Nick is the Physiotherapist at the Essendon FC and owner of Complete Balance Physiotherapy & Pilates in Maribyrnong & Tullamarine. Holding a Masters in Sports Physiotherapy from La Trobe University, he is also the Managing Director of The Sports MAP Network delivering relevant, practical and evidence-based courses for experienced physiotherapists.
Highlights of the episode:
People who influenced him in elite sports
What discipline physios should start if they want to work in elite sport
Key pillars as a physio working in elite sport
His overarching rehab principles
How he started Sports MAP
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Brenton is a passionate physiotherapist with a keen interest in management of elite athletes. He is always looking for innovative strategies to aid injury prevention and improve performance within a team environment. Since 2014, Brenton has worked in elite sport, including the St North Melbourne FC, Norwich FC, and Melbourne FC. He is also co-founder of Enhance sports performance and rehabilitation since Dec 2016.
Highlights of the episode:
Brenton’s four key pillars for returning a footballer to performance
How he upskills himself
Why learning how to work in a team is critical to working in elite sport
How your biggest learnings come those you work closest
Developing an earn the right philosophy and how to apply it to rehabilitation
Tim is a Sports and Exercise Physiotherapist with over 15 years full-time experience in professional sport and nearly 20 years in clinical practice. He completed his PhD from the Research Institute of Sports & Exercise at the University of Canberra on the topic of ACL rehabilitation and return to sport following knee injury in 2016.
He is Clinical & Research Director of a US, UK and Australian-based company (Pitch Ready) which focuses on blending clinical insights with data science, squad-based injury prevention strategies and return to sport testing following lower limb injury. He regularly conducts clinical consultancy to professional sporting teams and second opinions for complex cases following lower limb injury.
Since 2004, Tim has worked in clinical appointments with professional sporting teams across multiple codes including the St George-Illawarra Dragons, Port Adelaide Football Club, Australian Men’s Rugby Sevens Team, Brumbies Super Rugby Team, Sale Sharks Rugby Football Club, and Canberra Raiders.
Highlights of the episode:
Importance of horizontal programming over a vertical model
Movement skills athletes can develop to reduce the likelihood of injury
What it takes to develop a correct diagnosis
How your biggest learnings come from poor performing sporting organizations
Developing Tim’s philosophy from different football codes
Ibby also works closely with the Men’s First team and Academy. He has a special interest in performance rehabilitation and ACL injuries in professional football, and recently presented on this topic at the Isokinetic Football Medicine Conference in Lyon. Ibby has a strong background of work in elite football.
He has also worked as an educator at the University of Technology Sydney as a demonstrator of Human Anatomy and a lecturer of Advanced Sports Injury Management. He spent several seasons working in the Australian A-League as Head Physiotherapist at Sydney FC, before moving to the UK to work with Blackburn Rovers FC to take up the role of Rehabilitation Physiotherapist and Clinical Specialist.
Highlights of the episode:
How important it is to have a generalist approach early on your career
Tips to hone your craft as a physio
The importance of team first mentality for high performance
Why having a meeting agenda is critical for effective staff meetings
What success looks like in the rehabilitation role
Prior to working with Catapult, Matt has worked at North Melbourne FC as Rehab Coordinator / Strength & Conditioning Coach. He’s also a Strength and Conditioning Coach (Consultant) at Penleigh Essendon Grammar School and a senior strength & conditioning coach at Carlton football club.
Highlights of the episode:
Matt’s top tips for developing strength & conditioning coaches wanting to gain work experience in elite sport
Matt explains the use of tactical periodisation in AFL
Successful methods he used to get buy-in for athletes who don’t like the gym
His favorite acceleration drills for athletes
Tips and tricks to deliver a clear message during a presentation
Jack: Welcome back to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ live chat show. My name is Jack McLean. I’m your host. My guest tonight is Matthew Pell. He’s the senior applied sports scientist at Catapult. Prior to working at Catapult, Matt has worked at the North Melbourne Football Club as a rehab coordinator and strength & conditioning coach. He’s also been a strength & conditioning consultant at Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School and a senior strength & conditioning coach at the Carlton Football Club.
Before we start our episode tonight, 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 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, Matt. Thanks for jumping on, mate.
Matthew: Thanks very much for the opportunity to come on, Jack. You’ve certainly grown this out to an amazing audience. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Jack: Looking forward to our chat tonight. And it’s tonight here in Australia. What time is it where you are, mate?
Matthew: It’s relative. It’s not too bad. It’s 7:00 AM. So, we’re kinda the opposites, obviously.
Jack: Coffee in hand?
Matthew: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Jack: Well, take us to the very beginning of your career, mate. At what age did you discover you were passionate about strength & conditioning? Obviously, you had an athletic pursuits as well, you had your athletic goals. At what point did you shift your focus from an athlete to a coach?
Matthew: I suppose like probably most S&Cs in Australia, to be honest, that have come through the pathway, they’ve obviously dabbled in football in some capacity or whether it’s cricket. Really going back to where it all began, my first real exposure was going through the Marable Strangers program up in the country. Like a Nathalian product up near Shepparton.
And I think I remember getting access to a training plan, honestly, that had some basic dumbbells and weights. And I was pretty remote back then, living in a little country town, but on a farm. And I genuinely think that was probably my first exposure to really any form of lifting. And then I suppose as, obviously, graduated and I had a couple of years at Assumption College and definitely had a little bit more exposure through my PE classes there in terms of weight training.
But it wasn’t probably until I decided to have a crack at playing some VFL football with the Melbourne Bullheads back then. And Adam White was their fitness coordinator. So, Whitey, really passionate guy, lovely guy was pretty hard on us, I suppose, back then, which was great. My first year in the VFL 2004 going into 2005 I actually had my ACL reconstruction. So, I genuinely think that stems my interest in, obviously, strength & conditioning.
And it was really a good kick in the backside as well to go and get some work experience. And I think from that, like being really proactive and trying to understand, obviously, the body at a little bit deeper level, I actually got on a call with a guy called Paul Turk, who was the performance manager at North Melbourne Footy Club at the time. And I had a good contact there, a guy called Shane McCurry, who’s now involved at Richmond Footy Club.
But I gave PT a call and said, ‘Hey, mate, I’ve literally just done my As. I’m studying sports science and sports management at uni. And I’m interested in getting some experience.’ And, thankfully, he was really open to it and invited me down for their preseason. And I literally hung around there for the rest of the year. So, that was my first intro to it.
Jack: Fantastic. And what did that look like from an experience point of view? Were you doing a day, a week in the gym, on the field? Was it more than a day? What did the schedule look like for you?
Matthew: I was probably quite fortunate because I was living in Kensington, which is just literally down the road from North Melbourne and, obviously, going to Victoria University, which was a part of my degree. Half of it was out in Sunbury with the sports management course, but then it integrated over to grade campus with exercise science.
So, living there just enabled me to literally walk down the road and pretty much to the North Melbourne, to Arden Street. And I was there probably a couple of days a week, like when I could, obviously, outside of classes. Hassling the guys and just trying to observe as much as I could. It was everything from in the gym and out on the field as well.
I think I remember taking Daniel Harris through a rehab session. Literally, it was all prescribed out by PT and Johny Siegel at the time. And literally coaching him through that and I’d turn around and pinch myself a little bit. I’ve gone from first, second year uni student to literally being thrown in the deep end here.
But I definitely still saw it like, I suppose, just an introduction towards, obviously, what it’s all about. And there was nothing better because PT, which I’m forever grateful for, obviously, just gave me the exposure literally from that first conversation, which I wasn’t anticipating.
Jack: Yeah, for sure. And you wouldn’t have been unfamiliar with the sport football, of course, playing at a high level. But I guess seeing it from a staff’s lens, were there some surprises in the high performance world for you as a student going in?
Matthew: I think back then, and I speak like I’m one of the older ones now, but I genuinely think strength & conditioning and to a certain degree, obviously, sports science was still so, sports science in particular was still so infant in terms of where it was in the League.
I recall when Catapult first came out and they had 1Hz unit, which was literally the size of a brick, and the players literally doing back rolls out on the field and complaining that they’re having to wear these things. And that was a part of my internship.
But then at the same time, to have an exposure on game day and actually see what it was like in terms of the competitiveness. I’ve seen, obviously, the full operations of the high performance environment with Dean Laidley at the time as the head coach. And I suppose the pressure, no doubt, that come with that for high performance staff.
But what it did really teach me, as I mentioned before, to PT’s credit, was just the organization that’s required in the environment. And the detail. So, looking at that with regards to programming and organizing the players and scheduling and so forth. It was a real eye-opener.
But I genuinely think there’s takeaways there for any athlete, is to know what it looks like in terms of the environment and how you, obviously, have to prepare yourself to perform, to play the part.
Jack: Absolutely. And like you mentioned, you were completing your degree at VU. You were obviously spending some time at North Melbourne and being a bit of a sponge there, absorbing and helping out the program. How were you making ends meet? Was there another cap that you were wearing to bring some money in?
Matthew: Yeah, I was back then. I actually had an opportunity at a company called Jetty Surf, which was a sales opportunity. I was working there, obviously, around uni and then commitments with work experience. And to be honest, I started a personal training business, because when I was at the North Melbourne, I had a guy named Ben Fletcher from ‘Listen To Your Body’ personal training come down and give a presentation to us literally on protein supplementation one night.
And I was actually going to the YMCA there to do my rehab at the time and got to know Ben a little bit. And then I think that just the conversation started as I grew more interested in the industry and met up for a coffee and said, ‘Hey mate, I’m actually interested in training clients. And, obviously, I’m studying it.’ And basically said that, ‘I think my accreditation allows me to do it now. Is there an opportunity?’ And he said, ‘Yep, absolutely. Let’s get you involved.’
And I literally did that for about four and a half years and trying to juggle which was my first opportunity in the industry after North Melbourne for that year at Cricket Victoria with the women’s cricket program. So, that was an amazing journey to literally just come from couple of coffees and meeting up with some of my network.
Jack: A trend that seems to be coming through at this early on in your career is your ability to be able to recognize people that are impactful people, that are going to hook you up, I guess you call it networking people, they’re going to get you a foot in the door somewhere.
Is that something that just came intuitively? ‘I think I’m going to call Ben or I’m going to call Shane, who’s got a contact at North Melbourne, and see where it goes’? Or did a mentor help you out in that space? Take us through your mindset in making those calls.
Matthew: I think, honestly, university gave me a pretty good, I suppose, grounding for that. I had Dr. George Elias, I remember having Colin Harushamal and who else? Dr. David Buttaphen even come in to give some presentations over time. And, obviously, I had them for my advanced resistance training courses.
But I generally think it’s a natural part of my personality as well. Maybe I get it from my mum a little bit. But just getting out of my comfort zone. And I think that’s something you need to really do early on in your career is knowing that you don’t know everything. And to be honest, I don’t today. And who is in your network and how can those people around you support the questions that you’re trying to ask. Which may potentially, from a work perspective, lead to an opportunity.
That definitely, I think, comes as part of my natural personality, but at the same time there was certainly some key takeaways from my studies at the time.
Jack: That’s a good gem for those developing S&Cs to definitely do that. Get out of your comfort zone and build your network base from early on in your career. It’s only going to pay dividends, for sure. And the fact that you were wearing these different hats, how did you go about building your PT business at that time? You mentioned you had sales experience at this point. Did that help with setting up some clients with your PT?
Matthew: Totally. It really did. I think that’s where a lot of my confidence did grow. In sales at the time, I remember, I think at Jetty Surf you had a target to hit $300 or whatever it was in a day. That was part of however you did that: it could be in shoes, it could be in clothes, whatever it was. So, I think that definitely did help, no doubt about it.
And then, obviously, the confidence that gave me to walk up to a new client, or potentially just chat to someone about training and their regimes and what they’re currently doing and potentially how you could help out.
But to the YMCA and to Ben Fletcher’s credit, back then he was building a really good brand and even today for where it’s at, because he’s definitely franchised that basically all over Australia now. But he had a lot of leads at the time and that certainly made our job pretty easy in terms of getting that. So, that definitely did help.
Jack: Awesome. And going back to your career progression, what was the next step for you? Was it a paid role once you qualified your degree?
Matthew: I think, looking back now, I was honestly pretty lucky to have the opportunity straight after North Melbourne, which was literally year after my internship.
I met the runner at the time at North Melbourne in Kent Hannam and he basically gave me a tap on the shoulder after a game, I think it was against Geelong, and said, ‘Hey, I’m working at Cricket Victoria also as an assistant coach and with a females program. And we want to try and bring in a fitness guy and work on our preseason.’
And as we know, cricket tends to start in the middle of the year and was getting to that point of time. I initially went through the interview process with David Bailey at the time with the Bushrangers. Cathryn Fitzpatrick was the head coach. And then, obviously, Kent Hannam and that basically evolved into a permanent part-time role.
Which essentially gave me really my first big opportunity at 22 to travel with, once you’re in cricket, these opportunities certainly do open up, but with the Australian national team. So, I got to go all around Australia. Back then I was very fortunate to head to Dubai and so forth, to play in South Africa and India.
And still today there’s a lot of certain Australian players that were involved in that team with Mitch Marsh and so forth. So, I was very lucky, I think, early on in my career to have that exposure.
Jack: And once you landed that role and you obviously must have interviewed well and presented well to convince the coaches that you were the right man for the job, once you were successful applicant, how did you go about preparing your first pre-season in that role? Was it leaning on research? Was it leaning on colleagues and picking their brain? Take us through your preparation.
Matthew: To be honest, to his full credit as well, David Bailey for me early on in my career was unbelievable as a resource. We had, certainly, Cricket Victoria at the time. Because I know that their facilities have changed now going across to the Junction Oval, but it was located in the MCG underneath the tunnel, which is amazing.
But basically we ran every Thursday morning a fitness session. And that was part of the commitment. I literally had to drive in on a Thursday morning for an hour, hour and a half. Obviously, train with the girls as well. And then go off and continue on with the rest of the day. So, that evolved into a couple of mornings or we backflipped it into a night and into a morning.
But I think from a running content perspective, but then also understanding the conditioning element, which then evolved into the application in the gym, definitely Bailey had a huge impact on me early on in my career. And I think in conjunction, no doubt, with PT at North Melbourne. Because I was just constantly bouncing ideas off those guys at the time and ended up even pinching a staff member in from one of the players at North Melbourne to come and help me as an assistant in Lee Harding.
Jack: Oh, awesome.
Matthew: Yeah, we continuously built that out. So, it was an amazing opportunity and I’m really grateful for it.
Jack: And you were in the gym as well as running the running sessions? So, it was both your role?
Matthew: Yeah, it was. And it was just because I was looking at the micro cycle in terms of how do we cater for non-professional athletes essentially. And you try to break down what is realistic, I suppose, for them in terms of strength & conditioning. And knowing that they’re probably, now there’s minimal effective dose, but there’s certainly some athletes that definitely want to do more. Which I absolutely gravitated and tried to construct a program that would allow for them to be able to do more.
But I think just the beauty about it was through the partnership, obviously, with Cricket Australia. We had a lot of guidance, particularly through Aaron Kellett. And the testing protocols that were coming down the line from a national perspective. That helps, I suppose, drive some of our buy-in, particularly with weight training and exposure.
If you’re getting assessed to go up into the international team from a pressing, pulling, squatting perspective, we know that we’re probably going to have to start investing in some of these key movements in the gym. And that probably stems some of the growth and, obviously, the application of strength training for where we’re heading from an athlete development perspective.
But knowing that, it still did have some constraints, unfortunately, because the girls were very time-poor back then. And knowing that they’ve only got X amount of time to go into a running session, then go into a lift session, you’ve got to be pretty organized and you’ve got to be pretty day on with your content that you’re going to give them. So, that’s only some considerations.
Jack: Yeah, for sure. You’re juggling many things with them, living in a life outside of the demands of training. And you mentioned you brought Lee Harding on. I imagine that wasn’t a role that was previously in place with the club. So how did you go about convincing the club to invest in Lee?
Matthew: I think with Turtle at the time, it was his nickname, he was definitely keen on looking at something post football. But clearly when you’re dealing with an experienced player like that, who’s played a hundred plus games in AFL football, he could bring a lot to the table, I think, from a leadership perspective, culture perspective as well.
And knowing that, particularly with me, if you’re out there taking the warm-up and you may have a rehab group over on the side and you’re trying to do, which we implemented, was hydration testing with urine sampling and so forth. And there’s all these other extra components, obviously, towards managing the program, you just need some form of assistance.
And I think the beauty about it was when Harding met up with the team, it was an easy conversation to be able to at least find something and certainly put it to work.
Jack: Okay, cool.
Matthew: Yeah, he added a lot of value.
Jack: And what was your next role after working in cricket?
Matthew: I had the football background, was definitely keen to get involved in football. And, obviously, outside of playing. But I knew that was probably coming towards an end as well in terms of where I was at athletically, as well as opportunity wise.
Jack: And so, you were still playing football at this stage?
Matthew: Yeah, was still dabbling in the VFL environment. I think the hardest bit, as clearly you know, is just the commitment level when you’re training three nights a week. And then, as you know, early on in your career with regards to strength & conditioning you’re trying to get an opportunity and you’re working nights and then you’re working mornings. It’s a really difficult thing to manage.
So, what I tried to do was just look at the whole broader picture in terms of how I was managing it. But then pulled back in particular areas and, unfortunately, football for me just had to give way. Hence why I ended up going up to the country to play a lot a football up there in order to manage my work schedule, which, obviously, was starting to grow in particular areas.
And that’s where I had an opportunity. It was actually through when I was personal training at the time, I had a come through on my university email at Lakeview Secondary College in Caroline Springs. They were looking to develop an athletic development program. And I remember just emailing the guy randomly, which was the head of PE, and basically said that, ‘I’m interested in your program that you’ve got. I’d love to find out some more information about it.’
So, emailed him, caught up with him. And then all of a sudden, honestly, it turned into nearly a permanent part-time role. And then he was also the assistant coach of the Western Jets Football Club. And, obviously, that conversation evolved and I ended up landing the head of performance in that football club through that opportunity. It just come out of nowhere, to be honest.
And that’s where I closed down PT business early on and I was just at the college working in cricket. And then, obviously, working with the Western Jets for that year in 2011–2012 and spent a year there. And I had a really good assistant in Jay Ellis, who I’ve definitely got to give bit of a shout-out too. He was just awesome for me at the time and I know him well, but great fella. We certainly learned a lot, I think, from each other back then.
I literally had a year there and that’s where really my first good opportunity came up in football. It was with the AFL Umpiring Department. That basically was a call from Jeff Gieschen back in the day and I spent literally three years there with the referees. And then that evolved, obviously, into my opportunities at Carlton and then North Melbourne.
Jack: It’s amazing. The move around that’s going on in your twenties, early on in your career. And you mentioned something that, no doubt, a lot of listening coaches are either currently going through or have been, where they’re juggling their athletic pursuits and their passion for playing sport and competing at the highest level they can, while still trying to grow, and it does conflict.
And I think you put it quite well, eventually. If you’re putting in hard work, your strength & conditioning pursuit will start to build momentum and you need to then strip back your other hobbies to support it. Was it something that was a no-brainer for you or was it something that you really struggled with and had to lean on some mentors on that decision making?
Matthew: I definitely wanted to continue playing. And going as long as I could at that particular level, I just knew it was unsustainable. And at the time, it was pretty early on, I met my now wife just after my 21st. And we were starting to talk about future at the time and buying a house and getting settled and so forth. And I think there was this reality moment around where are things going and what we’re trying to build.
And that’s certainly something that we just weighed up at the time. And I was like, ‘Well, I can’t continue to train three nights a week. Something’s got to pull back.’ Which worked out really well in hindsight. By pulling back in those areas, obviously, enabled me to really go more focused with regards to diving into the AFL Umpiring Department opportunity when it came up.
That was a lot of juggling. Obviously, when you’re starting to invest in things like property early on, it is a big arm-wrestle and you’re constantly thinking about those finances in the back of your head and how you’re going to support those people around you. And, honestly, couldn’t have done it without her and her support as well.
Jack: And going into the AFL umpires, I’ve never worked with umpires before. What does the schedule look like for them from a periodization point of view? Does it follow a similar load with AFL footballers, in the sense that they have a preseason, building them up and then getting them ready for games? What does your role look like and how does that work with the umpires? I imagine it would have to be fairly remote sometimes as well.
Matthew: Yeah, it was. I did get to do a bit of traveling around to each of the states as part of the role as well. Which was amazing opportunity, but just to see how decentralized some of the umpires are. And I suppose particularly with the Victorian set-up, you do have majority of the umpires that re either move into state and come to that particular setting because it is a real hub for it.
But I just had such an appreciation for just how much running an athlete can handle. I think it was really my key takeaways about the time. To see these guys running five, six days a week on top of getting through the matches as well in some cases, because your boundary umpires can sometimes be doubling up on a weekend.
So, if they umpire on a Thursday night and they’re going potentially again on a Sunday back then or at least backing up as an assistant to someone, if they go down with a cough or whatever. The running volumes that these guys were getting through was just something that was eyeopening for me.
Because I think, coming from that cricket background of strength and power, and you are looking at those shorter, more explosive efforts because really you’ve got that one pure acceleration with maybe one change of direction point in cricket. Now to see just how much endurance these guys can handle. I think this really gave me a good, I suppose, inkling into running and, obviously, endurance training, particularly at the football environment.
Jack: Was the squad similar to a football cricket squad in that you had your developing players and then you had your senior umpires? Were they all full-time dedicated to umpires in terms of they were professionally paid? Or was some of them still juggling a semi-professional athlete in the sense that they had other ways of making money? What it looked like from a finance point of view?
Matthew: They weren’t, obviously, full-time back then, and I’m not actually sure where it is today. But there was a lot of talk that potentially they would be putting a small cohort of them on at some stage to go full-time. But certainly back then they weren’t. So, they were having to juggle a lot.
We did have a lot of teachers like with Matt Stevic and so forth, Nick Foot, those types of guys. And then outside of that, there was a lot in banking. So, they were constantly trying to juggle. Obviously, they were fitting in their running. And where I started out was based around just pure strength training.
So, in the gym, to compliment what they were doing out on the field, we had as our head of fitness Peter Mulkearns, who was, again, really, really good to me. He was big on all things running volumes and gave the guys a really good insight towards his experience at the AFL level from a running perspective. And really trying to mirror the game demands as to what they need to do to not only condition the guys, but then also running patterns that were involved.
But then how we loaded them in the gym, I think, was something for me personally that we had to really think through. Because when you’re dealing with those sorts of running volumes and how much can they actually handle from a strength perspective was a really interesting task that I was keen to dive into it.
Jack: And so, what would be a typical AFL game, roughly speaking, in distance and high speed running?
Matthew: I was seeing some outputs with the guys back then. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of GPS units, but we had Paul Turk as a consultant to the AFL referees and he was able to lend us basically a few GPS units from football club at the time. And so, in the tracking that we were able to do back then, on our central umpires we were seeing around 14–15 kilometers plus and potentially depending on where they were, being central theater or so forth. But then boundary umpires were doing 16–17.
Jack: Oh, they were doing more.
Matthew: Yeah, but their high speed running was 3,000 or 4,000 kilometers.
Matthew: So, it just to have that appreciation for that sub maximal running component, I think, was something that really did tickle interest, I suppose, back then. Because they can handle a lot of high speed running tempo based work.
Jack: And hence why they needed so much volume in their week to be able to handle that. That’s cool.
Matthew: And then, obviously, from a strength perspective, really what we tried to do, I suppose, was just, knowing that the guys are pretty sensitive towards any change, as any athlete is, was really just think about the movements that they’re required to do. Keep it really simple, but implement a really movement competency based system in order to build that up potentially with some mode over time. But just trying to establish some buy-in.
Because the culture back then wasn’t great in terms of strength training, so that you’ve really got to think about how you can get the group involved in it. And then educating the group on the importance of it as well, to really try and protect their careers and potentially create some longevity in their careers as well.
Jack: It’s a good point you make with the buy-in factor. No doubt, at any time in your career, as a strength & conditioning coach, you’re going to face a population or a few athletes in a squad that don’t love the gym. They love the sport they play, but don’t necessarily love the gym. And you mentioned education. What were some successful methods that you’ve used in the past to, I guess with these umpires in this scenario, to get buy-in from the guys that don’t love the gym?
Matthew: I think, back then, we tried to lean on just some of the endurance research, to be honest. I’d started my Master’s through Edith Cowan University. And I remember looking at a lot of the endurance training, the strength training for endurance training back then.
But also leaning on Paul Turk at the time with regards to what the AFL guys were doing as a consultant. I think that’s the beauty about having a consultant come in and providing a second set of eyes to educate the group, but also work with us as practitioners.
Like looking at just the role of strength training in terms of running economy and running efficiency and so forth, once we established some buy-in with simple exercises. And I’m talking so simple, like a basic body weight squat, an in line lunge, an RDL, a calf raise, for under time or tention. Keep it so simple or at body weight. And then eventually we’ll start to add some.
And clearly there was some really good guys in there that enjoyed lifting. I’ll give you a shout-out to Brennan Hosking and Nick Foot. But these guys were really keen to invest in their strength training, because they genuinely think it did help them. And that probably leveraged the conversation amongst the group a little bit further.
Jordan Bannister, coming from his AFL background, and Lee Fisher definitely did help to get that buy-in further because they’d had exposure. So, you literally are trying to hit it from as many angles as you possibly can in order to get that buy-in with your group.
Jack: That makes a lot of sense. From what I gather what you’re saying, you’ve got to lean on the whole team: the consultant as well as staff that you’re working with. So, it’s a team message that’s consistent. And then you are not stretching the players too much where you’re going to lose them. You are keeping the exercises simple and having consistency with that, so they’re not going to feel like they’re hurting themselves. You’re sort of building up their confidence and they’re feeling comfortable with that, which would naturally build trust, I imagine. Was that your thinking there?
Matthew: Yeah, absolutely. And then from an injury perspective as well. Knowing, as we mentioned, the running volumes that the guys have to get through and looking at the types of injuries that were coming through, and Mark Fraser was our physiotherapist, and just having constant conversations with Fraser with regards to, ‘Well, what are we seeing? And how can we address this? How can we load it, knowing the schedule that we’ve got?’
Something we tried to do, I set it up very early on. A big proponent of Visual Coaching Pro. That utilize their system to be able to go in, create often a report or potentially an individualized report, as much as we could, based on pathology of the player and provide that as their injury prevention program. You’ve just got to work out where you can fit it in based on what days you’re running on. And knowing that everyone’s schedule is very different, at least they had something in place that was specific to them.
Jack: And were they doing the majority of their work behind the scenes? So, you guys were more facilitating a program and then they would run when they could and do their injury prevention program when they could? Or were there some sessions face-to-face?
Matthew: There was two commitments around the week where it was face-to-face. You basically had different times. We were starting in the afternoon for those guys, who finished up teaching, could come in. That was great, obviously, for my role because I could get there for those times. And then that backflipped into the nighttime crew, once they finished work and then were coming down to the facility. So they could fit in their brain program and then have a bit of a break and then come do their lift straight after it.
So, we were able to hit both ends of the stick. Or for some guys potentially, if they didn’t want to do that, obviously, you need to have a conversation with them. ‘If you’re going to do this away from here, take this with you. Here it is. We’re putting our full trust in you. Or reach out to one of us and we’re happy to go through that with you as well.’
Jack: Very good. And then, going back to your journey progression, you mentioned Carlton was the next stop after your three-year time at AFL Umpires. What was the contract? Was it full-time? Part-time? And what were your responsibility at the club at this stage?
Matthew: It was a full-time role. Which was great. And again, I was all in by then, to be honest, in terms of commitment. And that started off as a dual role between the Northern Blues as the high performance manager and then, obviously, pinch-hitting in with Carlton Football Club. It was basically…
Jack: Long days.
Matthew: Yeah, long days. But at the same time it was a wonderful introduction just to understand, knowing, I suppose, as a player, what the commitment is like when you’ve been at work all day and then you’ve got to go off to training. And then you’ve got to try to organize groups, like from a management perspective, I think that absolutely did help a lot, because the squad size were big. But I’d already had exposure to that prior to with the Western Jets and so forth, where the size is just humongous. And then that literally meant into an opportunity a year in, when we had a staff member left, and I just basically went all full-time with the senior program.
Jack: So, was that to the head strength & conditioning role?
Matthew: And I was under Joel Hocking at the time. Joel for me, honestly, is probably one of the best practitioners I’ve worked with. I know he has been on your show before.
But I think from a running education standpoint to really just look at what he did in those couple of years at Carlton, I think he’s certainly got to take a little of the credit. And I know he won’t because he’s very modest. But his ability to really look at the detail in the program and what was required to address, I thought was really outstanding.
But it’s more so just the coaching aspect. And that was probably something that when I sat down with him was just looking at, ‘Well, what do we want to achieve?’ And it’s like teaching these guys how to work on their instantaneous acceleration, how do we actually teach them how to run sub maximally, sprinting exposure, looking at those simple aspects of performance.
Joel certainly gave me full access and full brains, to be honest, to be able to dive into that coaching aspect. Which, honestly, I think, it’s put me in good step for where I’m at today.
Jack: And how did that work relationship function from day to day? Would you guys catch up in the morning of a main training session, talk about who’s running warm-up, who’s running the conditioning blocks and your targets, and then would you reflect and review it together post? Take us through your systems of communication.
Matthew: It’s a lot, particularly in an AFL environment, when you’re looking at modifications of guys going in. And the good thing about it is in most high performance settings, a little bit different over here, we can talk about that later on, but I think the emphasis in terms of the management aspect I definitely did see.
There was really big focus on that initial medical meeting in the morning that’s driven by various people. There’s, obviously, a rehab component, which is traditionally physios and your doctors. But then your performance manager, who’s really working in consultation with your coaching staff to go through the list. I won’t say roster over here, but to go through the list. Then work out who can do what and what modifications might be in the environment.
So, can they do a 18v18? Or if they can’t, why? Can we regress them out? Is there any other drills potentially that they can do, not necessarily taking them and shutting them down? To Joel’s credit, his ability to just think on spot and then understand straight line running that’s certainly something that the athlete might be able to achieve and try and prioritize getting in some actual work.
Jack: Yeah, it’s a juggling act between all parties.
Matthew: And to continue on with that. The extension of those meetings was just so fluid. Joel was coming up during training, checking in and asking like, ‘How’s so-and-so going? Who are you working with?’ And then just trying to have that dialogue, like where are we at.
Dan James was a colleague of yours at Melbourne Footy Club. He was my rehab physio. We were working with at the time and just constantly having good communication, I think between the three of us around, well, when can they go into these particular drills outside of that main medical meeting and where’s their progression at?
So, I really enjoyed that process and I think Joel, to his credit, was really collaborative around it.
Jack: And with the developing athletes listening into the podcast, Matt, what were some of your favorite acceleration drills? You mentioned speed out of the blocks and how important it’s with football and how you and Joel would come up with drills to improve that aspect of the game. What were some drills that pop up to mind that athletes could start practicing in their warm-ups or in their training sessions to improve that area?
Matthew: Just going really basic, like in a 1v1 contested situation. Literally just grappling, I suppose, with your opponent and then someone to cue you to be able to get out of blocks. Just working on that first one to three steps is really critical.
But then what I think is really valuable and what we tried to do was even further, was just filming. So, from side on, from posterior. Actually, just have a look at how you’re extending from the hip, knee and ankle and literally get someone to be able to have a look at that. And that’s where I think three point starts: a really good or standing starts or a rolling start variation. These are all fantastic drills to be able to coach those aspects of acceleration.
There’s a whole game up there. But Joel was a really big proponent of those first three steps. Essentially because at the end of the day you’re trying to get away from your opponent and we’re talking about really marginal gains in AFL, the competitiveness. And that’s where I think it’s really relative to the environment.
Jack: Then in your own personal role supporting Joel, what were some key focuses or key pillars that you found that meant that you were successful on each day of your role?
Matthew: Because I was trying to juggle a bit in terms of that role. I was basically out on the field, doing a lot of the mid to end stage reconditioning. And then outside of that was in the gym, under Stu Livingston. And then I was trying to do the running for a couple of years there as well. And I think anyone who’s done the running at the AFL level, to be able to get through those demands the older you get it’s…
Jack: Oh, you were doing the running?
Matthew: Doing the running as well. It’s certainly not an easy thing. It’s probably more taxing, to be honest. Like literally if I had been playing… But no, it’s a really difficult thing. Because the running loads and particularly the high speed aspect of getting a message and then going on and off the field at AFL level.
Jack: Is that when the rotations were higher as well?
Matthew: Yeah, it just transitioned to go from 120 down to 90. And it’s full on. Like it really is. So, I think it’s like having most opportunities. And I think the issue is, particularly with staff, is how you’re actually designing their roles and knowing the responsibilities they have to lock into. There is a lot that they’re trying to manage on their plate and look at progressions.
We all know it when you’re actually prescribing the writing programs and content design, there’s a lot of communication in your high performance environment to be able to make that decision. Whether that’s through injuries, as a player’s coming back; whether that’s through your sports scientist, to be able to have a look at your load; and then, obviously, your performance manager to look at that exit criteria saying that they can do 18v18.
Those are communication aspects, if we really go back to where, I suppose, it’s stemmed from, back in all those days, of being able to really communicate effectively in your environment.
Jack: A hundred percent. It’s so important. And also sounds like you were in all areas of the strength & conditioning: from warm-ups to helping out rehabilitation, to being in the gym, to being on the field, and then, obviously, working close with the coaches on game day, being the runner. So, how important is it, do you think, to be heavily involved when you are at a club in all areas from your own personal development?
Matthew: It’s amazing exposure. And I think that’s really where you do a lot of your learning, personally as well as professionally. And then, if you really have the strength & conditioning lens on as well on game day, finding out what really does matter.
And like now, I suppose, the position I have over here, when you’re comparing across AFL, across a multitude of sports, I think the physical and mental aspect of AFL demands is by far the most complex that I’ve seen in the world. And you are required to do multiple aspects of technical and tactical and physical. All in that 120 minutes plus of game time. And to endure for that long as an athlete, it’s certainly very, very demanding.
And I think it’s very demanding, obviously, for staff to be able to effectively say: is that athlete ready to play? When you’re dealing with so many different variables as well in the environment. Certainly, there’s a coaching component to that. And then, obviously, the physical aspect to be able to say: is that player actually in condition to perform 120 minutes of game time?
That’s where I think it gave me a really good lesson in terms of, even the background that I had from a playing perspective coming in, to really look at: have we actually done enough to prepare this athlete?
Jack: I think it’s a really good point. When you are literally next to the players on game day and seeing how challenging it is and getting that close-up eye and feel for it. What change did it do from your strength & conditioning philosophy, do you think? Or what evolved from that?
Matthew: I’ve probably got to give a lot of credit to Joel in that. It was just his ability to think of the game demands. And I suppose this is probably where GPS started in terms of location positioning, looking at the running patterns that a player has to run.
And he was really good at breaking down what those requirements are for football. And do we actually need to condition athletes the way that we have done before? Can we make it more the tactical periodization concept, but build those aspects of preparation actually into the training to complement the coaching staff?
So, I think that’s certainly a lot of credit to Joel. What I was able to then take into rehab as to how we condition the players and just making it as specific as we could for a forward, for a defender, for an inside midfielder that’s coming back. And making sure that they have had some form of exposure with regards to those movements that they’re going to have to complete.
And the challenge was particularly with the strong boys that you’re dealing with. I remember doing a rehab session one day with Alex Silvagni where I was going back with the flight and he literally sat on my head in a rehab session. And there we got a bit of a standing ovation from it.
And like you’re dealing with that type of player who’s just a bull at a gate with regards to everything that he does from a physical perspective. And you’re trying to make sure that he’s ready to do what he needs to do. Which in some instances is impossible to prepare in rehab because he’s only going to get that in a game. When he runs one line and he’s going straight at the ball as hard as he can.
Jack: Yeah, absolutely. And from what you’ve explained, this role where you were heavily involved in the whole program, it makes a lot of sense getting in rehabilitation at North Melbourne. Take us through your mindset with leaving Carlton and going to North Melbourne.
Matthew: That was an amazing opportunity, honestly. I think because Johny Siegel was the one who initiated that in one of my off-seasons and basically said that who was in at the time, they had a couple of staff that were just exiting. I can’t remember who off the top of my head, but I think it was Dan Meehan, a year before Steve Saunders had just left. So, they were still reorganizing their staff.
And that basically turned into a conversation with John around, well, he knew exactly where I was at in football. And then, because I had worked at North Melbourne back in the day during my internship and John was actually our consultant dietician with the referees, so we did have a good relationship in terms of that connection piece back then.
And he had worked in that return-to-play space for a long time previously and juggling a lot of hats and doing the running and everything else that come with it at the elite level. It was basically a conversation that started and eventually turned into something that I was really, really attracted to. Because I think this is depending on the experience of the departments as well.
Like there is some fantastic physiotherapists out there, that are trying to dabble into areas of performance, but just might not have had the same level of experience in terms of understanding game demands, looking at GPS, looking at all these other aspects of technology and performance.
And then we’ve got some S&Cs in the industry as well that can absolutely dabble into the return-to-play space because they might have one or two years of physiotherapy exposure, but didn’t like it. Then they went out to do exercise science in human movement or Master’s of high performance, et cetera.
For me that was an awesome opportunity because I got to deal a lot with the rehab guys and working with our physiotherapist at North and really just overseeing all of the running content design, which was awesome. So, I spent a few years there, till I made the jump over here.
Jack: And for those that aren’t aware of what the rehab role entails. Take us through what a typical day looks like and how you work with the rest of the team.
Matthew: A lot of communication. Obviously, a lot of organization with the players as well. Like you are literally living and breathing pretty much in their back pocket, particularly as it gets towards that pointy end of performance.
To their credit, the physiotherapy staff under Matt Turnbull, who was our head physiotherapist at the time at North Melbourne, just such a collaborative person. And really not only had been in the role previously, with him and Dan Jones, Matt was an amazing teacher of understanding the injury they were actually dealing with and then laying out that projection timeframe on some rough recommendations of yeah, the pathology and this is where it’s at. And then when we are talking about these concepts in terms of strength loading and really how that’s going to be progressed over time towards that core component of the program. And then eventually returning them to run.
I think, to Matt’s credit, the work that he had done at the Australian Institute of Sport, being under Steve in the AFL environment, he was fantastic at being able to sit down with each of our staff members from an S&C standpoint, and then just really map out what that continuum does look like. And then we’re just constantly having dialogue around it.
So, the beauty about it was like you’re constantly going through from day to day to assess based on clinical assessments with physiotherapy staff, and then you are constantly thinking, ‘Well, this is what I’ve got planned for tomorrow, from a running content perspective. Is it too much or is it not enough?’
And then really what we tried to drive was having like a main medical rehab meeting each week, either at the start of the week or the back end of the week, to be able to review what the projection is going to look like for the week. And then also at the back end of the week, looking at, ‘Well, what did we do well? And then what didn’t we do well? Where can we grow? And then how does that programming influence going into that next week of projections?’
So, it’s a lot of coordination, obviously. Outside of that, the Saturday mornings, like being able to go in and spend time with the players. Because the running schedules, it just happened to fall into probably one bout on the weekend. And then you’re constantly planning again on a Sunday to be able to get ready for the week, because we knew that meeting was coming through. So, the commitments are certainly very high.
And I’ve got to pay some respects to my wife for being able to put up with it for that long, to be honest. Because in some aspects it’s a very selfish industry as well. When you’re trying to work and manage kids and mortgages, it’s not an easy balance. And you’ve got potentially 5, 6, 7, 8 rehab players at the same time and trying to coordinate their lives. It’s not an easy thing to be able to manage. Hence why you rely on those guys around.
Jack: Absolutely. And how about the one-on-one time that you get with the athletes? And, obviously, rehab’s not a fun place for an athlete, they want to be playing the sport with the rest of their teammates. So, did you lean on, obviously, your rehab experience at Carlton and assisting there, but also maybe your personal training experience, that one-on-one coaching early on in your career, do you feel, from a rapport point of view and helping them from a mental point of view in support?
Matthew: Oh, absolutely. And the more exposure I got in the industry, the more comfortable you do get as well, in particular with the playing group. And I think it just comes with time and there’s an element of confidence that does do that. But it’s probably just the relationship side, that it goes to another level. And, to be honest, a fair bit of banter between players and then staff.
But that’s the camaraderie that effectively is part of our culture that we want to be able to encourage. And then that comes out in rehab and your coaching ability to be able to create an environment where it’s not all doom and gloom. But you’re just constantly looking at ways, to be honest, to even get the players out of the environment and train them off-site.
Because, particularly with North Melbourne, we were able to utilize Ascot Vale Leisure Center and a lot of the players lived around that area. I was in Strathmore at the time and could meet players down there to an early running session and then go into the club or just trying to get them off-site to keep them engaged. But just having that constant ability to think outside the square a little bit, because it’s not easy.
And one example I can think of that I had with a player, I’m sure he won’t mind me mentioning, but Ed Vickers-Willis, who done his ACL had a career with injuries. It is a lot to be able to manage and one day we just were in the gym with each other and going back and forth. And he literally pretty much broke down in front of me and said, ‘I thought I’d be back a little bit quicker than what I was.’ And then he’s obviously been through one of these ACLs.
And I think because I personally have been through it, to be able to have that emotional connection with him and just say that, ‘Mate, we’ve got 12 months of rehab here to be able to get you right. Let’s just remove you from the environment.’ And literally we went and grabbed a coffee. ‘And we’ll worry about training later.’
So, little things like that, I think, go a long way with your relationships and the playing group, to be able to encourage them to actually get out of the environment.
Jack: And you’re thinking of them more of as a person in that scenario rather than just the athlete.
Matthew: There’s a lot going on, like they’ve got contracts that they’re trying to think about in their careers, what’s next as well in terms of their progression professionally. So, sometimes it’s just identifying when that can happen and making sure you’re working with them individually to be able to identify it.
Jack: Well said, mate. Thanks for sharing. So, you made this shift over to America. Take us through your thoughts behind leaving North Melbourne and heading over to the States.
Matthew: I didn’t mention this just before, but when I did start at the Western Jets, I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to go in with Vic Metro squad as well. And we had a few players involved in those programs with Locklin Hunter and James Ceesly was just coming on board then as well. But Jamie Hepner was my guy in terms of my first real understanding of GPS application.
And he was the one I come over here in an off-season and literally got chatting to him about careers and everything. And what do you know? Basically, we got to the part of the conversation where this opportunity probably only comes up once to go and get some international experience. And this was certainly something that I was looking for.
And if I was going to go anywhere, I think that on the world stage the sport, particularly in the US, is the biggest and the best. And that’s certainly how that connection piece come along. And, to be honest, I’m forever grateful for what the exposure wise for what I’ve had to date from Jamie. It’s been an incredible ride.
Jack: Fantastic, mate. And take us through your role at Catapult. It’s a massive company doing big things. Like you mentioned, from the 1Hz GPS units back at the very start of sports science GPS to what it’s now doing. Take us through what your role looks like from a day-to-day basis?
Matthew: As you said, it is a big company. And I think, to be honest, I didn’t realize how big Catapult actually is on the global stage.
And I say that because when you’ve been working in the Australian Football League system for such a long period of time, and you really only know Catapult where you’ve got League-wide deals as well, to be able to see the growth of that internationally now and where majority of that market share is actually at, from Catapult’s perspective, on the wearables plus on the video size, is just being fascinated.
And, clearly, it’s only growing. But I did get asked that question a few weeks ago when I had a catch-up with the Science for Sport guys. But basically it’s very varied. And you can create it, I suppose, into your own little niche, similar to your thing. We’ve been running some webinars, particularly when COVID did hit us.
And then, eventually, when we got over COVID, I said with a couple of my sales guys that are having company over here as well, and really as a part of our, I suppose, sports science team, and we have about 8 to near 10 of us now over here that are in remote-based roles, ‘What are we doing to really grow the market from an educational standpoint? And how we can really facilitate these performance conversations?’
And what we tried to implement and, thankfully, the company was very accepting of that and was prepared to back us up with regards to implementing it, was workshops. And we had a couple of online Major League Soccer conferences over here so far. We’re hoping to do one of those in person as well.
In conjunction with the University of Louisville earlier this year with Dr. Lenhardt Rainer and Dr. Pat Ivey, we were able to run at the collegiate level space a really well-thought-through high performance collegiate level discussion on all areas of high performance. Not just Catapult technology, but what we’re actually doing to grow the market over time and, certainly, invest in our practitioners as well. So, that’s taken up a component.
And then the various accounts that I’m exposed to through the company, which is on Major League Soccer, and then into American football, I’ve done a little bit of work at the USA cricket team, and then a good handful of universities, has really led into more a consultancy opportunity for what I’ve been able to turn it into. And that’s any areas of periodization and return-to-play.
Next week getting ready to go and present to the head strength coach and head coach at Vanderbilt Football and on how they could potentially map out their camp.
Jack: Oh, wow.
Matthew: Yeah, that’s something that’s just around the corner over here, everyone’s gearing up for football. So, to be able to have the opportunity to do that.
And, honestly, since I moved over here, the collaboration that I had with Jamie Hepner, who’s our director of applied sports science, who looks after all our NFL accounts. I think he’s had such a big influence in that space for me, being able to look at game demands and then look at what’s required particularly for this sport in order to prepare. That’s something that I’ve just absolutely love diving into and we continue to grow out over time.
Jack: And I’m sure you’ve done this webinar on how to analyze game demands for a new sport, because that’s something you’ve experienced a lot over your career and now you’re currently doing it. On any given day you could be talking about soccer and then in the afternoon NFL and a whole range of different sports in one day. Obviously, you’ve picked up that skillset.
But there’d be video analysis. I imagine, there’d be speaking to key relationships in the sport from coaches, tactical technical coaches and the strength & conditioning staff. And then also, obviously, looking at the objective markers. But what are some of your, I guess, top three things that you’d recommend as sports science / strength & conditioning coach when trying to present to a head coach on understanding the game demands?
Matthew: I think what AFL did provide me with and the practitioners that I worked under as well, is just the raw ability to program. And in particular programming of running content design. That was one of the first things I did, particularly in getting over here, with the multitude of sports that I am now working with, is just to understand at the annual plan level, what does it look like in terms of their schedule. Work backwards from that to understand the micro cycles.
Because particularly in Major League Soccer, which I think has been amazing for me personally to be able to review in the environments that I’ve come from, but then also just look at things pretty differently now in terms of how we load and when we load and how much athletes can actually handle. And that’s where that ability to go program for yourself, but then get some feedback from that with the practitioners that you’re working with in your little network. And I just happen to have a really good one now to be able to call upon and bounce ears off.
That’s the beautiful opportunity about this role at Catapult that it offers for anyone who’s coming in. Because you’ve got so many different opinions and you can dive into any situation and conversation along. Which goes all the way through from the head coach spoke to GMs, all the way down to your physical therapist and your athletic trainers on load management principles, or just understanding Catapultat a deeper level. What the company is and what we’re trying to achieve.
I think having that ability, having those performance conversations to really look at the detail of what you’re trying to achieve and really have your own take on it philosophically as well, I think, is something that I’ve enjoyed with the conversations that have opened up to really dive into. Because there is some really class practitioners over here that, honestly, I can learn a lot from. And I’m hoping that I can contribute in particular areas for them as well.
Jack: It’s something that you mentioned off air, technology and software specific for the goalkeeper and understanding their game demands. I imagine you’d be in a unique position, which is great that Catapult’s investing in a role like yourself with your background, where you’ve got your finger on the pulse of what sporting clubs are wanting in terms of the tech and the demand from their point of view, and then you’re working with the company that’s creating that. What are some exciting things, do you think, that’s on the horizon or are you currently working on in terms of sports science?
Matthew: As I found out now working for a technology company, it’s just pushing the envelope into any areas of performance that we can. And I never thought I’d be doing video analysis and diving into components of that in integration with wearable data. And now we’ve got the capacity to do that.
I’ll give it a plug, but Match Tracker is now, I suppose, our solution in that space in conjunction with all of our other platforms. But Match Tracker enables us to be able to integrate wearable data with all of our other third party solutions into the one platform.
I think what that allows for the practitioners and what I can see in the industry unfolding as well, if I think back to my own scenario, based off doing the running account, is your ability to get access to those platforms. Actually go and educate yourself as a practitioner on why do we move the ball this way? Like our pressing or our defensive cover. What does our shape look like in particular areas? And then look at the spacing of that.
I think that is a huge investment, no doubt, for the company. But from my perspective to see the evolution of that. It’s probably been some of the questions where I’ve had to go upstairs to the analyst and literally say, ‘Can I grab the video to go and have a look at this guy’s injury for the weekend?’ Or they would be coming to us to get GPS data. But now it’s available essentially in the one platform.
I think it’s a huge opportunity for performance managers who are dealing with the head coaches with regards to their game plan. And, obviously, the rollout of that. That’s where I see it being really impactful. Because they’re essentially making those decisions integrated with each other.
It probably feels like I’m selling it a little bit, but I just genuinely think it’s going to automate components for these practitioners who are walking into those conversations with the coaches and they’ve already preloaded by right clicking. If that conversation comes up, work rate wasn’t good enough. Here it is.
Jack: And that’s why we couldn’t set up the zone properly.
Matthew: Yeah, spot on. You’ll probably see that like the biggest investment in regards of takeover certainly over these last six months and beyond.
Jack: That’s exciting. And how long have you been in the role for now at Catapult?
Matthew: It’s been nearly two and a half years now. Yep, two and a half years. So, obviously moved over here literally on the eve of pandemic. And it’s crazy how it’s got to this stage. It’s been amazing ride, mate.
Travel wise, as I was saying to you before, I’ve certainly done a lot over the last 12 months. I think we’ve had good 40 plus flights or so in terms of touching basic clients and working on projects and then just meeting and greeting people as well. I haven’t met a lot of these practitioners over here and I think it’s a part of the opportunity that Catapult provides.
Obviously, it is a business. But at the same time you’ve got that connection piece with regards to your practitioners to dive into any conversation that is going to help them utilize the full components of that technology.
Jack: And the last one before we touch on the last part of the podcast. You mentioned a presentation that you’re preparing for the head strength coach, as well as the head coach. There would be an element of pressure on a presentation like that, I can imagine. So, for those listening in that might be presenting for their first job or a new job or it could be an assignment, whatever it might be, where there’s a bit on it. What are some of your key focuses when you’re putting a presentation together like this one?
Matthew: It’s just knowing your room and knowing your audience. There’s no doubt about it. Thankfully, I have had this opportunity once before to present to this coaching group, which was amazing earlier on the year.
But I genuinely think keeping it as simple as it possibly can, but go into some detail when you’re required to. Because they’re going to want to hear rationale as how you actually got there. And I think that’s really the best piece about having objective data, to be able to walk into that conversation.
I still think there is elements of interpretation in it. But the more you can understand their environment, and that’s something so simple is like asking questions to them. And exactly what we’re doing at the moment, trying to create it more of a discussion based around performance and how you are actually trying to help them. So, I definitely see those areas being the main focus.
Jack: I like that. So, you are there to basically serve them and help them.
Jack: Which sounds simple, but that’s what the presentation’s for, ultimately.
Matthew: Yeah. I’ve definitely got one story based off that, which I know you would appreciate. And this is the beauty about it, but that exact conversation that happened really four or five months ago, sitting in literally a boardroom meeting with the head coach and you’ve got the head strength coach, you’ve got our sports scientist, that’s running Catapult.
And they basically just asked me to come up and we’re going to try and work through what our loading actually looks like in consultation with the coaching staff. And asked some specific questions based around what is Catapult, they’re investing in it. How can we actually utilize this to its full potential? That also in conjunction with medical staff and then your general manager at football.
So, to be thrown into that conversation, I was, to be honest, petrified a little bit, because I’m still learning elements of the game. But at the same time, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of load management. But what was really critical was for me to bring my practitioner that I deal with on a daily basis, essentially, into that conversation to empower him to go to the head coach.
So, what I did was try to open up that communication pathway. And basically after that conversation the head coach was walking down to his office downstairs and checking in with regards to what do you have recommended as a daily load plan from then on? It seems like coming from that AFL high performance environment, now when you actually take a step back and you’re like, ‘How can that happen?’
When you’re walking into this environment and then you see just the complexities of it and now to the amount of athletes that they’re dealing with and coaching sizes as well. I think that’s really critical to understand. And now that practitioner has just gone to the Carolina Panthers in the NFL as the head of sports science and coach Bellerose is classifying now as one of my guys.
Because he’s gone on, but at the same time he’s done really well as a part of his career progression. I think by empowering him in that conversation, he’s got a real seat at the table to be able have that conversation with the coaching staff. And I’m just some Aussie that have been able to open up that conversation.
Jack: I love that. That’s a great story. Awesome. Well, we’ll start to wrap up the podcast, mate. Thanks so much for sharing your journey. We’ll go to the lighter side of the podcast now, the get-to-know-Matt section. First one, and you don’t have to have one, but do you have a favorite inspirational quote or life motto?
Matthew: Clearly, as you’ve seen, probably just through the journey tonight, I think just looking at every opportunity and, to be honest, assessing and seizing every opportunity that presents in the industry. Because it is highly competitive, no doubt about it. And I think within your own little network, whether it’s family and close friends et cetera, which is certainly something that I weigh up at the time, you’ve got to absolutely assess those situations. Literally seize the opportunities and at the same time do it with real conviction and pride and perform at the best of your ability that you can.
Jack: And what about in your work life, do you have a pet peeve or something that fires you up, that you get angry about when it happens?
Matthew: It’s probably a few. I think now, it’s just the longer you’ve been around the industry, you are dealing with a lot of different personalities. Which you’ve got to deal with, that’s part of life as well. But it’s just knowing sometimes you’ve got to take a bit of a step back and really assess the situation and hear other people’s opinions that you’re not always right. That’s a part of management as well.
So, just being able to have that in the back of your mind to be collaborative, because some things are going to grind your gears. And probably it comes more from my kids at the moment with regards to managing them. But from a work perspective, you’re literally trying to deal with a lot, so whatever the situation might be.
Jack: And what’s your favorite way to spend your day off?
Matthew: I definitely used to like getting out riding, going catch-up with family, like being a country boy. I try to get back home to Australia, to be honest, whenever I could. I love going back and doing some fishing. And I still do over here. There’s a lot of mountain hikes as well, heaps of extracurricular activities.
I think when you’ve got kids on top of that, you’re constantly looking at your weekends and exploring what you can do with them. So, that’s certainly something we try and put a big focus on. But just as a family, as to how we actually manage that component of our life as well. Because we just get caught up in the day-to-day in terms of what we’re doing and sometimes we just take a step back.
Jack: Yeah. Fantastic. It’s a lot more hilly than Australia, that’s for sure. Great places to explore. Well, what’s on the horizon for you for the rest of 2022, mate? What are you excited about at the moment?
Matthew: Oh, a lot. Geez, the next couple of weeks. I’m off to Nashville next week to meet with Vanderbilt Football, as I said. But they’re also the soccer team Nashville SC. Two weeks after that I’m off to Portland and Seattle. And then the week after that I think I’m off to Philadelphia.
Matthew: Yeah, a little bit of travel coming up. But we’re trying to really I think look at the global stage as well as to how we develop our workshops over here and the collaboration between countries.
I think that’s a beautiful thing about Catapult is that we’ve got multiple countries and bringing people and connections together. Whether that’s with our EPL customers from a soccer perspective, football perspective, as well as the MLS and Bundesliga or in South America with our Latam region.
I think we would really love to try and develop something in person with our practitioners over here. So, hopefully, we can get the green light and get something like that underway, because I think it really adds some value towards our customers, as well as our practitioners from a knowledge perspective.
Jack: Oh, absolutely. And for those that want to learn up a little bit more or send in some questions, where’s the best place to get in contact with yourself?
Matthew: Probably on LinkedIn. That’s one I probably spend a little bit more time on, to be honest. That or Instagram seems to be, my daughter’s starting to have a look at that now.
Jack: She’s managing your socials?
Matthew: Yeah, exactly. Or email, obviously. I’ve got firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s probably the easiest. We can certainly share work emails and so forth as well, if they want.
Jack: Well, for those listening, we’ll add the links in the show notes. So if you’re driving and listening to this podcast, you can check out the links after you finish driving. But thanks again, mate, for jumping on.
And thank you for everyone that’s tuned in. And if you tuned in halfway through or maybe three quarters through, make sure to listen to the whole episode. We’ll release the podcast on your favorite podcast directory as of next Tuesday. And you can also find the recording on YouTube. The recording will be there as soon as we click off live in the next couple of minutes.
Our next chat is also with John Pry, which is this Friday, the 22nd at 3:30 PM. That’s Australian Eastern Standard Time, if you want to tune in for that chat. And if you’ve got any questions for John, make sure to send him through.
But thanks again, Mattie. Really appreciate you for coming on and looking forward to finding the rest of your career. No doubt, you are just at the very beginning, mate. Big things line ahead.
Matthew: I appreciate it, mate. Thanks again. You’ve done amazing job with this, Jack. So, all the best to you.
Justin has 15+ years as an S&C coach in the NCAA and NHL and is an expert in sports science, sports performance, nutrition, and recovery. Justin is now the Founder and CEO of Own It, a company dedicated to helping elite athletes and teams improve health and performance through the use of physiological data, behavioural science, and expert coaching. He’s also an author of 3 books.
Highlights of the episode:
How to develop buy-in for HRV
Duration for passive read of HRV for developing athletes
Leading HRV brands he trust for accurate readings
How to integrate HRV to a club and how to process the data from HRV
Jack: Welcome back to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ live chat show. My name is Jack McLean. I’m the host and tonight my guest is Justin Roethlingshoefer, founder of Own It. Justin has 15 years of experience as a strength & conditioning coach. He is the founder and CEO of Own It, a company dedicated to helping elite athletes and teams improve health and performance through the use of physiological data, behavioral science, and expert coaching. And he’s a publisher of three books. Really looking forward to tonight’s episode.
For those new to the podcast, 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 like the show, please show support by following us on Instagram and subscribing to the podcast. We are on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.
Welcome, Justin. Thanks for jumping on, mate.
Justin: I appreciate you.
Jack: Let’s get into the start of your career. At what age did you discover you had a passion for high performance and working with athletes?
Justin: It’s a story I tell often. Like most kids growing up in Canada, I had a massive affinity for hockey. That was my come-to-Jesus moment, I think. I was 13 years old, 12 or 13, and I was playing with 16 year olds. My dad said to me, ‘Son, talent will get you noticed, but consistency will get you paid.’ And from that moment on, I was really trying to be the most consistent version of myself.
Like what does consistency mean? How do I garner consistency? How do I get there? And the more and more that you hear, you get into the personal development ranks today, or you talk about the personal development ranks, and you hear all of these people talk: it’s what you do consistently that creates your outcomes, what you do consistently that creates who you are, what you do consistently that creates your results.
And I learned that at a very young age. And so, for me, it became like what can I control? Controlling the controllables. And at 13–14, as I continued to dive into this stuff, I was reading medical journals and understood the glycemic index and understood the Krebs cycle and how sleep was the key to recovery and how different brain waves would operate.
I would read everything I could get my hands on, when everybody else was just reading comic books or playing outside. And that really fueled me and it, quite frankly, became an obsession of mine. Like, how can I take what I’m doing, what I’m looking at, and create a massive change in my life to get to be the most consistent version of myself?
And I think that was the pivotal moment that I knew right away that I had a massive interest in health and performance. I had a real obsession for it. It was something that you didn’t have to ask me to do. It was something that burned deep inside of me that became a massive, like I said, just a massive passion that I was really, really brought to and that I wanted to know more about all the time. And it led to my educational career. It had a big impact on my playing career and, obviously, has shaped my entrepreneurial career as well.
Jack: Awesome, mate. Thanks for sharing that. And it gives us a good insight to your mindset. Pretty inspired. It started at such a young age. Apart from your father, who were some other strong influences in your career, as you were developing up the ranks?
Justin: There was a lot. My first internship was actually with Rajesh Patel at Quinnipiac. And he continued to fuel that fire, continued to instill those values and that need for education and need for wanting more. I remember, leaving there, going just like, ‘I need more. I want to figure out how I can be better and understand how to apply this at the greater level.’
One of my strength coaches that I had when I was 16, Carl McPhee back in Edmonton, again was one of those people that was more than a strength coach. He was somebody who was able to understand and really take health as something that lay underneath performance. And really shaped my mindset today that comes back to, and I say this all the time, is peak performance can’t be realized until health is optimized.
And knowing that health optimization is actually the key or prerequisite to peak performance. And so often we’re striving for this, this outcome of peak performance. We talk about this, it’s a buzzword. High performance, peak performance, the strength and performance, you name it. What is performance? And really, we can’t reach that unless our health is optimized, unless we’re truly healthy.
Bring in somebody who has the best long jump, can squat, is the fastest of the line, has the agility of a rabbit and put them in a game with a stomach ache, or put them in a game with three hour sleep, or put them in a game with food poisoning. They’re no longer at peak performance, even though you’ve trained them to be there. Health always underlines peak performance. And so, that was a big one as well.
And then Teena Murray at the University of Louisville. 2011 was when I was introduced to her and worked with her for just to shy four years. And it really changed my trajectory in terms of utilizing data and understanding data and its impact of health and health and performance, and learning how to create an integrated system, an integrated model where there’s your entire sports performance team is integrated and they’re working together, and allowed me to do that.
Like I said, at a young age, but almost 13 years ago, 12–13 years ago. And so, that was really what opened my eyes to that and was able to foster a lot of my own thoughts, beliefs, philosophies and use them in a practical setting.
Jack: On that topic of health and how impactful it is. And all it takes is as a reminder of, like you mentioned, if you are sick, you recognize pretty quickly how important health is when it’s taken away from you.
But when an athlete is feeling healthy, typically they’re at a younger age and they’re maybe in form and they’re feeling really good, but maybe you’re seeing some objective markers or you’re starting to hear things that they’re mentioning and that you can see signs that their health is starting to deteriorate, but they are still performing well at this point.
For the strength & conditioning coaches listening in, what are some tools that you’ve used in the past to develop buy-in from athletes that might be only focusing on those things that you’re talking about, the shiny performance side of things, and maybe disregarding their health?
Justin: It’s a great question. And anytime you can take something subjective and turn it more objective, it’s a big win, because that’s going to help with the whole buy-in factor. But the first thing it starts with is education. It starts with being able to have communication and conversations with your athletes about why health matters. And it’s not just giving stats. It’s not just regurgitating data. It’s being able to give practical and applied suggestions and information. Just like I just did.
Have an athlete recall a time that they had the flu, or recall a time that they had food poisoning, or recall a time that they were sleep deprived and they definitely were not performing at their best. And they were probably searching for like, ‘What is going on? Why can’t I..? Man, I feel terrible.’ No matter how well they prepared for that game or that practice or that tournament or whatever it was, they definitely don’t feel like they’re at their best. And when you can take that and turn it over into data, that’s where things really start to change.
And I did my postgraduate work in heart rate variability, sleep and recovery science, did a lot of work in the lab and then from the lab to practical application in real life settings at Miami. And then in Anaheim and San Diego. And being able to utilize heart rate variability as a metric of understanding how your body’s adapting to stress and strain is a great indicator of health optimization.
HRV is probably if not one of the most misunderstood metrics that we’re tracking in current day, in current, I guess, you can call it strength & conditioning or health monitoring. But when you look at it, at its core HRV is simply a language. It’s the language in which your body is communicating to you how it is adapting to stress and strain. That’s it.
It’s not a good metric. It’s not a bad metric. It’s not: my HRV is high, so that’s good; my HRV’s low, so that’s bad. It’s not a measure. It’s not heart rate. It is truly just a measure of how your body is adapting to stress and strain. And which part of your nervous system, the central or the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system, is being leaned on more.
And when we can understand that, we can lean back and go, ‘Oh, the body doesn’t know the difference between mental, physical, spiritual, or emotional stress.’ And since it doesn’t know that, we can now take an action step when we know what is actually working against us and how we can now start to create a little bit more change in that.
So, if we back up and we say, ‘Hey, I now have a metric that I can look at to understand how my health is being optimized. I know if I need to lean in a little harder, I need to know if I need to create a behavior change, I know if I need to create a different framework.’ That gives empowerment to our athletes and the moment you can empower them to make changes…
And it’s not just coach Justin or coach whoever, telling me that I have to go to sleep earlier, or I have to drink a certain amount of water, or I have to create a certain meditation or breathwork protocol, or I have to manage my stress in a better way, or I have to do anything that’s focused on that health optimization and for the health space, why should I buy in if I don’t understand why I’m doing it?
And yes, I understand that it’s quote, unquote “good for me”, but is there a way in which it can now be brought more to life? Something that I can actually feel, something I can actually see, something more quantifiable? And that’s heart rate variability. Because, and I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but this is like the big connection point.
HRV is the language that our body communicates with us how our body’s managing stress and strain. Our body doesn’t know the difference between mental, physical, spiritual, emotional stress. And so, it brings awareness to us if we’re being honest with ourselves about where that stress and strain is coming from and what changes we truly have to make. Because awareness is the first thing to creating change.
And change requires choosing different. It requires making a different choice. And unless we are aware of what that choice is, we can’t make change. Otherwise, we’re just blindly going through and choosing something that somebody told us, rather than something we’re aware of. And so, awareness is such a big thing, that education and showing the correlation between heart rate variability and those metrics and stress and strain can truly create.
Jack: I love it, mate. I experimentally visited HRV company a couple years ago and bought one of their devices, the finger pulse, and definitely played around with it. It was quite interesting, actually, during the pandemic, because, like you mentioned, mental stress can have a huge effect on your HRV.
And at that time I’d lost my role, so there was a fair bit of mental stress going on with finding a new job. So, it was a good time to try and measure that compared to a stable six months prior to it. And sure enough, your sleep changes and because of that tool, you do have a gift of awareness. Where maybe if you don’t measure it, you don’t realize as much that day-to-day changes that can be going on.
With the athletes that are wearing that, have you used it with a large scale of group athletes and how have you found it from a practical point of view in terms of time and reliability?
Justin: Yeah. It’s something that we do with, oh God, close to 60 different NCAA programs now. And again, the big thing that it starts with is education. Because you don’t want to be like Big Brother. For forever we’ve invested in your GPS monitors, your heart rate monitors, your force plate data, your velocity based training metrics.
And what I call that is your in-facility testing, your power tracking, your internal-external loading metrics, whatever you want to call them, but it’s really only looking at how you are performing or how you’re measuring stress in facility. And you might be there for an hour, two, three tops a day.
What’s happening the other 21, 22, 23 hours of the day? Because that’s where the recovery happens. And your athletes are not overtrained 95% of the time. I’d even bet to say 99% of the time your athletes are not overtrained, they’re underrecovered. And we have to be able to understand what is actually happening outside of that.
Are they not getting the quality of sleep that they need? Is there a lot of emotional stress, mental stress that’s being tacked onto the physical stress that we’re putting them under, and that’s pushing them over the edge, that is not allowing the recovery to happen? Are they not getting the shutdown time or the relaxed time that they need throughout the day, because they’re continuing on the go?
And so, being able to have a way to track and monitor what’s happening the other times of the day. That’s again, not this Big Brother effect, but more so an educational tool for the athlete to make those conclusions themselves. That’s where the change happens. That’s where the buy-in happens. That’s where the true mental, emotional, and physical change occurs.
Because it’s not your coach continually saying, ‘Hey, I see this is happening. This is what I need you to do.’ It’s the athlete saying, ‘Oh, I notice this change is happening again. This is what I need to do.’
Jack: And you mentioned the power of storytelling and athletes having an experience. So, would you have an athlete that had a negative experience due to being sick or run down due to poor sleep, whatever it might be, and then you marry that up with the objective data, and then going forward, they can start to see science before they get to that point where they’re run down? Is that the goal for athletes to be able to be proactive?
Justin: Definitely. So, if you look at it from a couple of things. So, number one is when you’re looking at your power tracking. You’re looking at your GPS changes, you’re looking at your speed changes, you’re looking at your heart rate changes. Anything that you’re doing from, again, just let’s call it the power tracking protocol that you’re following. HRV and health changes will always proceed that by about two to seven days. So, if you’re seeing a downward trend in HRV, you’re probably not going to see a power tracking change through two to seven days outside of that.
And if our goal is to prevent physiological changes, why would we not want to look at something that, ultimately, is a cause and effect of that physiological change? So we can catch it right when it starts rather than seven days in, to having some type of physiological change where it hasn’t been yet expressed physically.
But now all of a sudden we haven’t been tracking anything. We haven’t been looking at anything and we start to see maybe a content loading change on our force plate jobs, or a drop in eccentric load availability. We know, if we’ve got all of a sudden an eccentric load availability drop, and we’re talking about a soccer player, the incidents of an ACL non-contact injury goes up. Well, that’s not preventing anything.
It’s just looking at data and saying, ‘Oh, interesting.’ And then that athlete tears their ACL. You look back at that and go, ‘Yep. There it was. We saw the drop.’ Okay, great. You just proved your own theory. We just proved what’s needed to be there rather than being proactive and preventative in this by creating sustainable base level habit change and buy-in. And the way that we do that is by looking at, again, heart rate variability and understanding habits that are occurring within an athlete’s life.
And, let’s face it, when they come to school, when they come to campus, when they are 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 years old, they are children. They are children, and a lot of these kids are living on their own for the very first time. They don’t understand how to create their own bed routine. They don’t know how to create their own environmental changes. They don’t know how to structure a schedule. They don’t know how to allow themselves a release of the pressure that’s there.
And because they don’t know how to do that they tend to go down very dark roads. And this is where a lot of the mental health component comes in because they feel pressures that they can’t escape from. And the only place that is providing structure for them is their sport that they’re playing. Whether it’s a football team, basketball team, the soccer team, the track and field team, whatever it is, that’s the only structure that they get in their day.
And so, that’s what they yield on. But because they yield on that, they don’t know who they are outside of their sport. And so, it continues to come back to this level of identities, that it’s, ‘Hey, I’m Justin and I’m a hockey player.’ Well, no, I’m Justin and I’m a human being first. And let’s figure out who that human being is, so that we have an identity, a purpose, a mission, a vision, a passion outside of hockey, outside of whatever that sport is. So that when things aren’t going well there, you have another pressure release to eliminate the stress, mental, emotional, and spiritually. So that, ultimately, what happens, we can create the balance that needs to occur within the stress and strain that’s being applied to you.
And we can see that through heart rate variability. We can identify that. So, when you talk about these issues that are coming up with the mental health of athletes, when you talk about being able to look at the base level health optimization of athletes, heart rate variability is the key. Heart rate variability is your first step in education, it is what makes it long term.
It’s not enough to just start tracking HRV and say, ‘Yeah, this is that and we know it.’ It’s all about education. It’s all about education of your athlete, of what you’re looking at. And two, it’s all about education of your coaching staff and your administration to know how to create relationship, to know how to create rapport, to know how to create buy-in, to know how to communicate with these athletes.
Because I’m not going to come up to you and say, ‘Jack, this is what I see in your data. And we’re going to have to create a change.’ No, it’s coming up and saying, ‘Jack, how are you today? How’s everything going? Tell me about school. How’s school going? Tell me about what you’re doing in your house. How’s your family?’ Like asking questions. And when we use data to ask better questions, we ultimately get better answers that get us better results.
And if we’re expecting data to give us the answers, we’re far mistaken. Because we will never be able to get context from data. Context can only be yielded by human beings, and human beings can only ever get that context through communication. But by using data to help us ask better questions of those around us, allow us then to get a greater understanding of what’s actually going on, make better conclusions and thus get better results.
Jack: You mentioned your research on HRV and consulting professional clubs. For athletes that are listening in, that are pretty invested, maybe it’s the first time they’ve heard of HRV, what would be a protocol that you would introduce with the developing athletes? Is it a daily morning readiness? Is it three times a week? What do you think’s a good place to start?
Justin: Anything you have, we’ll go back full circle, you’ve got to be consistent with it. So, every single morning trying to get the same time reading. Ultimately, you’re doing it passively.
Jack: What would be your favorite duration, do you think? Doesn’t necessarily have to be optimal.
Justin: When I say a passive reading, it would be a device that’s already pulling it and collecting it for you. So, you shouldn’t have to lay down and collect it actively. So, there shouldn’t be a 3, 5, 10 minute protocol. Whoop grabs HRV in a passive way, while you’re sleeping. You wake up, you’ve got your HRV score there. Oura does the same thing. Quite frankly, Apple Watch does the same thing. A lot of your wearable devices, I mean, Polar, Garmin, Biostrap, they all measure HRV over the course of the night.
But you want to get your HRV ideally during that last sleep stage, before you wake up. As that’s where you’re going to be most parasympathetic, you’re going to be most relaxed in that state. And so, it’s going to give us a really good indication of how our body’s adapting to the stress and strain that we’ve been under for the last 24 to 48 hours.
And the big thing to come back to here, and I stress this often, is there is no good or bad here. Your HRV could be down, no big deal. Your HRV could be up, no big deal. It is in a trend line. We do want to see it trending in the upward direction, but we have to understand that this is just our body’s way of communicating.
That’s what I mean by it’s not good, it’s not bad. Even though the goal is to be higher, it is not a good or bad thing. It is just simply communication that we can then take action off of. Now, what is not great is if we see a downward trend and we don’t make any changes. But if we see a downward trend, it’s no big deal, as long as we do make changes, so that we can see the changes that manifest in a positive way.
The other thing I come back to all the time is HRV is not a performance indicator. You can wake up with a low HRV and have the best game of your life that night. Just because you’ve got low HRV doesn’t mean that you’re going to perform poorly. What it is is it’s a way for us to understand: do I need to focus a little bit more on my recovery today? Do I need to focus a little bit more on getting a little bit more parasympathetic today? Do I need to come around and focus a little bit more on myself today? Eliminate some of the stressors that are there that otherwise I might not be thinking about?
And so it brings, again, things to the forefront. It brings awareness points forward, so that we can start thinking about these in a more practical, tactical and applicable way that is going to create real change.
Jack: And of the different stresses that you mentioned, do you find that it’s quite individual on what stress will be the dominant one to have a negative impact on a player’s recovery? For example, someone that generally has poor sleep hygiene or maybe sleep is their main one that affects them, when you do ask them, ‘Oh, what’s going on? How are you feeling?’, and they say their HRV was down. And then when you get to more investigating, there’s a bit of a trend where it seems to be sleep, where others might be nutrition, others it might be mental stress. Is there trends or is it more just humans, we’re all the same and all the things are important?
Justin: I’ve got eight controlables that we often talk about. The eight controlables that impact HRV. Think about them as eight levers. The eight controllables are exercise, sleep, hydration, nutrition, immune function, environment, self-care and mindset.
And when you look at those eight controllables, each one controls or impacts HRV on a very high level. And so, you can use that as a checks and balances. If you see your HRV dropping, you can come back to a controllable and under each controllable there’s about 30 habits that are fundamental and baseline to everybody that they should have engaged.
Everything from sleep, you’ve got like a three to one roll. No food three hours before bed. No heavy work or decision making two hours before bed. No blue light one hour before bed. And then activating your parasympathetic buffet or your night routine during that last hour block. Hydration — half your body weight in ounces throughout the day. Environment — seeing the sunlight first thing upon waking up and then watching the sunset at night. And then being aware of the five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and auditory, in the environment that you’re exposed to.
So, all of these have habits that are underneath them. And the reason that there’s habits and there’s these eight controllables is that every single morning when you wake up and you look: ‘Am I trending upwards or downwards over the last week to 10 days? What of my eight controllables have I been focused on and made priority, and which ones have I not?’ And immediately when you start to recognize that and understand that, you’ll be able to go through, it’s almost like a checklist.
Yep, exercise was great. Yep, nutrition’s on point. Yep, hydration’s there. Yep, immune function. Yep. Yep. Yep. And then you get to the end and you’re like, ‘Man, self-care. I’ve done nothing for myself the last week. No wonder, I’m trending downwards. Because stress management is off the chart. I haven’t given myself time for breathwork. I haven’t done meditation. I haven’t even given myself some reflection time or quiet time just to shut my brain off. I’ve just been go, go, go, go, go.
You know what? Today I should focus on at least two 20-minute blocks of self-care. I’m going to go sit in the sauna for 20 minutes. Do some breathwork, some meditation, sit in front of red light. And then this afternoon in between class and practice, I’m just going to go for a walk on campus, or I’m just going to go sit in a hammock and take a nap or listen to music, or lay in the athlete lounge and just get some shut-eye or something like that.’
Like that becomes actionable and practical. You can actually do something about that and you can know it. And that’s how this system, or that’s how this process allows us to now have some type of action step attached to the data that’s there. That’s not coach Justin telling you what to do. It’s not coach Jack telling you what to do. It’s you as an athlete saying, ‘I want to own this. I want to take this behavior on because I understand the impact and implication that it’s going to have on my performance, and more importantly, my health, not just today, but long term.’
Jack: And you mentioned the different tools. Pretty much majority of people listening would have a Garmin Watch, or an Apple Watch, or maybe they’ve invested in a Whoop. It’s pretty accessible technology, it’s not all that expensive these days. Are there ones that you prefer when you’re consulting with teams and athletes over others, like from a reliability point of view? Or are they all generally speaking pretty good these days?
Justin: When it comes back to HRV, there’s two companies that are leading the way, that do a great job. One is Whoop and the other is Oura, on grabbing passive heart rate variability. Now, the other thing becomes, as an athlete, do you want to be wearing a ring or do you want to be wearing a wrist strap? That’s pretty much your personal preference at that point. But both of those are leading the way in terms of data collection, in terms of accuracy, in terms of reliability. All the things that you want controlled in a research-based environment, they’re doing it. They’re definitely leading the way.
Jack: And for the coaches listening in that are interested to get their athletes, or maybe present at a club about investing in some technology in this space, from a practical point of view, are you looking at it at a certain time in a day because you’re getting all the athletes do it in the morning? So, 10AM every day you’re checking in over it. Or is it more something that you’re looking at more thoroughly on a monthly point of view, weekly point of view, for trends of that athlete? Like what’s your way of processing the data?
Justin: It’s a really great question. So, within Own It, actually, that’s how we consult and work with a lot of our teams, is that one, we provide education to their coaching staff. We’ve actually got a full curriculum that they go through.
Educate them on how do we communicate? How do we create a more integrated system through athletic training, nutrition, strength & conditioning, your sport coach, your administration? How do we create that integrated model that everybody now has a base level of communication, a common language that everybody can lean on? And then, ultimately, what are you looking at when you’re looking at the data? How do you create these changes? How do you use the eight controllables and heart rate variability to ultimately set up your program for success and do things differently?
Second, we’ve got a team of 38 HRV (heart rate variability) specialists, people that have been at the NFL, NHL, Major League Baseball, NCAA, US military level. And we attach that person as a consultant for you that helps guide this. And then the dashboard and framework that we have is being able to not only recommend certain habits and controllables to athletes based upon their data. So, it’s, again, curated for them.
But the dashboard on the coache’s side is able to now see, ‘Hey, where’s the athlete A trending? Are we trending down over the last three or four days? Or are we trending up over the last three or four days? What controllables does this athlete have on? And what’s the habit adherence to these controllables and habits? Are we actually seeing positive changes in behavior change? Or are we seeing negative changes in behavior change?
Are we seeing a downward trend and we’re going to have to go have a conversation with that athlete?’ And, like I said, say, ‘Hey, how’s everything going from a family side? How’s everything going from a personal life side?’ And again, show them that you care because the moment that you’re able to lean in and really build this trust with the athlete, that’s where everything changes.
And so, that’s the best way to do it. Looking at HRV on a day-to-day basis can be very confusing, very difficult, because it’s a very variable metric. It can go high, it can go low. But what you’re worried about is the trend. Are we trending upwards? Are we trending downwards? For three days, five days, 10 days, two weeks, a month. We want to know where that trend is going.
Because again, we have to realize stress is necessary. We have to stress our bodies mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, in order to grow. The issue becomes when we’re stressing mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally all at once. And so, we’re stress stacking, which can break the system. Or when we’re stressing chronically, meaning chronic physical stress over the course of a month; chronic mental stress over the course of two weeks, three weeks, four weeks; chronic emotional stress over the course of a long period of time. That’s what causes the systems to break.
And so, when we’re starting to see these trend lines… And again, I’ve given this example. I’m somebody who’s struggled with mental health thing for a long time. My entire life, really. I talk about it in a couple of my books and where I’ve gone from. I’m usually this happy-go-lucky, life-of-the-party type of guy, but behind closed doors was dealing with deep, deep depression, suicidal thoughts through some of my younger years. And it’s not something that you ever get rid of. It’s something that you cope with, something that you understand better.
And in my life just recently, in the last month, actually, I had to step back in and create a focus point on my mental health. I was under a lot of stress chronically: through the business, through getting married, through my traveling, through the family. Like there was just a lot of things going on. And if you looked at my HRV trend, typically I’m up around 105–106 average, and for about two and a half weeks averaged about 47.
And again, nothing changed physically. I felt great, was training the same way, was still being able to output the same, wasn’t traveling any more or any less. But if I was to be honest, over the course of those two and a half weeks, I got a couple more coaches that I had to work with on the mental game, I went to see my therapist a couple more times, just was having difficulty coping with a few things.
And I had to take a step back from some of the things that were causing that stressor. And it all stemmed from for me that two and a half weeks was a hard mental health push. And by being able to recognize that, by knowing that I’m not broken, knowing that I’m not a bad person. It’s me being able to take data, be able to look at it, be able to understand it. And then be able to take action and, ultimately, put me in a much better place, a much greater operating place. And thus, was better for not only myself, but everybody else that I was serving. And, ultimately, that was closest to me.
Jack: Thanks for sharing. It’s great insight and the fact that we’re all on this journey, and it never ends, so you’re continually going to push the limits. And, obviously, we’re all growing, like you mentioned, in all these different facets, but you’re going to hit that ceiling. And then, once you’ve got this objective measure and that awareness through experiencing and growing as a human, you’re able to pull back before you really crash and burn, and get support around you. Like you mentioned, having a good team of coaching and then a therapist and expert to lean on.
Developing the tools, is that something that Own It works on with the coaches? You mentioned, consulting with clubs and working with the coaches. But is there workshops that people are doing to, once they’ve got the data and they’ve seen trends that they’re helping athletes, you mentioned how important education is on what to do with that data, so they can make decisions on that day and actually start actioning straight away?
Justin: Yeah, exactly. And this is something that we’ve been really trailblazing, is creating this new level of education, providing new education for not only the staffs, but then for the athletes. And it’s unique, it’s a little bit different.
So, with the staff, we’re focusing on understanding what the data is saying, understanding what HRV is, understanding how to communicate, how to create integrated teams. And then understanding what to do with the information once you have it. And how to build that integrated system and integrated team from your different coaches, how to have those conversations, how to make sure there’s a therapist team there.
So, like, how does the nutritionist, how does the athletic trainer, how does the strength coach, how does the sport coach, how does the administrator, and how does the mental health therapy team all work together, so that it’s not, ‘Oh, go see the therapist.’ It’s like, ‘Well, there’s nothing wrong with me. I don’t need to go see a therapist. Let me work through this first and understand that when I choose to go talk to somebody, it’s there.’
If we were all to put ourselves back in an 18, 19, 20-year-old’s shoes and somebody was to tell you, ‘Hey, you need to go see a therapist.’ What’s the first thing you would say?
Jack: Yeah. You’d be like, ‘Oh, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.’
Justin: ‘Absolutely not. I don’t need to talk to anybody.’ And at no point was I mature enough, I don’t know if anybody else would agree, but at no point was I mature enough to go put my hand up and say, ‘Oh, I need to go talk to somebody.’
I just wanted to talk to somebody that I trusted. I wanted to talk to somebody that I had a relationship with. I wanted to talk to somebody about these things. Just talking. We know it gets a lot of the stress and pressure off. It’s like you’ve got a pressure cooker and it’s like you’re keeping it inside. And it’s just building and building, and building, and building, and building, and building. But the moment you release that pressure valve, everything goes away.
And it doesn’t solve it. It doesn’t create the solution you’re looking for. But by just being able to talk to somebody and get a lot of this stuff off your chest and be able to trust that person, which can be any one of those people in that space: your support coach, your athletic trainer, your strength coach, your nutritionist, your administration, whoever it is in that space that you’ve created a good solid relationship with, that can help lead and be the catalyst to going and speaking to that therapist and can be that guide. And so, that’s where we teach and educate the staff with.
And then, from the athlete side, it’s really unique because we focus more on human development, more on personal development, more on who you are, what your passion is, what your identity is. So, knowing yourself beyond the athlete, that your worth is beyond that athletic gift that you have. What’s your passion? What are you excited about? What do you truly want to do?
It was amazing. We were chatting with an athlete the other day. I see this nine times out ot ten. And I was sitting on the other side and I was like, ‘So, Jack, who are you?’ And the athlete would go, ‘Well, I’m a basketball player. And I work really hard and I’m a great teammate. Yeah, I’m a basketball player.’ And they went on for about five or six minutes very similar to that: talking all about their basketball skills, talking about all the things they do from the sense of a basketball team and a basketball player and a basketball court.
And at the end, I was like, ‘That’s amazing. You just told me so much about what you do. But I want to know who are you?’ And he could not answer the question. And it happens nine times out of ten. And that’s where a lot of this goes awry. Because imagine now that athlete gets hurt. Or imagine now it’s senior year and there’s no NBA draft for this player. All of a sudden basketball’s gone. Or three years into their academic career, they still don’t know who they are.
Thus they’re being asked all the time. They’re being asked the wrong question. It’s like, ‘What are you taking in school? What do you want to do?’ Well, how can I figure out what I want to do when I still don’t know who I am? I still don’t know what makes me tick. I still don’t know what my passion is. I still don’t know what any of these things are.
And by doing this and by educating the athlete on who they are, their identity, a lot of personal development, and then understanding base level habits and educating them on how to create this healthy environment for themselves, these healthy baseline habits, you are going to help them be a better human being. And it goes back to what I said: when you have great health, that’s the precursor to great performance; when you know who you are, and you’re a great human being, it’s a precursor to great performance. So, focusing on these things, all of a sudden creates a greater outcome.
Another example, like real life that manifested a week ago, was Oklahoma University, their softball team. Their coach, who has been trailblazing this, created a change in what their focus was. And it was a low pressure environment that focused on human development, focused on helping people identify who they were. And she actually made their starting shortstop the queen of softball. We’re talking like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa type stats from this individual, she’s national team player for softball.
She made her step away from the game of softball last year for three weeks to figure out who she was, to understand who she was outside of softball. She did a lot of internal work, a lot of struggle. It was hard, hardest work she’ll ever do, but most rewarding work she’ll ever do. Because she stepped away from the game. She figured that out. She had support. She had people there helping her. And when she came back, she was not only a better teammate, but a better player, mentally more aware, mentally more healthy, felt so much better.
And they just won the national championship. They’re the best team in college softball. And the reason I tell that story is you don’t have to choose human and health development over athletic success. They’re one and the same. And quite frankly, if you go down the health and human development side, you’re probably going to get a better athlete, a better team.
Jack: More sustainable, isn’t that? Sustainable success.
Justin: At the end of the day, a hundred percent. Because it’s a true culture shift.
Jack: And going back to your career journey for a second there as well. So, you spent over a decade in elite sport yourself. For the strength & conditioning coaches that are tuning in, what are some of your favorite ways to develop your own knowledge and not only from a science point of view, but also practical communication skills and programming application?
Justin: To be honest with you, a lot of the communication that I have is with my colleagues, with my mentors, speaking with people like Joel Jameson and Teena Murray on a regular basis that you can continue to keep checks and balances in that space.
But all my continuing education, all of my continuing development has all been, to be quite honest with you, and this might catch people by surprise, but it’s been getting out of strength & conditioning. Getting out of these little silos that we live in and understanding the personal development side. Going down and understanding the work of Steven Coulter and the way in which our bodies work, the way in which our minds work, the way in which we get into the zone.
Reading a lot of Dan Sullivan’s work on leadership and how to build organizations, how to build structure, how to build self-development. Getting deep into Tony’s work, Tony Robbins’s work, and Dean Graziosi and Dan Martell, and all of these guys that have found success. This is where I’ve been able to develop myself.
And people ask me all the time, like my priority of hierarchy. And it took me a long time to figure this out, but making sure that my priorities are: my faith — number one, myself — number two, my marriage — number three, my family — number four, my business — number five. And the key here is that priorities are not time.
By far I spend the most time on my business. But when I talk about priority, it’s I never miss date night. I’ll never miss a dinner with my wife. I’ll never miss reaching out and FaceTiming with my family on a special occasion or birthday. I’ll never miss the Sunday afternoon, our Zoom call with my mom. That’s a priority. Those are things that I do not negotiate with. I never miss my morning and prayer session and leaning on my faith at all times. Faith always wins.
By doing that and creating that structure has allowed me to make sure that I can develop myself in the best way possible, so that I can continue to serve, continue to create, continue to show up as the best version of me. And when I do that, I’m able to continually help develop people around me. And it goes right back to that understanding of self-development, human development, knowing who you are at the end of the day is the ultimate performance enhancer, health is the ultimate performance enhancer.
And if we can do that and we can educate on that, we can speak to that and we can talk to that, we are experiencing that our selves becomes true. It becomes realized, and it becomes real. And we talk all about living in alignment with what we’re preaching, what we’re talking about, what we’re educating on and how we’re guiding. It’s not just about eating the right things, getting the protein shakes in and training the right way and having our athletes see that.
But it’s like, no, are we valuing our sleep? Are we valuing our families? Are we showing up the right way for ourselves? Are we showing up the right way for our spouses, for our kids? Are we living life aligned with high values? Like, are we doing all these things?
And when we can say yes, wow, does that take a load of mental and emotional stress off of you, the coach, the practitioner. But also what an amazing role model, what an amazing coach, what an amazing mentor that you are able to be for those people that you’re wanting to coach and guide along the way.
Jack: And for the entrepreneurs or small business owners, those that have created their own startups, you founded Own It. I imagine you didn’t have 38 employees at the start. How did you go about juggling all the different hats of the current business owner in terms of online digital marketing, obviously, bringing new leads in, getting building, your sales experience and then also, obviously, a great product and a great service? So, at what point did you start delegating and bringing in a team around you? But for the early days, how did you go about managing all the different hats that you need?
Justin: That’s a great question. It’s one of those things that, again, a lot of people are not going to like the answers, but it comes back to patience. It comes back to being willing to sit in it, be so convicted in what you’re doing that you are willing to have patience. Because you know that you’re going to win at the end of the day, because what you’re doing is so needed, is so purposeful, is so intentional.
But if I was to create organization with my thoughts of what I’m trying to say here, is number one — focus on service. Make sure that what you are doing is providing massive value and focus on how you are serving your end customer. If there’s value there, if you’re truly providing value and a high-end service, you’re going to win at the end of the day. It’s just going to take a little bit of time.
Number two is make sure that it comes down to who and not how. You don’t have to understand how you’re going to get there. Understand who is in that seat, who does that better than you. To be honest with you, I don’t do a lot day-to-day within the business anymore, because there’s people that do it better than I do.
I create the vision. I create the strategy. I create the energy behind it. I have the master plan that I communicate with my team to, and everybody else helps to implement, everybody else helps to direct it. Everybody helps to do it because they do it better than me. That’s just straight up, the way that it happens. And when you know that, it takes a big load off.
The other thing is making sure that, you have to develop yourself, you have to develop the patience and willingness to stay in it. And you do not have to be better than the competition, you have to be different. I’ll say that once again: you do not have to be better than the competition, you have to be different.
I read a book. It was right when I was starting Own It. And first probably six–seven months, I was like: how can I stand out? Like, I know that we are doing things differently, but I don’t know how to break out from what we’re doing if that is truly being different. And when I read this book, it said two things are the keys to marketing.
One — you are first. So, you’re first in a category, like you are Starbucks. Starbucks was one of the first that did coffee that way. Well, Starbucks wasn’t the only coffee place. So, somebody else came after them. They didn’t make better coffee, they did it differently. And so, if you can do things different and you can show that you’re different, that’s where people are going to align to you and you’re providing massive service, you’re providing massive value.
And then changing your mindset on how long it’s going to take is another one. If I said to you, ‘Jack, you know what? You’re going to be successful. You’re going to win. But you’re going to have to fail 50 times before you get to where you want to be.’ What would you do when you got your first failure?
Jack: Keep going, so you get to the second.
Justin: Exactly. You’d want to fail faster. ‘Yes. All right, first one. All right, where’s my second one?’ You’re going to try something else. Somebody’s going to say no to you. ‘Amazing. Yes. Thank you. High five. You’re my second one. I’ve got 48 more.’
You go down, you talk to more people. You’re going to start creating more. You’re going to start doing more. You’re going to start taking more action. You’re going to start failing faster. You’re going to start having faith forward. I call it ‘faithing forward’, where you just have so much faith and belief in what you’re doing, that you’re going to win at the end of the day, because you are just consistent.
It goes back to what my dad said, ‘Talent will get you noticed, but consistency will get you paid.’ I don’t care what that payment is. If it’s personal fulfillment, if it’s financial, if it’s getting that spouse you’ve always looked for, I don’t care what it is. But being consistent will always get you to where you want to be.
And that’s the unique part about this is you stay in it long enough, you continue to do things day in and day out that lead to that championship mentality, and you are going to win.
Jack: That’s awesome. It’s a great framework. Thank you for sharing that. And in terms of highlights, going first with biggest challenge that you’ve had since being a business owner and what did you learn from it, and then we’ll go into highlights in terms of things that you’re proud of. But what’s been the biggest challenge so far in your career?
Justin: To be honest with you, it was this, a bit vulnerable here, but being able to have what I just talked about, have the patience to step back. I’m not a patient person by nature. I want everything yesterday.
Going right back to my athletic career, I wanted to make that AAA team. I made it, great. I wanted to be on that junior team. I made it, great. I wanted to get that scholarship. I got it. I want to play pro. Then all of a sudden going to my educational career. I want that undergrad degree. I want that Master’s degree. I want that certification. I want my massage therapy license. I want that nutrition certification. I want my doctoral research.
I always want to be five steps ahead of where I am. I’m a graduate assistant. I want to be a head strength coach. I want to be a director. I want to be in the NCAA. I want to be in the NHL. It was always like, ‘Okay, step forward, step forward, step forward.’ And never enjoying the journey, never enjoying the process.
And in one of my books, I talk about getting to the NHL was my ultimate failure, because I continued to have success with no fulfillment and I was not fulfilled in what I was doing. I wasn’t happy in what I was doing. I was successful on the outside. Looking in, everything was great. But because I wasn’t enjoying the process, I wasn’t there on the journey.
Jack: Always chasing your next step.
Justin: Yeah. The passion that I had for it dwindled because of that. And that, I think, is the hardest part for me. And I still battle with it every single day. To stay on the path, to be where your feet are. And, ultimately, when you do that, you can back up and understand that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. And that the whole excitement about everything is the process. The whole fulfilling part of it is the process.
It’s not exciting long term, when you sell your company for $10 million. It’s not exciting when you all of a sudden sign that NHL contract. It’s cool. It’s a milestone, but guess what? You’re going to wake up the next day the exact same person that you went to bed the night before. And you’re going to wake up in the morning and there’s going to be something new that you’re going to be looking for.
And it’s the journey that you’re on. It’s the process. It’s showing up and falling in love with the process that’s going to allow you to be successful long term. But more importantly, allow you to be fulfilled while on that journey to success. And you will never peek out. You’ll never reach the summit of your mountain.
The summit of your mountain ends when you die. Up until that point, you’re on a continual climb. And if you love that climb, if you love that journey, if you fall in love with that, and you continue to be consistent with your day-to-day pieces that you need to do, man, life will give back to you 100 hours.
Jack: I love that. And what about on the flip side, some highlights that you look back on fondly?
Justin: To be honest with you, the mentors and relationships that I’ve built along the way. If I did anything really, really well, that’s just a God-given talent, is building quality relationships. And I can’t replace those with anything. So, that’s probably number one.
And then number one B, I guess you could say, is now being able to run a company, run a business that’s global, that impacts millions of people, but doing it with my wife, who’s my best friend. And so, I think that’s a big aha moment, a big fulfilling moment. And something that is just really impactful and powerful.
Jack: And it would be remiss of me not to ask, how is it working with your wife? For those that are listening in, that might have the same dynamic where they’re working with their loved one. I imagine it has its fair sets of challenges, but also its rewards.
Justin: You’re a hundred percent correct. It was a learning curve. It took time to understand how to do it. Because, especially over the course of COVID, where you live together, you work together, you cohabitate together, you’re quarantined together, you’re isolated together. So, you really don’t escape anything.
But, to be honest with you, it’s amazing, because our lives are so intertwined. We’re invested in each other’s lives. It’s not, ‘Oh, how was your day? How was work?’ ‘Oh, it was good.’ ‘Okay, cool.’ No, like we know everything, so in depth about one another, it’s incredibly rewarding.
What we did have to do always create specific boundaries. And what I mean by that is making sure that once a week we have date night. Once a week and it’s non-negotiable, we have date night, it’s Thursday night. Whether we have friends in town, whether we have family in town, whether it’s a holiday, whatever, non-negotiable. Date night happens Thursday night. And it’s something that we don’t bring the dog with us. We don’t talk about work. It’s just about us and our relationship and the intimacy that’s there.
Once a quarter we have a staycation. So, I plan two a year, she plans two a year, where we have a completely work-free weekend. Saturday and Sunday. It usually starts around 10:00 AM noon on Saturday and goes until Sunday afternoon, evening. And so, it’s just, again, focusing on our relationship, focusing on us. And then twice a year we have a technology-free weekend, where we just focus on, again, each other, technology’s away.
And, if you see the pattern, it just gets a little bit deeper, a little bit more intimate, a little bit more focused on one another to be able to put these things in place. And during one of those tech-free ones, we set up our schedule for the following year, really, when it comes to our relationship. So, what did we accomplish this past year? How are we feeling? Where do we want to go? We do this for our business. So, why would we not do this for our relationship?
And that’s what’s kept it not just functionable or functioning, I guess you could say, at a very high level, but also what’s allowed it to thrive. And when I talk about it, it’s our relationship. Because it would be very easy for it to get lost in the business and lost in everything else that we’re doing. And that’s where I go back to what I talked about in terms of priority, it’s not about time spent.
If we talked about where we spend our most time, it’s on our business. We spend a lot of time on our business. But these priorities, these things, these weekly non-negotiables of having dinner together every night and having a date night every single Thursday, and these quarterly weekends and two weekends a year that we shut off completely and then plan for the following year, that shows that I value and cherish her, she values and cherishes me, and that this relationship is something that we want to keep on fire.
Now, was it perfect? Not by any means. But the reason that we have these frameworks is that we can go back to something when things get tough or things get hard, or we are not as consistent with saying the things that the other person needs. And it holds us accountable.
Jack: And from a leader’s point of view, managing a team, how often would you catch up with all your employees? I imagine it would have to be remote. If that’s the case, how often would you see everyone every year face-to-face? Talk us through meetings and how you guys stay connected.
Justin: Yeah, really good. So, creating culture in the company was something that we were really focused on, it was a high priority for us. Because again, the culture is what breeds everything.
And so, we do a weekly touchpoint every Monday morning with our entire team. It’s about 15 minutes long. Get everybody on the Zoom call, see how everybody’s weekend was. And it has nothing to do with business, actually. Everyone goes around, says one thing they’re grateful for, one highlight, and one thing they need help with. And we do that every Monday.
And then we’ve got a Slack channel that everybody’s communicating with on a regular basis. And then once a month we do an all-hands. And this one’s all business focused, making sure that we know what’s going on, we know where we’re going, we know where the growth is, we know where the opportunities are.
And then twice a year we will meet in person. And we usually do one around Christmas time. People will come either down to Miami and we’ll bring everybody in and do a weekend party type of thing, where one day is more fun and enjoyment, the other day is more business and vision. We’ll do that twice a year.
And then we also have two retreats that we hold for clients and customers in different places. We’re doing one in September in Mexico. We just did one in February in Costa Rica. And we opened that up to our employees if they want to come, and our team, if they want to come, they’re more than welcome to. So, another opportunity to see in person.
But the weekly touch base. What are you grateful for? What happened over the weekend that you’re excited about and what do you need help with? And then a monthly all-hands, business focused. And then twice a year in person. And then the option for the retreats.
Oh, the other thing we do is twice a month, every other Tuesday at 10:00 AM, we do a live-streamed workout together. And somebody within the group, within our team leads it. And it’s just fun for us to work out together. We don’t make it at 7:00 AM where you have to get it done before. No, it’s in the middle of the workday, when everybody should be working, but we’re saying, ‘Hey, this every second Tuesday, at 10:00 AM, 10 to 11, this is a break for you to go and work out, and get active, and see each other virtually.’
We all have team jerseys, team uniforms, that we wear that day. And again, it’s just different things that we do for the culture that in a virtual environment you have to be a little bit more creative.
Jack: Absolutely. That’s great. And great touchpoints and themes. In terms of productivity, you can tell you get a lot done. Like you mentioned, over your career that’s something that you’ve always strived onto the next thing.
For someone who wants to improve their productivity throughout their day to help their business or performance with sport, whatever it might be, do you have a focus on each day, like maybe a Marketing Monday type of approach? Or do you schedule things throughout your day in your calendar? Do you have an assistant that does that for you in terms of your meetings? Talk us through how you allocate your days.
Justin: If you’re looking to become more productive, just become more consistent. That’s the number one thing is making sure that there’s a massive level of consistency. And when I go back to my hierarchy of faith, myself, my marriage, my family, my business, making sure that you put things on the calendar in that order.
I guess, everybody’s seen the YouTube video of the professor putting the big rocks into the cup first. And when you put the big rocks in first, there’s always room to put the pebbles in around it. And that’s what we end up talking about with the business. There’s always room for business, always. But making sure that there’s room for everything else first. And so, for me, I go back to also who not how, and making sure that the right people are in the right seats.
So, I have a pulse on what’s happening with marketing, but by no means do I spend energy on that. I invest my energy in places where I can really have impact. And that’s in speaking, doing podcasts like this, being exposed to people in garnering the mission, the vision, business development, things like that. That’s really where I spend and invest most of my time and energy. And making sure that the team is valued, feeling that passion and that they’re on the same page.
The unique part about it is that my days are extremely consistent. I’ll wake up every day around 6:15. And I’ll get up immediately. I’ll go spend time in the red lights. I’ll pray. I’ll meditate. I’ll go do a 30-minute zone 2 ride from there. I’ll get my workout in. I’ll go from there into a cold tub and the steam and sauna. I’ll come upstairs, I’ll shower. I’ll get an hour of deep work in. Deep work is a lot of my ideation time, my visioning time. I’ll grab a quick bite of breakfast.
Jack: Is that like you’re in a journal? The deep work, is that pen and paper?
Justin: No, it’s usually on my computer, but my deep work is planned out. So, I’ve got like a working list that I’ll create at the end of my day of like, ‘Hey, this is something that I want you to do during your deep work.’ It’s like figuring out what a new part of a curriculum might be, or ideating on something I heard in a podcast or one of the books that I read. And it’s like, ‘Hmm, this is great. I want to learn more about this. I want to really dive in and put more of this to work.’ And so, being able to continue to develop and create that space.
And then, to be honest with you, between usually like 10:30 and 5:00 is all used on business development, relationship building and having those types of meetings and conversations. And then at 5:30–6:00, I’m usually shutting everything down. I give myself a 30 minute brain dump window at the end of the day where I write down anything that I want to do in my deep work tomorrow.
Anything that I have like a to-do thing, any ideas that I have going on, so that I can leave them there and park them there. And when I go start making dinner and sitting down with Alyse at about 6:30–7:00, it’s just us at night and it doesn’t boil over and lean into everything else.
Jack: How long did it take you to get to that point of being disciplined?
Justin: To get to that level of structure and organization?
Jack: Yeah. And sticking to it. Like you talked about the importance of consistency. Like it could be so easy just to turn that 6:00 wind-down to 10:00 PM.
Justin: Yeah. To be honest with you, it’s always iterating in terms of what I do or what I want to add or change. But I think, to be quite frank, as soon as I made the decision that was aligned with my values of what I wanted to prioritize, it was really an overnight switch.
Because everybody talks about, and again, this is my auntie David Goggins talking, everyone talks about discipline. You’ve got to push beyond and just do it. And it’s like, no, that’s not sustainable. It’s not sustainable to continue to just drive and push willpower and discipline on everybody.
But if you act in accordance to your value system, there’s no decisions left to be made. Because if I say I value my faith, myself, my relationship, my family, and my business in that order, but yet I make my decisions with my business first, how am I living in alignment with what I say I am? And that’s where we run into this problem all the time, that there’s this misalignment of values and actions.
And when there’s misalignment in values and actions, that’s where you get that mental, emotional stress that comes on. That’s where you start to have these conflicts with your spouse. That’s where you start to have these conflicts with your kid. It’s where you have your conflicts with your coworkers and your athletes, and everybody that you’re working with.
Because you’re saying and preaching one thing, but you’re acting in accordance of something else. And when you can act in alignment with those values and you make decisions with that as the main lens, you can put your head on your pillow at night and feel good about it. You can make sure that everything is copacetic in your world.
And it’s not just the discipline factor that comes in. Being consistent all of a sudden becomes very simple in nature because every decision you make goes through that lens of what your values are. That’s why becoming so clear on those values is the first thing that you need to do. For it is the preface, it proceeds everything.
Jack: And for someone that’s thinking about that now, about prioritizing their values, and maybe it’s an athlete, so for them their whole identity, like you mentioned, the story before is the sport. And there was another athlete that took three weeks out and came back better person, better teammate, and then, obviously, in terms of performance success they won the championship. So, I can imagine a better athlete from the process as well. What would be advice for that young athlete to do? What activities do you need to do to work out your values and your priorities?
Justin: I’ve got a workbook that actually helps guide people through that. If it’s available on Amazon, it’s just called ‘Own It’. How to master your business and the relationships.
Jack: We can have the link in the show notes.
Justin: Yeah, but by simply sitting down and understanding and asking some simple questions. And, to be honest with you, it’s deep work. It is deep, deep work. And the first time I did this, I was 27 years old. And so, like eight years ago. And it wasn’t comfortable. It’s something that pushes you out of your comfort zone.
And first time I did it, Mark Fitzgerald, who I worked with in Anaheim, gave it to me and just challenged me to lean in on it. And when I did it, it started to really open up my eyes because I never sat down and never answered the question: what do I value? I had never answered the question: what are the key characteristics that I value? I never sat down and said, ‘Where do I want to be in one year, three years, five years?’
And a lot of it was taken from, again, some other peoples that I’ve done is like Todd Durkin. I’ve learned a lot from Todd and in what he was doing and what he was valuing and how do we make sure that things are in alignment. What gives you energy? What takes energy away? What are your non-negotiables? Where do you see yourself in a family sense, and a relationship sense, and a business sense, and a financial sense? Where do you see yourself in these places and what action steps do you have in place to do this?
So often, especially as athletes, we do this. When we’re coming into an off-season or when we get to school or to our professional team, we set a goal, we get to set certain things, certain frameworks and certain milestones to know that we’re on pace or we’re not. And it’s so easy when we’re going through life that we just all of a sudden pick our head up and we’re like, ‘Man, how did we get here?’ Because we don’t have milestones, we don’t have these step points, we don’t have these value systems that put us in these places.
And again, I was talking with one of my mentors probably, I don’t know, six years ago, and he said something that really hit me in the face and just awoke me to this. It was: ‘If you’re standing in a river and you look down at your feet, all of a sudden you see the water rushing and it’s going fast, it’s going quickly.’ And that’s like, when we have milestones, right? That’s what it looks like when we’re present, when we know where we’re currently at.
But when you look all the way behind you downstream, you don’t even know the water’s moving anymore. When you look upstream far away, you don’t even know that the water’s moving anymore. So, when you’re always looking forward as to where you’re going, what are you doing, and pushing, or you’re looking back as where have I come from, what’s happened, you forget the time is continually moving. It doesn’t stop for anybody.
And being focused on where your feet are allows you to make better decisions, as long as you know what your value system is, as long as you know where you want to go, you can help direct that path.
Jack: Awesome. Well, thank you for everyone that’s stayed with us for the last 90 minutes. And if you tuned in halfway through, highly recommend listening to the very start. This will be for now on our YouTube channel, so you can watch it. And then the podcast recording will be next Tuesday.
Thank you so much, Justin, for jumping on and sharing with us your journey so far in the industry. Obviously, making a huge impact from being published author, over 10 years in elite sport and now running a successful company. So, thanks so much for sharing with us. Success leaves clues. So, not only as a business owner, but also as a person as well. I take a lot from it. And, no doubt, listeners have as well.
What’s on the horizon for you, mate, in terms of 2022? What are you excited about at the moment?
Justin: I’ve loved the direction of our business. We’ve got about six major contracts that are about to close. A lot of our strategic alignments have come into place here. So, from a business sense, continuing to be excited about the impact that we’re making. Going to speak to the National Athletic Directors Association. All 6,500 athletic directors will be in attendance at the end of June. In about a week, to be honest with you, in Vegas. So, by the time this comes out next Tuesday, actually it’s next Tuesday. So, the same day that this comes out, I will be speaking to them. So, really excited about that.
Alyse and I have our honeymoon that we’ve put on the calendar for October. So, going to go to Vietnam and spend two weeks off the grid. We’ve got our team in place to fully be able to operate everything without us for two weeks. So, that feels really good.
We’re just very blessed in where we’re going and the direction that we’re at. Like I said, it’s been an amazing journey and we’re exactly where we need to be. Everything’s exactly as it should be. And have The Big Guy upstairs to thank for that.
Jack: Well said. And for those that want to reach out and connect with you, where’s the best place?
Justin: Very active through social media. So, Instagram @justinroeth. And that’s actually my handle for everything, whether you’re on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, on all those platforms. And then Own It app or ownitcoaching.com.
Jack: Okay, awesome. For those that might be driving and listening to the podcast, we’ll add it in the show notes, guys, so you can click those links at the end of your drive. Thanks again, Justin. Really appreciate you coming on, mate.
Justin: Awesome, Jack. I appreciate you.
Jack: Thank you for everyone for tuning in, whether it’d be the YouTube or on podcast. Our next live chat will be with Danny Kennedy, the founder of DK Fitness. That’s at 4:00 PM Australian Eastern Standard Time, on the 1st of July. I’ll see you guys then.
Chris has over 20 years of experience working at the highest clinical level, offering expert opinions to various state & national athletes. West Coast Health is proud to be a partner of the West Coast Eagles Football Club providing them with Physiotherapist and Injury management services for the AFL WAFL team as well.
Highlights of the episode:
How Chris develops his crafts and skills
Who are his usual clients and athletes he works with
Jack: Welcome to our live chat show. My name is Jack McLean. I’m your host. And tonight my guest is Chris Perkin. He is the director of West Coast Health and High Performance, and he’s part-time in the West Coast Eagles where he started in 2004. Chris has over 20 years of experience at the highest clinical level, offering expert opinions to various state and national athletes. West Coast Health is proud to be partner of the West Coast Eagles Football Club, providing them with physiotherapists and injury management services for the AFL and WAFL team.
Before we start tonight’s episode, our mission here at ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ is to empower aspiring athletes and staff with practical knowledge and some of the industry’s most inspiring individuals and to strengthen the AFL community. If you like the show, please show your support by following us on Instagram and subscribing to the podcast. We’re on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube.
Welcome, Chris. Thanks for joining us again, mate.
Chris: Thanks, Jack. Thanks for having me on, mate. I look forward to having a chat.
Jack: We’ve got a bit more time on our hands now to really dive into your journey. You mentioned 2004 West Coast Eagles, so you’ve had a good stint there, which, no doubt, you spent some time of your career over at the Eagles, but let’s go back to the very beginning. At what age did you discover you had a passion for physiotherapy?
Chris: It’s always a funny one. I think people find it difficult to know when the exact moment was, but being in sport, I suppose this is probably a familiar story with people going into physio. I injured myself playing country footy in the in Kambalda, which is a place near Kalgoorlie. You guys over the East Coast wouldn’t have a clue where that is. A little mining town and everyone plays footy and cricket and basketball.
So, spraining the ankle. My old lady, my mom, took me to the local physio clinic or nursing post it’s called. Because there’s not much going on there in a small country town. It was a good experience, basically. Couldn’t move with this ankle and got myself back playing within a week or two, which, obviously, we know that happens. And that was probably enough of a good experience for me to get involved at about year 10 or 11, I think, as a 15–16-year-old.
So, I guess from there on, it took me on that sporting concept pathway. And obviously physio is not just about sport, we know that. I was lucky enough to delve into that when I graduated. But my physio career was almost over on a fourth year country prac where I left a wax bath on in the hospital I was at and came back to a flaming room and the fire department there. So, I was destined not to work in a hospital.
Jack: It’s classy. So, everything turned out all right?
Chris: Yeah. The fourth year student lost the marks for leaving the wax bath on. That sent me into sports physio instead of the hospital setting.
Jack: You made the right choice, I reckon. And with the physio side of things, you mentioned a week turnaround, what did your rehab look like at the age of 15 at that point? What was the ankle injury and what did you do?
Chris: You’re testing me out now 30 years ago? From memory, I was doing some wallboards and butt balancing sort of stuff, just getting on and actually just walking out feeling, ‘Oh, that actually feels better.’
And I think that’s what physio is. Our aim is to have someone walking out the room and being a bit more empowered and feeling like we’ve had an effect. And so, walking out of somebody and thinking they helped me there. Geez, that’s great. This is not a bad little feeling.
I guess that’s what we do in our profession, it’s helping out people. So, it was a nice feeling and rewarding to get back to what you love doing. And that’s how I’m in sports and medicine and health, it’s getting people back to what they love doing and that’s exercise.
Jack: Awesome. I love that. That’s great. And it’s an empowering message as well for practitioners too. Like you said, if we can help the athlete walk in and as they walk out they’re feeling better, more confident and feeling better physically, you’ve done a pretty good job.
Chris: Absolutely. Just to know you’ve actually had an effect. Something’s changed. Often injuries don’t change in a hurry, but to walk out of every session with someone and something’s actually helped, or your mind’s changed or you’ve been positively influenced by something, is good.
Jack: And what about those that have influenced you in your early part of your career? Did you have mentors early on or did you forge your own way? Talk us through.
Chris: I was lucky enough to jump into physio practice early days that linked in with a couple of sports teams. I think my first company was Western Sport Gear, it was called. A fellow Mac Robins, he was more towards the end of his career and he ran the Australian hockey team and Milwaukee basketball, who, sadly, didn’t make the finals this year. But I think that was a great experience. So, he took me on knowing I’d played a lot of sport along the pathway before hitting the physio. I was a footballer, basketballer. That all helps, I think, as you’re developing into your profession to be active in the things you want to go into.
That was a nice start. I cut my teeth on some elite sports people in my very early days. And I still remember, you might not know the guy’s name, the ‘Alabama Slamma’ he was. He was James Crawford. He was one of the centers for the Wildcats. And my fist ankle strapping was James Crawford telling me, ‘Hey man, you know what you’re doing, man, with that ankle?’ And he’s ‘Alabama’ and he’s got a 21-year-old strapping his ankle. So, you learn pretty quickly when athletes give you shit and you grow from that. I mean, you can take it on board and it’s yeah, but no, it’s great.
That was a really nice start and working with Wildcats, trying out hockey and doing some trips with some more senior physios in my early days and traveling to Pakistan with the Australia hockey. That was an amazing experience back in 1999, moons ago. People only just started going back to Pakistan, so I was lucky enough to be there with the Aussie hockey team and seeing the passion of sports around the world, you know what I mean? People playing cricket in every park you walk around in Pakistan. It’s unbelievable. The hockey stadium. Incredible stuff.
So, it was instrumental in getting me involved in that stuff. And I suppose winning a premiership with the Wildcats in 1999 was pretty good memory. So, that was a good influence. And then I did my sports physio degree. Funnily enough, Peter O’Sullivan was our lecturer that year, transitioning out of sports and so transitioning into lecturing and then my next employer, I guess. So, Peter O’Sullivan, the back guru from Perth, with all this amazing research that he’d done. He got me on board to work with him for a few years, and then we became business partners.
That was an amazing experience with Peter. He taught me his trade in spinal pain, pelvic pain, chronic pain. And to bring that into the sporting field was really special and a good part of how I operate. I was very lucky to be business partners with him for 10 years along the way and a women’s health physio in Judith Thompson. And so, there’s some key physios that influenced me on the way. And I guess working with athletes like you are, mate, and all the people that are listening with us.
Probably two athletes that stick in my mind are Steve Hooker, I worked with him. He’s a Melbourne man, so you know him well. His time over here when he was with the WEI’s program. And he was a genius at just getting everything out of his body. Wanted to perform, pushed everyone around into getting better. So, almost led to actually go and hunt things down on to how to actually improve on performance and all the little things that make a difference, the 1% that makes a difference in an athlete’s body and how they feel.
We came up with some fun things. He’d search around for different people’s opinions and we’d talk it through. And yeah, spending some nights in the front of the TV, putting needles in him or getting release work done was part of our routine as well. My kids still have his gold medal, he had it around his neck when he was over. It was pretty great. You get to know your athletes really well when you work closely with them in it. That’s a pretty lucky thing to be doing with what we do in our profession.
And then probably another player that I just rate highly is Matt Priddis. Matty Priddis, Brownlow medalist for the West Coast Eagles. He comes through the rookie draft at a mature age. He just got the best out of it. Mr. Football we called him and his influence on me is just making people do all the things you need to do to get better. There’s no spare time when you’re at a footy club. Don’t just wait around. Get on the roller. Do some extra trigger work. Ask people questions on how you can improve. He was a great advocate for doing everything you can do to get the best out of your body.
So, those are the names that really helped me a lot along the pathway and gave me an approach that I do myself. And everyone has their own approach, but it blends in from all the influences that you’ve had. And all the physios along the pathway that we work with at the club. Being at the Eagles for 20 years, the band that you have with the physio group. So, Paul Tucker’s been with me forever there. Mark Finucane and Steve Allan, they’re great guys who influence you.
And, of course, the sports science crew that we work with. That whole team environment, working with sport science and coaches and everyone who’s got the same aim – to get your athlete at the best level and keep them on the track. And, unfortunately, at the Eagles at the moment we’re not quite doing the best job. We’ve been cursed a little bit. We’re doing everything we can, as we always will in my profession.
Jack: A hundred percent. I like that mindset, mate. It’s not just practitioners in your field. Obviously, you had mentors that you looked up to and you learned from. But also learning off the best athletes that you’ve worked with, practitioners in other fields, like you mentioned, coaches, sports scientists, strength & conditioning coaches, it’s a good perspective to have. I think, as all practitioners in the field of what we do, athlete preparation. Is that something that has come naturally to you, that open mindset? Like you mentioned, with Steve Hooker you loved the fact that he would probe you and challenge you on ‘How can we think more laterally and do things differently?’
Chris: I think everyone has a different approach and everyone’s had more experiences. That’s what we do as professionals. We look at the people who’ve done the research, we try it out, we see if it works from our perspective. Athletes respond to different things. Every athlete has a different mindset, don’t they? You need to get inside their head and just being an easy person to talk to is really important to get the best out of each athlete. Unless you get those details down, you might be pushing shit uphill in trying to get what you want out of them. If they’ve got a mental barrier of some sort you don’t quite get.
And we’re not going to be best suited to every person we talk with. You might find that if you’re open enough to different ideas, you’re not getting someone better than work with people you know, who have different skillsets. My motto is just deal with people who are the best at what they do, and then chase that down. We always aspire to say, ‘These people are great at what they’re doing.’ So, get as much information as you can from everyone around you, really.
Jack: And for the physiotherapists tuning in, that want to work in elite sport, they might be working at some official spot at the moment or community level, and they’re striving to get their foot in the door. You mentioned Peter O’Sullivan and the connection there was through doing your Master’s with Noel. How did you get that connection early on in your career? Was it calling? Was it through your own networks?
Chris: I think that was through a network of working alongside sports trainers. When you go through your degree, for me, as an employer, I think looking at getting involved in work experience. Ringing people up. If there’s an area you want to go to, ring them up, be annoying to a point where you can be helpfully annoying, because otherwise you get blocked pretty quickly. But if you want to chase something, chase it, it’s not going to come to you. You’ve got to chase it. Like physios now, jumping in and asking, ‘Sir, are you just sitting here with the patient that’s gone to the surgery?’ That’s a great idea. Just to get connected with the surgeon, the patient. Ring the personal trainers, that I deal with all the time.
I’m going off track here a bit, but I guess for getting your first bite of the cherry when you’re going into your profession, it’s actually putting it out there. Doing unpaid work that’s going to get you the opportunity to go where you need to, and just show a passion for what you’re doing. That’s what I’m looking for in all these people who tell you they love what they’re doing and they want to aspire to be better. So, having people around you that want to keep continue to be better, that ask you questions are really important.
My initial job was based on a contact and an opportunity from a question and my involvement in basketball. I love basketball playing and I’d also strapped footy guys as a player, playing through North Beach and Subiaco footy over here, and actually women too, working with one of the physios, helping strap guys before I’d go out and play myself.
Jack: It all helps.
Chris: Yeah, all helps. For many years I was running out, warming up my local footy team, going and cracking someone through Essex spine just before someone goes on the field, and putting a finger back, running down the full back and putting a finger back in. It all helped you just get the experience of what you wanted to go into.
Jack: A hundred percent. Take us through your mindset. Did you know that you are going to be a physio at that point, like in sport, and you were doing deliberate practice? Or was it just that you had a skillset and you just wanted to help?
Chris: Oh no, that was once I was in physio study, going through uni, still playing footy, going to the gym, juggling everything with life and work and doing your sport and having relationships and getting out with your mates and all those sort of things. The fun times. So, it’s just trying to put in as much as you can to where you think you’re going, to experience them.
From a physio perspective, we love to say dislocated shoulders and fingers and things like that. It’s not something most people love, but, unfortunately, they’re the experiences you want to see as a sports physio in your early stages, so you can experience it.
I just popped my young bloke’s, fifteen-year-old’s kneecap back in, when he was working at ‘Hungry Jack’s’ a couple of weeks ago. And so, that’s from years of experience. Instead of going to the hospital with ambulance, he’s given me a call, so I’ve ducked into his work.
Jack: And he finished up the shift.
Chris: Yeah. I think it’s just at every opportunity using what you can to do what you do.
Jack: Love that. And you mentioned an early on moment with James Crawford, it definitely could have been a sink-or-swim moment for a young practitioner. It reminds me of moments where you do hear what some athletes would keep to themselves and they’d be nice, and then other athletes will definitely let the trainer or the physiotherapist know if they don’t like the strapping job. And you said it’s a good growth experience to get better fit for physios, trainers, whoever it might be that’s experiencing those moments.
How do you like to develop your craft? You’ve talked about making the most of every opportunity you can get, whether it’d be strapping a mate, but are you trying to find new methodology to help blokes like Steve Hooker? Is that calling colleagues and hearing their, like you mentioned, research? What’s your favorite way to develop your own craft?
Chris: So, develop your own knowledge, I think. One thing is just talking and being open about cases. Discussing cases. In the AFL and NRL, whatever sport is at elite level, we’re always trying to get our patient, our players, our athletes back as quickly as we can and as safely as we can.
So, ringing people within your network, across fields. I was lucky enough to do a little bit of lecturing at Espeetar. And you’ve got some genius people over there. And you can join on your context, even in the research fields over there. They have a really rich research hospital. You can ring up and say like, ‘What’s the latest on this? Have you guys got anyone back earlier on this protocol?’ I think everyone’s happy to share. I’m just going to be careful with specific names, so it doesn’t get out.
But I think that’s one big thing is actually talking to colleagues and actually going through case studies. It’s a learning experience for everyone. Talking to sports positions, talking to anyone that’s had an experience with a particular case you’re looking for. And social media is huge now. It’s so much better. When I was studying undergrad, you we’re going to the library and looking at journal articles. I’m showing my great age. But it’s so much easier now and us oldies have a little bit less experience on the social media, but I still have a crack at trying to actually follow as many people as I can on that.
Mikie Use is the great one over there, who does have so much stuff on ACO stuff himself. He’s made a little bit of a business out of just having a great podcast that he does and he’s ACO staff. So, it’s the same with lots of different areas. People become experts in those areas and it’s nice to follow them and what they’re doing. You’re still getting your journal articles to flip through. Where we are at the West Coast, we share a lot of updated articles across sports science and medicine.
But I reckon the best one is actually asking questions. Feeling dumb enough to put yourself out there to say, ‘Look, I really need some help on this case. What do you think we can do?’ And I also think with patients, it’s asking them, ‘What do you feel has helped you or what’s not working?’ And being open, like, ‘Look, we’re not going anywhere near. What do you reckon we need to do?’ And having an open conversation about that and saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got this other guy I want you to see. I want to come in and catch up with him.’
In my clinic at West Coast Health and High Performance we will often bring a case that’s challenging in and get the whole group of 8 or 10 of us physios and group of people in there and challenge a run-around and go ‘Here he is, this is what I’m doing. What do you think? You guys piss him out, ask him questions and do some assessment on him. Let’s have a big open group discussion on this chronic hamstring tendinopathy that’s not getting better. Why? Why is it not getting better?’ Just challenge ourselves as to what else we can do.
I think people need to be mindful that they don’t know everything. And if you’re not getting someone better, challenge yourself to get more help. Don’t be afraid to get help.
Jack: And this might be a tricky question, but in your experience with doing that, specifically with physios, how much is it that the diagnosis was slightly off and how much is it that the relationship with the athlete was slightly off there that you didn’t quite get enough information?
Chris: You get very closely linked with patients, so you get very protective. Physios become protective sometimes with their patients and the patients develop a good relationship with them. I think patients appreciate that when someone’s referred you across to someone else, if you can’t get the process. Not necessarily to ongoing treatment, but for advice and say, ‘This guy does this, he’s a specialist in the pelvis or the groin or sees a lot of these. How about you see him and then he’ll give you his advice and you come back?’
I think that’s really important. But you’re right. I think they’re the ones that work better when the physio is mindful to actually push him on, as opposed to second or third opinions, because people haven’t got better and they become fed up. So, if someone’s not getting better with the injury, then you need to go forward and change what you’re doing or get a different approach. And do not look at it as a negative on yourself. You look at it as try and maybe ‘How can I learn from this?’ That’s more important.
But I think the people that maintain the relationship with their patient, they’re actually happy to refer on to someone who’s maybe a specialist or more expertise in the area.
Jack: Ultimately, you’re putting the athlete first, aren’t you? The client first, before yourself.
Chris: That’s our job. That’s our job to get the best that the human being in front of us, whether it’s an athlete or a patient with chronic back pain or whatever it is, you got to get them better. It’s not a nice environment to work in with someone who’s continually coming back in pain or having the same problems. You need to tough it up and figure out that you need to change your approach or get some help. And getting some help isn’t a negative, it’s a massively positive learning environment.
Jack: You’ve worked in a range of sporting environments. What are some highlights that you look back fondly of, Chris?
Chris: That Pakistan trip. Going to Pakistan and getting delivered this massive one ball, one made of ice block I had to chisel out, and watching how sport was done in a passionate country like that.
Having done a lot of physio at my local footy club, my mighty North Beach Tigers, I’ve just been very lucky to win a bunch of premierships with all these boys. And the celebration and always being the guy that asked, ‘Okay, what about this? What about that?’ Injury wise. The celebrations and the fun that you have with community sport and your physio link with that and with the players there. I can’t say enough about that. The links with community sport and the commitments to those and both as a physio/player and heavily involved in the club.
Watching Steve Hooker get his gold medal and being able to experience that with him. Working with the Eagles team. I was lucky enough to only be there for two or three years before they’d won a premiership. So, 2006, 2018. A couple of great premierships there. That’s not just that, it’s the relationships you build along the pathway with the clubs you’re with and the people you actually share that joy with, as opposed to the moment itself. But they’re certainly highlights from a sports physio point of view I was very lucky enough to be involved with.
But you can have just as much fun winning a local premiership, helping out with the under forties hockey team. It’s just how involved you get with whatever club and link you’ve got. I think it’s the fun stuff of what we do and being passionate about it, getting engaged with anything you do. Most importantly, being engaged in what you do well. So, I think there’s a couple of lucky moments I’ve had there over time and they’ll always stick in my memory.
Jack: Awesome, mate. Thanks for sharing some great highlights and, from a personal point of view, all the way to the top, to two gold medals and premierships, which is great experience.
Chris: And professionally, I probably should say that getting that specialization under my belt was a pretty important thing. We were pushed by Peter O’Sullivan, he’s a genius physio and a research clinician. And that was a pretty big highlight of my career to be able to do that. And that’s something that a lot of physios are aspiring to do now and going through the training program to become that highest level of professionalism that you can get clinically. So, that was probably professionally the great moment to get that under the belt and then keep going. I’m not a researcher, but I love to be clinically working on people and continue advancing what we do.
Jack: And what about on the flip side? What have been some challenges that you’ve faced and what have you learned from them?
Chris: Challenge is always a difficult one. Challenge is coming patients that are not getting better, patients you’ve actually injured and learning from that and then trying to avoid doing that again. We get so connected with patients that we want to make joy within the right thing, and then some of them got backwards. So, learning from that and not doing that again. And then getting on the right track early.
The biggest challenge in my life and my career physio-wise was probably losing my wife. We had an awful time in 2009 and we were having a third baby and the baby got infected and she delivered a stillborn baby at term. And so, the baby died and my wife went into a coma and died three days later. So, no one likes to hear that stuff.
Jack: I’m so sorry to hear that.
Chris: Yeah, that’s the sort of thing no one wants to hear, but that’s the challenge and that’s the life story. So, for me to juggle kids, to juggle profession. I’ve done my sports physio degree by then and just finished my specialization and wanting to go in a career path, it wasn’t the priority. But I was lucky enough to have a great business partner in Peter and Judith with Body Logic Physio we had.
In our environment, in sport and the health profession, we help a lot of people. and it comes back in spades. And I was overwhelmed by the support I had with that. Sometimes I feel almost a bit lucky in one way that I had so much support. And then the other side of it is the opposite to luck. Blessed that the amount of support I have in my workplace was very supportive and bizarre, but it continued normality. I think what I learned out of that is the importance of relationships with human beings, live your life to the fullest.
For me I’ve just been a lucky man, to have my kids and grow up with them for the last 10 years and teach them the way I want to teach them. And, hopefully, they’ve learned a few things over time. But to professionally keep juggling footy, Eagles, business. The Eagles were amazing at that time for me. Actually I gained a credit through a sporting team that just did everything they could do at the time to just keep me on board and ‘What can we do?’
I think that over time people with challenges in their life and health challenges, look at Neale Daniher, for example, he was there at that time. I look at what he’s become. He’s an absolute legend, what he’s done with his cards he’s been dealt. So, it’s just a case of getting through the absolute crisis in life with things that occur and then try and create something from it.
And I was lucky enough to set up what we called the Sunshine Beach one. And it was a memory for anyone who’s lost a young child. So, they ended up being a memory of it for my wife. But, of course, people who have lost kids, babies and kids, which is going to be Red Nose foundation. So, we did that for about 10 years.
The learning of that is human beings are very resilient and we’ll keep plugging along. Kids are resilient more than anyone. The opportunity to have so much support. And we don’t know what’s ahead of us, so just live the moment and enjoy what you do, be passionate about what you do. Don’t hold back from what you want to do.
My difficulty was accepting that professionally I couldn’t probably go into all the things I want to do. And I think the massive juggle of life and that’s what we all do. Everyone is juggling life. So, there’s just trying to prioritize things when, as you know, elite sports are sort of followed environment. So, very lucky to be out of game, probably part-time then, and still stay involved thanks to the footy club and the good people around me.
Jack: Thanks for sharing, mate. And sorry again to hear that, but a super inspiring story for your kids, no doubt. They’d be looking up to you and lucky to have you. Like you said, resilience, so be able to have that attitude, to appreciate those that’re around you. Then I can imagine they would come out like spades and get around you and help that support and to raise a fundraiser as well. Absolute tragedy, but it sounds like you kept moving forward, which is, like you said, Neale Daniher way. So, super inspiring I’m sure for everyone listening.
You mentioned the Body Logic with Peter O’Sullivan. So, it sounds like you guys have been business partners for quite some time. For the business owners out there listening in, have you had a successful working relationship in that space? There is high pressure and there’s lots of stakes. Have you guys worked well together?
Chris: I guess what we had at the time was a business and Body Logic is a great business. I’m not with them anymore. Obviously, developing my own West Coast Health and High Performance. Because, I guess, what we did at the time was we had our specialty areas. And Pete was the guru and he’s in back pain, chronic pain and managing all these sorts of things and all chronic issues and the researcher. And the women’s health was run by Judith Thompson. She’s a pioneer in women’s health in IBM Perth.
So, we had our areas, so sports, physio, and that specifics part was mine. Pete’s was the back pain and the spinal pain, but also chronic pain issues and Judith’s was women’s health. That worked really well. And I guess you can only stretch yourself so far over time. We knew our strengths, we pushed each other in different ways, but from a business perspective it worked really well for like 10 years.
And then my challenge, that was a really big part of challenging my career, a big tough one because I didn’t really want to move from Body Logic, but it was a bit too hard for everyone involved to just continualy develop something else. And my opportunity came up to set up a practice with the Eagles over at their home ground. And so, that was probably one of the first practices located at…
Jack: That’s becoming a bit of a trend now.
Chris: Yeah, we started a good job and set up in a place with the boomers in and out there now. But I think having that high performance center now at the Eagles is a dream of my wife and me. But doing it on mine own has been a tough gig, having from a practice where you’re working with two or three practice, but you get great people around you, supporting you, physios working with you and great business manager helping along the way. With Mel, who’s done that for me. It makes life a lot easier and that’s, I suppose, the key with business, isn’t it? You’ve got to have a plan, but you’ve got to be able to enjoy it. And we are nowhere near where we need to be and that’s continually building up and enjoying it on the way.
Jack: On that note, it makes a lot of sense having a physio clinic performance space within an AFL club. Why has it taken this long for it to start? Were there some strong challenges in getting it started?
Chris: Oh no. The Eagles facility was basically a move. They were at CBO forever and CBO basically got developed over us. You probably don’t know the backing behind it all. So, that was purely about building a community medical center that linked with the new build that was done. So, it was a multi-million dollar build at Vic Park, which is an area that we’d never been before.
It took a few years for it to develop. The facility there is outstanding, credit to the people that organized it and built it all. And I would challenge other facilities around just to have what we’ve got there. The Doggies did it probably 10 years ago, so they did it at Koji. And what we’ve got, I won’t say it’s better in any way because it’s different, but it’s ahead of what else is out there based on it’s the newest build.
So, something else would come down the track, that’ll be even more inspiring and more things going on. But our clinic was based on a lot of negotiating over time to just fulfill a role that they wanted anyway. As an offering to the community, we’re coming in bringing this big footy club.
Jack: That was good timing.
Chris: Yeah, timing was right, but, like everything in business, you have to negotiate and jump at it, otherwise you miss out.
Jack: A hundred percent. And talk us through the space for those that haven’t been there. Who is your classic client that works with you? Who are the athletes that work with you?
Chris: So, the business is separate to the point that the Eagles guys will come up and do their high performance stuff and their DEXA testing, and their VO2 max testing in there. I bought identity testing that they have as a part of research. If they need a Biodex testing, they can come up and use those things, which are often used for return to sport testing or measuring weaknesses. Most of the stuff they need is down at their actual footy club, but the occasional time to come and use the high performance stuff, that’s when they come up. So, the same stuff is offered to the community.
And so, I guess we’ve got a high performance part, which is just small aspect of the clinic. I mean, our clinic is based around physio and treating sports injuries, back pain, arthritis, your day-to-day patients that we’ll all see, that can all do with exercise. But the high-performance part of it is for the recreation or stimuli or anyone who wants to actually get the best out of themselves and actually get the best measurement out of themselves, get the best progress from a planning and a programming point of view. And go to that next level, whatever it is that ticks their box, or goal they want to create. That’s what the facility is there for.
We do the same with every patient we see. But for me with a patient to be able to go into a force platform test and measure their jump off the force plates and measure their guessed rock force left versus right by just jumping on a force plate. Or if the guys are there to jump on the decks that locates your body comp and drop 20 kilos, big fellow. If body comp’s not that good, but this is the base for you and we challenge you to lose 15 kilos over the next three months by doing X, Y, and Z. So, that’s very lucky to have that stuff there.
That’s not going to exist in most practices. I do think that takes a while to just get out into the community, that these facilities are available to the public. And it started getting better. We’ll look after some of the other local elite teams in towns who don’t have the facilities. And that’s only a small percentage of what we do. It’s trying to get all the community engaged in these things. And you know, why would I do that? But I think it just needs to be sold to the people that it is a very good opportunity. That’s important. And if you want to take yourself to that next level, like you say in your ‘Prepare Like A Pro’, if you want to get to that next level, then do what you can, help yourself, use facilities that exist around your town, wherever you live.
Jack: A hundred percent. And to have those objective measures, like you said, from body comp to screening and have access to all that, no doubt, there’ll be some athletes out there that have just never had access to it or practitioners as well, like the development of these start to be able to have that.
Chris: Absolutely. And just return to sport after an ACL, everyone does it. But I guess having just a little bit of extra resources to tick your box. And even if we’re not the ones doing the full return to sport, we can help other physios or exercise physios or PTs do their thing by just giving them this resource, giving them the report back. So, it all ticks a box of getting people back safely, returning to sport.
Jack: So, there’s a lot of other practitioners around the area that are also using your facility for consultation and assessments.
Chris: There is and there isn’t. That becomes a bit of a protective mode to pump some people with some extra resources, as I talked about before. If you can get the bit, if you’re willing to put it out there and help your patient more, then you know there are places that can give more information, something to help you with your management. That’s important to make sure that we do in our profession, it’s get the best for our patient, going where we need to go, joining forces with other people.
Jack: A hundred percent. Good message. And the one we’ll spread. Going back to your career progression, how did you get that first experience in 2004 at West Coast? What was the original role?
Chris: Probably through the current physio there, Paul Tucker. So, we both worked with athletics and with the weights athletes. He was probably doing a bit with the Paul Walters at the time as well with Paul Burgess, who’s now coaching Paul there. And then Tucker’s moved into that role with the Eagles. And it was probably one of the first full-time physios to go into AFL actually in about 2003. So, I followed up his role in athletics involved with giving things all and around town. When that came up, I jumped in very part-time with him to start with, because it was only role for one full-time physio. As I said, that was miles away. And now every club has two or three full-time physios, full-time sports science, full-time exercise fuse, full-time a bit of everything, really.
Prior to COVID there was a bit more there going, but now we’re tightening the screws. I mean, they want the best out of their athletes, so that was my opportunity through contact, but also working with someone else in different environment. And he wasn’t certainly working with me, but I certainly knew him as colleagues at the time.
Jack: There was trust there.
Chris: Yeah. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity and then jump in and knock stuff up at the start. And if you’ve played footy, if you’ve done things that you’re going into, it makes a difference. You’ve got that bit of respect from that point of view.
Jack: And the in your return to performance point of view, return to play, have you seen a lot of change in the methodology with something like a hamstring strain in your experience in footy?
Chris: In a way. Everyone’s got their different protocols and I guess the problem is if you look at the Orchard Report, which is the number one medical collection of data over years, the hamstring injuries have been less reoccurring, but they are still highly prevalent. They’re still number one injury in AFL. So, I think we’ve become more aware of all the different types, different levels in the central tendon a bit more from the investigating and taking that on board.
Have the rehab protocols changed that much? I think we go for an early intervention a lot more aggressively. We return to sport a lot more aggressively, but I think overall, we’ve done the right thing still for many years, 15–20 years I’ve been involved. The sports science is probably more involved in the last 10 years with the GPS data we are using. I remember having a laser gun we used to get out of the big box in the early stages 15 years ago. And we’d be a bit like a policeman with the laser gun, trying to get their speed and doing the acceleration/deceleration until GPS came very prevalently involved.
So, I think we’re still measuring speed, but not with the same technology we had. We’re still doing all the same things. Repeated strength, plyometric work, high-speed work. I think we know a lot more now that high-speed running is way more important at getting that into you consistently, before returning to sport. Being underdone with the chronic acute training loads is more important than we probably measured before. With all the research that we’ve seen coming out with Tim Gabbett and all the crew that we know they’ve done all that work.
I think we’ve still done it traditionally and hamstring strains have always been there, still are there. There’s no magic pill. And, unfortunately, it’s a bit of a big part of sports that require high speed and Aussie rules is one of those.
Jack: It’s getting faster.
Chris: You’re right. It’s getting faster and quicker. Watching footy games now, I think, ‘How quickly did they get the ball out?’ And it’s great. Intensity is always up there.
So, from hammy perspective, I think we’ve done it in a good while of time, but there’re still ways, where little things are improving and research backing up what we thought maybe 10 years ago. It’s validating what we probably were doing and it’s just being systematic about how you do it. You can’t prevent everything, but we can do our best to try and reduce the risk.
Jack: Awesome. Well said, mate. We’ll get into the personal side now of the podcast, have a bit of fun with these. The get-to-know-Chris-Perkin-side, mate. This first one is which movie or TV series has impacted you the most and why? You can throw in a book as well, if you’re not a TV guy.
Chris: Probably the opposite for me. I wouldn’t like to say I’m not a book guy, but maybe a bit my ADD doesn’t let me read books that well. So, podcasts, movies are good. One of my favorite movies ‘Pulp Fiction’. That’s got nothing to do with anything here. So, we’ll go into my second favorite movie ‘Shawshank Redemption’.
I think it’s favourite for a lot of people. And with Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne, overcoming a seemingly impossible mission, being dealt some shitty hand and fought through what in the prison system you might think now they never do. I can’t remember, if it was based on a true story or not now. It should be, it’s such a good movie. But the passion to follow through on a task and a persistence to do what he did. In digging a fricking tunnel with a little pick that took him 10, 15, whatever it was, years to get through.
So, some great messages in that movie. Friendship that lasts forever. Relationship building, understanding human beings and how they tick. For me that movie that maybe was when that old bloke disappeared out of the life he had and nicked himself, he hang himself because he did not know a life outside of prison. So, the emotions from that movie were big for me. I enjoy the friendship and the camaraderie that you see in things like that. And then, as I said, the inspiration to actually follow your passion and get your goal.
Jack: No matter how long it takes.
Chris: Yeah, persistence towards a goal. That’s my favorite movie too. So, I just made some little positives up out of that.
Jack: A hundred percent, mate. You’re selling it well. That makes me want to watch it again.
Chris: And I really like chatting with young blokes at footy clubs ans say, ‘Go through movies I’ve watched.’ And you can’t believe some of the movies they haven’t seen. As I said, maybe I’m getting a bit old, but some of the classic movies that everyone’s watched or series. You’ve got to watch these things. So, if anyone hasn’t them all checked, go and have a look.
Jack: A hundred percent. I can vouch for that. It’s definitely my top 10, for sure. It’s a good long one as well. I don’t think they make movies three hours long anymore.
Chris: No. You can’t see them through. People have got a little bit of issues with social media.
Jack: All series now. 30 minutes, 60 minutes. You almost tied it into that first question, but favorite inspirational quote or life motto?
Chris: One of my mum’s. My mum would always say to me ‘Be kind, always be kind to people.’ You be kind to them, they’ll be kind to you. You treat people how you want to be treated, that sort of concept. I think I take that into most of my patients, no matter who they are, where they come from, what their problem is. Whether they’re a Hollywood superstar athlete from the place like the Eagles or Mother Hubbard who walk in with a bung knee, I always try to be a nice, kind, friendly person to people that they can actually relate to. So, I think that’s really important in getting the results out of people, so they can build trust in you.
I think Morgan Freeman had the quote of ‘How do we change the world? One random act of kindness at a time.’ Like he said, if everyone does that, a little bit of random kindness every day of their life, the world’s a better place. And if someone does that to you, you go, ‘Oh, thanks. I didn’t expect that.’ And that’s such a nice feeling to have. So, I think just being kind to people and understanding that you don’t know what’s going on at the back of someone’s life. If they’re a grumpy ass, they might have some battles going on in the background you don’t know about.
And that’s why in my job I hunt that down with people and try to find an underlying, what’s the real issue here that’s not getting them better. Sometimes it’s the battle they’re having in their brain underneath it all. So, it’s important to build relationships. And if you’re a kind person, you’ll get the best out of people you’re dealing with.
Jack: Wow. Great message. And what about on the flip side, in your work life what are your pet peeves? What makes you angry?
Chris: Oh, what makes me angry is a little too long non-weight bearing. That’s one thing when people are coming back out of surgery, I’ll work at that over time. I don’t think it’s good for bone health, and I don’t think it’s good for muscles health. I would like to get some more research done in time off your leg.
I know there’s a reason we need to be careful with injury management. But that’s one of my things, because we’re working at LEFH and if you’re off your feet for 12 weeks, you lose it. You don’t use it, you lose it. That’s the old motto. Bone health and muscle health, tenant health, how do we work on that while loading the body? I don’t like when people aren’t being active and I don’t like it when people are having excuses to not being active. But everyone’s different. You can’t push people.
One of my pet peeves probably is poor management. When I’m seeing second or third opinion people that haven’t given enough for the shit of their patient and just come to the standard average thing that just gets through some 15–20 minute appointment, they just haven’t put enough effort into the patient they’ve had.
And everyone’s different. Everyone has a different model of how they work, but I do not like when people are not using evidence-based things these days, people are using ultrasounds on things. Please, throw it away. Ultrasound machine or electric stimulation, it doesn’t work. We know it doesn’t work. It should be out of your clinic. And maybe there’s some new research that shows it does work somewhere. But please, show me. There’s so much more evidence-based stuff out there now in exercise, and I’m passionate about people getting on the right track quicker.
And when I see second or third opinions, that have been dealt the wrong cards, and have been thrown on this medical merry-go-round for a year or two years, and their life’s been put on hold because they haven’t had simple things given to them. That seems so shocking. Get second opinions, big picture stuff sometimes, don’t sweat the small stuff. Get people better and get them being happy again. It pisses me off when people are managed poorly overnight. There you go.
Jack: Now you can tell you’re passionate and you care, which I love to see. What’s your favorite way to spend your day off, mate? COVID-free world, everything’s gone beautifully in the world again in these last two questions.
Chris: Here’s a little bit of a code. So, being a physio, I probably don’t just sit and lie about. I struggle with doing nothing. I could be better at doing that, being mindful of just chilling out, but I struggle doing nothing. So, a perfect day for me would be hitting the gym. I can’t run anymore because of my dodgy hips. But doing some exercise, which involves a bit of cardio. Going down, watching my young bloke play footy. He’s in colts level. Catching up with my old footy mates and old friends, watching my footy team, and at the same time watching my Eagles win by 50 points.
Jack: That’s coming.
Chris: Taking my crazy dog for a walk and sitting by a fire at the end of the day with my footy on the mat, with kids and friends and just chilling out, but also having ticked a few boxes during the day.
Jack: Yeah, a good active day.
Chris: Yeah, but to be able to relax in a way you can reflect on what’s been happening in your life, maybe occasionally.
Jack: And last one for the rest of 2022, mate, what are you excited about? What’s on the horizon for you for this year?
Chris: So, this year continually grow the business. I’m enjoying the more of the performance stuff building, building and exposing that to the world. I’m looking forward to getting back to Rado. If you haven’t been to Rado Stadium, mate, you have to get over to Perth one day.
Jack: I have. But that’s probably been nearly been 10 years, though. So I am due to come back.
Chris: Getting back to Rado is going to happen more towards the sunny season. And I’m lucky enough to be getting out for some lecturing gig over in Switzerland at the end of the year, November. That’ll be my fifth trip over there doing some teaching in the hip and groin with some interpreters. And, I guess, just keeping fit and healthy and keeping people on the right track, getting them in the game, getting them the message of keeping fit and active and healthy. And along the way trying to have some fun.
Jack: And on that one, for those that are managing a busy schedule, how have you managed to be able to work in elite sport for as long as you have from a longevity point of view? And then also to create businesses and do other things outside of sport. How do you juggle your personal and professional life?
Chris: Yeah, very tough. Certainly, relationships are tough because you need to squeeze, there are a lot of people in your life and things like that do suffer over time. I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of support with my kids. And so, that’s one part of it, but, again, getting your exercise early in the day, getting up at five o’clock, mate. I’m living on father’s six-hour sleep, even though we tell our elite athletes to live on eight plus. But if you don’t, you’ve got to drop time somewhere, if you want to put extra in. I guess if you’re enjoying what you do at work, it doesn’t seem like work. So, that’s important and a bit of variety. I think the variety.
I’ve been lucky enough that the club were happy to have me part-time as opposed to non-involved. And as a specialist, I can give that opinion, consulting environment, but also have been there long enough to know the system and how it works. And so, the juggle act of involving sport, life, friends, it’s just having a busy life. And I guess things are compromised somewhere and you have to accept that you can’t be everything to everyone and things will change at a time when life changes. So, roll with them, whenever you can.
Jack: Awesome, mate. Well said, thank you. Thank you so much for jumping on and sharing your time with us on a Friday night.
Chris: No, that’s good, mate. I appreciate you doing a great job with your stuff. Some good stuff coming out of it.
Jack: A hundred percent. You get guests like yourself and it makes my life easy. Just share your story, so thank you. And I thank you for everyone watching live. If you tuned in halfway through or at the end, make sure to
watch the whole episode on our YouTube channel and we’ll post the podcast recording for the podcasters out there on the upcoming Tuesday. So, stay tuned.
Our next live chat will be with Michael Crichton, the owner of Melbourne Fitness & Performance. That will be on Friday, the 13th of May. I’ll see you guys then, at 8:30 PM. Cheers, Chris.
Justin is an APA titled sports & exercise physiotherapist. He has worked in the A-league as a physiotherapist for over 10 years and is passionate about all things in sports medicine and high performance.
Highlights of the episode:
Advice to physios in making the most of their mentors and resources
Difference between rehab role and clinic role that physios may be surprised about
His philosophy in communicating with athletes in rehab
Jack: Welcome back to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ live chat show. My name is Jack McLean. I’m your host. And tonight my guest is Justin Dougherty. He’s the rehabilitation physiotherapist at the Sydney Swans football club. He’s a titled sports and exercise physiotherapist. Lifelong student, he has a passion for all things, sports medicine, and high performance.
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 strengthen the AFL community. 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, Justin. Thanks for jumping on, mate.
Justin: No worries. Good to be here.
Jack: Let’s dive in the beginning of your career. What age did you discover you had a passion for physiotherapy and working in sports?
Justin: I think, like most sports physios, I grew up being an active kid, playing a lot of sport myself. And I think it was, I was at year 10, actually, when I had my work experience. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I knew that I loved sport and actually spent my youth going down to the local physio clinic. And I guess that was my first introduction to physio. And it sort of kicks out from there and putting the two interests together. And so, I’ve always made it my goal to pursue the sporting side of the physio in my career.
Jack: And were there any challenges early on, in terms of, like you mentioned, getting experience and almost opening up doors while you were doing your degree?
Justin: Yeah. I’d have to say that I’ve been very fortunate. I sort of sought out the sports physio pathway straight off graduation. I sought out the local physio clinic in Newcastle, where I was studying and graduated from, that had the connection with the Newcastle Jets. I had a contract with youth team at the time. So, my thinking was to partner with that clinic and start my career there. With the hopes of one day working my way into that.
And, as I said, I was really lucky. I spent a couple of years doing some work in the MTL-level as the physio and an opening came up with the Newcastle Jets youth team. And that sort of really kick-started my sports physio career.
Jack: Fantastic, mate. That’s great to get that experience. Was that something, when you started working in the field, that you realized that this is definitely something that you’re passionate in, and at that point did you have a particular sport that you were wanting to work in, now that you’re working in AFL? Was that always sort of the focus or are you taking one job at a time, one experience at a time, so to speak?
Justin: Yeah, I played soccer growing up, so that was probably my interest. And I think it’s funny. It’s supposed to be that you always have this dream, and my was to work in professional sport, in soccer. That’s sort of where I wanted to go, given that was my background and that’s what I played.
And, as I said, I was lucky enough to sort of work my way into that and working in A-League quite early on in my career. And I think spending a few years working in A-League, it opened my eyes a little bit to the challenges, I guess, of working in some special codes in Australia. The A-League is relatively under-resourced league compared to, say, AFL, and it obviously comes with the challenges as well.
So, to answer your question, definitely soccer was my initial thinking. And, it being the world game, made me thinking, maybe overseas opportunities can open up there. But, having landed where I am now, I really love where I am and then the structure AFL has played in sports medicine and high-performance department. So, I’m really happy where I am and it’s definitely something that I always wanted to get to.
Jack: And then, early on, who were some strong influences on your career as you were forging your way during studying, but also working at Newcastle?
Justin: So, as I said, I was lucky in that. I think I was out of uni for a couple of years when I first started working for the Newcastle Jets. And the person who gave me the opportunity, his name was Robert Dingwall, who was the head physio at the time, and he was someone who really did influence me in a big way early on. I would say, he gave me an opportunity, but also sort of mentored me through those first couple of years. It’s sink or swim mentality. But he really sort of nurtured me through those early years and taught me a lot.
Going forward, I think, through my post-grad studies I’ve been fortunate to come across a lot of great people and met a lot of people that were working in the professional sporting world. Influences have been made. I think people like Craig Purdam and Jill Cook, two of the Australian sports medicine royalty, definitely had a big impact on, especially now my rehab philosophies and how we go about managing injuries from soft tissue and attendant perspective.
And even now, I work in a great department at the Swans, and there’s a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds, and we challenge each other every day. And over the last two years at the Swans, they really had a big influence on me.
Jack: You mentioned, in the A-League, it’s relative compared to the AFL, it’s not as resourced. Do you think early on, for the physios listening, it’s good to be in those environments where you may not have as much support as some of the other codes, so you do have to maybe go out of your area and assist potentially coach in a drill or an S&C in the gym and get experiences outside of your lane, so to speak, early on to develop understanding in different areas?
Justin: Yeah. I think the practices I had there, like, it’s the best thing I did in that I was always sort of forced to upskill. If I was just in a solid role where I was just a physio doing something in a really highly resourced team, it would’ve been really difficult for me now.
Back in the early days of the A-League, you’d be sort of upskilling in sports science, strength & conditioning, as you said, the football coaching side of things. You’re taking rehab drills and sessions, and you’ve really got to expand your knowledge more broadly, so to speak.
And as I said, I wouldn’t do it any other way. It was a challenge, but it’s really what laid the foundation for me to learn and develop my techniques and also allowed me to realize what I liked doing the most and what my strengths were, which, I would say, is the rehab-side of things, which is where I ended up now.
So yes, I’m resourced now and my advice to those listening, who are starting out their careers, is to get your hands dirty early on. Get out and volunteer or go down to your local footy club and try to get your hands dirty, because yes, it will be difficult and the money might not be there, but it’s really where you’re going to learn the majority of the craft, which can set you up for your career.
Jack: And then with Robin Dingo, like that sort of relationship of him being in the senior team, you working with the youth team, was there a lot of overlap or did you have to sort of call him and contact him outside of hours for him to act like a bit of a soundboard and for you to ask questions? How was that set up? Was it a formal sort of mentorship or was it more something that grew as you guys worked together?
Justin: Rob got a lot of his time for me. As you said, after our phone calls, standing board, whenever I needed him, he was always there. But the other thing was that he offered me the first-time training quite a bit just to observe and to help him out.
So, that’s sort of where I really learned. I just got to operate with him and see how he liked to do things and learn from him that way. As I said, that was invaluable to me at the time. I really didn’t know what I was doing as a young physio and to have someone like that who was willing to give me the time and who’d really cared to develop me. As I said, it really did set me up and it’s something that I’m very grateful for.
Jack: And for those listening, I can imagine starting at that level would be quite daunting, obviously, habits, massive for rewards as well, like a steep learning curve and the best way to learn, like you said, it’s getting experienced early in your career. But there would’ve been some challenging moments where you’re looking after athletes in rehab or you’re diagnosing an injury. There’s pressure in elite sport, of course. So, how would you recommend for developing physios working in that environment to make the most of mentors, like Rob in your instance? How did you make the most of those resources?
Justin: Best advice I can probably give you, is just to know your limitations. I definitely didn’t know everything and I knew that, and I was willing to admit that from an early age. You know that old saying: who know everything to go out of the door? And for me it was more like, if I didn’t know the answer, I wasn’t afraid to call someone and be like, ‘Hey, look, I’ve just seen this injury, not quite sure what’s going on. Do you mind having a second opinion for me?’ And I still do that to this day.
I think that, as a physio, you shouldn’t be ashamed to be asking for help. As I said, I’m still doing that to this day. They were experts like Craig Purdum and Jill Cook for tricky cases. And you can surround yourself with a good network of people that are willing to give you the time. They sort of have been there and have done it and sort of got the answers themselves and experience that’s really, really valuable. And I don’t think that you have to do all on your own. There’s always somebody who can help you.
Jack: That’s great advice, mate. Thanks for sharing. And in terms of building your network base, you mentioned Jill Сook and Craig Purdam. How did you go about developing those relationships as your career progressed?
Justin: I think early on everyone knows who they are just through their status, the sportsmen. And the research that I published was first introduced to both of them through a master’s program. That’s sort of when I first met them and knew who they where. And it’s actually not really until I started at the Swans. You know Damian Raper, the head physio there? Damian came from the IRS himself and had a good working relationship with both Jill and Craig. And I think that’s where the relationship strengthened, we were not afraid to give them a call and ask for advice on some things and as I said, that’s probably where that relationship blossomed, for a want of a better word.
Jack: And in terms of going from a code that you were familiar with, that you played yourself, to a different code in footy. You played football growing up or soccer you played, but did you play Australian rules football or was that a sport that you had to learn on the job?
Justin: Born and bred in New South Wales. So, AFL or footy isn’t on the list, no sports. So, that was a challenge for sure. And it’s probably something that I thought was going to be a limiting factor in me working in the code, having not played it and didn’t have a great grasp of the game myself.
I think I approached it from different aspect in that the body is the body, injuries are injuries and there’s a lot of similarities there. And I sort of brought my experiences with keeping groin and hamstring injuries from soccer backgrounds to the AFL code. And the first thing I did when I was lucky enough to get there, I always upskilled myself in the game, speaking to coaches, speaking to players, really diving into the game myself.
What are the physical demands of the game? What are the different positions? What do they have to do? For my role in the rehab space, that’s really important to know, what the player does and what they need to do and what you need to get them back to. So, I leant on the coaches and the players and stuff around that had that experience in AFL, to bridge that gap.
Jack: That’s an interesting point. It’s something that I’ve noticed in all football codes or team-based athletes, or maybe even practitioners that have come from track and field and different areas. Some people would have that same sort of belief, that I know I would have as well, if I was going for a sport that I didn’t play, ‘Geez, how am I going to go about applying my craft to that area?’ But you broke that down nicely. An injury is an injury, the body is the human body. So, the physiology doesn’t change. You just gotta learn the sport. And coaches sometimes can find that quite refreshing and same with athletes, that you work with practitioners that have got different backgrounds.
So, it almost can be a strength in some sense when you’re actually in the environment, because you’ve got some different things that you can add and contribute to the environment. If you found that like with having a soccer background, maybe it might be connecting with a coach who is interested in soccer, for example, when you get that connection, or a player that also has a passion or feels that they learn a little bit from soccer and apply that to their football.
Justin: Yeah, exactly. In physio department we’ve got, the four of us, we’ve got Lany Enslie, who’ve come from an apple background, myself come from soccer background, Justin Merlino – track and field, and then obviously Damian, who’s had the experiences of medicine and working in AFL. So, you know, that was a deliberate strategy for Damie to sort of get people with different backgrounds, different experiences that can bring a different perspective to things. It’s always good to have that in a team.
And there’s obviously quite a few of the boys who follow the English Premier League and the A-League as well. And so, being able to discuss that with them and give them a bit of an insight on the differences between the two sports. I remember speaking to one of the players once about knives and chimneys, how they can play and what that entails, having a career on a Saturday, playing on Tuesday, flying back, playing on the Estrada in Melbourne, three-day turnaround and all this sort of thing.
Yeah, it’s just really interesting just to see the differences in the athletes and what they’re capable of doing. So, yeah, I’d say it’s definitely been helpful coming from that background, for sure.
Jack: And on that note, soccer is known for quick turnarounds and AFL had to experience that with COVID for the last couple of years.
So, leaning on that experience and knowing what athletes can handle, obviously, they are different sports from a contact point of view, but the demand on the legs and the main physical stressor, you could say, in terms of speed and acceleration change direction, those sorts of loads from groins and hammy point of view. Do you feel like you could lean on that a little bit and have a bit of a better understanding of what’s been going on with the calendar year the last couple of years?
Justin: Yeah, definitely. I think the biggest thing that I realized through soccer, you realize what the boys are capable of doing. As I said, the A-League squads aren’t big, you’ve probably got 15 to 16 high-quality players who play every week or could play every week. And so, often it’s the same players playing back-to-back. And, as I said, here in Champions, they are playing mid-week and weekend for a six to eight week period.
And it’s the same players playing all the time. And so, you’ve got these 34-, 35-year-old players, that are just backing out every three days, running 12, 13 K. And the long haul slots from Asia back to Australia and they manage and they get through. And so, I think that’s something that may be a model to what’s capable and bring that to the AFL. As I said, obviously the big difference is the contact piece. In AFL it really does take the body longer to recover from, but it also does make you… And the COVID period, the changes in schedule just show that you can do it, and if you have to do it, the body will find a way to do it.
I think it’s just probably comes back to what you’re used to doing and how you train. And if you’re used to training three days a week for 10 years, then you enter the week and that’s what you’re going to be comfortable doing and trying a full pitch session in that might be difficult. But if you build it up slowly and expose the players to a little bit more training load, that ultimately might be a protective thing.
And that’s probably something that I could, again, lean on from my experiences in soccer, is that just because you’ve got not the right joints or something like that, it doesn’t mean you can’t train. That’s probably something that we are quite big on at the Swans is what can you do and not what can’t you do.
Jack: Yeah. A hundred percent. And what about from an application point of view and being a successful candidate. So, you’ve got that with the Newcastle gig and then Sydney Swans. For physiotherapists that are going out there and wanting to put their best foot forward, how do you prepare yourself for either an interview or maybe the first call with someone who you’re applying to, whether it be the head physio or a coach that you’re speaking to? What are some of your ways that you try and work on your philosophy and going with to clear your mind?
Justin: I think the first time that happened for me, the Newcastle job was a little bit organic. I went from the youth team into the first team after Rob left. And so that was a bit of a smooth transition, but when the Melbourne victory position became available and I was contacted about that, it was obviously nerve-wracking to start with.
But I think the first thing you can do is get your philosophy in place and get your ideas together. You want to go there and present something to them and sort of show them: this is how I operate, and this is what I can bring to the table or the department. You’re not selling yourself, but you’re just showing: this is what I believe in, this is how I can help and how I can fit in.
And I think the other big thing is showing that you want to be part of a team, you want to work with people. That’s another really big thing. You’re working with other people, you want to be able to lean on them and engage with them, rather than just, as I said, do things on your own and have a bit of a solid view on things. So, these are probably the two main things, I’d say, are important if you try going for an interview.
And then the first thing is just understanding what role you’re applying for. Just as an example, like for me applying for a rehab physio role. I wasn’t really going to go into the interview and talk about my experiences so much as the head physio and push that bond so much, because I’m applying for the role because rehab is something I’m interested in. So, that’s something that I pushed. And I leant on my experiences in the rehab space at my previous jobs, rather than just, ‘I’ve been the head physio here for this amount of years. And I’ve seen this and this.’ It was more in terms of: these are the tricky injuries I’ve had and this is how I managed them and these are my strengths and limitations from a rehab sense. So, that’s another thing. Just understanding the job you’re applying for and tailoring your responses to that.
Jack: I love that, mate. That’s great advice for anyone applying as a strength & conditioning coach or physio. Showcasing how you’re a team player and you can work in environment, like you said, fit into the environment. And understanding the role. I think we can all get caught up in all the experiences that you may have done before that point, but if it doesn’t apply to what they are looking for, like you said, you’ve got to contribute to the club. That’s ultimately what they’re looking for, the best candidate to help through the club and be able to serve the athletes. Focus your energy on that. Then you’re almost helping them make the decision.
Justin: Yeah, exactly. One of the things I’ve learned in Swans over the years I’ve been there, it’s play your role. And I think that’s something that is vitally important in all performance and sports medicine, that A – we know our role, and B – play that role. It doesn’t mean that we can’t work with the S&Cs and maybe give them a bit of feedback or advice in the program, but it’s just knowing what your role is and what you’re going to bring to the team. And, as I said, playing that role.
Jack: And what about self-development? What are some of your favorite ways to sharpen your craft as a practitioner?
Justin: I think for me the first thing was study. As I said, your undergraduate degree only gets you so far. So, the first thing I wanted to do as early as I could was get a load of experience and as much experience as I could fresh out of uni, but also I was pretty keen to get into the master’s program. So, I did Sports Physio Master’s through La Trobe University. And that’s something that progressed me clinically, but the main way I develop my skills is just purely through communicating with other people that are working in the field.
As I said, I’m not afraid to reach out to other people and ask them for advice, ask them how they do things. I’m learning every day from the people I’m working around. I’ve got Jody, who’s Health Performance major and Jody’s background’s at Richmond. And I constantly ask him, ‘How you do things at Richmond? And how would you approach this?’ He’s been in the rehab role as well. Shaun Maynor, a strength coach with background in rugby union. Again, just asking him, ‘When you were in rugby union, how did you approach this?’
So, that’s probably where I actually pick up the most, it’s purely through conversations and discussing things with our network. I think a lot of people find that there’s a lot of people out there that are willing to help and offer advice. So, that’s definitely something that I’d say is the main way I sharpen my focus or develop my skills.
Jack: What about from a highlights point of view, mate? Like over your career to this point, what do you look back most fondly?
Justin: I think a couple stand out. The 2018 early season for me was a highlight. I was in Newcastle Jets at the time and we’d been through a bit of a rough patch. We’ve been through two owners and a handful of coaches. And we’d gone from being sort of a wooden spoon ended up at the bottom of the table to then Ernie Merrick came in and really turned the club around.
And we sort of went on this runway. We were winning more often, we ended up sitting at the table and made it all the way to the Grand Final. It’s still something that I look back on as one of the best years of my career. Not just because of the success that we had. But because of the way the success was manufactured, I guess. It wasn’t through luck, it was through design. He really brought this philosophy to the club. That was new and it really changed the way that we did things.
I think the other ones that stand out are the Championship campaign when I was with no victory. It’s that experience when you are playing games in front of sold-out stadiums in Guangzhou, in China, and in Korea, in Seul. And as I said, visiting these places and being fortunate enough to work over there is something that I’ll never forget.
I think that in more recent years in AFL there is probably one that really stands out to me. And that was last year, I remember in the Hub we had the game against GWS. And it was about half an hour before kickoff, and we had four players rolled out through being close contacts, especially halfway through the warmup. And yeah, just that whole chaos was something that I’ll never forget.
And just the way that John Lowman and the coaching staff just turned it into a positive straightaway and said, ‘Heck with this, we’ve got four other players who can come in and do the job.’ And we ended up going on after sliced up and we went on to win the game. And it’s something that still it’s probably the highlight of the whole season for me. It’s just this game that will probably never happen again, the circumstances and how everybody reacted to that adversity and sort of shrugged it off and took it as a positive and got the results.
Jack: That’s awesome. Testament to good leadership there. And culture for those players stepping up.
You mentioned the turnover of owners at Newcastle at the time and instability of staff, including coaches. For those that haven’t worked in A-League, how does it work? You hear stories of English Premier League, where a new manager means new staff. Are you contracted to the club or are you contracted to the coach? Did you have insecurities during those phases of your job security or, if you were doing a good job, that was taken care of, so to speak?
Justin: No, you definitely don’t feel safe. I think, soccer or football is a lot more cutthroat than AFL or Rugby League and clubs are obviously a little bit quicker to pull the trigger on firing a manager, if they are not getting the success they want.
As medical staff we are a little bit more independent of the coach and we do work for the club, so we have contract to the club. But in saying that, I have seen it happen before where new coach comes in and just brings his own staff in, and there’s nothing you can do about it, whether you’re doing a good job or not.
So, I think for me they were very challenging times where you’re not quite sure if you’re going to have a job and for how long. And you do second guess yourself a little bit, but also start having backups in place just in case that tap on the shoulder does come.
It’s not something that’s fun. It’s not something that I hope many people need to go through. But at least that means that again, I think it highlights, if you are doing a good job and you’re giving your best, then you would hope that in more circumstances than not that you will keep your job and the club sort of can see the value you add and the benefit you can bring.
Jack: On that it’s a good segue for challenges made in you career so far. What are some major challenges that you’ve faced and what have you learned from it? If any?
Justin: I guess it started from that. From the changes of coaches and sitting there, not knowing if you’ve got a job or not. That’s probably one big challenge.
But I think the other thing for me was when I moved from Newcastle down to Melbourne with my partner and then wife at that time to basically take up a job with Melbourne Victory. And so, for me, I was comfortable in Newcastle. I was settled, loved where I lived, family just up the road. And we decided to pack up and move down to Melbourne, which was a bit of a step that I’d always wanted to take, it’s something that always challenges you.
Going to a new city where we didn’t really know anyone was difficult and moving to a club of the status of Melbourne Victory with the success they’ve had at that time had its own pressures and expectations. But I guess, the learnings from that was just to embrace it. How lucky I am to do what I do and be able to do that, to pack up and move and experience a new city through my job. So, that was a great experience. And we were really glad that we did that.
Other challenges that I’ve faced along the way, there’s always a tricky injury that you run into. And, as I said, early on in my career I was always thinking I’d rather find a solution, rather than dwell on the problem. Just try and find the solution. And you might have a tricky injury or you have a recurrent injury, and for that 24-hour period it’s the worst experience of your life, doom and gloom.
But I very quickly shifted my focus towards finding a solution and reaching out to other people who may have seen it before, or, again, ask for advice. I think that’s something that I can’t really emphasize that enough, and I’ve mentioned it a few times, but just don’t be afraid to reach out to other people and ask for help. You’re gonna be held in a high regard for doing that rather than not and continually making the same mistakes.
So, they’re probably the challanges I’ve faced and the learnings from them.
Jack: Thanks for sharing. And on the different roles that you’ve had from physiotherapist in the youth academies, from head physio Mevitrio Karen Rehab Physio. So, you’ve experienced many different roles that a physiotherapist can do in elite sport. From the rehab point of view, where you’re sort of bridging that gap between acute management all the way to taking them back to return to performance, what are some areas that you feel physiotherapists may be surprised about, when you’re taking on a rehab role compared to being a physiotherapist in a clinic?
Justin: I’d say the first thing is just the amount of strength & conditioning and sports science knowledge that you need to have, or that helps you in those roles. As I said, I think in a clinic, you may get caught in this manual therapy model mindset. Whereas in the rehab space, that’s still a big tool to use, but it’s very much exercise therapy and exercise progression.
So, I guess, expanding your knowledge in that, was something that I had to do from the start. You really have to upskill your prescription and fine-tune your rehab philosophies and focuses. Probably the biggest difference between a rehab role and your non-default clinical role.
Jack: And what are some of the best ways to do that? If let’s say someone has gone from working in the clinic for a number of years and they’re really sound physio-therapist and then working for themselves and running their own practice, client base, and then working in a team and you are involved in, like you mentioned, sports science, so analyzing GPS, maybe working out the worst case scenario, knowing their average game output, but also being able to take them through the gym progressions. And then also, like you mentioned, it’s still treating and so you are across everything. And then in some circumstances involving the coaches as well. So, what are some of your favorite ways to try and develop those areas that you may not get experience in the clinic?
Justin: Again, I think, there’s obviously the academic group. You can do things like actual accreditation or keep going and do a post-graduate in strength & conditioning course, if that’s the way you want it to go.
I didn’t do that, I actually learnt on the job, so to speak. So, for me, it was more about, as I said, making a network of people in those areas and leaning on experts in those fields. Following them on Twitter, reading their research and staying up to date with literature. That’s definitely something that I did a lot of early on. I read a lot, upskilled. There’re plenty of textbooks out there that you can look for. And that will give you some pointers in that direction as well.
But for me, from strength & conditioning side of things, I’ve been really lucky to work with a number of great S&C coaches, and it’s just asking them questions and picking up things as you go. In my Master’s course, obviously we got quite a bit of that as well, which helped with that skill set. But from S&C side again, it’s just literature. There’s plenty of literature out there on AFL and Mesh domain and the worst case scenarios, and sprint volumes and all that sort of stuff.
But even speaking to a sports scientist and saying, ‘Hey, look, this isn’t my area of expertise, but can you help me understand what these metrics mean?’ Or ‘What does high speed running mean for this person?’ And ‘What’s an accel, what’s a decel, change direction?’ All those sort of metrics that you’re looking at throughout the rehab process.
So, as I said, it’s either an academic way or upskilling and reading or just reaching out to people that are working in those fields and asking them for their opinion or their help on it.
Jack: You mentioned earlier, the challenges that the athlete goes through when they’ve had an injury and particularly those first 24 hours. What’s part of your philosophy in terms of communicating with an athlete once they’re injured and you’re looking after them, so they’re in the rehab group? What do you find are some successful ways to support that athlete, but also maybe respect their space? Take us through the art of the coaching side of things.
Justin: Everyone goes through a grieving process and the severity of the injury might determine how long those processes are. I’ve seen athletes that might have a season-long injury and you always need to let them go through that anger phase and denial and all those phases that they’re going to go through, it’s normal. And you almost just have to be there and support them through that.
And then when the time is right, it’s trying to redirect their focus towards the rehab and saying, ‘Hey, look, this is great opportunity for you to work on things you weren’t good at before.’ I always say to the athletes that rehab’s an opportunity to develop. Maybe they might’ve had a leg injury and they’re going to be off for a little bit. But you can work on upper body strengths, if that’s something that the coaches want to work on with them, or if that’s something they want to develop. So again, just sort of redirecting their focus a little bit towards things that they can do and what they are capable of doing.
And probably in case of longer-term injury, this is also just making sure that they do have something else to focus on. A lot of younger players especially, their life is almost defined by their sport. And so, when that’s taken away from them, they really struggle. So, we’re really lucky in the AFL, where there’s a great support network around the player in that sort of wellbeing and wellness space.
But maybe you can say, ‘Have you thought about taking up some study?’ Or someone might be already studying and you can say, ‘This is a great opportunity for you to focus on that.’ So, it helps them get away from their life being defined by the injury and by not playing their sport, and get out of their head a little bit and focus on things that they can do and redirecting their focus, as I said.
Jack: And what about recurrence and a situation where it might not be a significant setback, but it hasn’t been linear, which is, I imagine, quite common in rehabilitation? How do you go about supporting that athlete and knowing that they’re still on the same timeline, or maybe only set back by a week, reassuring them and, like you mentioned, that refocus? Is that showing some video or is it a reporting? What are some ways that you can get an athlete back on track and give them that positive mindset?
Justin: I guess it depends on the context around that. But if they’re coming back from a hammy strain and they do have a recurrence in rehab early on, when they are getting back into training, I guess the one thing that the athlete wants to know is why. And I think the earlier you can answer that question for them, the better it’s gonna be. One thing that you always want to make sure is that you keep that trust with the athlete and they trust what you’re doing.
And, as I said, it might be just ‘Look, we’ve done everything by the book and we’ve followed what evidence says is the best way to rehabilitate this injury. You’ve got back and, unfortunately, there’s been a recurrence. So, we’re going to wait and look at alternative ways. We’re going to, as I said, reach out to these experts in these fields and try and see if there’s another way we can approach it.’ Sometimes just that is enough to help them mentally get through it. Knowing that you are doing everything for them. And you’re giving them every chance they had at getting better.
And I think the other piece on it is just, if you set expectations early that rehab isn’t linear, because I haven’t seen many rehabs where it’s a smooth, gradual progression and everything goes the way you want it to. There’s always going to be up days, down days, small setbacks and also some winds on the way where things are moving quicker. And if we set that expectation from the start and communicate that to the player that that’s probably what the process is gonna look like, that can definitely help them.
And then the third thing I was gonna say, sometimes it’s just a conversation with a fellow athlete, who’s been through it. Knowing that you’re still going to get there, things are going to be okay and you’re going to get through this. And sometimes it’s just reaching out to a fellow teammate, who’s been through that same experience and had a recurrent hamstring or had a second ACL injury or something like that, and got back successfully. And even that is enough to get them to refocus.
Jack: That’s amazing advice, mate. And what about, from the rehab practitioners point of view, how do you go about managing that pressure and that stress of it might be a recurrence or something hasn’t quite gone to plan and and you’re reviewing things and naturally there’s going to be just stresses within that? How do you go about managing those stress levels?
Justin: Do you mean with the athlete or with the staff?
Jack: With yourself and then, I guess, within your own team as well, high-performance medical team?
Justin: So again, for me, if something like that did happen, the first thing I’d do is reflect. You can pick up the rehab and go through it with a fine tooth comb and think: have we done everything correctly, have we followed our philosophies and have we stuck to the structure that we have in place? And then, as I said, if the answer to that question is no, we didn’t follow our philosophy, then there’s the first problem. If the answer is yes, we did follow our philosophy, then, as I said, that’s where we need to be thinking a bit more laterally and thinking outside the box.
When you’re working in a department, it’s always important to involve the high performance team, doctors, physios, transitioning sport scientists, dietetics, psychologist, just everyone around them needs to be involved in the rehab process. And what we would do is, if there was something that didn’t go the way I wanted it to, or there was a setback, we would sit down with the team and discuss it and go ‘Well, what’s happened here?’
And again, sometimes for me to actually sit back and get external feedback on ‘Have you thought of doing this?’, or ‘Maybe you should look at this?’, or ‘That can actually be really helpful as well.’ Because sometimes when you’re in a rehab for a period of time, you can get a little bit narrow focus, for want of a better word. And sometimes when someone with the fresh set of eyes is running their eye over the program, they begin to say things that you probably haven’t picked up in the first place, or again, they’re gonna be looking at you a bit more laterally anyway. So, that’s something that I find really helpful.
Jack: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, mate. And it’s good to get that, no matter what your role, I imagine, by leaning on others and team members that might have a different perspective and different experiences to shed light on an area. So, thanks for sharing that.
And then what about getting the information from the athlete? Let’s say they’ve either just got injured for the first time and, like you mentioned, you want to know the why, the athlete’s gonna want to know the why. So, you’ve got your detective hat on. What are some of the key questions from the athlete’s perspective, knowing what state they were going into from a mental point of view or what’s going on with their life or sleep and these other contributing factors to breakdown? What are some key questions, do you think, are important for physios to ask?
Justin: We’re a little bit lucky in that we collect the data, so we can look at it that way. Your wellness values, your sleep, your stress, your muscle soreness and all that. That’s definitely something that you look at.
You can communicate with the player. It is important to know what else might’ve been happening in their lives. Say, through a recurring hamstring and then after the fact they tell you ‘Oh, yeah, I moved weights for those.’ But that might be something that comes into it. It might be someone who their wife has just given birth and their sleep patterns are all over the place. So, I think it is really important to have that conversation with the athlete about ‘Is there anything else going on that side of here that may be contributing to that?’
Again, you’ve got to be a little bit careful, when you ask that question. You’ve obviously got to have a good relationship with the player, and not do it from an interrogation perspective. But throughout that process of rehab you’re spending a lot of time with the player. I would hope that I’d know all that stuff just through general chit-chat and conversation about what’s going on in their life. And you hope that just through general discussions that they’re gonna open up about those sorts of things and you can be aware of it.
But if not, then, as I said, it might be asking somebody else who’s close to them. ‘Hey, how has so-and-so been at home?’ You know, they might live together. ‘How are they at home? Do they seem themselves?’ Speaking to other people that are around them a lot can also give you a bit of insight as to how they’re actually doing.
Again, I mentioned the stress and then the mental and psychological state that players might be in. And you might not see that. And as I said, it might be just speaking to their housemates, speaking to their partner. ‘Is there anything else going on? How are they doing at home? Are they struggling?’ You might have a player who says everything’s fun and rays, when they see you, but behind the scene, they’re really struggling with it all. And you might need to take that into consideration in terms of referring on, speaking to the doctors and team around them. And sort of helping them holistically.
Jack: With that, like you mentioned, you spend a lot of time with them and you’re picking up a lot of information from the athlete. Plus, you’ve got the objective-subjective data to lean on as well. When you’re going about your weekly planning, and let’s say there’s a little bit of pressure with bringing that athlete back, maybe it’s September, from the coaches to bring them back earlier, than what you would like. Maybe they want a full week and it needs to be a three week.
What would you be most concerned about, things like lifestyle stress or clinical assessment, maybe strengthened numbers in the gym? What would be some big markers that you’d feel if they’re not hitting, it’s going to be pretty hard to convince the coach they’re going to be ready to be able to play a full game in three weeks?
Justin: First and foremost, that’d probably be clinical markers. So, I’ll be thinking of things like strengths, lengths, triangular motion. That’d probably be the first things I’ll hang my hat on. If someone’s only got 50% strength on their hamstring after the injury and they’re expected to play in a week, chances are that’s going to be unlikely. That’s probably the first thing I’d go through is to see, clinically what do they look like? How are they progressing?
If all of the clinical tests are okay, I’d probably then start leaning on the loading data a little bit, and I’d be speaking about GPS. And if you don’t have access to GPS, it’s just probably having an understanding of how fast do they run? How often have they run fast? We’ve talked about a hamstring as an example. What distances have they hit? How many times do they keep their footy? How that looks at speed? All those sorts of things that you take into consideration that might limit your decision as to whether or not they should or shouldn’t play.
And then, if all of that looks good, then you start thinking about ‘Is there any other reason why this person shouldn’t play?’ If their loading data sets up and they train fully, and the clinical markers look good, you might then look at the wellness data and start saying, ‘Well, is there any trend here? Is stress through the roof? Are they really sleeping poorly? Or are they starting to develop an illness? Is there some other reason as to why they might come unstuck if they do return to play?’
So, I’d probably say clinical markers first, loading data is obviously important. And then probably the wellness data comes after that.
Jack: Awesome. Thanks for sharing that. And then on the flip side, and the last one before we go into the larger part of the podcast, the get-to-know-you section.
If you’ve got an athlete that is hitting all your markers and all your clinical assessments, and they’re going really well from a physical point of view, however, they’re not confident within themselves, what are some methods that you’ve leant on in those circumstances to try and boost confidence and boost their self-esteem to return to play?
Justin: That’s a really important point. And just sort of reflecting on the question you asked earlier, one thing I didn’t say is that athlete’s readiness is a huge indicator of readiness to return. And there’s obviously quite a bit of literature around that coming out now.
So, I would actually say that even if you have ticked all your boxes, and the athlete’s saying, ‘I don’t quite feel ready’, that is something that probably would ring alarm bells. And it would just make you think why. Knowing athlete would help. If they are an athlete who is typically an overreporter and an anxious person generally, and maybe they’ve got a bit of performance anxiety, and that may be the reason they don’t want to go back to play, then that’s something that you might target and tell them, ‘You look really good at the moment.’ Get the coaches involved. ‘You’re looking great. I’m really happy with how you’re playing and training.’
That’s probably one angle I’d go at. Get coaches involved and then get them to help build confidence. It’s all good for your physio or an S&C to say, ‘Mate, you look great,’ but to hear it from the head coach or line coach, that support goes a long way.
The other thing is, again, just asking why they don’t feel like they’re ready. And that might help you as well. They might say, ‘Look, I know that I’m strong, but I’ve still got some symptoms when I do exercises.’ And that might perk up your ears a little bit to something that maybe you’ve missed through your clinical assessments or something that you might want to investigate a little bit further.
But if you’re pretty confident as a medical practitioner, that the injurie’s healed or it’s as healed as it’s going to be, then it’s all about relaying that confidence to the player and saying, ‘Hey, look, we’re really happy with it. You’ve done all the things.’ You might want to show them their GPS data. ‘Look, mate, you’ve sprinted, you had a hundred percent of the max velocity, you’ve changed direction maximally, you’ve done a match load in one-on-one skill sessions and controlled rehab. You’ve done three training sessions. You’re ready to go.’ So, giving them the data models to help them realize that they’re ready or at least boost their confidence a little bit.
But, as I said, it’s definitely something that I personally take into consideration quite a bit in that return to play discussion.
Jack: Thanks, mate. You can see how much is involved in your current role. And you mentioned how important it is to be a team player and be across all the different cohorts within the footy club. Not only for your sake, but also for the athlete’s sake. So you can lean on all those different roles in helping with return to performance. So, yes, dropping gems all the way through for physiotherapists listening in.
But looking back at your career now, going back to being a head physio, do you feel like the rehab role is a great development role for physiotherapists to then come into a leadership position? Because you’ve done the head physio role and then now you’re going to rehab, do you feel like it helps being in those sort of leadership positions, once you’ve been a rehab physiotherapist?
Justin: Yeah, definitely. I think, probably the more natural evolution would be going to, say, a rehab role and then into a head physio. For me it was more getting the exposure in a different sport and being able to focus on something that I really love and the rehab space was my reason for going into this role.
I think any experience, whether it’s as a massage therapist, volunteering with the first team, or being a sports science intern with the first team, it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing. If you’re in that environment or around it, you’re still going to learn, you’re still going to develop your skill set.
So, yeah, as I said, I think it matters what that pathway looks like, but getting any exposure to it definitely helps. If you’re going into rehab role first, the benefit of that is you can really just focus on rehab and start to fine tune your philosophies and intrinsic skill set with different injuries.
So, that’s something that can help you for then, if you do make that step up to be a head physio, that you already got that understanding, and you’ve had that experience of fine tuning the rehab space. And then the other side of it comes in, obviously, the diagnostics and the management side of things and communication with coaches and managing up, so to speak, that sort of comes into it.
As I said, any experience in a higher position is integral. And it doesn’t matter what it is. Like, as I said, we used to get physio students from the university of Newcastle to come in and help with a massage in the A-League. And even that was good experience for them, because then we ran PD research and sort of educate them a little bit on how we go about doing things. So, even though they are here to be a massage therapist and to help out there, they’re still gonna see how we operate on a day-to-day basis. So, yeah. Any experience is valuable.
Jack: All right. We’ll move into the get-to-know-you section now, mate. So, we can have a bit of fun with this. But which movie or TV series has impacted you the most and why? You can throw in books as well.
Justin: Difficult one to answer. I was thinking about it. More recently I watched the Michael Jordan documentary. ‘The Last Dance’ was a phenomenal docuseries. And just seeing the insight into an elite mentality of almost how neurotic someone of that level is, and how obsessed they are with sort of getting to the peak of their sport.
And I guess too much of that is actually the Rinaldo documentary. If anyone hasn’t seen that, again, it’s just sort of gives you a bit of an insight into his elite mentality and how he goes about being the best in his sport.
They are probably two that I can think of that really stand out to me and are influential just in the way that you see an insight into their daily operations, but just the mentality that these people at the top of their game have.
Jack: I didn’t even know there was a Rinaldo one. I’ll have to check that out.
Justin: On Netflix.
Jack: Your favorite inspirational quote or life motto?
Justin: I’m not really a quote guy, to be honest. I think life motto is probably ‘don’t take anything for granted’. I would say, I’m probably very lucky to be doing what I do. I love what I do, and I’m very lucky to work in sport every day and work with professional athletes.
And it’s not something that I do lightly. I’m really proud of what I do, but also very lucky to be doing what I do. And then I don’t take it for granted. I think that’s something that, whether it’s an athlete or a physio, or S&C, it doesn’t matter. I think it’s just never take anything for granted, because life is short and you never know what can happen.
Just don’t take anything for granted and make the most of it.
Jack: Well said, mate. And what about pet peeves in your work life? What makes you angry?
Justin: I’m going to say whinge. I probably saw it a little bit. I just said about not taking things for granted, and probably one of my biggest pet peeves is when I hear a professional athlete who gets to come in every day and kick a footy around whinge at what they have to do. ‘Oh no, I’ll go to bed around two o’clock today.’ And it’s like, ‘Mate, you don’t really realize how good you’ve got it and how many people would kill to have this position.’ So, probably my biggest pet peeve at work is just whinge and people that don’t appreciate what they’ve got.
Jack: And in COVID free world, which we’re pretty close to being in now, what’s your favorite way of spending your day off?
Justin: Other than catching up on work? It’s probably, I like to get out on a bike, get for a ride where I can. Also, just staying at home with my wife and family and just making the most of the time together. You know, working in sport days off are few and far between at times. So, it’s probably staying with your loved ones and family as much as you can, when you can.
Jack: And what about your favourite holiday destination?
Justin: Probably, that’s Italy. Only been there once. But I absolutely loved it. And the architecture, the food, everything about it I loved. And it’s probably first on my list to head back to when we’re able to.
Jack: Absolutely. It’s definitely on my list. I haven’t been there yet and I’ve heard it’s fantastic. So, I have to get there at some point.
Well, thank you so much for jumping on and sharing with us your experiences in elite sport and how you’ve got the opportunities that you’ve worked hard for. And also some things that have worked for you in your field and in the experiences that you’ve got and also some learnings as well.
So, no doubt for physios, S&Cs, anyone that wants to be in sport, it has been massively beneficial and I’ve learnt a lot from it, mate. So, thanks so much for jumping on. And, hopefully, some developing athletes as well will have a bit more awareness of when they next whinge, how good they’ve actually got it. Couldn’t agree with you more, mate. That’s definitely a pet peeve of mine.
But talk us through what are you excited about for 2022? What’s on the horizon for you?
Justin: I think, obviously, work-wise, it’s seeing just how far this young Bloods can go, seeing how far this team can take it this year. That’s something that I’m definitely excited about. And outside of that, it’s probably international travel again, which has just been off the radar for a while. So, looking forward to, hopefully, getting away.
Jack: And for those that want to reach out and maybe ask any questions or get in touch, what’s the best way to connect with you? Is it socials, email?
Justin: Shoot me a message on LinkedIn. It’s probably the easiest way to contact me. I check it semi-regularly. It goes without saying, but it might take me a couple of days to get back to you. Just given travel, et cetera. So, LinkedIn’s probably the easiest way, mate. But I can flick through my email after this and people are more than welcome to contact me via email as well.
Jack: Easy. I’ll add the LinkedIn in the show notes for anyone listening while driving.
Thanks again, mate, for jumping on. For those that are tuned into the live show later on the podcast, make sure to listen to the very start. You can watch this, it’s on our YouTube channel and then we’ll be releasing it on our podcast on Tuesday next week. So, stay tuned. We’ll release the podcast on Tuesday and you’ll have access to that and any of your favorite podcast directories.
But thanks again, Justin, for jumping on. Looking forward to seeing what the Bloods can do and, hopefully, have some success and Hayden can get involved with as well. Thank you so much for jumping on and looking forward to seeing what you can do for the rest of your career as well, mate. No doubt, it’s only the very beginning of a great career in elite sport.
Justin: Awesome, mate. Thanks for having me. And take care.
Jack: For those that want to watch our next live chat, we’re actually going to do a monthly collaborated event with AFL high performance managers next Friday. So, it will be the 29th of April. We’ll be at the same time, at 8:30 Australian Eastern Standard Time. So, we’ll post a link on our social. See you, guys, then.