Rob is an expert in the design, monitoring and interpretation of training and training load in athletes built over two decades as an applied sport scientist and coach.

He is currently a Sport scientist at Track and Professor of Sport Science at Victoria University. Prior to Track he worked at Western Bulldogs for 7 years and has supervised over 15 PhD students to successful completions, and has over 80 publications

Highlights from the episode:

  • Influencers in his early days
  • What he learned from his mentors
  • The Mind project, athlete tracking system
  • University partnership with football clubs
  • His fave quote

People Mentioned:

  • Russel Jarrett
  • Stuart Cormack
  • Paul Ford
  • Mike Mckenna
  • Kevin Ball
  • Fabio Serpiello
  • David Martin
  • David Pike
  • Matthew Inness
  • Rob Young
  • Cadel Evans
  • Aaron Kellett
  • Cam Falloon
  • Bill Daverin
  • Leon Cameron
  • Rodney Eade
  • Brad Gotch
  • Rob Duff



Listen: iTunesSpotify

Interview Transcript

Jack: Welcome back to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast. My name is Jack McLean. I’m the host. And tonight I have Robert Aughey on the show as our guest.

Rob is an expert in the design, monitoring and interpretation of training and training load in athletes built over two decades as an applied sport scientist and coach. Is currently a sport scientist at Track and professor of sport science at Victoria University. Prior to Track, he worked at the Western Bulldogs for seven years and has supervised 15 PhD students and also over 80 publications.

So, really looking forward to our chat. We’ll talk about the science side of things, but then also Rob’s got that balance between application as well. So, for all the coaches listening in, make sure to get your notebook out. 

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

Welcome, Rob. Thanks for jumping on, mate.

Robert: Thanks, Jack. Thanks for having me.

Jack: We’ll start at the very beginning of your career, mate. At what age did you discover you had a passion for sport science?

Robert: There’s a short answer and a long answer for that one, I guess. I think sport was prominent from a very early age. I knew pretty early on that working in sport was something that I’d really liked to chase. And it’s probably as early as first year of the university. Showing my age a little bit, but there were no sport science degrees available back when I studied.

So, I started in 1990, for example, my undergraduate education. I did a physical education teaching degree. And I don’t know if it was that sport was the thing that became really attractive or the teaching was really unattractive in some ways, like teaching high school kids or primary school kids. Love them, love being involved with them. Don’t want it as my job and no offense at all to the teachers out there. I know for some it’s a calling, it just wasn’t mine.

I had some family influences as well. Training was something that we talked about a lot. My dad’s a runner. He’s been a runner all his life, basically still competing at 85 years of age in athletics. And his side of the family were all involved in harness racing, the training of horses for competition. So, there were always discussions around training. And that was the thing that I was probably most interested in, the training of athletes, whether they were horses or people or whatever it was.

And I think that with a little bit of knowledge gained early in the undergrad, that was the time. So, it was first or second year of my undergraduate degree. It was like working in sport is where I want to be. I don’t want to be a teacher. But I want to get the knowledge from this course that I could then apply in a different way. So, that was the genesis of it for me. 

Jack: In the household. That’s amazing. And I have to ask, what’s your father still competing in? What events?

Robert: A whole range of events. They run at different distances in Masters Athletics. There’s 60 meter sprint, for example, there’s 600, there’s 1,500 et cetera. He was always kind of a middle-distance steeplechaser, or up to steeplechase a little and still doing it.

And my mum started athletics. I think it was about four, maybe five years ago. She’s turning 80 this year. Apologies, mum, for giving your age away. But she should be proud of it. She’d never competed in any sport at all her entire life and took up athletics at around 75 years of age and she’s won state championships in the last couple of years. I do tell her it’s because everyone else is no longer alive in her age group. And she’s sort of lived long enough to be successful, but no, that’s not true.

They’re an inspiration, I think, to my children as well. It’s great for my kids to see that their grandparents are actually competing in sport. It’s nice to come from that background where it’s normal, I guess. And a lot of kids don’t have that, which I think is probably a global problem and beyond the scope of today’s conversation. 

Jack: I’d love to know the dynamic, with all your knowledge of load monitoring, do you get involved with your parents?

Robert: Oh, no!

Jack: They’d be too old school to understand? 

Robert: Yeah. Maybe I’m a lot like my father, but I think he thinks he knows it all. We stay right out of that side.

Jack: But they’re still competing at 85 and the results that your mum’s got as well, so I think it’s working.

Robert: Yeah. It’s not all doom and gloom with their training, that’s for sure. 

Jack: And what about the horses side of things? Is that ever something that you’ve had interest with? Because, I imagine, for horses you can’t have any subjective, it’s all objective. 

Robert: It actually isn’t. I think it was always there. So, my dad’s cousins were heavily involved as trainers in harness racing. For me it was very interesting to process, but I’m a bit scared of horses. They’re 600 kilograms of animal with their own brain that might decide one day that they don’t like you very much. So, I stayed well away from them, so it was more just in the periphery there. 

Once a week, when I was a child, so 10 years of age, we’d go out to the farm, which was in Deer Park, in Melbourne, sort of right at the entrance to Caroline Springs these days. And over there, past where the farm used to be, my dad would help train the horses on a Saturday morning just because they loved it. And that was his release of getting out with the horses. And my brother and I were just hanging around, driving the car around the paddock and stuff like that, just listening and absorbing, I guess.

And again, I think that those conversations around training become normal conversations. They’re just something you’re exposed to all the time. It’s not a concept that, you know, as a university student, you suddenly start to hear around periodizing training. It’s just something that was always there. Talking about horses needing to freshen up, or this one needs a little bit more work than some of the others for it to response better. So, we were talking about individual responses of athletes without knowing we were talking about individual responses of athletes. So, it was just there and accessible, which was great. 

Jack: And for the students listening in, that maybe they’ve entered into a degree and it’s not quite resonating with them, like you mentioned, teaching just wasn’t quite flowing for you and you knew there was something in sport. What was your step at that point? Did you catch up with someone who was working in sport? Did you do a bit of your own personal research? Take us through how you approached that crossroads times.

Robert: It’s an interesting one. It was around some of the staff. Some of the staff at the university were involved in sport, at least on the periphery and probably more on the coaching side, to be honest. And then there were just, again, conversations. There were some students who were a few years ahead of me that I had a lot of respect for. Once I’d finished my undergraduate degree, I commenced the Master’s at the same university. Didn’t complete it, but that’s when I really got to know Stuart Cormack and Russell Jarrett really well, for example.

And they were certainly two of the really early influences on just having a really firm philosophy of training and what they were doing. They were working at St. Kilda Football Club at the time, or had been. And it was just that: now, we’re doing it this way because, here’s why we’re training in this way, and here’s why we don’t do that. So, really confident in what they knew and what they didn’t know, that was one of the big ones for me.

Then I was finding my way in. So, I was teaching in gym instructor type courses. It was called Vic-Fit back in the day. But then also teaching in level one strength & conditioning coach courses, the level two course, I think I taught in cycling coaching level one courses. So, just having a bit of physiology knowledge that could then be applied in those settings just broadens your network over time.

It wasn’t a clear path that I could see, that’s for sure. And it took a long time for that path to become clear. And I think these days, it’s probably easier, with the wide range of placements that are available to students, both at undergraduate and Master’s level. I think that the industry connections that nearly all universities who are active in this space, especially in Australia, have partnerships with the industry in sport.

None of that was really there when I was studying. So, it was a longer burn, but the passion was there and the interest was there. So, in second year of uni, I also started helping out with some of the resistance training teaching. They needed access to a gym, and I just happened to be working in a gym and could get them access at a local gym and they said, ‘Want to help out with some of the practical stuff?’ ‘Okay. Happy to help out.’

So, again, getting some practical experience of teaching adults, if you like, young adults definitely, and some of them were okay athletes as well. But just being in and around, showing them some things helped a lot as well with the passion. And like you potentially, and like many others, that strength & conditioning seem to be the path that I was most interested in. Just had no idea how to follow it at that stage.

Jack: So, you just jump at as many opportunities as you can and build your network base. 

Robert: Definitely. 

Jack: So, there is, like you said, with Pescara and there’s plenty of other specific courses that you can do to meet people and hone your craft. And you mentioned Stu and Russell. What about some other strong influences in your career early days? 

Robert: It was probably two of the lecturing staff who stood out. Paul Ford being one, who had different ideas on training to what I’d been exposed to up until that stage. So, he was quite challenging in a lot of ways, and probably still is, actually, probably still challenges a few. But for me it was really good to get a different perspective on training and really functional type training that can be done.

And then I had an exercise physiology lecturer Mark Forbrio. For those that know professor Mark Forbrio, you’ll know him as a brilliant medical researcher these days, but back then he was probably still dabbling in some triathlon. He’d been quite a successful age group triathlete in his time. And so, lots of conversations with him around training. And back then he was dead certain that he knew everything about training. I’m sure he’s softened over the years, as we all have. So, there were some really interesting conversations and perhaps even heated arguments that Stu and Russell and I would have with Mark around training. ‘You shouldn’t be doing it this way.’ ‘Well, why?’

I think that is as valuable as finding someone that their ideas resonate with you. I think that finding someone who has different beliefs is probably your biggest opportunity to actually grow and learn, because it forces you to actually think about your own position a lot more than you would have if someone just said, ‘Yeah, that sounds good. You’re doing the right thing.’ So, am I?

So, they were two at our MIT, where I did my undergrad and started the Master’s, that were pretty early ones that just got me thinking and in a really positive way as well. So, that was pleasant. 

And then it wasn’t until later on, when I got a job at Victoria University, but not anywhere near fitness or sport or anything like that. It was in a recreation leadership course. So, on the back of the job that I’d taken, when I decided that teaching wasn’t for me, after I’d finished my undergrad degree, I was employed at Northern TAFE in Melbourne basically managing two gyms, they had two gyms on different campuses, but also helping run on-campus activities for students. Trips away for students, all the fun stuff for TAFE students.

I didn’t think it was a dead end job at the time, but I certainly didn’t think it was going to lead anywhere worthwhile. But it ended up being the one that got me the job at VU, which enabled me to maneuver myself into where I wanted to be at VU. And that was the beginnings of conversations with my then head of school. He said, ‘Well, you need to do a PhD. You’re employed here at the moment. You’re lucky to be employed without a PhD. You need to get one. Go and talk to some of that other staff and see if you can find a supervisor and get started on that journey as soon as you can.’ Which was great advice. Very, very good advice.

And so I did, I started talking to some of the other staff. And with physiology being probably more of my interest, that led me to a few conversations. And one with professor Mike McKenna, who ended up being my PhD supervisor. He’s one of the leaders in knowledge on sodium potassium pumps in muscle, around the excitation-contraction coupling process in muscle. The way I recall our first conversation is that it went through for about 18 months, and it was Mike telling me everything I didn’t know about sodium potassium pumps. I’m sure that wasn’t the conversation, but that’s as I recall it.

And it was around ideas for studies and it was all the things that he’d like to do around sodium potassium pumps basically. And I’m just, ‘Aha, what are these things? How do they work? How do you measure them? What do you do?’ And so, it was literally starting at ground zero with my knowledge. And then right at the end of the conversation he dropped just this little thing, right in front of me, which was, ‘Ah, and the AIS wants to do some study on altitude and look at sodium pumps.’ And bang! That’s the one. Just perfect opportunity at the perfect time.

So, I begrudgingly studied around sodium potassium pumps for the link into the AIS. And that’s where the real heavy sport science influence started for me. Because Mike’s not a sport scientist, he’d never claimed to be one, but our project just dovetailed beautifully into the altitude work that the AIS had been working on. So, Alan Harn and Chris Gore being the two prominent ones, that just got taken under their wings. David Pyne was involved on the periphery. David Martin was involved on the periphery as well. So, just to have these brilliant sports scientists literally at your disposal.

And for those that know Dave Martin, for example, you can just wind him up and listen to him talk for a few days. David Pyne, quieter and more considerate, but just as knowledgeable. Alan Harn, just literally one of the fathers of sports science in Australia, pioneering work at the AIS. And Chris Gore different again, but very passionate about altitude, but also the quality of data that you’re collecting. Because Chris was running the lab standards, accreditation scheme as his day job, if you like, while being a brilliant altitude researcher on the side. So, he had crazy mind versus all the things known about sports science and physiology up until that point and rigorous data collection. And John Holly was the other one involved in the project as well.

So, a different perspective again, incredible high-class research team, that were, so, Mike my official supervisor, but each of the others unofficial supervisors for me during my PhD. I can’t even begin to think how much I learned over those few years, that I got to spend working closely with them and then collaborating with especially Chris on later projects as well. They were the ones that sparked ‘Yeah, sports science is the career that I want.’ Because I get to study and understand training in a depth that I’ll never have done as a practitioner, I don’t think. And I love the process. I really enjoy the process of questions asked, and then the process to try and answer it.

And at the beginning you might have a bit of an idea of where it’s going to go, but you really don’t know. It’s original research, it’s new information by its nature. And that’s exciting. That discovery of new knowledge, whether it’s incremental progression or whether it’s some quantum leap, don’t actually see in sport, but ok, some large leap, if you like, in knowledge or an area. It’s just exciting. So, yeah, that was the one. And if you’re not going to be inspired by that team, you’re in the wrong career, guaranteed. 

Jack: You’ve done well to put yourself in another great environment. Like you mentioned, your upbringing was influential, but, like you said, with timing and how hard you worked to get to that point, of course, and then you made the most of it.

And in that environment, is that where you started to see Australia start to shift, where we started to be world-renowned for sports science?

Robert: I think we were probably already there. So, that was around 1998. So, the beginning of me being up at the AIS and then the lead up to the Sydney Olympics. We were running a major altitude study in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics. So, just being in and around the AIS, because I’d spent weeks there at a time when we were running the study, was just an incredible place to be. And then it wasn’t just the physiology staff, of course. You’ve got the biomechanics staff, you’ve got the coaches that are coming through, the athletes that are coming through various training camps and testing in the lab space.

The way that it used to work in that department is that you’re absolved into the department as a staff member effectively. So, yes, you’re running your project and you’re doing your stuff, but you’re actually asked your opinion on things in a legitimate way and able to give an opinion, if you feel like you’ve got something to add. And I think that that was almost certainly Alan’s influence on the whole department, just genuinely caring man, that was really just interested in learning and interested in mentoring people, so that they could grow as well. So, just super exciting place to be. 

Jack: And from a workload point of view, for those interested in doing their PhD in elite sport, how do you manage that? Like you mentioned, obviously it’s a great opportunity to get that work experience and for people to ask about how to apply the science and helping out the environment for performance. But obviously that’s also taking your time and energy away from your research. So, how did you get that, I guess, balance is probably the wrong word, but how did you manage? 

Robert: Some would argue I didn’t manage it particularly well and that my PhD took longer than perhaps it should have. And as a supervisor now, I could understand the frustration of my supervisors at the time. 

Jack: Would it be about double, do you think? Have you seen those done in high-performance sport? 

Robert: Doesn’t have to be. I’ve supervised some that have been able to finish on time or even slightly early, would you believe? Whether they’re part-time on their thesis and they get it done in full-time equivalent, if you like. So, instead of having three years, you’ve got six years, if you’re part-time. Or those that managed to study full-time and work full-time, whilst they were doing it. 

Matthew Ennis is a great example of the Western Bulldogs, that managed to get his PhD done on time, whilst working full-time and being a dad to a couple of kids. There’re ways of doing it.

And Stu Cormack, to go back to one of the early influences on me, did his PhD whilst working full-time and decided to have another crack at judo after having some time out and dropped a couple of weight divisions, I believe, to fight at nationals, whilst working full-time at West Coast while doing his PhD. That’s crazy.

Jack: How many hours do they have in a day?

Robert: How many months in the day, I think, for some of these people? It’s the ultimate reality check when you think you’re busy and then you meet someone and you go, ‘No, I’m not busy. I could fit a lot more in.’

It’s really hard. The way that our industry based PhDs work is that we typically want them to have some servicing role in the sport or the team that they’re engaged with. One is that they’re going to understand their data a whole lot better. They’re going to understand the questions of coaches a whole lot better. Directly going to be able to feedback to coaches and get more coach buy-in, which is critical, if you’re running research projects in an applied setting. And it just makes it more valuable for both partners. So, whether it’s the VIS or whether it’s a sport at the VIS or at one professional team or a league or whatever it is, you have to add value and PhDs can be a slow burn sometimes. So, for them to be able to give daily value becomes critical to that relationship working. 

There’s no great answer on it. I think that you need a really good person at the industry end, who understands at least somewhat the process of a PhD, whether they’ve done one themselves or not, they at least understand the process. They understand there’s going to be busy times on the student from the research end. But it’s just managing that whole interaction. And I think we’re getting better at it as well, as a lot of people in Australia now have been involved with having a PhD student at their club or in their environment. So, they’re more used to the ebbs and flows of activity and how it can work.

You have to speak the language of sport. You have to be kind of invisible there. You don’t want to be the one sticking your head up above the parapet and offering more than you should. Know your place and know your role as the student and have good industry support for it as well. And a good industry understanding of what’s realistic and what’s not. 

Jack: And from Matthew and Stu, what did you draw on those guys to increase your productivity? What was some sort of standout? 

Robert: Well, Matty was well after I’d finished mine. I think it’s just seeing the work ethic and seeing them challenge themselves in ways that aren’t quite normal. Like Stu dropping weight to fight in a lower weight division, whilst still actually being active and his brain working properly and being able to do his day job. Just how they actually day-to-day do that and manage that.

So, Matty was inspirational in that… And I don’t think he’d mind me saying that, he’s not necessarily a natural student. He’s very, very much in the applied camp. But he engaged with the PhD process and just worked his butt off with it. He really, really put the effort in. And if you’re organized and you put the effort in as a PhD student, you’re two-thirds of the way there, really.

There’re certainly things, that just watching how they just continue to focus on achieving that goal, is impressive. And that’s certainly something that I’ve tried to apply in various forms in life. 

Jack: You’ve helped successfully complete 15 PhD students. So, obviously work ethic is huge and making the most of every day. And, like you said, it can help from a motivation point of view by having another purpose outside of the PhD to help with the monotony. But you also mentioned support and how important that is from the workforce and, I guess, having empathy, because they’ve done it before.

Is it something that you think students need to communicate on how they’re going with their support team? Or is it more on the support staff to have the awareness that he’s doing his PhD, she’s doing her PhD, and to check in with them and have a formal weekly meeting or monthly check-in, whatever it might be?

Robert: I think it probably depends on the personalities of the people actually in each of those roles. But certainly it’s like working with athletes. You want those conversations on how your athlete is coping with the load, right? That’s one of the most important conversations that you can have with your athlete. It’s the same with people that work for you in a team setting or whether it’s a PhD student that you’re supervising.

I don’t think I’ve always got that balance right. I think there’s been times where students have been scared to come forward and say they’re struggling. Until things become obvious that they’re struggling and then it becomes, ‘All right. Let’s put this back together. And try and put things in place and try and get it back on track.’ And that’s a natural thing for, I think, pretty much every PhD student who has ever done one, but there’s times when it looks like the wheels are falling off, things aren’t working.

In my own PhD, it was doing biochemical analysis on muscle samples with no biochemistry formal training in anywhere in my undergrad or anywhere else. So, starting from scratch effectively in that, and then things not working literally sometimes for months. So, months of troubleshooting on one essay to measure one thing in muscle, that we actually never got working properly and it didn’t feature in my PhD at all in the end. And to this day, I still think it was probably the most exciting part. It was around calcium regulation in muscle. But we just couldn’t get there. And then, unfortunately, we had that catastrophic failure and lost the samples. So, the samples are gone. Can never be got again, unless we replicate the study, which I don’t think we’ll be doing that.

There’re certainly times when things go horribly wrong, like in any work setting. Sometimes you’re running a project and things just go wrong. So, having that open conversation with people around you that can help, is just critical. And I’d like to think I’ve got better at that. I can be a hard taskmaster at times, I think so. Hopefully, I’ve softened a little bit in my old age. 

Jack: No doubt, mate. To help that many people to get such a hard feat. And it is a hard challenge to take on, like you said. Like an athlete trying to pursue high performance and being in that peak condition, no different to someone trying to peak that feat from an academic point of view.

Going back to your career when you were at the AIS. You were seeing the applied side of things and you’ve done some coaching, which we’ll get into in a second. But did you know at that point that being a professor was something in the cards for you, that you were wanting to work towards?

Robert: No. I’m not sure anyone who starts in academia thinks that they’re going to be a professor one day. I think that’s a little bit like my mum and her athletics. If you live long enough, you’ll eventually get there, working in academia.

No, for me it was around that applied things still. I actually started coaching cyclist, whilst doing my PhD. So, having that exposure to really good quality athletes that we had as participants, there was one that I jelled with quite well. And we sort of just kept having conversations around training. And it got to the point when he’d finished in the project, and it was like, ‘Well, would you like to coach me?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve never coached a cyclist before. I’m happy to have a go.’

And we started then. I think we worked really well together and he was a great responder to altitude training, which I think really helped. And it was something that we were able to go back to a few times. I don’t know how many mistakes I made in the coaching of him as an athlete. But I reckon I learned as much from him as he did from me. And we’re still on good terms today, which is a good sign.

So, that was Christians Norrison. And he was a really great one to work with, because he’d ask questions, but he’d also follow the training. So, once we agreed on the training, he’d follow it. He was diligent with it. He’d give feedback on how it felt or what he thought was missing in and so on. So, that was a really enjoyable process for me. And he’s had some success. And when one athlete has some success that you’re coaching that often brings others that want to be coached as well. And it kind of snowballed for a while.

I liked coaching a guy called Rob Young, who was quite entrepreneurial and still is actually. And, in fact, I’ve gone back to coaching Roberts. He was a master athlete, perhaps he’s a master coach these days, I don’t know. He was looking at starting a professional cycling team, which he did. And so, he had a professional cycling team. I think they were Australia’s first professionally registered continental team. Before the National Road Series existed in Australia, where there’s a bunch of teams these days.

And we won the Oceania UCI Championship in our first year there and had some brilliant riders. Rob McLachlan, Barcelona Olympian who hung the bike up for a number of years and decided to come back to cycling strong as an ox and could climb, when he shouldn’t have been able to with the size of him. Just an incredible athlete. Second at Australian National Championships behind Robbie McEwen, green jersey winner at the Tour de France. A select group of four riders at the end, which included a guy called Cadel Evans who got dropped from that group.

Things like that were just really exciting. I actually thought cycling coaching was probably the path I was going to go down. And I did apply for a job at a state Institute of Sport as a cycling coach and got down to the last two. Didn’t get it in the end, which is fine. That happens. It happens a lot. That’s probably another good message for people. Don’t be too put off when you miss out on jobs, because you can only control the process that you put into applying for that job. You can’t control the quality of the other people that are applying and you certainly can’t control the decision that’s made. So, that was an early learning there.

And then I just kept going with coaching. And there was an opportunity to coach in South Korea for a short period of time, which nearly again led to full-time employment over there. But I was at a point where I needed a full-time secure gig and the academic jobs were the ones that I landed. So, I sort of simultaneously landed one at Trinity College in Dublin of all places. Just a beautiful, beautiful old university and, of course, a beautiful town. But also at University of Canberra at the same time.

I took the Australian option, which was a better fit with family life and other things at the time. So, I guess that one out at the time. And then it was ways of trying to integrate the two. So, using the academic role and cycling coaching as a consultancy type proposition for the university and so on. Which I continued to do until I got the job at the Bulldogs. And that was the end of the cycling coaching for a few years.

Jack: Thanks for sharing. It goes to show that in our industry it’s helpful to have a few different experiences to lean on, like that happened for you early on. And you continued taking on these opportunities. And, obviously, there’s a lot of work that goes into that, but it’s the thing that helped you, like, when you said, from a personal point of view, you needed a full-time work and when it wasn’t flying your way with high-performance sport at that particular time due to competition, you could lean on your academic side, which is, if you didn’t have that, it makes things quite stressful. 

Robert: Yeah, very.

Jack: Is that one of the reasons why you’re quite strong on PhD students getting work experience as well and getting involved? 

Robert: It’s critical for them. But it’s partly because I want to help mentor people that are working directly in sport, because the passion for me is still direct in high-performance sport. So, I get to live vicariously through PhD students and projects that we do these days, rather than that hands-on side necessarily. Although, I have recommenced coaching cyclists. So, it’s probably a function of wanting to do that, but also just the projects that I’m interested in.

I want to do projects that actually have an application. So, I’m certainly not a bench top scientist, if you like, that’s into knowledge discovery for the sake of the knowledge. For me seeing it applied and applied as soon as possible in the professional or the elite sporting environment, that’s the bit that’s enjoyable to me. I guess that’s where I see the value added to coaches and others, or people like me in that sports science role. That’s what we’re striving to do, is to make the process a little bit better, to get better results, ultimately. So, I get to do that across multiple sports these days, which is nice.

Jack: And on that for a second, understanding both perspectives. What do commonly those that are coaches get wrong with the science and then, conversely, what are the scientists that haven’t had experience in sport potentially get wrong with understanding the coaching side of things? 

Robert: Oh, ‘wrong’ is a hard word, Jack. Maybe, some room for improvement, things they could work on. So, I think some of the things that I’ve seen with coaches and that’s having been, as I said, working on the periphery through supervising students across pretty much all the football codes, not Gaelic or NFL, but certainly in Australia all the football codes, there’re coaches who don’t want to know. So, they won’t allow the science to actually influence their day-to-day running of things.

And that’s not necessarily the fault of the coach. There’re incredibly knowledgeable coaches out there that do know from doing and that the science is going to add maybe a tiny bit to what they do, but it might interrupt the way that they think or the way that they operate too much for them to be able to implement it. So, just having an idea on something that could be done differently that might work doesn’t mean that it’s actually feasible to introduce it into an environment.

So, I think the coaches who aren’t willing to embrace an idea and, I guess, take a risk. And that also is understandable because it’s not usually the sport scientist that gets sacked with a win-loss record. It’s the head coach that would get sacked. There’s more skin in the game for them in a lot of ways with the whole process. So, that is the frustrating one at times, where you just think,’Oh, if only we could do this, that and that, I think it would be a lot better and we’d get better outcomes.’

But again, as sport scientists, we only know our area, right? We are not going in there and, especially when I’m working in football, I’m not going there as a football expert by any stretch of the imagination. So, to assume that I know better, I think, is a really dangerous thing. I certainly know my area better than anyone else at the club and rightly so, that’s fine, they employed me. But to think that I know better than all of the others involved in putting the program together, I think, is a pretty arrogant view. And that probably answers your second one around sports scientists, is that arrogance that you think that you know everything around the sport and that you could do the whole thing and those that crossover into becoming the coach when they shouldn’t.

And I’ve certainly seen examples of that happening. It’s the same old thing. You don’t know what you don’t know. So, just be very careful with that. Play your role certainly and have challenging conversations, but have them in a respectful way in the right environment at the right time. A challenging conversation with a coach around a process is not one that’s held in front of players, for example. Or even other coaches. You know, it’s a one-on-one and it’s a, ‘Hey, how about?..’ So, how you approach it, where you do it and when you do it.

And I think that it’s natural, when you enter an environment like that as a young person, that has some expertise, because you wouldn’t get your foot in the door otherwise, you think you can add a lot of value by pushing, pushing, pushing. And I think a lot of the time you’re actually much better off doing the bit that you’re meant to do. And in the background, knock yourself out, work on the data any way you want and look for patterns and look for ways that things could be done better. But until that idea is concrete in your mind, it stays in your mind. It’s not one that’s shared with others.

Jack: Yeah, hold on for a period of time. And in your experience in those situations, do you, like you said, give it a bit of time and let it digest within yourself and then would you go to a colleague and talk shop for a bit? Or do you feel, once you’ve digested it and you’ve filtered what’s relevant, and then you would chat with the coach?

Robert: Certainly in my experience in the AFL my relationship was closest with the high-performance manager. The way that it was structured in the time that I was there is that I’m working directly with the high-performance team, if you like. So, it was a conversation with them.

And I had a variety of people that I got to work with in my time at the Bulldogs. So, Aaron Kellett was in the role initially, for example, then in Cricket Australia now for a number of years. Cam Falloon was next and you’ve had Cam on the podcast, body fit training these days. 

Jack: Aaron’s coming on in a couple of weeks as well.

Robert: Excellent. Getting the band back together. And then post-Cam was Bill Gavrin who came in with a non-football group background in a lot of ways and challenged a few things. And certainly challenged me with simple questions, which can be the most dangerous ones sometimes. So, I think that just having those people that you can talk to directly at the right time, again, in the right way. And, hopefully, they’ve got an open mind as well, and they’re happy to be challenged and happy and open to have discussions about it as well.

Which isn’t always the case. Like you can have arrogant sport scientists, you can have arrogant high-performance managers, who’s like, ‘You know, that is my program. We’re doing it my way. Here’s the report.’ And I’m not saying those people I’ve mentioned are like that, by the way. So, it’s a tricky one. It’s a really tricky one. But that would be my first port of call, it was always high-performance manager. And early on we had a sports science committee where we had some assistant coaches on it as well.

And again, in my experience in AFL, the development coaches were the ones most interested in the application of science and had the most open minds as well. It was a really interesting, just viewing, I guess, the AFL community. There were often people that weren’t long out of playing. They’ve got those development roles, which was interesting in itself. I know it’s good to have some knowledge and some currency of players that are just out of the game at your club, but I don’t think it necessarily makes them a development coach, which is very much a teaching role, as I see it.

And then others who really were more of that teaching mindset. So, Brad Gotch was one early and then Simon Dalrymple, both of the Bulldogs. They were the ones that I think I had the best sport science conversations with. Some of the other assistant coaches early on. Chris Bond was another really good one, for example. They were really prepared to dig into it and listen and try to absolve. And they just challenged a little bit themselves, even Leon Cameron when he was at Bulldogs as well.

So, there was kind of a structure and a hierarchy of ways of doing it. And early on, it was Rodney Eade as head coach and things got to rocket army, if we really thought it was something worthwhile. 

Jack: It is a unique working environment and for new sport scientists going into that environment for the first time, you mentioned the importance of understanding when to speak to the coach and understand the hierarchy of where you sit in things and who to communicate with. Is it a matter of, going back to what you’ve mentioned before, don’t just react straightaway when an idea comes to your mind, just sit with it for a little bit longer? Do you think that’s important? 

Robert: Really important, so that you’re actually clear in your own thoughts. And the worst-case scenario is when you’re asked a direct question by someone that perhaps you should be speaking directly with, perhaps you need to share your opinion with others in the first place.

So, as I say, I worked closest with the high-performance staff. So, if I was asked a question around performance, that was a conversation that they had to be in, because that’s their role more so than mine even. So, it was really important not to overstep and throw them under the bus inadvertently or whatever. It’s fine to disagree with them behind closed doors and come out with a united voice, but really tricky one.

Coaches aren’t even the worst ones at the football club. And no offense to all the board members at football clubs, but they are by far the worst ones to ask you questions. Because they are highly successful people usually in their own fields. They’re not used to someone saying no to them, for a start. They’re used to having quick answers on things and they’re madly passionate supporters.

So, when you pour all of that together, it is an absolute recipe for disaster engaging with a board member in the stairwell or whatever. Best avoided at all costs and not always easy as well. Just do not engage. Deflect at every opportunity. Cost someone their livelihood by answering a simple question.

Jack: On that with challenges, what has been a challenge that stands out or comes first to mind that you had the biggest personal or professional growth from?

Robert: Probably even as recent as the work we’re doing with FIFA. So, I worked with FIFA around the accuracy of athlete tracking systems broadly. There’s been so many challenges in that pathway from literally the day that we started that I think it’s really made us as a group, and I’m just one part of the group there, that we’re really good at troubleshooting on the spot. We almost have in the back of out minds now things that could go wrong and partly that’s from experience.

But when you’re taking a laboratory equipment out into the field in bright sunshine with Vicon cameras and having a 30 by 30 meter test area with 40 cameras and people running around outdoors on the ground, who’s about to turn sprinklers on, ordering you off the pitch. Often the work’s done in another country where you don’t speak the language, so you’re trying to communicate with the participants that you’ve got. They need to run in a certain way in certain drills, whether it’s a circuit or a 2v2 or a 5v5, you need them to go fast at times, just being able to communicate. And, thankfully, we have some Spanish speakers in our team where we’ve done some of our work in Spain. But just all of those things coming together.

We were the one that was selected by FIFA to get the gig, but the first challenge was actually getting there and pitching to them. So, the process as it worked was I got an email from someone at FIFA and Nicolas Evans, who we’ve got a really great working relationship with now. And it was, ‘Would you be interested in putting a proposal in, if we went down the path of trying to do a stadium-based tracking system test?’ ‘Yeah, of course.’ He said, ‘You’ve been recommended to us by a couple of members of our expert panel.’ One of whom I’d met before, one of whom I’d only conversed with once or twice indirectly through potentially some other projects.

So, that was nice, but then I flew to Zurich. And one of my colleagues, Fabio, that we spoke off-air about briefly earlier, he was on Sabbatical in Italy. So, he drove up with his wife and young child and met me in Zurich. And we pitched to FIFA for five hours getting absolutely grilled on what we’ve put together. And part of what we were pitching was the ideas that Sam Robinson had brought at the last minute. So, we were making changes to our presentation. Sam wasn’t available, so we couldn’t even speak to him directly to answer some of the more detailed questions.

So, thinking on your feet confidently enough, when you’re not that confident, was probably the biggest challenge in an environment where we thought, ‘Okay, this is a pretty big stage now.’ My initial thought was, ‘If we can land this, we can keep doing this work and it’s going to lead to a lot of other work for us as well.’ But yeah, the scope of it became clear pretty quickly, that the solution that we pitched, we actually had no idea if it was going to work or not, really, because we’d never tried it on that scale.

And FIFA recognized that, thankfully. And we were able to put in a pilot testing phase, which we did at Melbourne’s what’s now Marvel Stadium, before doing a proper test event there. But that was the ultimate challenge in terms of pitching. It’s really a business case, you’re almost a startup in a room with investors, if you like. And Pete pitching a half-assed idea that you think is going to work, and it sounds like it should work, but we actually don’t know if it’s going to work.

So, I didn’t get much sleep on the plane, worked pretty much the whole way over and was awake at 3:00 AM before pitching to them at 9:00 AM for five hours. And Steve Palmer who worked at the English Premier League was one of the members of the panel. They’re deciding and, apparently, I’d said a number of times, ‘Oh, we’re confident this will work.’ He didn’t say a word for the first three hours. And then he said, ‘Right, Rob.’ And he locked his gaze on me and he can burn holes through you with his gaze.

He’s a very smart guy, a former player, Oxford educated, I think it’s Oxford, but might be Cambridge. Apologies, Steve, if you’re listening. But just a very clever guy. And he’d been taking every single word in when I’m stuttering over things, trying to go through the presentation, because I was only half awake at that stage. ‘So, you’re confident this will work? Oh, so you think this will be okay?’ And it’s just, when I walked out of there and I said to Fabio, ‘I don’t know. I think we might’ve blown it.’

And I had a plane out of Zurich that afternoon, so it was literally a one night in Zurich trip. So, they’d asked the whole load of questions and part of, I guess, that work ethic bit really kicked in. We had our head of school, a crazy Spanish guy, Alfonzo, who was brilliant for us for a short period of time at the VU. And I remember him saying to me in conversation that when you’re working with industry, you’ve got 48 hours to get back to them on something or else you’re done. Just done. Don’t even bother, if you’re later than 48 hours. You’re dead to them. They’ve moved on. They found someone else who can do it.

And so, a whole bunch of questions that FIFA had asked us and quite rightly so, because our idea was, it was out there in terms of what we were pitching to them. But then their brief demanded that that was our response to it. We’ve since worked out that the brief wasn’t the right brief, but it was the one they needed at the time to work out where we’ve got to now.

And so, I basically worked and I had some email on the plane on the way home. I was sending emails to all the boys at home in the team, asking them questions, trying to get papers to support what we were saying. And so, FIFA had a 10 page response to questions asked within 48 hours, basically. So, say, Friday afternoon I left Zurich, by Monday morning Melbourne time they had a 10 page response to questions asked.

And I think that showed to them that we’re actually quite serious about this, that we do know our stuff, we can respond, we’ll do things in a timely fashion. And you get one chance at that first impression. And especially with an organization that big, with that reach of 200 plus member associations and running the World Cup amongst other things.

So, work ethic got us through rather than brains on that occasion, I think. Brains probably got us in the door and our reputation, but it was the ability to actually respond and for FIFA to say, ‘You know what? You’re the only people that actually met the brief.’ Such was their crazy brief of doing it in a stadium with full games and tracking every player simultaneously to get some sort of a gold standard. It’s actually impossible. But we pitched them something that was a good first step, which led to the rest of our work with them.

And that was just one of the challenges. First time in Spain doing a test event at a FC Barcelona. And half of our equipment didn’t get released from customs. So, we had to come up with plans B, C, D, E, F, G on the ground on the spot. Literally going around Barcelona, purchasing new equipment on the work credit card, hoping that the limit was satisfactory, that that would be achievable. And again, we made it work somehow.

I think it was the strength of the applied nature of the team. So, Grant Toughy, Kevin Ball, Sam Robinson, myself, are used to being in that high pressure sport environment where you have to think quick and you have to respond. And for the next three days, we’d go back to the hotel about 10:30 at night, have dinner and literally debrief for about three hours, working through solutions to the problems of that day. And we had five days of testing, and I think probably by the afternoon of the fourth day we were happy with where it was at.

But it just took an enormous effort and brilliant applied minds in that setting. It’s not just enough to be a good scientist. You have to be able to apply that in a stadium environment, which is not easy to do. Those challenges, I think you get there on adrenaline, but also having a bit of calmness around the group. That you don’t panic necessarily, you can be stressed, but you don’t panic and you work through it and find a solution.

Jack: Wow, that’s an impressive feat that you guys went through. You’ll be mates for the rest of your life, no doubt, sharing these stories that you guys shared on this journey. 

Robert: If you buy the Spanish wine shared over the journey as well, that helps. 

Jack: Absolutely. And how is the project going now? It’s five years in, is that right?

Robert: Yeah. So, we’re the Test Institute for FIFA at the accuracy of athlete tracking systems. So, that’s the main project that we’re involved with. We’re also doing some testing around virtual offside line that FIFA want to use in the World Cup this year. And I think we’re as of today about 37 days away from our next test event where we actually test the accuracy of that as well.

So, that’s optical-based systems that can do limb tracking. Because, obviously, they’re the scoring parts of the body in football or soccer, as we know it probably more so in Australia. And so, any scoring part of the body, you need to know the position of that relative to the second last offender and when the ball was kicked to determine offside.

And at the moment, if you need to go to the video referee, the process takes too long. So, they want an almost real-time solution, which some of the optical product providers may well be able to do for FIFA with enough accuracy that it’s actually worthwhile. So, that’s the next challenge really for us. 

Jack: How automatic do you think it will be? Is it something within five seconds? 

Robert: Yeah, it is. It’s quick enough that, the idea is that the ref would then get some communication on the watch or the headset or whatever it was, that, ‘Oh, no, that was offside’. Or ‘That wasn’t offside.’ Or whatever the case may be. So they’ll let play go. And if it’s offside, they can bring it back.

But it needs to be written into the rules of the game as well. So, the testing and the change of the rules of the game needs to happen before the World Cup this year, or else they won’t be able to use it. So, there’s again a bit more pressure coming. 

Jack: Literal game changer. 

Robert: Yeah. So, there’s a whole bunch of projects that we’re now working on with FIFA that came from delivering early on those first ones.

Some other’s around what normal player behavior looks like. So, looking at match event and tracking data. Trying to get literally seasons’ worth of data from some professional leagues to try and come up with a template of what football actually looks like. That’s one that can be used in all variety of ways down the track. So, that’s a nice big project, that’s just been on hold a little bit during the pandemic. Just access to data and other things that we’re trying to ramp up concurrently with the other stuff that we’re doing as well. 

Jack: Just to throw another challenge in.

Robert: Never a dull moment, that’s for sure.

Jack: That’s impressive work. So, once the test is done in 37-days time, is that the final screening or is there another one? 

Robert: That’ll be it, but our results will take a little bit longer than a day or so. Actually, we haven’t agreed on a timeline yet. So, I’d better not say how long it would take. I might be wrong, but the pressure will be on to get it done quickly. 

And partly because we’ve got another test event for the accuracy of tracking systems. The generic type project we’ve been doing with them for a number of years scheduled for the end of May in Spain as well. So, we need to get the virtual offside line one finished before we move on to the one at the end of May. So, there’s a constant stream of things, which is nice. 

Jack: And with the current climate of the world, if ever, do you have to consult remotely to be able to get some of this project off its feet?

Robert: Yeah. So, the first phase of the virtual offside line testing last year was done in Manchester. We weren’t able to travel, so that data was collected for us. There’s just a whole lot of things that need to be done absolutely perfectly in that outdoor environment with Vicon cameras. Some little things weren’t done as we probably would have done them. And we did have a full playbook on this, exactly how it should be done. But you have people on site, that make changes as they need to, and as they’re experienced in doing on site, so that’s created some problems at the analysis end for us. 

So, that was the first one. And then the second one was the performance tests of the accuracy of tracking systems, which was done in Sevilla in August, I think. Yes, August. And that’s the one that we’ve literally just finished. Again, contracted out the Vicon capture. So, the three-dimensional motion capture systems were used and just, again, the data’s not quite as we would have had it. Which then means that our processes on the exact way that we collect it and then process it is, well, quite reasonably streamlined, still incredibly labor-intensive. But it’s just ended up being a lot more labor-intensive than the normal.

Us and FIFA, I think, have realized that it’s not ideal to subcontract that part out. It’s actually better and cheaper in the long run to actually fly us over and we do it, than have someone else that’s based in Europe do it, at this stage at least. So, yeah, we tried, it didn’t quite work. But we got there as good as we could, with what we had to work with. And so, yeah, we move on. 

Jack: And the relationships that Victoria University has with these high-performance sporting clubs like Western Bulldogs. Why do you think other clubs don’t have that relationship? Clearly, it’s been successful for Western Bulldogs with their premiership success, once the program had started. And, speaking to students that have done the cadetship, they get a lot from it. So, it seems like everyone’s winning with that partnership. 

Robert: I think most teams have some sort of a partnership with a university, probably not to the depth and breadth of the Bulldogs to VU one. I think that most clubs have access to something, from whether it’s one or multiple universities. Well, professor Mike McKenna, who was my PhD supervisor, as I mentioned earlier, was actually a former Bulldogs player as well.

So, there was a passion there on the VU side of really driving it at our end. Which then drives it up through the hierarchy of the university and ultimately having the vice chancellor as someone who recognized our strength in sport, but also the potential of a local partnership that could really cement that Footscray region. They’re the things that need to be in place.

As a university we’re a small university compared to a lot, we’re not a Group of Eight university. We’re not University of Melbourne that has strength and expertise across a whole range of different areas. We have defined areas of research, strength and sport being one of them for VU. One I say, not the only one. So, it just fitted really well with us.

We also had a chancellor who was the former board member of the Western Bulldogs. So, there was top down, as well as bottom up and hitting in the middle somewhere, I think, made it work really well. And then, again, work ethic and people like Cam Falloon being open, because Aaron wasn’t really there long enough for us to put a lot of things into a play. But Cam being there for a couple of years was probably where we really accelerated what we were doing, which was really nice.

So, it’s people at all levels, having that connection and wanting it to succeed. And our vice chancellor famously declared that the Bulldogs premiership year would be a premiership well before that time as well. So, there was pressure on, I think, to deliver. 

Jack: Very timely. We’ll move into the personal side of the podcast, mate. It’s a bit lighter, a bit of fun. The first one is which movie or TV series, can be a book, has impacted you the most and why? 

Robert: Okay. To narrow it to one, I think I’d probably go with the TV series. And ‘ The West Wing’ is one that I’ve gone back to many, many times.

Well, partly I think it’s because I do enjoy the insight into politics. I know it’s fictional, of course. But just watching how they worked, how the group dynamic worked, how the hierarchy of decision-making worked and how people worked together. Sometimes when they disagreed with each other really strongly on things, but were still able to come together.

I think that that’s a big part of the interest there. The dialogue is so well-written as well, and so well-acted that it’s enjoyable to watch, but that was one that I really enjoyed. And I think I’ve watched the series, there are seven seasons and I’ve probably watched them four times or more. Just keep going back to them periodically.

So, that one’s just around the way the groups interact and work. And then they’ve got experts coming in at all different angles all the time on things, for them it was military experts or experts in pollution or whatever. And how that then went up the decision-making tree and how decisions were made. And they won ones, they lost some. It’s a bit like sport, you know why.

Jack: Yeah. I was thinking that as you were explaining the dynamics, people respectfully challenging each other. That’s awesome. I’ll check that one out. What about a favorite inspirational quote or life motto? 

Robert: I’m not sure if it’s inspirational or not, but why not? I used to say this to my cyclists when I was coaching a few times. ‘If it didn’t kill you, it probably nearly did.’ And it’s a light-hearted way of saying that that was a really hard session that you just did. So, it’s a reinforcement of work ethic by them, it’s partly building belief as well. It’s, ‘You know what? You’ve actually just done something that was really, really hard.’

If you can do that in training, two things. One, your opposition might not have been doing that today, so you’re ahead of the game by doing that session. And remember in races, when you think it’s hard, remember back to tonight and nothing in races is going to be that hard ever again. This is the hardest training or event stuff you’ve ever done.

So, it didn’t kill you. It probably nearly did, but it didn’t kill you. And you got there by working hard. And I think, who knows how many talented athletes are out there? There’s truckloads of them in every sport. There’s a lot fewer talented athletes that work really hard consistently. And so, that I think should always be, you can choose how hard you work. You can’t choose how much talent you’ve got.

And I think that’s true in any walk of life. So, that same kind of fits into the academic world as well. Don’t have to be or try to be the smartest person in the room all the time, but you can choose to be the hardest worker in the room. And that’s gonna get you a long way in life, I think.

Jack: A hundred percent. I’m going to try and steal that one. When an athlete’s looking a bit down after a hard workout, that’s a mental win. A good reference point. Awesome. These last two revolve more around COVID-free world, let’s call it. What’s your favorite way to spend your day off?

Robert: It’s pretty simple things. So, in the COVID-free world, if it’s a day off on a weekend, it probably involves kids activities of some sorts. Engaging with them in those is always enjoyable. In fact, my daughter had her first ever football training under twelves. Today she’s decided in the last few days she wants to play footy. So, ‘Okay, let’s do that.’ So, that was fun.

But for me it would also mean getting some physical activity for myself. Riding would be one of the key things that I just try and fit into my day, because it energizes me. And my wife disagrees a bit. She says I get tired and grumpy, but I like to feel like I’m energized by training myself. And partly that’s to play around with ideas that I could then implement on others as well.

So, some sort of physical activity, engaging with the kids in some way, and the dog gets a walk in the mix there somewhere along the line as well. So, really simple things. 

Jack: And you mentioned getting back into coaching and playing around with some methods, is that something that you think is quite effective for coaches to play around with applying the methods on yourself and treat yourself as a bit of a lab?

Robert: Yeah. Within the limitations of your own physical ability, of course. There’re sessions that I can give cyclists that I can’t do, for example. But just knowing a little bit about progressions within a session or between sessions and how it might feel, you’ve got at least a point of reference there somewhere.

It’s harder if you’re a swimming coach, who’s not a good swimmer, for example. But at least as a cycling coach, I can ride a bike. Not to the level that the people I’m coaching can, but I can ride a bike. I think that does give you a little bit more insight into how things feel at the other end, because otherwise you’re relying on that feedback from your athletes. Some are good at giving it, some are a little bit shy. 

Jack: That makes sense. And what about favorite holiday destination and why?

Robert: Again, it’s a pretty simple one. I could say parts of Spain, just because I love going there. But I haven’t been there for a holiday, I’ve only been there for work so far.

So, for me it’s a place called Cape Paterson. Not far from Inverloch in Gippsland. We’ve got a caravan, so we do a week or two down there every January. And to me it just feels, I just relax when I get there. We’ve got a beautiful beach right at the doorstep of the caravan and good riding roads for me as well. And there’s good food options, wine options. And then it’s just a nice, relaxed, quiet caravan park. So, for me, it’s Cape Paterson in Gippsland.  

Jack: Recharge and get grounded. And this one is in terms of your work life, what are your pet peeves? What makes you angry? 

Robert: I have to be careful here. It’s just you never know who’s listening. Look, we work in a big organization, so part of the peeves are the layers of management that are imposed. And I think universities are particularly good at imposing layers or bad at imposing layers, depending on your perspective. There just seems to be an incredible bureaucracy to get simple decisions made and access to information that you could then make business decisions yourself on.

I view what we do as a business. So, when we’re running a project that is externally funded, we’re getting paid to deliver on a project. Just having information at hand. If I want to employ more research assistants, well, what’s my current budget sitting at? Can I just look that up myself or do I need to go to someone and ask and then wait and so on? Getting contacts done is always a really lengthy, painful process, when perhaps it shouldn’t be so.

It’s support mechanisms or systems not really supporting is probably the biggest pet peeve that I have in the work life, because it just creates work. And you have to micromanage the whole process. That’s no fun for me. And it’s certainly no fun for the people that I’m repeatedly emailing or calling either. 

Jack: I can understand that, that would frustrate the hell out of me. Especially when you’ve got timelines to get things done. 

Robert: Yeah. It’s painful.

Jack: Well, thank you so much for jumping on the podcast, Rob. Really got a lot out of it and it’s been a full episode of understanding the academic side, high-performance sport background and your journey, and how important it is to, like you said, network, get experiences early and, of course, work hard and persist with what you want to do. We’ll wrap it up with the last question. What are you excited about for 2022? We’re now in February, what about the other part of the year?

Robert: Well, a number of things. International travel for work is one thing to be excited about. But I’m just commencing coaching a young cyclist that has enormous potential. And I’m really excited about how we can try and help him realize some of that potential. That has really got me energized and charged about what we can do to help this kid who could be anything with the right pathway. It’s exciting.

Jack: With that, just so we get an idea of how your week works, like with the role that you have with the FIFA program, how do you have time? You’ve got family as well, but how do you have time to coach someone at that level? Is it something you’re doing four days a week? Is it very remote and you’re doing the programming, sort of consulting side of things? What does that dynamic look like?

Robert: It’s different. I’ve got some cyclists who are based in London, for example, that I’m coaching, so that’s done remotely and it’s occasional Zoom calls and so on. But with this young kid, he lives locally, so that’ll be a lot more hands-on and time. And part of the life of an academic is that your time is flexible to a point. I’m not engaged in any teaching at the university, so I’m not beholden to a timetable.

Getting the job done becomes important. You work when you need to work, basically. You fit it in, because you choose to fit it in. For me it’s very much a passion project, going back to coaching because I love it. Once a coach, always a coach, I think. I think you just find time and make it work.

Jack: That’s fantastic. Well, thank you, mate. Thanks again for jumping on. And the last one. If people want to find you and get in touch, where’s the best place to get in contact? 

Robert: Email is probably best. So, is probably the simplest one to remember. And that’ll certainly get through to me. I’m happy to chat on LinkedIn or Twitter or wherever you need to find me.

Jack: I’ll add those three in the show notes for those listening in to get in touch. Thank you for listening, guys. No doubt, you enjoyed this episode. Make sure, if you tuned in late, to watch the YouTube recording and we’ll post the podcast episode in the next coming weeks.

Our next ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ live chat show will be a collaborative event with eight facility owners around the country, high-performance sports or those working with athletes in the private sector. And there’ll be bite-sized discussions. So, 10 minutes from each guest. Make sure to tune in. That will be on the 24th of February at 8:30 PM Australian Eastern Standard Time. I’ll see you guys then.

Thank you for listening to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast. If you liked this episode, it would be a massive help, if you could like, follow, rate, give a review or even share with your mates. The show is recorded in Melbourne, Australia. Be sure to follow our Instagram page for all updates on our latest and greatest.

If you would like to get in touch to suggest a guest or advertise with the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast, please email me at Thanks so much for tuning in.

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