Samantha is the Managing Director of The SAM Centre. She is a Clinical Health Psychologist, and a Sport and Exercise Psychologist. Samantha has 30 years experience in private practice in well-established multidisciplinary clinics, and as a consultant to private businesses, peak and sporting bodies, tertiary lecturer, and clinical leader in corporate and public health organizations.
Highlights of the episode:
Importance of getting out of your comfort zone
Getting experience in elite sport as a sports psychologist
What it takes to develop a champion’s mindset
How to improve your recovery and performance with diaphragmatic breathing
Mental skills athletes can start practicing now to become elite
Jack: Welcome back to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ live chat show. My name is Jack McLean. I am your host. And today my guest is Dr. Samantha McLeod. She’s the sport psychologist for the Richmond Football Club, managing director of the SAM Center, clinical health psychologist and sport and exercise psychologist with 30 years experience in private practice in well-established multidisciplinary clinics and as a consultant to private business, peak in sporting bodies, tertiary lecturer, and clinical leader in corporate and public health.
Before we start this 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 like the show, please show your support by following us on Instagram and subscribing to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.
Welcome, Samantha. Thanks for jumping on.
Samantha: Thank you very much. That was quite a mouthful. Wasn’t it? There was a tongue twister, that intro.
Jack: Yeah. A little bit of a tongue twister, but there’s plenty to unpack over the next 60 minutes. So really looking forward to sharing your story in working both in the clinic business, as well as, of course, elite sport. Take us back to the very beginning, Samantha. What age did you recognize that you had a passion for psychology and then eventually working with athletes?
Samantha: I remember a lady came out when I was in year nine and I didn’t really know what psychology was. I think she was actually a child psychologist at the time. But prior to that, cause I was an elite basketball player. So like everyone who’s an elite athlete thinks they’re gonna end up in sport.
I thought I was gonna be a PE teacher or a physio, and I’d done some placements with my auntie who was a teacher. And then I’d gone into hospitals. Do any physio rounds. And I thought, I sort of ignore the average. I really was only interested in the people who are really quiet or the people who are arching up in the playground. So I wonder what those people do.
And then this person spoke to me in year nine and I just knew, and I thought I was gonna work with young people which I do, but ended up in the elite end, really even not just sport, but work with gifted kids and adults as well. So I knew pretty early.
But, I say actually, people, I have one of those faces that people just tell me they’re stuffed, even if I’m sitting on a bus . So I think since I was a kid I’ve been holding everyone’s secrets, trying to find what I was meant to do when I grew up.
Jack: Oh, very good. That’s a special power for a sports psychologist or any psychologist. What about strong influences or mentors throughout your career today so far?
Samantha: I remember we did a HHH session at Richmond. And when I first came on and I was thinking, oh, who are my heroes? And they were all male, which is ironic, like throughout my whole life.
I did have some teachers that had a bit impact on me, but probably one of my first real elite coaches in basketball when I was playing at Buso and then played national league. He was a real innovator and pioneer, and we were doing probably since state teams, since I was 14, doing a lot of sports. He was a PE teacher, but he would just learnt rapidly.
And so I learned all about a mental rehearsal I would do for my own games. He would prepare us like professionals. We would do all the stuff like that. So I had that grounding really early on. And then it was his probably thirst for learning and being on top of the game. And still he’s like over 70 and he lives in Queensland and still rings me up every now and then to pick my brain and vice versa.
So he’s been an influence my whole life. Probably the next man I’d say was when I was doing psychology and that was my mentor and supervisor. He professor Rob Kirkby. He was quite a well known sports psych at the time. And he actually really suddenly died. My last year of my PhD, he was my PhD supervisor, but he was like over 60 and he would just run.
He just thought he was like 30. So he died doing what he wanted, running, and just had a heart attack. So that was very difficult, but he was my mentor for about 10 years. He worked with Australian Cricket. He worked with a lot of national teams and I was his little protege and he would take me to all the trainings.
He would put me on the spot, try and make me run the sessions as a BU little sports. Like when I was there, I was like, oh my God. My heart was going on maybe miles an hour. I had to deal with the performance anxiety. So he really threw me in the deep end and he pushed me, and he was amazed because I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to do health psychology, which was more like medical psychology, or sport and exercise psychology.
And so he basically designed the pathways that I could simultaneously qualify for both. So that’s why I’ve got endorsements in both now through opera and he, out of his own time, ran all the sports, like course content and everything after hours for me. And then I did a joint thesis. And he took me all around the world to his international conferences and made me get up in front of people. So I think professionally he really inspired me. And still does.
And then the other guy is someone that’s cross paths my whole career. And that’s Dr. Peter Carport, who was the AFL medical director. He’s the director also at Aton Sports Medicine clinic, where I worked for 12 years when I first came out and we also worked in a space of compensable care TAC and work safe on the clinical panels together.
And we always seemed to refer to each other still. And then ironically, I ended up in the AFL and he’s just resigned. He’s still in the AFL, but we just keep crossing paths. So he inspires me. Well, he worked in my sport. And still does so bear from other people.
Jack: Some great people. It sounds like fantastic growth experiences all throughout. Take us back to, as you mentioned, being thrown in the deep end, early on in your career, how important for practitioners listening in is it, do you think, to have someone that does take you outta your comfort? In a safe way, of course.
Samantha: Very and even, I do supervision for placements, for students and things. And I feel like they’re still quite nervous to go out, like they’ve had the training, but to actually run the interventions, even take someone through a relaxation script or a meditation script he used to make us, like we would run the groups and we would be the participants.
And we had to do all of that. And then each of us had to be the facilitator of the group and do all this practice. So he really was into building the efficacy for us. And I think a lot of the courses aren’t run like that anymore, but I certainly do that for my supervisors is, say, if you go, give it your best shot, you’re gonna learn something. But the way to do it is actually do it.
Jack: Get practice.
Samantha: Yeah. So, even the ones at my clinic, my practice are still very nervous actually. And you can understand that cuz they’re dealing with people in mental health most of the time. But they’re getting used to me pushing them and getting them out of their comfort zone because like I said, that’s how I got where.
I used to say, even to Peter har or like, I don’t even understand why you keep referring people to me. Like, how do you know if I’m any good? And he would go, I know a lot of people and a lot of people talk and it’s cuz he just put them there and I had to step up. So a lot of the strategies that I’m teaching people, you actually have to use yourself in those settings.
Jack: And to develop confidence at that earlier stage while you’re building your experience, is it a matter of reflecting on an experience to improve on the next one? Or is it rehearsing in your own time? Take us through to start building some momentum behind your practice.
Samantha: It’s probably pretty similar to what we do with younger players, but development players going through the pathways, you do have to think. I think I was fortunate. I think playing elite level basketball, I use those transferable skills really. A lot of people tend to think in the domains they’re in and they think I haven’t done this before, but I always say, you gotta look at your past successes, look at what you’ve done and look at your transferable skills.
And that gives you confidence that you don’t need to know everything. Like the people who come outta sports think they have to know everything about every sport, the rules. And I said, that’s not your role. You can learn that from the athlete. You don’t have to SW up about that. So looking at those past successes and knowing if you have transferable skills, I think is really important and also preparing.
So, one of the things Rob used to say to me is. Don’t be so arrogant to give somebody something that you haven’t tried yourself and that if you’re going to do things, know whether they work, how they don’t work, what you have to do to tweet them, because that actually builds efficacy in the intervention when you can talk to someone like that. So that has been really big with me and I push people to do that.
Cuz I have heard people that give people relaxation scripts, and they’ve never done it themselves. They wouldn’t have what it’s like, I think, well, when the person comes back and says you, which they do athletes, high performance athletes push you. And they come back and they say that doesn’t work. That’s too simple. There’s no way that’s gonna fix my problems. I’m not gonna do it. You have to know where to talk from, to be able to get them to know, well, yeah, it didn’t work for me when I first started, I could only do five minutes or this is what I had to do to fix it.
You have to get the buy. Yeah, really. So I think all those strategies that you try and teach someone, you have to actually use yourself rehearsing and Rob told me to write out my script to run a relaxation session and just go over it in the mirror like you were doing so that it becomes automatic. So once I did that, I don’t think I’ve, you may tweak it, but it’s basically become a bit more natural.
I had an interesting experience when I first tried to make some relaxation CDs, and it was somebody took me to their studio, but he had been a past client and he was really good with audio and music. All of this. And when I was trying to do the real, I was talking to this microphone, he stopped and he said to me, Sam, I just want you to talk to the microphone, like you’re talking to me and just do it naturally. Like I’m here in the chair.
And it was the best thing he could do because I just completely changed my tone. I didn’t do that really daggy meditation voice, that people put. I knew that. I practiced that. So I felt way more comfortable doing that.
Jack: So it makes a lot of sense, like you said, it is very similar to any skill I guess, is rehearsal, reflecting and repetition, practicing over and over again. So it feels comfortable. In terms of getting a foot in the door, but as a sports psychologist, how challenging is it? Early days while you’re building your network base and your skill set, and I guess your reputation, how challenging can it be to get some experience in elite sport?
Samantha: I think in Australia quite challenging because in a lot of other countries it could be a full time job. I think probably more so with the increase in mental health problems in athletes, that that’s where psychs are now getting the roles in elite sport. But really unless you’re aligned with an Institute, it’s very unusual to get a full time role.
So that’s why I always say to my students, you have to learn to generalize and have good clinical skills. Not just be a performance psychologist, because you’re not gonna be able to get a role like that. My whole career I’ve probably had numerous consultancies running at the same time.
So working with a number of teams or organizations, doing it in private practice, lecturing in it. So there’s a variety of roles of sports I can take, not just one-on-one or with a team. So I try and get them to think more broadly about how you can use your skills.
Jack: And then obviously from a financial point of view, that makes a lot of sense in terms of job security and building to a full time wage, if there aren’t many full-time contracts out there. But do you find also by doing that without a generalist approach, getting exposed to a lot of different environments with different clients that there’s good reference points when working with athletes because you’ve had more experiences or different variety of experiences?
Samantha: Absolutely. When I first came because Avington was a clinic that I spent a lot of time as a basketball getting rehabbed out. They didn’t have a sports site, like I’ve been there since I was probably 10 right at the clinic.
And I remember Peter saying to me, when you graduate, I want you to come in as a sports site, cuz we’ve never had one. And I have no doubt that me doing in a multidisciplinary clinic and doing diverse work with all kinds of clients is what set my career up because all of those doctors, all of those people still refer to me now, this is like a very long time ago.
And actually when I was at Aton, I was getting a little bit too busy. So I said to them at a time, listen, I don’t wanna leave, but if I don’t set up my own practice, then we are just referring these people out to people. I don’t know. And I would rather set up my practice and bring like-minded people in. And then we network. So we now in network where the psychology and I send them there for sports medicine and lots of other things.
So those referrals keep going your whole life, but I don’t think people are getting those experiences coming out now. So, they don’t know how to market. They don’t know how to build that network. And I said, it takes, I volunteered. I volunteered for two years while I was graduate, under supervision. And that was at a place that was actually really heavy mental health and coming off prescribed medication.
So I got a massive experience in mental health. Now they offered me a job at the end of it. And I think people have to be prepared to do those things because how do you know you’re any good until you start getting the outcomes and people start referring back to you?
Samantha: Yeah. Although that first client, I’ve got this one first client who has malt and still all these years later, somebody that’s connected to keeps coming.
Jack: That’s just amazing.
Jack: Great paying dividends later on. What about for the athletes listening in, more specifically footballers, obviously working at Richmond. For those that, like you mentioned, not everyone has access to a sport psychologist at local grassroots level or even semi-professional potentially. What are some things, if you don’t have a coach like you were lucky enough to have that is passionate, that area and quite holistic and is working in that space. What are some simple things that athletes can do themselves to enhance their performance from the mental side, in terms of mental skills?
Samantha: Yeah, I think the first thing is, because there hasn’t been full time psych really in football, it’s starting now. At least the teams are starting in AFL, it’s more broad that psychologists are going into them and because they’ve got more access now through tackle your feelings program, where they can go out to community clubs. So they’re starting to hear about psychs.
And I think the main thing with younger players trying to break in is they’re thinking mainly about their physical skills, their strength and conditioning, how to be elite in that way. And sometimes it takes the young guys some years before they’ll get to their peak.
But we’ve gotta think about the mental side of it actually being immediate. Because you don’t have to wait to build the strength through your gym program until you can be a rock or play a big position. You can actually start mastering these skills and putting them into training immediately.
And many of say the veterans may not have had that when they first came in, they’re learning now. So I think also we are seeing some of younger guys coming in and already, because they could come from any stage, they may have actually had access to sports. And it’s an advantage already.
They’re really familiar. They love it. They wanna come, they make it their norm, like the dietician, everybody they’ve got, they see it as part of their team. So I think the earlier that they can get into that and practice it because I think what people think that it’s aimed at game performance, but really just like your kicking skills, just like you’re marking your defense skills, you need to be practicing these in training. In combination with what you’re doing.
And also I think the big thing we’re trying to get, because some of the young guys, they change states and their whole lifestyles changed. They don’t have their friends, their normal routine. So their wellbeings affected and those strategies that you would use for performance, you can use for your whole life to actually get that really balanced lifestyle that you got a lot of keeping your energy up.
Because I think it’s really hard for some people, particularly if they’re brought from remote areas, rural areas into big city teams, it can take years to actually be a professional. So I think if they can at least get this basic foundation skills to build resilience, it helps with that adjustment over the years and protects against mental health as well.
Jack: It’s an interesting point that you made or a few there, but that the aspect of how normalized, normal it is to work on your athleticism from such a young age. But the mental. For most part isn’t touched on until maybe you become elite already. So your physicality, if you had a bar chart or something would be in terms of the hours you’ve put in is up here and the level that you’re at with your mental skills in terms of time, energy that you’ve put into it is at the beginner stage.
Are you seeing, like you’ve got your finger in the pulse, you’re in the industry, are you seeing shifts in that, like you mentioned, there’s more awareness around mental health now? And by the sounds of it over the last few years, more from a performance side as well, do you think that high schools potentially and state programs start to put a little bit more time into sports?
Samantha: I think the schools, like the sports schools, like Marilyn Bong and Ville and some of the private schools, I do a bit of work out there that they’re actually bringing sports psych into their programs to help the kids with their sport.
They may be a golfer. They may be a judo player and they’re bringing in, put someone that works in the field to help them with their sport, but also teach them the strategies. And I think that that’s fantastic because actually all the strategies that I would help someone with you can use for your study, your exams across the board.
So I think that’s definitely happening. And I think there’s definitely particularly in primary schools with what we’ve gone through for the pandemic mental health awareness and building resilience in kids as in schools. And I think that older students are really getting into mindfulness and things because of what they’ve gone through.
But I would say like the amount of Zooms I did with sporting organizations, like all sorts lifesavers and all sports that were struggling with their athletes, with mental health during the pandemic. Gave them real access to people that they wouldn’t normally have thought about. I think, because it got so hard to manage what was going on in their associations that now they have the network. To pull on and know the names and the faces.
And so I think it will happen more and more, and it would be ideal to put it into schools, actually, especially any of the athletes that are, I mean, some private schools have some of the best athletes coming out into the program because they play sport a lot.
Jack: Absolutely. And tricky question. There’s probably not an answer to it, cuz there’s a fair subjective side to it, I imagine. But the pandemic to a side, like with mental health and AFL players, it’s been reported over a year or so there’ll be a few that retire early due to mental health. And do you think that as a society, we are just generally more aware of our mental health? Or do you think there’s actually increased mental health issues over the last sort of decade?
Samantha: I think both. I think our mental health literacy is improving so people can detect it more. And I also think particularly in AFL, once somebody leads and role models talking about it, it makes it a lot easier for everyone else that happens all across.
When there’s abuse that happens too. If people speak up, you get 16 others who are gonna tell their story. So I think, and particularly, for me, in male mental health that’s really important because we know it’s underreported and we know the suicide rate is higher, particularly in young males. So it’s important that people feel comfortable doing that.
I do think, particularly the demands of professional sport are getting are impacting on mental health. And I particularly worry about the media lately and how they don’t understand the damage that they can cause and how these people’s lives and wellbeing get affected.
And I think they need to be educated and I don’t think they should be able to come out into journalism without really hearing a story of what I have to sit and witness. So I think the demands are much bigger now.
Jack: Thank you for sharing that insight. It’s really good to hear your thought process in that. And it makes a lot of sense. So with the media side of things, do you think that the ethics have been crossed, do you think over the last few years with players and some of the stories that are shared. How can we move with it, do you think?
Samantha: I think, and I’ve said this for a long time. It’s one of my pet peeves, I really like to sometimes I’d wanna run onto the stage and interrupt because they don’t understand, they don’t understand what they’re saying and they don’t understand what an athlete could be struggling with that they say such things.
So their mental health literacy is poor and they can’t imagine what they’re doing. They wouldn’t imagine what it’s like for someone with social anxiety. So I do think that what’s starting to happen is the athletes are speaking up. But there’s been some quite tragic circumstances for that to happen and it should never get to that point.
And I also think we’re definitely as a college of sport and exercise psychs, we are starting to feel that we need to have a voice in that area and make sure that it’s understood and speak on behalf of the athletes that we treat. So it is something that I think we’ll move forward and there’s certainly a lot of discussion among the psychologists in Australia about this.
And we wouldn’t wanna let it get to the point that there was a suicide. Because you see this stuff in schools, right? If people feel bad and harassed and provoked and tarted to some degree when they actually know they struggle with mental health issues. We’ve seen that schools.
So I don’t know why, I dunno why that’s necessary. Most elite people and professional people who’ve been able to deal with media can answer most questions and should be given the right to actually say. I don’t wanna answer that. I don’t understand why somebody would want to keep provoking somebody who already has enough stresses.
Jack: Yeah, absolutely. I was trying, couldn’t dream. And going back to the athletes but for developing listeners, you mentioned how important it’s to start practicing mental skills when you’re working with an athlete for the first time. What do you like to see in terms of how coachable someone is and what can young athletes take on to make the most of working on their mental skills and mental health literacy in terms of their mindset when they’re working on these skill?
Samantha: I think they do have to be open to know that if they want to be elite, then they’re going to need both. I always say it’s like the secret weapon. If you have the mental stuff, everyone’s gonna get the same training. They’re gonna get the same access to resources. The difference is there are people born that just arrive with these what I call champion mentalities. They’re mentally agile, they’ve got grit.
They have a thirst to learn and grow. They’re internally driven. They focus on their own mastery rather than where they should be in comparison to other people. They just have a deep belief in themselves that they will get there. They just need to persist. These are the characteristics of some of the most successful people on the planet and they know how to stay composed.
They know it’s necessary. They can adapt to adversity. These people don’t really see obstacles. They don’t describe things as negative. They actually see everything as an opportunity to grow. And they don’t even see emotions as negative. They accept them all. So some people have that, but all of those things that I mentioned there can actually be taught.
And even some of the veteran athletes, I might see haven’t had that. And they may have the characteristics, but it’s just gone a little bit hay and we need to bring it back in the pocket of where it will work to their advantage. So people can learn. There’s quite a bit of evidence that says, if you see a successful person, find out what they do and mimic them, do what they do.
Because it works. And we know that peer modeling is one of the strongest motivators. So, I’d say, look at the people you think, I always ask athletes, who do you admire? Who have you got on your pedals still? Who do you think you wanna be like? Because that’s the driver to say, well, we’ve gotta find out what they do.
Even if it’s an injury, they’ve never say they do an ACL and they’ve got no idea and they don’t wanna do all. You see little exercises, they call them, they don’t wanna do all that, but when they know that that person did that, then they will do that cuz they see their back. So I think that’s important, and speaking a lot to people similar to business.
I remember when I was opening up my practice, I spoke to so many business owners and PR private practice owners, found out everything they did wrong. So I didn’t have to make that mistake. I was gonna start off wrong. Oh, I’m sure I’m gonna make mistakes, but not those. And so if they could, the more they talk to successful people and have those mentors.
We know that mentors actually are even in the gifted people. It’s hard for them to find mentors, but we know the ones who really succeed will have mentors in their lives. And so I spend a lot of time trying to find those people too, for elite and professional people. Because otherwise they won’t be challenged. They need to be challenged.
So I think there’s so much of where they can start. It doesn’t really matter that it’s, people will take their one strategy if somebody might like the breathing and that’s where they start. And somebody else is really visual and likes the imagery doesn’t matter. But what I say is just get a couple of things in your tool. Make them automatic, as soon as they become as automatic as your physical skills.
Now we go for another one and another one and you keep building and then that foundation skill you gave them should actually be the foundation to different levels to optimize their performance. So they’ve already got a bit similar to their physical skills. You got that now, now we are gonna move to here. We’re gonna do this.
Jack: So the process.
Samantha: Yes. Over time.
Jack: And like you mentioned, like even veterans that are champions in the game are still working on this area. So it’s fantastic for young athletes to know that, like you said, it can be an advantage there, the younger you start no doubt in terms of setting up your career. For those listening in that want to strengthen their inner belief or strengthen their ability to compose under high pressure moments in a game, you mentioned the importance of practicing it in training for transference on game day performance.
What would it look like you don’t to name players, but what would a process look like for some of the Richmond players when they’re training during the week to help a specific area? Like the ones you mentioned, the elite.
Samantha: So, I might be looking at say doing their breathing, like the diaphragm breathing, because that will help, they’ll help them sleep the night before. It’ll also reduce performance anxiety. We know that if they’re in the fight or flight response, if the game gets tense that their blood goes away from their center moves into the extremities that makes them more uncoordinated. So very stilted and tense. So it keeps them relaxed, which gives them a chance for the automatic physical training and motor learning to occur.
So instead of just thinking, oh, you only use that when you actually feel. We would be getting them to train it, say with set shot, kicking use it, practice it in between any breaks of play quarter to quarter to reset, even just center bounces while they’re all walking back. They’d have scrimmages, those kind of things.
If the coach is yelling at. Use it then to stay composed so that your arousal doesn’t go up so that they were trying not to go up and down like this with the game. We’re trying to stay in a certain pocket.
Jack: Yeah. Cause for the reason being, would that be quite exhausting if you’re spiking up-down.
Samantha: Yeah, it can be exhausting, but also it means you are very reactive to what’s going on. And what we are trying to do is build resilience, which means your inner world is what you can regulate and what you can control. And the external world is gonna be chaos sometimes. That doesn’t mean you need to match it in your internal world.
We have to keep this grounded because we expect that to get chaotic. But the more you can stay grounded. In fact, when you teach people this kind of real groundedness, this is where they get into the zone and into the flow experience by being able to do that because it feels so weird, so surreal. That they can feel all of that when it’s going real fast out there. And they feel like it’s chaos.
Samantha: And everything slows down and the wild wide field of vision. So the more we can get them practicing it earlier. So, for me as a basketballer, there would never be a set of foul shots that I wouldn’t do. The breathing exercise that I teach others, was as I’m waiting for the reft to pass me the ball I’m doing that. I get the ball, I breathe out and I’m following through. Then I start again. Next shot. Do it again. So that’s a training.
We were doing all of that at training, so that it’s paired together that I felt is paired with success, which also then leads to imagery, mental rehearsal, where we want you to be rehearsing it in the state. You want to be not tense, not anxious. And the more likely you are to achieve that state, then the more likely you’ll see successful outcomes in that imagery. So that’s what I mean by there’s a foundation block that we start from.
And then you put other skills in there. Confidence building and changing. I think the big thing for young footballers coming through, usually they’ve been the superstars, right? If they’ve got drafted, they’ve been the superstars in their junior teams and playing well, but then they come in as now, small fish in a big pond with people they’ve idolized. Most of their lives and they feel like they’re behind the eight ball on everything.
If they’ve gotta catch up on strength, on speed, on diet, on mental stuff and they come in and they’re like, oh, how can I possibly absorb all of this at once? And for them to understand nobody does that. They do it over time and to give yourself patience, but the mental skills, you don’t have to wait for. You can do that immediately. And that might actually help you while you’re a little bit impatient that the other things have to build up over time.
Jack: And throughout all that you can reckon, you can start to see how important it is to have awareness, especially in a fast-paced, chaotic game, like football. So you can have all the skill set, mental skill sets in the world, but if you don’t know, like you mentioned having that pairing of when an umpire or pass through the ball or you’re lining up for goal to be able to tap into those into diaphragmatic breathing. Yes, I imagine that is at the same process that by doing it and practicing it throughout training, that starts to become automatic.
Samantha: Yes, becomes automatic. So, my supervisor used to always say to me, you don’t learn to swim when you’re drowning, you won’t know how to swim, right. So you actually gotta practice that. You’ve gotta practice that a lot so that when you’re drowning, you’ve got a good chance of getting out of there.
And that’s what I say to the guys. These have to be practiced. So I want you to do like I did it. I remember when he took me through all these groups and I had to do it. I did it every red traffic light. Cause I had a million jobs. I would do the breathing. I would do it before and after eating because I got six times a day, I would do it at basketball.
I would do it to go to sleep. So I was getting so much practice. It doesn’t have to be just in your sport. This is a skill. This is a life skill. And so is imagery because we know the evidence shows that those who can visualize what they want will more likely get it right when they create clarity and map it backwards. So all of these skills can be loose.
And that’s why I say I use performance psychology for all my clients, because doesn’t everybody wanna be the best that they can be. In every moment. Even if it’s in their relationship, even if it’s just at school. So, why would we save it all for elite professional athletes? It’s just that the demands get higher. So they get more rattled, there’s more sports specific factors like, major injuries, performance issues, contracts.
Jack: And for athletes listening in that wanna start practicing and pairing it with their activities in life and at training, what would be a simple method to follow?
Samantha: I think let me think where you would start. I probably think the biggest thing is the real awareness. So what people tend to do is they worry about their mistakes. They worry about making mistakes because they wanna be better. But mistakes is completely expected, right? That’s just the chance you’re doing something that you’re learning.
We expect mistakes. I would say that the people who even when they’re still playing, when they’re 60 playing their sport and they love it, they’re the ones who recover from their mistakes the quickest. So I’d say as young athletes, the first line would be, are you spending 50% of your concentration on that past mistake, which only leaves you 50% concentration on this present moment.
And then they wonder why they get a role of mistakes, because they’re actually not able to have a hundred percent focus here and they can’t tell me if it was a goal for a swing or something like that. If they’ve got 50 back there and 50 here, when I ask them what went wrong in your technique, they can’t tell me.
But when you’ve got that focus here and you recover quickly into here. So that’s what I would say for young people, as they wanna achieve, they get very critical of themselves because they think they’re trying not to make mistakes. That’s never gonna happen. What we’re trying to do is recover the quickest. On anyone on that ground, you wanna be the quickest that recovers from a mistake.
And if you keep doing that, then you are gonna mostly for maybe 90% of the game, be the one who maintains the focus and endurance for longer. And we know that persistence and being present to bring predictors. So I’d say that they need to stop criticizing themselves and learn how to propel themselves into the next.
Jack: And going back to your career, Samantha, so we had talking about challenges that you’ve faced both from a professional sense, what’s been a major challenge that you’ve faced and how did you learn or grow from it?
Samantha: It’s probably been heaps. I think even from when I had my PhD, so I started like I was playing national league basketball and I was doing my Master’s still. So I was trying to do my masters and I was running around the countryside. I had like a hundred jobs. I was still working as I was a psychologist, but I was working at the foots grade, TAB and in a sport shop because they needed the income.
And then I was sometimes working with other teams, so I was doing my own base and running around. And then it got to the point that did my PhD. Like it took forever cuz I had to do it part-time cuz I was working. I was like,, what am I gonna do now I’m playing. But now I’m working with the teams. But are my competitors giving them the secret weapon against us?
And it was a really tough decision because I loved both, but I couldn’t keep doing that ethically. I was like, I knew I was gonna play my sport as long as I could, but I also knew that I wanted something outside that. So making that decision to give up basketball, even though I was still pretty fit. I could probably have still played. It was more that I knew I needed to put that energy into that because it takes a long time to earn the respect and reputation. You actually have to go through the hard work.
So that was one big point for me. I think my supervisor dying in the middle of my PhD and he was my clinical supervisor. That was massive. It probably took me about 12 months to get my head back, to finish the PhD. And I was working full time as a psych then too. So that was massive.
And then I think the weirdest thing for me was probably because I’ve worked in my sport. Obviously it was the easy pathway for me. I could work with national league teams. I could work with my own club. And I think I’ve noticed this with other psychs too. It’s actually harder to work within your own sport somehow because you’re well-known.
You’re well-known. People know you and it’s much harder to cross that cross and just step into the professional realm without people having all of these other ideas about you or even giving you the professional respect. So usually in other sports, I worked in bug and soccer and all these other sports clean slate.
I could just go in and I didn’t expect that, and that probably was hard, cuz you’re so passionate about it. But once I realized that. Then it was like a light bulb moment that freed me and said, oh, okay, well, I’ve done that. I don’t have to do that anymore. And that’s when I actually decided to take the gig at AFL.
And in the end I realized it was probably what my whole career, everything I’ve done has amalgamated to come back to this because I think I was always passionate about male mental health and helping high profile males achieve what they wanna and still say same.
Jack: So it’s amazing to hear and it’s definitely been a common theme with all the guests that have been on the show is that the journey isn’t all laid out in front of you and line you sort of take what’s in front of you and make the most of it. And see where it ends up. That’s great. And on the flip side, over your career, what were your proud moments?
Samantha: I was thinking about this question when you said it and I think I’m very similar to what I try and get my athletes to say, to be like. Actually my most enjoyable moments is actually just doing the work. I feel so fortunate. And I feel really privileged to share and witness some of the staff and build the rapport and trust I do with some of these athletes who have had really difficult times.
And when I think about it, I’ve been able to help my own grassroots basketball club when they were struggling in the pandemic, which meant a lot to write up to the opals, trying to prepare for the Olympics and they were in a pandemic. There’s moments like that, that I think I’ve really been lucky. I’ve been in multidisciplinary routines, which I love. Cause I learn heaps about that. I worked with gifted people who challenge me and make me be a better practitioner.
And I learn, and I have revelations and I have to keep on my toes, but I actually think just the whole thing I just feel like the whole thing is incredible. It’s incredible to witness people’s journeys. And I think the only time I get really emotional is when they get happy when they get to their holy grail. And then they’re like, oh, eyes tear up.
And they can tell me all these tragic things and I’m like, just going through it. But when they make their dream come true. When they fight through stuff that people would not realize they’re going through. I can’t even describe it in words really. It’s incredible.
Jack: I can imagine some special moments you’ve shared with many people, that’s inspiring work. We’ll move into the personal side of the podcast. So the get to know Samantha or AKA Sam, as you’ve referenced, some people calling over the podcast, a favorite inspirational quote, or life motto, do you have one?
Samantha: Well, I was thinking about this and I love quotes. I read so many books. I’ve got that many quotes, actually write them down, but I think I’ve got this, my own little quote that I’m gonna have tattooed on my body someday. But it amalgamate everything of how I’ve lived and how I wanna keep living. And it’s just a really simple sentence that is: ‘be here’. Be true. Be love, be more. And there are all the things that make me keep being the best version of myself.
Jack: So, that’s almost like your value system, but also a reminder to be present in the moment.
Samantha: Yeah. In the present and to strive, to keep being better.
Jack: That’s a good one. Thanks. What about, do you have pet peeves in your work life and they fire up or it could be in your industry as well?
Samantha: Actually, I’m a pretty passionate person. and so I might get just as excited, but I get just as fine up about stuff. There’s like a whole list, but I think the hard thing. I do think people anywhere taking advantage of great situations and people’s generosity to help them. I do think that the generations coming in now have a strong sense of entitlement without actually earning it. Without earning the right. And people would expect me, I’ve put a lot into my mentoring and supervision and growing people.
They really don’t understand. We never had anything like that. We had to just work it out and find it. People are coming out expecting their first gig to be like where I’ve been working 30 years, that kind of thing that I cannot understand that. It doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t also give them the grounding. They need to work with people like that.
Jack: And to have success and make an impact.
Samantha: So that’s a big pet peeve. The other pet peeve is I cannot stand sport supporters who bag their own teams and abuse them. Wait for a team and abuse them. Like they’re supposed to be your favorites. That’s a really big one for me.
The media, of course, I’ve said to you, I feel like that. And I think because I’ve been in team sports, even in my practice I’m trying to build a team culture. I’m trying to make them feel like they wanna come to work and this is a great team and it’s hard if you’ve not really got them team mentality in the first place, they should have been individual athletes, that kind of stuff.
I mean, all my teammates and anyone that I’ve been in a team with know, they were gonna get told off by Sam if they did anything that was against the team and not the team first. So that’s probably one of my pet peeves. We’re in it together. And it doesn’t matter whether you like anyone, we are working together and don’t ever leave anyone out. Don’t bag a person, don’t ostracize them, or you’re gonna get Sam’s rap. We’re here working for the same thing.
Jack: Fantastic. You’re sounding like a coach. What about your favorite way to spend your day off?
Samantha: I had more days off, but my favorite day would fluctuate depending on where I’m at and what I feel in my life. So, the biggest thing for me, I love to reflect. I love to reflect on where I’m at, where I wanna go, am I actually using all my own strengths? Am I reaching my own potential?
So I often don’t get enough time these days to do that. I used to love to immerse myself in nature. I could sit on the beach for hours, but I’m really doing all of this visualizing and planning and stuff myself. The daydreaming, I love that and I love the beach and sometimes I can’t get the break, so I’ll do what I call little urban retreats and I hook myself into a city hotel and I do the float tank and massages and pampering.
And I just stay overnight in a really comfy bed. And it’s like a 24-hour thing that I do. So I introduce those a couple of years ago and for me, urban retreats, even retreats. And I actually thought what got business idea I should start, absolutely busy business women. Start the urban retreats. My question is actually to get more days off next.
Jack: Yeah, well, it sounds like you’ve got plenty opportunities going on. But you deserve it and like you mentioned up there, you’re now up north and you’ve done that. You’re practicing what you preach, so good to hear, recharging the batteries. It’s important for all of us. What are you excited for 2022? What’s on the horizon with all the things?
Samantha: Well, it doesn’t seem like there’s much left of it. I can’t even believe it goes quick.
Jack: You don’t have counts. Yeah.
Samantha: Can I say I’ll be excited when I get a break at the end of the session, I’ll be excited about that because really I’ve been working, that’ll be almost three years through the pandemic with, really not a decent break because I had to run my practice through COVID, through all the, you know, to just keep the practice going. So I’ll be looking forward to that.
I’m very excited to watch Richmond and how they go each week and hope that they really find the best within themselves. It’s not really about the finals, but just feel proud of what they’ve done by the end of the season. I’m excited about lots of the little holidays I’ve planned for myself. Cause I think nobody’s been anywhere like in Melbourne, everyone’s planned and that’s exciting. The simple things really, I’m excited about.
Jack: And you mentioned your clinic, for those listening in that wanna get in contact with yourself online, but also potentially booking a place with your people, where do you get in contact? Where’s the best place to find your clinic?
Samantha: Well, probably the website. I’ve actually just done a massive, we are about to relaunch the new website, but the number in contact details. So it’s www.samcentre.com.au and that’s got the contact number or email address.
Jack: And what would be some common sort of ACEs or scenarios that people will come to SAM Centre for?
Samantha: I’ve tried to basically build the team so that I have someone for all my specialties. So the health psych we’ve got, so that would be anyone with like medical conditions, chronic conditions, injuries. We have health psychs. We also have clean psychs, and me and some others that do quite a bit of mental health work.
We would do a lot of child adolescent work, so young. I’m training a team because I’m so busy with the sport psych, that I’ve probably got about four proteges at the moment that I’m trying to, they do a lot of the referrals that I can’t take. So we’ve got quite a big focus on sport and performance psychology, and also the kids at school, cuz we use a lot of work for that.
They’re probably other, probably the most, I mean, I’m the only one who works in there. Cuz after I finished my PhD, I went and did a Master’s of gifted education. So the reason I did that was because I was attracting elite people with mental health, but they also wanted a bit, like what I said, they wanted more than just their sport. They were interested in making a difference outside their sport. So, it married quite well. So I specialize in that and working either with young people or gifted adults. Which there are quite a few in sport.
Jack: Absolutely. Well, for those listening in, it might be parents, it could be young athletes or coaches, practitioners that work in performance that want, or business owners as well. Make sure to get in contact or add the link in the show notes. Last question for you that’s just popped up in my head.
You mentioned how important it is to have an open mind for these methods. You do hear some athletes potentially, maybe more experienced athletes that stuff’s not for me. So close-minded however you wanna word it, but yes. What would be your approach to when hearing an athlete that, is it a matter of just letting them be and they’ve gotta come to you or do you feel like at times you can start to shift that close mindset towards being more open?
Samantha: Oh, definitely. I think people just psychology per se think, oh goodness, this is scary. It’s a little bit scary. But I definitely think I got way more referrals for probably athletes that needed mental health treatment, but it seemed a little more cool to go to the sports psych than another psych.
So coming to the sport psych, they just seem like they’ll deal with some performance stuff, but you’re really treating the other stuff at the same time. For sure. And at the start they are guarded. And they think that it won’t work. But how I work is if they’re elite, if they’re coming through an elite pathway or whether they’ve actually made it into professional sport, all of those people have already done something.
They know how to play their sport because they’ve been picked. So it’s not necessarily about teaching them and trying to get them to do these new stuff. It’s trying to be a mirror and let them see who they really are and what they can do. Because a lot of really prolific athletes don’t know how to turn on their strengths because they don’t see them as strengths. They’re so natural to them.
So sometimes it’s not about saying you need all this mental skills, sometimes it’s about saying, what have you got? Do you know you have this? And what about if you just turned it on consciously? What would happen?
Jack: Yeah, that’s great. Well, well said. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing with us your journey as a sports psychologist, working in the clinic, running your own business and everything you’ve lived full life and there’s plenty more to come, of course. You’ve mentioned your website for those that wanna connect with you, maybe practitioners where’s the best place? So you’re on social media or is it LinkedIn?
Samantha: We’ve also got the SAM Facebook page and we’ve got the SAM Centre LinkedIn page. We’re on Twitter. The email address also is on the website. So, usually it’s emailed through to reception and then whoever needs to go to, they’ll forward it on.
Jack: Perfect. Awesome. Very good. Well, thanks again, Samantha. Thanks for jumping on.
Samantha: Thanks, Jack. It was lovely to see your face.
Jack: Yeah, we’ll have to catch up in person at some point and share a coffee in Melbourne or something like that. But lovely. If we have time. Yeah, I will make it. We’ll make it.
And thank you for all the listeners as well that have tuned in. If you tuned halfway through the show, make sure to watch it on YouTube and we’ll release it on our podcast next Tuesday. Now next Prepare Like A Pro live chat show will be with Abram Rim. He’s working at Blackburn Rovers as a rehab physiotherapist, and that will be at Friday 3:30 PM Australian Standard Time on August 12th. I’ll see you guys then.
Coffee is a staple for athletes all over the world, including AFL players, whether it’s for regular footy training or a crucial AFL game day. Caffeine is a stimulant and can help you feel more energised and alert, which can be helpful before a big game. Read on as we discuss the effect of caffeine on athletes and tips on how to use it on a game day.
Caffeine for Athletes’ Performance
Caffeine is one of the most well-studied ergogenic aids (substances, equipment, or practices that help people use, produce, or recover more energy) and is known to help athletes exercise harder and longer. Caffeine stimulates the brain, making it easier to think clearly and concentrate.
Caffeine has been studied for both stamina and short-term, high-intensity exercise in over 74 research studies. Caffeine enhances performance and makes the effort appear easy, according to the vast majority of research (by about six percent).
The average boost in performance is about 12%, with greater benefits seen during endurance exercise than shorter exercise (eight to twenty minutes) and a negligible amount for sprinters. Athletes who rarely consume coffee and hence are not tolerant of its stimulating effect reap even more benefits.
Don’t assume that a caffeine boost would improve your performance because everyone reacts to caffeine differently. You may become queasy, experience “coffee stomach,” or experience caffeine jitters at a time when you are already nervous and concerned.
And so, how much coffee should an athlete consume to get that edge? 250 mg of caffeine per day is considered moderate. The amount of caffeine that improves performance in research studies ranges from 1.5 to 4 mg/lb body weight (3 to 9 mg/kg) given one hour before exercise. This equates to around 225 to 600 milligrams for a 150-pound person. It does not appear that more is better.
The majority of athletes receive their caffeine from coffee; others use caffeinated gels, Red Bull, or NoDoz tablets. Some sportsmen prefer products with specific doses because the quantity of caffeine in coffee varies so much.
If you are unsure how much you should ingest, it’s best to consult a sports doctor or sports dietitian. They should have the most up-to-date information on what is an appropriate dosage for you as an individual.
Tips for Athletes on Drinking Coffee During Game Day
Coffee is great for a quick pick-me-up but it’s important to know how your body will react. Here are some useful tips that you can use with regard to consuming caffeine during the game day:
1) Drink Coffee an Hour or Two Before the Game
Many people swear by coffee as a pre-game energy boost, and there is some science to back up this claim. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that can improve focus and reaction time. However, it is important to note that everyone reacts to caffeine differently. Some people may find that coffee makes them jittery or anxious, while others may feel more alert and focused.
It is also important to remember that coffee takes about an hour to kick in, so it is best to drink it an hour or two before the game. This way, you can see how it affects you and make sure it doesn’t interfere with your performance. Ultimately, whether or not you choose to drink coffee before a game is a personal decision. But if you do decide to give it a try, make sure you do so with caution and be mindful of how it affects you.
2) Have a Small Cup (250ML) Of Black Coffee
Coffee is a popular beverage for many people, especially in the morning. It can help to wake you up and give you a boost of energy. However, too much milk and sugar in your coffee can actually make you feel more sluggish. When you’re trying to get energized for a game, it’s best to stick to black coffee.
The caffeine will help to give you a boost without weighing you down. In addition, black coffee is also calorie-free, so you won’t have to worry about adding any extra calories to your diet. So next time you’re gearing up for a big game, ditch the milk and sugar and reach for a small cup of black coffee instead.
3) Avoid Drinking Coffee on an Empty Stomach
It’s no secret that coffee can give you an energy boost. That’s why many people enjoy drinking a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. However, if you drink coffee on an empty stomach, it can actually cause an upset stomach during the game. The acids in coffee can irritate the lining of your stomach, leading to cramps, nausea, and diarrhea.
If you’re feeling especially sensitive, you might even experience vomiting. So, if you’re planning on consuming coffee before a big game, be sure to eat something first. A light snack or meal will help to buffer the acids in your coffee and reduce the risk of stomach problems.
4) Add Honey to Your Coffee
If you’re feeling tired, there’s no need to reach for a can of energy drink or a cup of coffee loaded with sugar. Instead, try a small cup of coffee with one teaspoon of honey. The honey will help to boost your energy levels, and the coffee will improve your focus and alertness.
Plus, the combination of the two ingredients will taste great and give you the perfect pick-me-up when you need it most. So next time you’re feeling fatigued, reach for a cup of coffee and a spoonful of honey instead your body will thank you for it.
5) Drink Plenty of Water Throughout the Day To Stay Hydrated
The big game has finally arrived and you’re nursing a red bull, thinking to yourself that this can be the edge that will push you and your team to victory. However, what you may not realize is that coffee can actually lead to dehydration.
That’s why it’s important to drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially if you’re drinking coffee. Water helps to replenish the fluids in your body, and it’s essential for maintaining proper body function. So if you’re going to drink coffee on game day, make sure to also drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Your body will thank you for it.
Caffeine can be a great way to improve your performance on game day. Just remember to consume it in moderation and be aware of how it affects you. And don’t forget to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. With these tips in mind, you’re sure to have a successful game day!
If you need help getting that edge over your opponents, contact the AFL strength and conditioning coaches at Prepare Like A Pro. We can help you optimize your training regimen to help you achieve your goals. Contact us today to get started!
Do you ever wonder how the top athletes in the world seem to always be at the top of their game? It’s not just natural talent – a large part of their success comes from psychological factors. Sports psychology is the study of how our minds influence our physical performance. In this blog post, we will discuss some of the key concepts in sports psychology and how they can be used to improve your own performance!
What Is Sports Psychology and How Can It Help Athletes Achieve Success?
Sports psychology is a branch of psychology that studies the mental and emotional factors that influence performance in sports. It can be used to help athletes overcome obstacles, such as performance anxiety or a fear of failure. Sports psychologists may also work with coaches to help them better understand their players and develop strategies for maximizing their potential.
In addition, sports psychologists can provide guidance on nutrition and sleep habits, which are essential for optimal performance. By understanding the mental and emotional factors that affect an athlete’s performance, sports psychologists can help athletes achieve success both on and off the field.
The Benefits of Sports Psychology for Athletes
Sports psychology is a relatively new field that is only now beginning to be fully understood and appreciated by the general public. However, athletes have long been aware of the importance of mental preparation and focus in achieving peak performance. In recent years, sports psychologists have begun to work more closely with athletes to help them overcome psychological barriers and reach their full potential. Here are some benefits that athletes can reap from sports psychology:
Joe Rogan on the importance of sports psychology:
1) Improved Focus and Concentration
It’s no secret that athletes are some of the most focused and dedicated people in the world. After all, their success depends on their ability to maintain their focus and concentration amidst the pressure of competition. However, what is less well-known is that athletes can actually experience improved focus and concentration thanks to sports psychology. By working with a sports psychologist, athletes can learn techniques for managing stress and anxiety, improving their mental game, and remaining focused during competition. As a result, they are better able to utilize their full potential and achieve peak performance. Whether it’s hitting a game-winning shot or crossing the finish line first, athletes who utilize sports psychology often find themselves rising to the occasion when it matters most.
2) Increased Motivation
Athletes are also some of the most motivated people in the world. They are constantly striving to improve their performance and reach new levels of success. However, motivation can sometimes be difficult to maintain, especially when an athlete is dealing with disappointment or setbacks. Sports psychology can help athletes keep their motivation high by teaching them how to set goals, stay positive, and find inspiration in their failures. By working with a sports psychologist, athletes can learn how to maintain their motivation throughout the ups and downs of their careers.
3) Enhanced Performance
Anyone who has ever played a sport knows that there is more to winning than just physical ability. The psychological effects of competition can be just as important as the physical ones. This is where sports psychology comes in. Sports psychologists help athletes to improve their performance by teaching them how to control their thoughts and emotions. They also help athletes to develop mental toughness and to handle pressure. As a result, athletes who work with sports psychologists often find that they are able to take their game to the next level. In addition, sports psychologists can also help athletes to recover from injuries and to cope with disappointment. For many athletes, working with a sports psychologist is an essential part of achieving success.
4) Develop Communication Skills and Cohesion
One of the most important things that athletes can learn from sports psychology is how to communicate effectively. In order to be successful, athletes need to be able to communicate with their teammates and coaches. This means being able to share information and give and receive feedback. Sports psychology can help athletes to develop the communication skills that they need to be successful. In addition, sports psychology can also help to develop cohesion among teammates. By working together, athletes can develop a strong sense of team spirit and camaraderie. This can lead to better performance on the field or court.
5) Instill a Healthy Belief System
We all have a certain belief system that dictates how we think and act. This belief system is usually based on our previous experiences, and it can have a big impact on our performance in sports. If we believe that we’re not good enough or that we’re going to fail, then it’s very likely that we’ll underperform. On the other hand, if we have a healthy belief system, then we’re more likely to succeed. Sports psychology can help instill a healthy belief system by identifying irrational thoughts and helping us to replace them with more positive ones. In addition, sports psychologists can also help us to develop mental toughness and resilience, which are essential for success in athletics. By understanding and utilizing sports psychology, we can give ourselves a much better chance of achieving our goals.
Ted talk on sports psychology:
How To Use Sports Psychology Techniques To Improve Your Performance
Whether you’re a professional athlete or just a weekend warrior, sports psychology can help you improve your performance. By learning to control your thoughts and emotions, you can gain a mental edge over your opponents. Here are some techniques that can help you tap into your inner athlete:
Visualization: picturing yourself succeeding can help increase your confidence and improve your performance.
Goal setting: setting specific, achievable goals will help you stay motivated and focused.
Self-talk: positive self-talk can increase your confidence and help you overcome negative thoughts.
Relaxation: learning how to relax both mentally and physically can help reduce stress and improve your focus.
By using these techniques, you can develop the mental toughness needed to perform at your best. So get out there and start achieving your goals!
Listen to our interview with Collingwood football clubs sport psychologist Jacqui Louder:
Jack: Hi, I’m your host, Jack McLean. And today my guest is Darryl Griffiths, the founder and CEO of KODA Nutrition and author of ‘Sweat. Think. Go Faster’.
Highlights from this episode: we discussed how footballers can reduce the likelihood of cramping, practical tips to maximize your recovery during the game, how to work out your sweat rate and sodium concentration within your sweat, and why you shouldn’t have lollies during a football game and what you should have instead.
Before we start this episode, for those wanting to join our football high-performance program, make sure to head to our website, preparelikeapro.com, where you can sign up for free 14-day trial. This program has everything you need to ensure you’re well recovered and ready to attack the next game.
Let’s get into today’s episode with Darryl Griffiths. Welcome, Darryl. Thanks for jumping on, mate.
Darryl: Jack, thanks for having me, mate.
Jack: Let’s dive in the beginning of your career. At what age did you discover you had a passion for high-performance sport and fueling for high-performance sport?
Darryl: Well, it wasn’t sport to start with. It was actually a firefighting. I was a firefighter. Very, very long story short, I recognized that some firefighters handled heat better than others. In that job you see things happen very quickly. The intense heat and having to wear protective clothing, you see these things happen even within half an hour. And what I did notice was there were a few individuals that consistently handled the heat better than others. And over time it was something that intrigued me and I went about finding out why. Went to the experts, the sports dieticians, exercise physiologists, doctors, and just saying, ‘Look, this is what I’m experiencing, this is what I’m seeing. And I’m really interested to find out why.’ And I didn’t really get an answer.
So, it was something that I took on myself and I started to research. And, long story short, what I did find from my applied research with these firefighters was that the ones that handled the heat better or tolerated hot conditions better, had a lower sweat rate. So, the volume of sweat they lost was lower, but importantly, they had a much lower sodium concentration in their sweat. And this took a few years of learning. And, to be honest, I didn’t really have any idea what I was looking for. So, a lot of that stuff in the early days I didn’t even record, because I didn’t know what I was doing, really.
Then it struck me one day. I thought, ‘Well, if this is the case with these guys on the fire ground, then there’s a pretty good chance that athletes might have the same natural ability to handle heat better than others.’ And, sure enough. Doing the testing and started testing athletes, and myself included. And went along from there.
Jack: Fascinating. That makes a lot of sense. Like you mentioned, with fighting fires, that’s something that can physically improve your performance. But I imagine, alertness and concentration, which is something we’ll go into a little bit later on, something I know you’re passionate about. But for those that did have maintained their hydration due to slower sweat rate, or maybe they were hydrating better as well, did they feel the difference from changing practices and also having some genetic benefits to their ability to fight fires?
Darryl: Well, that was the thing. We were all drinking the same thing, and we were all very diligent with our fluid intake. Now we were working in the same conditions over the same duration. So, there was a lot of things that were very similar. Yet, there was these individuals that for whatever reason, well, now we know why, that were able to tolerate, just naturally. It wasn’t because they were better heat acclimated, because the fact is, you can’t heat acclimate for those sorts of conditions. It’s impossible. They weren’t any fitter. They weren’t any stronger. They hadn’t been in the job any longer. There was nothing you could pinpoint it down to, except for the fact that they had a unique physiology. Whether they could tolerate a greater core temperature than others, they simply didn’t need to sweat as much, and they didn’t need to lose as much sodium to maintain a safe core temperature, which was fascinating to learn along the way.
Jack: And is it the matter that the guys that do have a higher sweat rate, they therefore lose more sodium or is it not purely that? You can also lose less sweat, but you just have a high concentration of sodium?
Darryl: Spot on, mate. There’s no pattern. I’m just under 6’3 and I hover around 90 kilos, so fairly big frame. But I actually have quite a low sweat rate for my size, but I have a very high sodium concentration in my sweat.
And that was my downfall because I needed to replace a lot more sodium than these other firefighters. And that was why I was struggling a bit more in the heat than they were. So, it was on learning my sodium concentration that I started to address it better. And that’s when I was able to tolerate hotter conditions better. Simply because I was addressing my needs better. Whereas the other firefighters who were tolerating the heat better, their percentage of loss wasn’t near as much as mine.
Jack: And does that mean that when you’re comparing yourself to someone else that sweats the same, but their concentration of sodium is less than yourself, you can drink the same amount of water, but you just need to top up a little bit more sodium in your hydration?
Darryl: Yeah. Spot on. I might be drinking the same volume, but I need to increase the amount of sodium that’s in my beverage, compared to someone that has a low sodium concentration in their sweat. And to answer your question before, you can be a heavy sweater with a high sodium concentration, you can be a heavy sweater with a moderate or low sodium concentration. You can be low and low, low and moderate, low and high, there’s no pattern. It’s really just your unique physiological makeup when it comes to sweating.
Jack: You can see why athletes would get excited about understanding this knowledge and implementing it with their hydration practices. How did that come about? Once you started to understand this, did you start to reach out to ultra marathon athletes or those that do have a high sweat rate or did they start to seek you?
Darryl: They started to seek me, which was great.
And in the early days I was working with a lot of athletes who were suffering cramping. Muscle cramping was work with the athletes that I worked with the most. And as much as the experts will say, they don’t really know why athletes cramp. I can tell you without too much doubt that an athlete that has a higher sweat rate and/or a higher sodium concentration in their sweat, will be more likely to experience muscle cramping.
That was something that I’ve learned along the way. And initially it was great having this data. But then working out what the stomach could tolerate, that was another part. It took some time as well. So, this is over many years. It’s not something that happened overnight. It’s was an ongoing concern.
Jack: And on that note, while experimenting and treating yourself like a lab, but by the sounds of it, what were you playing around with? What type of supplements and what were some of the experiences you were finding?
Darryl: Well, the thing that made the most sense was you can’t have a sports drink with everything in it. You can’t have hydration, calories and electrolyte. You have to separate your hydration and calories. Because what that allowed me to do was then start to focus on hydration. And then it also allowed me to alter the volume of fluid the athlete was consuming. Which is super important, because, particularly nowadays, particularly with AFL, you can be one week in Hobart, in 10 degrees, and the following week you could be in Darwin or the Gold Coast or Brisbane or Perth in 30 degrees.
So, having the understanding that you need to alter the volume of fluid that you consume based on the environmental conditions, it was a no-brainer that if you separated the two, you could start to customize the athlete’s hydration. You could provide them a volume of fluid that they needed in those conditions, but importantly increase the amount of sodium that they required, which you can’t do with a sugary sports drink. Because if you try to increase the amount of sodium, it’s too overpoweringly sweet, it’s not something that’s going to be palatable.
Jack: So, talk us through about KODA Nutrition. How did you come to create your company?
Darryl: It was initially carbo shots. Many, many years ago, back in 95. Which was an energy gel, which we still have that same formulation now. There’re probably some athletes who were using it back then and are still using it now. So, that was the initial start. We started importing that product from New Zealand. And then at the time we did have it all in one sports drink. And after clicking data, I realized that this is not a product that was addressing the athlete’s needs properly.
Jack: So many variables?
Darryl: Yeah. Well, the fact is, if you look at your typical sports drinks, and the ones that sponsor AFL is an example. It’s a preset solution. So, it’s the same volume of fluid for everyone. It’s the same amount of calories and it’s the same amount of electrolytes. So, what they’re saying is that everyone is exactly the same. You all lose the same amount of sweat, you all require the same amount of fuel and you will need the same amount of electrolytes. And you drink that same volume, whether it’s 10 degrees in Hobart or whether it’s 30 degrees in Darwin.
And the fact is your hydration is unique to you. There’s no one on this planet like you, when it comes to how much you sweat, the amount of sodium in your sweat and how that changes in different environmental conditions. So, that’s the biggest thing with me. And once we start working with athletes and they start understanding their own unique physiological makeup, when it comes to sweat and what they need, separating the hydration and calories makes such a massive difference. Once you start to address their needs properly.
Jack: I can only imagine the developing athletes that are listening in that are wanting to pick your brains. I’ll ask a couple of questions for the athletes. How do you find out about your sweat rate, your concentration of sodium loss? What is the process for those that aren’t aware?
Darryl: The sweat rate is simply pre and post weighing. The best and most accurate way to do it is a nude weight. And the best time to actually do it is over an hour session. And for an AFL player, it would be to try and mimic competition day as close as possible. So, you would have quite a strenuous session set up. You could even have that break halfway through, just a short break, and then continue for that hour, recording the temperature and humidity. And also recording the intensity or your exertion level. Because they’re the two things that dictate how much you sweat, it’s the environmental conditions and your level of intensity. So, if you change either one of those, you’re going to get a different result.
Darryl: Yeah. So, doing your pre and post weighing. Let’s say, for example, you weigh 80 kilos at the start and you’re 78.5 at the finish. So, that kilo and a half drop translates into a liter and a half of sweat. Let’s say, you’re playing in Sydney and it’s 18 degrees and you lose around a liter and a half an hour at that environmental temperature in those conditions. So, you get an understanding that, ‘Okay, I want to try and aim for drinking a good amount of fluid. I know I can’t drink a liter and a half in that time because of the simple fact that I might not get the opportunity to. But what I will do, I’ll be very, very diligent with my hydration at half time to make sure I carry the least amount of deficiencies into that second half.’
And with sodium concentration it’s just a matter of we put sweat patches on the athletes in a forearm and we normally get them into an hour session. So, that way we collect their sweat rate, as well as the sodium concentration in their sweat. And at the same time, what we do like to collect is their calorie expenditure, so we know how many units of energy they’re expending at that intensity. So, we collect all this data and we say, ‘Okay, at that intensity you’re expanding 800 calories an hour. Your sweat rate was 1.5 liters and your sodium concentration is 1200 milligrams per one liter of sweat.’ Now, that 1200 milligrams is 1200 milligrams tomorrow. It’ll be 1200 milligrams the next day. And it’ll be 1200 milligrams in two years time.
Jack: That does not change with training or anything?
Darryl: No, I’ve done a lot of testing over the years. And the sodium concentration in your sweat is unique to you. And if it changes, it’s only a very small amount. Nothing that you would make any drastic changes about when you’re planning your hydration.
Jack: What about the sweat rate?
Darryl: The sweat rate changes all the time. That’s constantly changing. So, for example, I mentioned Hobart. Playing down there at 10 degrees you’re simply not going to sweat that much. As opposed to, Brisbane or Gold Coast the following week at 30 degrees, you’re going to sweat buckets.
Jack: I mean, with, let’s say, year by year you’re doing this protocol and you’re working at your baseline. Sodium concentration can’t change. But as the athlete improves their physiology, their aerobic capacity, strength, running efficiency, all the things, have you seen change in sweat rate? The same environment, but just year by year they do that baseline test. Has is changed?
Darryl: No, not really. What does change though, and I’ve actually done a lot of research on this, particularly in Thailand and Singapore, Philippines, where it’s very hot and humid, is that when an athlete is heat acclimated or doing heat load training, they’ll actually get an increase in blood volume. Which is interesting in that some will increase blood volume more than others. But having that increased blood volume, although the athlete sweats the same amount, they don’t sweat any less, but because they’ve got more to start with, the impact on their losses isn’t as great in those hotter conditions, once they had acclimated.
Jack: They got a higher ceiling, so to speak.
Darryl: Yeah, exactly.
Darryl: Yeah. And that’s the thing. I was reading a lot of articles about, as you get fitter and as you get more advanced in your training that your sweat rate will start to decrease.
Jack: It’s almost a myth that you hear.
Darryl: Yeah. It’s not something that I’ve seen. And I would read published articles and it also became an obsession for me to want to find out whether these articles I was reading were actually stuff that was going to benefit athletes. And, sadly, a lot of them out there, they come to a conclusion that a lot of sports dieticians hang their head on. I’ll say, you can’t come to a conclusion with sports nutrition, because there’s way too many variables.
And when it comes to hydration, if you’re reading a published article and it says, ‘Well, this is what happens, and this is going to happen to everyone,’ the fact is there needs to be some caveats at the end of that, saying that this conclusion is based purely on the intensity, the environmental conditions, the humidity, the physiological makeup of that athlete and a whole bunch of other variables. So, if the temperature changes or the humidity changes, then we’re going to get a different conclusion.
But that’s never written. And so, I think that’s where a lot of the, let’s just say, difficulties in getting these messages across lie. Because you’ve got people reading these published articles, and then they’re not taking into account all these variables that you need to consider.
Jack: And going back to the athletes. So, if they want to knock over the generic model, like you mentioned, of just having the same sports drink that everyone else has, but they’ve done this baseline test and then now they want to build their own individualized hydration.
Like you mentioned, the temperature. So, it is summer here in Melbourne at the moment. Practice matches are on and players, you mentioned cramping, they may have cramped last year’s campaign with their practice matches. And this time is so important, because you want to make a squad or you want to make the senior team or whatever, or just play your best football to get in good form around One.
What do you need to do? What supplements do you need to do? What pack do you need to make, to make it specific to your sweat rate and sodium concentration?
Darryl: Well, it’s first understanding your numbers. That’s the key. And everyone has their own unique numbers. It doesn’t matter what your teammate’s doing. It’s very individual. So, if I was on the outskirts and I was wanting to make a team and there were some things that I needed to work on, these are the things I would work on. Because hydration makes a massive difference to how you’re going to perform. Not just physically, but mentally as well. How well you can process information.
Which is super important nowadays with the way AFL is played. It’s a very, very different game nowadays. And the ball is moving way faster than it ever did before. And with the crowding, you can have 30 players around the ball where the ball’s moving so much quicker than it used to. So, when the ball’s moving quicker, you’re having to process information so much faster. That’s something that, if you’re not addressing your sweat, which is directly correlated to blood volume loss, if you’re not addressing the sodium concentration in your blood, and if your sodium concentration in your blood drops, then any messages being sent from the brain down the central nervous system are impacted. So, you’re not going to react as well.
And thirdly, if you’re not properly fueled, if your brain is not getting that circulating blood glucose, that it requires to function properly, if you’re not fueling yourself properly, then all these things add up to unforced errors. And it could be the thing that’s keeping you out of the side, that you’re just making a few too many mistakes. But it’s definitely something that you can address and something you can improve on.
Jack: Once you’ve understood the numbers, if you’re working with a team, what would that look like on a game day? So, you mentioned the temperature, the environment. So, let’s say, someone we were talking about before, they lose 1.5 kilos in the first half, what should they do at halftime? What should they be intaking to increase their fueling, but also rehydration as well?
Darryl: So, it’s really going to be dependent on how often the runners get out to them to provide a drink. And nowadays it’s once you kick a goal. Before you could get out there at any time, but the rules have changed now. So, if there’s not too many goals kicked in the half, then you don’t get too much of opportunity to drink. Which I think they somewhat need to address, particularly if they’re going to be playing Brisbane, Gold Coast, Darwin, Perth, where it can get quite hot. Something the AFL need to look at, because if you want players to be properly hydrated and be playing at their optimum level, then they need to be drinking more often, particularly in those hotter environments.
So, if you are losing, let’s say, that one and a half liters up to a half time, the fact is you’ve only got about a 20 minute window and you’re not going to consume that 1.5 liters. Your stomach’s simply not going to tolerate that much. So, the key would be to consume an amount that doesn’t compromise your stomach. If you can aim for 50 to 60% of that loss, then that would be something you want to aim for. If you had a couple of hours break, no worries. You’re going to get that 1.5 liters in. But the fact is the stomach is the limiting factor.
And if you didn’t get the opportunity to drink a lot in that first half, because of not a lot of goals kicked, then the first thing you need to do when you get into the change rooms is to make sure that you’ve got your drink there and it’s got the water in there that you require, which you’re losing most of. Water’s simple, we’re losing a lot of water in sweat, so we replace that. If you have a higher sodium concentration in your sweat, you make sure that you’ve got a beverage that addresses your particular needs. And if you’ve done the test and you know your sodium concentration, then it’s a very easy thing to do.
Once again, unfortunately, they’re not going to replace all that you lose, but the whole point of a proper hydration strategy is to minimize percentage of loss. Do the best you can at minimizing your percentage of loss. Having an understanding of what your numbers are is going to set you up way better than just throwing down sports drink and really not understanding whether you’re addressing your needs properly or not.
Jack: So, roughly speaking, if I’ve lost 1.5 liters, around 750 milligrams is tolerable for most athletes, 50%. Is that equation the same for your sodium concentration, for those that know it, was it 1200 milligrams? So, do you apply the same model, like around 600 in your water?
Darryl: Interestingly and I don’t know why, I can’t figure out why we can’t replace the amount of sodium we lose. And it’s something that I worked on very early on, once I started to understand there were different sodium concentrations in sweat with every individual. And the idea was that we should be able to replace all that we lose. But for some reason our rate of loss exceeds how much we can consume. So, that 50 to 60% rule again. If you have a sodium concentration around 1200 milligrams, you’re going to be aiming for that 700 milligrams of sodium in that beverage.
Jack: So their stomach can tolerate that. And then, what about with the refueling, that you’ve mentioned about? Like getting the calories in, separate to your hydration protocol. What does that look like?
Darryl: Well, fueling is something that, I don’t think that the sports dieticians that are working with AFL teams at the moment are addressing the players fuel requirements as well as they could. As I mentioned before, the game now is so different. It’s way faster than it used to be. The ball is traveling way faster than it ever has. And the amount of running that they’re doing now, I just don’t think that a player has the glycogen storage in their muscles to be able to tolerate or be able to have enough internal stores to run a full game out.
But my concern is that they’re depleting their glycogen stores so much, that it’s leading to these small muscle tears and all that sort of stuff. I think that they need to start fueling a lot better than they are at the moment. Not just from a physical perspective to help spare that stored glycogen, but also mentally with how much faster the ball’s traveling now. The amount of information they have to process now so quickly, it’s requiring a staggering amount of energy for the brain to actually function that fast.
So, I think addressing that would go a long way to seeing the players run the game out the full four quarters and not seeing data where in the second half their intensive efforts are reduced. And they’re not as intense as they are in the first half. Plus, also, if you can minimize the percentage of loss for glycogen for the player, it just means that they’re going to recover much faster. Then get to training after the game day feeling a lot better, than depleting their stores to a point where it takes so much longer to restore them.
Jack: Makes sense. So, with knowing what you know, like you mentioned that the runners can’t go out as much, which, I imagine, would be a constraint for the sports dieticians, but what would be optimal? What do you think needs to be done to improve fueling? What are some specific things that could be done better?
Darryl: Well, I think, firstly, get rid of lollies. I’m seeing AFL players feeding lollies. Mind-boggling to me, how that ever became a sports nutrition product. There’s absolutely no reason why you would give an elite athlete at that level lollies to fuel them.
I know why they get lollies, because Nestle sponsor the AIS and Nestle own balance lollies. So, the sports dieticians are getting their information from the AIS and they’re saying, ‘Oh, lollies are fantastic.’ And that’s how they’ve made their way into elite sports nutrition, which I just don’t understand how that can happen. And it continues to happen. There’s elite athletes, eating lollies for energy. Can you explain that one for me?
Jack: Ah, no, that’s not my area. But I’ll ask more questions, though. What would you replace it with for those athletes that maybe do have some control, no sponsorship issues for them, and they want the optimal? What would be the best fueling?
Darryl: By far, the best fuel are energy gels. And the characteristics of an energy gel, the fact is, it’s a food, but it’s in liquid gel form. It’s predigested in its manufacture, which sounds pretty gross, but that’s the science behind these energy gels. And particularly the ones that I’ve formulated. It resembles chyme, which all food’s converted to in the stomach, and chyme is like a semi-fluid form. And all food needs to be converted into this form before it passes through the pyloric sphincter into the duodenum and then into the bloodstream as glucose, where the active muscles and brain can access that glucose for energy.
So, the important characteristics is, firstly, energy to volume ratio. And that basically means that you’re getting a large amount of calories in a small volume, and that takes pressure off the stomach. You’re not having to load up the stomach. Now, if you can imagine, if you’re trying to fuel with a large bottle, you’re having to consume 600 mil of fluid for about the same amount of calories, few more calories, but not a lot more. With an energy gel you can consume 117 calories from a 33 mil serving. Which is almost 20 times less volume than your sports drink. Now, that’s super important because we want to make sure the stomach’s not compromised. Because if it is, it’s going to slow us down and we don’t want to slow down.
The second really important characteristic is thermic effect. And this is where we go back to that form of chyme. When you take an energy gel, it’s entering the stomach in a format it recognizes. So, it bypasses those processes that food normally goes through and it enters the stomach straight through into the bloodstream. It’s super quick. And the most important part is it requires a very small amount of energy to be converted to fuel. So, you’re not drawing blood away from the active muscles to the stomach to have to deal with it. That blood’s staying in the legs or the upper body, wherever you need that blood to perform the tasks that you’re doing, and not being drawn away to the stomach to have to deal with that food. So, that thermic effect part is really important.
Once you have a better understanding of energy gels and the science behind them, you’ll be way more likely to use them. And I think they’re not being used properly. Even at that top level I would absolutely be using a gel every single quarter, if I was an AFL footballer. Not just for the physical side of it, but to make sure I had plenty of circulating blood glucose for my brain to access because I’m having to process way more information than I ever had before. And if I don’t have that circulating blood glucose, then I’m going to be more likely to be making mistakes.
Jack: That’s something that they can do. Like you said, the runner at the top level is controlled, but at least you do have your quarter breaks, halftime break, three quarter break, and end game. And like you said, not only will that help you regain performance, which is the most important day of the week, but also your ability to recover and start preparing for the next game by being better fueled, as opposed to playing catch up, which makes a lot of sense too.
Darryl: And that’s the thing. Like if it was just a game every month, then you can get away with it. You can deplete your stores to the point where, you’ve got that luxury of time to restore. But, you know, you finish a game on Sunday, you’re back training the next day. You don’t have that luxury of time and then you’re playing.
And like sometimes, like COVID, there were some times when teams were turning around in four days. That’s just nuts. You can see why there was a lot of small muscle tears and hammies and all that sort of stuff going on last year. Because I can guarantee you they weren’t hydrating properly and they weren’t fueling properly. Because they didn’t have the time that they had the luxury of, just those extra couple of days that they had in years before COVID. Which, hopefully, they get the luxury this year. Hopefully, it’s not interrupted.
Jack: Yeah, back to 6 and 7 days. Let’s hope.
Jack: Okay. And then let’s spend some time on your creation. We mentioned the firefighting was where you started in your career journey. And then you started to access this information, you were doing some research for yourself and then started working with athletes that were seeking you. How did that then come to the point of creating a company KODA Nutrition?
Darryl: So, like I said, it was originally shots and we changed our name a couple of years ago, just before COVID. It was never planned to be a business. And I’m not a businessman. I have a passion for wanting to find out how things work. Very inquisitive. And if I don’t get the answers, I get really annoyed and I have to find out myself. So, that’s where the applied research started. And then realizing that, and I don’t say this lightly, but the sports nutrition industry is a joke. The fact that these all-in-one, one-size-fits-all sports drinks dominate the sports nutrition market is mind-boggling to me. Absolutely. It goes to show the sheer power of marketing.
And if you’ve got enough money, you can convince a lot of people that this is what you need to be using. It’d be like me turning up to a team of football players and saying, ‘Right, I’ve just been researching this size 11 boot, and it fits Billy perfectly. He doesn’t get blisters anymore. No more shin splints, calves aren’t sore, his lower back’s not sore anymore. In his two kilometer run he’s just knocked five seconds off it. And his 20 meter run is brilliant. He’s performing so well. And it’s because we’ve customized his size 11 boot for him. So, what we’re going to do, we’re going to put every single player in that size 11 boot.’
What do you think is going to happen? The players are going to go. ‘Hang on a minute. My foot’s bigger than his.’ ‘Hey, well, my foot’s shorter than his.’ ‘Mine’s wider.’ ‘Mine’s narrower.’ ‘My instep’s bigger.’ ‘My arche’s smaller.’ ‘I have an entirely different foot strike when I run.’ And they’re going to throw their arms up. And so, ‘No way, I’m not wearing a size 11 boot. It might suit Billy. That’s fantastic. But I want a boot that suits me.’ So, what we’re going to do now is we’re going to give you a drink. And it’s the exact same for everyone. It’s the same volume, same calories, same electrolyte. ‘Oh, okay, cool. No worries.’
It just frustrates the heck out of me. I’m all about 100%. If you’re an elite athlete and that doesn’t mean someone who’s professional and getting paid. There are a lot of athletes out there who are elite, who do it purely because it’s something they love doing and they spend a lot of time and a lot of money on it. And that’s where they read a lot of this stuff that they’re being told. And as soon as they start to understand the uniqueness and how to address that, the performance benefits are phenomenal. And I have no doubt that even the top level AFL, there’s still a lot of improvement to be had.
And I know the sports dieticians have a lot of trouble because everyone wants a piece of them. There’s you. You don’t want them in the gym. You want them doing all that stuff. And then there’s the defense coach. There’s the forward coach. There’s the on ball coach. Everyone wants a piece, and you just don’t get enough time with them. I think that’s the biggest problem, trying to work everyone together. So, there’s a common goal. If we do actually work together and not individually, I think these sort of things will improve.
Jack: You mentioned a couple of good points in there. Let’s go first with one that I imagine is going to be tough to change. You’re in the industry, do you think that sports nutrition eventually we’ll get to a point where sponsorship won’t completely dominate the market, but it will start to be more individually led or athletes will potentially have a little bit more say in it?
Darryl: Well, I think the athlete needs to speak up a bit more. If a sports dietician is handing you lollies, you’ve got a question there. You’ve got to go, ‘You know, I have a small child and I tell them not to eat lollies because they’re bad for them. But I’m an elite athlete and you give me lollies for fuel.’ So, ask the questions. And the sports dietician, well, I don’t know what answer you’re going to come up with for giving an elite athlete lollies. There’s really no answer. It’s simply going to come back to the fact that Nestle sponsored the AIS, Nestle owns lollies. And AIS says, ‘Oh, well, they’ve given us a lot of money, so we better tell them to use the lollies.’ And that’s how it works.
And that’s why the big sports companies dominate the market. Because they have huge amounts of dollars. And they always will dominate because it’s important that they are putting that money into the sport. But the elite athletes, I think it’s important that they take some responsibility, even though they’re in a team sport, for their own individual needs. In that, you know, find out what your sweat rate is or ask questions. So, ‘Look, we’re doing this session. Can I do a pre and post weighing?’ Or ‘I’m really, really interested in finding out the sodium concentration of our sweat. Can we do some testing? Then, once we’ve done that, tell me the importance of what happens when I sweat, how’s that contributing to the way I play, how’s it impacting on my performance?’
So, I think one of the biggest things is that we need to sit these players down and actually educate them properly and say, ‘Okay, well, this is what happens when you sweat. When you sweat, that water that ends up on your skin, comes from the water component of your blood. Your blood is about 80% water. So, as you sweat and not replace it, you’re actually reducing blood volume. You’ve got less blood available. So, what do you think, when there’s less blood available, what happens? Well, many things happen. But, importantly, if you’ve got less blood available, then you’ve got less oxygen. You’ve got less glucose. The blood’s thickening because, as that water component reduces, the blood thickens. And then your heart’s got to pump a lot harder to move that blood around, and it’s not going to move as efficiently as it does when you’re properly hydrated.’
‘Oh, okay.’ So, and then the penny drops on the go. ‘Well, that’s really important that I hydrate.’ And then that sports dietician will say ‘Yes, but if we’re playing down in Hobart, you’re just not going to sweat as much. So, we don’t need to drink as much as we will need to in Darwin or Gold Coast.’ That’s a really easy conversation to have with the player. And then they have an understanding of, ‘Oh, okay. Well, that’s really important. I’m going to make sure that I find out how much I sweat in these hotter conditions, because I really want to manage it properly. And because if I do manage it properly, it means I’m going to have a much better week than I normally do. Because I come off a hot game and I have a crap game the next week. So, if I address my needs properly, then I’m less likely to have a shit game the following week.’
Jack: On that note. So, 18 degrees, you work out, you lose 1.5 liters in that hour test. And we try and mimic that with a game, like you mentioned, in terms of exertion. Does that mean that, if you want to be really thorough, you should do one at 25 degrees and another one above 30? So, do a few of them?
Darryl: Spot on. And there’s no pattern, by the way. So, let’s say, at 10 degrees you lost a liter an hour, as an example, hypothetically. It doesn’t mean at 20 degrees you’re going to lose two liters.
Jack: So, there is no special algorithm?
Darryl: No. Oh, it would make all my applied research way easier. I’ve had some athletes where we would test them around 18–20 degrees, which was a fairly consistent temperature for Ironman during the bike leg, particularly in Australia. You bumped that temperature up to 23–25 degrees, only a five degree swing, five to seven degree swing, and their sweat rate increased massively. Where other athletes that five to seven degree swing didn’t change too much. So, there’s just so many variables.
Jack: I imagine, humidity as well. Like, you’ve got to factor that in?
Darryl: Absolutely. When I was living in Melbourne for nine years, I was two minute walk from Etihad. My wife and I and daughter would sometimes see three games on a weekend. And it was fascinating watching a game with 8 to 10,000 people. And then again, with 50,000 people, how the humidity would rise. And I’d be sitting there and I’d be wondering whether they were taking that into account. How different the conditions were with 50,000 people sitting in the stands, as opposed to the different humidity when there was less people there. And a swing of 15% humidity can make a massive difference in your sweat rate.
Jack: Very interesting. So, doing the tests, you’ve got more awareness on how to adjust things on game day.
Darryl: Exactly. And there’s plenty of time to do it. You’re not training all the time. It’s 10 minutes on either side of that training session to do pre and post weighing and record it. Record the temperature and humidity, have a look at your GPS device that you have in the back of your jumper, look at the trend, see if it mimics close to game day. Because there’s so much data.
If I was a footballer, I’ll be looking at that and I’m sure some do. I’d be looking at that data after every game and seeing areas of where I could do better there. ‘Geez, I dropped off in that fourth quarter. What can I do in quarter one, two and three to ensure I don’t drop off so much in quarter four? Is it my hydration? Is it that I’m not fueling as well as I could?’ I think the players need to maybe take some responsibility for that as well. Because if you’re sports dietician and you’re trying to look after that many players, it’ll be a difficult task.
Jack: That’s a good message as well. It’s your career, isn’t it? So, if it comes from the athlete, you’re going to get a lot more benefit out of the experts around you in that environment.
You mentioned the GPS. I think that would be a good thing to touch on. So, you’re looking at your game day report and it may have a quarter breakdown and work rate in the different speed zone. So, slow running and high speed running and sprint distance. If you’re an athlete and you’re looking at it, you’re like, ‘Okay, there was a bit of a detriment or deficit in the work rate.’ With the athletes that you’ve worked out there, if it wasn’t a fitness thing, or it wasn’t a recovery thing in terms of rotations. If they can be definitive and know that it was definitely hydration, is that because of their post weighing, is there a percentage, like it really shouldn’t be this much? What are the standards with the loss of the fluid for a typical AFL game?
Darryl: That’s a good question. Once you get another variable. Because you and I could be losing the same amount of sweat. So, let’s say, we’re playing a hot game in Darwin. It wouldn’t be unusual for some players to lose three or four liters comfortably in those sort of conditions. So, you and I both lose three liters, but for whatever reason you can tolerate that loss better than I can. You can still maintain a high output better than I can. And it’s not for any other reason than it’s just how you tolerate that loss or that deficiency.
So, it’s hard to answer that question because it really comes down to, if you’re seeing that there is a deficit or a decrease in output, a lot of the time it could be put down to the fact that, ‘Geez, it was a lot warmer than I thought it was going to be. And I didn’t hydrate as well as I should have.’ And so, you address that for next time. Or it could well be it was a lot colder than I thought it was going to be, than the weather predicted, and the amount I consumed was more than I should have. And you can definitely drink more than you need in cooler conditions.
So, at some point you’re going to arrive, and it might not always be straightaway, but at some point you’re going to arrive at the answer, if you keep looking at it. But I have no hesitation in that AFL players aren’t fueling anywhere near where they should be. I don’t think the fueling strategy has caught up with the game now. The game is so much different than it used to be.
Jack: So, most of the fueling than the rehydration, the rehydration thing’s in a good spot, but more the replenishing of glucose.
Darryl: No, I don’t think the hydration is in a good spot at all. I think there’s still a lot of work to be done there. And that starts with educating the players. And talking to sports dieticians, I know they don’t get the opportunity to sit down with them and actually explain to them the importance of all this. So, that needs to change, that needs to be a priority, that needs to be something that’s built in. Because I know that when it comes to the level of importance, the nutrition side of things is way down the bottom. So, that’s something that they need to have a look at and address.
Jack: What about leading up to game day for footballers? What would you recommend? Some good practices for young athletes in terms of making sure they’re well-fueled and well-hydrated going into the game?
Darryl: Well, generally you’ve got to get there a couple of hours before the game. So, when an athlete asked me, ‘What should I eat before competition?’ Generally my answer is you eat what you normally eat. You don’t change anything. You eat the things that you’re comfortable with, that sit well in your stomach.
Some athletes have a massive problem with eating prior to a game. It’s just nerves take over. That’s where I think if they can try and maybe eat some fruit or make sure they maybe take a gel or something like that. They’ve got to be starting the game without any deficiencies. So, it’s really going to depend on the type of or the temperatures and humidity that they’re going to experience.
You can’t load up. So, you can’t go and drink, thinking that if I drink a lot now, then it’s going to save me for later on. A lot of the time a big problem with athletes, particularly when they’re going into a game where it is going to be hot, they drink lots and lots of plain water. And it’s a common mistake. And they think they’re doing the right thing.
It is good to hydrate, but if you were drinking copious amounts of plain water, you are going to dilute the sodium concentration of your blood. So, you’re going to start with deficiencies in that case. When you are hydrating, you hydrate with water and make sure the sodium component is in that drink as well. Don’t replace one, you’ve got to replace both. So, that’s the important thing.
And it’s hard to give a volume, but just make sure that you are drinking prior to the game. And especially in that two hours that you are warming up, getting ready to play the game. And make sure that you fuel, because in that two hour warmup, some players will use more energy than some people use in a week. So, making sure that you are fueling in that two hours as well, that you start the game without any deficiencies.
Jack: That’s a good point to be taken. Think about the game, but also like most warm-ups will have two different periods of warmups and definitely ramp up towards the games. So, making sure that you’re well-hydrated and fueling throughout the warmup, as it should be part of your game day preparation.
Love that thing. Thanks for sharing Daryl. We’ll move into the lighter side of the podcast, mate. This is a bit of a get-to-know-you segment. First one is which movie or TV series, or it could be a book, has impacted you the most and why?
Darryl: ‘The Power Of One.’ Have you read that?
Jack: Don’t think so. Has a familiar title to it, but… Is it a book?
Darryl: Yeah, it’s a book. Read that a long, long time ago. Pick that one, if you get a chance.
Jack: Will do. Favorite inspirational quote or life motto?
Darryl: ‘You are unique.’ And we are. We all are very, very special in our own way. There’s no one like you on the planet. That’s mine. We are unique.
Jack: And in your work life, what makes you angry? What are your pet peeves?
Darryl: I think you can work that one out. The fact that sports drinks dominate the sports nutrition market. I don’t have any hair left, I’ve torn it all out. It’s mind boggling to me that they dominate sports nutrition with their one-size-fits-all strategy. I try not to let it bother me, but it’s hard not to, when you’ve done all the work I’ve done over the years. It’s 25 years of work. I just want athletes to perform well and you’re not going to realize your true potential using a one-size-fits-all sports drinks.
Jack: And in a COVID free world, of course, what’s your favorite way to spend your day off?
Darryl: At the moment it’d be mountain biking. Love my mountain biking.
Jack: Favorite holiday destination and why?
Darryl: Can I have two?
Darryl: Maldives, surfing. And Japan, snowboarding.
Darryl: Yeah. I’m very much looking forward to getting back to Japan, once things go back to normal.
Jack: Well, thank you so much for jumping on, Darryl. Talk us through what’s on the horizon for 2022? What are you excited about at the moment?
Darryl: I’m very excited about having electrolyte tablets back. We had a fire in our factory just after COVID. So, we’ve had a nasty 16 months. We have them back now, so I’m very, very excited because it’s an awesome product. It’s my baby. I formulated them right from scratch. So, very, very passionate about it.
Jack: How are they different to the, like you mentioned, the general generic products that are out there?
Darryl: It’s an effervescent tablet, so there’s no calories at all. The idea is that if you have a higher sodium concentration in your sweat, you can add extra tablets to meet those needs. It’s as simple as that. You’re able to customize your hydration and get a lot closer to your losses than you normally would.
Jack: And easy on the stomach.
Darryl: Yeah, importantly. And that’s something I focused on when formulating these products. Any sports nutrition product needs to be gentle on the stomach. I spent a lot of time formulating products to be that gentle on the stomach.
Jack: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. I certainly got a lot out of our chat, mate. And, no doubt, the athletes, as well as practitioners that have tuned in live. And for those that tuned in later on and you missed the first part, definitely watch the whole recording. Darryl dropped gems from the first minute. So, you can watch that on the YouTube channel. And then for the podcasters out there, we’ll release this in the next couple of weeks. So, we’ll upload it on our socials when the episode is released in our podcast.
But thanks again, Darryl. Where can people find you if they want to ask any questions or queries? And, of course, talk us through KODA Nutrition as well, for athletes that want to try some of your products.
Darryl: I think the first thing is to get on and listen to the audio book ‘Sweat. Think. Go Faster’. That will explain a lot about the applied research that I’ve done over the past 25 years. And it goes into developing sports nutrition. So, it gives you a real insight into the things you need to think about, which most people don’t. They just use the product without really thinking too much. So, the science behind actually developing products. And all the research that I’ve done to help customize athlete’s nutrition and their performance.
And then kodanutrition.com is where you’ll find the products. We’re the Australian company. And I have no doubt there’s no one that spent as much time developing sports nutrition products than I have. I have absolutely no doubt about that. So, if you are using our products, you know that there’s been a huge amount of effort going into it.
Jack: That’s what athletes deserve. So, we’ll add the links, both to the audio book… Is that on your website?
Darryl: Yes, it is.
Jack: We’ll add it in the show notes, as well as the link to your, what about your socials? Where’s the best place for you?
Darryl: Just #kodanutrition.
Jack: We’ll add it in the show notes. Thanks for everyone that’s listened as well. If you’re a fan of the podcast, make sure to click the notification button on Spotify to not miss any episodes. I’ll see you guys on the next live chat.
Thank you for listening to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast. If you liked this episode, it’d be a massive help, if you could like, follow, rate, give a review or even share with your mates. The show is recorded in Melbourne, Australia. Be sure to follow our Instagram page for all updates on our latest and greatest.
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Jack: Welcome back to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast. My name is Jack McLean. I am the host and in today’s episode I interview Will Hams. He is the co-founder of Liminal Wellbeing and a former AFL player at the Essendon Football Club.
Highlights from this episode: we discuss the importance of persistence and working towards what you want; we will provide practical tips for footballers going through a challenging time, whether it’d be a form slump or from injuries; the Essendon drug saga and how it impacted the club; Liminal Wellbeing, the power of positive psychology and developing your tool shed for health.
Before we start this episode, for those wanting to improve your strength and power and gain a competitive edge this preseason, hire Prepare Like A Pro coach and join our individualized coaching package. For more information, head to preparelikeapro.com and join our email list to receive a free master class.
Let’s get into today’s episode. Welcome, Will. Thanks for jumping on, mate.
Will: Thanks for having me, mate. Looking forward to it.
Jack: It’s going to be a good chat. Let’s dive into the very beginning of your journey. The young Hammer, take us back. What age did you discover that a career as a professional footballer was going to become a reality?
Will: That’s a good question. I think as a little tackler, I definitely always loved sport and loved footy and always aspired to play AFL someday. But aspiring and it actually making a reality and whether I could get there or not, it was a completely different story.
I think more just growing up, I just loved playing sport and loved hanging out with my mates and playing with them. Football started probably getting a bit more serious as I got towards more Gippsland Power representative staff. Part of kind of the old TAC cup, and now the NAB League. Getting involved in those pathways was when it really became a bit more serious.
And I’d have to say that I probably sat on the fringes of most teams of Under 15s and 16s. And then it wasn’t really until the end of my Under 16s year that I started to string together some good football, started having a bit more confidence in how I was playing, and had some opportunity back at home, in Southwood, to play senior footy and played at it, and could compete with men. And I think that set me up a little bit from my bottom-age year in the Under 18s. Was lucky enough to play some consistent footy there, which again was another little stepping stone into whether I could get there.
And really making some choices to put myself in the best position to try and get drafted at really the end of my Under 18s year. And was lucky enough to go through there and worked pretty hard and put some good steps in place and played some good football and probably really come as out of nowhere midway through the year. And then following that, we had a pretty good season and I was lucky enough to get picked up by the Bombers after that.
Jack: Awesome, mate. Let’s dive into a little more detail about some of those stepping stones. It sounds like, as momentum built, your confidence in yourself grew, and for young footballers listening in, how important it is to stretch yourself? Like you said, a 16-year-old playing country senior footy, looking back at those moments, did that really move the needle for you in terms of your development, those big step-ups?
Will: I think so. People having confidence in you and then you having confidence in yourself is a big part of it. And I think football more so than anything is such a confidence game. You can put everything that you want, all the stepping stones in place, prepare as best as you possibly can, and get out there and you lose that sense of confidence and your game kind of goes. So, for me, that was definitely a big part of it.
Leading into my Under 18s year, I definitely made a clear decision. I remember speaking to mom and dad and said, ‘I’m going to put everything into getting drafted. This is what I want to do. And this is what I want to spend my year 12 doing.’ They were 100% supportive of that. And I can’t thank them enough for just backing me as a young person to just go after it. And they even took the step then to speak to my coaches, have a chat to my manager about what they can do to support me.
We spent a year really trying to act as if I was already an AFL player. I was doing recovery on the Monday, getting to the beach before school, doing extra touch sessions. We would head down on the highway on a Wednesday. We only had one session without giving up team. And then I’d train on a Thursday back local and sail. And then we would head up to Melbourne on Friday, see my physio and then start the patern again after we played on Saturday or Sunday.
So, there was definitely a routine. And I think as the season went on and I started seeing the results, that was a big confidence booster again. I got put in for the second game in the big country squads and then played the rest of the week and that set my year off like that. It was definitely a process in place and a bit of a clear plan that we set out at the start of the year. And definitely a huge thanks to my parents for really putting the faith in me and allowing me to really go after it.
Jack: That’s awesome, mate. Thanks for sharing that. And that’s such a good insight into your mindset that you had. And, like you mentioned, there’s a team behind the player usually to suceed in such a competitive sport and to play at the highest level. So, the importance that your parents played and we’ll go into influences soon.
But in terms of that intent that you mentioned, it sounded like you were pretty strong on it then. And speaking to your parents, is that the first time that you actually voiced it to someone, that you were like, ‘This is what I’m doing. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got this year to get drafted’? Or at that point was it already something that you were working towards, but you just wanted to take it up another notch?
Will: Probably so. Actually I remember it was quite funny. My brother’s best mate was around the house. And I remember we were chatting and talking about footy, and mom goes like, ‘Oh, Will was going to try and play AFL.’ And Luke Carlson, my brother’s mate goes, ‘Yeah. And I’m going to play cricket for Australia,’ kind of slowly taking a piss. And I decided, I remember it so distinct, I was like ‘I’m going to prove you wrong. I’m going to prove you wrong.’
I probably had that mindset. I was very competitive. I’m not a big guy, so I had to make sure that that was my drive and I had to do everything and put everything in place to be able to get there. And I think in that period it was where I felt like, ‘Ah, this could be something that I could go after.’
And to be fair, there was no reason why I should have felt that way. I hadn’t played in the big country squads. I hadn’t done any real representative or shown anything that said I will be a draft pick. But definitely having that confidence and that process in place was a big part of me finally getting there in the end and really that determination just to make it happen.
Jack: That’s awesome. Love that. And that’s a great gem for any of the younger footballers listening, or maybe parents of young kids. I think it’s so important to come from the person themselves, for them to really enjoy it and embrace it and get the full experience in this life that we live. If it’s coming from your heart and coming from yourself, you’re probably going to give it your best shot. I’m opposed to external people putting pressure on yourself. So, that’s, no doubt, an important factor.
Obviously, you’ve got to play good footy. And, like you said, you had those stepping stones and you built and worked and put in the work as well to get that end result. Talk us through how the draft week ended up for you as well? Because I know that was an interesting time for you after speaking to you a couple of years ago about it. Talk us through draft night and how did you venture out to get to Essendon?
Will: I guess post the season, we had a really good year at Gippsland Power. We made the grand final. We, unfortunately, lost by a point. But we really set ourselves to be in the spotlight. From there we went off to draft camp, tested pretty well. I was in the top ranges for running and a few of the skills jewels. And I spoke to a bunch of clubs as well and felt pretty confident going into the draft, knowing that I was going to get picked up somewhere.
I guess along the lines there was a few turns. Adelaide, Lions and Peaks were one of the clubs that were really interested in me. And I guess going in, you start getting a bit nervous. And I remember the night before draft or the day, trying to actually just kill the day, I remember Tom and I just went and did the running session. And we just kept running laps and running laps, trying to burn energy, so I could sit still and get through the night. But we ended up going to the pub, sat with a couple of friends, it wasn’t a big night or anything.
And then it went through and names were getting called out. Unfortunately, my name just didn’t go. And I remember being absolutely devastated. It was probably at the time, probably one of the hardest things that you go through. As you said, you put all these things in place, you put all the effort in there, you feel like you’ve got a chance, and then it just doesn’t fall your way.
Following that, I was tossing out whether to head to school with my mates or stick around to potentially try and get a training spot and, hopefully, get a rookie spot as well, which, I think, the draft was maybe a couple of weeks after. But I’m lucky enough that Merv came from the Bombers, one of the head recruiters at the time, gave me a call and said, ‘Mate, we’ve got a spot that’s opened up. We’d love you to come down, train, see how you go.’
And pretty much that was me. I got in the car, went up to Melbourne, went to Michael Hurley’s place. And trained for the next week with about six boys, who just pretty much went head to head in anything we did. It was time trials, competitive drills, weights, so the whole work. It was good fun, but super nerve-wracking. It just went in a blur. It just next thing, next thing, next thing. And I was lucky enough that at the end of that week I got a call from Hurley saying, ‘Mate, we’re going to pick you up.’ And ended up going pick 5 in the preseason draft.
It was one of the best feelings I had, having that element of against the wall, when you’re competing against others. And it was really that one-on-one, kind of more like an individual sport, when we were going through that process. But to come out on top and then to get drafted and go through, I think was probably better than even getting drafted in the first place. It really gave me that confidence that I should be here and I belong.
Jack: That’s awesome, mate. That’s a great story. Have you ever caught up with those other five guys, the ones you were competing through sport?
Will: I think I might have been the only one from Victoria. I remember Sammy Colquhoun. To be honest, he was probably going to get picked up before me. But then got picked up by Port Adelaide in a couple of picks before I did. I think I’ve dodged a bullet a bit there. And then Dayle Garlett ended up getting drafted to Hawthorn maybe a year later. And I’m not sure about the other boys.
But no, I haven’t ended up catching up with any of them. But the development coach at the time, who was really putting us through our paces, is now one of my best mates. So, we obviously connected pretty well. And I was pretty lucky that I did that. It was definitely interesting time. Loved it.
Jack: That’s awesome. Do you think you were well-prepared, because of the year of work that you did, it almost felt like you knew you deserved it, you deserved that spot?
Will: Yeah, absolutely. I think I honestly probably couldn’t have done any more whether it was in the gym, whether it was running, whether it was my skills work. I was just putting so much time into it, even leading up to that post the season. So, I really felt like, if it wasn’t going to be then, then it probably wasn’t going to be, and if someone’s going to beat me on the day, then well done to them. So, certainly felt that I was in the right position.
And probably I think you get a feel for it after the first day. We did a lot of tests in that first day. And I think a lot of them were probably more the explosive athletes, where I probably had a bit more endurance. I was getting on top of them in those trials and then when it got down to the competitive stuff, I think that certainly contested ball was one of my strong suits. And I was able to get on top of that and I think that just gave us a bit of confidence really for the rest of the week.
Jack: And you mentioned earlier the importance of having a good support team and those around you that build your confidence. Who were your strong influences early days to help you during your development?
Will: I think, obviously, I spoke about my parents. I think for any fortunate kid they’re the number one supporter. Obviously, growing up in Gippsland and being three hours away from Melbourne, we pretty much spent two years traveling back and forth. We absolutely flogged the Monash Freeway. And they dedicated so much time and effort into supporting not just me, but my brother, Tom, as well in our sporting endeavors. So, certainly mum and dad were a massive influence.
I think in Gippsland Power Peter Francis, who was the general manager there for ever, is an absolute legend. And Nick Stevens, who was my coach in Under 18s year. They put a load of confidence in me as well and really pushed me to AFL clubs, to get on their radar, as well as in big country. And I have lots to thank to both of them. Probably not just in a footy sense, but also just in a personal sense as well, in sense of life lessons that they taught me and understanding discipline and respect. I think it was just a great culture of learning as well as being good footballers, but being good young men as well. So, they were absolutely incredible.
And then James Burn, who I briefly mentioned before, who was that development coach that got me over the line of the Bombers. Again, a massive influence early in my footy career, but post football more importantly. He’s been a huge influence in both my career and life outside of that side. Certainly, they’re the people that really stick out as both in a football sense, but also in a life sense, I think, as well.
Jack: And your dream becomes your reality. You’re on AFL list. Take us through the first year. How tough was it? And what was some of the highlights as well?
Will: I’d have to say probably the first year was one of the easiest years or probably the easiest year that I had. I think AFL clubs are quite good at balancing your load as a young person coming in. And as I mentioned, because post the season I was trying to train to then get a role, I came in really fit and was really strong in preseason. I think preseason was probably one of my strengths in terms of I was quite a good runner, backed up training really well or recovered pretty well. So, all those things were really in my favour.
And leading into the start of the season I was putting myself in the best position I could. I didn’t get close in round one, but played some good VFL games and then ran through our first emergency and then had a string of emergencies and carry-overs after that. But certainly I guess probably that preseason, although you come home and you go to sleep and you’re not used to having a full day at the club, whether it’s way in the afternoon, training in the morning, meetings and all that stuff does tire you out mentally and physically.
But I think for me, it was just kept flowing on from the momentum that I had the previous year. And it really wasn’t probably until my second year where I felt a little bit more pressure on performing and making sure that I could submit my spot and how it was physically and all those sorts of things. But in the first season, you’re fresh, no one knows you, no expectations. Get out there and just have a crack.
Jack: Awesome. And you mentioned the emergency. How challenging is it to prepare and be in that position, particularly when you haven’t debuted yet? I can imagine that would be a real mental fuck.
Will: Yeah, it was a little bit. I remember, so, round two, I think I was emergency six or seven times, like the player for emergency before I played. And it was a couple of times they had to travel. A couple of times I could go to the game then no one’s injured, head back to the VFL and play. Mom and dad and Tom and everyone else would come up. The whole family would come up from Gippsland and hope that potentially someone might get injured. Is not doing that, is going on the VFL.
And then finally cracked it, cracked a gig in round 10 up at Sydney. I was lucky. Again, I was an emergency and Benny Howlett pulled out, I think, the day before the game. And I’ve got my first opportunity out of it. But we had a really good site. I think we won the first maybe nine games of the year that year in the Bowman’s Raps. So, they were flying, and there’s a few things, obviously, going on outside of that. But on-field everything was absolutely flying.
So, it was good to be a part of that as well, and see what these blokes are doing and how they’re getting up and how they are playing. And being in the stands, watching those different patterns and all of that stuff was a really good educational experience as well.
Jack: Let’s go into that. It was a bit of a rare time to be drafted at the club. When did you start picking up on things? Was it post career? Was it a few years in? With some of the drugs out there, what was going on?
Will: It was a weird time. I mean, for me, I got there the following year. So, I think it was maybe my second week and we had a meeting to say that there was an investigation going on. I didn’t really know what was happening, but it seemed to be pretty big at the time. And then you jump on the news and there’s plenty going on and really for the next four years that was it.
It was twist and turn and everything else in between. But I guess draft group probably did sit a little bit separate to that, but also part of it in a really strange way. It was certainly a challenging time for everyone involved, particularly the boys that were part of it, and I’d certainly feel for them. But also indirectly everyone else around staff and supporters and everyone involved, it was just a crazy four years.
I guess for me, that was the four years I was in the system. And by the time it cleared out I was retrospectively looking back and thinking, ‘What the hell just happened?’ But when you’re in the moment, you just, again, it’s a cliche, but you do take each day as it comes and like, ‘Okay, whatever,’ and focus on the next thing. And you really are in a bit of a bubble. So, that was what it was. And I was just focusing on making a career and playing games and recovering from injuries and whatever else was going on.
Jack: Okay. So, it certainly wasn’t a distraction for you personally coming in and being drafted into that time?
Will: I don’t think so. Not in that first year. It was actually a really inspiring year the way that a lot of the players were just galvanized. And as I said, I think the boys were on the first nine games in a row and played Geelong who had also won nine games in a row. And we were going really well. So, it was pretty inspiring to be a part of that.
And, as you know, you can’t forecast what’s going to happen in the next few year. So, no one knew that it was going to drag on the way it was. But that’s definitely a galvanizing experience to be a part of. And it was certainly an interesting first year, for sure.
Jack: And you mentioned other challenges. So, I guess, start with injuries, for players that maybe there might be some listening that are currently going through an injury. Obviously, it’s probably one of the hardest times as an athlete, because your body’s taken away and you’ve got to do the things. You signed up to play the game of footy and suddenly now you’ve got to spend more time in the gym, doing the things that you potentially didn’t sign up for. How did you go about approaching rehab and what was some things you learned along the way that made rehab more successful?
Will: It was a tough one. So, as I said that first year you come in, your eyes are open, you’re just having a crack. And then the following year you want to make sure that you improve on what you’ve just laid out. And for me, I felt like I had a pretty good year, played a couple of games in the seniors, played good VFL, played a good final series.
And so, I was like, ‘Ah, it’s my time. I want to make sure that I submit my spot in the senior side. So, I’m going to do everything that I can in the preseason to make sure I’ve come back and ready to go.’ And that was pretty much what I did. I didn’t go away. I went just back home and just trained as much as I could. And got back to preseason…
Jack: More than the club program? When you say as much as you could, did you do extras and that sort of thing? Or you just really brought maximum intensity to the program?
Will: It was probably quantity over quality, I think. And that was certainly something that, looking back, you want to take back and you do understand that putting the quality in you don’t have to do these ridiculously long sessions. If you have the quality in there, then you’re going to see those benefits. And for me, that wasn’t the way that I approached it, and probably not the way a lot of young people approach it. Because you just think more is better and that’s what you do.
As I mentioned, I came back really good, I tested really well, trained really well up until the Christmas break. And then probably a week after the Christmas break when we got back I went down with what was pretty innocuous hip injury. I essentially lost all strength in one side and got some test done and ended up seeing that I had a swelling in my hip. And from there I got to cortisone, it relaxed. I went to training again, started running again and three days later it just blew up again.
And that was just his pattern for I don’t even know how long. It just kept flaring up, flaring up. We couldn’t work out what was actually causing that flare up. And unfortunately for me, it didn’t matter how much rehab I did and all the strength work that I did around my glutes or groins or everything else, it just wasn’t fixing. So, I ended up having to go into surgery. And in the end I missed the whole year just through that trial and error of trying to fix that hip.
And that was definitely a frustrating and challenging time, as you said. I think as an athlete all you want to do is perform and play and do what you’re paid to do and what your job is. And also probably what you love. Definitely being in the gym wasn’t something that I loved. It was just something that came with the game, and then you want to celebrate at the end on a weekend when you’re winning and all those sorts of things. So, definitely a challenging time.
And something that I’ll kind of look back on. I’m not sure what I’d do different. As I’ve mentioned, definitely that quality over quantity. But in my third year I ended up playing a few games early and then I think it was around six my other hip did the exact same thing. And that put me out and I respectively missed two middle years of my career. Pretty challenging time. And as you said, when you’re an athlete and you really rely on your physical health as the tool of your trade and not being able to do that was something that was really challenging.
Jack: And did you develop things outside of football at that stage of your career? Obviously, you were focused on your rehab, but that’s the two years of not playing a lot of footy. Were there other things in your life that you started to focus on to help yourself mentally get through it?
Will: Yeah. And probably the fortunate thing about getting injured is that you can have a think about what else you are doing outside of football. And I definitely feel that I’m one of those people that does want to stay busy and always wants to learn as well.
So, through what the AFL and the AFL PA have set up, I did a number of pathway courses and then started my Bachelor of Business while I was still playing at the Bombers, which was probably because I just wanted to do something. And then when I finished the game, I was pretty thankful that I did, and went on, finished that Bachelor of Business. And it really helped me with my professional career post the game. So, that was something that really helped.
But again, I love to surf. I love to stay physically active. And all those things that I wanted to do, I couldn’t do. So, it was really about finding other stuff that stimulated me mentally and socially, and other ways to keep my physical strength up as well. And that was really a discovery time for me. I felt I was just exploring what I liked and what I didn’t like.
Jack: And going back to the highlights, like first game, being drafted, playing finals, and then obviously post Essendon you were in a premiership side and had played a ripping game, mate, at Box Hill. Looking back now, what is the fondest memory out of all those highlights?
Will: I definitely think that that final series that we had at Box Hill in 2018 was probably, I get goosebumps thinking about it now. And you were a part of it, and it was just a crazy, crazy rollercoaster coming into that final series. We finished sixth, we won in overtime. And then the following week, we had a good game against Geelong, and then we won by point in the Prelim, and then came from behind and won in the Granny. And that whole kind of come from behind victories that we had was insane. And it is a bit of a blur, but it was definitely the most highlight that I had in footy by a long stretch. It was absolutely awesome.
Jack: I can only imagine the connection amongst those weeks. It was bloody crazy week after week, every time, like you said, coming from six, you can’t lose. And the team really stepped up, the highlights near the end was fun to watch. When you look back on those memories, do you guys catch up a year post when you turned 19, or is it more a five-year thing, 10-year thing? Talk us through for premiership group, what is the connection like after?
Will: It’s a tough one because a lot of us left and we were all going to leave at the end of that year. So, it was really the last for us, anyway. I told Box Hill that I wouldn’t be playing the following year. I was going to head away traveling with my girlfriend Grace and go away for six months and really take that opportunity. I just finished studying, so it was just a really good time to finish up.
Obviously, winning the flag and going out on that note was just at an all time high. But we definitely go to a group chat and we try to catch up. COVID, obviously, hasn’t played a great role in that, like many others. But I’m looking forward to a good reunion and a good catch-up with the boys one day.
Jack: Once the rain is gone, there will be summer festivity. So, that’s awesome, mate. Talking about the positives with the game of football, those moments of winning finals and winning premiership as part of a team, what does that do going into the following year? From a confidence point of view, but also from a team connection point of view for team success, how important is that to be able to have that experience as a group?
Will: I think it’s everything. I think you see in the AFL, and it’s no coincidence that Hawthorn get a gel from winning one and they go to win three in a row, you see Richmond do what they do, and you’re probably going to see Melbourne and the Doggies be right amongst it. Team success breeds that confidence for everyone to step up and keep on that train and keep going. And you don’t want to miss out as well.
And I think for us at Box Hill, we lost in the Prelim, got absolutely smoked by Richmond. But still, we were building something and I think that group really galvanized after that. And we had a bit of a run, just started slow and then built and got our momentum back and finished really strong.
But I think getting that connection with your teammates for me, I was only there two years. The first year was kind of feeling everyone out, learning how do they play, how does this work, where am I. That second year I felt comfortable where I’m positioned in this team, where I’m running, I know what he’s going to do. And you start building that game awareness with your teammates. So, that was something that I really felt in that second year to get us over the Prelim hump and get us into the Granny.
Jack: Although there’s a lot of talent in aligned clubs, with a lot of the VFL top players that make a game come from an AFL list half the time, or they’re seriously good state league players, and then the rest of the team is made up of AFL full-time professional footballers, not always are they most successful in the state league. How important is that connection? And for VFL or stately players that are listening in, how do you build that connection between the two groups, between AFL and VFL?
Will: It is hard. I come from one system, where Essendon was the VFL side as well. So, it was really a strong continuant of Essendon listed players. And we really ran that show and that’s how I felt anyway, sitting on that side. I’m not sure how the VFL boys felt. We definitely had some good senior boys, but probably for me on the AFL list as well it’s really always thinking not just on my personal performance, but how can we win? How can I play well? How can I get into the senior side? There was a different motive there.
Where moving to Box Hill, I think they just developed such a great culture and respect between the Hawthorn Footy Club and Box Hill and what Box Hill boys delivered. And having not your own club, but it did feel a little bit like you’re in clubs. You still had the same rooms and that sort of stuff. And the boys would come in and they were super respectful of the VFL players. And I think that was just really good mutual respect. I think Casey seem like they do it really well as well.
I think that was something that was probably built long before I got there, but I definitely felt it when I arrived. That was a really good respect between both. And even when players are coming back from injury, and we’re talking about our senior players at Hawthorn at the time, they were again very welcoming and inclusive, wanted to be there, wanted to support, wanted to play well, so the team could play well.
So, I think, if you can build that culture, it does build success, not just in the VFL program, but in the AFL program as well. I strongly believe that. By helping those players get better and becoming better than you’re only going to succeed as well.
Jack: And going back to how you mentioned at the start of the year, that Box Hill premiership year, this will be your final year at the club, and then you’re going for half a year trip, which was very well-timed, retrospectively, mate, with your partner, Grace. So, well played there. What was your thinking at the time and did you know you had enough of playing professional footy? Or was that the idea and you were going to give it one last hooray before moving on to your next chapter?
Will: Yeah, I think so. I’d probably already subconsciously realized that footy is probably not going to be there and was starting to really have a look at myself and what I want to do and what drives my passion and drives my purpose and who else was I without the game of football. I think for a long time as a kid, and then obviously getting drafted, I felt like footy was really my identity and who I was. But it was only really something that I did. So, it was a real defining moment around finding out who am I and what do I love doing outside of what was. A great time.
I was still very hopeful. I was putting everything into that final year and I spoke to a couple of clubs, but certainly it didn’t go in with a lot of confidence that I would get drafted or anything like that. And as it turned out, I certainly didn’t. And we had one of the best experiences in my life, getting away and traveling through Central American states and meeting new people and having new experiences and something that I’ll look back on for the rest of my life. And I think it was a pretty defining moment in terms of the work that I do now as well.
So, certainly, leading the game, I love what I do, I’ve loved the kind of the journey that I’ve had since, and it’s been awesome. I certainly can’t take anything, I wouldn’t change anything or anything like that, or stayed in the system for any longer. I think for me personally, that was my time to call it a day on that and look at other things that I loved and drive me, as well as my partner Grace.
Jack: That’s awesome, mate. You can tell the way you go about it and your mindset that you’re not someone that has regrets. I love that. But we’ll go into the next chapter, using the degree. Probably exercise science is a broad topic that everyone does because they love sport, then business manager would be a close second, I reckon. But you’ve applied it. You’re a co-founder of Liminal Wellbeing. For those that don’t know what Liminal Wellbeing is, can you give us a bit of an intro into the company you’ve created?
Will: So, essentially Liminal Wellbeing is a management platform designed for schools, youths programs, sporting organizations, helping to support young people in seeking support, but also developing skills around their mental health and wellbeing. And we look at that in terms of their mental health, their physical health and their social health as well.
What we’ve done is designed an app, a mentioned platform that works part and parcel together. The app’s a resource for young people to check in, as I said, seek support, but the more importantly gain inspiration, education and skills around how to create a preventative behaviors to support their mental health and wellbeing.
Jack: Amazing. And how did you come to create that? Was that while you were away, the creative juices were flowing and you started to come up with the idea? Or is it something that once you came back, you started to work on?
Will: I think it was probably one of by-products in my own life. As I mentioned, when I was injured, I did so many different things to support my mental health and my physical health. And then obviously that connection that I had socially as well was a big part of that. And I really experimented with different things, whether that was affirmations and positive self-talk, whether it was yoga, meditation, cold therapy. I was really big on finding a real toolkit around what supported me.
I guess the other side of things was that I’m happy to say that we have a lot of mental health history within our family on both sides of the family and that’s mom’s and dad’s side. And so, growing up, it was extremely prevalent around doing the right things to feel your best and whether that was the food that we put into our bodies, or there was exercising, ot it was looking at drinking and drugs and that sort of stuff. Mum was very strong in making sure that we were doing everything that we could.
So, I think all of those things combining, and then going away and traveling and looking at all these different experiences and the different ways that people live their lives, just combine myself in this passion for positive psychology. Coming back, I ended up getting a job with a student travel company where we facilitated international programs for schools, taking young people to developing countries where they’d have that backpacker type experience: live at a local community and do a project, trek around, explore and lead the whole trip.
And I just found it such an empowering experience, having that alternative learning outside of school. And school wasn’t my thing. And I found that with these young people, providing them this kind of other opportunity to learn in a real concentrated environment and put them outside their comfort zone was something that I was really excited by.
Unfortunately with COVID, that put the nail in the coffin of that job pretty quick. And I was toying around with this idea of being able to provide that on a platform and being able to combine what I’d learned in positive psychology, what I’d learned in professional sport and the health and fitness industry, and how you could combine all of those to be a really great platform for young people to seek support easier, but more importantly, work out the strategies that work for them.
Jack: Like you said, build a tool shed. I love that, that concept of playing around and almost experimenting and having fun with it. There’s no one answer, but if you’ve got that sort of curious mindset to play around with. And just like the physical side, the mental side is no different. So, playing around and trying different methods, yoga, meditation, cold therapy.
I’ve had the pleasure of looking at the app when we caught up for coffee and it seems like it’s really seamless in the way that it works and it communicates and triggers to teachers to alert them on a particular student that might not be feeling so well. Almost makes it a little bit easier for young kids to communicate how they’re going. And then for teachers or coaches, it makes their life a bit easier to be able to look after a big group, which it can be hard to get across to everyone at times.
So, take us through the purpose of it. What are you trying to achieve with Liminal Wellbeing?
Will: Yeah, exactly, what you said. There are a lot of barriers in young people seeking support. And just like anyone knows the earlier that you do that and the earlier you get on top of things, the better.
And for teachers, they’ve got a bloody tough role, super tough. Even more tough throughout COVID, particularly with online learning and these sorts of things. It’s one, they’ve got to teach the curriculum and help young people learn. But also, they have their second on, how they’re traveling and cannot be that care supporter as well. So, what we really tried to do with Liminal is make that easier for schools, but also organizations as well.
The way the platform works is essentially with the app. Students do a quick check-in or the individual does a quick check-in on their physical, mental, and social health on a one to five scale, but it’s designed a little bit differently. And that information then just goes through the management system, just to see how broadly the group is going. But just a quick idea around how that individual is going and flag anyone that might be struggling across those three areas.
Really from there the app is what I’d like to call a combination of what a lot of meditations apps are, like a calm and in your headspace. And then you might have a center app that’s your physical health. And combining that all into one to then be an organization tool as well. So, we provide all of those resources to young people, whether that’s yoga sessions, whether it’s fitness sessions, whether it’s meditations, whether it’s goal setting. All these things that they can try out and find what works for them.
As well as providing a content management platform for organizations to use where they can upload different inspirational videos, different resources that they have available, guest speakers if they come there. And it’s all centralized within the app.
And then finally a support function. So, if a young person is struggling with anything, whether it’s school-related, whether it’s home-related, whether it’s physically related, then they can reach out to the wellbeing team simply through their app. And it’s definitely an alternative solution for them. We certainly encourage to build that rapport with their teachers and with their wellbeing teams. But it is something that they can fall back on, because they don’t know who to ask and they don’t know how to articulate their feelings.
And going back to the toolkit analogy I certainly look at that wellbeing and what we’re trying to do, is really provide them with a suite of resources. And we refer to it as a tradie. Tradie is not going to rock up to the site to build a house with a hammer. He’s going to have a bunch of different tools in his shed.
We’re thinking about wellbeing in a similar way. If you’re relying on fitness and you break your ankle, then you’re probably going to struggle and you’re not going to expect your wellbeing to be great. But if you have a bunch of other stuff that you can rely on while you’re recovering from that, then you’re going to put yourself in the best position. That’s really what we’re trying to do is cover those three areas of physical, mental, and social quite broadly, so they can build a bit of a wellbeing toolkit around them.
Jack: Amazing, mate. Love that. No doubt, it’s going to be doing big things. And I know the launch date is fast approaching, which is super exciting for you. So, schools, football clubs and organizations as well. Potentially a modern business might look into this as well to look after their staff from a wellbeing point of view. Is that a possibility?
Will: Yeah, I think that certainly is in the track we’re going. We’re certainly looking at youth, so looking at different youth programs that they have within the community, YMCA and that sort of thing. Really being able to empower them. So, that’s our avenue at the moment. And potentially going down organizations that allow the stage. But I think our passion from our team and our mission is really about supporting young people at this point in time.
Jack: Awesome, mate. Congratulations, you’ve transitioned into the entrepreneurial world just seamlessly, mate.
Will: Thanks, mate. As yourself.
Jack: We’ll go into the lighter side of the podcast, the get-to-know-Will-Hams side. So, first one off the bat, mate, is which movie or TV series has impacted you the most and why? We’ve had plenty of time for these lately. You probably have it as much as others, but the last couple of years Netflix must have popped up at least one.
Will: Yeah, big time. To be honest, I was trying to think of one and I don’t have anything that really stands out for me. Big TV series, I love TV series over movies. I think probably my favorite all time TV series, I don’t know if it’s impacted me in the best way possible, but I could smash ‘Entourage’ when I was a young fellow about three times in a year. I love that show.
So, that’s definitely my all time favorite, but I don’t know if I’ve had too many impact me. You certainly walk away from some movies with some goosebumps and pretty pumped up. Al Pacino’s speech and all those things, but I couldn’t really put my finger on one that really got me going.
Jack: In your work life, what makes you angry? What are your pet peeves?
Will: Ah, pet peeves. Again, there’s probably not too much that really annoys me. I think I really try and treat everyone equally and it does probably annoy me when others are disrespectful to people that they may not know or for whatever reason. So, that’s probably something that gets on my nerves a little bit. But again, there’s probably not too much that annoys me, really.
Jack: And favorite inspirational quote or life motto?
Will: So, ‘Shit always works out.’ I say this whenever I have a crazy idea or try and go over something, that’s probably looking a bit dodgy. I always say to my girlfriend, ‘Grace, shit always works out.’ I’ll probably rephrase it a little bit. Shit always works out if you put the dedication and the determination to make it do so.
And I believe that out of that motto, I do it with my work. I’ve done it with footy. I’ve done it with everything. You just take each day as it comes. Don’t try and stress too far ahead because things will just work out. And if you do so, then you’ll find out that they do a few days later.
Jack: I’m with you there. That one resonates with me. Another one that clicked in my head for whatever reason, I think listening to someone else’s podcast, is ‘What will be will be’, which pretty much is the same thing.
Jack: That’s a great one. What’s your favorite way to spend your day off? You mentioned surfing. If you’ve got the day off, if tomorrow you don’t have anything on, what do you like to do? How do you start and what are some activities?
Will: Big time, getting in the water. I’m still not a hundred percent sure why I live in Melbourne. It’s not on the coast at all, and there’s no waves within an hour and a half. But get me back home to the water. I grew up on the coast. Mom’s down in Inverloch. I love getting down there. Every opportunity that I possibly can, I just love to get in the water, get surfing. If it’s flat, still get down in the ocean. I think it’s my place to reset. Especially the COVID, it was so challenging being stuck indoors. And I do get a bit weird when I haven’t been down the coast for a while. So, I think that’s definitely my happy place.
Jack: So, if there’s the Liminal retreat one day and I sign up, there’ll be surfing involved.
Will: Big time. I can guarantee you that. Maybe multiples of it.
Jack: Awesome. This is a COVID-free world and you’ve done a bit of traveling, mate. So, favorite holiday destination, and why?
Will: COVID-free? I’d probably get back to Mexico in a heartbeat. Absolutely loved it there. Both sides, west and east coast. I haven’t really explored the middle, it’s a bloody massive country. So, I’d love to go back there and explore some more of Mexico, but absolutely loved it. And as I said, we had a great opportunity to travel just before COVID, which is, retrospectively, quite fortunate. And I did about three months traveling around Central America, but I’d get back to Mexico. I loved it there.
Jack: And we’ll start wrapping up the podcast. Thank you so much for jumping on and sharing with us your journey so far. You’ve lived a full life. And I know I’ve got plenty from it, but also the listeners, whether you’re a footballer or a businessman, you’ll get plenty from it. What’s on the horizon for you, for the 2022 year? What are you excited about at the moment?
Will: As you mentioned, we’re launching Liminal. So, we trialed all last year and now we’re officially launching Liminal across schools and football clubs, particularly around the VFl. So, that’s going to be a really exciting start of the year, getting all of those going.
And, hopefully, it’s going to be a big half COVID-free, normal year that we can get out and about. We’ve got a lot of exciting staff, whether they’re talks, different partnerships and getting out there and trying to spread what we do as much as possible. So, fingers crossed we can do that in person, otherwise we might have to get on a few more podcasts with yourself.
Jack: The same, mate. And for those that want to hear more about Liminal, where’s the best place to get in touch with you?
Will: Yeah, definitely. We’re on all the social. So, LinkedIn and Instagram, Facebook. But jump on our website, liminalwellbeing.com.au, explore around and reach out. I think my details would probably be on the show notes after this. So, if you are a teacher, a parent, if you’re part of a football club and you’re interested in what we have to offer, please do reach out. We’d love to chat and tell you more about it and, hopefully, get your organization involved.
Jack: No doubt, I reckon there’ll be some people that will. We’ll definitely chuck your details in the show notes. We have equal values in terms of a holistic approach to mental and physical wellbeing and performance in life. So, hopefully, some people will get in touch, mate.
Thanks again for jumping on. And thank you for all the listeners that have tuned in life. This episode will be released very shortly on our podcast, but for the time being you can watch it on YouTube. Thanks again, Will, mate. Have you got any last messages for the listeners?
Will: I reckon everyone’s probably heard enough from me. But thanks a lot for having me on, mate. It’s been a blast. And thanks to everyone for tuning in.
Jack: Awesome. And our next live chat guys will be next Thursday. It’s actually our first collaborative event. So, super excited for this one. We’ve got five AFL sport dieticians joining us. They’ve all been on a podcast individually. So, Jess Spendlove from GWS, Rebekah Alcock from Melbourne, Ben Parker from Gold Coast Suns, Pip Taylor from Brisbane, and Simone Austin who worked at Hawthorn. If you’re interested to hear more information, subscribe to our newsletter, which you can find that on ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ website. Thanks, guys. We’ll see you on the next episode.
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Jacqui Louder is the Sport psychologist of the Collingwood Football Club men’s & women’s program and Melbourne Storm. Prior to the pies, Jacqui was at the National Institute of Circus Arts and traveled on the National Dirt Bike and Road bike circuits with Motorcycling Australia, North Melbourne FC, practicing out of Olympic Park.
Highlights from the episode:
Career path to become a sports psychologist
Tips for aspiring sports psychologists
How she built her rapport and soft skills with the athletes
Tips for an athlete that feels overwhelmed because of a mistake
How she resets a team that lost or won for the next game
Jack: Welcome back to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast. My name is Jack McLean. I’m the host and in today’s episode I interview Jacqui Louder, who is the sport psychologist of the Collingwood Football men’s and women’s program and works at Melbourne Storm. Prior to that, Jacqui was at the National Institute of Circus Arts and traveled on National Dirt Bike and Road Bike circuits with Motorcycling Australia. She’s worked at North Melbourne Football Club and is practicing out of the Olympic Park.
Highlights from this episode: the points of developing self-awareness; how to use analogies to improve athlete performance; why mental preparation is as important as physical; Jacqui’s career journey from an athlete to a practitioner.
Before we start this episode, for those wanting to improve your 2K time trial and gain a competitive edge this preseason, join our Prepare Like A Pro online program. You can get a free 14-day trial by heading over to our website preparelikeapro.com or click the link in our show notes.
Let’s get into today’s episode. Thanks for joining us tonight.
Jacqui: Hi, thanks for having me.
Jack: I’m looking forward to our chat. We’ll start right back at your beginning. At what age did you discover you had a passion for the mental game, sports psychology?
Jacqui: Well, it was actually really early. I’d always loved psych and my sister hates me telling this story, but we did heaps of sport growing up and we used to do little athletics. So, we’d go to athletics every Saturday. And my dad and I would sit on the hill and we’d watch my sister do the hurdles and every week she’d fall at the fourth hurdle. And I remember saying to my dad, and I would’ve been like 9 or 10, said to my dad, ‘That’s what I want to do when I grow up. See what’s it like in her head.’ So, I want to help athletes, actually. Really freaky.
And I probably didn’t really recognize that it was able to be a career at that stage. And then when I was in year nine I walked past the school library and they had all these brochures out the front. And I saw a course at Ballarat University, which is now Federation, and it had a double degree like in Human Movement and then I could do Psychology and they had a stream in sports psychology. So, pretty much from year nine I knew that that’s where I was going to go and that’s what I wanted to do.
Jack: Wow. That’s amazing.
Jacqui: It’s unusual, I know.
Jack: Yeah, when you were nine years old. So, looking back at it now with the professional skills you have, what would you have told your sister, for the young athletes that are listening in?
Jacqui: I definitely would have asked her what her preparation was like, because I’m tipping she would have been expecting to fall at that fourth hurdle, which means that there’s some anxiety there. I can help her through that now.
Jack: I love that. It’s great story. And when you worked into that year nine course, was that something that was popular in other high schools? How many students were doing it in your class?
Jacqui: It wasn’t a course. It was a brochure that was saying you could go and study after year 12 at Ballarat University. So, from that moment on I pretty much just kept an eye on it, and that course was still always there. When I was 18, at that stage I knew I’d get the grades to get in. So, I moved from Melbourne up to Ballarat and I was playing State League Netball at the time. So, I was going back and forth between Melbourne and Ballarat four or five times a week to maintain it. But that’s actually still where I ended up and I loved it.
Jack: Fantastic. It normally takes people a few years to find their truth and their career and passion, but that’s amazing that you find it at such a young age and you’re doing it for a long successful career as well. That’s super inspiring. For those that do want to become sport psychologists, take us through the steps and what you need to do to be a qualified sports psychologist.
Jacqui: If you want to do psychology, basically, the first few years undergrads you can do it through a Sports Science degree, a Science degree or just go straight into Arts (Psychology). The undergrad is pretty similar, no matter where you go.
I found that doing the Human Movement Sports Science degree, and then with the psych, just gave me a really good ability to be able to talk to the dieticians and the doctors and the physios, and have a really good understanding. So, that was my logic for wanting to do it that way.
Once you’ve done your three years, you then can do a graduate diploma. So, fourth year. Or you can do an honors as your fourth year. And then once you finished your fourth year, you have to go and do a fifth and sixth year. So, that’ll be a Master’s or you can pick a PhD. And after that, you’re a general psychologist.
And then, once you’re a general psychologist after six years, you then go and do anywhere from 18 months to two years working as a sport psych, where you’ve got a supervisor and you’ve got a log of all of your hours and all that. So, it’s a pretty long, long journey, but it’s well worth it. And certainly I think the job opportunities now are so much more than when I first came out.
Jack: And you were playing high level netball, like you said, state level. Did you know that you wanted to work in high performance from the get-go when you started doing your degree?
Jacqui: Yes. From the very start. I’ve always had a fascination with high performance and what makes people want to be the best. And, I guess, for me I’m that same personality. I want to be the best at what I do. I ended up with probably too many injuries to follow the athlete pathway. So, crossed over to the other side and it’s actually worked out pretty well.
Jack: It sure has. And what about mentors and influences early on in your career?
Jacqui: I think ultimately it probably initially stems from my parents. Both of them have a really amazing work ethic. So, knowing that it was going to be a really long journey, it definitely came from them at the start.
And then I had some great lecturers at uni that could probably see how driven I was and how determined I was to do things. And then I had a really great coach when I first came out that I started working with the states softball teams. And I had a really great coach there. Pete Phillips, who’s passed away now. He was the first one, I think, that could really just see the value of psychology and brought me on board to be able to work with the Under 16 state team. And then I went to the Under 19 team, the open team. So, he was pretty huge for me.
And then, I guess, having that association, I went through the Victorian Institute of Sport for a little bit. So, there’s a few coaches in there. Roger Flynn was an amazing coach to work with who was in squash. He had some pretty high level athletes and the way he pushed me to think and push my boundaries and those sorts of things.
And then now, obviously, along the way, it’s some pretty incredible people that you get to work with. Some great coaches, a couple of amazing footy managers at Melbourne Storm. I’ve got Frank Pennisi, who’s just allowed me to do my job, but given me the support and is super fair and the way he does things.
It’s not just psychologists. It’s athletes, it’s coaches, it’s your admin. People that help you believe in what you do, but also encourage you and give you that freedom to go. ‘You go be your best and we’re going to help you do that for us and do that for yourself.’
Jack: And for the practitioners listening in that are interested in sports psychology, maybe they are doing their sports science degree and they’re not sure where they want to go with it, or they do know what they want to do and they want to work in high-performance sport. How competitive is it to get your foot in the door and what would be some tips that you would give for those people that want to work in high performance?
Jacqui: I think it’s getting really competitive now and the courses, there’s not a heap of courses around. But I would say, as soon as you know this is what you want to do, start reading. There’s so many books, there’s so many resources, there’s so many podcasts and things like that. So, you’ll hear some of the best that are around doing these sort of things to learn from.
I think the biggest for me, my biggest asset has always been networking. Every opportunity I got I was prepared to take it. I would drive two hours to be able to get an opportunity with a netball team. Or I drive an hour and a half this way to be able to go and work with a swimming club. So, I think embracing any opportunities that you actually get.
And the other side of it would be, apart from reading and listening to podcasts and things, making sure that if there’s conferences on and things like that, where you can see there is a sport psych stream and there are sport psychs that are well-known or in certain organizations that you want to be in, pay the money and go to them. And introduce yourself. We’re a pretty small network, but we’re really friendly network. And we know that this is such a growing area.
So, the opportunities to come in, and certainly at, not grassroots sport, maybe like your state level sports. Like for me, I started with softball. It’s not a mainstream sport. It wasn’t a sport that I grew up in. But I had a coach and assistant coaches with him as well that really understood the mental side. And so, that was a huge opportunity for me. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was fun. And those coaches now are still some of my closest friends because they gave me a start, but I could use my foundation skills there and build.
Jack: And you mentioned the uni lecturers saw passion in you and it was at the connection with the softball coach or, because, obviously, you played netball. So, how did you make that network?
Jacqui: I can’t even remember how. That was so long ago now. I can’t even remember how we made that. I think I got an opportunity at a high school. I think it was Blackburn High at the time and they were running an elite sports program. I was in my fourth year and I contacted the guy who ran that course. And I said, ‘I’m happy to come and talk about the mental side of things to your year 10 students.’
And they did an article in the paper, and I think the coach saw that and then rang me. Got in touch with me from that and said, ‘Hey, I’m interested in having someone do this.’ So, it was just in the local newspaper that talked about this, this course that I had, that I threw myself into. I’m pretty sure it came from there.
Jack: You create your own luck, create opportunities.
Jacqui: Pretty much.
Jack: That’s great. I love that. But for those tuned in, that’s a great story. And something to know down to where you’re staying, like the university, make sure you do your best, but then also do things outside of the uni as well to create opportunities and get that work experience. And when you’re working at a club, even if it is community level, I imagine you’re the only sports psychologist. And you’ve got supervisors and networks there, but how did you go about building the rapport with athletes and building those soft skills?
Jacqui: I think a big component is for me, I think I’ve always said you’ve got to make sure that you listen and just try and keep your head and your bum in the same place and not try to think too far ahead and go, ‘Right, I’m just going to embrace this opportunity.’
And every athlete has a story, and for me, I find them that interesting that it doesn’t matter if it was an under 16 state player or it’s an Olympian or an AFL player. I think it’s actually just about listening and giving them your time and working with them. The textbook gives you a really good baseline of understanding of areas. But I think the athlete is the one that gives you the best guidance on what you need to do with them or what they want. And then it’s a really collaborative relationship.
I think the practitioners that I’ve seen that probably don’t create those connections is they take the attitude that, ‘Well, you can learn from me.’ Whereas my attitude is: the athlete that I’m with is the smartest person in the room because the topic is them. So, if I go in with that approach, then I always assume I know less than the person I’m talking to.
Jack: That’s so true. I was at the workshop this morning and the coach who’s been in the strength & conditioning game for a long time said, ‘You’ve always got to give a little bit to gain a lot.’ And that resonates with what you’re saying. That’s so true. Doesn’t it make that give first mentality for buy-in or anything, I guess, in terms of building relationships? That’s really sound advice.
Jacqui: You absolutely have to. And I think it’s also my job is such a privilege. Like people share things that they don’t share even with their families. They’re really vulnerable with you. Like if it’s an elite athlete, who just is frustrated with performance, who’s got issues going on at home or whatever it is. So, you really have to treat that with respect and with kid gloves.
Jack: And what about key areas for the athletes that are tuned in? Like you said, it’s a growing area. And it’s certainly something that I’ve seen working in elite sport, like the physical side hasn’t changed too much over the last decade. But the game, COVID interrupted a little bit, I guess, for budget, but there’s a lot of momentum and athletes just seem to be so open now to work on getting into a game. So, the friction seems to be less. And now practitioners like yourself, I guess, they’re getting more access to athletes and more time with them. And, like you said, having coaches that value it must be so helpful.
So, for those that want to get better in this space, for the young developing athletes around 16 years of age, what would be some things that they can do? Or what would be some fundamental pillars that they should start practicing in terms of their mental space?
Jacqui: I think the biggest one for me is making sure that whatever you’re trying, you’re doing a training, you spend more time in training than you do in performance. So many athletes turn up and training is pretty much just tick the box and get it done. And they physically push themselves, but they don’t necessarily switch on. And that’s where your greatest awareness is going to come from. How am I feeling at training? Where’s my headspace? The transfer from training to competition is a really big one.
I think having an awareness of how you think, how you talk to yourself is huge, because if I said to you, ‘Whatever you do, don’t think about an elephant.’ First thing you do is thinking about an elephant, right? You think it, you see it, you feel it pretty much. So, if you’re telling yourself, ‘I’m not very good at this,’ then you see yourself not doing so well. And then that doesn’t make you feel so good. So, it’s having an awareness of what your dialogue is and then figuring out how we can actually help you change that.
And then, I think, the ability to learn how to critically think and evaluate your own performances is really important. Because when you’re on the footy field, on the tennis court, in the swimming pool, on the netball court, on the golf course, you don’t have your coach there to do the thinking for you. You’ve got to do that yourself. So, learning how to critically think and give your coach feedback before they give it to you, so that you learn how to talk and assess, and then they add to it. Because the most important opinion is that of the athlete. They’re the ones that are competing.
Jack: That’s such great advice because if you’re thinking about that already, by the time you get that feedback, you might already have a question ready. And you know how your body feels, what was going on, all the information in that current situation that you’re in, so you are able to really lean on your coach or your psychologist on how to then develop areas to get better in that space or perform.
Jacqui: Yeah, absolutely.
Jack: And you mentioned self-awareness. What are some ways that you can develop your self-awareness?
Jacqui: I think first and foremost is being able to figure out what some of your triggers might be for your reactions to things. So, if you’re lucky enough that you’ve got some footage of you competing, having a look at how you’ve reacted in certain situations. What am I like before I start my performance? So that we can have a look at your routines. Getting in pre-performance routines is important. Having a look at how you manage through a performance. So, your ability to adapt and those sorts of things. That’s probably where I’d start first up.
And then it’s knowing, when you go in, what triggers me when I do really well, what triggers me when I probably lose emotional control and I start getting distracted by all of those uncontrollable factors, other people, referees, crowds, results, scoreboards. You’ve got to be able to niggle all those uncontrollable things.
Having an awareness of what are the things that demotivate me. I think when we talk about motivation, people are like, ‘Oh, how do I get more motivated?’ My first question is always, ‘Well, what demotivates you?’ Is it a hard competition? Is it the weather? Is it having to be able to perform when you’ve got a little bit of an injury? So, knowing what demotivates you, helps you then figure out how to get yourself going.
Jack: And knowing what demotivates you, like you mentioned how you want to first practice in training, so then would you put yourself in more of those situations with the tools you’ve been given from your psychologist, but then you would practice that in training and you practice the mental game in that physical?
Jacqui: Yeah, absolutely. So, if we’ve got a tennis player and they find that they can lose focus and get very demotivated if they lose their first service game, then what you work with the coaches on is doing some practice sets of training, where you start them and they’re 2:0 down. So, we assume they’ve lost their first service game. Or you give them a bit of a handicap, is that you’re 2:0 down and it’s 30 all and you’ve got to serve. So, you put them in those precious situations. And then watch how they go about it, listen to their dialogue. And then you step in at those moments and teach them how to change that.
Jack: That’s great. And then in those moments where, like you said, the athlete’s competing by themselves, they’ve got their teammates, but they don’t have their coaches. So, you need to practice giving yourself feedback and almost becoming your own coach, which is such an awesome philosophy.
Jacqui: Very much.
Jack: So, with that, when you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed and you’re frustrated with yourself, because you’ve made a mistake or you’ve let down a teammate, whatever it might be, what should you do? Because you hear about mindfulness, breathing exercises, is it speaking to a teammate? Or is it depending on the individual?
Jacqui: The first thing I would always say to an athlete is ask yourself: what can I control? Because human beings, by nature, we’re control freaks. We don’t like not being in control because then we don’t feel safe and we don’t feel like we’re going to get where we want to go.
So, having a really good dialogue of, ‘Well, what can I control right now? You know what? I can just work on my foot. Or I’m just going to focus on getting good percentage tennis for the next two points and just get myself feeling pretty good. I’m just going to go to the back of the court and take a few breaths.’ So, those sorts of things, let’s say, if it’s a tennis match.
If it’s a football match, when you come to the bench, it might be talking to somebody, it might be doing some breathing, it might be going for a walk. It might just be getting a footy in your hand and just doing a few ground balls and just getting a bit of touch back in there. If it’s a swimmer, it’s just, ‘Okay. Let’s just focus on my pool under the water. Let’s focus on my kick rate.’
So, you put them back in touch with skills that they’ve got control of, that they feel good with. Once they do that, it’s amazing how quickly they forget the other stuff that was going on.
Jack: That’s awesome. And that’s a great thing for athletes, no doubt, to start practicing, especially in the off-season. Put yourself in those situations, like you said, what can trigger you. It might be goal kicking practice, physical thing for a footballer, like missing a goal.
And when you’re creating that environment at an elite level, how do you go about crowd noise and all those sorts of distractions that you’re talking about? What are some things that are done at Collingwood where you try and replicate that preparing for finals game or something like that?
Jacqui: I think some of those ones are actually pretty easy. You could just put some EarPods in and you’ve got crowd noises going through it. So that you know that if you, let’s say, you’re going to have an Anzac Day game and there’s a huge crowd and you may not be able to communicate verbally as clearly. So, you’re learning, obviously, different hand signals.
If you know that there’s some that might get overwhelmed, let’s say, it’s your first game and it happens to be a huge one, get some of the senior boys to put them under some of that physical pressure and make sure their skills hold up. It’s putting, like I said, the noise canceling headphones on and teaching them just how to zone in. It’s in the middle of a training session when they’re like high heart rate and all that sort of stuff, pulling them off straightaway and saying, ‘Right, we’ve got 30 seconds. Let’s bring your heart rate down.’
So, you’re teaching them how to do those resets. And yeah, you put the variables in where you can, the crowd noises. I’ve definitely said, if I want to test the resilience of an athlete sometimes, getting one of their teammates, setting it up, so that they get into them and have a bit of a crack and put them under pressure and just, ‘Mate, you’ve got to lift your game. That’s not our training standards. You need to lift those.’ And the kid gets frustrated, but we talk them through it at the end and explain what we’re doing.
And sometimes you do that with your senior players. If they are not showing good emotional control, then you’ll work with the coaches to put them under a bit of emotional pressure and just let’s see how they cope and we can then pull them off. And we do that in a really safe environment, like a training session, so you can talk them through it.
And then that’s what training is. It’s training your physical state, but it’s really training your mental state as well. And when you go into a competition, we can see what you have or have not trained, physically and mentally. So, we need to take those variables as much as possible.
Jack: And by doing that, you’re not only improving the developing player, but the senior players learning how to give constructive feedback.
Jacqui: Yeah. And that’s one of the biggest ones I think. Every human being has an ego in terms of how you feel about yourself and how you judge yourself. And elite athletes, their ego is tested every single time they go to compete. There’s a million and one media people commenting on their performance. You and I don’t have that every day at work. You have a bad day at work, it’s not going to be on the front page of the Herald Sun or the Age, or Sydney Morning Herald or whatever.
So, I think helping athletes develop that really healthy ego where it’s, ‘Hey, I’m really good at this. And this is my strength.’ But on the other side, being able to take that feedback and understanding: ‘That’s about my performance. That’s not about me as a human being.’
Jack: Well, we’ll stick with the athlete phase and then get back to your career journey. For footballer’s week in the in-season, what are the things that you do with the players early in the week, and that’s for recovering and absorbing the game, whether it was a loss or win or whatever it was, and then to help reset for the preparation for the next week? And then also, what does it look like, the day before a game? Is that something that you work with the individuals to create like a minus one day, correct?
Jacqui: I think it’s very much individual, like you’ll have different routines, different assessments, different ways of doing it with different athletes, because they’re all playing different positions and they’ve got different personalities.
You might, obviously, as a team, you sit down and they’ll do their review and you might be asking questions to the entire group. My big thing is, it’s in so many teams I’ve seen reviews done where it’s the, ‘We did this and we didn’t do this and we didn’t do this.’ And my question is, ‘Okay, great. That’s a verbal replay of what happened. I saw that, watched that. Why not?’
You’ve got to ask that ‘why?’ question. Why didn’t we follow our structure here? Why did we panic in this situation? Why didn’t you get the reaction time that you wanted? Or, why didn’t you remember our plays or whatever? And often they may not be able to answer that why question, but you’ve got to keep trying to find it and keep asking it.
And then individually you certainly sit down with players in the first few days and go through things. And then the day, really two days out. So, they’ve got a day off. The day before, hopefully, you’ve got some pretty good routines. There’s not a lot of talking. And then at the grounds, some people like to just check in with you and just know you’re around. And others might just go into a little meditation. Some will access you a lot more through a match, whether that’d be half-time or full-time.
This year, I was lucky enough to be sitting on the bench, so I could see the mental state and the reactions, and to be able to have some conversations in the moment that you wouldn’t be able to have if you weren’t in that position. And that makes a huge difference as well.
Jack: Wow. That’s fascinating. Is that something that you’ve done before, or is this something that the club tried for the first time?
Jacqui: I’ve done it before in different teams, but I don’t think it’s been done before, certainly, not at Collingwood. And I don’t know how many other sites do it that way. And this is the thing, I guess. Everyone works really differently and it depends on what your background and stuff is.
For me, being at the performances and being there in that moment to get it before it gets out of control or to see it unfold, allows me to go, ‘Right. We need to work on this.’ Or, ‘We can quickly do this right now.’ And you can sometimes, I guess, save a performance instead of that whole second half becoming terrible. They’ve quickly accessed you.
Or sometimes it’s not even they need to talk to you, but they see you and they remember what you’ve gone through. And so, you might be a trigger for the things and that’s all you need to do. I just let the players guide me on what they need and they’ll come to you if they need you. And if they don’t, I just let them do their thing.
Jack: That’s awesome. I’ve never heard of that before, but it does make sense. It’s such a good asset to have for that reset and having someone that you can lean on. And what about analogies? Is this a thing where players create like a word that you work with them on, that means something to them too, for that same reason, the trigger?
Jacqui: Yeah, absolutely. And they’re the things you find through the week and you’ll often have little analogies for them, or you might have one or two words that are their reset words, or it reminds them of what one of their strengths are. You’re always going to do that with them because that’s their personal thing.
And you’ll often see, cameras have a really good way of picking up, if athletes have something on their wrist or on the tape or whatever. And I always have a bit of a chuckle when they’re trying to figure out what it means. And sometimes they are so far off, which is my entertainment, I guess. And I’m going, ‘That doesn’t mean that. That’s no way near that.’ So, it’s good watching them sometimes try and figure it out. But yeah, it’s just different strategies for different athletes.
Jack: And for those that haven’t experienced that before, what would be a common analogy or even a strength that the player would focus on? I think you talked about it before, when they’re in that moment of frustration, they focus on the next task or their quick feet, or something important to their game.
Jacqui: Some of them might keep it pretty basic and just put like an H for hands and an F for feet and it’s hands and feet. For others, it might be a particular mindset that they want to have, which might just be lift or compete or something else. And it doesn’t really matter what sport it is. The only one, I guess, where you’re probably really limited is with swimming. Because they’re obviously under the water, so you can’t really put too many things. But we would have triggers in for when they turn, what they’re thinking like a trigger word when they’re pushing off the wall or something like that. So, there’s spots within their performance where you can still put those reminders for them.
Jack: Right. That’s such good advice for those listening in to the either live chat or podcasts. What about, talking about your career and the experiences you were getting early days to develop yourself and now, in the elite space and have been for a number of years, how did you come to work for Collingwood and Melbourne Storm? And take us through what a typical week would look like for yourself?
Jacqui: Hectic. It would be the week, when you go across a few different places. So, I’ve been at Olympic Park at the Sports Medicine Center for about 20 years. And that’s where AAMI Park is, the stadium. Melbourne Storm’s in that stadium. So, very early in my career I was getting one or two of the Melbourne Storm players referred to me because I just happened to be in the same precinct.
And then that just got a bit more frequent and then just got to a point where a few years ago, I think, I started with them at the end of 2016, Frank and Craig Bellamy, they spoke to me about wanting to probably do more in this space and because they were pretty familiar with the fact that I knew quite a few of the boys already. So, it was kind of like a 15-year interview, I guess.
Jack: They had a sports psychologist before yourself?
Jacqui: No, they were just referring them individually. It was an amazing opportunity. And, obviously, externally you hear all these wonderful things that Melbourne Storm and how good an organization they are. You don’t pass up an opportunity to go and work with a team that has so much success and such an amazing culture that you just want to be part of that.
My role has really grown there from where I started, which was sort of doing just an individual stuff and being at some trainings and seeing how the team worked. And then some group presentations and a lot more one-on-one work. And so, every year you grow with what the team needs.
And then I’d been at the Circus Institute for about 13 years and there was a new GM that was appointed at Collingwood’s when they set up their women’s division. That’s their netball program and the AFLW programs. A few years into that, they hired a GM who came in and said, ‘Why don’t we have a sports psych in these programs?’
And I had been working with quite a few of the netballers. So, she contacted me and said, ‘You work with a few of our netballers. I was wondering if we could just have a chat and catch up about those guys?’ I went and had coffee and that afternoon she rang and said, ‘Actually, we’d really love you to come on board if you’ve got the capacity.’
It was a really nice time for a change. I’d been with Circus for 13 years. And it was all in AAMI Park precinct. I’ve got all my ducks in a row there. So, you go into the clinic, walk down the corridor – I’m at Melbourne Storm. Walk across the oval – I’m at Collingwood.
Having done three years with the girl’s programs, at the end of the 2020 season, I got a phone call, I’ve known Bugs for a long time, got a phone call from him. And he was like, ‘I’d really love you to come work with the men’s program as well. So, you cross the club.’ And so, that’s what I do. That was my first year this year, which was amazing. And boys are fantastic to work with, really good people. So, it’s been a bit of a dream, really.
Jack: That’s amazing. Well done.
Jacqui: It’s taken a long time, but I love a new challenge and I love learning a new group. That’s what I think for me keeps me so fresh and really passionate about what I do is everyone’s got a story. It’s a new group, new challenges. And I love that.
Jack: And on that note with challenges, what has been one of your biggest challenges in your career so far and what have you learnt or how have you grown from it?
Jacqui: I think probably one of the biggest challenges, which is always ongoing, is our role is sometimes very, very hard to measure. People see what you’re doing and they think that you’re just having a conversation. And there’s so many people that come into our space, and ‘I’m a motivational this and that.’ That’s not our role.
It’s a really hard and an ongoing thing to explain. And sometimes you feel like you’re justifying, but it’s about educating all the different things that we can do. Like I did my fourth year in organizational psych, so I can do profiling. That’s not a role that some psychs play, but it’s definitely a role others play.
Jack: So, that could be in recruiting and interviews?
Jacqui: Correct. So, it’s in recruiting. For me, I did the profiling when we’ve just hired a new coach at Collingwood. I did all the profiles for candidates.
Jack: Oh, wow. Awesome.
Jacqui: So, you’re going through and you’re looking at all of those sorts of things. And that’s a big part of your role. At Collingwood we have another psych that is specifically in recruiting and does all of the draftees and everything else. But it’s then getting that handover and knowing what you’ve got coming in and how much their personality plays into well, how are we going to coach this athlete?
And the coaches, they know their craft and the techniques. But you can know that till the cows come home, but if you can’t learn how to work with and talk to this particular person, you won’t get the best out of them. So, we can often be that real conduit in the middle to say, ‘I wouldn’t word it that way. I think what’s going to happen with this athlete the way they learn, the way they understand things. I’d probably go about it this way and that’s going to be better.’ ‘Yep, that athlete, you can be as direct as you like.’
And they’ll take that feedback really well. This one needed a bit of a softer approach. So, it’s helping them to be able to make sure you manage your people within your club and your teams and your sports to bring out the best in them, but also to make them feel really valued and safe with you.
Jack: And on that topic, do you see the future? You mentioned how you’ve got someone that’s helped you out with the recruiting and with yourself, could it be in 10 years, 5, whatever it might be how many years, but there’s a psychologist that works only with the players and a psychologist that only works with the staff. Or do you think that it needs to be across both?
Jacqui: That’s definitely been trialed in some clubs. And I think it depends on the setup of your club, the personalities of the individuals and the way a coach wants to do it. I’m very lucky in the coaches that I work with, they don’t ask you, ‘Oh, what are you doing with this athlete?’ Sometimes you definitely bring the coach in and I say to the athlete, ‘I think it’s really important that we bring the coach in for this, so they can help you when you’re on the field or on the court, or whatever.’ So, I think some clubs have definitely trialed that.
We tried that at Storm and it probably wasn’t the best system. And one of the reasons was because of the setup. Our coaches do so much of cutting their own video footage, that they don’t have the hours available. So, that probably wasn’t the best model. It had nothing to do with the psychs that were being used. It’s just the model. So, it’s already happening. It’ll keep happening. But I think you have to be able to adapt that and recognize it’s not a one-size-fits-all.
Jack: And we talked about challenges and your learnings from it. What about highlights? What are the things you look back on fondly in your career?
Jacqui: I think that one is, and you might feel like this is a bit boring, but your highlights are often literally just seeing someone who’s worked super hard get selected. And there’s others. It’s a grand final win. It’s a world championship. It’s getting a contract somewhere. I think it’s all those. For me, it’s the personal journeys, because you go through so much, you know so much, you’re basically part of this person’s life. So, for me, that’s the really enjoyable part, is sitting back and just taking some joy and seeing them happy.
But with Storm, I’ve been lucky to be part of a couple of grand finals with them. When I first started at North Melbourne, I was still at uni and that was a lot of finals and grand finals with them. I’ve been lucky to be part of some pretty big Olympics and Commonwealth games and world championships. And I think probably for me, one of the best things I ever did was the World Uni Games.
We had an amazing medical team. Some of them I still work with in different spots, but that’s a village type situation, exactly, like an Olympics. We were in South Korea at the time and it was just like getting around and going to all the different sports. The Korean community just really loved having the Games there. And you’d go out for dumplings each night and be back at the village. I really loved that experience as well.
Jack: It sounds amazing.
Jacqui: Yeah. It’s a very privileged position and I certainly don’t take it for granted. But it’s often the little things that others don’t see, but you know the journey that person’s been on. To me, that’s the real joy in the job.
Jack: And on the Olympic athletes, I’ve never worked with an Olympic athlete myself, but that four year campaign that you go through, like from a psychology point of view, how do you manage if an athlete has an injury just before that event of that campaign and they’ve trained their whole life for it? Talk us through some of those scenarios that you’ve been through.
Jacqui: If that happens, you grieve with the athlete, really. And that’s a really important process to make sure you don’t try and rush them through that. I think too often, probably people who don’t quite know how to manage those situations, it’s, ‘Don’t worry. I know it’s disappointing.’ I let the athlete grieve it. You have to. They’re allowed to be frustrated and upset and angry.
And if that takes them, like if you’re still sitting there six months down the track, we’ve probably got a problem. But I think a really important part of that is let them mourn their loss. They know they’re not dying. They know no one else is dying. It’s not about that. But loss is very much how the individual determines that. So, mourning that loss in a way that’s appropriate. My job is just to support them and let them know it’s okay to be upset about that and grieve that.
And then when the timing’s right, some athletes want to just get out there and support their teammates and that’s really a vital part of their recovery. And other athletes don’t want to be anywhere near it. And I understand that. And so, you try and manage that with them and speak to the coaches and say, ‘Look, I understand that this is a rule you want to put in, but this is not going to work for this athlete. And we’re going to traumatize them a lot more.’
It does depend too on where the athlete is at in their career. If this is an athlete that is 21 years old and making this Olympics probably was going to be a long shot. This is their first trials. It’s a loss, but it’s not end of opportunity. If you’ve got an athlete who’s 29 and this is their last opportunity to go to the Olympic Games or make another Olympic Games. And this is potentially career ending.
That whole process changes, because then you are not dealing with just the athlete, you’re dealing with the coach who’s been through the whole journey. You’re dealing with teammates, with family members. So, I think it’s about also understanding their support networks. And you do that, you learn people’s families and know who they all are when you go through that journey pretty closely with them.
Jack: Yeah, it’s such an impact that you have and such important role in their life, as well as their professional life.
But we’ll have a short drink break, guys. This is a little video about our Academy. And we’ve actually got one of our Academy members, Lucas, who’s a gun-ho footballer, very keen to get better and he knew Jacqui was coming on tonight and he asked me if he can come on and ask a couple of questions. So, Lucas, you’ve got a couple of minutes, mate. And we’ll have you on after this quick little ad.
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All right. Welcome back, guys. And welcome, Lucas. Thanks for jumping on and I’ll leave it, mate, for your questions. Jump on it.
Lucas: You might’ve covered this one just at the end there, but if an athlete gets a real long-term injury and they don’t have a lot of motivation to get back, if it’s like ACL or something, how do you keep them positive throughout that whole situation, whole rehab?
Jacqui: Long rehab don’t recognize that they should be seeing a site pretty much at the start of that. I would say, when anyone gets an injury that’s four to six weeks or longer, go see a site straight up. And then the process we go through is we break it down and go, ‘Right. The physio gives that person little indicators. This is our first marker. This is our next step.’ And so, we really set our goals based on that.
Staying on top of their language the whole way through, so I can hear that language. If it’s, ‘I’m getting frustrated,’ or not ‘It’s been a really great couple of weeks,’ we’ll use potentially some video footage of them competing, so that they mentally stay in touch with that identity. We might use a lot of visualization, so that we still got those same muscle twitches and that same connection to their sport. When you’re doing all these other things, it’s much easier to keep them motivated along the way.
Lucas: If they just don’t have a lot of confidence, like they might be out of form for a few weeks, is there any tricks or tips that you’ve got for people that are out of form?
Jacqui: I always say to athletes, ‘Go back to what are your biggest strengths. When you are in form, what do you do really well?’ And then they might, hopefully, pick four or five different things. And so, each week you might just say, ‘Okay, next performance we’re just going to measure these two. We’re not going to worry about everything else. Let’s just measure these two. Let’s put some drills in. Let’s work with the coaches to get those skills up.’
I think the big thing a lot of athletes do and individuals do is if they’re out a form, they’re trying to fix everything at once. That’s a lot to be doing. And if you try and change everything at once, and then you play one good game, you don’t really know what caused it. If you pick one or two things, stick with those for a few weeks, when you feel really good. Not just get them for one performance, but when those things are better for three or four performances, then get your next couple of things. And then just build on that.
Lucas: Nice. One last one. I’m not sure if you do this type of thing, but if the group isn’t jelling together emotionally, like there’s a few cracks within the team, how do you get them back playing as a team?
Jacqui: That’s again, a really great question. A huge area for us is looking at team connection and understanding your teammate. One of the things a lot of clubs do is learning about who the person is next to you. Not as an athlete, but as an actual human being. There’s lots of different games and activities that you can do with that.
And then I think it’s about making sure that when you’re training a team, it’s so easy for the athletes when you do partner work to go to the same person. So, have a rule in your team: you don’t have partner work with the same person twice in a week, you’ve got to keep moving yourself around. If it’s a footy team, you’ve got plenty of players.
If you’re sitting down to have a meal together, you’re not allowed to sit next to the same person. Like, ‘Okay, this meal you’ve got to sit with someone that’s not in your area. If you’re a forward, you’ve got to go sit with a back or midfielder. And you’ve got to come away at the end of the lunch or the dinner or the breakfast, and we’re going to ask everyone to tell us two things you’ve just learned about the person sitting next to you.’
And then it might be things like every week you assign to someone in the team, ‘You might be my partner this week. And at the end of the week I need to make sure that I’ve given you two pieces of good feedback about your training this way. And it can’t be too generic, there’s got to be things that are specific. So, I’m actually starting to really look for and create the opportunities to praise you.’ If everyone’s doing that, then next week you can get a different partner.
Lucas: Nice. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks a lot for that.
Jacqui: No problem.
Jack: Awesome questions. Well thought out, Lucas.
Jacqui: Great questions.
Jack: Got the notepad out as well, mate.
Jacqui: Went across the individual and the team. Good job.
Lucas: Yeah. Cheers. See you later.
Jack: Awesome, Lucas. I’ll speak to you soon, mate. Hi again. Thanks for answering those, Jacqui.
Jacqui: No worries.
Jack: Recently, anyone on our program or Academy have the opportunity to join a guest. And, like I mentioned, as soon as I announced that you were coming on, Lucas jumped at it. He’s very hungry for information, Lucas, and he’s always got great questions, far better than mine. It’s increased the value of the podcast, which is awesome.
We are at the personal side of the podcast now, the professional questions are down. This is a lighter segment of the podcast, a bit of a get-to-know-Jacqui. Which movie or TV series has impacted you the most and why?
Jacqui: Probably TV series too. So, I love ‘The West Wing’, which is political. My dad loved it and always said, ‘You’d love this.’ It’s all about American politics and the White House. And I loved it. Amazing scripts, amazing actors. I loved the high power of it, the high performance aspect of it. So, that’s what attracted me to that one.
And the other one’s probably a lot more of a classic right now, but ‘Schitt’s Creek’. And I just loved that for the character development, like from where they started and just really seeing those personal characters come through. I loved that whole series. I thought it was so well-done.
Jack: There’s a couple of them. I haven’t watched either of them. So, I’ve heard of those now. I’ll have to check them out.
Jack: Favorite inspirational quote or life motto?
Jacqui: That one’s probably a bit of a hard one. I think for me, probably the thing that I live by is creating really great relationships. And for me, the first one is trying to find the similarities and the second one is in really respect the differences. Because my whole job is built on relationships. That’s probably what I do. And along with that is I think the best relationships are the ones that really begin unexpectedly. And it just naturally unfolds. So, it’s just trusting that process as well.
Jack: That’s great. I haven’t heard that one before, but it definitely resonates. Particularly respecting the differences, which is so important in a team environment, like the question Lucas asked. Everyone’s different and that makes almost the beauty of working in a team, doesn’t it?
Jacqui: Oh, absolutely. It’s one of the best things. You don’t want everyone to be the same. The differences is what gives you so much fun, I think, in your environments.
Jack: A hundred percent. And what about in your work life, what makes you angry? What are your pet peeves?
Jacqui: One of my pet peeves is probably people thinking they know how to do my job better than me, and they’ve got no training.
Jack: Happened a few times. Stay in your lane.
Jacqui: Yeah, ‘stay in your lane’ is one of my favorite statements. I hate being underestimated as well. And I think the other one is and probably this is because I’m in that site where there’s so much media around, but I really hate it when athletes get judged, coaches or whoever, get judged. And these people don’t even know them. And the comments become so personal. They’re there to comment on performance, they’re not there to comment on the person that they don’t actually know.
The media will always keep me in a job, because they’re a bit reckless with their comments a lot of the times. And that really bugs me because these guys are out there, guys and girls are out there, trying to do their best at the highest level with so much scrutiny. Respect that and just give them credit for what they’re doing.
Jack: It’s such a good point. And you talked about it earlier. It’s like we don’t get critiqued like that about our work and all they’re doing is doing their jobs. It’s tough.
What’s your favorite way to spend your day off? You’re working pretty hard at the moment and with the amount of important work that you’ve got on, but when a day off comes, what do you like to do?
Jacqui: I probably like to actually get up and be a little bit productive and get any housework or whatever done pretty early. And then I’ll go for a really long walk anywhere from 10 to 20Ks, or I’ll go do a big long walk on a weekend. And then either going out for breakfast or having people over for dinner. I love cooking. And I think sharing a meal with people is one of the nicest things you can do. So, doing that with my family and my friends.
Jack: Actually I was listening to something the other day and they were talking about, now that restaurants are open, the importance of that connection over eating your meal together is something that’s been in Melbourne, anyway. So, we’ll be able to appreciate that and maybe be a bit more grateful for it now. But what about in a COVID-free world, where would you like to go on a holiday? And why is it your favorite destination?
Jacqui: Well, for people who probably know me pretty well, I love Disney, so a little trip to Disney World’s always a bit of fun.
Jack: And what do you love about Disney?
Jacqui: It’s fun. I love the characters. Who doesn’t like a Disney movie? Great music, great colour. The bad guy never wins. The good guy wins. Like everyone’s friends.
Jack: It’s a feel-good story.
Jacqui: It’s feel-good and it’s amazingly creative, so I love that. And otherwise, I like to head down to, got a place on Phillip Island, so I like to head down there. I need to be near the water pretty much.
Jack: That might be what a whole Melbourne needs. A whole two weeks in Disney and then come back. Reset.
Jacqui: It will be so good. That’d be nice. If I had a special power, I’d be teleporting. That’s always what I’ve said I’d do. If we can go there for a week, it’d be amazing.
Jack: Thank you so much for jumping on, Jacqui. And this is the final question. What’s on the horizon for you for the rest of 2021? What are you excited about at the moment?
Jacqui: We’ve got our AFLW season kicking off. We had a great season last season and we got to the Prelim. So, we want to go a little bit further this time. And I think, Melbourne Storm being back in Melbourne, it is pretty exciting to have everyone under one roof and actually have a normal season where we’re all together and we’re able to play in front of home crowds and have that. I think sport with crowds is so exciting. It’s very bizarre playing in a stadium with a hundred thousand capacity setting, like the MCG, and there’s no one there. I don’t want to be hearing the seagulls in the middle of a match.
Jack: You’d have to be careful about the advice you’re giving your player. Because the other benchmarkers will be able to hear.
Jacqui: Yeah. It’s just no atmosphere, like the crowd makes it. And the boys want the crowd there. It just makes it more exciting and it really does change results aometimes. I think crowds do get you over the line and that’s what the athletes love playing for and they appreciate that support. So, having crowds back and having sport back in Melbourne is huge.
Jack: Yeah. There’s none bigger than the Collingwood membership base. No doubt, that MCG. A big army will be roaring next year, fingers crossed. Now we’re getting confidence back now in Melbourne.
I know you’re working in the Clinic with a lot of people and, like you said off air before, it is a challenging time with COVID and everyone’s got their own challenges they’ve gone through and now we’re coming out of lockdown. What are some things that we should be focusing on? Or how can we transition maybe a bit more seamlessly out of lockdown, coming back into a new routine now over the next few weeks?
Jacqui: That’s a good question. I think what I’ve been telling so many people is pace yourself. Your brain changes and ours definitely have been under-stimulated, we had very little to look forward to. And so, our brains have shut down and we’re a bit more robotic. We haven’t had so much stimulus in our environment. So, really slowly coming out. If you throw yourself into everything, you’re going to end up with massive fatigue. Just pacing yourself. Do a few small things to start with.
And I think also do what you’re comfortable with. Just because you’re allowed to go certain places, if you’re not comfortable doing it, I think that’s where you’ve just got to respect everyone’s way of coming out of this is going to be different. And trust that everybody’s doing it the best way they can.
And my other thing is our life was simplified for us, although we didn’t like it. I think that there’s probably some really good things that came out of that. That maybe we don’t need to be as busy as we are, or we do need to keep making time for our closest people, instead of just always running for the entertainment. Go see family and friends. And remember what’s important first.
Jack: It’s such a good point. Both points, in terms of going slow and going at your own pace. And everyone’s going to be a little bit different, whether they just go straight into the deep end and are super social, or for others that are more introverted or want to ease into it.
But also the things that we have learned. Like having that extra time for family time, your own time, maybe a bit more exercise or just getting a little bit more sleep. Ease on city life. Now’s a good opportunity, isn’t it? To basically set a good routine.
Jack: Well, thank you so much. There’s so many gems and golden nuggets all the way through that last one hour we’re at. I really appreciate your time and your energy, and that anyone can see you’re so passionate about what you do and you are a real expert in your field. So, very thankful that you came on and grateful for everything you brought tonight. Thanks so much, Jacqui.
Jacqui: Thank you for having me. It’s been great.
Jack: And for those that want to follow your work, are you on social media and that sort of stuff? And how can they book in to see you, if that’s something that you do?
Jacqui: You can come to Olympic Park at the Sports Medicine Center. I’m not great on the socials. I definitely need to improve that. I’ve been told that a few times, but I’ll do my best.
Jack: You’re busy enough as it is.
Jacqui: I am on there.
Jack: We’ll be passing them in the show notes.
Jack: Thanks again, Jacqui. And we’ll speak soon.
Jacqui: No worries. Thanks so much.
Jack: Thank you for listening to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast. If you liked this episode, it’d be a massive help, if you could like, follow, rate, give a review or even share with your mates. The show is recorded in Melbourne, Australia. Be sure to follow our Instagram page for all updates on our latest and greatest. If you would like to get in touch to suggest a guest or advertise with the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast, please email me at email@example.com. Thanks so much for tuning in.
Pip is a former professional athlete and is currently engaged in a leadership position for public service, as well as providing expertise through her consultancy business. She was the former performance sports dietitian at Brisbane Lions.
Topics we discussed:
Important things that athletes should focus on for their health and longevity in sport
Things young athletes need to learn in their nutrition journey
Jack: Welcome back to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast. My name is Jack McLean. I’m the host and in today’s episode I interview Pip Taylor. Pip is a former professional athlete and is currently engaged in a leadership position for the public service. As well as providing expertise through a consultancy business, chair of the AFL Sports Dieticians Association and the former performance diet sports dietician at Brisbane Lions.
Highlights from this episode: we discuss the importance nutrition plays for developing athletes; Pip’s experience as a high performance athlete and how nutrition played a critical role; the challenge COVID had on sports dieticians working in AFL clubs and what Pip and her colleagues at the Sports Dietician Association are doing to solve this issue; and practical tips for sports dieticians, wanting to work in elite sport.
Before we start this episode, for our coaches listening in, I want to help you develop your own semi-automated online business similar to Prepare Like A Pro. The best place to start is to join our Academy where you get full access to our high-performance presentations and exclusive ad-free podcasts. And if you email me with a subject heading ‘Podcast’, I’ll throw in a free coaching mentoring consultation. We will discuss the coaching business, what you’re currently doing, your goals, and I’ll help provide some tips and tricks that you can do to help scale your business. If this is something you’re interested in, you can join our Academy. The link will be in the show notes.
Let’s get into today’s episode. Welcome, Pip.
Pip: Thanks so much for having me on.
Jack: Thank you for coming on. We’ll dive right at the beginning of your career. There’ll be definitely some sports dieticians that have tuned in. Take us through where your discovery for passion and your passion as a dietician started?
Pip: It’s been quite the journey from the start. I’m probably showing my age a little bit. To some degree I almost fell into the profession. I was myself a professional triathlete. That’s a sport where nutrition has a really big component.
I was coming through university. I’d started in a Medical Science degree, so I had a real interest in the human body, how things worked, the physiology behind that. But then, for me as an athlete, it became pretty obvious that nutrition, what you eat, when you eat, had such a major impact on every single facet of performance. So, how you’re feeling day-to-day in training, from mood to physical recovery, right through then to on race day, where it’s, again, a major factor in how you actually get through those races.
I was also probably pretty fortunate as an athlete to be exposed not only to good dieticians and nutritionists, but also other performance staff as well. But also being exposed to other athletes. I certainly came through the system. I came through the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport), when it was very much a program where there were athletes in camp.
I also spent a lot of time racing overseas. I was in environments, for instance, where I was on, this is going back a number of years, when the NFL was in lockout and I spent time training with the Chiefs, Kansas City Chiefsand. I’ve always loved just being around and exposed to lots of different athletes.
And it’s all of those exposure points that really bring into focus, for me anyway, put into perspective different athletic requirements, different physiological requirements. And that’s probably the way my brain works is taking that step and going, ‘Oh, I wonder what that movement or that skill requires from a training perspective and from a nutrition and fueling perspective.’
And so, it was all of those questions, really, that just sparked and sent me down this small formalized route of work and study and training. And then, ended up, when I was a non-athlete, being in that performance environment, myself providing that support.
Jack: That’s fantastic. For athletes there’s a fair bit to dive into there. We’ll start with the athletes, your mindset as an athlete wanting to improve and control the controllable like your nutrition. What were some significant changes that you made and what performance benefits did you notice?
Pip: It’s been really interesting too and probably with a lot of reflection. I know at the time I would’ve changed various things and see how they impacted, and went through some ups and downs with that as well.
I can say straight up too, triathlon is very much a powder weight sport. It is a sport where there is a degree of pressure around body weight, even to an extent. There’s certainly talk or perception about how athletes look. It’s a sport where we’re racing on telly every weekend. So, that’s been an element of it. The other thing that’s been really interesting and progression from athlete to probably professional in this space as well.
And, as a female athlete, what’s really changed is the conversations and the willingness to engage in the knowledge around female hormones and menstruation and what that looks like for both health and performance. And they were conversations that just didn’t happen in my career and my time of racing. So, all of those elements are constantly changing and changing for the better too.
So, I think while there was lots that I did implement myself as an athlete, I think that there’s also lots that I didn’t do. And probably when I’m dealing with athletes now, it does give you a really good perspective. It gives you a really good point of understanding as well, picking up on what the athletes are going through at that stage. And knowing how to have those conversations and how and when to push certain points forward.
Jack: Thank you for sharing that. It’s such a good topic to discuss when it comes to nutrition, that balance of performance, health, and then also aesthetics and the body compositions and, like you said, the expectation of how an athlete should look and those perceptions. And especially when you’re at a young age, you’re at a vulnerable time to be able to handle those things. So, there’s a fair bit going on to try and juggle as an athlete, and lucky to have people like yourself, supporting them and helping them and guiding them.
But for athletes that are tuned in, that are listening, what are some important pillars to understand, that if they are only focusing on their aesthetics, what are some important things that they should be doing that is also important for their health and longevity in the sport?
Pip: It’s such a key topic. And I always like to bring things back to performance, then ask the question of, ‘What are you here for?’
Whether you are in an elite team or a pro athlete, you didn’t get your contract given out, you don’t turn up. They don’t give trophies for skinny athletes or the most muscular athletes are the ones with best body comp. So, it’s really, I guess, framing up what are you here for? What do you turn up to training for every day? And then based on that, what are your requirements?
No one wants to be within that bell curve of ordinary. Every athlete that you speak to wants to be pushing that in. They want to be something special. And so, that takes something special in all the angles, including nutrition. So, it’s thinking through. If you want to turn up day after day and train hard, what does that take?
What is the fueling required to maximize output in that session? How do you recover from that session, so you can back up the next day? Is the session requirement around skill acquisition, so you need your brain turned on and fueled? Otherwise, if it only goes to here, you’re turning up and you’re only getting halfway there all the time.
So, you put that in context for a young athlete or an athlete at the end stage of their career. And you think at some point it will end. And you want to get the most out of that time. So, let’s address that at that point. And I think, once you have that conversation, it’s a bit of a mind shift, a switch.
And the other thing that’s really important to note as well is that often when you are focusing on those outputs and maximizing all of the layouts and outputs and ticking all those boxes along the way, your body composition and your body weight just takes care of itself. Because you’re feeling well, you’re maximizing your outputs, you’re probably sleeping better, your stress levels are down.
And they’re all the things that, really, if they’re out of whack, they really combine to really mess up your body composition and really mess up your stress response across the board. So, I think it’s about starting with the basics, keeping the big picture in mind, understanding why you’re there and working backwards.
Jack: It’s so easy to get distracted, isn’t it? Particularly in team-based sports where you can compare yourself to your peers all the time. Who’s looking like so-and-so, whatever it might be, or compare yourself to competition, but ultimately it is just another distraction, isn’t it? And you’ve got to think about what’s important to you and everyone’s got different body types and different shapes.
But if you’re performing at a really good level, unless you’re a bodybuilder, they are critiqued on that, or there’s some sports as well that it does have an influence. But if you’re training for performance, there’s no doubt most athletes listening to this will be on field performance, it’s where they’re measuring and what they’re trying to improve, then reminding yourself of that is what you love and that’s what you’re there for.
But is there a place for dieting for athletes? Or do you think it is simply having the philosophy that trusting, like you said before, that the by-product of living a healthy lifestyle, that’s fueling your training and training as an athlete lifestyle, that most athletes would be having a fair amount of output reaching their healthy weight, will just take care of itself if you just stay with it over time? Or is there a place where athletes do need a diet?
Pip: To some degree too, that’s a really individual question and this is where one, as an athlete, you need to advocate for yourself, first and foremost. Whether you’re an individual athlete, whether you’re a team athlete, even in that team context. And I’ve said this to so many athletes before: you need to advocate for yourself. Which means tuning in and having some awareness, but you also need to build a really good team around you and a team that you trust.
One of the things that you find with nutrition is that basically everyone is an expert. You can pick up any social site, any paper, any magazine, tune into anything, and there’s someone telling you something else about nutrition. And it’s a lot of conflicting messages. And that has the effect of people jumping from one thing to another thing. So, having someone that you can trust in that space and sticking the course is really, really key.
But within that, there’s always going to be either across the career, across a year, across a month, or even across a week, your nutrition doesn’t stay the same. It’s based across a whole variety of things. It’s in context of your individual training load, where your goals are, stress levels, what’s going on in the rest of your life, your family life.
That is going to mean that your nutrition has to change as well to match that. So, whether there is a place at times for, I don’t even like calling it dieting, but some restricted eating or some more monitored eating or simply looking more closely at how you’re eating, that can come into play as well.
I’m never a big one for tracking anything much at all. I don’t do it myself. I would hadrly ever recommend tracking calories or macros, or anything like that. But having said that, there’s a time and place to doing it. There’s a time and place for having a real deep dive into what you’re actually having, having a real black and white record or reflection point and, for some people, being able to use that going forward. But not long-term, not consistent. I think that that can become problematic too.
Jack: It could become a job, I imagine.
Pip: Yeah. I would hate doing it, so I would never recommend people do it.
Jack: That’s great. Thank you for sharing your philosophy on that. And being in the fitness industry, a hundred percent, I’ve seen that. A Netflix documentary comes out and everyone’s changing their diet, or whatever it might be. So, it’s so true that if you stay the course and trust your team and the professionals in your team, you’re probably going to reap the benefits. Where if you are just chopping and changing all the time, you won’t even be able to measure whether it was useful or not for you.
Jack: You’re changing it, before you can get the benefits. So, that’s great. And in terms of the developing footballers, and then we’ll go into your career journey. For the developing footballs at Brisbane Lions, was there a particular focus or any tips and tricks that you would commonly see with young footballers coming into the club, that you found effective?
Pip: I think the thing is with the young footballers, and even the work that we’re trying to do with the AFL Sports Dieticians Association is really to try and push for more servicing, to try and push for more consistent servicing as well. And particularly whether it’s the young players in AFL teams or whether it’s actually the underpinning programs, the development and talent pathways below that.
Because at those ages one – you’re having such rapid growth and development, cognitively and physically, that nutrition support is so key. But it’s also setting up these habits and just setting some good habits from early on. And that is really the key time to get on top of those, because I think nutrition is a really funny thing.
I always look at athletes and there’s a lot on their plate. You look in those high-performance environments, there’s a lot of pressures there: they’re being told to do things by the S&C coach, they’ve got the pressures of selection, they’ve got the pressures of coaches. There’s a lot to think about in any one day.
And it’d be silly to think: yes, I might be the dietician or nutritionist and think that that’s really, really important, but the reality is there’s lots of days where it’s not important and it shouldn’t be important. And it shouldn’t be the priority focus for that athlete.
But you only get to that point, if you’ve built these good habits before that. And if you’re able to then engage or pick the point when it should become the top priority again, and you readdress it and you make sure that all of these things are in place. You set the habits, they’re all in place and then it can become less of a focus again and allow you to focus on all of these other parts of the puzzle that need to be there.
And then again, you go through another cycle and it’s like, ‘Yep, need to step back, readdress that. Are we still on track here? What needs adjusting?’ So, it’s that habit building where things do become second nature.
Jack: Yeah. It could be for some of those players the first time. Most likely they’d moved out of home and living with other people and parents aren’t cooking. It is such a pivotal time in their development and their bodies are still growing. Even physically they’re under the most load they’ve ever been under. I agree. It’s so important.
And having seen, you know, Simone Austin was at Hawthorn while I was there, like the impact she had on the players, teaching them how to cook, and what to buy, what to avoid, supplements, all the things, all the basics. Like you’re saying, it is so important from education point of view.
What would be the ideal model if you could structure a development program? What would be the touch points? Now that you’ve seen the system too, you understand the environment and like everyone believes in their field, like, ‘I want more time at the gym with them.’
Everyone wants more time with the athletes. But if we are setting them up and then that’s going to look after their future self as an athlete, like you said, they’re going to have the awareness and the habits in place, that then we can scale the nutrition program down and focus more on a needs basis.
So, is it simply athletes maybe being identified that you need to see Pip more and the club’s invested in this many consultations one-on-one. Is that how it could work, where it is adjustable to the individual? Or do you see it more as an Academy group stuff that needs to be done and more touch points for the dieticians in the club?
Pip: Probably all of that, to be honest. I think there’s a couple of things there. One, you want to see, as an athlete progresses through their career, that they go from being hand-held and provided information and provided the skills, right through to the end point where you’re simply a touch point. They might check in with you infrequently, they’re pretty much there, but you’re a really good sounding board. You’re a really good sounding board for, ‘Hey, what do you think of this? I want to try that.’ So, it’s going through that spectrum.
And I think, within AFL clubs, there’s a big space for setting up a program that’s more consistent across the clubs, so that everyone across the countries is having access to those same development points. Almost like a bit of a loose curriculum, but you’re stepping through those. And it doesn’t matter if you transfer clubs, you know that you’ve still got that same knowledge or skills base.
But, honestly, a big part of this as well is… We know what we can provide and what we can do, it’s sometimes within that environment of clubs where you need all the other professions. You need the HB manager on board, you need the GM on board as well to prioritize that. And that doesn’t necessarily mean either that all of a sudden people are doing hours of nutrition work a day, but it does need to become a priority in how it’s integrated. And how it’s integrated into injury management programs, into injury recovery programs, how cooking classes are better integrated in those first couple of years as well.
I think that that needs to be a big shift as well. And just an understanding of quite literally: nutrition underpins everything. No one else in that club can do a good job realistically, if people aren’t eating well. Because their brains aren’t functioning, their bodies aren’t functioning, they’re not optimizing immune function. So, I think it’s that understanding and that understanding of how it brings everything together.
Jack: But for the athletes that are listening, what are the most common things? Where do you start with it with a typical young developing footballer, or it doesn’t have to be football, but athlete’s nutrition? What are the common things that you see that you try and start to change or influence?
Pip: As you say, the basics. Learning to get in the kitchen for a start, learning to enjoy food, learning to, I guess, feel the difference as well. I think that that’s sometimes the biggest stumbling block for people who haven’t typically thought about nutritionists as being important. Particularly if they’re already at a body weight or body composition that isn’t making them an outlier. Then they just think nutrition is not that important, because that’s the way they view it.
And that’s it. If you haven’t felt a change, you really don’t know what you’re not getting by paying attention to it. So, that’s probably the first aspect. And bringing that enjoyment into food as well. That’s the primary reason we eat is because we enjoy it, not just to get energy. So, that’s a really critical thing.
And then I think along their journey as well, there’s all of those touch points for really making them aware of how it can be used specifically around injury or around game time. And again, just bringing it all together. But that’s the journey I see as an athlete.
Jack: I love that. The importance of loving it. Because if you enjoy it, you’re more likely to probably do it again out here. Where if it’s rigid or diet or calorie counting, they’re not really sustainable, you’re probably not going to do it for a long period of time. And that’s where you can even start to see the yo-yo effect of maybe being put off nutrition.
For those that have had those nitty-gritty experiences, like you are saying, there’s a lot out there. Where would be a good place to start, do you think? For someone that’s looking to implement some changes and maybe they don’t have access to a sports dietician at their club, or maybe they do, and they just haven’t reached out yet. What would be your advice?
Pip: If you do have access, that’s obviously the first starting point. I think most of us are very open, very willing to help. I think that’s a thing about the profession too. For the most part, we want to be there for you. We’re not there with our own agenda.
And I think people sometimes have this perception that, ‘I’d better not tell her what I really eat or ask my real questions, just in case I get trouble or she thinks something bad about me.’ And that’s not what we’re there for. I think that’s the things that athletes have to remember as well: it’s their career. We’re literally there to help you. And that doesn’t matter if that’s a junior athlete, a pro athlete or a master’s level athlete, it’s still the same concept. This is about you. So, it’s creating that honest dialogue, for a start.
If you don’t have access to good support, I think, that’s part of that process of finding someone. There’s plenty of good sports dieticians out there. It’s making that first contact. And it’s like any other profession. Sometimes you don’t gel with a person. It doesn’t mean that it was a bad idea in reaching out. It just means that perhaps there’s someone else out there that’s better suited to you and your journey and where you are at that stage.
Jack: Thank you for providing that. No doubt, some people, some athletes will, hopefully, start their journey or maybe get in contact with a sports dietician that, like you said, they might be avoiding them after the season phase where footballers are in.
Obviously, we are live now, which is the off-season phase for most footballers, but you might be listening in when you’re actually in season or pre-season in the podcast world. So, get in contact with your sports dietician or make contact with one that’s in your area.
Going back to your career, Pip, who were some strong influences or mentors, if you like, in your early development?
Pip: It’s a really interesting question. And I would have to say it’s the athletes, honestly. I’ve probably taken both influence, inspiration, as well as very much looking up to a whole range of people. And I wouldn’t even say specifically sports dieticians. A whole range of different researchers, different professionals, and across a range of sports as well. I think for me, it’s always been about that bigger picture.
And it’s also how I watch sport. I can watch sport and have no idea what the score is or what’s going on. Because I’ll get focused on a particular personal movement and just trying to understand what that might mean from a training perspective. So, for me, the influence has always been athletes. And really understanding them and even the psychology behind them and what makes them tick.
And that influence is how I engage with them. I think one thing that’s really key for any performance environment is that knowledge is important. I’ve got to know stuff about food and nutrition. But what’s even more important I think is how you deliver that and how you develop a relationship with someone, how you build authenticity and how you build trust.
And that’s why I say athletes are the ones that influenced me. Because it’s picking up on what’s on their plate, what’s their body language. And that then sets up how you’re going to deal with them, manage them or manage that issue.
Jack: Like you said earlier, not having an agenda, you’re there for them. And I love that philosophy and treating who’s in front of you rather than bringing your own stuff. Which can be quite challenging as a practitioner, knowing your own experiences and then putting that on players. But if you’ve got that philosophy, it’s a good one. A good reminder for all us practitioners to focus on what’s important, which is the athlete and the person that’s in front of you. So, thanks for sharing that. That’s great.
And then in terms of developing yourself in your craft, what are some of your favorite ways to upskill yourself? You mentioned that knowledge is important as well as the art of communication. How do you go about getting better in those spaces?
Pip: It’s always a continual process. And again, I think athletes are probably a really good reflection point as well. They’re going to let you know. It’s pretty easy to know if you’re not being successful or where the areas are that you constantly need upskilling.
I think, where my career is now, I’m not actively working with AFL athletes or team athletes necessarily. I’m working with other elite athletes. But more of my work in the footy space is actually working with the dieticians at a servicing level. And how do we achieve increasing those servicing levels and increasing athlete outputs and outcomes.
I learn a hell of a lot from my colleagues in that space as well. And just understanding the different environments and understanding the different challenges and what that means in terms of better support or requirements for the profession as well, more generally.
Jack: And for sports dieticians listening in that are pretty keen to work in elite sport, like AFL or A-League or whatever it might be, what is the best way to go about that? What was your mindset? And how did you go about getting your foot in the door in elite sport?
Pip: I guess to me my journey’s been a little bit different because I already had knowledge as an athlete myself and experience within those high-performance environments. I think you really want to understand that space.
I think one of the biggest challenges or maybe one of the mistakes that I see with some, not even just sports dieticians, but any professionals coming into that space, is just not understanding the context more broadly and understanding that you are simply one piece of the puzzle. And sometimes the best thing that you can do is nothing. Sometimes the best thing you can do is actually just stand back and observe. So, having that mindset when you step into those environments, I think, is really critical.
And also, one thing that I have actually found that has been beneficial to me, is when I started working in AFL, I knew nothing about the game. I didn’t grow up in a family that followed the sport. I was off doing my own sports. It wasn’t a game that I knew much about, to be honest. And to a large degree, I used that to my advantage.
Because you’re not really caught up in the details. You’re not there as a fan. And it allows you to step back and be quite perceptive about requirements and what’s needed. And to change things that you think need changing without getting caught up in the history or the culture or anything too much.
Jack: And what about challenges in your career? What have been some significant challenges? And what did you learn and how did you grow from those experiences?
Pip: Certainly lots of challenges along the way. I would say, honestly, the biggest one and it’s probably sparked the most rewarding time in my career, particularly as a sports dietician. I think it’s no secret that in a lot of clubs nutrition is still almost an undervalued service or an undervalued part of high-performance programs. And that’s a generalization.
But what we’ve seen even with COVID and cuts and where can clubs cut is that very much came on for most clubs as either the easiest to minimize or get rid of. And for me that was really surprising and not surprising, to be honest. But I took the thought that this is the start of a pandemic, where, surely, health and mental health are really key and they should be the primary things that we’re focusing on.
And my thoughts are that nutrition is really the main thing that you have when you think about health and mental health in that context in a healthy population. So, for them to be to be minimalized and for other dietitians in other clubs either cut entirely, I just thought there was something wrong with that system and that approach.
And so, that really sparked off this bringing together. How do we bring dietitians across the country together and create more of a voice and more of a platform? Because, ultimately, it’s the athletes who suffer. And that’s where we come from. So, it’s not just about, ‘Hey, don’t forget about us and our jobs over here.’ It’s if you’re cutting that service, it’s the athletes and those outcomes that will eventually suffer from that.
So, it’s been a really good journey. And I think that we’ll see some really positive outcomes from that as well. And particularly some of the conversations that we’re having around nutrition into some of the development and underpinning program levels, that, I think, can come of this as well and what that looks like. And also ensuring that clubs do have that servicing in place going forward.
So, for me, it’s been hugely challenging, hugely rewarding. And I hope too that both for dieticians, as well as athletes, it’s going to be a positive outcome and experience.
Jack: Yeah, watch this space. When it does happen, that’s when we’ll have to launch the panel.
Pip: It’s, I have to say too, as a group, such an intelligent, passionate, awesome group of, they’re mostly girls, a couple of guys in there.
Jack: And have big things to come, no doubt. We’ll have to see what’s in store. What do you think, what do you suspect to be some of the fallbacks for the athletes? What would be some things that, if you are measuring a program or help build the awareness of a club that that’s something that if we put a budget towards nutrition, it could’ve prevented or we could have increased that performance in that area?
Pip: That’s why it’s really hard. Because while nutrition underpins lots of things, there’s not many measurables around that. It’s really hard. It’s really hard to measure the contribution to immune status, for instance. It’s really hard to measure the contribution to recovery or how fast someone’s recovering from an injury. But we know that it is a component.
So, I think that that’s where it’s potentially always on the chopping block. It’s an easy cut because it doesn’t have that data. And that’s probably a challenge for our profession too. How do we get to that point where it is more known or how do we put dollar figures around some of these things? Because that would really bring it to the forefront.
Jack: There we go. Podcast listeners, if there’s any PhDs out there, contact with Pip, if you came to help. Okay, that’s great. What about, you mentioned how rewarding it is this challenge that you’re undertaking. Are there some other highlights over your career that you look back on and think of fondly or feel proud of those moments?
Pip: Probably lots. And there’s lots of individual athletes as well, that whether they’re individuals in teams or literally individuals in individual sports, that you have these little breakthrough moments. It’s something that they might’ve been struggling with for years and years and years.
And they could have worked with other nutritionists or other dieticians, or not have any experience either. And it’s something in the way that you’ve… Not that I’ve done anything revolutionary. Most of us have the same knowledge. But it’s something in the way that this person you’ve connected with or communicated a particular concept or change.
And for them, it has meant a life changing shift in their mindset or their practice that has opened up either a whole lot of potential opportunities or it’s changed the way they think about themselves. So, how they perceive themselves. And all of those things are so rewarding along the way as well.
And it’s funny, sometimes only when you look back or when you ask questions, like you just asked, that you actually think about it and put it in those contexts as well.
Jack: It’s something that’s being congruent all the way through the podcast. You can tell your passion for helping others along their journey, which is great and inspiring for all us, practitioners and coaches that are working with people. Ultimately, that’s the most important thing. And if you feel good doing it, it’s not a bad job. That’s great.
So, this is the lighter part of the podcast, these questions. You can have a bit of fun with these. They’re not so serious. It’s more the personal side. So, which movie or TV series has impacted you the most and why?
Pip: It’s funny, you said these questions are lighter, and I literally have no answer. And I don’t know what this says about me as a person.
Jack: Could be a book.
Pip: I didn’t actually grow up with much TV. I don’t know if I should say this, but we didn’t grow up with a TV in our house. And my parents, every Olympics and Commonwealth Games, they would go and rent a TV and we’d have it there for a couple of weeks. And then had to give it back.
Jack: You had the impression of the evolution of a TV every time it happened.
Pip: But the funny thing is too, and it’s probably the same for books. I can watch a movie and love it. I’ll never watch it again. And it’s the same with anything. I’ll do something and love it and move on.
Jack: Yeah, I cannot understand watching a movie twice.
Pip: You see? There you go.
Jack: What about favorite inspirational quotes or life motto?
Pip: Yeah, easy one. Very short. ‘Why not?’
Jack: Why not?
Pip: Yeah, that’s all. And I have to say too, it’s something that I still ask of myself a lot. Whether it’s during the working day, in different context or even for me, I still train, still stay active. But as an athlete too. I went through a phase where I actually had it stuck on the fridge and I would read it every day. And I think it’s just these two words that just sum up a lot of attitude and it can be asked in different ways as well.
Jack: When you’re going through a flat spot in your training, what would it fire up with you? Is it a matter of take a risk sort of thing? Why not? Like, let’s go?
Pip: Yup. Take a risk. But also it could be taken in the context of confidence. Why not me?
Jack: I deserve it.
Pip: Yup. So, it depends on the context, how you say it. It takes on multiple meanings. But I find it a really useful phrase.
Jack: And then in your work life, what makes you angry? What are your pet peeves?
Pip: I would have to say my pet peeves are both poor communication, beating around the bush and just, ‘Come on, let’s just tackle this head on.’ Communicate it, talk it out. And then the other thing that really annoys me and I used to get a lot of these. ‘That’s the way we’ve always done it,’ as an answer. I can’t stand that. It’s not an adequate answer.
Jack: What would be your response to that? If someone said that to you, do you try and open their mind up to some other possibilities? Or is it just too hard to work if someone’s in that mindset?
Pip: Oh no. Trust me, I always follow up with the hard questions. Because I think, if that’s a response, it has been in question too, can we do it this way? And just because something has always been done some way doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to do it. It doesn’t mean that it’s not the best or it’s not the most efficient, or it’s not the most thoughtful way to do something. There is always way to change and improve something.
Jack: Yeah, we’ve got to evolve. What’s your favorite way to spend your day off? These last two are COVID-free world as well, of course.
Pip: I’m pretty lucky with where I live. And I’ve also been pretty lucky over COVID. So, almost COVID or not, my ideal day doesn’t change that much. I still have to train. Even as an athlete, I would probably take a training day over a race or competition day. So, for me still an ideal day is a run or getting out, doing something.
Absolutely coffee – essential, good food – essential, involving gin in some way or another. I am a parent of two kids. Depending on the day you ask me, that ideal day may include them or may not include them. But I’m pretty low-key.
Jack: And what about favourite holiday destination and why?
Pip: I’m hoping I’ve yet to discover my favorite place, to be honest. I do love to travel. As an athlete, I traveled a lot. Saw some very good places. Saw also an awful lot of hotel rooms and airports.
So far, the best place I’ve traveled, though, to, would be Lapland. So, North Pole. Literally the North Pole. At winter. Christmas day. Had the kids there too. And I have to say that that is something really special, amazing. And then just alight, everything running in minus 30 degrees. All of it. Love it.
Jack: That has not come up on the podcast yet. Amazing. Thank you so much for sharing. This is the last question. What are you excited about for 2021? What’s on the horizon for you?
Pip: It’s probably a standard answer at the moment, but crossing borders. Traveling, seeing family. Getting out of some of these COVID restrictions. I think that’s for everyone, first and foremost.
Jack: A hundred percent. Well, thank you so much. You’ve lived a full life. Thanks for jumping on and sharing your story. It’s been a great experience. I’ve taken a lot from it and, no doubt, those tuned in live, as well as those listening in the podcast world have taken a lot out of it too. Whether you’re an athlete, practitioner working in health and wellness, and also performance, there’s plenty there for you. So, thank you so much for sharing your journey with us.
Pip: No, thank you. It’s been really fun getting on, having a chat.
Jack: Thanks, Pip. Thank you so much. And for those tuned in, thank you for listening into the live chat. The podcast episode will be launched very soon and you can head to our Instagram page for when we launch that. Thanks, guys.
Thank you for listening to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast. If you liked this episode, it’d be a massive help, if you could like, follow, rate, give a review or even share with your mates. The show is recorded in Melbourne, Australia. Be sure to follow our Instagram page for all updates on our latest and greatest. If you would like to get in touch to suggest a guest or advertise with the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks so much for tuning in.