are some of your top tips for, let’s start with strength & conditioning coaches, to focus on to help athletes become quicker? 

Mitch: Quickness as a term, I think, is a little bit of a gray area. And I think it comes back to your philosophy as a coach. So, if we just zoom back out for a second, in terms of developing speed, agility, quickness, and in particular quickness, as a coach, we really want to have a mindset that speed grows like a tree. It’s not a short-term quality that you’re looking to build in an 8-week or 12-week timeframe.

If you ask someone like Knowles or someone like Benny Frith, who has a group for three to five years, hopefully, you want to adopt a mindset where if you are placing speed, agility, quickness as an important quality or emphasis that you want the group to improve on, well, then it’s something that you’ve got to consistently prep up week to week, month to month, year to year, in order to actually get the benefits long-term. I think that’s a really important concept: that it needs time, it needs consistency and it needs nurturing.

And then it’s not just about what you’re actually doing from a speed, agility, quickness point of view, but everything that goes around it as well. So, it comes back to your strength and power program, comes down to your warmup, your mobility prep, all that sort of things. As well as how good your decision-making is from a medical and performance staffing point of view, as well as to when to pull certain players out of that training and when to put them back in and then modifying sessions as well.

And then dialing back in or zooming back in terms of quickness, you really look in a drive-up, I suppose, neural output in some players. So, the ones that are kind of like middle of the run, you’re trying to get them to be able to be a little bit more alert to scenarios and react quicker and reposition themselves quicker. And then you’ve got the clumsy or awkward players. You’re trying to get them a little bit more coordinated, trying to get them to be able to dance. They’re usually pretty horrible on the dance floor.

This is where things like agility ladders, which get such a bad rep, are actually fantastic tools, freshly getting athletes more generally coordinated. Of course, they’re not specific. You’re an idiot if you think they’re specific. But that’s fine, no one’s arguing that. But the tools like that, small box drills, a lot of Lee Taft series around quick hips and being able to reposition yourself really quickly, are useful tools in order to get back to acceleration or sprinting quicker. And, hopefully, the scenario that you want to quicker.

And then in terms of the wired or more elastic athletes, that you’ve already got on your group or on your team, the quickness training is actually allowing them to express an ability that they’re really good at. And they’re usually the athletes that don’t like the gym. So, when it comes to these athletes, they’re actually able to enjoy an element of their training that they’re doing week to week, month to month, year to year. Just like the strong athletes were able to enjoy the gym.

So, I don’t think we can take away the enjoyment factor that comes from speed, agility, quickness training, and allowing athletes to be athletes away from things like small-sided games and the seriousness of football development. Again, it comes back to placing a premium on developing these qualities and finding space and time to put them into your session plans.

Jack: Awesome, mate. Thank you so much for sharing. And for those that want to get in contact with you, give us a quick intro of Team MFP and how to get in contact with yourself.

Mitch: So, the gym Melbourne Fitness and Performance is in West Footscray. So, you can just type in ‘Team MFP’ on Instagram.

In terms of myself, I’m just @mitchgreaves8 on Instagram. That’s where my personal content will be. So, if you want examples of kinds of methods that I do utilize, there’s plenty on there.

And then in terms of Twitter or content that I just reshare, jump on Twitter. I’m just literally @MitchGreaves. I reshare a lot of other coaches’ good work and not much of my own, because there’s way more smart people on there than there is on Instagram.

Jack: I’m with you on that. I’m still trying to work out the Twitter. 

Mitch: I think the fact that it’s called ‘the Twitter’, probably says it all.

Jack: Thanks, Mitch.

Mitch: Thanks, guys.

CategoriesHigh Performance PLP Podcast

Episode 135 – Steve Moore

Highlights of the episode:

  • Applying a full-time approach in a part-time training program
  • Importance of what topics get covered and actioned when leading a meeting
  • How often should semiprofessional athletes train each week
  • Common misconceptions in the part-time program

#stevemoore #preparelikeapro #plplivechats #podcast #melbournestrengthcoach

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Listen: iTunes | Spotify

Interview Transcript

Jack: And last but not least, we have Steve Moore on the show. He’ll be discussing a full-time approach in a part-time program. He’s a strength & conditioning coordinator at the Carlton Football Club. Welcome, Steve. Thanks for jumping on, mate. 

Steve: Thanks, Jack. Thanks for having me on. As Mitch said before, it’s been a great night so far.

Jack: Looking forward to you wrapping it up for us, mate. Let’s get straight into your topic. What does it mean to have a full-time approach in a part-time program? 

Steve: Essentially, what we’re looking to achieve here is the ideal. And I think, in AFLW world in its current status, whilst we would love it to be full-time, we’re dealing with the part-time approach. And essentially, what we’re looking to do is to take everything that you’d get out of a full-time elite sport environment and then filter through all the stuff, and take a bit of a holistic approach and filter through the fluff and apply that to that part-time approach as best you can.

Obviously, time constraints are the biggest staff limiting factor in that regard. But I think what we do or what we look to do a fair bit is try to look for windows of opportunities. And Jordy’s spoken about it tonight already, and so has Ben, about where we can actually microdose some of this work and get little bits of work in over the week, so it takes the pressure off other nights or those training sessions or your lifting session at a certain stage. So, where can you look at those little windows of opportunity to take what you need and really get some good quality work in at the same time?

Jack: And on that note, if you’re leading a meeting for all those, whether they work in sport or not, but if you’re facilitating the meeting, how important is it to prepare what you want to cover in the meeting? And then how important is it to make sure that what comes up in that meeting is an action? 

Steve: I think, like anything, it just comes back down to that time management. And making sure that in a meeting sense, where you’re going to be dealing with multiple different key stakeholders in that instance, and each person’s obviously try and pinch as much time as they can, and just getting your key points across, and a bit of education to different areas on why your time is important and why you should be allocated that certain amount of time is really important.

But I think from a realistic and a whole program point of view, making sure that having a schedule set, so that you know when you are going to get your time. Now, we all know working in sport that coaches and professionals don’t stick to those timelines very well. And the nights blow out pretty quickly, and things don’t go to plan. But at least if we know, we can plan as best we can going into those sessions, then we can scale back if we need to, if things push over time or whatever it may be. 

Jack: And from the athlete’s perspective, that maybe they’re not in the semi-professional program yet, but they’re working hard to get in there. How often do you think they should be training? I know it’s a really broad question, but, let’s say, they’ve got two footy sessions a week and then game day. As they’re sort of weak at the moment, how much extra work craft, and in the weights room, on the field, do you think they should be doing?

Steve: As you said, it is quite broad from that regard. It’s going to depend on a lot of different things and weather, particularly in development pathways and things like that, if they are offering strength & conditioning as a part of the program or do they need to go and outsource that.

How many suggestions along that lines? I mean, as long as they’re probably looking to get at least one to two good quality sessions in, and then the link to those sessions can be determined on the program that they’re in and the time that they may have available and the rest of the factors that go on outside of their life, from school or university, or work, whatever that may be, and trying to work things in.

So, I think coming back to that scheduling point of view, as I spoke about before, if we can get those at least probably two quality strength sessions in a week and really look at, I suppose, it’s probably almost a reverse engineering what the training sessions look like themselves. So, if you can reverse engineer and almost pick apart: okay, what am I getting from that program or that time at the club? And then look to try and find other avenues throughout the week to tick off those factors. 

Jack: Awesome. Thanks, mate. That’s great. And then for those two gym sessions, typically what should some of them be focusing more on? On strength or is it more speed-based stuff? What’s the upper body lower body split? Let’s say, for a 16-year-old developing female footballer. 

Steve: Again, I think you’re probably trying to cover all those things if you can. And again, time is going to be the biggest factor. Whether you do have the time in the week outside of trainings and everything like that, to be able to fit it all in.

But if you’re getting at least, as Mitch was saying before, from a speed and agility and an on-field perspective, from a movement capacity side of things, if you’re really trying to focus in on one particular aspect and hitting that for a period of time before moving on to the next one, and then blending that in like you would in your normal strength program and filtering it down from the top into your main call list for the session.

And then, depending on what the athlete particularly needs, filtering that out with a little bit more accessory work in one session. But if you’re getting an aspect of that speed or that athletic development component from your club, you might put more time and effort into your strength & conditioning or your strength and power stuff away from the club by working in a private sector facility or hiring a coach.

Jack: And for the strength & conditioning coaches that are listening in to the podcast, or maybe live as well, take us through your role. It sounds like there’s a fair bit going on. And football certainly has changed over the last few years now. And it seems like you’re involved with the men’s program and women’s program, is that right? 

Steve: Yeah, it’s a little bit messy. There’s a bit going on. It’s a bit all encompassing in a way. But the variety is what I enjoy within that role. So, from the AFLW component, we also have the strength and power components, and I suppose a lot of the stuff that Mitch has just spoken about before. Big shoes to fill since he’s moved on. Pretty stressful times there.

Helping out with the men’s program two to three days a week when I can, and then looking after the Carlton College Sport Program. My role is quite seasonal. The one program will run and then it will finish, and then something else will pick up and then the other one will drop off. 

It’s good from a time management point of view. I don’t have too many clashes, which is nice. But the variety of exposure to all different types of athletes and all different types of levels, then for a coach, it’s a great way to develop and learn and build on that.

Jack: Ben mentioned that there is rumors that the season is changing it, the release date for the next four to five weeks. But, effectively, we can see where footy is going. It’s going to be all year round now, where it’ll be in the papers. So, for your role, how do you manage that prospect where there’s not really enough season, I guess?

Steve: It’s a tough one. And I think we’re all sitting here and patiently waiting for potential start date and things like that. But it’s one of those things. Like in previous years, the off-season was too long. I think you can get lost in that situation, where you’ve probably got all these ideas and you have too much time to be able to put things in place. And you’re trying to find that right balance between giving the athletes a break and then also bringing them back refreshed, but still get that good work in over the off-season.

Whereas at the moment it’s been quite good off on finding our athletes are quite motivated and quite excited by the season coming up. Like they’ve had their little three to four week break, where we have said, ‘Look, you’re going away from doing your structured work. Go on holiday. Go do something different. Exercise for leisure sort of thing. And then be able to come back in, let’s say, end of June, or wherever we may be starting, and work back a month from there and start to provide a little bit more structure as we’re building.’

So, I think that factor that I spoke about previously in regards to the burnout,  the factor of being present early in the preseason or later in the preseason, hopefully, might be there this year. Because I’ll be keen to just keep rolling, since I’ve had a little bit of a break. 

Jack: And what are the common misconceptions with the part-time program, do you think, from the athletes or coaches perspective?

Steve: I spoke about time as being a bit of a limitation before. But I think time is a bit of a cheap, easy option out. I think what you get and give in regards to your training sessions and the hours within the club, that’s what it is. So, I think being able to be creative around that and actually get a little bit smarter around it and work out, as I said before, where are these little windows of opportunity.

And we spoke about it before, and Jordy touched on it as well. We split out our lifts pre and post training. So, they’ll do half their gym session pre training. And then they come off the track and therefore there’s only their lower body and accessory work to do there. So, right there and then, rather than going, ‘Oh, we have only got 20 minutes for gym post training,’ we’re doing 20–25 minutes pre training as well. All of a sudden, they’ve got 40–45 minute hit two or three times a week and being able to build on that.

So, that’s probably one of the things. And I think at the end of the day everyone’s going to have their reservations, whether it’s the athletes themselves or the coaches, on the importance of the gym and the athletic development stuff and everything that we do as coaches. But again, as it’s been a bit of a common theme tonight through the whole presentation, talking about that education factor. Being able to solely go, ‘Okay, if we’re going to roll something out to these athletes or within our program, we’re educating the people involved on what we are trying to do or why we need that time for it.’

Again, we microdose that. From an education point of view, it might be a 10-minute hit of an education theme before the coaches get into their meeting. This is why we’re doing this thing, this strength stuff, or this is why we’re doing this, when we get down onto the ground, whatever it may be. And, hopefully, over time, we’ve felt that the players have bought into it because they understand it a bit more. 

Jack: And then take us through, how does that flow? So, if the players start in the gym, do they then go into team meeting for a training meeting and then go on the field? Or if they had that team meeting before the gym session and it’s all just bang, bang, bang, all the physical stuff in a row.

Steve: I think because the players are obviously doing quite a vast range of things throughout the day, it impacts on their time that they can get to the club. Some are at university or doing other things. They may be working in the morning, so they’re free earlier and might get in a bit earlier than other athletes. They’re utilizing a good hour and a half prior to team meetings kicking off, to go on and do things like strength, go get treatment or do anything else that they need to do from a prep point of view.

Whereas some other athletes, they might be getting there at 5:15 or 5:30 for a 6:00 start. But we, hopefully, try and allow enough time and talk to those athletes. We talk about being able to offset their days in a way, so that if they, again, I keep coming back to it, those little windows that we can go, ‘All right, where can we get this working for you that suits your time management? So you don’t feel rushed, stressed when you arrive at the club.’ And therefore go and impact the way they train. 

Jack: Awesome. Fantastic, mate. Well, thank you so much for jumping on the show and sharing with us your knowledge and expertise. For those that want to get in contact and pick your brain some more, where’s the best place to get in contact?

Steve: Not Twitter, mate. I’m not really on there.

Jack: The Twitter. Hopefully, they create a new app.

Steve: Yeah, I think Elon might rebrand it now. So, just Instagram, mate. Click on @coachstevemoore. That’s probably the easiest way. 

Jack: Fantastic. Awesome. Well, like I said earlier, guys, we’ll add them all in the show notes.

Well, that’s it for tonight’s show. I’ll pop one question in to you, guys. I know it happened throughout the year with the AFLW season, essentially a bit of stick with injuries. The ACL gets popped up all the time. There’s always a bit of media, unfortunately, in our industry as well, which tend to put pressure on ourselves, and people make comments when they probably don’t have a place to, with not having experience. Does anyone want to talk up on that topic and help shedding some light on injuries and some of the things that do get popped up in the media?

Ben: Oh, I guess I’ll just say that I think some of you know Nemphis, is it how you say her last name? She’s got some pretty good articles on it. It’s a hugely complex topic. There’s a lot of misconceptions around it. If you’re able to have water heats and all that stuff, like that’s just bullshit. It’s been shown to not really have a factor. Footwear, the hardness of grounds. Like these are all you’re majoring in the minor, looking at that stuff.

Women’s footy is so new. The pathways, whilst they’re coming in, we haven’t had young girls playing footy since five, coming through to the pathway yet, and spend 5, 6, 7, 8 years playing AFLW footy. I’ll wager, once everything goes full-time and the pathways are a bit more equal, it’ll regress to the rates that we see in some other sports.

It’s a hugely complex topic. It’s not just as simple as some people in the media or even within the S&C community make it out to be. Girls aren’t getting the same opportunities or haven’t for a very long time had the same opportunities as their male counterparts, coming through the system. And I don’t think we can really accurately quantify the effects that that has on them coming into AFL system.

I think coach Sean Potter, he made public some data around his Tassie Devils preseason. They’re doing 4 to 6k sessions. Jumped straight into, bring an 18-year-old straight into an AFLW preseason. It’s a relatively short preseason compared to the boys’ too. They got from doing 4 to 6k sessions. That might be the smallest session they do all preseason in AFLW program. The demands are just that much higher. It’s going to take time. That’s my two cents on it. I really recommend reading Sophie Nemphis’s articles. I think they’ve nailed him. 

Jack: You could send me the link.

Mitch: It’s about access and opportunity, doesn’t it?

Ben: Yeah, absolutely.

Mitch: It’ll be very interesting to see once all things being equal in terms of access and opportunity for 10 or 20 year period, what the statistics will be.

Jack: Awesome. Well said, guys. And is there any other topic that we want to wrap up the show with, in regards to athlete development in AFLW? We covered a fair bit.

Mitch: I think just going back to your previous point, Jack. I think sticking up for the coaches that are currently in the AFLW system is a big one after coping  with a bit of flack or what is perceived to be flack. It’s less of a quality of coach point of view and more of a time and resources that those coaches have available to them with those athletes point of view.

Jack: A hundred percent. Well said, mate. Like Ben said, it’s so complex that you could spend hours on hours just analyzing one particular injury, let alone trying to find trends.

Ben: I think we’ve all spent time doing that. I mean, I know I do. I spend hours and hours looking at vision. There’s some really interesting people to follow on Twitter. This guy from Clemson, can’t remember his name off the top of my head. He’s a sport science guy from Clemson, who’s doing some really interesting studies or just making them a bit more public. It’s certainly what I’m discovering. And a guy called Rich Clarke. I think it’s like Rich Clarke Agility or something. A couple of really good guys there. I can’t remember his name, I wish I could remember his name, the guy from Clemson.

There’s evidence suggesting that vision is now a huge contributing factor to ACLs now. So, being able to actually pick up cues, if you’ve got deficit in a certain part of your vision that that may place you at a high risk. I don’t think we’ve really scratched the surface on ACL side. They’re so complex. They’re gone in 50 milliseconds. That’s not enough time to consciously contract a muscle to stop it. It’s going to take time to sum up Mitch’s point. It’s going to take a lot of time.

Hopefully, the research can delve into some of that context stuff in, when we talk about agility, what separates someone that’s a good mover in an open, chaotic field from someone who’s not. Hopefully, the research can start to weed that out, so we can try to train that into the people that aren’t as good, without a better way of defining it, I guess. 

Jack: It’s your colleague, Mitch. Is that the name?

Ben: Potentially. I mean, he’s pretty good, Mitch. So, I’m going to back him in there.

Jack: We’ll back him in. There you go, Mitch. Thank you. We should add Mitch down there as well. 

Ben: Maybe another time.

Jack: We’ll do an AFLW strength and power one. So, stay tuned. Well, thank you, guys. Thank you for jumping on and sharing with us. It’s been awesome. I know I’ve got a lot out of it, learned heaps. And it’s been great to connect as well.

For those that have tuned onto the live show late, make sure to listen from the very start. You can watch it now on our YouTube channel. And then we’ll post a bite-size episode of everyone’s discussion from tonight, 15 minutes segment on our podcast on a Friday for the next five to six weeks. So, stay tuned on our socials.

Our next ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ live chat show will be with the director of West Coast Health And High Performance, Chris Perkin. He’s a therapist, who’s worked with West Coast Eagles for over a decade, and he’s now running the facility out there that’s next to the West Coast facility. So, make sure to tune in 8:30 PM, May 6th, live on our YouTube channel. I’ll see you guys then. Cheers.

CategoriesHigh Performance PLP Podcast

Episode 134 – Liv Knowles

Highlights of the episode:

  • How a menstrual cycle works
  • How the cycle affects training
  • How often to monitor menstrual cycle and app she recommends
  • Common misconceptions of coaches and athletes

#livknowles #preparelikeapro #plplivechats #podcast #melbournestrengthcoach

To join our Coaches waitlist, fill out the link below:

Listen: iTunes | Spotify

Interview Transcript

Jack: Next we have Liv Knowles, the high performance manager of the Hawthorn Football Club. Her topic will be how the menstrual cycle can affect athletes, training, and performance. Thanks for jumping on, Liv.

Liv: Thanks, Jack.

Jack: Let’s dive straight into it. Talk us through, how does the menstrual cycle function, firstly, as a bit of an intro? 

Liv: Yeah, probably a good context for the rest of the chat. The menstrual cycle, if we talk about a 28-day cycle, knowing that a normal cycle can last from anywhere between 21 and 35 days. But if we talk about a 28-day cycle, just for this context, we step right into two phases.

The first is the follicular phase, which will last about 14 days. And the second is the luteal phase, which will last that second 14 days. And you have ovulation in the middle there and the bleeding at the start of the follicular phase. So, those are the two phases that we’re working with.

Like I said, there obviously is a lot of variability in cycle length. We also know that most of that variability comes about from the follicular phase. So most women will actually have about a 14–15 day luteal phase. That’s pretty consistent. So, you can actually count back from the start of your cycle and work out when you ovulated in the previous cycle by counting that 14 days back.

And so, if you have a short cycle, you know that your follicular phase is probably shorter. Or if you have a long cycle, it’s because that follicular phase is longer. And then obviously, as I said, characterized by those different features. So, the bleeding in the follicular phase and the ovulation at the start of the luteal phase.

Jack: And if your cycle has changed from 35 one month, can it go drastically the next month to a 28 days? Or does your body tend to have a routine with your days? 

Liv: It’s a good point. A lot of women don’t have a consistent cycle. And it’s great if you do. Sometimes one of the reasons why women go on the pill, just so they have consistency in their cycle and things like that. But yeah, your cycle absolutely can fluctuate. And it’s one of the great things about tracking your cycle, so that you can see if there is a pattern to the way your cycle does fluctuate. So, yeah, it does certainly happen.

And we also know that not everyone has a normally or naturally functioning menstrual cycle. We have women who are what we call an amenorrheic. They don’t have a normal menstrual cycle. They might not bleed in that 21 to 35 days period. They might bleed every three months, six months, things like that. So, it is very individual.

Jack: And from a training perspective, how does it change when you’re in the first sort of 15 days of your cycle to the second phase of your cycle?

Liv: From a training perspective, I guess I want to preface this by saying that a lot of the data at the moment coming out in the research isn’t that strong yet. And so, a lot of the recommendations need to be taken with a lot of caution and you really should be working out what works for you individually.

But based on the research that has come out we think that performance might have a trivial decrease during the early follicular phase. That bleedy phase. So, performance might be decreased during that phase, but at the same time there’s evidence that shows that sprint performance is increased during that phase. So again, it’s about working out what works for you.

In comparison to that, we’ve seen some pretty good evidence coming out that strengths might be increased during the ovulation phase or the late follicular phase. So, in the middle of your cycle, that’s when you might have raise of strength.

But at the same time, we know that ligaments have greater laxity during that ovulation phase. So, you might be prone to more ligament-based injuries. We think there might be a link between ACLs and cycle phase and things like that. There’s certainly a need to watch this phase type of situation with the research still coming out. And endurance as well. Endurance might increase during the late follicular phase too.

Jack: Well, that’s interesting. So, you’re stronger, your aerobic capacity is higher, but you’ve got more laxity. That’s not ideal for injury anyway. Obviously, for some performance, if you’ve got good stability. To be on the positive side for athletes listening and not to freak them out, you’re going to be stronger and have better capacity as well. But for the ligaments sake, you are producing more force and you’re able to cover more distance. 

Liv: But at the same time, the menstrual cycle we don’t think has an effect on things like your oxygen consumption, your energy expenditure, your spiritual rates. There’s mixed results about RPE. So, it’s very different for individual people, I think. 

Jack: And then you mentioned monitoring your cycle. What would be your recommended approach? How much time should you be spending? Is it a daily ritual? Is it weekly? What would be your recommendation for young athletes? 

Liv: To start with it probably needs to be daily. Just if you’re trying to work out how each different phase affects you. If you just want to know when you’re going to get your cycle, you can just do it monthly, that’s fine. But if you want to really have a solid understanding of how each phase and the way your body changes across those phases affects your training, your mood, your sleep, all of those sorts of things you are covering, you’re best to do it daily.

There’s some really great apps out there. FitrWoman is one of the better ones and really athletes specific. You can go in on there and log each day: one, whether you’ve got your period or not; but two, your different symptoms. So, it might be whether you’ve got headaches or if you’re having mood swings or you’ve got soreness or extra fatigue, all sorts of things. You can just click a little button that has little pictures come up and you can just easily click the one that fits for you. And then it just records that and you’re done in 30 seconds.

If you can do that daily, and if you can do that over a couple of months and build up a really good log of data, you can start to potentially see if there’s any patterns with your training as well. In that particular app, you can also input what your training intensity has been that day as well. So, if you’ve had a high intensity session or a low duration session, for example, you can input that too. So, you can start to match the data with your symptoms and your cycle a little bit too. 

Jack: So it can act a bit like a monitoring tool.

Liv: Yeah, absolutely.

Jack: And on that topic, it might be happening already, I’m not sure. But strength & conditioning coaches in terms of individualization, is it too hard to be able to use it as a monitoring tool and adjust loads? Or is it more empowering athletes to have that awareness and to be able to communicate with a coach or their manager about where they’re at and what trends they have with their cycle?

Liv: I think it’s probably the latter at this stage, just based on where the research is at. I think the current stat is that 70% of the current research is considered low quality. So, it’s probably not strong enough to be making group changes from a coaching perspective. It’s hard in a football sense anyway. You’ve got 30 girls on a list. It’s not very likely that they’re all cycling at the same time. It’s really hard from that perspective.

But I think, as you said, empowering and educating from an individual level and being able to create conversations with coaches as well, between your coach and your athlete. So, the athlete can say, ‘Look, I’m not feeling right because I’m in this phase. This might be why.’ And then you can discuss that with the coach, with the doctor, whatever it might be. Maybe you need to be eating more during that particular phase of your cycle to supplement your lack of energy or things like that. So, it’s just a good way for you to be able to understand your body better. And that’s what being an elite athlete’s about, right? 

Jack: Yeah, a hundred percent. Well, I think in that sense, males, we don’t have that direct feedback as such. You’ve still got to have good body awareness, but it could be a strength in the sense that, once you’ve worked out what your trends are as an individual athlete, you’ve got this tool that can give you some feedback.

On that topic of nutrition, recovery, preparation as well, in the wake of strength & conditioning. Once you’ve worked out your cycle and what works well for you, what would be some success stories that you’ve seen with athletes in some decisions they make due to their menstrual cycle?

Liv: I think, as I said before, it’s just being able to have those conversations. But I think some of the players that I’ve worked with have understood when they sleep better and what they need to do around their sleep particularly. Women often report poor sleep when they’re about to get their period. So, putting strategies around this phase.

For example, during that stage that might be just doing some extra mindfulness before they sleep, so that they can get to sleep, things like that. Or making sure they’re having really consistent bedtimes during that phase. Because we know that’s one of the best ways to improve athlete’s sleep: consistent bedtime and awake time.

So, they implement that around specific phases. It’s probably the biggest success I’ve had. But at the same time it’s also educating your athletes that even if you have seen a pattern and you might feel like you lack energy during a particular phase, we also know that medals are won and records are broken at all stages of the cycle. We don’t get to change competitions just because you’ve got your period.

So, at the same time you kind of have to suck it up a little bit too. It’s a little bit of a double-edged sword. You want to be aware of it and have that indication and knowledge and be empowered by that, but you also need to be able to put that to the side and say, ‘I’ve trained for this. I can execute this performance regardless of what my body is telling me from a bleeding or hormone perspective.’

Jack: I love that. It’s like a long-term future self. You’re using it to make smart decisions, but at the end of the day, on the game day, focus on the task.

Liv: Yeah, spot on.

Jack: What about common misconceptions from athletes or coaches? What’s out there that pops up? 

Liv: I think probably that this is a female-only space. I think there’s probably a lot of taboo around talking about menstrual cycles and things like that, particularly from male coaches and things like that. And I think it’s something that we can do better at opening up.

It doesn’t mean that we all have to deep dive on the topic and things like that. But it’s just about being able to have conversations with your athletes regardless of your gender. I think that’s one of the biggest things. Just being able to have conversations with your athletes about how they’re feeling. Because that’s how you build trust and buy into a program as well. 

Jack: I can’t remember where I heard it, but I’ve heard, that if females have been long enough with each other, their cycles do connect. Is that a myth?

Liv: I don’t know if there’s actual research on it. But I think we have all heard that, that cycles tend to match. But I haven’t seen any proof of it. 

Jack: You can potentially periodize for performance. Maybe if you find out your calendar, you have your fixture…

Liv: Yeah, potentially. But, I mean, if you want to control your cycle, that’s what contraceptives are for as well. A lot of our athletes are also using things like the pill or NID, so they can control their symptoms. If they have a really bad period pain, for example, they can speak to their club’s doctor and potentially use a contraceptive that will help with those symptoms.

And the research also shows that your performance doesn’t really change on the pill either. I think there’s evidence that there might be a small detriment to performance compared to naturally cycling women. But if you’re alleviating symptoms, it outweighs that performance detriment. 

Jack: There’s assistance there, that’s great. And for the developing footballers, again, what would be some of your top tips to have better awareness around your menstrual cycle? So, you mentioned journaling and the importance of lifestyle tips. What about from a physical training point of view? What are some important things that you’d like to see athletes are doing as a high performance manager?

Liv: Just listening to their bodies. And we try and use a bit of a regulation method in terms of our training. We know, for example, that 1 RM changes on a daily basis. And that’s the same and that can fluctuate with your sleep, and that can also fluctuate with the menstrual cycle and things like that. So, being able to regulate your training, knowing when you can really push and when you might need to pull back a bit and listen to your body, so that you can recover better, potentially for the game on the weekend.

So, it’s just really about, like we said throughout this whole chat, knowing your body and having that understanding. But also that education piece. There’s a lot of great pages out there, resources. There’s a lot of podcasts, and Instagram pages. One, periodoftheperiod is really athlete focused. So, I can chuck that to you, so you can chuck it in the show notes. But yeah, there are great resources out there. 

Jack: Fantastic. We’ll definitely add that in the show notes and on that, thank you so much for jumping on. And like you said, it’s important we normalize the topic and look after athletes by considering their menstrual cycle and sleep and nutrition and training in the gym. It’s an important factor for training and performance, and health. For those that want to pick your brain a little bit more, where’s the best place to connect with you, Liv?

Liv: Probably Twitter. I don’t use Instagram for work really. So, Twitter is the best place to find me. I think my handle’s @LivKnowles1. 

Jack: Fantastic. We’ll add that in the show notes. Thank you.

Liv: Thanks, Jack.

CategoriesHigh Performance PLP Podcast

Episode 133 – Ben Frith

Highlights of the episode:

  • Periodizing recovery
  • Recovery methods for pre season
  • How much time to dedicate to recovery post-game
  • Transition from recovery to preparation to next game

#benfrith #preparelikeapro #plplivechats #podcast #melbournestrengthcoach

To join our Footballer waitlist, fill out the link below:

Listen: iTunes | Spotify

Interview Transcript

Jack: Next on the show we have Ben Frith, the high performance manager at St Kilda Football Club. He’ll be discussing how to periodize your recovery. Thanks for jumping on, Ben. 

Ben: Thanks for having me, mate. Thanks for the opportunity to speak. 

Jack: It’s good to have you back on. We’ll dive straight into it. What does it mean to periodize your recovery, for those that haven’t heard that?

Ben: Well, I guess, it’s the same as periodizing your training. So, if we think about what periodization is, it’s dividing training into training intersections, where you’re manipulating your training variables to improve your performance. Periodizing your recovery is very much the same thing.

In the preseason, when we’re trying to push physical adaptation, maybe recovery takes a bit of a backseat. Certainly, what I try and tell to our players, when you get to in-season, when you know the priorities we’re recovering from, from a game, to get ready for the next week, it certainly becomes more of a focus.

I think that gets lost a little bit sometimes that the preseason is about pushing physical development. Yes, fatigue and so on are a part of that, but they aren’t the end of the world. Oftentimes they are results of hard training, but we shouldn’t necessarily shy away from them all the time.

And if you’ve got a well-structured training week, you would hope that your sessions are far enough apart that you don’t need to be going into anything other than good sleep, good nutrition, good rehydration to prepare for your next session. So, it’s just prioritizing your recovery for the appropriate part of the year.

Jack: Awesome, mate. That’s a good segue for is there any recovery methods that can pay detriment to that physical development in preseason?

Ben: Yeah, the big one is cold water immersion for strength and power. If you’ve got your main low body gym session for the week, and then you’re immediately jumping in a cold water bath, or you’re going down to the beach when it’s pretty cold, spending 10–15 minutes in 10 to 12 degree water, there’s pretty good research to show that you’re going to blunt that strength and power adaptation. So, it can be detrimental.

The the hard bit comes from more of a cultural point of view. From a professional standard point of view, a lot of coaches love to push that stuff. And recovery often falls into that. It can just take a bit of education to the playing group around, when to do some things and when to just continue to use the big rocks of sleep, nutrition and rehydration.

Jack: Awesome. So, it’s specific to the phase that you’re in. It’s not like you’re not recovering when you’re in preseason. It’s just understanding that you shouldn’t be jumping into the ice bath after a game and you might hold off on the ice bath, just to maximize your development in the work you’re doing in the gym.

Ben: Yes, but it’s not to say that I won’t tell the girls, ‘Don’t do any recovery. Don’t do any cold water bath throughout the preseason.’ There might be one week in the block that I’ll say to the girls, ‘Hey, look, this is going to be a really hard week. We’ve got two really big sessions to book in the week. One at the start, one at the end. Do everything in your power to recover from those sessions.’

But then we’ll go into a day load. And, hopefully, they’ll feel pretty fresh again. And they will build again for another three or four weeks. And then again, in that fourth week, we’re saying, ‘Hey, girls, it’s going to be a pretty hard week. Make sure you’re on top of all your big rocks and then throw anything else that you feel that works for you to get yourselves up and ready for those training sessions.’

Jack: And from a routine point of view, let’s say, for in-season for the footballers that are currently playing, will you be having a set routine, like each day there’s a theme of the type of recovery that an athlete does, because they liked that theme? Or is it good to have variation? Should it depend on the game that you played and the dynamics of that game? Take us through for S&Cs prescribing recovery. 

Ben: That’s a good question. It’s personable. If I think there should be a routine, that just takes the decision-making out of it. Post-game you need to replace one and a half times of body weight lost fluid, you need to get 30 grams of protein, you need to get, I think, it’s 1.5 grams per body weight of carbs. Obviously, sleep’s usually important. It’s good to see that that’s coming vogue over the last 5 to 10 years.

And then outside of that, cold water immersion and those NormaTec boots and all that sort of stuff that gets talked about a lot. But 80% of the benefits of recovery are going to come from those big rocks. And I would certainly encourage our girls to use cold water immersion, or go to the beach or just get into some water and move around. I think moving gets a bit lost at times in the recovery space.

And probably the other big one is mentally recovering from the game, and that’s going to look different for everyone. Some people love to go walk their dog, grab a coffee, or go spend time with their friends or family, or read a book, or get out in nature, or video games, or whatever it may be to the individual. But I think that’s a hugely important piece that often gets missed.

Professional sport or semi-professional sport can get pretty demanding at times. It can get pretty stressful. As I feel that was becoming more and more professional, it’s getting more and more media coverage. It’s a good and a bad thing.

So, I think it’s usually important that as our seasons grow and as the preseasons get longer and harder, that you take time and that clubs in general try and plan four day breaks. I know men have four day breaks scheduled into their preseason and they’re mandated in. And I think it’s really important to give that more than anything, particularly with the rumors around.

Our next pre-season is starting in about a month. It’s pretty important that the girls come back mentally fresh, probably more so than physically fresh. That’ll look pretty different for every individual. And you need to figure out what works best for you throughout your career. I would say it’s probably pretty similar outside of the big rocks as well.

I’ve had some athletes in my time here that just hate cold water immersion, just absolutely detest it. So is it really worth the fight to get them to go into the beach for 10 minutes when it’s going to stress them out even more? Or do we find something that better works for them, whether it’d be some compression garments or massage or something else? If they really hate it that much, is it really worth the fight to getting them to do it, when it’ll help, but probably not as much as if you do the other three things right?

Jack: Yeah, that’s awesome. Particularly if they’re not bought into it, how effective is it really going to be? And that’s the psychological side.

Ben: That’s a great point. Like all the extra stuff, it’s placebo. Well, it’s not just placebo, but it plays a big role. If you’re adamant that ice baths work great for you and they make you feel a million bucks, or sauna makes you feel better, or NormaTec boots, or you’ve just got something that works for you, keep doing that. It’s important that the player believes in what’s in that recovery method than what necessarily evidence suggests.

The big rocks are the big rocks. That’s where you get the most bang for your buck, that’s where you’re best spending all your time or the vast majority of your time. Outside of that, play around, experiment with some things. The preseason is a great time to try some different things after some pretty hard sessions to see what helps you bounce back.

Jack: Probably that’s a hard one to answer, but for the girls and boys listening, just for an idea of what the St Kilda girls would do, how much time would they dedicate to recovery post a game, do you think, roughly speaking? 

Ben: Post-game it can often be pretty challenging. We don’t play in the best venues all the time. So, the options can be pretty limited. Which, I guess, if there’s young players listening, they’re not going to be playing at the MCG with last pass available and all that stuff as well. Often we have to tell the girls, ‘Look, you know you need to go get your own stuff done.’

It’s great if we’re playing at home. We’ve got two or three recovery baths, so they can go and do hot-colds. That’s great if we’re at home. If we’re traveling or played a game, this year at Blacktown, midweek game, it was a middle game of three games in eight days. Thanks, COVID. And we had to jump straight on a bus, like we had to be to the airport, I think, it was an hour. Yeah, I think it was 90 minutes post-game and it’s like a 45-minute bus trip. So, there’s not much you can do there. It’s just get some food in, try and relax.

And then when you get home, or not even when we got home, because it was about midnight, but the next day that’s when we go to the pool, try and get moving, go to an icy, do hot-cold. It’s often not perfect. In terms of time, it’s at least half an hour by the time it all wraps up, you include weighing in and out of the game. By the time they get their food and their rehydrate, they go and do their ice bath, it’d be at least half an hour.

And then often the girls would go to another ice bath, or go walk down the beach or go do something the next day. But after 24 hours, 36 hours post-game. It’s time to start reloading again for the weekend, shift the focus from recovering from the game and just going into getting some good loading into the week coming.

Jack: And then for the coaches listening in that haven’t prescribed recovery sessions before, or facilitated them, what would be some of your advice, actionable, practical advice for when a team has had a pretty hard loss? You mentioned the psychology effect of recovery too. So, they’ve had a bit of a hard loss. It’s an emotional game and you’ve got to run a recovery session. What sort of vibe and how does that influence your prescription in those circumstances? 

Ben: Probably the first thing is you’ve got to try and shift the focus from what’s just happened to what’s coming. Speaking about that GWS game we had, we lost to a pretty contentious free kick that resulted in a goal kicked after the siren to win. So, it was very quickly, ‘Right, that’s done. Let’s shift our focus to the next game.’ It was probably a good thing in that instance, we were playing again in four days, because we just had to move on. We couldn’t dwell.

Probably the biggest thing is just a bit of education. It’s not always a football coaches responsibility to educate their players on physical development and recovery and nutrition, all those things. But a little bit of education can go a long way and just placing some emphasis on it.

In terms of what to do, again, I’ll go back to the big rocks. And probably if you’re at lower levels of a footy trial, limit your alcohol consumption post-games. Pretty good one. It dehydrates you. It’s not great for tissue repair. Eight plus hours of sleep. Again, 30 plus grams of protein, plenty of carbs, rehydrate 1.5 times your body weight lost.

And then, as I said, encourage players to experiment from there. Do they like cold water immersions? Do they find it helps? Experiment with hot-colds. If you’ve got access to the NormaTec boots, have a go at those. Otherwise you can actually use compression garments, they’re pretty good. There’s some pretty good evidence to show that they do have a benefit.

And then also experiment with, as I was saying before, that mental side. Find out what helps. Is it going for a round of golf? Is it walking your dog to get a coffee in the morning? Or seeing your mates the night of the game or the afternoon after the game? Something like that. Just with that more peripheral stuff, experiment. See what works for you. 

Jack: And we’ve spent a fair bit on post-game and you’ve thoroughly provided a lot of information for athletes and coaches, which is great. Thanks, mate. What about for day one post and day two, where do you start to see as a high performance manager where the recovery starts to shift towards more performance preparation to the next game? 

Ben: If you use a typical Saturday-to-Saturday schedule, often you play your game on Saturday. Sundays, obviously, we’re not going to be in the club, but that’s big recovery day. Monday we might do like a light flash run. It might be 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off real slow. We might play some really low level games, a bit of a mobility circuit in the gym. If some girls are really struggling, they’ll get a massage or they might even go do another ice bath if they find that it helps them.

And then it’s really Tuesday that we look to start loading them up again. We won’t hit top speed, but we’ll probably do an excel-based session in the warmup. And then Tuesdays, normally our traditional, prime, low body gym session for the week. It’s where we get all our heavy loading. We do all our acentric hamulating in there.

And then on from there. We normally are Tuesday-Thursday-structured week. Thursday’s normally our main on-field session and it’s our priming session in the gym. And then we don’t do a capsules run, but I know a lot of clubs do it. We’ll do our capsules run on Friday and then we roll into game day again. 

Jack: Awesome. On Tuesday it’s not like you’re getting nothing out of it from a physical point of view, you’re getting good recovery, but you’re also working hard in the gym. So, for athletes out there the mindset is just transferring from that on-field work to in the gym. You want to get that hard session early in the week away from your game. How important is that?

Ben: It’s huge. I guess it’s something that, what I was saying before, that when we move in season, the focus shifts more to the recovery side of things. But that doesn’t mean that you completely neglect getting some good loading in both on field and in the gym when the opportunity presents itself.

Like, if you’ve got an eight- or nine-day break, if you’re playing or have been playing on Friday night, or you’re playing Saturday and the next game’s on Sunday, it’s a good chance for you to get some good loading in that week. Good chance you’ll get two good footy sessions in that week. You can get two good gym sessions in at the very least.

It’s just really in the first 24 to, certainly 24, but 48 to 72 hours post game that you just need to be on top of your recovery stuff. But once you get past that, you can really start to get some good load into yourself or into your players.

Jack: Fantastic. Awesome. Well, that wraps it up nicely. Thanks for your time, mate, and sharing all your experience and knowledge with us. For those that want to get in contact, whether it’d be for some work experience, like Jordy had mentioned, which was nice of him, or just to pick your brain some more, where’s the best place to get in contact with you?

Ben: I am on Instagram. I don’t reckon I’ve posted in about a year. I’ve sort of dropped the ball a bit there. Hang on, let me get it. I’m pretty sure it’s @benfrith.s.c. I am on LinkedIn, but I don’t really look at LinkedIn much. Twitter or Instagram is the best place to get me.

Jack: Twitter and Instagram, we’ll add it in the show notes. And then where’s the best place in Australia to go mountain bike riding? 

Ben: Oh, definitely Danny Tezi. If you ever get a chance to go to Danny Tezi, go to Maydena, it is unreal. Just don’t break your back hitting a tree.

Jack: Okay. Awesome.


CategoriesHigh Performance PLP Podcast

Episode 132 – Ben Stanley

Highlights of the episode:

  • When to start different types of kicking techniques
  • Is the kicking technique different for girls and boys
  • Key pillars for his basic kicking technique
  • Video analysis for coaching

#benstanley #preparelikeapro #plplivechats #podcast #melbournestrengthcoach

To join our Footballer waitlist, fill out the link below:

Listen: iTunes | Spotify

Interview Transcript

Jack: Welcome to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ live chat show. My name is Jack McLean. I’m your host. And tonight I’m excited to announce our third collaborative live event ‘Australia’s Leading Football Kicking Coaches’.

Before we start tonight’s episode, our mission here at ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ is to empower aspiring athletes and staff with practical knowledge from some of the industry’s most inspiring individuals and to empower the developing coaches. If you liked the show, please show support by finding us on Instagram and subscribing to the podcast. We are on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube.

Our first guest for tonight’s show is Ben Stanley. He is the founder of Enhanced Football, located in Queensland. And his topic will be discussing the importance of learning a variety of kicks. So, welcome, Ben. Thanks for jumping on, mate.

Ben: How are you going, Jack?

Jack: I’m going well. Let’s dive straight into it. When should a footballer be starting to learn different types of kicking techniques? When do you typically start? 

Ben: As early as possible. And we just encourage parents really to send their kids whenever they got intrinsic motivation. Whenever they are keen to improve their skills and want to do more, we would love to see them. We just think that intrinsic motivation is so important, rather than parents. It’s okay to push them to come to you and things like that. But when a kid really, really wants to improve and wants to learn some different kicks and do those different variety of kicks, they’re the ones that are going to learn and really progress with their footy.

So, that’s what we’re all about. We’ve got some great stories behind that too, where kids are paying their own way to come and see us and things like that. And they’re the ones that really, really improve. And then they come to dive into all those variety of kicks and learn the correct technique. So, pretty exciting stuff. 

Jack: I love that. So, the parents are getting them doing chores around the house, they get their pocket money, and then they’re investing in their footy. 

Ben: Yeah. There’s some of that. There’s also, I had a girl the other day come and see me, who got a part-time job at a Vietnamese restaurant. She’s only 14 or 15 years old and paying her own way. I actually put it out on social media the other night. Does anyone want to sponsor the girl? And lucky enough, there’s someone sponsoring her and she’s got about 15 free lessons or something like that with me. They’re chipping in because of that. So, that intrinsic motivation to get better. It’s really exciting. It’s awesome.

Jack: You mentioned the girl that’s working with you, how does it differ for girls and boys? Let’s say, brother and sister are going out for a kick. Should the brother be focusing on different things, even at the same age, compared to the sister and vice versa? Or is the game the same for both genders?

Ben: Great question. If you asked me that two years ago, Jack, I would have said, ‘Yes, let’s do it differently.’ But I don’t treat females or males any differently. No matter what age. I think they can all learn at the same rate, just depending on where they’re at with their stage of learning and things like that. But the same way we teach the boys, the same way we teach the girls.

There’s a lot of things that come into play. Like I said, their stage of learning, their age, their experience, and all those types of things. But what I’ve learned over the last couple of years is we’ve got to treat them the same, because there’s no difference. So, we teach the same things and we do it for the boys and the girls. And it’s gone really well. 

Jack: When you’re doing your first early sessions in terms of session plans for the coaches out there, what are some key pillars in terms of kicks that you start with for the basic kicking technique?

Ben: We tend to just look at what they’ve got. So, we’ll film them and just see what they’ve got at the start. And if they’re going really well, we wouldn’t make many adjustments. We might just tinker with a few things. But otherwise, if they need a little bit more help, we always start and look at the ball grip to start with.

Because if they can’t grip the ball properly and they can’t control the ball, down to their boots, we like to use smaller balls. We like to start with tennis balls and things like that. Just to give them the confidence of the motion of kicking. Because once they get that motion, then you can progress them up a size. You might go from a tennis ball to a size one, to two, to whatever age group.

But we’re really big on teaching the motion of kicking first, getting a grip right. And then we can go from there. But it’s all about instilling that confidence in them to be able to do the motion, that is the one that the professionals are using most of the time. We’re very big on that.

And we’re all very big on teaching progression. And I think that’s what a lot of coaches are liking, when we go to clubs and educate coaches, is that here’s a simple progression for someone at the cognitive stages of learning with kicking. And here’s how we teach it step by step, rather than looking at it as a whole skill.

Jack: Awesome, mate. And with that, when you’re discussing with coaches at clubs and you’re running workshops, what are some common questions that you’re getting from coaches and the community?

Ben: I guess, the most common question is: how do we break it? There’s a lot of coaches out there that have been fantastic footballers and that can demonstrate the kick really well, but they are just lacking those teaching skills of how to break it down into small parts and just look at it like that. And it’s a matter of finding, when you’re looking at the athlete, where’s your biggest bang for your buck. Is it ball grip? Is it their approach to their kick and things like that?

But we try to help them with the progression first. Here’s the progression. And then we also help them with, if we are filming them, what feedback can we give them? Because one thing I learned off Mark Williams early. And, Choco, thanks for coming on, mate. It’s pleasure to be on. Is when I first started, Choco rang me and just said, ‘Mate, you’re doing a great job.’ And I actually thought it was someone taking him off, because I thought, ‘Why would Choco ring us?’ But he did and just said, ‘Ben, you’re doing a really good job.’

And he gave me some advice: ‘Just don’t overload them with information.’ And I think that’s where I’ve got better as a teacher and a coach is we don’t want to overload them. We just want to give them one or two things to work on to start with. Let’s get them right. And then you might introduce some things later on. So, I think that’s a good message for coaches. Let’s teach the progression and not overload them with information too early. 

Jack: You mentioned the importance of recognizing what’s going to really affect their kicking development, like picking out one thing. Obviously, that takes experience and a coaching eye. For the coaches, is that a video analysis, is that one way that you find that you’ve developed that to accelerate your coaching eye? Or is it just putting time in the game, coaching field sessions? Talk us through that. 

Ben: There’s nothing like video feedback for me. You can see a kick live and you can break it down and think of some things. But for me, filming them front on, filling them side on, putting it in slow mode, it really does make it pretty obvious of where you can get your best bang for your buck for the athlete.

So, what are the one or two things that I think can help them progress with their kicking? And it might be just their approach, or they just might need more of a consistent stride pattern. It might be their ball grip, that you’re looking at their ball grip and you decide that ball grip is not going to promote a great control. And that’s going to affect the other things as well.

There’s lots of things you can look at. But, as I said, pick one or two and using video evidence for yourself will give you confidence, but it’ll also be great for the athlete to show them. Because most of the kids we work with have never seen themselves kick. And when they see it, they’re like, ‘Oh, yes, I understand what you’re saying, Ben.’ And they believe in the process. 

Jack: And what about for the parents listening in, what are some of the ways that they can help the process? 

Ben: For me, I encourage parents to come along to the sessions. And when I do coach education at clubs up here in Queensland, I encourage coaches, but also we try to get the community of parents to come along as well. Because, as coaches, we don’t have a huge amount of contact time. It’s about promoting that consistent message at training with me and at home.

So, when parents are there contributing and out in the lesson with me, that’s when I see the greatest progression with kids. Because they are listening to my teaching cues and the methods and the progressions we teach. And then, when they have a kick at home, they’re basically repeating and going over exactly what we did in the lesson. So, they’re getting that extra tuition.

And sometimes kids don’t listen to their parents as much as coaches, but just to get that message repeated is really valuable. So, I think it’s a really good lesson for coaches and people that are doing coach education is that if you can get the community and the parents involved plus the coaches, it’s going to spread even further.

Jack: You’ve mentioned video analysis a few times. Is that smartphone? Do you recommend coaches invest in a handheld camera? What does it look like?

Ben: Nah. For me, it’s all smartphone. If you’ve got an iPad, that’s okay too. But we do most of ours with a smartphone. And we’d probably get 5 to 10 video analyses a week with people, mostly in Australia, some around the world where they send in their footage. And we provide a detailed video report that we share on an unlisted YouTube link. And then we give them a report with some drills as well.

So, as a co-chair, that’s a part of what we do as well, is to just show coaches how easy it is to actually film on an iPhone. You can do a whole team from the front. Just get them all to kick, and you might be able to do that in a minute thirty. And then yes, it’s going to take you some time to review it and give them feedback. But it’s really valuable feedback that I think is going to make a big difference. 

Jack: Awesome, mate. Thanks for sharing your processes and philosophy behind it. We’ll go back onto the topic now. So, variety of kicks. What are some kicks that you think are underutilized in junior football development? And you’re working with obviously the elite as well. Working back from the elite back down to juniors, what do you think is missed? 

Ben: I think our traditional way of coaching, when I go around to junior clubs and when I watch training. And I do love watching junior training, I learn a lot from going to watch. There’s some amazing coaches out there, where you just watch and learn at any club you go to around Australia. But I look at a lot of coaches and I listen to them and a lot of the drills they are doing are very straight line and very in that approach where it’s all straight line work.

Very rigid approach, where our game is nothing like that. Our game is a 360 degree game, and I think there’s something like 446 different kicks in it. That’s a lot of variety of kicks. So, if we’re getting our athletes just to run straight and kick straight and tell them never to kick around their body, well, I’m sorry, that’s not what’s happening in a game.

We need to let them express themselves at training. Yes, we want them to kick straight and be able to keep your hips and shoulders square and hit that target. I think that’s a really good place to start. Once they get that, then I think, okay,  it’s time to open it up and let them express themselves a little bit and encourage kicking around the body and encourage kicking into space, dribble tricks, snap kicks, stops… Let them express themselves.

Look at Dustin Martin. I’ve got a great video of him. Like two minutes of highlights. There’s not one kick that’s straight. It’s all around the body. It’s all snaps. You know, that Caney* the other night? Did you see how many goals he kicked?

Jack: It was five of them.

Ben: Yep. How many were on his right foot? 

Jack: I think around three on his left, left foot snaps. 

Ben: Mostly on his left, snap kicks. He’s one of my favorite players. But then it just shows that most of his kicks were on the left foot and snaps. So, we got to give our kids the chance to express themselves and use a variety of kicks. And that’s, I’m not seeing that a heap in junior training at the moment. But I think that’s something we can learn about. 

Jack: And what is this actionable steps for coaches that are listening in and they’re looking at their session plan and they are, ‘I think, Ben’s got a fair point. We’re doing a lot of line work.’ What would be some starting drills to add into the session plans?

Ben: I do watch and I saw it on IMAX on, but Choco, when he’s training his athletes. You look at the stuff he does with Melbourne at the moment, and you look at the stuff he’s done with Werribee and all the stuff in his coaching career. It’s think about what happens in a game and then try to replicate it at training. 

So, if you’re kicking in pairs, don’t just… And Kevin Ball is the same. Don’t just kick to each other at the start of training, getting into bad habits, five meters away and letting the momentum go backwards and all those things. Think about what happens in a game. So, maybe roll it behind you, pick it up, turn around and kick; get on the ground, on your stomach, get up, pick it up and kick; throw it up in the air, catch it and kick; go side to side, organize your feet in a kick. Just think of as many different things. Take a mark, push back, real and go and kick.

There’s so many things you can do to be creative, even when you’re just kicking to a partner. And even if you’re kicking yourself against the wall or a net, try different things, don’t just run straight. Think of different things to test your grip when you’re picking up your footy and things like that. So, that would be my main advice is think of what happens in a game and try to replicate that when you’re at training and kicking in pairs and doing a drill work and things like that.

Jack: And you mentioned a video analysis in training. What age would you like kids and parents to start filming their game, so they can start to do that and then see what their habits are?

Ben: Good question. Well, again, we do some game reviews for people and the youngest I’ve had is probably about 13 or 14. And I think that’s about right. Like we want our kids to be having fun when they’re playing footy, and that’s number one. But again, if your kid’s super keen and they’ve got that intrinsic motivation and they want to see themselves playing and want to get better, why not give them a look at a game review and just show them what they look like?

Yes, as they get older, they’re going to get that through the programs and the academies and things like that as well. But I think it’s really important that they do see what they look like with the ball, and more importantly, what are they doing without the ball as well, off the ball movements and things like that.

Jack: Fantastic. Well, thanks for jumping on, Ben, and sharing with us your philosophy, some actionable tips for parents, kids, as well as coaches to take away. For those interested in following you, I know you’re doing some great things on YouTube with Enhanced Football. Where’s the best places to check out Enhanced Football?

Ben: On Instagram, that’s where we put most of our work into. And we try and put up little quick clips of drills and skills and tips for all the young athletes out there. So, give us a follow on Instagram or Facebook. And if you’re interested in more of the longer training sessions and seeing what we do with different age groups, then jump on YouTube as well. That’s where we like to put those longer videos up and things like that. So, that’d be great.

And, Jack, can I just say? It’s a pleasure just to be on with the likes of all the boys on here. I watch what everyone’s doing and I’m learning a lot, just watching everyone here. So, it’s a pleasure to be on with everyone. And I think you’re doing great stuff too, Jack. So, I appreciate it.

Jack: Mate, you’re dedicated to the industry, when you come on during a mate’s wedding. So, well done.

Ben: I do love it. I do love it, mate. Thank you. Cheers, mate.

Jack: Enjoy the night.

Ben: All right, guys. Thank you. See you, guys.

CategoriesHigh Performance PLP Podcast

Episode 131 – Jordan Sellar

Highlights of the episode:

  • Key considerations for designing a training schedule for professional programs
  • Best ways to start your needs analysis
  • Who are typically the key decision makers in planning
  • Major constraints in semi professional football

#jordansellar #preparelikeapro #plplivechats #podcast #melbournestrengthcoach

To join our Coaches waitlist, fill out the link below:

Listen: iTunes | Spotify

Interview Transcript

Jack: My name’s Jack McLean. I’m your host. And tonight I’m excited to announce our fourth live collaborated event, which will be focused on AFLW, hosting leading athletic development coaches.

Before we start this episode, our mission here at ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ is empowering athletes and staff with practical knowledge from some of the industry’s most inspiring individuals. If you liked the podcast, please show support by finding us on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

Our first guest on the show will be Jordan Sellar, the high-performance manager at the Adelaide Football Club, who have just recently taken out the whole lead by winning the premiership. So, super excited to have Jordy on. His topic will be training demands and schedule design in AFLW and semi-professional football. Welcome, Jordy. Thanks for jumping on, mate. 

Jordan: Thanks, Jack. Thanks for having me on. 

Jack: And, of course, congrats for the seasons. 

Jordan: Thank you. It was cool. It was great team to work with. I’ve worked with them previously before this current thing. Awesome group, awesome club. So, very, very happy to have a good season. It’s really cool.

Jack: Well done, mate. We’ll dive straight into your topic. Take us through what are some of the key considerations when designing a training schedule for a semi-professional program? 

Jordan: So, it was something that I found not only working with the AFLW program at Adelaide, but also in my time in the SANFL at Woodville West-Torrens Football Club, where you’re working with semi-professional athletes and have some time and resource constraints. When it comes to designing your schedule, it becomes really important to have a very, very clear list of priorities, when it comes to, from our end, the physical preparation, but, from a whole of program perspective, that relates back to everything within your football program.

So, I think it’s important to start, whether it’s from a performance perspective or, as I said, more broadly through the footy program, with a very clear needs analysis. You go through and work out exactly what it is with respect to your program that you want to achieve and where you need to invest most of your time. Find those needs, find those areas that you want to address within the program. And then very clearly prioritize those needs.

So, you need to establish what do we want and need to invest the majority of our time into. Because the nature of these semi-professional environments is that you don’t have time to do everything the same way that you would within a full-time professional sporting environment.

An example of that might be, if you sit down with a program and decide you want to maximize skill development time, because your ambition is to be the most skilled team, the competition. That might come at a cost of time spent in other areas. But if you just saw it as a priority and as a team identity, as a program identity, that’s something that you want to invest your time into. You start with that and build your program out from there.

Jack: And you mentioned a needs analysis. For the strength & conditioning coaches listening in, that maybe are taking over their first program, what would be some of the best ways to go about starting a needs analysis and working out what areas to assess?

Jordan: I think, initially, if we’re talking purely from a physical perspective, sit down and have a look at what the ideal athlete within that sport would be capable of. And then have a look at some of maybe your best athletes within your program and assess what it is that separates them from the remainder of your client group or players that are coming up and progressing through the levels. And then take a look at the sport itself.

And I think, with respect to AFLW, it’s important to not just compare that to AFL on the men’s side at this stage. But also with where the game’s at from AFLW perspective and the demands with things like shorter quarters and the timing of the season within the calendar year and things of that nature. And assess what is it that would be ideal AFLW athlete and how do we go about creating that.

And then, if you go through the line, it’s probably something to do with energy system development, their ability to run. It’s probably something to do with strength and power and their ability to express that on the field. And then there’s probably elements of injury prevention related to common injuries that are the same within the field of AFLW and field-based evasion sports in general.

You work out what it is then, when you take all those things into consideration, that you want it to develop within an athlete. And then you have to break down: ‘Okay, that’s what we want to develop. With the time and the resources that we have, how can we build that in the most efficient manner?’

Jack: Awesome. Well said, mate. And what about key decision-makers? Who are typically in these meetings when you’re planning out your year? 

Jordan: The important thing, obviously, from a physical perspective, it involves everybody within the high-performance teams. So, for us at Adelaide, and I’m very fortunate to work with an excellent physio, strength & conditioning coach and GBS sports science analyst. So, from the physical side of things, it’d be all of those team members.

But I think it’s incredibly important to bring the coaches along to that as well. I spoke before about the needs analysis and the prioritization in your program. A lot of that comes back to the direction of your senior coach. I’ve been really lucky for the last few years, both at Adelaide with Matthew Clarke and where I’ve worked previously as well, to work with some excellent coaches.

Ultimately, our goal is to build a team that can fit the identity that the coach wants from that program. And so, I think it’s important to sit down with them and work out what their team identity wants to be and what they view as the priorities for the program and work to supplement that as best you can.

The example I used before is we’re going to be the most skillful team in the league. And that might be the direction that the coach wants to take. And there’s a number of ways to win or to be the best. You can be the most skilled, you can be the most physical. And as long as everybody’s on the same page, like I said, there’s a number of ways to do that. But if the direction from the coaches is that we’re going to be the most skillful team in the competition, you won’t get there by trying to constantly take time away from a physical side for additional bypass or something like that.

So, I think everybody from a coaching and high-performance team needs to be aligned on what the identity and the priorities of the program are. So, that means bringing along everybody from both the high-performance department perspective and from the coaching staff perspective. 

Jack: Sure. Makes a lot of sense. And then, once you’ve done the planning stage, how do you successfully use the information that’s been obtained in those meetings? Is it like when you’re planning your weeks with the head coach? 

Jordan: Hopefully, you’ve got some trust to be in the coaching staff. That’ll be when you get to take away what they want to achieve out of the weeks and you might set up some scaffolding throughout the actual contents of training itself. But often what we do is we work around the periphery to work with the pre-training prep. We work with a warmup and we work with the strength, once they get off the field, or energy systems development conditioning they do at some stage within training.

And so, I think it’s important to take the amount of time that you have on the nights that you have available and have a look at your programming totality from the start of the week to the end of the week and say, ‘All of these things that we identified in our needs analysis, do we have those structured into the week at some point? Do we have them in degrees, which beat with the priorities that we set out at the start of the year? And what opportunities can we use to get those things done?’

And it may be that there’re elements of physical development. I would use something like reactive strength as an example. If we’re trying to be as efficient as we can be with our time in a semi-professional environment, is that something that fits best within our pre-training prep prior to training and is not going to detract significantly from the session itself? And can we load that area of development prior to training, so that we don’t have to subtract full-time from the strength session post-training in order to hit that priority or fill that bucket that we identified earlier in the needs analysis?

So, I think it’s important to take a step back and have a look at your week in totality. Run through at least, if everything you want, you identified in the needs analysis. Then contrast that to the priorities and the things that you said you wanted to invest most of your time into. And make sure that those things are paired up with what’s actually presented when you have a look at your training schedule. 

Jack: I love that, mate. Thanks for sharing. Some actionable as well and how it’s applied. And it sounds like there’s a reflection piece that’s pretty important for this to be successful. So, would that be at the end of a session? At the end of the week? Or is it something that’s not so structured, but it’s just something that you do from time to time with the head coach? 

Jordan: No, I definitely think it’s something you try and do as frequently as possible. I think, if you float along throughout a season and one thing turns into another, you’ll often find that schedules change or training changes as a result of logistics or adjustments that the coaches want to make on their side. And it can be quick. You can quickly drift away from the initial list of priorities and needs that we’ve spoken about. And things can fall by the wayside if you aren’t consciously looking after whether you’re fixing the program, whether you’re addressing them week-on-week as a matter of priority.

So, typically what I would do is sit down at the end of each week and have a look at all of the things that we’ve identified as being important and see whether we’ve ticked those boxes. And as the program evolves, as you move through your preseason, for example, or as you transition from preseason to in-season, just have a look and take stockage of whether you’ve addressed the things that you want to be touching on.

And if you have not, if for some reason you’ve fallen away from something, or if you notice a need arise that you missed somewhere else, or if somewhere along the line your program’s become skewed and you need to get back on track with relation to any element of athletic development or time invested in any space, that can be a chance to then have a conversation with the coach or anybody else that may be involved in that process and say, ‘We need more time allocated here,’ or ‘This is where we need to put some of that focus.’

Jack: You mentioned time earlier on as a constraint. What are some of the major constraints in semi-professional football?

Jordan: It’s two really clear and obvious ones. The first one, obviously, is time. And the main difference between semi-professional and full-time professional programs is they simply don’t have the same amount of time. If you don’t have the same amount of time, you just can’t get the same amount of things done. And that’s why I think it’s incredibly important to have a very clear idea of your priorities within the program, whether that’s from a physical perspective or a football perspective.

The other one is just your resources. Obviously, quite often semi-professional programs aren’t resourced quite as well as full-time professional programs. And when it comes to that, I think that’s something you need to address early on, when you do your needs analysis and set your priorities. I think you need to be very, very realistic, when identifying all of those things about what you have access to and what you can do with the program that you’re working with.

An example from the sample side I’ve previously worked with was over preseason because the facility doubled and there was a cricket club. We very rarely had access to our own facility and club throughout the preseason phase. So, we had very limited gym access all the way through summer. We were never going to run a world class strength and power program. It was something we weren’t able to do, so we never set out to do that. We made all of our identifiable markers and prioritised things that we did address throughout on-field training and any excess we did have to a strength or power program was a supplement and an add-on to that.

We didn’t identify that as something that was going to be world-class. I suppose we didn’t have a program. You need to be really clear early on what you can achieve with your resources. A lack of resources doesn’t mean you can’t run a great program. You can run an excellent program with average resources, but you need to be clear early on about how you’re going to run that program with what you have access to.

Jack: That’s awesome, mate. That’s a good mindset to have: focus on the areas that you can control and pour all your energy into topping up those areas. Is that something that you’ve discovered is important over the years of your career? Or is it something that’s come naturally to you?

Jordan: Honestly, I think I was forced into coming across that because of the team I worked with in the sample prior to the AFLW. Because we’re very fortunate in terms that we actually don’t lack the resources all that much. Time, obviously, is something everybody would like more of. That’s a valuable resource to anybody working in any professional sporting environment or athletes perhaps training in those environments.

I was in a situation with West Darren’s. Like I said, we were forced away from our gym and our home club because of its dual nature as a cricket club as well. And when you’re confronted with that and that’s the situation you’re given, you have to go, ‘Ok, how can we make the best of this situation?’ Exactly like you said, Jack, controlling the controllables. And that was probably the first situation where I had to try.

Because earlier in my career, I’ve been in the other footy club within the men’s program and we had access to everything we could need. But in that environment we just had to make do with the situation we were in. And as long as everybody is aligned from a high-performance coaching and player’s perspective with the outcomes that you set for yourself with the environment you’re working in, it shouldn’t hold you back at all. 

Jack: And what about going back to time for a second? If, obviously, you’re going with your plans, but sometimes that doesn’t quite go to plan and maybe the skills program is 15 minutes over. How does that look into the gym program post training? And what does that mean for the following session or following week? 

Jordan: In that particular example, because I’m sure that comes up a lot. We deal with it all the time and I’m sure others do as well. You have to plan for the long-term and execute on the short-term. And in the moment you need to be really flexible and capable of adjusting sessions, both on a group and individual level, depending on the situation and the context that you’re faced with. But, hopefully, if you do the first part of what we spoke about really well, you identified the priorities of the group early on, those situations become fewer and far between.

We had some things at Adelaide over the last season that we really wanted to prioritize from an on-field perspective. So, it wasn’t uncommon for us to be faced with that abbreviated team access time at the end of the session. But because we knew that we were prioritizing what was happening on the field, we were really comfortable with that. And so, we had some contingency plan around our strength exposures or our strengths sessions. Because we knew that at times we were going to be making the most of every moment that we had out on the field and that was going to be taking some time away.

So, if you’re really clear on those priorities at the start of the year, you should, hopefully, know what you’re capable of, what you need to do your best to stick to consistently, and then you can take some time away from in your program to prioritize those areas. 

Jack: Are there limitations on how much gym program and conditioning you can program for homework sessions for the girls? Like, let’s say, you’ve got your contact times. Is there constraints around how much work you can program for the girls to do outside of the contact times? 

Jordan: Well, according to the rules of the AFLW and the time constraints that we are provided with, there are contracted hours that the girls are available for. And at Adelaide we do our best to stick to those. I’m sure every club does. Because the demands on players away from football in their every day lives, that working and studying and everything else, are so significant, that I think, if you overinvest in training, then you can often reduce the quality quite significantly of when you get the girls when they are in the facility.

What we try and do is prioritize the time we have extremely well. So that players are left wanting for nothing, when they leave the facility after each session. But if you have the situation, where you have players with a really flexible work or study schedule outside of the football club and they’re endeavoring to do everything that they can to get the most out of themselves, then I think as long as you are prescribing things that fit within the program you’re already running, you can provide as many resources and opportunities to develop as possible. And to somebody who’s already training as hard as they can within your program, that might be offering recovery options and access to recovery facilities within the club.

Basically, within the program and within the contracted hours and the hours that everybody’s in the facility, you should have covered all of the bases and everything that you really want from the players. So, if they’re going to be doing anything with their time outside of the contracted hours or on their own time, it should just be the things that allow them to turn up to their group training sessions and execute as best as they possibly can. In most scenarios that is going to be things like recovery and nutrition and things of that nature. 

Jack: Fantastic, mate. Well, thank you so much for jumping on. For those that want to find out more about you, where’s the best place to connect? 

Jordan: I’m not that active on social media and stuff from a work perspective. You probably won’t see me out and about on that. But I’m on Instagram @jordysellar. I think, I’m @jordan_sellar on Twitter. But if anybody just wants to send me an email and get in touch, probably the best place is I often have people getting in touch and asking about programs and opportunities within the industry and things of that nature. So, if anybody wants to reach out, send me an email. That’d be the best way to go about it, I think. 

Jack: Fantastic. And for those driving listening to the podcast, because I know that’s what I do when I listen to my podcasts, I will add that email in the show notes for you guys. Beautiful, Jordy. Thanks for jumping on, mate.

Jordan: Thanks, Jack. Cheers, mate.

CategoriesHigh Performance PLP Podcast

Episode 130 – Michael Crichton

Having completed his Masters of Exercise Science (Strength & Conditioning), Mike has been fortunate enough to work at many elite organizations in Australia and abroad including Melbourne Storm, AIS, VIS, Melbourne Demons, Essendon FC, and Shanghai Sports Institute.

Highlights of the episode:

  • How he balances his masters degree, trying different things and building his career
  • Tips for interview preparation
  • How to develop your professional network
  • His key pillars when he train athletes at MFP

People Mentioned:

  • Rob Jackson
  • Warren Young
  • Stu Cormack
  • John Quinn
  • Alex Corvo

#michaelcrichton #preparelikeapro #plplivechats #podcast #melbournestrengthcoach

To join our Coaches waitlist, fill out the link below:

Listen: iTunes | Spotify

Interview Transcript

Jack: Welcome to ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ live chat show. My name is Jack McLean and tonight my guest is Michael Crichton, the founder of Team MFP. Having completed his Master’s of Exercise Science (Strength & Conditioning), Mark has been fortunate enough to work at an elite organizations in Australia and abroad, including Melbourne Storm, AIS, BIS, Melbourne Demons, Essendon Football Club and Shanghai Sport Institute.

Before we start tonight’s episode on the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast, our mission here is to empower aspiring athletes and staff with practical knowledge from some of the industry’s most inspiring individuals and to strengthen the AFL community. If you like the show, please show support by following us on Instagram and subscribing to the podcast. We’re on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube. Welcome back on, Mark. Thanks for jumping on.

Michael: Amazing, mate. Thanks for that intro. Just to clear up a couple of things. I didn’t work full-time at all of those places, but I always invested in my career as a coach at some of those organizations. So, you may not have seen me there full-time, but I definitely was influenced by the guys running those programs and involved in some really cool opportunities, to see them in all of their glory. It would be nice to say that was my complete resume, but it is what it is in this industry. We’re always out there doing internships and opportunities with observational work. Connecting and networking with the best is the way to learn.

Jack: A hundred percent. Well said, mate.

Michael: I’ve been fortunate to be able to go to some amazing places and work and see some of the best coaches in the country. 

Jack: And that’s part of why we want to have you on, mate. It’s to share that journey for developing strength & conditioning coaches, whether they want to work in elite sport, semi-professional sport, professional sport or private sector, you’ve worked in them all. And like you said, you’ve got to put in your time. So, no doubt, we’ll spend some time with all those chapters of those clubs, as well as some time in the private sector. But take us back to the very beginning. At what age did you discover you had a passion for the industry of fitness, strength & conditioning?

Michael: The first time when it really hit me, I was 15 years old, playing footy. At the time I was at Kiwi in Australia. So, I transitioned into playing AFL footy, and I just felt like I wasn’t able to be my best athlete. And so I ended up signing up to a local gym and I started my journey by just training in a gym.

There was a guy there. He did some bodybuilding training. He was an older guy from the school. Cave Miller his name was, actually, comes to mind. I used to just copy him and like, we’d go in each day, one day I bench press 60 killos. Next day I come in and tell someone I could bench 60, put 60 on the bar and I couldn’t bench it. And then I couldn’t actually get the rep back up because I didn’t understand what fatigue was, what terms was, what actual training was all about. And I thought you could just do the same thing day in, day out.

So, from that moment, it lit a light bulb in me, when I had let weights fall off the bar onto the floor, almost knocking another guy in the gym training, that there’s a lot more to this than I think of just coming in and throwing down some weights. And that’s when the fire was lit. And I really got a tasteful of the gym environment, and wanting to train and work with athletes.

And that’s when I decided that I was going to go to university to study human movement, exercise science at Ballarat, start the journey to become strength & conditioning or, now as we like to term it, athletic performance coach. Because I felt like that was definitely something that I could do for the rest of my life. I was like, ‘I could live and breathe and be in a gym. That’s me. That’s who I am.’ And to this day, I think that that’s still me and, hopefully, for many more years to come, I think, it will be as well.

So, that was the path, that was the light bulb moment. I was a decent athlete. Wasn’t going to make it to the top top, but knew that I had an interest in working in sports and then figured out that there was a way to work in the physical side from that moment. 

Jack: Awesome, mate. Thanks for sharing. That would resonate, I reckon, with a few coaches, the humble experiencing of dumbs for the first time. You mentioned being a copycat and practicing methods through seeing. While you were at university, what were some experiences that you look back on fondly in terms of cutting your teeth as a coach?

Michael: I was pretty fortunate, or not fortunate. I was actually one of those people that got to university. And my first six months of university was all about just being free and enjoying university life. But after that first six months I failed one subject. I decided I’m actually pretty studious. That’s not me. Let’s get after it. Let’s find out what we can do.

So, I got a gym job as soon as I could. I was harassing the lecturers Ray Breed and Warren Young, two guys that helped shape me through university. Getting involved in many projects at university, down in the science labs, out on the field, trying to get as much experience and knowledge as I could from the people at that environment.

Fortunately, that led me to get a job, which not many people know about, at North Ballarat Rooster’s VFL club. I was the strength coach. We won three premierships back to back to back. I can tell you now it wasn’t because of my program. Each year in the program I got more opportunities. I got to do some speed and agility. So, I was in charge of that in my second year. That led into the next year, and then also doing some of the basic rehab stuff for guys with hamstring strains, and small three- or four-week injuries, like a shoulder pain and things like this.

I got to work with the physios as well in that part of my role. And, obviously, that got me really excited about wanting to be a professional S&C or athletic performance coach. Because I’d had that exposure at a successful organization, winning three premierships and being close to the AFL, thinking I was ready, but then realizing quickly that there’s still so much to learn. And that’s one of the best things about university.

Although I think the curriculum needs a wake-up and I think we need a shake-up when it comes to the practical stuff that’s coming out of universities. And I’m big on really trying to change that. I think there’s a missing link between what we’re doing now in the real world setting and what’s coming out of university. And that’s obviously evident by a lot of the internships, mentorships, and opportunities that are presented for places like myself and other private industry facilities, is that university students need more time in the practical staff and a little less time on some of the theory that we do.

But the best thing about my university experience and that starting point was as much exposure to as many different realms as I could. I did research projects on stuff that I wasn’t that interest in, leading to my exposure to VO2 max, blood lab takes, all of that stuff. We did caffeine study, assistant stuff, where we took caffeine and looked at different elements of how that affects your mental performance.

Was really, really cool, because that’s what comes back later on. But I think also the practical and theoretical side of it was something that I’ve just tried to get as much exposure to it as quickly as possible. And to go through as many different opportunities as I could to learn.

Jack: You brought up a good point, mate. It’s one that I’d probably sit on the fence about. But I’d being interested to hear your opinion on it, especially in running a facility. So, how much of it is on the students? Like you said, you went out of your way to get that experience. And how much is it on the universities? Where do you reckon it sits? Best coaches are going to be the best coaches because they’re going to put in extra? Or do you think there’s some responsibility where unis do need to, like you said, shake it up a little bit? I guess, there’s placement, but do they still need to do more?

Michael: I’ve actually lectured at universities. So, I have exposure to the lecturing side of it. And we’ve now gone into this really bad competency-based learning model at a university level, where they’re trying to find it impossible to fail students, because they want to get them through to get the money and the funding. And at the end of the day, it’s about getting students passing units to get paid a lot of the time.

And I know there’s also like if you fail subjects, because past rates of your units look really good as lecturism thinks and people running units. But the actual way that we’re testing and assessing the students has gone more to a competency-based learning system than just straight your practical knowledge. And I’m talking about the practical stuff, because that’s where I’ve had the most. Obviously, you’re still going to pass it with theoretical tests, but I’m assuming a lot more online or open book. That’s the real world anyway.

So, that’s a bad thing because the information is out there. I have all the information I need in the palm of my hand daily, anything that I want. Allowing me to use that skillset and have the skillset to go find that info is great. But when it comes to practical skillset, you can’t fake that. And I think that’s what’s going wrong and it’s very rushed. So, we’re trying to learn some stuff really quickly that’s technical, and then, hopefully, expecting people to be able to go out and be really proficient at it, instead of spending more time on it.

And some of the stuff that we need coaches to come out of university with, to influence straightaway now, like speed agility training. It’s very technical. You can’t get proficient at that fast and you can’t have one exposure to it and hope that they’re going to be good at it or assess them on it. But that’s such a critical skill now. It’s one of the big things that we look for as a coach. You cannot be strength & conditioning or athletic performance coach without having skills to coach speed agility. You won’t last in the industry.

There are some specialists, strength coaches, that are just good at the lifts and they get athletes in just by lifting. Great. But the full kit and caboodle needs people that have the skillsets in speed agility training, mental mindset, skills in nutrition. We have to tick so many more boxes. Rehabilitation. It comes back to them getting more exposed to the key skills that they’re going to need.

So, I think we’re dropping the ball when it comes to how we’re educating prospective coaches without practical skillsets at that level. They’ve got to tick boxes, right? Curriculum at universities, it’s ticking boxes to pass courses because it’s curriculum-based learning. So, they have all these other things that they have to learn. And how much of it is actually going to be used by a lot of these people once they get out of university?

Jack: Yeah, well said. And going back to your career progression, you mentioned after three years the thought evolved, and three is still significant amount of time, especially if you’ve had a lot of success, that, ‘Okay, next step is going to be an AFL club’. There’d be, no doubt, some coaches that might be near to that phase and they’ve got those thoughts as well, and they’re full of confidence. But how did you start to recognize it? Was it interviewing and other jobs that you didn’t get? Was it speaking to older, more experienced practitioners? How did you start to recognize, ‘Jesus, a lot of good, more experienced practitioners out there, and I’ve got to still continue to strengthen myself as a coach and get more experience’? 

Michael: Yeah, exactly. I’ve been moved to Melbourne to take up the VIS one-year internship and then was able to be a coach in, obviously, a system that’s different to just one team, a holistic system with multitude of athletes for multitude of different sports. With senior staff in different roles to oversee the programs of these different sports and open up to new sports, because there’s a lot more out there once you start looking left and right, rather than just staying narrowed on one focus.

So, getting that role and I was doing research at the Essendon Footy Club with Stu Komack and then been able to go down and see what was happening at the next level and see what a professional program was and getting that little bit of exposure there. And just noticing the difference from what I was doing and exposed to at the VFL level even to the next level of AFL and what they were able to do.

And I think that’s just the nature of the beast. Like you’ve got semi-pro versus full-time athletes. Some of the guys might be as skillful as the others, but they just don’t have the time to invest in the physical side of it. So, you kind of develop the athlete the same way. You don’t have time to work on different elements of programming.

They had a pretty cool program down there at the time. So, I got to learn some cool stuff just from being involved in the research I was doing, but I was also able to shadow sessions down there. So, it worked really well. Also got to spend time with John Quinn down there, before actually. So, that was the two that I got to see. 

Jack: Yeah, great practitioners. And what was the research? 

Michael: We looked at jump variables and sprint performance of AFL footballers. So, I’m on that paper.

Jack: Yeah, I think I’ve seen it.

Michael: Published author. I was meant to write the thesis, but I never did. Because that’s not me. I’m not research.

Jack: You got the experience.

Michael: I was pushed the third on the list instead of being at the top. That’s okay.  

Jack: Is that how it works?

Michael: You have to be the one to actually write the whole thesis article, I think. And I decided that that just wasn’t for me, but that’s all right. That’s all part of the process. I wasn’t going to spend six months trying to do something that I didn’t want to do. So, I moved on to the next thing. And that’s getting the exposure to other sports. I was like, ‘Oh, there’s a lot more out here. I need to learn. I need to spend time with different sports, with different people, open my eyes up to more out there.’

And then I guess the next part of the story or whatever it may be, was just a little bit sad. I was so close to getting that next job, the assistant role at the top level. But missing out like five times because someone knew someone. I personally would have thought I was better than them at the time. Or someone I saw hired someone at the top and it’s just the nature of the beast.

And it made me realize how important your network is and the people you surround yourself with, to get to those levels at the right time. Because you can have two people that are equally as good. And there are many of us that are equally as good everywhere. But if I know this person and they know me through whatever relationship that may be, I’m probably going to get that job. It really comes back to networking as well. And it really opened my eyes up to being able to network, communicate and have relationships with people that are in position that you want to achieve to make it. So, that was that part. 

And then I left chasing that goal and found the private industry. And I’ve stuck my teeth in the private industry ever since. It’s now my passion. It’s where I want to be. And that’s where the next steps are, as I see it, in our industry. And the caliber of athletes that we are seeing come into facilities like ours around the country and the opportunities that present themselves for coaches and businesses to establish brands as athletic performance training companies. And I think it’s pretty exciting because having elite athletes come through your facility or trying to help athletes become elite, it is really, really invigorating and inspiring. Because you get the best of both worlds.

Jack: Absolutely. And you mentioned the importance of trying different things early on in your career, whether it be studying, applying practice at stately teams, going into different sports, going into research, even if you’re not passionate about it, but just to take yourself out of your comfort zone.

So, for a coach that’s in that early stage, maybe they’re doing their Bachelor of Sport Science, doing their Master’s or they’re cutting their teeth in a program, how do you get that balance right? Like how many of those would you want at one time? You know, you’re spending time at Essendon, but you’re working at BIS or you’re doing a bit of PT. Talk us through how do you get the balance right of making money while also climbing a ladder and then finishing a degree as well?

Michael: I guess this is where the balance is gone. So, time management and work ethic, really. It comes down to what do you want to achieve? And where do you want to be? And it’s like anything. It’s competitive out there. And those that are willing to put in the time, effort and energy and have that strong drive and willpower will be the ones that succeed in the long run, because it’s not easy at the start.

You do have to wear a lot of hats and you do have to take up a lot of small opportunities to get the right one that will come eventually. And look, it’s still now, even at the top, we’re still developing concepts, ideas and growth for the business to get to the next level. So, it’s never ending, you need more hats than you think. And I think it’s okay to be a bit more of a jack-of-all-trades-of-AFL, rather than a specialist in one area.

Yes, some people can be specialists and there are opportunities to be specialists. But I think you’ve got to go and expose yourself to a lot of different facets of what we do and find where you want to be and spend most of your time there. Because there’s a lot of opportunities. And the quicker you can get involved in it and find your place and start opening up the network and doors, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

Jack: And you mentioned something that I think is a good advice for anyone that’s trying to find their way in an industry. Once you felt that your passion wasn’t on that research paper to do another six months on it, you moved on to the next thing. How did you go about that decision? Did you lean on a mentor? Was it a gut instinct? Talk us through making that decision, because I imagine it wouldn’t have been an easy one with the work you’d already done at that point. 

Michael: I think this comes back to just all-around business and opportunities. Like not many people have an easy story. If you speak to successful people or people at the top somewhere, or people that are getting there, it’s rare that people have an easy story. A lot of the people are people who have had hard times. They’ve started businesses before that failed. They’ve done stuff before that didn’t work. There’s a lot of trial and error along the way. And that’s what life is. It’s about experiences, exposing yourself to the experiences of life, to help evolve you as a person and human to then gravitate to where you want to be.

So, yeah, I quit and failed my thesis and an honors year. But it was a great learning experience and opportunity. Something that then set me up for the future, for what I wanted to do. To get a Master’s, you still got to have the ability to read and utilize research, because you can’t pass those, the coursework’s associated with it. So, if I hadn’t had done that, I wouldn’t have been as well-versed to get through that part of my journey.

I think it’s just an important part of living. Trial and error, failures and success and exposing yourself to things. Going back now and learning new skills, like the age-old saying: never too young to learn something. It’s important to constantly be looking to evolve as a person, human, whatever that is. And you do stuff that you don’t realize how that actually then helps you as a coach or as a communicator, or puts you outside of your comfort zone. But you’ll find out other avenues that will assist you with what you’re trying to achieve later on. So, I think it’s important just to expose yourself to a lot of opportunities in life, no matter what it is. 

Jack: And like I mentioned in the intro, there was a good range of different sports, different experiences. So, clearly you had a good ability of putting yourself out there and getting opportunities during the interview processes. And there would have been a whole host of competition for those positions. For coaches that have had some setbacks, what are some of the most important things going into interview preparation? What are your top three tips for preparing yourself to be successful or putting your best foot forward? 

Michael: I think one thing that just goes without saying, it’s just natural confidence. And I think with our industry, like one thing that you can do that, it doesn’t matter how much you don’t know, is you can actually expose yourself to what we do. You can go train, you can go put time into the gym. You can go and do time on the track. You can go by our code, by our program, train at a facility, train with other people.

So, I think having confidence in knowing what athletes actually go through. No matter. When you’re getting to job interviews, you’ve had three to four years at university before that. It’s a great opportunity to expose yourself to the industry from the athlete’s side. Then when you get to these interviews, you’re going to feel a lot more confident in expressing yourself about your passion sport.

Because a lot of time when you’re young and you’re trying to get in somewhere or a job, it’s actually you as a person that will get the job, not your knowledge. So, if you can showcase that you live and breathe this lifestyle, then I think it’s going to help you a lot. It’s something that I see and gravitate towards instantly when I have interviews from young coaches coming through our facility in the past. Something that I can’t have enough, because it’s such a simple thing. It’s a choice that you can go and make for yourself. So, that’s one big one.

It’s okay to practice talking to yourself or talking out loud about stuff that might come up in an interview. And that sounds a bit cliché, I guess, but practicing the event of interviewing, speaking to a mirror, speaking into a microphone, a computer, a Zoom, whatever it may be. Make a list of 5 to 10 of the key questions. If you go on Google, type in ‘common interview questions’. You’ll find 10, give it to someone, get them to ask you. Practice being interviewed. It’s about getting your personality out there a lot of the times. When it comes down to the nitty-gritty of your knowledge and base, that would evolve over time, but you want to get your personality across as much as you can.

The last one is making sure you know something about the people in the room or organization. It’s really simple to do a little bit of research into the place you’re going and the people that might be there. Because if you can at any moment refer back to something about them or the environment, they’re going to be onto it, light bulb, ‘This person’s keen. They’re interested in being here.’ And again, it shows that you’re invested in this industry.

Jack: Awesome, mate. Well done. That was a little impromptu question and you just nailed it straight off-the-cuff. 

Michael: Well, one of my special skills, if I’m honest. 

Jack: That’s awesome. Going back to your career journey. You mentioned Stu Komack, Warren Young, some big names in the industry. Building relationships with mentors, those who you look up to, how do you go about developing those relationships? You mentioned, midway through your career you recognized how important networks are, when you feel that you’re up against coaches that you’ve got just as much experience with, that you’re getting knocked back jobs, that you need to build that network base. For coaches that have that same goal in mind at the moment, what are some of your favorite ways to develop your network in a professional manner as well, that’s sustainable? 

Michael: A real simple one to start now is college workshops events. That’s a really great place to start. It’s really casual, brings the environments down. And normally the place you go to, they’re willing to go above and beyond after you’ve been there and paid your money, to assist you. So, if you show something in that environment, they’re going to go above and beyond, if you ask them a question. Or remember you as a person, because you’ve invested in their company. So, I think that’s a really simple, easy one. A little bit of the investment there.

Trying to get exposure to the best people in our industry, you’ve got to look at where they are. And there are some really high level coaches that present at events and/or they help run workshops for ASCA and things too. So, going to those events and workshops, you can then network with the best coaches in industry. And they’re there, and they’re going to be a bit more of an open book in that environment, rather than just sliding in their DMs, hitting them on LinkedIn and spamming them with messages and emails.

If you do do that, though, which is not a bad thing, make sure that you can struck your sentences well. And you’re actually coming with something meaning. And not just say, ‘Oh, I want to see if I can use your time.’ Because they don’t have much time and they don’t want to give it to everyone. So, if you come in just asking them, ‘Can I ask you some questions?’, you’re probably going to get left unread. They are so busy. There’s a lot of this stuff coming their way. A lot of elite organizations have relationships with unions and things too. So, you have to stand out and come in with something meaningful and really well-constructed sentences, if you want to cold call to the top guys.

But the easy way is to invest a little bit of money into these events and workshops that they’re presenting at. You get an open book there. They’re more susceptible to network and communicate with you at those events, because you’ve now given them some money. So, as much as that’s not the only way, it’s a nice way.

And I think just leverage off the universities when you’re there, leverage off the people at the universities, because they have contacts. A lot of unions have great contacts nowadays and people they can reach out through. And if you harass the universities to go after these things, that’s okay. Because you’re paying them. So, I definitely think you’ve got to just put yourself out there in those environments. 

Jack: Awesome. Thanks for sharing, mate. That’s a great insight. And are there any mentors or strong influences in your career that you haven’t mentioned today? Before we move on to your next step, which as you mentioned, was the private sector.

Michael: I think when I reflect back, initially Warren Young, Ray Breed at university, first guys to come to mind. Stu Komack with the research and John Quinn. He was one person I was harassing a little bit, it’s the John Quinn. I did spend a bit of time harassing him on his last days at Essendon before he left off and went to the Giants, up that way.

So, I spent some time harassing those guys and they were really good. And then I was lucky when I was working at ESS performance to get exposed to Alex Cobar at the Melbourne Storm. They’ve had sustained success, and his program still was bleeding over for the years to come that he was setting up, because the guy who was under him came up at the top.

So, I got to spend a lot of time asking him some questions. And then Rob Jackson at the Mount Davis at the time. Those guys, good, key, influential guys at the higher level that I got to pick their brains, ask questions and spend time with. So, I’m very thankful for that.

And then just my colleagues over the years, the people that you spend the most time with, the people in the trenches with you. The people you’re bouncing all the ideas off or talking about all the stuff through daily. Like our team right now, it’s the constant evolution of finding the information to share with others that we think could be useful or beneficial.

So, the people that you surround yourself with the most are those people who you’re growing up with in the industry. And yeah, it’s cool to speak to the high level guys and see what they are doing, but where the real grunt work is, where the real development is, it’s with the people you spend the most time with and that’s your colleagues on day-to-day basis.

And I think I’ve been fortunate to have some really cool people that I’ve worked with, really driven and inspiring people in terms of their own career and development. And that’s led me to then continually evolve as a coach over the years. And even now.

You know, you’d ask me five years ago, how good my system was, I’d say amazing. You get this system that we’ve got right now up against coach Michael five years ago, the athletes that coach Mike coached five years ago are getting crushed by the athletes of the Team MFP system that we’ve developed now.

And I guarantee you in five years time again, the athletes on the old coach Team MFP system are going to get crushed by the athletes on the next level of the Team MFP system. It’s just our field is growing so much. You can’t stop the learning. It’s continually evolving. 

Jack: That resonates with me. It feels that way. There’s so much growth to be had. And like we’ve been talking here before, the power of social media now as well, where you can see behind the scenes of people, what they are doing, their preparation, during sessions, cooldowns and all their different philosophies. It’s a good time to be a coach. You’ve got to have a pretty good filter, but we’ve got lots of access to information.

Michael: Yeah, and some guys in athletics just make a new exercise every day for no reason.

Jack: There’re some creatives out there, let’s put it that way. Private sector, let’s get into it. So, where did you start in the private sector and what excited you about the opportunity to transfer from working with professionals to over in the private sector, where you’ve got to start to learn some business skills and start working with private athletes and general pop? 

Michael: Yeah, it’s a big change. I think the best thing is the variability, because we can have on the floor a netballer, a hockey player, a cross-player, a footy player, a rugby player, a swimmer, an ultra endurance athlete. We can have all of these people in the gym at the same time. And all of them working towards their own individual goals, but in our setting and team and culture. So, I think the big thing that drew me was that variability. And that was that slight exposure to the institute system at the VIS, that I was exposed to see that. And so, I was really excited by those ideas and concepts.

And I think also junior athletes was one at the time. I was really driven to wanting to help young athletes succeed and fulfill their potential. And it’s only happened, realistically, a handful of times that the athlete has fulfilled the potential and got to the level that we all aspire, like a pro contract or whatever it may be, or that debut game, or that world event that they competed in or something like that.

It’s not every athlete will. And that’s okay. As long as you’re still mindful of not every athlete you coach will become a world champion or Australian level athlete or get that pro contract. But if you can still give them the same energy and effort, if they’re giving that same energy and effort, I think that’s what really drew me into the private sector, to see if it’s possible to do what we do to help an athlete improve their physical attributes for a sport performance. And it is.

Jack: You mentioned the importance of learning speed and agility. When you move from getting contracts at big clubs to now, where you’re running your own business, where you’re getting paid by the gym, talk us through the business setup in the private sector.

Michael: So, initially I was working in a gym, in a shed, when we first started it. Before we moved to what was GW performance. I worked for a company before that, ESS performance, which is like an institute model where they had athletes on scholarship system set up, paying students as well. And we ran that, like it was sort of a high school type system. In terms of the business I was employed. So, I wasn’t really exposed to it there. Then going to my next role at GW, I was involved a little bit more on the business side and helping develop the program, price points, running the structure of classes, sessions, coaching, developing the system and program. 

And then from there, I got to a level where I felt like I could do it myself, which then led me to move to the west and open up MFP. That was five years ago. What started out as more of a general fitness facility, I’d say, it had that feel to it, has evolved into a fully-fledged, athletic performance and rehabilitation facility. And that’s really down to the type of people that we’ve got here now, like the coaches and the people that have stayed with us and just the evolution of the program over time.

And so, the backend side of business, we are constantly still evolving. And I’m not a specialist in this field of running and developing businesses, but I’m definitely learning a lot about what it takes when it comes to budgets, accounting, dealing with staff, putting staff on, bringing the right people in, facility management, cleanliness, all of the elements of running facilities that a lot of times you would have taken for granted when you were just employed and how much time and effort and energy goes into it.

So, it is quite a big thing. And the bigger you get, the more time and energy that’s required on running the actual back end of the company. I could go few years back, I would have told younger coach Mike to spend a bit more time learning about business systems and operations.

Jack: That’s interesting. And we talked about that a little bit earlier, in terms of preparing modern day coaches, and when you’re interviewing coaches now, you like to see how practically competent they are as a coach. Do you think that’s something that’s going to start to be pretty demanding? There’s only so much time that universities can equip young coaches, but do you think there’s some business, and put marketing in there, that needs to be in there? Or do you think we can leave that? 

Michael: Yeah, I think it needs to be separate, no chance. I think you’ve got to go off and that should be an adult, a jump to your degree. And it would be something you would come back later to do, I would expect. Or if you can find someone that has those skillsets, you just go into business with them and learn from them. It’s going to be a lot more helpful, I’d imagine. Or like what we’re doing now and hiring the businessmen. So, getting the nominees behind you that know the ins and outs of running a business properly.

Because there’s a lot more to it than just getting clients in and paying your coach to understand. And so, I think it’d be really hard to put into the degree. It can be an add-on or something that you might add, like summer units for students. It’s definitely an option, though, to develop it. Co-align some business mentorship program associated with coaches that maybe want to do this. But I also think that if you’re thinking about that as soon as you’re at university, you’re thinking about the wrong things. Because you need to go out there and work for five years before you worry about trying to open your own or start your own facility. 

Jack: Learn to trade first. 

Michael: Yeah. Go spend some time actually coaching and being a coach and working and learning from an organization, because you can learn a lot before you go down that path. And I think that as a curriculum or something out there, I think we’ll see over the next bit. There already are. There already are business internships, that sort of stuff, programs happening at the moment. I think we’ll see some more popping up. 

Jack: But how long have you guys started to consult outside of the building? It sounds like that you started with coaches and then you’ve brought on some, is it like consults or you’re doing a course to upskill yourself in that area?

Michael: No. Just like the constant evolution of what does the business need to succeed and to get to the next level. So, be foolish, listen and learn what others are doing and then go, ‘Okay, we probably need to do that because we’re missing XYZ.’ That’s where your network is a powerful thing where you’re learning from, who’s posting and what they’re sharing and paying attention, because there’s a lot of great information you can get from people. And just acknowledging that you won’t know everything. And if you’re in the position to hire people that know more than you, at the right time it’s super important.

Jack: And for the developing athletes that are listening in, what would be some of the key pillars when a new athlete walks into the facility Team MFP?

Michael: I wrote a couple of notes about a couple of key things to do, what athletes need to work on. And one of the big things that stuck out for me when I was going through that question, was I think it’s really important for an athlete to just understand about mental and mindset training and the capabilities of the human mind.

Because I feel like at the moment the ability to stay on task and to do simple things well is a skill that a lot of young people don’t have the capacity to do as much anymore. And I think it does come back a little bit to technology, social media and the fast-paced world that we’re living in, with the scrolling and so forth and not being able to be attentive to simple little things.

So, it’s definitely something that a lot of young athletes will need to be acknowledging, and parents potentially as well, that learning to be mindful and to have some form of mindset training involved. And I think a lot of the times we link it back to breathwork and breathing, and working in gratitude journals and these things. I think that we’re going to see that these things early on are going to be massive in the next 5 to 10 years.

It’s that attention span, ability to absorb information and retain it. Because that comes back to a lot of tactical and skill-based concepts that will be developed when you get to those next levels to have the capacities to work on those tools and to have the mental aptitude to be able to actually correspond at those moments when it’s needed.

Because a lot of times there’s a lot of good athletes that are hard workers that make it; there are a lot of really talented athletes that make it because of how talented they are, but they have a decent work ethic. And I think over time, we’ll see the talent of athletes will continue to rise, but the work ethic of the right athletes at the right time will push them up the tree a little bit more, because they’re going to close the gap, some of the talent and skill stuff.

So, it’s just something I think, if we can start to actually target it towards juniors rather than the top. Because a lot of time everything’s targeted at the top and then re-packaged properly for the younger athletes. So, something that I think we can look into in the future.

The other big one, when you mentioned that junior young athletes, that I wrote down was, and for parents too, is actually learning to train speed agility and running mechanics earlier than you think. It’s such a critical skill for a lot of sports. And I’m talking about sports that are on the feet, mainly footy in this case, because of the athletes you’re working with and that are probably listening in. 

You really need to take ownership on this and look into the development of your speed agility and running mechanics at a younger age than you think. Because having the ability to maneuver, change direction, maintain speed, accelerate, get away from the defender in a closed space in congestion, breakaway on a leave are all game-changing attributes that we see at the top that athletes need to have. 

So, if you can develop and harness those skills, and then at the next layer of, can you then perform the skill of your sport under fatigue and/or at these higher speeds or on these positions that are not this linear or easy, perform the skills to high standards in these positions too, and transfer them both together, that’s where you will excel as an athlete in football, in my opinion. And it goes without saying, it’s like high skill, high physical attributes, good work ethic goes together like anything. That’s what success is all about. 

Jack: Like you mentioned earlier, there’s a whole range of different sports and athletes that are training in your facility. What’s something that you’ve learnt from the best of the best athletes? That doesn’t have to be from a specific sport, but something that is really noticeable, that over years as a coach you’ve noticed. It doesn’t matter what the sport, but what you can see in a high-performing athletes?

Michael: I think that the big one is that they’re always willing to learn. Great athletes, high-level athletes, they’re always willing to learn from others. They’re always willing to take the time to expose themselves to opportunities to be better. Because they see and sense that there’s information out there that they need from other people who are specialists in those areas, that they can then harness and utilize.

But I think the best athletes are always, you can just see they’re always willing to learn and then execute and do. So, they’ll learn, listen, and then they’ll execute and do. It’s a big thing. Like just your capacity to want to learn, first and foremost. And then your ability to actually retain and utilize information that you are learning. Critical concept for a lot of the athletes.

And it goes without saying, they’ve all got a little bit of spark or flair or something about them, that just separates them from the normal athlete or the semi-pro. They’ve got a little bit of a skill or ability to do something that others just can’t. And if you do have that, it’s about nurturing it and harnessing it.

And I think a lot of the elite athletes know they have something and they know how to use it. So, when you’ve got a little special power, understanding what it is and how to use it, I think, that’s what separates a lot of the elite from the semi-elite athletes. 

Jack: Fantastic. Well said, mate. We’ll dive into the next section of the podcast, which is the get-to-know-coach-Mike section. It’s a bit of fun, these questions. So, let’s get into it. The first one: which movie or TV series has impacted you the most and why? It doesn’t have to be S&C specifically, of course.

Michael: It’d be remiss, if I didn’t mention Marvel, Cinematic Universe of Marvel. I’ve talked about that with people many times. Just how impactful, I guess, the idea of superheroes and being good people are, how that relates back to what you do for others in the world. I think this is something that’s underlying, amazing from a lot of those movies. You know, the good old saying of ‘good guys win, but it’s not without cost’. So, you’re going to win if you do the right things, but sometimes it is going to be costly, and whatever that may be. So, be prepared for that.

Being good in this world goes a long way, I think, as a person. And just like overarching concepts of there are amazing people in the world out there doing amazing things and we should uplift them and get behind them. I think that’s something that as humans we naturally want to do, we want to follow people that are amazing. So, I think they really packaged it well in those movies. 

Jack: And favorite inspirational quote or life motto? 

Michael: I’ve actually made one up myself recently. And I love that. It was: ‘A champion’s mindset is forged from intense hard training that they put themselves into and are exposed to. And the champion is then made, on the flip side, from the people who support, surround them and build them up to be the best they can be.’

So, just the FOs of team and the FOs of your work ethic for me is just something massive that I like strive to be and strive to be involved with. We call it Team MFP, because we are a team. It’s all of us. No one’s bigger than anyone here. We work together, striving for greatness for the athletes that come and want to be a part of our facility.

So, team ethics, team culture, team environment’s something for me that sort of reaches. And I think in the champion mindset, like you listened to the Tom Bradys of the world and the Michael Jordans, LeBron Jameses, a lot of it is forged from what they do. Their mind is so powerful from what they’ve exposed themselves to, to get to where they are. 

Jack: And then what about a day off? Do you have a favorite way to spend a day off? 

Michael: It changes. I’m a cyclical person where I’ll do different things. So, more recently, I wanted to learn some new skills and started doing some gymnastics training and learning to backflip. That’s transitioned to a little bit of boxing and then in the right time some mountain biking. Whatever fun events, things are out there to go do, I want to do a bit of action and expose myself to some skill-based training out there. So, I’m still doing something that’s physical, but exploring the world, exploring what’s out there. A bit of surfing when it was warm, urban surf.

Jack: How did it go?

Michael: I need to get better at that stuff. It’s hard. It’s hard out in the ocean, but it’s easier up there. 

Jack: For sure. Consistent. Well, thank you so much for jumping on, Mike. And I know we had you on for the collaborative high-performance facility event, which you were fantastic to share your knowledge on there. But even better to have you on and dive into your journey and share your story in the strength & conditioning. Like you said, there’s a long career ahead for you, but it was good to share the part that you’ve done so far for the industry.

You mentioned networking and it’d be remiss of me not to mention the group that you’re managing on Facebook as well for strength & conditioning coaches, that post. You talked about workshops and events. And then we’ll also talk about some places that people can find you and MFP. But in terms of the Facebook group for strength & conditioning coaches, talk us through about how that group works and the perks involved.

Michael: The Victorian Athletic Performance Coaches group. It wasn’t started by me, but it’s just been recently, it’s more of the last year that I’ve been managing it. And it’s a great place for people to be able to… I’m actually looking for a little change. So, there are a lot of great coaches in there that do want, and they are doing some amazing things, but it’s never been about sharing events and workspaces.

But I look at it as a way that will allow people to share something. So, a once a month post where everyone can post in the comments or something they can share to me before, and I can post all of the events that are coming up. I’m looking at something that will allow people to expose people to what they’re doing. Because it’d be remiss not to try and help people in the space and let others know what others are doing.

But it’s essentially a great place to find out about roles, opportunities, jobs, and sometimes people’s postdoc topics and things to learn about. So, I will be looking at a few other cool things to do with that group. It’s just, it’s a nonprofit. So, we’re just trying to manage the cool, amazing people that we have in it.

Jack: Awesome, mate. Very good. And for those that want to get in contact with you, where’s the best place to find you?

Michael: Instagram @coachmike_mfp or @melbfitperformance. They’re the best spots to see what’s happening. Got a great team, go check them out. Some amazing content put out daily from our team. So, definitely get on Instagram and see what’s happening at Melbourne Fitness & Performance. 

Jack: Fantastic. Well, thanks again, mate. We’ll add all the links in the show notes, guys. For those listening in to the podcast, who might be walking the dog or driving, don’t worry, you can copy and paste from the show notes.

And thank you for everyone that’s tuned into this live YouTube show as well. If you had tuned in halfway through or three-quarters through, make sure to tune in at the very start. There was no mucking around, we dived straight into the good stuff and Mark’s been providing gems all the way through to the last hour. So, make sure to listen in. That will be on our YouTube channel and we’ll post the podcast next Tuesday as well. So, stay tuned.

And for those that want to listen to the podcast, our next ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ live chat show will be with AFLW athletes on May 20th at 1:00 PM. The link will be on our Instagram channel. So, you can head over there. Thanks for everyone tuning in. I’ll see you guys on the next one. 

Michael: Awesome, Jack. And let me just say one thing, mate. Keep up the great work you’re doing. Keep pushing forward with what you’re doing. It’s really good for the industry. I love it.

Jack: I appreciate it.