Highlights of the episode:

  • Key considerations for designing a training schedule for professional programs
  • Best ways to start your needs analysis
  • Who are typically the key decision makers in planning
  • Major constraints in semi professional football

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Interview Transcript

Jack: My name’s Jack McLean. I’m your host. And tonight I’m excited to announce our fourth live collaborated event, which will be focused on AFLW, hosting leading athletic development coaches.

Before we start this episode, our mission here at ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ is empowering athletes and staff with practical knowledge from some of the industry’s most inspiring individuals. If you liked the podcast, please show support by finding us on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

Our first guest on the show will be Jordan Sellar, the high-performance manager at the Adelaide Football Club, who have just recently taken out the whole lead by winning the premiership. So, super excited to have Jordy on. His topic will be training demands and schedule design in AFLW and semi-professional football. Welcome, Jordy. Thanks for jumping on, mate. 

Jordan: Thanks, Jack. Thanks for having me on. 

Jack: And, of course, congrats for the seasons. 

Jordan: Thank you. It was cool. It was great team to work with. I’ve worked with them previously before this current thing. Awesome group, awesome club. So, very, very happy to have a good season. It’s really cool.

Jack: Well done, mate. We’ll dive straight into your topic. Take us through what are some of the key considerations when designing a training schedule for a semi-professional program? 

Jordan: So, it was something that I found not only working with the AFLW program at Adelaide, but also in my time in the SANFL at Woodville West-Torrens Football Club, where you’re working with semi-professional athletes and have some time and resource constraints. When it comes to designing your schedule, it becomes really important to have a very, very clear list of priorities, when it comes to, from our end, the physical preparation, but, from a whole of program perspective, that relates back to everything within your football program.

So, I think it’s important to start, whether it’s from a performance perspective or, as I said, more broadly through the footy program, with a very clear needs analysis. You go through and work out exactly what it is with respect to your program that you want to achieve and where you need to invest most of your time. Find those needs, find those areas that you want to address within the program. And then very clearly prioritize those needs.

So, you need to establish what do we want and need to invest the majority of our time into. Because the nature of these semi-professional environments is that you don’t have time to do everything the same way that you would within a full-time professional sporting environment.

An example of that might be, if you sit down with a program and decide you want to maximize skill development time, because your ambition is to be the most skilled team, the competition. That might come at a cost of time spent in other areas. But if you just saw it as a priority and as a team identity, as a program identity, that’s something that you want to invest your time into. You start with that and build your program out from there.

Jack: And you mentioned a needs analysis. For the strength & conditioning coaches listening in, that maybe are taking over their first program, what would be some of the best ways to go about starting a needs analysis and working out what areas to assess?

Jordan: I think, initially, if we’re talking purely from a physical perspective, sit down and have a look at what the ideal athlete within that sport would be capable of. And then have a look at some of maybe your best athletes within your program and assess what it is that separates them from the remainder of your client group or players that are coming up and progressing through the levels. And then take a look at the sport itself.

And I think, with respect to AFLW, it’s important to not just compare that to AFL on the men’s side at this stage. But also with where the game’s at from AFLW perspective and the demands with things like shorter quarters and the timing of the season within the calendar year and things of that nature. And assess what is it that would be ideal AFLW athlete and how do we go about creating that.

And then, if you go through the line, it’s probably something to do with energy system development, their ability to run. It’s probably something to do with strength and power and their ability to express that on the field. And then there’s probably elements of injury prevention related to common injuries that are the same within the field of AFLW and field-based evasion sports in general.

You work out what it is then, when you take all those things into consideration, that you want it to develop within an athlete. And then you have to break down: ‘Okay, that’s what we want to develop. With the time and the resources that we have, how can we build that in the most efficient manner?’

Jack: Awesome. Well said, mate. And what about key decision-makers? Who are typically in these meetings when you’re planning out your year? 

Jordan: The important thing, obviously, from a physical perspective, it involves everybody within the high-performance teams. So, for us at Adelaide, and I’m very fortunate to work with an excellent physio, strength & conditioning coach and GBS sports science analyst. So, from the physical side of things, it’d be all of those team members.

But I think it’s incredibly important to bring the coaches along to that as well. I spoke before about the needs analysis and the prioritization in your program. A lot of that comes back to the direction of your senior coach. I’ve been really lucky for the last few years, both at Adelaide with Matthew Clarke and where I’ve worked previously as well, to work with some excellent coaches.

Ultimately, our goal is to build a team that can fit the identity that the coach wants from that program. And so, I think it’s important to sit down with them and work out what their team identity wants to be and what they view as the priorities for the program and work to supplement that as best you can.

The example I used before is we’re going to be the most skillful team in the league. And that might be the direction that the coach wants to take. And there’s a number of ways to win or to be the best. You can be the most skilled, you can be the most physical. And as long as everybody’s on the same page, like I said, there’s a number of ways to do that. But if the direction from the coaches is that we’re going to be the most skillful team in the competition, you won’t get there by trying to constantly take time away from a physical side for additional bypass or something like that.

So, I think everybody from a coaching and high-performance team needs to be aligned on what the identity and the priorities of the program are. So, that means bringing along everybody from both the high-performance department perspective and from the coaching staff perspective. 

Jack: Sure. Makes a lot of sense. And then, once you’ve done the planning stage, how do you successfully use the information that’s been obtained in those meetings? Is it like when you’re planning your weeks with the head coach? 

Jordan: Hopefully, you’ve got some trust to be in the coaching staff. That’ll be when you get to take away what they want to achieve out of the weeks and you might set up some scaffolding throughout the actual contents of training itself. But often what we do is we work around the periphery to work with the pre-training prep. We work with a warmup and we work with the strength, once they get off the field, or energy systems development conditioning they do at some stage within training.

And so, I think it’s important to take the amount of time that you have on the nights that you have available and have a look at your programming totality from the start of the week to the end of the week and say, ‘All of these things that we identified in our needs analysis, do we have those structured into the week at some point? Do we have them in degrees, which beat with the priorities that we set out at the start of the year? And what opportunities can we use to get those things done?’

And it may be that there’re elements of physical development. I would use something like reactive strength as an example. If we’re trying to be as efficient as we can be with our time in a semi-professional environment, is that something that fits best within our pre-training prep prior to training and is not going to detract significantly from the session itself? And can we load that area of development prior to training, so that we don’t have to subtract full-time from the strength session post-training in order to hit that priority or fill that bucket that we identified earlier in the needs analysis?

So, I think it’s important to take a step back and have a look at your week in totality. Run through at least, if everything you want, you identified in the needs analysis. Then contrast that to the priorities and the things that you said you wanted to invest most of your time into. And make sure that those things are paired up with what’s actually presented when you have a look at your training schedule. 

Jack: I love that, mate. Thanks for sharing. Some actionable as well and how it’s applied. And it sounds like there’s a reflection piece that’s pretty important for this to be successful. So, would that be at the end of a session? At the end of the week? Or is it something that’s not so structured, but it’s just something that you do from time to time with the head coach? 

Jordan: No, I definitely think it’s something you try and do as frequently as possible. I think, if you float along throughout a season and one thing turns into another, you’ll often find that schedules change or training changes as a result of logistics or adjustments that the coaches want to make on their side. And it can be quick. You can quickly drift away from the initial list of priorities and needs that we’ve spoken about. And things can fall by the wayside if you aren’t consciously looking after whether you’re fixing the program, whether you’re addressing them week-on-week as a matter of priority.

So, typically what I would do is sit down at the end of each week and have a look at all of the things that we’ve identified as being important and see whether we’ve ticked those boxes. And as the program evolves, as you move through your preseason, for example, or as you transition from preseason to in-season, just have a look and take stockage of whether you’ve addressed the things that you want to be touching on.

And if you have not, if for some reason you’ve fallen away from something, or if you notice a need arise that you missed somewhere else, or if somewhere along the line your program’s become skewed and you need to get back on track with relation to any element of athletic development or time invested in any space, that can be a chance to then have a conversation with the coach or anybody else that may be involved in that process and say, ‘We need more time allocated here,’ or ‘This is where we need to put some of that focus.’

Jack: You mentioned time earlier on as a constraint. What are some of the major constraints in semi-professional football?

Jordan: It’s two really clear and obvious ones. The first one, obviously, is time. And the main difference between semi-professional and full-time professional programs is they simply don’t have the same amount of time. If you don’t have the same amount of time, you just can’t get the same amount of things done. And that’s why I think it’s incredibly important to have a very clear idea of your priorities within the program, whether that’s from a physical perspective or a football perspective.

The other one is just your resources. Obviously, quite often semi-professional programs aren’t resourced quite as well as full-time professional programs. And when it comes to that, I think that’s something you need to address early on, when you do your needs analysis and set your priorities. I think you need to be very, very realistic, when identifying all of those things about what you have access to and what you can do with the program that you’re working with.

An example from the sample side I’ve previously worked with was over preseason because the facility doubled and there was a cricket club. We very rarely had access to our own facility and club throughout the preseason phase. So, we had very limited gym access all the way through summer. We were never going to run a world class strength and power program. It was something we weren’t able to do, so we never set out to do that. We made all of our identifiable markers and prioritised things that we did address throughout on-field training and any excess we did have to a strength or power program was a supplement and an add-on to that.

We didn’t identify that as something that was going to be world-class. I suppose we didn’t have a program. You need to be really clear early on what you can achieve with your resources. A lack of resources doesn’t mean you can’t run a great program. You can run an excellent program with average resources, but you need to be clear early on about how you’re going to run that program with what you have access to.

Jack: That’s awesome, mate. That’s a good mindset to have: focus on the areas that you can control and pour all your energy into topping up those areas. Is that something that you’ve discovered is important over the years of your career? Or is it something that’s come naturally to you?

Jordan: Honestly, I think I was forced into coming across that because of the team I worked with in the sample prior to the AFLW. Because we’re very fortunate in terms that we actually don’t lack the resources all that much. Time, obviously, is something everybody would like more of. That’s a valuable resource to anybody working in any professional sporting environment or athletes perhaps training in those environments.

I was in a situation with West Darren’s. Like I said, we were forced away from our gym and our home club because of its dual nature as a cricket club as well. And when you’re confronted with that and that’s the situation you’re given, you have to go, ‘Ok, how can we make the best of this situation?’ Exactly like you said, Jack, controlling the controllables. And that was probably the first situation where I had to try.

Because earlier in my career, I’ve been in the other footy club within the men’s program and we had access to everything we could need. But in that environment we just had to make do with the situation we were in. And as long as everybody is aligned from a high-performance coaching and player’s perspective with the outcomes that you set for yourself with the environment you’re working in, it shouldn’t hold you back at all. 

Jack: And what about going back to time for a second? If, obviously, you’re going with your plans, but sometimes that doesn’t quite go to plan and maybe the skills program is 15 minutes over. How does that look into the gym program post training? And what does that mean for the following session or following week? 

Jordan: In that particular example, because I’m sure that comes up a lot. We deal with it all the time and I’m sure others do as well. You have to plan for the long-term and execute on the short-term. And in the moment you need to be really flexible and capable of adjusting sessions, both on a group and individual level, depending on the situation and the context that you’re faced with. But, hopefully, if you do the first part of what we spoke about really well, you identified the priorities of the group early on, those situations become fewer and far between.

We had some things at Adelaide over the last season that we really wanted to prioritize from an on-field perspective. So, it wasn’t uncommon for us to be faced with that abbreviated team access time at the end of the session. But because we knew that we were prioritizing what was happening on the field, we were really comfortable with that. And so, we had some contingency plan around our strength exposures or our strengths sessions. Because we knew that at times we were going to be making the most of every moment that we had out on the field and that was going to be taking some time away.

So, if you’re really clear on those priorities at the start of the year, you should, hopefully, know what you’re capable of, what you need to do your best to stick to consistently, and then you can take some time away from in your program to prioritize those areas. 

Jack: Are there limitations on how much gym program and conditioning you can program for homework sessions for the girls? Like, let’s say, you’ve got your contact times. Is there constraints around how much work you can program for the girls to do outside of the contact times? 

Jordan: Well, according to the rules of the AFLW and the time constraints that we are provided with, there are contracted hours that the girls are available for. And at Adelaide we do our best to stick to those. I’m sure every club does. Because the demands on players away from football in their every day lives, that working and studying and everything else, are so significant, that I think, if you overinvest in training, then you can often reduce the quality quite significantly of when you get the girls when they are in the facility.

What we try and do is prioritize the time we have extremely well. So that players are left wanting for nothing, when they leave the facility after each session. But if you have the situation, where you have players with a really flexible work or study schedule outside of the football club and they’re endeavoring to do everything that they can to get the most out of themselves, then I think as long as you are prescribing things that fit within the program you’re already running, you can provide as many resources and opportunities to develop as possible. And to somebody who’s already training as hard as they can within your program, that might be offering recovery options and access to recovery facilities within the club.

Basically, within the program and within the contracted hours and the hours that everybody’s in the facility, you should have covered all of the bases and everything that you really want from the players. So, if they’re going to be doing anything with their time outside of the contracted hours or on their own time, it should just be the things that allow them to turn up to their group training sessions and execute as best as they possibly can. In most scenarios that is going to be things like recovery and nutrition and things of that nature. 

Jack: Fantastic, mate. Well, thank you so much for jumping on. For those that want to find out more about you, where’s the best place to connect? 

Jordan: I’m not that active on social media and stuff from a work perspective. You probably won’t see me out and about on that. But I’m on Instagram @jordysellar. I think, I’m @jordan_sellar on Twitter. But if anybody just wants to send me an email and get in touch, probably the best place is jordan.sellar@ad.com. I often have people getting in touch and asking about programs and opportunities within the industry and things of that nature. So, if anybody wants to reach out, send me an email. That’d be the best way to go about it, I think. 

Jack: Fantastic. And for those driving listening to the podcast, because I know that’s what I do when I listen to my podcasts, I will add that email in the show notes for you guys. Beautiful, Jordy. Thanks for jumping on, mate.

Jordan: Thanks, Jack. Cheers, mate.

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