Luke is currently a strength & conditioning coach at Richmond Tigers Football Club. Prior to his role at the Tigers, he has worked at Western Bulldogs and Geelong FC.
Highlights from the episode:
- How he met Loris Bertolacci
- How to get the most of your internship
- People who influenced his career
- How his philosophy change on how a footballer should prepare for a game
- His life motto
- Loris Bertolacci
- Dan Bailey
- Chris Dennis
- Bill Daverin
- Peter Burge
- Jason Weber
- Damian Hardwick
- Bill Daverin
To have Jack answer your questions send us a voice message via this link:
Jack: Hi, I’m your host Jack McLean. And today my guest is Luke Meehan. He’s a head strength & conditioning coach at the Richmond Tigers Football Club. Luke has worked in the AFL for almost 20 years. He started as an intern under Loris Bertolacci at Geelong Cats, worked at Western Bulldogs for full-time for six years, before moving over to Richmond Football Club, where he’s been out for the last nine years.
Highlights from this episode: we discuss the importance of being organized and having a plan; why relationships is so critical and how to develop them with players and staff; Luke’s biggest learnings and how his philosophy has evolved over the years; football requires a collaborative approach; Luke discusses the key pillars of strength and power development.
Before we start this episode, to connect with our guests, coaches, athletes, and fellow podcast listeners, make sure to follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. You can find the links in the show notes. It would be great, if you could like, share and rate this episode. The support goes a long way in helping us grow and help more people.
Let’s go. Good night, Luke. Thanks for jumping on, mate.
Luke: Thanks for having me, Jack. It’s been a while, we’ve been trying to have this for months, haven’t we?
Jack: It’s good. I’m looking forward to this one. It’s definitely had a build-up. We got there in the end and persistence definitely pays off. I’m excited to have you on, mate. But let’s jump at the very beginning of your career. At what age did you discover you had a passion for strength & conditioning and high performance sport?
Luke: Probably a bit later than and you might expect. I finished school a long, long time ago. And I was one of the younger kids at school, so I was 17 when I finished. I didn’t have my license and I wasn’t supposed to be going to the pub and all that sort of stuff. So, I was a little bit younger and I was quite lost, actually. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do.
I ended up enrolling in a business degree undergraduate course. Because, honestly, I just didn’t know. And I didn’t mind maths and accounting, and so I started university, having nothing to do with what I currently do. And I was quite immature and young, when I started university, and not very disciplined and it just didn’t really work for me.
And I tipped out pretty quickly, and just spent a year actually working in a petrol station, trying to work out what I wanted to do in life. And I was a little bit lost. In hindsight, I wish I’d traveled or done something more productive with my time. But I didn’t. Anyway, I worked for a year at a petrol station and then a few other things.
I was wondering what I wanted to do and I reflected a lot. And, obviously, I really liked keeping fit and I really liked sport. And so, I eventually settled on, ‘Oh, I’d like to be a PE teacher.’ So I enrolled in a, I think it’s now called the Exercise Science, but it was a Human Movement degree with teaching as a side plus. Teaching degree with Human Movement.
And I got into the course and quickly found out that I love the human movement side of the things and not so much the teaching. So, I dropped the teaching and kept up the human movement side of things. Again, not thinking I would ever end up in sport. I still wasn’t really sure. I thought maybe I’d get into being a personal trainer or working in a gym. But I wasn’t really sure. Maybe even nutrition, which, funnily enough, my wife is a dietitian.
And in the end, I remember meeting, just through chance, up in Brisbane, actually, the Geelong’s fitness coach at the time, which we probably now call high performance manager. His name was Loris Bertolacci and I met him and got talking to him and he, thankfully, and I’ll always be grateful, offered me some work experience within the Cats. I told him what I did at uni and so, that became a thing.
And I went down to the Geelong, I drove down to Geelong, I was living in Melbourne, once a week and just did whatever I could. Helping them clean the gym or put out cones, or just whatever he needed. I was probably more of a pest than a help. And it was probably the time. So, I was probably 24 by the time I realized, ‘Oh, this is pretty cool, working with professional football players and in this environment with professional strength coaches.’ So, that’s probably how it all evolved for me. I didn’t go to uni expecting to end up in this role.
Jack: I love that story, mate. Thanks for sharing. And I imagine there’d be some strength & conditioning coaches that might be in that, there’s a few chapters that you mentioned there, but that challenge of not knowing what to do after school. Where am I going with my career? It is a tough time. You’re growing from a personal point of view of who you are, but also professionally. Your mates start to work out what they’re doing, and you’re feeling a little bit behind.
You mentioned you started the business degree and it just didn’t sit right with you. You could’ve just stuck with it and got it done. Did you got a gut feeling, like ‘This is not me. I’m just going to pull out and try something different’?
Luke: It was probably a combination of that, plus I was just probably not really ready for being held accountable, going to lectures, tutors and all that kind of thing. I come from, obviously, we’ll go to school and there’s a role taken and all this sort of stuff. And I just look back at everything and I was so young and immature. Fridays and Mondays I would find myself at home and not going in. And I just, I don’t know, maybe it was because I wasn’t that interested in the course and also, I think I was too immature for the environment at the time, if I’m being really honest.
Jack: And that session you had with Loris, how did that come about? Was there a connection before you guys met? Like, obviously, he saw something in you. How did the conversation come about?
Luke: Honestly, by chance. My dad was living in Brisbane at the time. And I went up there to visit him and he took me to Lions-Geelong game and we ended up down in the Geelong rooms for some reason. I think he had a partner or there was some reason I down there. And I saw Loris, stretching the guys and handing out drinks and all sorts of stuff. I was standing near him and I just started talking to him. And he’s a lovely bloke. I’m not sure if you know much about him.
Jack: He’s been on the podcast.
Luke: Oh, he’s been on the podcast. And he’s just the loveliest bloke. And I’m not really sure why he gave me so much. But, thank God, he did. And it was from that moment onwards that I saw it. It’s a weird story. Probably quite different to what you’ve heard before from others.
Jack: It’s a good one, though. Because I think, there will be periods of where that will resonate with people. We’ve all had periods or chapters of our life, where you are a bit lost and you want to rush that decision of just doing stuff. And how important as well it is to follow what you’re interested in and what’s flowing, I guess. Like you said, with the uni, it just wasn’t clicking with you.
And then with Loris, actually seeing, because you weren’t sure at that point what you wanted to do, but by seeing that environment, it sounds like you were excited by that. Seeing his role, what he was doing, his purpose in the role, that clicked with yourself. And then you started doing that.
So, you mentioned how that one day a week with the travel involved, doing your best to help out Loris in his role by assisting him and being a pest, being a shadow and asking him lots of questions. For people that are interns now, how important is it to contribute? Like you said, with the cones and the setting of the gym, although they are not the sexy roles to have, and they’re not flashy, but how important is it to really own that assistance?
Luke: I think, if you are lucky enough to get enrolled in an internship, it’s really important to do the little things and take the initiative and not have to be asked, I suppose. And it’s just you don’t want to belittle people by telling them, ‘Put cones out.’ You just want to see some enthusiasm from them.
And then I think, in turn, when you see that and you see that someone says, ‘I’m really excited to be in your environment and learn,’ you’re probably more willing to give them more of your time, to pass on what you know and help them. It’s one of those things, I suppose. It’s always come naturally to me, when I just do everything I can.
But I’ve seen multiple different interns and ones that are coming to it and think it’s all glamour, and want to go straight to doing all the biggest stuff. And then you see some others, which are great, that understand the internship we’re all in. I hope I’m making sense. And it’s even really hard to get those roles in the current environment because of COVID. And clubs are really limited in who’s allowed into clubs and it’s becoming quite rare, actually.
I’m not sure if you know, many people haven’t got cadetships at the moment or internships. We’ve had two years where we’ve hardly had anyone in those roles, just a handful maybe. Whereas in the past we’ve had plenty of people enroll and tried to give as much help as we can. But, COVID has changed that. The opportunities have dried up a little bit. Hopefully, that changes.
Jack: But there’s two takeaways there for those listening that are bloody competitive. Like you mentioned, it’s set you up, that being in the environment. You saw what you wanted to get out of it. When you started helping out Loris, is that where you started to see, ‘Okay, I can see my career path a little bit here’?
Luke: A little bit. It was funny. Loris has always been really intelligent, ahead of his time and quite an electric thinker. He had developed the Excel database for load monitoring, which is something that’s quite common. Obviously, we are quite advanced at how we do it now, but at these days he had a really basic RPA system and training time by RPA. He developed this in conjunction with a few consultants. I was helping out gathering data and entering data. He’d obviously assess the data that was in there, but I was helping him with log reports and it was very, very early days of all that kind of stuff.
So, I was into this sport science side of the conditioning and fitness department when I first started. And that carried over when I got my next role, a full-time job. It was more of that than what I actually do now. And so, I suppose we’re getting into how that all evolved. But it was that stuff first, which I was really interested in, not so much the S&C, that I’m doing now.
Jack: More the data analytics and sport science side of things.
Luke: Yeah, which is funny, because I’m not a real big data guy. But it was really my first foray into professional sport, helping out with all that stuff.
Jack: And then, you mentioned the progression. So, how did that come about? Actually, let’s first backtrack a little bit. So, you’re doing that one day a week and you are doing your degree, which is the equivalent to exercise science. How are you making ends meet at that point in your career? Were you still working at the petrol station?
Luke: No. It was pretty hard because, I suppose, number one, I thought this is such a great opportunity that Loris and the Cats were offering me. So, at some point I decided I’m going to give them as much time as I can. I was just down there probably more than one day a week. I was going off as often as I could and I was helping out wherever I could. Which then limited with when I was studying as well, limiting time to go and earn some money as well.
I was doing some random jobs. I worked on a few data gathering studies, taking university projects. I got a role helping out the Geelong College, senior IT team, did a little bit of money there. I was doing odd bits and pieces, but, honestly, I wasn’t in a lot of money. And at some point as well, I actually moved down to Geelong and rented the room off Loris at a very cheap rate, thank God. It was just making ends meet.
I remember every weekend I’d make a big batch of Bolognese and drag it out over the week because I didn’t have much money to buy food. And even like, there’d be half a loaf of bread at the club that was almost out of date and no one was going to eat it, so I might take that home. I didn’t have a lot of money. But I didn’t care. I was down there, and this was the coolest job in the world. And it didn’t really bother me that I didn’t have a lot of money.
Jack: You did what you wanted to be doing.
Luke: Yeah, exactly.
Jack: And then what did the next progression of that look like? Was that then to a part-time paid role?
Luke: Yeah, that’s right. That became, luckily enough, a part-time role. I was helping out a little bit with the AFL senior team during the day. But then I was doing two to three nights a week trying to run a similar program with the Geelong VFL team. Geelong were, I think, they were the first club and they might’ve been the only club for a while. They actually had their own standalone VFL team, which now everyone has.
So, they had their own team that would train at night. It was fully integrated into the club. So, that was a great year for me. I was kind of thrown into the deep end. And so, I’d be taking one warmups at night, I’d be running their strength program, I’d be doing their fitness program. And then game day came along, once the season started. So, that’s how that evolved.
And that was a really, really great year of learning for me. People that know me now, probably wouldn’t believe it, because I was quite a shy kid when I was growing up. And you can’t really be like that when you’re in front of a team of blokes taking a warmup. So, it was a really, really good year for me in terms of learning and growth.
I think that was 2005, which isn’t a long time ago. Lee Cheetah was the code to the captain and he was great for me too. He probably could tell I was a bit out of my depth, but never made me feel like that. He was always quite encouraging and respectful. I’ll be forever grateful for that year.
Jack: And looking back now, you mentioned the importance of leading your own program. And from a personal point of view, like getting out of your comfort zone, but then also professionally, like you’re running your warmup, you’re developing your philosophy, I guess, on implementing what you’ve seen and by assisting to now running it. How important is leading a program for strength & conditioning coaches?
Luke: I am not so sure. I mean, that’s what I did, so I would probably tell you it’s a great idea and a great opportunity. But people are getting into sport that haven’t gone down that path. So, I’m not sure it’s integral.
But another thing it taught me: you come out of uni, quite bright-eyed and you think you know everything and you think that every athlete’s going to love training in the gym, love extra running, love being as fit as they are. And then you get into the sporting farm and squaring pretty quickly that only a handful of the guys actually really love doing strength work all the time, and a handful of guys love running and all that.
You learn pretty quick that everything that you learned doesn’t necessarily apply. It’s a funny thing. And I’m sure you’ve seen this yourself. I came into the sport thinking, ‘They’re going to love squatting and deadlifting and cleaning and all that sort of stuff.’ And I laugh now. There’s only a certain percentage of teams even now, that I work with, of the guys that actually love doing gym. So, I think running your own program is a great opportunity, but I’m not sure it’s the only way into the system.
Jack: That’s a good insight. So, there’s many ways to grow within high performance sport. But you felt like by learning how to assist and then learning how to lead, it was good development from personal point of view? And I guess the application of, like you said, sport science?
Luke: Yeah, that’s true. So, you can do everything, which is great. And you see how it all fits. One thing I will say is anyone that’s trying to get into professional sport, with internship opportunities drying up, helping out, because every AFL team has a VFL, every Victorian team has a VFL link. That’s, I think, the way in at the moment, if you really want to get in. And I’m sure you know this yourself, helping out at the VFL level or even the AFLW side of things and being in the club is probably the way to do it at the moment.
I’m sure everybody would agree with that. Because it is hard to get in. As you know, there’re only 18 clubs in footy, and there’s not that many roles. In the past it might’ve been doing an internship, which led to jobs. But for the moment, I think the best way through to show who you are and how you work and how you operate is through the VFL systems and AFLW team.
Jack: A hundred percent. Like you said, with COVID, there’s a lot less opportunities at the top level. So, I guess, if you’re in an opportunity where you are helping out and if you’re lucky enough to have an internship, make the most of it. And then, if you’re not, don’t be disheartened with being at any level and just getting experience. Because opportunities are going to have to come somewhere, and if you’re working in sport, it’s not a bad way to be using your time.
Luke: Well, just as a case in point, we just hired a rehab coordinator. His name’s Dan Bailey. He came through our AFLW program. So, that was his way in. He was working at Carey, doing some S&C stuff. He’s an athletics coach, doing all the things everyone does, helping out, trying to help out wherever he could. And he was part of our AFLW program. Impressed everyone in that and work came through and so, when this role opened up, it was an easy hire for us because we already knew him and had great feedback from the AFLW staff. So, don’t knock back. What I’m trying to say to people is, AFLW is definitely a pathway into, and AFLW itself is a role as well.
Jack: And, taken COVID out of sight, but if you are in AFLW or VFL with the aligned clubs and potentially there’s not a crossover, is it worthwhile trying to help out? Like you said, you were trying to spend as much time as you could at Geelong. Put that to the side for a second, but do you think that’s the approach that you’ve got to take, to help out where you can in the other programs?
Luke: Absolutely. Yeah, it is. And again, I think, especially with staff cutbacks and things in the last two years. Everyone that’s working in footy departments, and in our area footy departments are pretty busy, so it’s also quite hard to then have interns that just want to stand by you and want to learn. You kind of got to show your worth as well and get involved and help out. That helps, to contribute.
Jack: It’s a good philosophy, isn’t it? You’ve got to give first before trying to take. And going back to your career, you mentioned Loris, who are some other people that have helped influence your career?
Luke: I’m really lucky. I’ve worked with a lot of, I guess, you call it high performance managers now, senior fitness guys. Loris was my first. With him was Chris Dennis, who taught me a lot about strength training. Loris taught me a lot about power. Actually, Loris taught me a lot. He was a great mentor and someone I bounced and learned a lot off. After the Сats, I was lucky enough to get a job. Do you know Сam Falloon? He’s a successful business guy.
Jack: He’s been with us.
Luke: Cam and I, we were at the Cats with Loris in 2006. That then ended and Cam got high. He was the head of fitness or whatever the role was called back then. And I was at the Western Bulldogs. Luckily enough, I formed a good enough relationship or whatever with him and he gave me my first full-time job at the Dogs at the end of 2006, so going into 2007. And Cam was a great boss, too. What I learned from Cam was being organized and he had a great mind for rehab and strength. So, Cam was a great role model and a great mentor as well.
After Cam left for Port Adelaide, I think in 2009 or in 2008, Bill Daverin was hired as Cam’s replacement in 2009. And so, I learned a lot of the technical stuff of S&C and rehab from the other guys. But then Bill came in. And Bill came from a coaching background. He’d been head coach at Triathlon Australia for, I think, 10 years, coaching medalists, gold medalist, Com Games gold medalists, Olympic. He had only experience in coaching. I’ve got a great relationship with Bill. Bill probably taught me the coaching and human side of S&C and building relationships with other people in a footy department, not being so compartmentalized with fitness and medical. So, Bill taught me the coaching side of things.
And then, I’m sorry, I hope I’m not skipping too far ahead here. Then, when I eventually got my current role at Richmond, I worked with Peter Burge, who’s a very successful ex-long-jumper and triple jumper. Pete taught me a lot about management, building relationships and how our role fits into a complete football program, and where the strength roll fits in. So, I’ve been really lucky. I’ve worked with a lot of different guys and they’ve all taught me something really important to make me the operator I am today.
Jack: That’s a good list of quality operators.
Luke: I’ve also worked with lots of other guys in the system and they taught me a lot as well. But they’re the main guys that played a role.
Jack: Relationships stood out to me throughout all of that. But what would be, for those listening athletes, as well as staff, some actionable things that you’ve implemented over your career, that you’ve learned off these guys that you’ve worked on to develop relationships? Obviously, being a good person is something that’s talked about a lot, but what are some things that you think to work on that area?
Luke: I guess I should go back. When I first started, I’d be very, ‘Fitness’s strength & conditioning is the most important thing in a footy club.’ I wasn’t really thinking too far outside. I wasn’t dismissive of other parts of the footy club, but I thought that S&C was the most important role and that we should be respected and all this kind of thing.
And it probably stopped me from opening my eyes up to other people that I worked with. We worked with some awesome doctors and physios. And that was my being naïve or maybe I was a little bit insecure in what I did, but I just didn’t really give people in those roles as much respect as I probably do now.
I’ve learned over time that you’re one little cog in a massive chain of cogs in a footy department. And everyone that’s there is really experienced and valuable and knows what they’re doing. And I’m a way better operator now for being like that. I hope that makes sense.
Jack: Yeah, absolutely.
Luke: The other thing is, like I think I mentioned before, I was quite shy when I first started in sport. And so, I just like winning, running, did my job, did my role and then got out. I think I’ve become better at embracing that footy, sport, you’ve got to treat it like a vocation more than a job. It’s part of your life and lifestyle. You spend so much time there and so much time with these people. I’ve become more invested in the people I work with and trying to spend more time, not just doing my job, but getting to know other people. I hope I mentioned this right. It’s past my bedtime, so I might be rambling a little bit.
Jack: Nah, it’s something that resonates with me, because I definitely have felt that, being shy as well. And you want to just own your role. And then, like you said, you can be insecure because you’re just trying to find your own way and be competent at your own specific role that that’s all you’re focusing on, is your own little cog. And then trying to be able to think a collaborative approach and more holistic laterally, as you grow, makes a lot of sense.
And what you said there, developing the relationship. I imagine you’d have different strategies to do that with different people, but is that things that you do within the club? So, making sure you get into the medical room, connect with the coaches in the corridor, or is that more something that you do outside of the work place?
Luke: It was a couple of things. So, at our club, we’ve got great communal area with coffee machines and catches. So it’s quite easy to roll into work, set your day up and go upstairs and spend 20–30 minutes talking to everyone upstairs.
Secondly, when we travel, like I’ve got two young kids, so when we travel and you’ve got your own room and own bed, the temptation is to down for the day. Go and get some sleep, get a good night’s sleep and rest. But I’ve probably learned over the last few years, it’s also a great opportunity, because everyone else is away from their family, to go on and hang out, get to know people. And you see a different side of people when they’re a bit more relaxed and not necessarily at the club.
And I suppose the other thing that I need to mention in relationships is with the actual athletes and players. This is something that’s changed a lot since when I first started. I think we’ve gone from a time when we were probably quite authoritarian towards players. This is how it is, and if they were doing something wrong, you’d kind of… And it probably took a little bit of prodding here from some people, management at club I work with now, but you’ve had to evolve. I mean we were said we work for the player, we don’t work for the clubs so much. That makes sense.
So, I’ve gone away from being that, whether it was authoritarian or not, but being someone that would yell at players, to someone who, if they aren’t doing the right thing, would try and be a bit more, build a relationship with them. So, if it ever came to the top point where you need to, it’s not disciplinary, but you need to say something, you kind of can as well. And I think it’s taken on better if you’ve got a better relationship with them. So, it’s not just staff. It’s all people at the club.
Jack: Invest in the people. And, like you said, football club is for the people.
Luke: And again, I guess it goes back to being shy as well. Like you go into a footy club, it’s pretty intimidating. And then there they’re, these big, strong football players and you feel a bit, you’re quite shy when you first start. Which you just can’t be like that and you have to come out of your shell. I think you’d get a way better result when you spend some time trying to get to know the guys rather than us versus them, if that makes sense.
Jack: A hundred percent. And what about from a strength & conditioning, if we nerd out for a second here, in terms of philosophy for the S&Cs listening? As you’ve mentioned, like Loris was quite ahead of his time with the power side of things and the game has changed a fair bit, but he was almost ahead by the sounds of it. So, you got exposed to quite modern day strength & conditioning, I guess, quite early in your career. But how have you found you’ve changed your philosophy? Both S&Cs, but also for footballers listening that don’t have access to S&C, how should a footballer the preparing for the game, do you think?
Luke: There’s a lot to unpack there. I’ll try and answer this the best I can. I think when I first started, what was it? 15–20 years ago. And still to this day, a lot of traditional S&C is influenced by the rugby union guys and their kind of work. Jason Weber was the guy who everyone looked up to when I first started, who was in charge of the Wallabies program. And that was seen as the way for S&C sports. And that stuff’s awesome and it’s awesome for rugby union.
Jack: With all the heavy lifting.
Luke: All the heavy lifting, which is awesome and what’s required for those sports. I guess how it’s evolved and I hope people can understand this, we’ve gone away, not completely away from that, there’s still an element, we still definitely do max strength lifting in our program. But we’ve gone away from lifting heavy three-four times a week.
And I guess my philosophy is I’ve changed from trying to get the guys strong and powerful and whatever is possible to has my program got these guys into great shape AFL, but also keep them injury free? So, it’s moved to more of a, I suppose, we do a conjugate program where we still do touch on strength in the first part of a week. But we definitely do a lot more dynamic work than what I would’ve done 10–15 years ago.
And the second part to that is I think, when I first started doing the S&C role at the Bulldogs, we had this philosophy where you’d spend all the pre-Christmas, smashing the guys with strength work or strength work and high perch, whatever their needs were. And then Christmas would come and then beginning of January, approaching games, and then you transition to doing power work, I suppose, you call it. So, it was a strength base switching into power.
And one thing that’s definitely changed from that angle is that we do everything concurrently now. I mean, day one, when they come back from their off-season, we’re doing speed training. We’re doing max strength training that week, we’re doing dynamic power work later in the week. And we bring it all up together, if that makes sense, rather than going strength, strength, strength, building the base, power. I’m not sure what your experiences are, but that’s what I’ve seen change over the years.
Jack: You’ve been in the industry for 20 years, so you’ve seen a lot, obviously, a hell of a lot more than me. But I learned that off Andrew Russell with his philosophy, which he sounds really similar in the sense of Loris. He was ahead of his time as well. And then talking about how you don’t want to detrain. That’s way worse, getting a huge gain in one thing, but then you’re losing it. And then the yo-yo effect, where you can just try and hold and develop all the qualities. Which makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? When you first hear it, the penny drops. You’re like, ‘Oh yeah, no shit.’
Luke: Yeah. The other thing that’s changed is the draftees that are coming in, and we’ll put a caveat on this because there’s been COVID, they’re way better developed physically than what they were 10–15 years ago. The guys that are doing programs at the the junior levels are doing a really great job. Generally speaking, COVID’s been really challenging for these kids coming into the program. They’re coming in, some guys are quite highly trained, but some guys are coming in that have hardly done anything for the last two years, neither played.
So, that’s another thing that’s changed. We’re probably not dealing with as many. I’d like to say, there’s 20-year-olds to 18-year-olds and there’s 15-year-olds to 18-year-olds. And we’re probably dealing with less nowadays. So, that’s changed for sure for the better. It allows you to get straight into performance stuff rather than spending too much time developing them. You still need to develop, of course, but that’s changed, amongst other things.
Jack: And what about where’s your stance or where do you focus? I would imagine there’s a bit of both, but are you trying to focus predominantly on developing capacities within athletes or is it more how they’re moving and their mobility, stability side of things with technique, do you think?
Luke: The whole department, probably it’s not just me. Bergie, my boss, he’s our boss. He spends a lot of time working which direction for each guy and what they need and where they’re really strong, what areas they’re strong in. And we do work collaboratively. We do like to work together on those things.
Me specifically, I’m more worried about strength or high atrophy. Do they need more time developing at a force development, or are they already that athlete and how do we maximize that? And a lot of it is also injury prevention stuff, on how they move, making them better movers, which we touched on, for sure.
Jack: And then what about like screening, the medical side of things? How much of that do you take into account in terms of their individualization?
Luke: We’ve gone away from the general movement screens, the FMSs and those kinds of things. They have their place for sure, but I’ve been doing this a long, long time, and I think I can watch a guy do a squat or duck under a hurdle, and pick up three or four things that we might be able to put into their injury prevention program from that side of things.
We don’t do movement screen per se. The medical guys have their own little medical screens, for sure. But from a movement point of view, we will get them marching over hurdles or going under hurdles or sweating in the weights room. And we can pick up little things that we can work on for sure. I think that’s just comes with experience.
Jack: So, training is screening for you. You’ll see the young boys come into the program or new recruits and you just integrate them into your program and you start to see how they squat and things.
Luke: Yeah. He squats and he doesn’t sink into his heel, he goes into his forefoot, he’s got a tight ankle or his hip’s gone. I think with time and experience, you can do those things as you go, for sure. Definitely going under hurdles, hurdles are a great exposer of movement, I think.
Jack: Okay. So, is that set up like a stick coming out of the rig or is that proper hurdle?
Luke: Yeah, proper athletes hurdles. We’ve got the guys going over them weekly or under them weekly as well. And you pick up a lot, you can learn a lot about them and how they are.
Jack: What are some big things, for the footballers listing, that you see? Some areas?
Luke: Classic AFL type, he has lower back, ankle problems, his shoulder problems. You can see them rotating. All sorts of stuff the longer we’ve got.
Jack: And then, let’s say hips, what would be some real bang for buck drills or mobility, tissue work, whatever it is, that you feel you get good return?
Luke: I’ll probably answer that by saying, this is a much bigger issue, but doing mobility is quite boring for AFL players in general, and flexibility and stretching and yoga and all that. It probably is for most people. Guys at the back end of their career, always say to me, ‘I wish I’d taken this more seriously when I was younger.’
A 22-year-old can play a game and be feeling pretty good two days later, without taking that much care of his body. I’m trying to make a bit of fun of this, but I would say to people who are listening, especially young players, not to neglect mobility and flexibility training in their program. But in conjunction with a good strength program.
Jack: And like you said, it is boring, particularly for the young, they don’t have the motive of pain driving them. So, is there any way to make it interesting, like with games and things, do you think?
Luke: I’ve seen them sitting on the beanbag, playing PlayStation at all sorts of hours. And then coming in and they’re great movers, but I say to them, ‘You know, at some point that’s going to catch up with you.’
I don’t know. It’s one of those things like doing a yoga or stretching session. It seems like an effort, but you always feel better after you do it. How you sell it to the players? I don’t know. It’s better when they’re self-driven to do it. But it’s one of those things, it probably has not changed in 15 years. You’ve got to coax them into doing it, which is really funny. I find that it’s really, really funny because it’s definitely going to help them. So, it’s a weird one. I don’t know what your experiences with that were.
Jack: Now going back into working with high school athletes and parents talking about it, they can’t touch their toes. And particularly because of COVID, a lot of Melbourne boys have spent a lot of time on Zooms and sitting down, and it’s not being their fault. But then now they’re coming back full activity and 14-year-olds straining their hamstring and lower back pain, knee pain, like basically adult stuff is popping up in our population. So, I was keen to pick your brain on it. I’m thinking about it, trying to find a solution.
Luke: I wish I had something for you.
Jack: It’s a tough one.
Luke: You know what I do. The guys, the older guys, they have kids. I get them to jump on YouTube and do yoga with your toddler. There’s some pretty cool, little fun yoga things for kids and good stretching. That’s one way I’ve tried to encourage some of the older boys do a little bit of yoga at home. But definitely it’s not something that they jumped to do, that’s for sure.
And it took quite a frustration with my boss Peter. He’s come from a track and field background. He knows the value of it, and, obviously, did a lot of it himself. And it’s totally been a bugger of his. He’s always gone through it more and have embraced it more. I’m not begging, our guys are terrific and everything. It’s just stretching can be a bit of a funny one sometimes.
Jack: But, for the footballers listening, it’s a good opportunity to get a bit of an edge, really. Because, like you said, it hasn’t changed much in 15 years at the top level. So, if it’s something you start chipping away at now and the general consensus is a yoga class a week.
Luke: In our program we structure our week. This time of year we have Wednesdays a day off. We train and do a main session on Mondays and on Tuesday mornings we do a I guess we call it a maximum strength lower session. And then we finish our day before a day off with a yoga or a big stretch together. We find that’s a good way to end that phase of the week before the day off. I’d love to think that they’re on their day off doing extras or every night they go home and do it. But I can’t say for sure. That’s what I do.
Jack: Gone challenges. What has been one of your biggest challenges, I guess, a growth phase? And what did you learn from it?
Luke: You mean when I first started?
Jack: Throughout your whole career.
Luke: Okay. Well, that’s an easy one to answer. It’s definitely last two years. And I’m sure you’ve found that yourself and probably a lot of people listening. I’m not going to talk from a personal point of view, but from a professional point of view, I didn’t even know that being stood down was a thing. When COVID hit and the League stopped and then, jumping on a Zoom, I didn’t know what Zoom was, but jumping on a Zoom and being told that you’re stood down and I’m thinking, “What’s ‘stood down’?” And then realizing I didn’t have any work. I had to learn pretty quickly.
And then you’d go and you know what it’s like. I’m sure not just working in sport, but working in sport you’re so busy all the time and you’re constantly working. And then going from that, and that was Round 1, so we’d just come out of a preseason. So, it was a really busy time of year. And then all of a sudden you’re waking up and you got nothing to do. I found that was all sorts of things. That was terrifying, really. And then the reality of how am I going to pay the bills and all that stuff as a secondary thing.
I had to find a way of how to keep myself busy. And I didn’t know, none of us knew when we were going to go back to footy and training. So, after wallowing in self-pity for a couple of days, I thought, ‘Well, how do I stay engaged with players and the staff?’ And we came up with some Zoom workouts, which weren’t really workouts. It’s more just jump on and have a laugh and have a bit of fun. And that was going on for 20 minutes.
So, it’s probably not helping anyone that’s trying to get into the industry, but that was my hardest time. The last two years has been, and it even probably evolves a bit into last year, which was really challenging too, from a sense that we were finishing games and not knowing when our next game was going to be.
And I like to be a very organized person and I have my whole year set out and programs ready. Not that I don’t change them, but all of a sudden I’m going from that to, ‘Okay. Well, I don’t know. We’ve played on a Sunday and we’re not finding out until Tuesday where we’re playing or when, who we’re applying and what day it’s going to be.’ And so, the time programming in that sense was really, really hard too. And you end up just programming the bare minimum and trying to tweak it as you went, because you just didn’t know.
So, last year I found really, really hard as an S&C, as a strength guy. That was really tough. I’m hoping this year is quite normal. I don’t want to jinx it by saying that, but so far so good. I found last year really, really challenging from a professional point of view.
Jack: And so, for the two challenges there, I guess the first one being stood down, like you said, out of the blue, completely out of your control. Were there any takeaways from that experience at all? Like if that time happened again, do you live a bit differently now or has it changed things? Or is it just that, because that was such an outlier, that you’ve just moved on with it?
Luke: From a personal point of view, it probably taught me the importance of routine and it probably taught me gratitude too. I’ve always loved my job and thought it’s pretty cool. But once it gets taken away from you, you think pretty quickly about how important it is to you. And you probably learn the things about your job that you don’t necessarily think about that are really important. Like routine and the social side of work and being organized to go to work. And, I don’t know if I mentioned that, but it was a bit of a headspin, wasn’t it?
Jack: A hundred percent.
Luke: Like I was working with the premiers to then thinking four or five days later, ‘Oh God, how do you get the doll?’ It’s pretty hard between the eyes and, fortunately, job came around and we were only out of work for, I think, eight or nine weeks. So, it wasn’t the end of the world. And don’t get me wrong, people suffered a lot more than me. But it was definitely an eye opener. Sport’s always been volatile and you always feel a little bit vulnerable anyway. But it probably definitely hit home how vulnerable you actually really are.
Jack: And then the second one, like you mentioned, you like to be prepared, organized, and you’ve got clarity on where you’re going with your phases. And then suddenly that’s blown out of the water and you’ve got to make these agile decisions, which you were making anyway, like you said. But now you’ve genuinely have to change everything for the given week. What about that from a practical point of view or philosophy or S&C side of things?
Luke: I guess I sat down and just thought, ‘Well, what’s the minimum that we can do?’ Kind of went with a minimalist approach to this in the gym with strength training. Because you could easily keep the program going and hit them pretty hard on, say, Tuesday after they set their game. And then who knows? You could’ve been playing three days later. So, you have to be prepared for again, any time. I hope that answers it. I went with just the bare minimum. What’s the minimum effective dose to keep those guys going as best as we can?
And again, to make things a little bit more complicated with the whole scenario, we were coming off a really, really shortened preseason. I’ve seen the guys being come back to after Christmas. Because we finished so late a year before. Yeah, the year before in 2020, we finished in late October. So, we only had a six week block before we were playing games.
There wasn’t a lot to work off, there wasn’t a lot holding everything up. Just to spend the whole year just thinking when it’s going to fall apart physically. And, fortunately, it didn’t fall apart. It wasn’t too bad. But it was tough. It was a good year, but it was a really, really hard year to do my job professionally.
Jack: We’re at the last part of the podcast and this part’s a bit lighter. It’s the fun personal stuff, the ‘Get-to-know-Luke’. So, which movie or TV series has impacted you the most and why?
Luke: I don’t know. I watch a lot of TV. I probably watch too much TV, especially the last two years. I don’t know. ‘Survivors’ is my favorite show. Make of that what you will. I love ‘Survivors’, I can watch that every night. It was on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I’ve done that three days a week. I don’t know. I don’t, honestly. My answer to that isn’t what you’re asking. I watch too much TV, which is probably complicated.
Jack: What about a favorite, inspirational quote or life motto?
Luke: This one as well, I’m not doing really well. ‘Aim for the moon. If you miss, you’ll hit a star.’ Think big and, if you miss, you’re still going to do a pretty good job. That kind of philosophy, the 80/20 rule. If you’re doing 80% of things well, you’re generally doing a pretty good job. And I think perfection doesn’t necessarily exist. Anything I’m doing, as a father or in my professional life, or as a husband, I kind of think, if I’m doing things pretty well, to the extent. I’m not too harsh on myself, like I used to be.
Jack: A hundred percent. That’s a good one. And what about, on the flip side, in your work life, what makes you angry? What are your pet peeves?
Luke: I’ve got a couple. Packing gym out, probably a common one, which you’ve heard. Our guys are pretty good. But at the end of a long week, and when there are programs in the afternoon, they’re going from strength to a coaching meeting, to whatever. So, often they’re rushing off. So, that’s one.
That’s not my biggest one. I hate when guys match different weights on the barbell. We’ve got some iron head ones, we’ve got some Technogym ones, and others. And I hate when a guy will use a small five Technogym plate and then on the other side, they’ll use a big iron-edged plate. That doesn’t look heavy. Those technobar’s having like a 10 kilo and then a 20. That doesn’t look heavy.
Jack: And in a COVID-free world, for these last two that is, a favorite way to spend your day off?
Luke: With my family. Working in sport, I don’t have a lot of time. When I do get a day with my two girls, I like to spend the day with the girls, try and do an activity, be a father. Which is a very different answer to what I would have told you 10 years ago.
Jack: That’s awesome, mate. And what about holiday destination around the whole world? Where would you love to go?
Luke: Well, New York, America. I love going to the States, I love American sport. I love the food over there. I can’t wait to get back over there at some point. I used to go quite a lot, for work and professional development, and for fun as well, for holidays. But it’s felt like ages since I’ve even been allowed to get over there. So, I’d love to get over there. Probably take my kids to Disneyland. That would be pretty cool, if they have the opportunity too.
Also, I’ve got a brother that lives in Ireland. I was lucky enough to go there for his wedding about seven or eight years ago. But I’d love to take my family there to see him too.
Jack: That’s awesome, mate. And you mentioned professional development. Obviously, you get a lot from career that you’ve had, like we said, up to 20 years, which is incredible in elite sport. What about outside of the walls? What are other ways that you go about developing your knowledge? Is it speaking to other people, giving them a call about any issues you’re having, or brainstorming? Or is it podcasts, articles?
Luke: It used to be traveling and meeting people and talking, or calling up people I used to work with. That’s obviously changed. Podcasts are great, a great learning tool. You can listen to some awesome coaches, The Strength Coach podcast, or your podcast, all sorts of podcasts are great. I try to read as much as I can. It’s quite hard with two young kids and a busy work life.
There’s all those things. It’s just keeping your mentors and talking through things and staying in touch with guys you work with. That’s kind of what it is. But definitely podcasts and learning that way has been good the last couple of years, when we haven’t been able to get away.
Jack: Thank you so much for jumping on, mate, and giving us the hour of your time. And also being so open and honest and upfront about what’s worked for you or your challenges, how you’ve overcome them, all the learnings that you’ve had from your mentors, as well as how your philosophies evolved. Really appreciate it. But what are you excited about for the rest of the year?
Luke: Being able to see family and friends again has been good. And, hopefully, things stay that way. And I’m just looking forward to, hopefully, a normal footy season. Where we’re locked in Perth for a week to play a game of footy or we’re going back to the MCG and it’s packed and things feel normal again. That’s what I’m excited about. And so far so good. And it’s looking promising.
Jack: A hundred percent. Well, fingers crossed, mate.
Luke: No worries. Thanks for the chat, mate.
Jack: Yeah, of course, mate. Thanks for coming on. If anyone wants to reach out or get in touch with you, is there a best place?
Luke: It’s probably LinkedIn. I’m not a big social media person, probably should be. But it’s LinkedIn you can find me on. That’s probably the one. I’m not sure if that’s great either, but that’s how you can reach me.
Jack: Okay. Easy. I’ll add it in the show notes. Thank you everyone that’s tuned in and listened to this episode. If you want to watch the recording, guys, head over to ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ in anywhere, any directory of podcasts. And we’ll have our next ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ live chat next Thursday with professor and sports scientists, Robert Aughey. You can tune in on Thursday, the 17th, at 8:30 PM. Well, see you guys then. Thanks again, Luke.
Luke: Thanks, Jack. Cheers, mate.
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.
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