This is the second of a series of interviews with industry leaders in fields such as Strength & Conditioning, Coaching, Physical Therapy, Sports Psychology, Nutrition & Physical Education.
This is Part 1 of a 2 Part interview.
This week we are fortunate to hear from one of Melbourne’s up & coming Sports Physiotherapists, who also wears coaching hats in Strength & Conditioning and Track & Field, John Nicolosi. I have known John for around 4-5 years, initially meeting him at an athletics meet in Victoria. Since then, aside from running into each other at track meets, we also met up in Russia while spectating at the 2013 World Track & Field Championships in Moscow (see John below with James Dasalou of Great Britain), and it was clear from the time we spent chatting during the meet, John had a unique philosophy on his thoughts and approach to coaching and preparing athletes. John has an engaging nature when talking about improving sports performance and due to his extensive background, it is sometimes hard to argue with him! Enjoy the interview.
Can you share with the readers a little bit of your background (education, sports, previous/current role, interests).
My involvement in sport started as an 8 year old playing Australian rules football, followed by track and field when I was 12. That continued until my early 20’s. I was okay as an athlete, making some junior state teams and a junior national final, however was never able to make the natural improvement jump from junior to senior ranks and thus became a lot more interested in how to improve, which pushed me into the coaching realm. For better or worse I am always happy to help people and this trait really pushed me towards coaching and educating athletes with regards to injuries following studies as a physiotherapist.
In terms of formal education I completed a bachelor of physiotherapy at the University of Melbourne out of school and then a few years later decided to complete a Master of Exercise Science through Edith Cowan. I also have certifications in strength and conditioning and track and field coaching. I think that the greatest influences on my education have been built out of interest in track and field and the mentors that I have had through this. In relation to the coaching, working with coaches like Neville Sillitoe, Ray and Denise Boyd, Bruce Gulliver and learning from internationals such as Henk Kraijenhoff, Dan Pfaff, Derek Evely and Tom Tellez.
With regard to my current role I am the director of Melbourne Athletic Development, a sports injury management and performance training organisation.
Melbourne Athletic Development (MAD) is your business; can you detail how the concept and business developed to what it is today?
The concept is pretty simple. I felt that there was a lack of integration of injury and performance services accessible to athletes trying to be elite in local sport or in amateur sports. Even in the larger sports medicine clinics it is only recently that we are seeing this link starting to be made. It was really common for the sports doctor to not work well with the physio or strength and conditioning coach let alone the athlete’s sporting coach. With my combination of education and sports background I maybe naively thought that I could do something about this, and so MAD was started.
The idea is that we aim to assist athletes and general public with a service that integrates injury management (physio, rehab etc) and performance services (strength and conditioning, athletic development and planning, coaching education and consulting) so that athletes may come in injured or performing poorly and we troubleshoot with them and their coaches to get them back getting the results that they are after.
What are the main services which Melbourne Athletic Development offers to athletes?
Most of our work falls into either physiotherapy related injury management (rehabilitation, manual therapy etc) or strength and conditioning (individuals and amateur teams). However, we do offer some targeted services such as injury or running biomechanical analysis, athletic development programming/planning, sport coaching education (sprint coaching, strength and lifting education). As suggested we aim to assist athletes to achieve their highest level.
We have also just started a track squad with mainly sprint athletes however we do have some athletes competing in jumps and middle distance events. The aim of this project is to integrate our services into a cohesive working environment.
In your current role, you wear many ‘hats’, being an ex-athlete, and having formal qualifications in various areas; What are the advantages to having a high level of knowledge in many areas?
The biggest advantage is that I don’t see things in boxes. I think all too often people put injuries or performance issues into boxes and the reality is that they are multi-factorial and should be seen as such. Hamstring injuries are a prime example of this. There was conjecture recently at the 2015 Football Medicine Conference about why hamstring injury numbers continue to rise in elite European football clubs. You look at the great work done by Carl Askling, Anthony Shield and David Opar on eccentric hamstring strength injuries and think maybe it is as simple as eccentric loading, but this is just one small part of the picture. It is pretty clear that training loads (specifically high intensity training stress), soft tissue integrity and running mechanics all play a huge part in hamstring injuries.
So as an example when we have an athlete come in that has sustained a hamstring injury we work with them and their sports coach (if relevant) to improve strength, soft tissue issues, running mechanics and identify if training loads have contributed to injury.
Having some knowledge in all of these areas helps to see issues along a broader spectrum.
Specific to your coaching, I understand you spent some time at the World Athletics Centre in Phoenix Arizona, where the likes of Dan Pfaff and Stu McMillan coach. Can you provide some insight into your experience and any ideas you put into practice upon returning to Australia.
The experience was great. I think the best part about it was the exposure to coaches that have attained regular success over long periods of time. With both Stu and Dan being based at UK Athletics in the lead up to the successful London campaign it was an interesting insight into what they felt were the important factors that go into ongoing success.
The premise that they live by is that athlete health is key to long term results. Unfortunately, some coaches particularly in track and field forget this, but for obvious reasons success cannot happen if the athlete is on the sideline. So, to see this philosophy being practiced first hand was extremely informative.
It is obviously different being involved in an individual sport but they also worked to coach the athlete rather than the event, this was in regards to how they attacked both the physical but also the mental preparation of the athlete. A basic example of this was how and when they delivered feedback with different athletes. By identifying how certain athletes like to learn or best acquire skills the coaches would alter their feedback depth, duration and timing. So following training runs or lifts in the gym some athletes may receive feedback on performance following each exercise. Others may not receive feedback until after the session and some at a later date.
The other key thing with coaching the athlete is not trying to fit athletes into certain training schemes if they don’t work for them. It seems pretty common sense but I know that I definitely have fallen into the trap of pushing athletes when all of the signs were that we shouldn’t have pushed, all because I had it written on the plan.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this interview…
Follow John on Twitter: @MelbAthDevelopment
or at his website