Coaching Interview #11 – Keir Wenham-Flatt

This is the 11th instalment of a series of interviews with industry leaders in fields such as Strength & Conditioning, Coaching, Physical Therapy, Sports Psychology, Nutrition & Physical Education.

In this interview we hear from the UK born, now based in Tokyo, the new Strength & Conditioning Coach for Toshiba in the Japan Rugby League, also known in the industry as the ‘Rubgy Strength Coach’, Keir Wenham-Flatt.

I came to know of Keir through the wonderful world of the little blue bird, Twitter. Although I’m not a rugby aficionado, he instantly drew my interest due to his willingness to challenge the norms in the industry and basically call a ‘spade a spade’. Kier’s global resume in physical preparation is extensive and matched by few and his online following is gaining steam daily.  If you follow his blog closely, he is happy to discuss the various training methods and principles specific to rugby (and all sports), but he is also advancing the industry by giving back to the young (and old) and aspiring coaches through his ongoing honest advice about what it takes to ‘make it’ in the field, amongst a range of other issues too.  

Without having met Keir before, he clearly ‘talks the talk, and walks the walk’. He has put in the time in the industry, worked his way from the bottom to the top and got plenty of skin in the game. Keir’s network of colleagues are some of the biggest names in the industry and so when the RugbyStrengthCoach speaks, tweets or posts… You should listen!

Enjoy the interview!

keir

Since you have bounced around the globe quite a bit, can you share with the readers a little bit of your background?

I’m a UK born and bred strength and conditioning coach currently plying my trade in the Japanese top league with Toshiba Brave Lupus. Prior to that, I was lead strength and conditioning coach with Los Pumas Argentina from 2013 to the end of 2015.

I’ve also had stints with Sydney Roosters in the NRL (though I try not ot remember it!) and London Wasps, Rotherham Titans and London Scottish in the top two leagues in England.

I’ve got a couple of degrees in strength and conditioning and sport science (that I use about 10% of!), I’ve done some consulting for Premiership soccer and rugby clubs and various other organisations. I also run rugbystrengthcoach.com, which is my answer to what I think is wrong with the current state of strength and conditioning in our sport.

Strength & Conditioning and Sport Science seems to be just as popular in the UK as it is in Australia; how did you find yourself gravitating towards the world of Physical Preparation?

Because I was an extremely untalented but enthusiastic rugby player. I would have loved to played professionally, but that was never in my future. When it became obvious that was not on the cards, I decided to transition to strength and conditioning because I liked to train and I’ve always been engaged and entertained by the science of training.

How would you describe yourself in regards to Strength & Conditioning, Physical Preparation, Sport Science, Rehabilitation, Analytics? Do you cover all bases or just gravitate to one area?

I think you go through stages in your career. To break into the field you must be a generalist, because no one is going to hire you if you have glaring gaps in your skillset. So to that extent, I can get by in pretty much every area.

Once you start to establish though, you tend to specialise in one or two areas for a few reasons. First, because everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and interests which will shape the direction they move in. Secondly, it will usually fulfil a need within their club e.g. due to a spike in injuries where rehab is concerned, or a lack of information being provided to coaches if monitoring is concerned. And lastly (if you’re smart) I think it is just a rule of business that experts in something get paid better.

However, once you start to get toward leading a department, I think you have to return to being a generalist because that is your job; to integrate the various departments and specialists working within them. To evaluate them and develop the system you need to have a passing understanding of what everyone is doing. Likewise if you suddenly lose a member of staff, you need to be able to quickly fill that gap, and being oblivious will not help.

Although you are still quite young in age, you have a wealth of industry experience; can you give some insight to various mentors who have been influential towards you throughout your Physical Preparation career to date and how they have shaped your principles and philosophies?

Ian Taplin, my first boss at Wasps was a huge influence on me for various reasons. He gave me a lot of freedom to try new things and get actual coaching experience that not many interns get, as they are too busy putting kit away and doing piss tests. He was a big role model on how to deal with people within a pro club (there are a lot of egos in pro rugby and he is not one of them). Lastly, he made me realise that getting a rugby player strong is like falling out of a boat and hitting water. Real performance is developed outside of the gym.

Other people who have been hugely influential on my thinking (and I would recommend people check them out) are:

  • James Smith of Global Sport Concepts
  • Dave Tate and everyone at Elite FTS
  • Yuri and Natalia Verkhoshansky
  • Vladimir Issurin
  • Louie Simmons
  • Charlie Francis
  • Val Nasedkin and Omegawave
  • Joel Jamieson
  • Dave Tenney
  • Mike Boyle
  • Mladen Jovanovic
  • Jay DeMayo
  • Buddy Morris
  • David Joyce
  • Yosef Johnson
  • Mike Guadando
  • Joe Defranco
  • Dan Howells
  • Mark McGlaughlin
  • Landon Evans
  • Cal Dietz
  • Steve Magness
  • The list goes on!

Before we move to your current role in Japan, most people in the industry would know (and are jealous of:), that prior to this, you were the Head of Physical Preparation for Los Pumas Argentina, who made it to the Semi-Finals of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Can you detail how you ended up in Argentina, working in one of the most sought after High Performance positions in Rugby?

Purely by accident. I had done the EXOS performance mentorships and done a little work for them in China but I was a free agent at the time. I had just finished with English rugby and moved to Sydney with my then girlfriend.

I was in conversation with a friend of mine who was doing the Pumas at the time for EXOS, helping him out with some programming details, then he had a family emergency. I was the name he put forward as a temporary replacement, and two days later I was in Buenos Aires.

Obviously luck has played a key part in a lot of my career but I can tell you that I would 100% not have been in that position if 1) I didn’t have an online presence through my blog (no blog, no EXOS) 2) I didn’t make an effort to reach out to and stay in touch with my tutors on the EXOS mentorships 3) I wasn’t ready to drop everything and move across the world when the opportunity presented itself (and it cost me heavily r.e. that girlfriend in Sydney).

When you took over the Los Pumas, can you describe the state of Strength & Conditioning in Argentina?

Embarrassing- sloppy technique, poor load selection, no respect for rest periods, poor understanding of the science underpinning of what we were doing, no system to 90% of the programme. Whilst we had a lot of passion and enthusiasm and talent, that is not good enough to make an impact in international rugby. This was evidenced by our performances. Every now and then we could grind out a win, or push a team for 60 minutes, but then die. I like to think in our final season together that was not the case.

Can you detail a rough S&C timeline of how you took a team who historically had underperformed at previous World Cups, and helped them to almost progress to the 2015 RWC final against New Zealand?

We addressed all of the stuff above:

  • Technique before load in everything. I don’t care about load if it looks like shit.
  • The highest possible accuracy in load and intensity in everything we do, especially where maximal outputs of speed, strength and power are concerned.
  • Stick to the science. If the science says you need 3-4 minutes for CNS recovery between sprints, it takes 3-4 minutes no matter how pushed you are for time.
  • Justify every single aspect of the programme. If you can’t tell me exactly why something is going to help us to win the world cup, it doesn’t go in the programme.

We also had some philosophical changes and moved away from the traditional rugby strength and conditioning idea of equating suffering with effectiveness. We adopted a lot more a high-low model, we utilised a lot more specialisation with regard to playing position, and we made efforts to integrate that with every area of the rugby programme (no point having a low day in the gym if the guys are getting flogged on the pitch).

Then outside the immediate environment of the Pumas, we developed a 4 phase system of training that was used at all levels of the system, in all 5 regional performance centres. This means that wherever you were in the national rugby system, no matter who was coaching you, no matter what team you represented, there was a lot of consistency in the programme. That saved us a lot of time and effort in integrating players or coaches whenever there was a change. Likewise, it allowed us to identify flaws and develop the system as a team of coaches a lot faster, because there was 25 of us working in a very similar fashion, not one or two.

While preparing the Los Pumas, did you subscribe to a particular periodization/programming model or philosophy to get them ready for the Union season?

If you are in a team sport I think it is more or less a given that you will adopt a Charlie Francis style model of vertical integration. There are that many balls to juggle, and there is so little time throughout the year without games that your hand is forced. The trick is being able to dedicate enough volume and intensity to given abilities to get them to continue to progress, because if you just chuck the kitchen sink at the boys they will either soon burn out or not train with enough of a focussed stimulus.

To that end we identified key abilities we would target at each phase throughout the year, and we also drew up a chart for what we considered would be a developmental load versus a retention load (in terms of volume, intensity and frequency) for all of the abilities we were training. If it was a target ability for a given block, it got a developmental load. If it wasn’t, it got a retention load and nothing more. You can’t ride 20 saddles with one ass, so you have to be selective.

At that level, where you are dealing with National pride, how much pressure is put on you from the coaching staff to ensure all the players are displaying all the desirable physical attributes at the right time?

The pressure comes from yourself not the coaching staff, and rightly so. Nobody cares if your boys peak one week out of 8, or they look great in training but play like shit. You have to make sure that guys are as fresh as possible, as consistently as possible during competition. For that reason, I’m actually not a fan of the “X set a PB in the squat the week of the biggest game of the season” stories or videos that a lot of coaches like to applaud- the focus should be on expression of physical ability on the pitch, not just creating unnecessary fatigue in the gym. Critics may argue it gives players confidence, but so does playing well and winning!

What was the fallout or come-down like after getting agonisingly close to the final; yet still not achieving the goal?

The fall out was that we paid a very high price physically and mentally in not reaching the final and the wheels properly fell off in the final week of the competition. We lacked the mental focus to hold on for one more week, perhaps because we expended so much effort to get that far.

I believe one of the things that sets apart the top three nations from the rest is how much they are able to keep in the tank and still win at the knock out stages. You cannot have the game of your life three or four weeks in a row. It just doesn’t happen. We had the game of our lives against Ireland (and we needed to), but unfortunately either side of a peak lies a trough! You could argue the same happened to Ireland against us- they had a huge game against France in the final group game, but then struggled to get it together for the QF.

You have recently moved to Tokyo, Japan to work with the Toshiba Rugby Team, in the Japan Rugby League. Can you explain how you ended up in Tokyo and what the new role entails?

As a contractor for EXOS, when the UAR’s relationship with EXOS ended, mine did too and I was out of the job. Obviously that was very disappointing for me because of the friendships I formed over three seasons, how much potential they have as a rugby nation and how much more there is still to do. But such is life.

Towards the tail end of last year, I was contacted by an agency offering to represent me as a coach. When the UAR contract with EXOS fell through, the agency stepped up and put me forward for a number of jobs in the Japanese league. I interviewed with Toshiba, they liked what they heard and here I am.

Can you describe the transition you have experienced moving to a culture which I imagine is quite different to that of one in Europe or South America?

I’ve coached in 5 different countries now, and there are always differences between them, but the fundamentals don’t change. Rugby players always want to work hard and do well, they love doing chest and arm work, they equate suffering with effectiveness, and they like to come to work in a place where they feel valued and important, and where they can have fun.

With that said there are some small differences that set Japan apart from the rest, mostly in communication style. In a month of training I have yet to be asked a question by a player at the end of a demo or explanation. Either they are S&C experts or they don’t like to speak up!

Similarly, the mantra of “praise in public, criticise in private” is a big one, which I like. People know when they have fucked up- you don’t need to draw attention to it, because it serves no one IMHO.

Lastly, there is a big culture of teamwork and respect, more so than European or Australian rugby. Perhaps this is because the boys are mostly amateurs with day jobs, or the Japanese culture, but there are no egos and there is no hesitation to sacrifice one’s own interests for those of the team.

Can you discuss any commonalities to the style or type of S&C which you have seen delivered in Japan, compared to what you have experienced elsewhere?

Mostly the stuff I disagree with rugby S&C the world over- improper training of maximal outputs, especially speed and power, excessive emphasis on glycolytic energy pathway development, poor adherence to a high-low model of training, poor integration between on-field and off-field activity.

Those are the big things we are working on right now: maximising the quality of everything we do, keeping the highs HIGH and the lows LOW, adopting an aerobic-alactic model of conditioning for 90% of the year, and creating harmony between all departments to ensure we do not pull the players in a several physiological directions at once. There is only one programme, not many.

From a Physical Preparation or High Performance point of view, what excites you about working in a new environment in Japan?

They have a huge population, lots of resources, massive enthusiasm and a fairly short season, which means you aren’t running players into the ground 10 months of the year like France. That means you actually get a decent amount of time to make them better.

I also think that they will progress to a model whereby players are only eligible if they are contracted to the Sunwolves (National squad, similar to Jaguares), which can only mean good things for the performance of the national squad. When you have that degree of control and access to your players (like NZ effectively have) it makes it a LOT easier.

Most industry professionals know you as the RugbyStrengthCoach; can you discuss what initially made you want to start such an innovative website with features such as Online Coaching and various Webinars and Podcasts?

Poverty. Pure and simple. When I was interning fulltime for a year for free, I used to make cash on the side writing programmes for rugby players and just general population people too (at about 10% of what I charge now ha ha). As my experience grew within the sport, more and more players came to me, so I could be more and more selective in only working with rugby guys. Eventually I set up the rugby strength coach website in late 2013.

Initially this was targeted to players only, but after around a year I decided to switch mostly to coach education and development. Honestly, I find it a lot more engaging intellectually, there is a bigger market and appetite for that kind of information, and also it is my way to try and make a positive contribution to the profession. I am quite critical of some aspects of professional strength and conditioning and it would be hypocritical to do so and not try to offer an alternative. So I try to do that.

What have you found to be the most bang for buck type of ‘Strength’ or ‘Conditioning’ work for the athletes you are now or have previously worked with?

To be a truly elite player, the gym is not the deciding factor. I could tell you some stories about top international players in the gym that would make you raise an eyebrow about just how weak they were. You can find impressively strong players at every level of the game. I could go out now and find you 20 players in the UK academy system benching 180 or squatting 200+, but the vast majority of them will never get capped.

The real stuff that sets elite players apart is their technical and tactical development as rugby players. However, if we are talking purely physical development, the stuff that sets people apart is speed and power (ignoring the front row here- those three guys DO need to be strong). Whilst strength is useful to develop these qualities in the first couple of years of heavy training, after that you have to train in a more specific manner.

To that end, learn how to sprint and learn how to wrestle. If you can master these skills, enhanced technical ability will increase your power output anyway, but the training itself (if done correctly) will provide a highly specific stimulus, and you’ll also decrease your energy expenditure at a given level of output, increasing the sustainability of high intensity efforts. If you have sprinting and wrestling covered, you are well prepared for almost every high intensity effort on the pitch.

What advice would you give to young and aspiring Physical Preparation coaches?

Decide if you really want this. The competition is at such a level now that wages have been driven down to insultingly low levels, and unless you get lucky, you will be waiting YEARS to get a decent opportunity. So don’t get into this field because you think it is glamorous, or it is well paid, or you’ll waste several years of your life disappointing yourself.

If I haven’t put you off, and you still want in, next step is to realise the value of relationships. People want to work with people they know, like and trust- their friends. If you’re a great coach but a dick who doesn’t know how to work with people, I hope you like being unemployed.

Better relationships will not only open you up to job opportunities, it will help you to get the best out of your athletes and fellow members of staff, because you catch more flies with sugar than you do with shit!

Lastly, the strength of your relationships will expose you to more people who are willing to share their knowledge, skills and experience with you and make you a better coach.

Personally, I spent the first two years of my career thinking that if I was just good enough I would rise to the top. Then I read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi and it changed my life. It is far better to be the guy or girl with the relationships and the network than the guy or girl with the technical ability. Even better is to be the guy with it all.

Just before we finish up I know you are a big social media guy BUT what are your favourite/current industry blogs/books to read, or recommend others to read?

Steve Magness, James Smith, Mladen Jovanovic, Martin Bingisser, Joel Jamieson, Central Virginia Sports Performance (run by my friend Jay DeMayo) and Shawn Myszka amongst others all run great blogs.

Podcast-wise I like to listen to Mark Watts at Elite FTS (though he has since moved on), Rob Pacey, CVASPS, Well Travelled Wellness by Jake Schuster and Ultimate Athlete Concepts. My favourite non training podcast is The Tim Ferriss Experiment because I think as a field we can learn a lot from other fields like big business.

You have recently posted various humorous tweets about interactions you have had in Japan; can you list your Top 5 funniest moments since arriving in Tokyo? (my favourite was the short hair cut).

  1. Not being able to sit on a toilet that ISN’T one of those electrically warmed, arse washing robots.
  2. They really do all use the peace sign when they have their photograph taken.
  3. I still get asked for my ID every time I enter the company facility even though I’m the only English white person with tattoos and rugby kit in a company of 10,000 people. Apparently we white people all look alike 😉
  4. As you mentioned, my Japanese needs work. Went to get my hair cut and pantomimed may way through “Short on the sides, long on top please” and I left with a zero all over.
  5. Funny foreign story but Argentinian. My mate dropped me off outside the hotel to get showered and changed before we went to lunch. I rushed upstairs, got ready, then rushed down again. When I got outside the hotel, he had moved his car a little but I quickly got in, only to look up and see that I had gotten into the wrong car. The owner thought he was being car jacked, shit himself and literally fell out of the drivers side into the middle of the road (remember, Buenos Aires is a city where it is less hassle to shoot first before you jack the car). I got out of the car apologising profusely, with this guy shouting at me in Spanish. My mate watched it all from his car (exactly the same make, model and colour) and found it hilarious.

Thanks to Keir for contributing to the College Strength & Conditioning Blog. I wish him all the best with his new role with Toshiba Rugby. Follow Kier at all the social media platforms below!

Facebook: www.facebook.com/rugbystrengthcoach 

Twitter: @RUGBY_STR_COACH

Instagram: rugby_strength_coach

iTunes: Rugby Strength Coach Podcast

Blog: rugbystrengthcoach.com

Coaching Interview #6 – Nathan Parnham

This is the sixth installment of a series of interviews with industry leaders in fields such as Strength & Conditioning, Coaching, Physical Therapy, Sports Psychology, Nutrition & Physical Education.

In this latest post we hear from Sydney based Level 2 ASCA coach, Nathan Parnham. I got in contact with Nathan via the litte blue bird in regards to LTAD models, as I knew he was doing was some great work in this area and then ended up having a 45 minute conversation with him a few days later. After getting through the LTAD details, it was evident that Nathan and I had similar views on the industry in general and the principles which underpin good solid coaching. It seems Nathan and I graduated from ECU in the same year, 2010, however I really cannot remember meeting him when we were in Perth before finishing the course – Tim Mosey might be able to address this for me 🙂 Apologies Nathan!

Through his exposure to a range of S&C opportunities and the mentors he has worked under, Nathan has amassed a wealth of knowledge and practical experience which sets him apart from many other coaches. From improving the physical literacy of adolescent kids to working with elite combat athletes, Nathan has a sound view and level of confidence on what is required and necessary for success at each level. Enjoy the interview!

Parnham

Can you share with the readers a little bit of your background (education, sports, previous/current role/interests).

I graduated from an Exercise Science degree at ACU in 2003, continued with a diploma in education in 2004, and then in 2010 from ECU with a Master in S&C. I’m a L2 ASCA accredited coach among other coaching courses. I grew up playing a variety of sports, coming from a big family with a Tennis background, I competed regularly in the JR’s and then eventually moved towards Muay-Thai in 1998, and have since been involved in the sport in some capacity ever since.

Who are some of your major past & present influences/mentors in the S&C field?

I was very fortunate to have been welcomed into the industry in 2002 by Darren Burgess (Port Adelaide Power- AFL) at Parramatta Power (former National Soccer League) for 2 yrs whilst completing my undergraduate degree which was one of the most valuable learning experiences I’ve had to date. More recently I’ve reached out to David Joyce (GWS Giants- AFL) on a couple of occasions who has been great in providing some time to me over the past year. Both probably don’t realize how much of an impact they have had on my coaching style/philosophy. Another coach I really enjoy following is Brett Bartholomew from EXOS for his ability to look outside the box and look at the ‘art of coaching’.

You grew up in an individual sport environment and how now moved into a semi-professional team setting; how did the contrast of these settings influence your approach and philosophy to S&C? 

I started off originally just training in Muay-Thai. My older brother began competing and I just became obsessed from there and how the human body can be pushed/respond to such high demands. I never wanted to compete, the more I trained and experienced it the more it just fuelled my thirst for knowledge. This is what actually got me interested in studying it further and pursuing a career in S&C. I’m a big believer in training or jumping in on certain sessions in working with sports so you can gain further appreciation and understanding of the requirements of the sport, and this stemmed from there.

Team sport settings are very different from individual sports. They are also more feasible employers for S&C coaches. I’ve tried to get involved in all the field based sports from day one (already having played Rugby and Football as a kid) as I knew this would increase the likelihood of getting a full-time role. In regards to Rugby League, I was involved in the development levels at Westfield Sports High which led to eventually getting a start with Balmain Ryde-Eastwood Tigers (West Tigers NSW Cup) for a season. This then eventuated into a role at North Sydney Bears (South Sydney Rabbitohs NSW Cup) having just finished my 5th season. The beauty I’ve found is because of my contrasting sporting background I’ve been able to bring some new ideas and look at things outside the box for a lot of the sports I’ve worked with.

In regards to how individual vs. team based training differs, I’ll go into this a little later…

You are a Level 2 accredited coach under the Australian Strength & Conditioning Association coaching structure; can you detail how ASCA has been part of your development as a coach?

I first became involved by attending their conference in 2004, then by completing my L2 in 2006. I’ve attended just about every conference since. I’m a big believer in supporting your profession and governing bodies to enhance the industry and it’s credibility. I’m also a big fan of giving back to an industry that has given me so much, so naturally I’ll keep supporting them where I can. There’s a large bunch of great S&C/performance coaches with the ASCA all doing great things, so I’ve been supportive of it ever since.

What advantages or limitations have you found specific to S&C with training elite level athletes in both and individual and team setting?

I’ve been fortunate to work in both settings and whilst they are similar there are many differences that come from both.

Individual Setting; You can target movement and conditioning in far greater detail. You’re able to take things to another level and get fast/large improvements because of the individual attention. This purely comes down to that individualised approach and the 1 on 1 attention. Because of the relationship you build in this setting it’s also easier to tap into the psyche of your athletes and the impacts of this (which is a big passion of mine also). A limitation of this can be the tough conversations you as a coach have to have and are accountable for. Athletes demand the best of your services for them and I think it’s only fair to expect this in return.

Team Setting; The team dynamics is what really excites me about this setting. You have so many different personalities who may not always get along, but building that trust and bond with each other enough to forgo these differences to get the best out of one another is a massive drive for me. This goes for both athletes and coaching staff alike. Depending on the level you work in and resources available the biggest limitation is the individualized approach you adopt and the priorities in doing so for the sake of the team. Team settings demand the most of your time because you have so many individuals trying to better themselves.

What is the periodization/programming model or philosophy which you use in preparation for the Rugby League season?

Phase Off-season Pre-season Pre-comp Comp Finals
Dates 5th Oct-8th Nov 9th Nov-25th Jan 26th Jan-1st March 2nd March-30th Aug 31/8-4th Oct
Priority

areas

Hypertrophy/

Mobility

Hyp/Strength

Endurance/

COD

Str/Power

RSA/Agility/

Tactical

Str/Power/Injury Prevention

RSA/Reactive Agility/

Recovery

Maintenance/or

Fun-Goodtimes

I wouldn’t be able to give you an exact model or a particular philosophy, it generally looks something like above. There are several other non-negotiables I often work with or try and target which include:

  • Testing all year round; A must to see how the athletes are responding, where they are currently at, and reporting to the coach.
  • Team based competition; Pre-season requires top end commitment and I always do this by dividing the entire pre-season into 2 teams and they compete every session to win the week. They’re athletes, they love to compete!
  • Maintenance; Whilst certain types of training may be labelled this I encourage trying to improve whatever parameter you are targeting in that particular training block. This is often challenging particularly with concurrent training.
  • Programming; I always provide every player their own program for strength work and they’re responsible for completing. It’s an educational thing as well as a training opportunity. If you’re an S&C who freestyles it on a whiteboard session to session, you have to question what you’re doing? Sure nothing is ever set in stone, and coaches will sometimes flippantly mess with your plans but that’s the art of it.
  • Recovery; personally I think coaches can tend to over value certain modalities of recovery and under-value the simple things in life. At a semi-professional level and sometimes even at a professional level time with their family/loved ones may mentally rejuvenate them far more than throwing someone in an ice-bath ever will.

Can you detail some of the unique physical requirements Rugby League athletes must endure during this time to prepare for a season which can span 3-4 months?

There’s a number of challenges faced when it comes to programming for such sports like this and one thing that should never be overlooked is at a semi-professional level these athletes often have labour intensive jobs, so in regards to gaining weight this proves difficult. The challenge namely is gaining weight (for younger athletes) and building on their endurance at the same time (concurrent training). This gets very complicated and you just have to adopt the model of best fit for the circumstances. Another consideration relative to the same age group (namely U/20’s NRL Holden Cup graduates) is trying to establish a long-term physical pathway to accustom them to playing against grown men… It’s a different game, and the contact is more real.

 In contrast, can you detail some of the unique physical requirements combat athletes must endure to prepare for their event?

Some of the unique physical requirements of combat athletes include weight management considerations and timing of loss prior to bouts, how cutting will impact on their prescribed training, recovery from bouts is high on the agenda (particular for those fighting regularly), and the implications of resistance training and with whom or how it is implemented.

Extending on the previous question, specific to combat athletes, can you explain the periodization/programming model used in preparation for a bout/fight?

The biggest impact an S&C can have when working with a combat athlete is periodization alone. To participate at a decent level in such sports requires a certain type of individual. This can often be to detrimental to their success, because all they want to do is work and work hard! Sometimes the biggest impact you can have on these individuals is just pushing and pulling them the right time. Because of the large psychological aspect of any combat sport the physical side is more relevant the more experienced they get. Due to a particular franchise, combat sports have become popularised in recent years. I think a lot of people in the fitness industry become disillusioned with the glitz and glamour of it all and what these athletes are capable of. Many of them have extremely young training ages and have minimal time to accomplish changes. Most of the physical preparation side of things is pretty simple, and if done correctly you get results doing so. To answer the question though, I generally will go off a 4 or 6 week periodization model with those I have worked with. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, this is often the short time they have in getting notified of match ups. Secondly, they should already have a solid foundation aerobically to build upon. Lastly, this can often change at short notice because of pull- outs and late acceptance of fights. Unless they are a big name fighter on the professional scene, most of the top level fighters in the country don’t get ample time to prepare for big fights, and if they do there are smaller fights leading up to them. In which case for Muay-Thai, an area I believe that has the biggest impact is not necessarily their prep but their recovery after fights due to the extent of their soft tissue injuries.

What have you found to be the most bang for buck type of ‘Strength’ or ‘Conditioning’ work for the athletes you work with?

Hmmm, this is an interesting question! I’m not sure if this is the answer you’re looking for, but personally I believe the biggest ‘bang for buck’ is adopting a holistic approach. Knowing what exercise, type, or equipment to use and when is what counts. This is what I love about the field. Too many times S&C coaches get preoccupied with a certain type of training. They all have their merit and every athlete responds differently. Sure trends come and go, but knowing the why and how to get what you want out of it is key.

Monitoring athletes is high on the agenda for most Physical performance professionals; can you explain the monitoring methods you use with the athletes you work with?

I mostly use subjective alternatives, and this comes down to resources really. If you don’t have the luxury of professional outfits you have to think outside the box and try to create your own in many instances. Things I have used in the past are RPE (weekly loads), wellness measures, post-match/weekly counter movement jumps (neural fatigue), HRV (ithlete), and UP bands/or apps (sleep productivity). Whilst some of these might not necessarily be backed by research to be deemed as valid or reliable, as I said before it’s about trying to use what you can and see if any meaningful relationships are discovered because of it.

You are also Strength and Conditioning Co-ordinator for Newington Boys College, Sydney. Can you detail how you ended up in the role and what the role entails? 

I’ve been working with developmental age athletes since I started in 2002, and this has eventuated from there. My first full-time role was at Westfield Sports High, which was a great environment and such a talent hot-bed for athletes in a variety of sports. The role was advertised at Newington which I knew well having grown up around the area. As with a lot of S&C roles advertised (I’m sure many aspiring S&C coaches can relate to) I wasn’t even sure it hadn’t already been filled. So I applied and after a few interviews I came out on top! Which I have been absolutely stoked with ever since! In the role I manage the gym (equipment/budgets/timetabling), my coaching team (5 casual S&C coaches), liaise with sporting bodies, design and implement the overall coaching philosophy and framework, hands on coaching and then finally privately consult for various athletes.

What is your overall philosophy to training adolescent aged athletes at the College?

Movement! We work with yrs 7-12 and encourage all of them to come in from day one. This is particularly important with this generation. Gone are the days of ‘you can’t commence resistance training until 15/16yrs because it will stunt your growth’ . Many of the youth coming through today are poor movers and simply don’t have the foundations to start building their physicality upon. I preach movement first followed by performance aspects second. The earlier they commence the better physical literacy they have, and this translates into better performance towards the back end of their schooling career.

Can you describe the culture of the College and how Strength & Conditioning/Athletic Development sits within the College framework and curriculum.

Prior to my arrival culturally the students lacked guidance and there was too much disparity between sports. The first thing I did was get everyone on the same page regarding the philosophy moving forward, and this started with each of the directors. Traditionally the students were preoccupied with getting big and lifting as heavy as they could in doing so. Their bodies weren’t physically ready and obviously injuries were sustained because of it. Which is partly why I came on board, and have been the first full-time S&C in this role. So as stated previously I encouraged movement by limiting loads, ensuring all students had their own progressive programs to follow, and adjusted the layout of the gym and equipment within it. It’s optional for students to participate in S&C, except for the senior representative teams (i.e. 1st/2nds). All students are encouraged to, as this sets up a better foundation particularly those flagged as potential rep players. Another big cultural shift was to encourage all students to participate, not just those involved in specific sports. This is more to do with a psycho-social well-being model, and the beauty of it is these such students may end up enjoying it so much they do decide to commit with a little more intensity to their chosen sports, which in turn only increases the talent pool to choose from and the likelihood of continued participation throughout adulthood.

 What are some of your current interests in the S&C field? What types of technology do you have available for use? 

I try not to follow one particular area, but rather stay up to date with a variety. Whilst we do have different forms of technology available (i.e. Gym Aware) to use, I don’t have the luxury of many of the other areas such as GPS, as it’s just not high on our agenda. Other areas I’ve utilised are more of a subjective nature like wellness measures etc. most of which are created by us rather than use certain systems to implement. It starts first with priorities, followed by resources/funds available. Although one of the biggest assets we have certainly is the gym aware system as this is a fantastic educational tool for developmental athletes in teaching the difference between strength and power. This allows them to see it’s not about how much you lift but rather how you lift it at specific times of the year. Other things it’s great for is encouraging maximal efforts through competing with their peers, and learning Olympic lifting progressions with tracking the bar path etc.

As a young and aspiring S&C coach, where would you like to end up in the profession?

Firstly, I like the way you refer to me as young haha! I’m still trying to hold on to that 30-34 age bracket. As with many aspiring S&C coaches I’ve always aspired to work full-time in the professional ranks in any sport to really test myself and push those around me. Originally, the goal was to train fighters in some capacity and one day have the opportunity to train some of the big overseas name fighters in boxing, but that just comes from contacts I suppose. Another was to travel on the circuit with professional Tennis players. But a big thing that I’ve learnt the longer I’ve been involved in the field is sometimes you need to take the blinkers off, and just enjoy the ride to where it takes you. I often found myself pre-occupied with the goal rather than the process itself, and it’s only been in recent years I’ve become appreciative of how far I’ve come as an S&C coach. So I just focus on the present and enjoy the environment, athletes, and other professionals I work with for now and whatever comes will come. One thing’s for sure and that is I don’t believe a lot of S&C coaches working with developmental athletes get the credit they deserve for what they facilitate and create. Working in this area S&C coaches play such a large role in how athletes’ move and their overall make up prior to entering the professional ranks… and this holds some weight. I like to pride myself on having those involved in such professional teams question where an athlete is from, and if they’re told Newington College, they’re confident they will have good foundations to build upon.

Just before we finish up, what are your favourite/current industry blogs/books to read, or recommend others to read?

Aside from the usual peer reviewed literature that everyone would know, my go to txts would be:

  • Periodization- Bompa/Haff
  • Supertraining- Verkhoshansky
  • High-Performance Training For Sports- Joyce/Lewindon
  • My biggest bang for buck these days are podcasts!
  • Iron Game Chalk Talk- Ron McKeefery
  • Pacey Performance

Blogs…. There are too many I follow to remember, except 1.

College Strength and Conditioning 😉

Thanks to Nathan for contributing to the College Strength & Conditioning Blog. We have a BIG coaching interview coming up, so stay tuned folks!

Twitter: @NathanParnham

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