Aaron has almost 20 years of experience in elite sport bringing a background in both strength and conditioning and sport science. Prior to his current role, Aaron has been in leadership positions at Tennis Australia and Western Bulldogs.
Highlights from the episode:
- When he started his passion in strength & conditioning
- Strong influencers who helped him along the way
- How he earned leadership positions in different sports
- How he manage multiple tasks/responsibilities
- Fave life motto
- Justin Langer
- Steve Smith
- Ricky Ponting
- Adam Gilchrist
- Matthew Hayden
- Mitchell Johnson
- Justin Cordy
- Darren Lehmann
- Simon Ray
- Kieron Young
- Dan Baker
- David Buttifant
- Pat Rafter
- Andrew Weller
- Vern McMillan
Jack: Hi, I’m your host, Jack McLean. And today my guest is Aaron Kellett, the physical performance coach at Australia men’s cricket team. Aaron has spent almost 20 years of experience in elite sport, bringing a background in both strength & conditioning and sports science. Prior to his current role, Aaron has been in leadership positions at Tennis Australia and Western Bulldogs.
Highlights from this episode: we discuss the importance of athletes understanding how to practice mindfully, practical tips for strength & conditioning coaches wanting to progress their careers, and we discuss the importance of understanding how to serve your athletes and club, and how personal training and business skills can help you when you’re working in high performance sport.
Well, we start with this episode to connect with our guests, coaches, athletes, and fellow podcast listeners. Make sure to follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. It’d be great, if you could like, share and rate this episode. The support goes a long way in helping us grow and reach more people.
Let’s get into today’s episode with Aaron Kellet. Thanks for jumping on, Aaron.
Aaron: Pleasure, Jack. Thanks for inviting me.
Jack: Looking forward to our chat, mate. Let’s dive right at the beginning of your career. At what age did you discover you had a passion for strength & conditioning?
Aaron: I think, if I was to look back on where it all started, back in 1994, which is a long time ago, I was a member of the Victoria Institute of Sport Cricket Squad and still aspiring to wear the baggy green myself.
And as part of that scholarship program, it was my last year of high school, I’d have to travel three times a week into RMIT, where I did my weights program. And it was my first exposure to what is classically known as strength & conditioning. And again, Vern McMillan was there as a strength & conditioning coach for the Victorians sport team. I’d go in there as a 17-year-old, and I’d be training at 6:30 in the morning, and members of that awesome force would be there. Pack, Laney, White, and other really late athletes would be walking around the old RMIT gym in the city.
And I was amazed and blown away by what people could do. And for me, I was just really inspired. That was a way that I could improve myself. And so, experiencing that approach and really getting into my own physical preparation showed me that there was an industry or proficiency in behind that.
So, when I went through that sort of career development process, because I was in my final year of high school at the time, figuring out what I was going to do at uni, that was one of the platforms. And I was really into biology, I was really into chemistry and I was really into physical education.
That was the path I took with going into a Bachelor of Applied Science in what started as physical education and human movement. So, that was probably the first foray into realizing that there was a job and a profession out there that involved training people and training athletes to be elite performers.
Jack: Awesome. And it’s so important to see it, isn’t it? And feel it, and be in that environment. For the young coaches listening in that don’t have that ability right now to be in that environment, but they’re studying and they feel that there is a passion there, what would your recommendation be for being in that position? If you’re not lucky enough to be a talented athlete, I guess.
Aaron: One of the huge advantages and the big shifts today is that… I’ve just described what was my first exposure. I didn’t know there was anything like this out there, right? And that’s because the accessibility of information, it was just not the same. Whereas now, I think, the ability to understand and gather information and get insights into what it takes to be a top practitioner, a top performer is really easy to get hold of.
So, for young coaches, I think it’s very easy to get the information. It’s really easy to understand the X’s and O’s of what we do. The best piece of advice, and I’ve listened to some of your podcasts previously, and I think it’s a really consistent thing from some of us old cronies. You’ve got to get in the trenches and coach.
And that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be a strength & conditioning coach. Some of the most impactful stuff for me early on was when I was couching young cricketers with private academy, teaching them on a Friday night how to do cover drives, land the ball on a cut surface. So, I think you have to get in the trenches as young coaches and learn how to organize human traffic and manage attention and communicate with people and elicit behavioral change.
Jack: And early on in your career, like as you mentioned Vern McMillan, who were some other strong influences that helped you along your way?
Aaron: The first person who gave me a shot was David Butterfield . I was in my final year of my undergrad degree and David Butterfield was it the North Melbourne Football Club at the time. And through some personal connections, through my cricket, he gave me a bit of a shot and it was the volunteer.
It was doing all of the bits and pieces work at the North Melbourne footy club, trying essentially to help David’s job to be a little bit easier. The resources at an AFL club in the late nineties were not the same as they are now. So, I was really lucky to A, get an opportunity, and B, because there was, you know, every man and his dog there, I was able to get a feel for all parts of the program.
So, he was a big influence in my stepping into this profession and certainly being able to get exposure to elite performance.
Jack: You mentioned something that I noted down. Your intention was to assist his role, because the resources were limited. And you were doing a little bit of everything. And so, same for the coaches that are listening, obviously it is challenging and it’s competitive and you’ve gotta be thinking about where you’re going and your career, of course, but how important is it to have that selfless mindset and be there to assist those that are in leadership positions?
Aaron: I think there’re two layers to it. One is the recognition that actually the job that we do as coaches is to serve others, to elevate others into being the best version they can be, to get them achieve their dreams, apologies for the cliché. So, that’s the first and foremost. Being in a service mindset is really important to succeed.
And secondly, it’s really difficult to forecast where you’re going to be at any given time in your career. So, what I’ve learned over time is that the best way to progress in your career is just to do a great job in the one you’re in right now. So, if you’re a sports science assistant and your job is to take you a series and put GPS units on players and make sure they come back. You know, some of the more menial tasks, just do a great job. And that’d be recognized because those are the things that actually make an impact. It’s just making everyone’s life easy, making sure that things are delivered really well, and that ultimately we’re helping the people around us be able to do what they do.
Jack: If any, forming good habits, just like an athlete. Like, if you’re treating those potentially smaller things that maybe are quite easy for someone else to do, and they don’t feel special or sexy, but if you’re treating them with the respect of the big things and the things that you’re trying to strive towards and to be able to make an impact with, but if you look after those little things, it’s going to put you in good stead later on when you’re in a position to make a big impact. And going on with influences and mentors, who are some other guys that helped you along the lane?
Aaron: Early on it was all about trying to be the best sort of technician and practitioner I could be. So, early on I would have moved out to Brisbane to work at Cree Australia after my AFL days. And I was able to get some exposure to the Queensland Academy of Sport and worked with people like Kieran Young and Suki Hobson and Michael Davey. These are high-level practitioners, really amazing at what they do, working across multiple sports. So, certainly from a technical perspective some of those influences from Julian Jones of the AIS, Dan Baker, these guys that have been in the game for long periods of time at the elite level, they were massive influences on my technical development.
And as I progressed in my career, then the coaching stuff becomes really interesting and integral. And so, that’s where the head coaches have been the biggest influence on me. Because as a performance coach, the head coach is essentially the wind in your sail. So, your ability to work closely with the head coach is crucial. In my time at tennis people like Simon Ray, Burnet Gerlits, Brent Luckrum, these people, amazing coaches, Ben Matthias, Josh Eagle, Pat Rafter, amazing at what they do. And then in cricket Darren Lehmann and, more recently, Justin Langer, these people are elite at managing programs and eliciting behavioral changes in athletes.
Jack: You mentioned developing the technical side. While a coach is going through that phase where they’re developing their philosophy and refining things and developing your technical side and, like you mentioned, your coaching, when you see something that’s done really, really well, when you want to bring that into your practice, how quick would you do it?
Is it first trying it on yourself? Is it first just sitting with it? Is it a slow burn? Or do you think, once you’ve made your mind up, it’s like, ‘Now I’ve seen that, I’m just going to transfer it straight over’? Or is it an off-season review and you’ll implant it into preseason? Take us through how you’ll implement new methods and philosophies.
Aaron: I think it’s all of the above. Certainly, personal experience is an important part of any research of a method and understanding the experience that a method or a principle entails is really important. You know, being able to walk the talk a little bit. But certainly making sure that you understand what is the evidence behind this, what is the science, what’s the research telling you, if there’s any there. And if not, what’s some of the practical, real world data that exists, if any. I think those are all of the levels of evidence that you want to try and pick off before you start rolling it out to an elite athlete cohort that are really sensitive to change.
Jack: I like that. It’s a balance between speaking to other practitioners that are in a similar position to yourself, as well as being up-to-date with the latest research as well. If there was a percentage split, how often would it be speaking to other colleagues opposed to reading and listening to podcasts or researching, reading books, that form of content?
Aaron: I wouldn’t want to put a numerical value on it. I value practical, real world evidence. And there’re some key people that I would turn to, or some key sectors that I might look to for some of that evidence. But, certainly, the information is always available.
Jack: Fantastic. Going back to your career progression. So, David Butterfield helped you out with a sort of informal internship role when you were getting some experience in different fields. Where did you go next in your career?
Aaron: At that stage I was still aspiring to represent Australia and standing on the MCG Boxing Day as a player. So, I actually went up to the UK and played some cricket over there. And when I came back, the opportunities in sport were just not there. So, I actually pivoted and went into general population and worked in council leisure centers and private gyms, ran a personal training business and looked after community rehab programs and worked on the gym floor, those types of things for five years.
Jack: And that’s actually something that has popped up a fair bit in experienced practitioners in elite sport. There are early days some experiencing coaching on the phone. You talked about the importance of learning coaching and the art of communication from head coaches. Running your business has a different skillset as well. And then also the one-on-one coaching. How have those skillsets transferred into now when you’re in leadership positions? Has it transferred over? And if so, what sort of traits?
Aaron: Yeah, definitely. I mean, from my perspective, the things that keep emerging are the ability to communicate with people. When you’re working on a gym floor, working in a community rehab program, or working as a personal trainer, you’re interfacing with a huge diversity of people, which just expands your ability to have conversations and ask meaningful questions and understand the drivers behind people’s behavior.
It’s a really key part of coaching. The ability to manage adults in a group dynamic is a really big part of what we do. So, to be able to do that with people of varying skill levels, varying competencies, varying capacities, those are the things that you get to experience when you’re working with general population clients. And so, those are invaluable for stepping into sport where the group tends to be a little bit more homogenous, but certainly got very varying degrees of capacities and capabilities, just the same. So, these are probably transferable skills.
And then, from a business perspective, you’ve touched upon that as well, understanding the commercial realities of the world, that’s important. Understanding what are the financial costs for a players injury I think is important. It gives you perspective and understanding about where some of the drivers are from different parts of the sporting business, for example. I think those are meaningful bits of knowledge that you can gain.
Jack: If you can, like you mentioned, understand that perspective, do you have a better ability to be able to connect with the greater sporting club, you feel, by having those experiences?
Aaron: Definitely. Because Australian cricket is a perfect example. There’s a huge base. You’ve got a variety of stakeholders, there’s a huge financial interest in the game. That’s a perfect example for understanding where a player appearances and commercial commitments for the team, these are realities that can impact your day-to-day. And without an understanding and a perspective about the value of it, and where that sits and why that’s important, I think it can be a real frustration. And if you don’t do that, it can actually be a detriment to the business.
Jack: And you mentioned that opportunities were slim at that period of time from a strength & conditioning point of view in sport and five years is a good stretch, no doubt. There’d be a few coaches listening with COVID, there’s been some cuts in sport and that sort of thing. They’ve gone into the personal training. Maybe they’re doing a bit of it and sport. Now they’re doing it full time.
What was your mindset at that time? Did you know you’re a hundred percent going back when the time is right? Did you think, you were just parking it, or were you doing some things behind the scene to stay actively in tune with those skillsets? Take us through your approach during those moments.
Aaron: I was still doing bits and pieces with local sporting clubs. My own cricket club at the time, we were doing more program delivery stuff into some netball teams. So, I still was doing bits and pieces here and there. And it was really informal and it was intermittent in nature. But looking back, like I said before, I was very much just trying to do a good job in the one I was in. And so, I wasn’t really thinking about how I get back into elite sport. I was enjoying what I was doing.
And it just happened that a contact, a personal connection again through my own sport, knew that I was doing bits and pieces, had used me to do some bits and pieces in some footy club, delivering sort of a pseudo pilates type session. He was at the Western Bulldogs and they were looking for a weights coach, a part-time weights coach. And I was able to fit it into my schedule while still doing personal training. So, that’s how I got back into elite sport as a part on weights coach of the Western Bulldogs back in 2005.
Jack: Like you mentioned earlier in the podcast, do a really good job of what you’re currently doing and almost trust that it will take care of you.
Aaron: That’s certainly served me. I’ve never been one to have the five-year plan. Maybe it’s just sort of self-serving in me, selling the strengths of that. But it’s certainly served me, just trying to do a good job in the one I’m in generally provided opportunities.
Jack: And something I’ve picked up as well speaking to people, is the importance of, if you want a long career in sport, work in many different sports. But on that note, what you’re saying there is that you took the opportunity as they presented themselves, and did a really good job within them.
So, it wasn’t the plan early days or a mentor didn’t say, ‘Aaron, you need to work across AFL, tennis, Cricket Australia, QIS, track and field Olympics.’ That’s sort of what organically happened, is that what you’re saying?
Aaron: Very much so. I had no career aspiration to be the high performance manager of an AFL club, or to be the physical performance coach of the Australian Cricket Team. These are amazing opportunities that were presented to me along the way. And I like to think it’s because I’ve done a good job and I’ve been able to positively impact this performance environments I’ve been in. But, certainly, I’ve very much taken the opportunities that have been presented and that also represented the things that I felt important. Not necessarily just grabbing the first thing that presents, but certainly being aware of the things that are important and recognizing the environments that might meet those.
Jack: At this time you’re doing some personal training community rehab. As you mentioned, you’d started with a bit of pilates by accident, and then you’ve got a part-time role as a strength & pal coach at Western Bulldogs. Added the progression within the Western Bulldogs realm, what did the role look like while you were there?
Aaron: A guy named Justin Cordy hired me. Apologies earlier for people that I’ve missed. In reeling off names that have been influences on me, I’m sure I’ve missed 15 or 20 people that have been huge influences. Just shout out and apologies to those people. Hopefully, you know who you are.
But Justin Cordy hired me at the Western Bulldogs and at the back end of 2005 he actually took the job to work with the Australian Cricket Team. And through a variety of circumstances I ended up stepping into his shoes towards the back end of the preseason for the 2006 year and took on the physical performance manager role with the Western Bulldogs from there. So, I went from a part-time weighs coach and, hopefully, doing a reasonable job and making a positive impact, and I’ve been given the opportunity to step into Justin’s role when he moved on to Australian cricket.
Jack: That’s a huge growth in a new sport. What leadership qualities, do you think you need to have trust in yourself to be able to manage a program?
Aaron: I’m speculating, but I like to think that I was coaching well. I think I was delivering a reasonable product into performance department. I had good relationships with people. I had managed people through that five years I was out of sport. And I think they recognized that I wasn’t necessarily going to try and upset the apple cart with the plans and programs and systems that have been implemented.
So, I think it was maybe sort of a fortuitous event. Looking back, I think I did an okay job. We finished up pretty well that year, but I think I was a little not ready for that opportunity. Now there’s some stuff I look back on, and knowing what I know now, technically I would have done slightly different. But what a great opportunity! I couldn’t knock that back.
Jack: And you mentioned some management experience during the five years. For those that are in the private sector, what type of management work were you doing during that period? It wasn’t simply just doing a one-on-one business by the sounds of it?
Aaron: Not at all. Some of the stuff I was doing, I’d taken on a role of health and fitness manager for the Maribyrnong Council. I was managing a team of fitness staff essentially. So, gym staff, personal training team. And I also had someone who was looking after group fitness programs that reported to me. So, I had a team of people essentially working across the health and fitness programming for the council fitness center.
Jack: And then the next part that I wanted to open up a little bit to more detail. So, knowing what you know now, what would be some things that pop up to mind that you would do differently?
Aaron: I think I probably stuck a little too rigid to the original plan. I don’t think I adapted fast enough to some changes, to changing circumstances that occurred. We had some ACL injuries that meant our suite of players unavailable, where the place’s small, that changed their game style. So, I don’t think I adapted as early as I could. I kept some standalone speed and agility positions in the program a little too deep into the preseason and early season in hindsight, I think.
I think I could have adapted and responded. At the time you are delivering what you think is the best path forward for performance and things were sort of working. It’s just, I think we placed the plug a little bit towards the back half of the year that we needed to reverse. And, thankfully, we were able to do that with some assistance and some really good work collaboratively. But yeah, certainly in hindsight, there’s a lot of things I think we’d all do differently in the past with certain professional experiences.
Jack: Of course, every day. Did you bring someone in to replace yourself or what was the high-performance department like around 2005–2006?
Aaron: At the end of the 2006 year the club decided to bring in someone who would sit above me. It was a really challenging period, because we’d just finished sixth, we’d beaten Collingwood in the elimination final in front of 85,000 people. And we thought we’d had a really great year. There was progression the year before.
And a young guy, a young coach, a big, massive whack to the ego in many respects. And I don’t think I necessarily responded particularly well to that. Again, all in hindsight. And as you mature, you can recognize that there’re probably some lessons, that it took a little longer for me to learn. But yeah, the club made a decision to bring somebody in that I’ll report to. So, that was through this 2006– 2007 preseason.
Jack: For someone that has a similar experience to that early success, as you mentioned, as you’re maturing as a coach and a manager, what are some mature ways to respond to that when you have early success? What do you think now?
Aaron: I think being a little bit insightful into your own strengths and weaknesses, and particularly that there’s a lot to be learned from everyone around you. Those are things that I’d certainly advise. And certainly my experience was that I didn’t necessarily grasp the opportunity to learn as much as I could from the people that had been brought in, that the club had actually set up to help me with. In hindsight, there is a recognition that they brought some people in to actually help me, to recognize that I had done some things really well, but I needed some support in some other areas.
Jack: All that is issuing a scenario though. So, you weren’t a part of creating your new team, the club brought in your assistance. Am I reading that right?
Aaron: And also a direct report. So, essentially I was able to maintain a lot of coaching and the programming side of things, but there was more of a high-performance type of manager stepping into a role above me.
Jack: And it’s interesting. And they were a qualified strength & conditioning coach or they were a different background?
Aaron: Absolutely. The person that came in had come from another AFL club within the same assignment of the previous few years. So, it was someone who’d had some success at a big club and had done a really good job and certainly stepped in and did a great job with the Western Bulldogs.
Jack: And then what was the next step in your career after the Doggies?
Aaron: Well, from my perspective, like I said, in hindsight, I recognise that I probably didn’t necessarily manage that as well as I could, but what it did do, it gave me the impetus to look for other opportunities.
And that was when my first exposure to working in cricket happened in 2007. And again, ironically, it was Justin Cordy, who had been working with the Australian Cricket Team that created a role based out of Brisbane at what was the oldest Center of Excellence, which is now The National Cricket Center.
And it was essentially a full-time physical performance role that was looking after all of the Cricket Australia pathway programs, including what was the old AIS cricket program, which is a residential cricket academy program that ran through the winter, whilst Justin was touring with the Australian team.
Jack: And what were you feeling then? Because that’s something that you were experiencing as a 17-year-old, now you’re the practitioner on the flip side. Was it a bit of a pinch at the moment, that that’s where your career ended up?
Aaron: It was a little bit. The transition was relatively smooth because I knew the sport and I knew the culture of the sport, the terminology, some of the technical models and the frameworks around that. So, it was a really smooth transition for me to step into that. But it was a little bit of a ‘catch the moment’, in the sense that I recognized a few years prior to that that my own aspirations were over, right? So, to be actually up there, helping Mitchell Johnson and these young elite guys…
And part of my time was also to step in and cover for Justin. When he took some time off the road not long after I started in Brisbane, he actually resigned and headed back into AFL. So, all of a sudden I found myself on the road with the Australian team, with Ricky Ponting captaining and Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist. So, it was a little bit surreal.
Jack: Take us through that. What are the big differences between a high-performance manager in the AFL and their performance team, and then the high-performance manager in Cricket Australia and their performance team?
Aaron: So, if you want to use my current position, right? So, I’ve stepped and I’m there now, this is my second year in cricket. I started in 2016 and took on the role of physical performance coach with the team. The scope of my role is essentially to manage the physical performance program for the Australian team that’s on tour at any given time with specific reference to this Cricket Australia contracted player group.
Every year a certain number of players that are essentially contracted to Cricket Australia based on their previous years performances and likelihood to represent Australia in the coming year. So, they become the primary portfolio, but cricketers are picked out of state cricket, despite contract status or otherwise. So, as far as picking, we may have a leading period for that. My job is to understand. We have a monitoring group of players that are likely to be picked and we liaise and work closely with the Australian team selectors on who’s in that monitoring group. And we’re leading and guiding and influencing their preparation leading into a series. So, hopefully, that just gave you an insight.
In the past we would have a physical performance manager, Andrew Weller, who’s actually stepped into a slightly expanded role with a few bigger reports across both sports science and medicine. But he essentially sits across Australian cricket systems. Manages national standards program, testing across the country, communicating, database staff, managing national GPS integration, that type of stuff. So, we’ve got a direct coaching line. And then we have a system guide and influence and lead capacity to our role.
Jack: You mentioned collaboration off air and how critical that is with the core group. How often would you be in communication with strength & conditioning coaches managing the state side?
Aaron: I’m in communication with those guys weekly, sometimes it’s multiple times a week. And for some guys, if we don’t have any players coming out of one of the states, for example, then it may be a couple of weeks until I speak to them. But on average I’m speaking with these guys weekly, understanding player status.
Thankfully, we brought a centralized programming and load monitoring database that’s open source for us, to all be seeing from the same hymnbook, so to speak. So, I’ve got oversight on what’s going on. And I’m able to make changes and edits and communicate based on that. We’re tracking player status and trying to guide decision-making from week to week.
Jack: The contracted players given their own software and tech, and then do the state’s strength & conditioning coaches upload that data, so you have access to it all? Or do those state teams all have the same sort of technology that those are using?
Aaron: Yeah, Australian cricket invested many years ago. And in my initial foray in Australian cricket back in 2007 it was this way. We have an athlete management system that sits across all of Australian cricket. So, essentially all of the state high-performance departments have access to the same database. Every player has a unique ID and based on role, security, we can all get access to the same information if we’ve got a shared accountability on a players development.
Jack: You’ve worked across a world-class athletes and Australian rules football is at the top level. Is there a common sort of trend, either mindset or physical capacity, that you can recognize in young youth that have got a bright future ahead of themselves?
Aaron: There’re two parts to the question. I’ll give you two parts of the answer. One you mentioned was mindset. The thing that probably stands out from a mindset perspective with all of the greats across all the sports that I’ve worked in, is that they have a really clear understanding and idea about what it is they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Particularly when it comes to core business around their skills. So, this sort of notion of mindful practices is probably one of the things that stands out for me. They’re very clear on what they’re doing in a session. They’re very clear on what they’re working on, and they’re very clear on what success looks like at any given moment for themselves.
Jack: And is that something that’s developed within your environment with the practitioners, do you guys work on that intentionally? Or do you think that’s a talent that those successful players come in with and they’ve already got that clarity and purpose?
Aaron: I think it’s both. I think that the great, the true elite, those are attributes that they bring, there’s no doubt about that. But certainly the standards and the environment that you create as a program can help raise that within everyone that’s exposed to it. I don’t necessarily think that our environment at least tries to create changes, the way that Steve Smith goes about business.
I think that’s something he’s brought to the table. The environment has helped him in other ways and in other areas. But when it comes to the clarity of mindset around his preparation, that’s something he’s brought to the table. But I think he’s a unique individual and we see unique individuals across elite sport. But certainly the standards and the environment that you create can certainly raise that across the entire team, the entire squad or the entire system.
Jack: How different and how much variability would there be in preparation to a game from a mental and physical point of view within your core group?
Aaron: There’s high variation. Certainly, at our level now it’s really, really important that we understand that people are coming to the table with a very well-developed skillset and a very well-developed set of attributes. So, a lot of it is about making sure that we’re creating an environment that’s going to allow them to deliver on what they do best.
And I’ve spoken publicly about this, sometimes the best thing you do is actually nothing. That’s a skill in and of itself, to actually stay out of people’s way at certain times. And then it’s also about when you might intervene or when you may ask a meaningful question to try and redirect. Those are some of the nuanced things.
But certainly, in relation to your question, there’s high variation based on individual needs and individual preferences for preparation. And then from a physical perspective you’ve got different skillsets. For us you’ve got batters, bowlers, spinners, wicket-keepers. So, there’s high variation in their preparation, but even within the same subgroups different players will tend to want more volume, others will want less. Some will want certain exposure to certain drills, others will want a different one. So, there’s high variation at the top end.
Jack: In terms of support science and load management, what are some key pillars when it comes to managing cricketers? So, let’s go with the fast bowlers, I guess. What would be some big rocks to manage those fast bowlers?
Aaron: So, we have a GPS program, like most other elite sports and we’ve got our general movement variables that we’re looking at in terms of displacements. But the other part that we do look at is we have some proprietary algorithms that look at some of the specific elements of force with the fast bowlers that gives us an understanding of that play load and relative intensity. We’ve got the capacity to understand different velocity signatures at certain time points of the delivery and the run-up. There’s certainly some stuff that we’re looking at there that help us understand what a player is doing, what they’ve done and how they’re coping and how they’re presenting and what they’re putting out physically.
Jack: It’s probably naïve of me, but you’d said you’ve got your GPS. Is ball tracking still going on? And is that specific to the Ks per hour that they bowl? Is it almost like zones, if they’re bowling it, let’s say, they’re 150 K per hour bowler. Do you treat that like max speed for an AFL footballer in terms of percentages of how many balls they bowl at that pace?
Aaron: We’re certainly tracking and monitoring with radar guns speed of our bowlers. That’s one of the things that we know, and an element of their physical output is velocity. But we’re certainly looking at it from a GPS and an accelerometer perspective. We’re looking at some of the things that they’re doing to produce that output. So, an analogy would be: rather than just looking at displacement for a vertical jump, we’re going to use a force plate to understand some of the movements signature that’s occurring for how they’re producing a 65 centimeter vertical jump, for example.
So, similarly with the fast bowler we’ve got 148 kilometers an hour as a main speed for the match. But we’ve got some other stuff that sits behind it that might suggest: well, yeah, a player was able to maintain their speed across a match or across a series. But actually there’s a whole bunch of things that seem to be changing to maintain that output because, you know, humans are pretty clever. They’ll self-organize to find the best way to produce the outcome. And at the pointiest end of elite sport some of those high-end outputs can be maintained. It’s just that sometimes it comes at a cost.
Jack: What about for the batsman? What are the key areas to manage them?
Aaron: Managing their head generally is probably the best way to go. I’m slightly facetious here, but in reality part of it is making sure that they’re got a clear head and that their preparation has been able to be squared away prior to a game. We’re obviously tracking their distances, their speeds, their batting minutes, some of the high speed running loads, et cetera, they might be getting from either batting and/or fueling and understanding some of the directional change loads that are going on.
But the big rocks from a physical perspective, when it comes to cricket, are certainly a fast bowling group. They are the ones who are exposed to the highest physical load. And so, you have this underlying landscape of physicality with heavy cognitive demand, lots of time on task, those types of things, if they’re succeeding, that they need to sit above that.
So, you’ve got to square away some of the underlying landscape, but understand that there’s a need in a million cricket balls, right? You guys don’t get good without doing that. So, whilst you might have a low picture from a movement perspective that is really high, recognizing that it’s not just as easy to say, ‘Hey mate, I don’t think you should bat today.’ Because that’s not necessarily going to address the global performance requirements of a batter.
I’m probably going to be off on a bit of a tangent, but, hopefully, that describes the challenges of the different skill groups.
Jack: Yeah. A hundred percent. And, like you said, it’s so individual and it makes a lot of sense that for the bowlers it is quite physical. And then the main stressor for the batsman is the concentration aspect of the role. You get out, and the day’s over for a batsman. So, the mental side of things is the key pillar.
So, 2020 One Day Cricket and then Test cricket, and then obviously all the traveling and everything. Do you see future cricketers, being specialists, and it’s probably already started now, but they are purely going to be a 2020 cricketer and they’re identified early, 2020 is going to be your go and then Test cricketers with their personality type and their traits and strengths will morph themselves into a test, and then you might have a few that are in between that are at One Day and can play a bit of all three? Or do you see it that a good batsman will be able to adapt no matter what to all the three different forms of the game?
Aaron: We’re certainly seeing more specialists emerge for short format cricket. There’s no doubt about that. The opportunities across franchise cricket are presenting a real career path for people to specialize in that area. But the game still prioritizes the longest format. I think, certainly, here, in this country, we value and celebrate the longest version of the game. And I think that here, in this country, and observing the other major Test playing nations, players still aspire to play Test cricket for their country. So, I think that your point about the best batters will find the way, I think that’s definitely true.
But, that being said, the 2020 cricket is changing rapidly. The power game for batters is on another level than compared to some of the early days of the format. Bowling specialists, the impact of spinners, the mystery component of certain spinners… This is a rapidly changing format of the game. I think it’s going to be really interesting to follow its impact on what players can actually do out in the cricket field.
It’s already fascinating. You know, with Glenn Maxwell who can play 360 degrees. And he’s not the only one. There’s such a high diversity and array of highly skilled players out there now.
Jack: And for the best 17 that are contracted to the Australian team, and I know it’s hard to do percentage and stuff, but as a physical performance manager, is it majority of your time off season, pre-season preparing for Test cricket and then the 2020 campaigns and the One Day? How does it all fit in?
Aaron: In reality the classic paradigm of preseason into competitive season just doesn’t exist for the majority of the top players. It’s far more like tennis actually in many respects. Tennis players can get a shortened preseason for many of them.
But in reality you’re looking at preparation blocks more so, than classic extended preseason periods. And so, really what you are actually doing with the top guys is recognizing what the competitive landscape looks like in the short, medium and long-term, and then you’re trying to navigate a preparation path that looks to ensure that at the key time points of different format changes you’ve got your preparation right.
So, for fastballers, for example. Thankfully, the intensity profile doesn’t shift too much. But actually the thing we need to square away is the skill volume, so the number of balls that a player needs to be prepared to bowl. We need to square that away in preparation for long format cricket. And that’s sometimes difficult to do if you’ve got short format competition leading in. So, you’ve got to find ways to top up, so to speak, and make sure that you’re using this training day opportunities where you can build a more chronic resilience to the higher volumes over time.
Similar with the batters. You’ve got to make sure that you’re getting some of the higher intensity ability to change directions hard and fast for short format cricket in periods where you might be playing longer format cricket, where the higher, more rapid acceleration demands are just not necessarily as din.
So, those are things that you need to square away more in your preparation block leading into the competitive periods that are ahead of you.
Jack: Definitely super organized, I imagine.
Aaron: And super adaptable.
Jack: And going back to your career journey for a second. You’ve had a lot of leadership positions across different sports. Is that something that you’ve worked on a lot, the leadership, communication, performance meetings, all the things that come with being in a managerial position? Or is it something that you’ve learned through experience and by getting those jobs?
Aaron: It’s both. Fortunately, when you’re in positions of leadership, you get exposed to opportunities to develop more of those skills and you get opportunities to identify where some of your shortcomings and so your performance opportunities might lie. But certainly more recently an area that’s of great interest to me is how I can actually be a more effective leader, how can I be a more effective communicator. Constantly seeking feedback from people on what’s working, what’s not working. Those are things that are hugely valuable to me.
Jack: And so that will be with players, you mentioned coaches in the past. Who would you ask those questions to that feedback? Who would be your go-to?
Aaron: Yes, I now routinely ask three to four people every two to three months to give me one to three things that they think I’m doing well and one to three things that they think I can do better. And I’ll just change the cohort of people that I’ll ask. Of the three to four people I’m generally trying to ask at least one player, at least one coach, at least one stakeholder from within the state cricket system and, if I can, someone who’s close to me, that’s actually living the day-to-day experience with me. The team manager or a physiotherapist or a security manager. I’ll ask them to give me an idea about how I’m tracking.
And that’s something that I’ve learnt over time. I wasn’t very good at that early on. Looking back in hindsight, I wasn’t very good at going to seek that out and that’s something that over time I’ve learned is a hugely valuable resource for personal professional development. It’s actually the people around you, that you’re interfacing with every day and the people you’re actually trying to impact.
Jack: If you’re getting, let’s say, 10 different things. There’re a couple that line line up, 10 different things. How do you manage it? How do you filter that to action, those areas?
Aaron: I’ve talked about this. One of the things is that I’m trying to identify and prioritize those responses that are generally relatively consistent. You’ll always get 10 things. And there’ll be 10 different things. But in amongst the 10, you’ll find that there’s one to three things that generally are a consistent thing. So, I’ll prioritize those. But they also need to be understood in conjunction with your own personal analysis and insights to understanding how do I think I’m going? Where am I being effective? What’s not working? Okay, is there some common ground with the responses I’m getting from the people around me? And those are the things that I tend to attack first.
Jack: I love that. That’s great. I’m going to try and start implementing that. So, that’s what, once a month?
Aaron: I generally try and do it at least once every three months. I loosely call it the rule of three. Three people every three months, giving me three things. And I actually don’t know if I’ve stolen that from anyone, but if I have, I apologize for not referencing whoever put it out there, but this has become a thing for me.
Jack: It’s a good system. To get three things is really succinct. And then, like you said, every three months. So, what do you think, once you’ve been in the environment for a few years, people are going to come to expect it or do you vary the person so often that it stays pretty fresh?
Aaron: Not, I think by asking people and being really open about it, that’s done a couple of things. One is that it’s essentially giving permission for people to tell me how I might improve. And it’s taken away some of the fear of consequence. Because that’s one of the things that holds people back from giving you feedback. Because they’re worried about how you are going to respond. When you go and seek it out, it actually breaks that down, because people know that you want to hear the information.
And part of it is also recognizing that just because someone gives you some feedback, you’re not beholden to listen to it. You’re not beholden to change because of a piece of feedback. The best part of this, for want of a better term, contract of seeking feedback, is that there’s huge value. Because people, all of a sudden, now understand you’re looking to get better. And so, they’re happy to come and ‘Hey, you know, your session briefing the other day, I just reckon you spoke too much. I reckon you lost the group.’ And you’re like, ‘You know what? I did. I’ve got stuck. I didn’t prepare well enough. I was stuffing the detail. It wasn’t effective. Thanks for the feedback, mate.’
Jack: That’s awesome. Like you mentioned, you’re not sure if you got that from someone else, but it sounds like it came organically. How long have you been doing it for?
Aaron: I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now actively. And far more in a consistent, routine way over the course of the last eight years, I reckon. I’ve steadily become better at asking people for feedback, but I’m far more routine about trying to open the door for people to give me some insights in how I’m performing.
Jack: And as a by-product, has that created a more inclusive, you know, the stigma of the consequences, like you mentioned, is dropped and now practitioners in your team are asking for feedback and they’re more comfortable with feedback, do you think?
Aaron: I hope so. I feel like it’s increased my ability to get information. And I haven’t necessarily had to really go digging as hard as I might’ve had to five years ago.
Jack: And what about challenges? What has been a significant challenge in your career and what would be the learnings from it? How did you grow?
Aaron: I’ve touched upon one of them earlier. It was when essentially I felt like I’d had a demotion at the Western Bulldogs. That was the first professional challenge that I experienced, and again, I didn’t handle it particularly well. But the great thing was that these hardships give you opportunities to reflect. So, when I finally had distance and a little bit of maturity to maybe look back and think, how I could have made that situation better, that allowed me the opportunity to recognize, ‘Hey, you know what? Maybe you can recognize that other people have some real value. You don’t necessarily have to agree all the time, but there is valuing a different way of looking at things.’ There’s also a nice reinforcement for the things that I did stand up for at certain times. So, that was certainly one of the first challenges.
And, I might just say that, I think 2018, when the team faced a really significant challenge. Everything that we’ve done since has been hugely impactful. Our ability to navigate out of that as a collective and work together to recognize where we can do things a bit differently and a bit better and to achieve one of the goals, which regained some of the face and trust in the public. That’s hugely rewarding. Others have spoken far better than I have about that process. But alongside that the great reinforcement as well, as we’ve achieved some success on the field along the journey. And I think that’s a great reinforcement of what a values-led environment can achieve.
Jack: And on that note, what’s a highlight that you look back fondly of and proud of throughout your career?
Aaron: For me, it’s always nice to think back to those milestones on field performances. Seeing the guys win the T20 World Cup last year was hugely rewarding. It was a massive achievement for Australian cricket. That was hugely rewarding in a format that we hadn’t achieved that before.
But again, I hope it doesn’t sound cliché, but for me, the greatest fulfillment comes from thinking about the impact you’ve had on individuals along the journey. So, when I look back at the people that I’ve worked with or managed, and what they’re doing in their career. I caught up with a former intern of mine when I was in Hobart for a coffee. She’s just got married and she’s expecting a baby, and she’s an S&C coach at the Tasmanian Institute of Sport, and she’s doing great things. That’s hugely rewarding for me. Seeing players achieve some of their dreams on the field, that’s hugely rewarding. And some of the niceties around trophies and recognition are icing on the cake. But those are the things that you look back on, I think, and are truly meaningful.
Jack: Like you said earlier, we are to serve. So, when you see that the servings are working and you’ve helped people on their way, that makes a lot of sense. Well, we’ll go into the lighter side of the podcast, mate, this is a bit of fun with these questions. So, the first one’s, which movie or TV series, can be book as well, has impacted you the most and why?
Aaron: I love ‘Forrest Gump’. I loved ‘Forrest Gump’, when it came out. Just this joy in the simple things of life. There’s a lot of lessons. ‘Shawshank Redemption’, classic hero’s journey stuff, I love that. And that’s got nothing to do with professional, that’s just a human side. I love that stuff. I love a hero’s journey and I love something that touches on enjoying the simple things in life and the simple joys that can come from the most innocuous parts of your life.
Jack: And what about a favorite inspirational quote or life motto?
Aaron: The thing I always find about quotes is, they’re very, very context specific. So, I think that different quotes will resonate at different times of your life. One of the things that have probably stuck with me is… And apologies for the war reference, I certainly don’t want to glorify the military environment at the current time. But certainly the quote ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy’, I think, holds a lot of resonance for me in what we do. I am a religious planner. I like to be well-planned, I like to be well-prepared. But it just reminds me that actually it’s really important to be adaptable, once you hit the trenches, because the reality is that the plan never goes to plan.
Jack: It reminds me of the Mike Tyson one, which I’ve forgotten about.
Aaron: That’s right. ‘Until they get punched in the face.’ It’s exactly right.
Jack: What about pet peeves? In your professional life what makes you angry? What are your pet peeves?
Aaron: When people are disorganized, that probably rubs me up the wrong way. Those are probably the things that get on my nerves a little bit, when people are disorganized, turn up unprepared for something.
Jack: And then favorite way to spend your day off?
Aaron: I’m a classic introvert, mate. So, on a day off I like to remove myself from people and it’ll generally involve some form of exercise, preferably in the outdoors. It will involve a lot of coffee. I’ll have some mental stimulation of some description, whether it’s reading a book or listening to a podcast. And it’ll invariably finish with a nice meal of some description.
The recharge day, love that.
Aaron: Very much.
Jack: And in a COVID free world, a favorite holiday destination and why?
Aaron: My partner and I went to Croatia in 2016, which feels like decades ago right now, after COVID and three kids under five. But that part of the Dalmatian Coast and Croatia, that was certainly a really fun time, really awesome experience.
Jack: Awesome. We’re at the end of the podcast, mate. Thank you so much for jumping on and sharing your experiences and helping us, developing strength & conditioning coaches, learn off yourself, as well as the athletes, to pick up some gems to help their game. What are you excited about for 2022, mate? What’s on the horizon for you?
Aaron: I’ve learned that most of my happiness comes from unmet expectations. I’m trying not to have too many. But I spoke to you off-air that I’ve got some time off the road. I’ve taken some time away from touring to recharge and spend some time with family, which has been really important. And to be able to do that in the environment that’s starting to open up and is a bit more like our normal life, I’m really looking forward to that. I’m enjoying that right now. Being able to live our lives as close to normal as is possible in the current times, with the family, that’s something I’m really looking forward to in the short term.
And then we’re scheduled to go to Sri Lanka in the middle of the year. We haven’t been there for the better part of it will be six years pretty much by that stage. So, I’m really excited that we can get back to Sri Lanka. It’s a great place to tour, and they’re amazing people. And it’d be really exciting. I think by that stage I’ll be jumping out on a skin to get back on the road and get back to doing what we do.
Jack: And for those that want to get in contact with you? Where’s the best place?
Aaron: I’ll probably spend more time on a personal level on Instagram. But certainly I’m trying to spend more time and do more sharing of my learning and insights on LinkedIn. So, reach out to me on LinkedIn from a professional perspective. That’s probably the best place to catch me, and also, hopefully, somewhere I can add some value to my network.
Jack: Absolutely. We’ll add the links in the show notes. Well, thanks again, Aaron. Thank you for jumping on the podcast and thank you for everyone listening in live. If you joined on a little bit later on, you can watch the recording on our YouTube channel. And then in the next couple of weeks we’ll post the podcast recording, which you can watch on any of our directories, the Spotify, iTunes. And we’ll upload that on Instagram when it releases. Thanks again, Aaron, for jumping on.
Our next live chat will be with Darryl Griffiths, the founder of KODA Nutrition. And that will be next Thursday at 8:30 PM.
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