Jacqui Louder is the Sport psychologist of the Collingwood Football Club men’s & women’s program and Melbourne Storm. Prior to the pies, Jacqui was at the National Institute of Circus Arts and traveled on the National Dirt Bike and Road bike circuits with Motorcycling Australia, North Melbourne FC, practicing out of Olympic Park.

Highlights from the episode:

  • Career path to become a sports psychologist
  • Tips for aspiring sports psychologists
  • How she built her rapport and soft skills with the athletes
  • Tips for an athlete that feels overwhelmed because of a mistake
  • How she resets a team that lost or won for the next game

Connect: https://www.instagram.com/jacquilouder/

Listen: iTunesSpotify

Interview Transcript

Jack: Welcome back to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast. My name is Jack McLean. I’m the host and in today’s episode I interview Jacqui Louder, who is the sport psychologist of the Collingwood Football men’s and women’s program and works at Melbourne Storm. Prior to that, Jacqui was at the National Institute of Circus Arts and traveled on National Dirt Bike and Road Bike circuits with Motorcycling Australia. She’s worked at North Melbourne Football Club and is practicing out of the Olympic Park.

Highlights from this episode: the points of developing self-awareness; how to use analogies to improve athlete performance; why mental preparation is as important as physical; Jacqui’s career journey from an athlete to a practitioner.

Before we start this episode, for those wanting to improve your 2K time trial and gain a competitive edge this preseason, join our Prepare Like A Pro online program. You can get a free 14-day trial by heading over to our website preparelikeapro.com or click the link in our show notes.

Let’s get into today’s episode. Thanks for joining us tonight.

Jacqui: Hi, thanks for having me.

Jack: I’m looking forward to our chat. We’ll start right back at your beginning. At what age did you discover you had a passion for the mental game, sports psychology? 

Jacqui: Well, it was actually really early. I’d always loved psych and my sister hates me telling this story, but we did heaps of sport growing up and we used to do little athletics. So, we’d go to athletics every Saturday. And my dad and I would sit on the hill and we’d watch my sister do the hurdles and every week she’d fall at the fourth hurdle. And I remember saying to my dad, and I would’ve been like 9 or 10, said to my dad, ‘That’s what I want to do when I grow up. See what’s it like in her head.’ So, I want to help athletes, actually. Really freaky.

And I probably didn’t really recognize that it was able to be a career at that stage. And then when I was in year nine I walked past the school library and they had all these brochures out the front. And I saw a course at Ballarat University, which is now Federation, and it had a double degree like in Human Movement and then I could do Psychology and they had a stream in sports psychology. So, pretty much from year nine I knew that that’s where I was going to go and that’s what I wanted to do. 

Jack: Wow. That’s amazing.

Jacqui: It’s unusual, I know.

Jack: Yeah, when you were nine years old. So, looking back at it now with the professional skills you have, what would you have told your sister, for the young athletes that are listening in?

Jacqui: I definitely would have asked her what her preparation was like, because I’m tipping she would have been expecting to fall at that fourth hurdle, which means that there’s some anxiety there. I can help her through that now. 

Jack: I love that. It’s great story. And when you worked into that year nine course, was that something that was popular in other high schools? How many students were doing it in your class? 

Jacqui: It wasn’t a course. It was a brochure that was saying you could go and study after year 12 at Ballarat University. So, from that moment on I pretty much just kept an eye on it, and that course was still always there. When I was 18, at that stage I knew I’d get the grades to get in. So, I moved from Melbourne up to Ballarat and I was playing State League Netball at the time. So, I was going back and forth between Melbourne and Ballarat four or five times a week to maintain it. But that’s actually still where I ended up and I loved it.

Jack: Fantastic. It normally takes people a few years to find their truth and their career and passion, but that’s amazing that you find it at such a young age and you’re doing it for a long successful career as well. That’s super inspiring. For those that do want to become sport psychologists, take us through the steps and what you need to do to be a qualified sports psychologist. 

Jacqui: If you want to do psychology, basically, the first few years undergrads you can do it through a Sports Science degree, a Science degree or just go straight into Arts (Psychology). The undergrad is pretty similar, no matter where you go.

I found that doing the Human Movement Sports Science degree, and then with the psych, just gave me a really good ability to be able to talk to the dieticians and the doctors and the physios, and have a really good understanding. So, that was my logic for wanting to do it that way.

Once you’ve done your three years, you then can do a graduate diploma. So, fourth year. Or you can do an honors as your fourth year. And then once you finished your fourth year, you have to go and do a fifth and sixth year. So, that’ll be a Master’s or you can pick a PhD. And after that, you’re a general psychologist.

And then, once you’re a general psychologist after six years, you then go and do anywhere from 18 months to two years working as a sport psych, where you’ve got a supervisor and you’ve got a log of all of your hours and all that. So, it’s a pretty long, long journey, but it’s well worth it. And certainly I think the job opportunities now are so much more than when I first came out. 

Jack: And you were playing high level netball, like you said, state level. Did you know that you wanted to work in high performance from the get-go when you started doing your degree?

Jacqui: Yes. From the very start. I’ve always had a fascination with high performance and what makes people want to be the best. And, I guess, for me I’m that same personality. I want to be the best at what I do. I ended up with probably too many injuries to follow the athlete pathway. So, crossed over to the other side and it’s actually worked out pretty well.

Jack: It sure has. And what about mentors and influences early on in your career?

Jacqui: I think ultimately it probably initially stems from my parents. Both of them have a really amazing work ethic. So, knowing that it was going to be a really long journey, it definitely came from them at the start.

And then I had some great lecturers at uni that could probably see how driven I was and how determined I was to do things. And then I had a really great coach when I first came out that I started working with the states softball teams. And I had a really great coach there. Pete Phillips, who’s passed away now. He was the first one, I think, that could really just see the value of psychology and brought me on board to be able to work with the Under 16 state team. And then I went to the Under 19 team, the open team. So, he was pretty huge for me.

And then, I guess, having that association, I went through the Victorian Institute of Sport for a little bit. So, there’s a few coaches in there. Roger Flynn was an amazing coach to work with who was in squash. He had some pretty high level athletes and the way he pushed me to think and push my boundaries and those sorts of things.

And then now, obviously, along the way, it’s some pretty incredible people that you get to work with. Some great coaches, a couple of amazing footy managers at Melbourne Storm. I’ve got Frank Pennisi, who’s just allowed me to do my job, but given me the support and is super fair and the way he does things.

It’s not just psychologists. It’s athletes, it’s coaches, it’s your admin. People that help you believe in what you do, but also encourage you and give you that freedom to go. ‘You go be your best and we’re going to help you do that for us and do that for yourself.’

Jack: And for the practitioners listening in that are interested in sports psychology, maybe they are doing their sports science degree and they’re not sure where they want to go with it, or they do know what they want to do and they want to work in high-performance sport. How competitive is it to get your foot in the door and what would be some tips that you would give for those people that want to work in high performance?

Jacqui: I think it’s getting really competitive now and the courses, there’s not a heap of courses around. But I would say, as soon as you know this is what you want to do, start reading. There’s so many books, there’s so many resources, there’s so many podcasts and things like that. So, you’ll hear some of the best that are around doing these sort of things to learn from.

I think the biggest for me, my biggest asset has always been networking. Every opportunity I got I was prepared to take it. I would drive two hours to be able to get an opportunity with a netball team. Or I drive an hour and a half this way to be able to go and work with a swimming club. So, I think embracing any opportunities that you actually get.

And the other side of it would be, apart from reading and listening to podcasts and things, making sure that if there’s conferences on and things like that, where you can see there is a sport psych stream and there are sport psychs that are well-known or in certain organizations that you want to be in, pay the money and go to them. And introduce yourself. We’re a pretty small network, but we’re really friendly network. And we know that this is such a growing area.

So, the opportunities to come in, and certainly at, not grassroots sport, maybe like your state level sports. Like for me, I started with softball. It’s not a mainstream sport. It wasn’t a sport that I grew up in. But I had a coach and assistant coaches with him as well that really understood the mental side. And so, that was a huge opportunity for me. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was fun. And those coaches now are still some of my closest friends because they gave me a start, but I could use my foundation skills there and build.

Jack: And you mentioned the uni lecturers saw passion in you and it was at the connection with the softball coach or, because, obviously, you played netball. So, how did you make that network? 

Jacqui: I can’t even remember how. That was so long ago now. I can’t even remember how we made that. I think I got an opportunity at a high school. I think it was Blackburn High at the time and they were running an elite sports program. I was in my fourth year and I contacted the guy who ran that course. And I said, ‘I’m happy to come and talk about the mental side of things to your year 10 students.’

And they did an article in the paper, and I think the coach saw that and then rang me. Got in touch with me from that and said, ‘Hey, I’m interested in having someone do this.’ So, it was just in the local newspaper that talked about this, this course that I had, that I threw myself into. I’m pretty sure it came from there. 

Jack: You create your own luck, create opportunities.

Jacqui: Pretty much.

Jack: That’s great. I love that. But for those tuned in, that’s a great story. And something to know down to where you’re staying, like the university, make sure you do your best, but then also do things outside of the uni as well to create opportunities and get that work experience. And when you’re working at a club, even if it is community level, I imagine you’re the only sports psychologist. And you’ve got supervisors and networks there, but how did you go about building the rapport with athletes and building those soft skills?

Jacqui: I think a big component is for me, I think I’ve always said you’ve got to make sure that you listen and just try and keep your head and your bum in the same place and not try to think too far ahead and go, ‘Right, I’m just going to embrace this opportunity.’

And every athlete has a story, and for me, I find them that interesting that it doesn’t matter if it was an under 16 state player or it’s an Olympian or an AFL player. I think it’s actually just about listening and giving them your time and working with them. The textbook gives you a really good baseline of understanding of areas. But I think the athlete is the one that gives you the best guidance on what you need to do with them or what they want. And then it’s a really collaborative relationship.

I think the practitioners that I’ve seen that probably don’t create those connections is they take the attitude that, ‘Well, you can learn from me.’ Whereas my attitude is: the athlete that I’m with is the smartest person in the room because the topic is them. So, if I go in with that approach, then I always assume I know less than the person I’m talking to. 

Jack: That’s so true. I was at the workshop this morning and the coach who’s been in the strength & conditioning game for a long time said, ‘You’ve always got to give a little bit to gain a lot.’ And that resonates with what you’re saying. That’s so true. Doesn’t it make that give first mentality for buy-in or anything, I guess, in terms of building relationships? That’s really sound advice.

Jacqui: You absolutely have to. And I think it’s also my job is such a privilege. Like people share things that they don’t share even with their families. They’re really vulnerable with you. Like if it’s an elite athlete, who just is frustrated with performance, who’s got issues going on at home or whatever it is. So, you really have to treat that with respect and with kid gloves. 

Jack: And what about key areas for the athletes that are tuned in? Like you said, it’s a growing area. And it’s certainly something that I’ve seen working in elite sport, like the physical side hasn’t changed too much over the last decade. But the game, COVID interrupted a little bit, I guess, for budget, but there’s a lot of momentum and athletes just seem to be so open now to work on getting into a game. So, the friction seems to be less. And now practitioners like yourself, I guess, they’re getting more access to athletes and more time with them. And, like you said, having coaches that value it must be so helpful.

So, for those that want to get better in this space, for the young developing athletes around 16 years of age, what would be some things that they can do? Or what would be some fundamental pillars that they should start practicing in terms of their mental space?

Jacqui: I think the biggest one for me is making sure that whatever you’re trying, you’re doing a training, you spend more time in training than you do in performance. So many athletes turn up and training is pretty much just tick the box and get it done. And they physically push themselves, but they don’t necessarily switch on. And that’s where your greatest awareness is going to come from. How am I feeling at training? Where’s my headspace? The transfer from training to competition is a really big one.

I think having an awareness of how you think, how you talk to yourself is huge, because if I said to you, ‘Whatever you do, don’t think about an elephant.’ First thing you do is thinking about an elephant, right? You think it, you see it, you feel it pretty much. So, if you’re telling yourself, ‘I’m not very good at this,’ then you see yourself not doing so well. And then that doesn’t make you feel so good. So, it’s having an awareness of what your dialogue is and then figuring out how we can actually help you change that.

And then, I think, the ability to learn how to critically think and evaluate your own performances is really important. Because when you’re on the footy field, on the tennis court, in the swimming pool, on the netball court, on the golf course, you don’t have your coach there to do the thinking for you. You’ve got to do that yourself. So, learning how to critically think and give your coach feedback before they give it to you, so that you learn how to talk and assess, and then they add to it. Because the most important opinion is that of the athlete. They’re the ones that are competing. 

Jack: That’s such great advice because if you’re thinking about that already, by the time you get that feedback, you might already have a question ready. And you know how your body feels, what was going on, all the information in that current situation that you’re in, so you are able to really lean on your coach or your psychologist on how to then develop areas to get better in that space or perform.

Jacqui: Yeah, absolutely.

Jack: And you mentioned self-awareness. What are some ways that you can develop your self-awareness?

Jacqui: I think first and foremost is being able to figure out what some of your triggers might be for your reactions to things. So, if you’re lucky enough that you’ve got some footage of you competing, having a look at how you’ve reacted in certain situations. What am I like before I start my performance? So that we can have a look at your routines. Getting in pre-performance routines is important. Having a look at how you manage through a performance. So, your ability to adapt and those sorts of things. That’s probably where I’d start first up.

And then it’s knowing, when you go in, what triggers me when I do really well, what triggers me when I probably lose emotional control and I start getting distracted by all of those uncontrollable factors, other people, referees, crowds, results, scoreboards. You’ve got to be able to niggle all those uncontrollable things.

Having an awareness of what are the things that demotivate me. I think when we talk about motivation, people are like, ‘Oh, how do I get more motivated?’ My first question is always, ‘Well, what demotivates you?’ Is it a hard competition? Is it the weather? Is it having to be able to perform when you’ve got a little bit of an injury? So, knowing what demotivates you, helps you then figure out how to get yourself going.

Jack: And knowing what demotivates you, like you mentioned how you want to first practice in training, so then would you put yourself in more of those situations with the tools you’ve been given from your psychologist, but then you would practice that in training and you practice the mental game in that physical?

Jacqui: Yeah, absolutely. So, if we’ve got a tennis player and they find that they can lose focus and get very demotivated if they lose their first service game, then what you work with the coaches on is doing some practice sets of training, where you start them and they’re 2:0 down. So, we assume they’ve lost their first service game. Or you give them a bit of a handicap, is that you’re 2:0 down and it’s 30 all and you’ve got to serve. So, you put them in those precious situations. And then watch how they go about it, listen to their dialogue. And then you step in at those moments and teach them how to change that.

Jack: That’s great. And then in those moments where, like you said, the athlete’s competing by themselves, they’ve got their teammates, but they don’t have their coaches. So, you need to practice giving yourself feedback and almost becoming your own coach, which is such an awesome philosophy.

Jacqui: Very much.

Jack: So, with that, when you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed and you’re frustrated with yourself, because you’ve made a mistake or you’ve let down a teammate, whatever it might be, what should you do? Because you hear about mindfulness, breathing exercises, is it speaking to a teammate? Or is it depending on the individual?

Jacqui: The first thing I would always say to an athlete is ask yourself: what can I control? Because human beings, by nature, we’re control freaks. We don’t like not being in control because then we don’t feel safe and we don’t feel like we’re going to get where we want to go.

So, having a really good dialogue of, ‘Well, what can I control right now? You know what? I can just work on my foot. Or I’m just going to focus on getting good percentage tennis for the next two points and just get myself feeling pretty good. I’m just going to go to the back of the court and take a few breaths.’ So, those sorts of things, let’s say, if it’s a tennis match.

If it’s a football match, when you come to the bench, it might be talking to somebody, it might be doing some breathing, it might be going for a walk. It might just be getting a footy in your hand and just doing a few ground balls and just getting a bit of touch back in there. If it’s a swimmer, it’s just, ‘Okay. Let’s just focus on my pool under the water. Let’s focus on my kick rate.’

So, you put them back in touch with skills that they’ve got control of, that they feel good with. Once they do that, it’s amazing how quickly they forget the other stuff that was going on. 

Jack: That’s awesome. And that’s a great thing for athletes, no doubt, to start practicing, especially in the off-season. Put yourself in those situations, like you said, what can trigger you. It might be goal kicking practice, physical thing for a footballer, like missing a goal.

And when you’re creating that environment at an elite level, how do you go about crowd noise and all those sorts of distractions that you’re talking about? What are some things that are done at Collingwood where you try and replicate that preparing for finals game or something like that?

Jacqui: I think some of those ones are actually pretty easy. You could just put some EarPods in and you’ve got crowd noises going through it. So that you know that if you, let’s say, you’re going to have an Anzac Day game and there’s a huge crowd and you may not be able to communicate verbally as clearly. So, you’re learning, obviously, different hand signals.

If you know that there’s some that might get overwhelmed, let’s say, it’s your first game and it happens to be a huge one, get some of the senior boys to put them under some of that physical pressure and make sure their skills hold up. It’s putting, like I said, the noise canceling headphones on and teaching them just how to zone in. It’s in the middle of a training session when they’re like high heart rate and all that sort of stuff, pulling them off straightaway and saying, ‘Right, we’ve got 30 seconds. Let’s bring your heart rate down.’

So, you’re teaching them how to do those resets. And yeah, you put the variables in where you can, the crowd noises. I’ve definitely said, if I want to test the resilience of an athlete sometimes, getting one of their teammates, setting it up, so that they get into them and have a bit of a crack and put them under pressure and just, ‘Mate, you’ve got to lift your game. That’s not our training standards. You need to lift those.’ And the kid gets frustrated, but we talk them through it at the end and explain what we’re doing.

And sometimes you do that with your senior players. If they are not showing good emotional control, then you’ll work with the coaches to put them under a bit of emotional pressure and just let’s see how they cope and we can then pull them off. And we do that in a really safe environment, like a training session, so you can talk them through it.

And then that’s what training is. It’s training your physical state, but it’s really training your mental state as well. And when you go into a competition, we can see what you have or have not trained, physically and mentally. So, we need to take those variables as much as possible. 

Jack: And by doing that, you’re not only improving the developing player, but the senior players learning how to give constructive feedback.

Jacqui: Yeah. And that’s one of the biggest ones I think. Every human being has an ego in terms of how you feel about yourself and how you judge yourself. And elite athletes, their ego is tested every single time they go to compete. There’s a million and one media people commenting on their performance. You and I don’t have that every day at work. You have a bad day at work, it’s not going to be on the front page of the Herald Sun or the Age, or Sydney Morning Herald or whatever.

So, I think helping athletes develop that really healthy ego where it’s, ‘Hey, I’m really good at this. And this is my strength.’ But on the other side, being able to take that feedback and understanding: ‘That’s about my performance. That’s not about me as a human being.’ 

Jack: Well, we’ll stick with the athlete phase and then get back to your career journey. For footballer’s week in the in-season, what are the things that you do with the players early in the week, and that’s for recovering and absorbing the game, whether it was a loss or win or whatever it was, and then to help reset for the preparation for the next week? And then also, what does it look like, the day before a game? Is that something that you work with the individuals to create like a minus one day, correct?

Jacqui: I think it’s very much individual, like you’ll have different routines, different assessments, different ways of doing it with different athletes, because they’re all playing different positions and they’ve got different personalities.

You might, obviously, as a team, you sit down and they’ll do their review and you might be asking questions to the entire group. My big thing is, it’s in so many teams I’ve seen reviews done where it’s the, ‘We did this and we didn’t do this and we didn’t do this.’ And my question is, ‘Okay, great. That’s a verbal replay of what happened. I saw that, watched that. Why not?’

You’ve got to ask that ‘why?’ question. Why didn’t we follow our structure here? Why did we panic in this situation? Why didn’t you get the reaction time that you wanted? Or, why didn’t you remember our plays or whatever? And often they may not be able to answer that why question, but you’ve got to keep trying to find it and keep asking it.

And then individually you certainly sit down with players in the first few days and go through things. And then the day, really two days out. So, they’ve got a day off. The day before, hopefully, you’ve got some pretty good routines. There’s not a lot of talking. And then at the grounds, some people like to just check in with you and just know you’re around. And others might just go into a little meditation. Some will access you a lot more through a match, whether that’d be half-time or full-time.

This year, I was lucky enough to be sitting on the bench, so I could see the mental state and the reactions, and to be able to have some conversations in the moment that you wouldn’t be able to have if you weren’t in that position. And that makes a huge difference as well. 

Jack: Wow. That’s fascinating. Is that something that you’ve done before, or is this something that the club tried for the first time? 

Jacqui: I’ve done it before in different teams, but I don’t think it’s been done before, certainly, not at Collingwood. And I don’t know how many other sites do it that way. And this is the thing, I guess. Everyone works really differently and it depends on what your background and stuff is.

For me, being at the performances and being there in that moment to get it before it gets out of control or to see it unfold, allows me to go, ‘Right. We need to work on this.’ Or, ‘We can quickly do this right now.’ And you can sometimes, I guess, save a performance instead of that whole second half becoming terrible. They’ve quickly accessed you.

Or sometimes it’s not even they need to talk to you, but they see you and they remember what you’ve gone through. And so, you might be a trigger for the things and that’s all you need to do. I just let the players guide me on what they need and they’ll come to you if they need you. And if they don’t, I just let them do their thing. 

Jack: That’s awesome. I’ve never heard of that before, but it does make sense. It’s such a good asset to have for that reset and having someone that you can lean on. And what about analogies? Is this a thing where players create like a word that you work with them on, that means something to them too, for that same reason, the trigger? 

Jacqui: Yeah, absolutely. And they’re the things you find through the week and you’ll often have little analogies for them, or you might have one or two words that are their reset words, or it reminds them of what one of their strengths are. You’re always going to do that with them because that’s their personal thing. 

And you’ll often see, cameras have a really good way of picking up, if athletes have something on their wrist or on the tape or whatever. And I always have a bit of a chuckle when they’re trying to figure out what it means. And sometimes they are so far off, which is my entertainment, I guess. And I’m going, ‘That doesn’t mean that. That’s no way near that.’ So, it’s good watching them sometimes try and figure it out. But yeah, it’s just different strategies for different athletes. 

Jack: And for those that haven’t experienced that before, what would be a common analogy or even a strength that the player would focus on? I think you talked about it before, when they’re in that moment of frustration, they focus on the next task or their quick feet, or something important to their game. 

Jacqui: Some of them might keep it pretty basic and just put like an H for hands and an F for feet and it’s hands and feet. For others, it might be a particular mindset that they want to have, which might just be lift or compete or something else. And it doesn’t really matter what sport it is. The only one, I guess, where you’re probably really limited is with swimming. Because they’re obviously under the water, so you can’t really put too many things. But we would have triggers in for when they turn, what they’re thinking like a trigger word when they’re pushing off the wall or something like that. So, there’s spots within their performance where you can still put those reminders for them. 

Jack: Right. That’s such good advice for those listening in to the either live chat or podcasts. What about, talking about your career and the experiences you were getting early days to develop yourself and now, in the elite space and have been for a number of years, how did you come to work for Collingwood and Melbourne Storm? And take us through what a typical week would look like for yourself?

Jacqui: Hectic. It would be the week, when you go across a few different places. So, I’ve been at Olympic Park at the Sports Medicine Center for about 20 years. And that’s where AAMI Park is, the stadium. Melbourne Storm’s in that stadium. So, very early in my career I was getting one or two of the Melbourne Storm players referred to me because I just happened to be in the same precinct.

And then that just got a bit more frequent and then just got to a point where a few years ago, I think, I started with them at the end of 2016, Frank and Craig Bellamy, they spoke to me about wanting to probably do more in this space and because they were pretty familiar with the fact that I knew quite a few of the boys already. So, it was kind of like a 15-year interview, I guess.

Jack: They had a sports psychologist before yourself? 

Jacqui: No, they were just referring them individually. It was an amazing opportunity. And, obviously, externally you hear all these wonderful things that Melbourne Storm and how good an organization they are. You don’t pass up an opportunity to go and work with a team that has so much success and such an amazing culture that you just want to be part of that.

My role has really grown there from where I started, which was sort of doing just an individual stuff and being at some trainings and seeing how the team worked. And then some group presentations and a lot more one-on-one work. And so, every year you grow with what the team needs.

And then I’d been at the Circus Institute for about 13 years and there was a new GM that was appointed at Collingwood’s when they set up their women’s division. That’s their netball program and the AFLW programs. A few years into that, they hired a GM who came in and said, ‘Why don’t we have a sports psych in these programs?’

And I had been working with quite a few of the netballers. So, she contacted me and said, ‘You work with a few of our netballers. I was wondering if we could just have a chat and catch up about those guys?’ I went and had coffee and that afternoon she rang and said, ‘Actually, we’d really love you to come on board if you’ve got the capacity.’

It was a really nice time for a change. I’d been with Circus for 13 years. And it was all in AAMI Park precinct. I’ve got all my ducks in a row there. So, you go into the clinic, walk down the corridor – I’m at Melbourne Storm. Walk across the oval – I’m at Collingwood.

Having done three years with the girl’s programs, at the end of the 2020 season, I got a phone call, I’ve known Bugs for a long time, got a phone call from him. And he was like, ‘I’d really love you to come work with the men’s program as well. So, you cross the club.’ And so, that’s what I do. That was my first year this year, which was amazing. And boys are fantastic to work with, really good people. So, it’s been a bit of a dream, really. 

Jack: That’s amazing. Well done. 

Jacqui: It’s taken a long time, but I love a new challenge and I love learning a new group. That’s what I think for me keeps me so fresh and really passionate about what I do is everyone’s got a story. It’s a new group, new challenges. And I love that. 

Jack: And on that note with challenges, what has been one of your biggest challenges in your career so far and what have you learnt or how have you grown from it? 

Jacqui: I think probably one of the biggest challenges, which is always ongoing, is our role is sometimes very, very hard to measure. People see what you’re doing and they think that you’re just having a conversation. And there’s so many people that come into our space, and ‘I’m a motivational this and that.’ That’s not our role.

It’s a really hard and an ongoing thing to explain. And sometimes you feel like you’re justifying, but it’s about educating all the different things that we can do. Like I did my fourth year in organizational psych, so I can do profiling. That’s not a role that some psychs play, but it’s definitely a role others play.

Jack: So, that could be in recruiting and interviews?

Jacqui: Correct. So, it’s in recruiting. For me, I did the profiling when we’ve just hired a new coach at Collingwood. I did all the profiles for candidates.

Jack: Oh, wow. Awesome.

Jacqui: So, you’re going through and you’re looking at all of those sorts of things. And that’s a big part of your role. At Collingwood we have another psych that is specifically in recruiting and does all of the draftees and everything else. But it’s then getting that handover and knowing what you’ve got coming in and how much their personality plays into well, how are we going to coach this athlete?

And the coaches, they know their craft and the techniques. But you can know that till the cows come home, but if you can’t learn how to work with and talk to this particular person, you won’t get the best out of them. So, we can often be that real conduit in the middle to say, ‘I wouldn’t word it that way. I think what’s going to happen with this athlete the way they learn, the way they understand things. I’d probably go about it this way and that’s going to be better.’ ‘Yep, that athlete, you can be as direct as you like.’

And they’ll take that feedback really well. This one needed a bit of a softer approach. So, it’s helping them to be able to make sure you manage your people within your club and your teams and your sports to bring out the best in them, but also to make them feel really valued and safe with you.

Jack: And on that topic, do you see the future? You mentioned how you’ve got someone that’s helped you out with the recruiting and with yourself, could it be in 10 years, 5, whatever it might be how many years, but there’s a psychologist that works only with the players and a psychologist that only works with the staff. Or do you think that it needs to be across both?

Jacqui: That’s definitely been trialed in some clubs. And I think it depends on the setup of your club, the personalities of the individuals and the way a coach wants to do it. I’m very lucky in the coaches that I work with, they don’t ask you, ‘Oh, what are you doing with this athlete?’ Sometimes you definitely bring the coach in and I say to the athlete, ‘I think it’s really important that we bring the coach in for this, so they can help you when you’re on the field or on the court, or whatever.’ So, I think some clubs have definitely trialed that.

We tried that at Storm and it probably wasn’t the best system. And one of the reasons was because of the setup. Our coaches do so much of cutting their own video footage, that they don’t have the hours available. So, that probably wasn’t the best model. It had nothing to do with the psychs that were being used. It’s just the model. So, it’s already happening. It’ll keep happening. But I think you have to be able to adapt that and recognize it’s not a one-size-fits-all.

Jack: And we talked about challenges and your learnings from it. What about highlights? What are the things you look back on fondly in your career? 

Jacqui: I think that one is, and you might feel like this is a bit boring, but your highlights are often literally just seeing someone who’s worked super hard get selected. And there’s others. It’s a grand final win. It’s a world championship. It’s getting a contract somewhere. I think it’s all those. For me, it’s the personal journeys, because you go through so much, you know so much, you’re basically part of this person’s life. So, for me, that’s the really enjoyable part, is sitting back and just taking some joy and seeing them happy.

But with Storm, I’ve been lucky to be part of a couple of grand finals with them. When I first started at North Melbourne, I was still at uni and that was a lot of finals and grand finals with them. I’ve been lucky to be part of some pretty big Olympics and Commonwealth games and world championships. And I think probably for me, one of the best things I ever did was the World Uni Games.

We had an amazing medical team. Some of them I still work with in different spots, but that’s a village type situation, exactly, like an Olympics. We were in South Korea at the time and it was just like getting around and going to all the different sports. The Korean community just really loved having the Games there. And you’d go out for dumplings each night and be back at the village. I really loved that experience as well.

Jack: It sounds amazing.

Jacqui: Yeah. It’s a very privileged position and I certainly don’t take it for granted. But it’s often the little things that others don’t see, but you know the journey that person’s been on. To me, that’s the real joy in the job. 

Jack: And on the Olympic athletes, I’ve never worked with an Olympic athlete myself, but that four year campaign that you go through, like from a psychology point of view, how do you manage if an athlete has an injury just before that event of that campaign and they’ve trained their whole life for it? Talk us through some of those scenarios that you’ve been through.

Jacqui: If that happens, you grieve with the athlete, really. And that’s a really important process to make sure you don’t try and rush them through that. I think too often, probably people who don’t quite know how to manage those situations, it’s, ‘Don’t worry. I know it’s disappointing.’ I let the athlete grieve it. You have to. They’re allowed to be frustrated and upset and angry.

And if that takes them, like if you’re still sitting there six months down the track, we’ve probably got a problem. But I think a really important part of that is let them mourn their loss. They know they’re not dying. They know no one else is dying. It’s not about that. But loss is very much how the individual determines that. So, mourning that loss in a way that’s appropriate. My job is just to support them and let them know it’s okay to be upset about that and grieve that.

And then when the timing’s right, some athletes want to just get out there and support their teammates and that’s really a vital part of their recovery. And other athletes don’t want to be anywhere near it. And I understand that. And so, you try and manage that with them and speak to the coaches and say, ‘Look, I understand that this is a rule you want to put in, but this is not going to work for this athlete. And we’re going to traumatize them a lot more.’

It does depend too on where the athlete is at in their career. If this is an athlete that is 21 years old and making this Olympics probably was going to be a long shot. This is their first trials. It’s a loss, but it’s not end of opportunity. If you’ve got an athlete who’s 29 and this is their last opportunity to go to the Olympic Games or make another Olympic Games. And this is potentially career ending.

That whole process changes, because then you are not dealing with just the athlete, you’re dealing with the coach who’s been through the whole journey. You’re dealing with teammates, with family members. So, I think it’s about also understanding their support networks. And you do that, you learn people’s families and know who they all are when you go through that journey pretty closely with them. 

Jack: Yeah, it’s such an impact that you have and such important role in their life, as well as their professional life.

But we’ll have a short drink break, guys. This is a little video about our Academy. And we’ve actually got one of our Academy members, Lucas, who’s a gun-ho footballer, very keen to get better and he knew Jacqui was coming on tonight and he asked me if he can come on and ask a couple of questions. So, Lucas, you’ve got a couple of minutes, mate. And we’ll have you on after this quick little ad.

 

Hi, I’m Jack MacLean, AFL football strength & conditioning coach. And I want to introduce you to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ Academy. Our Academy is a subscription-based platform where you can sign up to be a part of our community. If you get to the end of each episode of the podcast and are hungry for more, this is for you. Designed for aspiring AFL athletes and staff, you’ll receive heaps of bonus weekly content, learn who the guests are in advance and submit questions.

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All right. Welcome back, guys. And welcome, Lucas. Thanks for jumping on and I’ll leave it, mate, for your questions. Jump on it.

Lucas: You might’ve covered this one just at the end there, but if an athlete gets a real long-term injury and they don’t have a lot of motivation to get back, if it’s like ACL or something, how do you keep them positive throughout that whole situation, whole rehab?

Jacqui: Long rehab don’t recognize that they should be seeing a site pretty much at the start of that. I would say, when anyone gets an injury that’s four to six weeks or longer, go see a site straight up. And then the process we go through is we break it down and go, ‘Right. The physio gives that person little indicators. This is our first marker. This is our next step.’ And so, we really set our goals based on that.

Staying on top of their language the whole way through, so I can hear that language. If it’s, ‘I’m getting frustrated,’ or not ‘It’s been a really great couple of weeks,’ we’ll use potentially some video footage of them competing, so that they mentally stay in touch with that identity. We might use a lot of visualization, so that we still got those same muscle twitches and that same connection to their sport. When you’re doing all these other things, it’s much easier to keep them motivated along the way. 

Lucas: If they just don’t have a lot of confidence, like they might be out of form for a few weeks, is there any tricks or tips that you’ve got for people that are out of form?

Jacqui: I always say to athletes, ‘Go back to what are your biggest strengths. When you are in form, what do you do really well?’ And then they might, hopefully, pick four or five different things. And so, each week you might just say, ‘Okay, next performance we’re just going to measure these two. We’re not going to worry about everything else. Let’s just measure these two. Let’s put some drills in. Let’s work with the coaches to get those skills up.’

I think the big thing a lot of athletes do and individuals do is if they’re out a form, they’re trying to fix everything at once. That’s a lot to be doing. And if you try and change everything at once, and then you play one good game, you don’t really know what caused it. If you pick one or two things, stick with those for a few weeks, when you feel really good. Not just get them for one performance, but when those things are better for three or four performances, then get your next couple of things. And then just build on that. 

Lucas: Nice. One last one. I’m not sure if you do this type of thing, but if the group isn’t jelling together emotionally, like there’s a few cracks within the team, how do you get them back playing as a team? 

Jacqui: That’s again, a really great question. A huge area for us is looking at team connection and understanding your teammate. One of the things a lot of clubs do is learning about who the person is next to you. Not as an athlete, but as an actual human being. There’s lots of different games and activities that you can do with that.

And then I think it’s about making sure that when you’re training a team, it’s so easy for the athletes when you do partner work to go to the same person. So, have a rule in your team: you don’t have partner work with the same person twice in a week, you’ve got to keep moving yourself around. If it’s a footy team, you’ve got plenty of players.

If you’re sitting down to have a meal together, you’re not allowed to sit next to the same person. Like, ‘Okay, this meal you’ve got to sit with someone that’s not in your area. If you’re a forward, you’ve got to go sit with a back or midfielder. And you’ve got to come away at the end of the lunch or the dinner or the breakfast, and we’re going to ask everyone to tell us two things you’ve just learned about the person sitting next to you.’

And then it might be things like every week you assign to someone in the team, ‘You might be my partner this week. And at the end of the week I need to make sure that I’ve given you two pieces of good feedback about your training this way. And it can’t be too generic, there’s got to be things that are specific. So, I’m actually starting to really look for and create the opportunities to praise you.’ If everyone’s doing that, then next week you can get a different partner.

Lucas: Nice. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks a lot for that.

Jacqui: No problem.

Jack: Awesome questions. Well thought out, Lucas.

Jacqui: Great questions.

Jack: Got the notepad out as well, mate.

Jacqui: Went across the individual and the team. Good job. 

Lucas: Yeah. Cheers. See you later.

Jack: Awesome, Lucas. I’ll speak to you soon, mate. Hi again. Thanks for answering those, Jacqui.

Jacqui: No worries.

Jack: Recently, anyone on our program or Academy have the opportunity to join a guest. And, like I mentioned, as soon as I announced that you were coming on, Lucas jumped at it. He’s very hungry for information, Lucas, and he’s always got great questions, far better than mine. It’s increased the value of the podcast, which is awesome.

We are at the personal side of the podcast now, the professional questions are down. This is a lighter segment of the podcast, a bit of a get-to-know-Jacqui. Which movie or TV series has impacted you the most and why?

Jacqui: Probably TV series too. So, I love ‘The West Wing’, which is political. My dad loved it and always said, ‘You’d love this.’ It’s all about American politics and the White House. And I loved it. Amazing scripts, amazing actors. I loved the high power of it, the high performance aspect of it. So, that’s what attracted me to that one.

And the other one’s probably a lot more of a classic right now, but ‘Schitt’s Creek’. And I just loved that for the character development, like from where they started and just really seeing those personal characters come through. I loved that whole series. I thought it was so well-done. 

Jack: There’s a couple of them. I haven’t watched either of them. So, I’ve heard of those now. I’ll have to check them out.

Jacqui: Amazing.

Jack: Favorite inspirational quote or life motto? 

Jacqui: That one’s probably a bit of a hard one. I think for me, probably the thing that I live by is creating really great relationships. And for me, the first one is trying to find the similarities and the second one is in really respect the differences. Because my whole job is built on relationships. That’s probably what I do. And along with that is I think the best relationships are the ones that really begin unexpectedly. And it just naturally unfolds. So, it’s just trusting that process as well. 

Jack: That’s great. I haven’t heard that one before, but it definitely resonates. Particularly respecting the differences, which is so important in a team environment, like the question Lucas asked. Everyone’s different and that makes almost the beauty of working in a team, doesn’t it?

Jacqui: Oh, absolutely. It’s one of the best things. You don’t want everyone to be the same. The differences is what gives you so much fun, I think, in your environments.

Jack: A hundred percent. And what about in your work life, what makes you angry? What are your pet peeves? 

Jacqui: One of my pet peeves is probably people thinking they know how to do my job better than me, and they’ve got no training.

Jack: Happened a few times. Stay in your lane.

Jacqui: Yeah, ‘stay in your lane’ is one of my favorite statements. I hate being underestimated as well. And I think the other one is and probably this is because I’m in that site where there’s so much media around, but I really hate it when athletes get judged, coaches or whoever, get judged. And these people don’t even know them. And the comments become so personal. They’re there to comment on performance, they’re not there to comment on the person that they don’t actually know.

The media will always keep me in a job, because they’re a bit reckless with their comments a lot of the times. And that really bugs me because these guys are out there, guys and girls are out there, trying to do their best at the highest level with so much scrutiny. Respect that and just give them credit for what they’re doing.

Jack: It’s such a good point. And you talked about it earlier. It’s like we don’t get critiqued like that about our work and all they’re doing is doing their jobs. It’s tough.

What’s your favorite way to spend your day off? You’re working pretty hard at the moment and with the amount of important work that you’ve got on, but when a day off comes, what do you like to do? 

Jacqui: I probably like to actually get up and be a little bit productive and get any housework or whatever done pretty early. And then I’ll go for a really long walk anywhere from 10 to 20Ks, or I’ll go do a big long walk on a weekend. And then either going out for breakfast or having people over for dinner. I love cooking. And I think sharing a meal with people is one of the nicest things you can do. So, doing that with my family and my friends. 

Jack: Actually I was listening to something the other day and they were talking about, now that restaurants are open, the importance of that connection over eating your meal together is something that’s been in Melbourne, anyway. So, we’ll be able to appreciate that and maybe be a bit more grateful for it now. But what about in a COVID-free world, where would you like to go on a holiday? And why is it your favorite destination? 

Jacqui: Well, for people who probably know me pretty well, I love Disney, so a little trip to Disney World’s always a bit of fun.

Jack: And what do you love about Disney?

Jacqui: It’s fun. I love the characters. Who doesn’t like a Disney movie? Great music, great colour. The bad guy never wins. The good guy wins. Like everyone’s friends.

Jack: It’s a feel-good story.

Jacqui: It’s feel-good and it’s amazingly creative, so I love that. And otherwise, I like to head down to, got a place on Phillip Island, so I like to head down there. I need to be near the water pretty much.

Jack: That might be what a whole Melbourne needs. A whole two weeks in Disney and then come back. Reset. 

Jacqui: It will be so good. That’d be nice. If I had a special power, I’d be teleporting. That’s always what I’ve said I’d do. If we can go there for a week, it’d be amazing. 

Jack: Thank you so much for jumping on, Jacqui. And this is the final question. What’s on the horizon for you for the rest of 2021? What are you excited about at the moment? 

Jacqui: We’ve got our AFLW season kicking off. We had a great season last season and we got to the Prelim. So, we want to go a little bit further this time. And I think, Melbourne Storm being back in Melbourne, it is pretty exciting to have everyone under one roof and actually have a normal season where we’re all together and we’re able to play in front of home crowds and have that. I think sport with crowds is so exciting. It’s very bizarre playing in a stadium with a hundred thousand capacity setting, like the MCG, and there’s no one there. I don’t want to be hearing the seagulls in the middle of a match. 

Jack: You’d have to be careful about the advice you’re giving your player. Because the other benchmarkers will be able to hear. 

Jacqui: Yeah. It’s just no atmosphere, like the crowd makes it. And the boys want the crowd there. It just makes it more exciting and it really does change results aometimes. I think crowds do get you over the line and that’s what the athletes love playing for and they appreciate that support. So, having crowds back and having sport back in Melbourne is huge. 

Jack: Yeah. There’s none bigger than the Collingwood membership base. No doubt, that MCG. A big army will be roaring next year, fingers crossed. Now we’re getting confidence back now in Melbourne.

I know you’re working in the Clinic with a lot of people and, like you said off air before, it is a challenging time with COVID and everyone’s got their own challenges they’ve gone through and now we’re coming out of lockdown. What are some things that we should be focusing on? Or how can we transition maybe a bit more seamlessly out of lockdown, coming back into a new routine now over the next few weeks?

Jacqui: That’s a good question. I think what I’ve been telling so many people is pace yourself. Your brain changes and ours definitely have been under-stimulated, we had very little to look forward to. And so, our brains have shut down and we’re a bit more robotic. We haven’t had so much stimulus in our environment. So, really slowly coming out. If you throw yourself into everything, you’re going to end up with massive fatigue. Just pacing yourself. Do a few small things to start with.

And I think also do what you’re comfortable with. Just because you’re allowed to go certain places, if you’re not comfortable doing it, I think that’s where you’ve just got to respect everyone’s way of coming out of this is going to be different. And trust that everybody’s doing it the best way they can.

And my other thing is our life was simplified for us, although we didn’t like it. I think that there’s probably some really good things that came out of that. That maybe we don’t need to be as busy as we are, or we do need to keep making time for our closest people, instead of just always running for the entertainment. Go see family and friends. And remember what’s important first.

Jack: It’s such a good point. Both points, in terms of going slow and going at your own pace. And everyone’s going to be a little bit different, whether they just go straight into the deep end and are super social, or for others that are more introverted or want to ease into it.

But also the things that we have learned. Like having that extra time for family time, your own time, maybe a bit more exercise or just getting a little bit more sleep. Ease on city life. Now’s a good opportunity, isn’t it? To basically set a good routine.

Jacqui: Absolutely.

Jack: Well, thank you so much. There’s so many gems and golden nuggets all the way through that last one hour we’re at. I really appreciate your time and your energy, and that anyone can see you’re so passionate about what you do and you are a real expert in your field. So, very thankful that you came on and grateful for everything you brought tonight. Thanks so much, Jacqui. 

Jacqui: Thank you for having me. It’s been great.

Jack: And for those that want to follow your work, are you on social media and that sort of stuff? And how can they book in to see you, if that’s something that you do?

Jacqui: You can come to Olympic Park at the Sports Medicine Center. I’m not great on the socials. I definitely need to improve that. I’ve been told that a few times, but I’ll do my best.

Jack: You’re busy enough as it is.

Jacqui: I am on there.

Jack: We’ll be passing them in the show notes.

Jacqui: Awesome.

Jack: Thanks again, Jacqui. And we’ll speak soon. 

Jacqui: No worries. Thanks so much. 

Jack: Thank you for listening to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast. If you liked this episode, it’d be a massive help, if you could like, follow, rate, give a review or even share with your mates. The show is recorded in Melbourne, Australia. Be sure to follow our Instagram page for all updates on our latest and greatest. If you would like to get in touch to suggest a guest or advertise with the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast, please email me at jack@preparelikeapro.com. Thanks so much for tuning in.

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