‘Don’t be complacent.’ Andrew Keene – Olympic S & C coaches interviewed Episode 35

Andrew Keene, senior strength and conditioning coach for High-Performance Sports New Zealand outlines, what most people would think was his best moment as a coach, was actually a dark moment for him and how this moment has taught him not to be complacent. Andrew has a background as a lecturer and Strength & Conditioning coach and outlines from his unique experience, which is really important to become an S & C coach.

In this interview we discuss

Christian:  In this interview, I am joined by my strength & conditioning colleague from New Zealand Andrew Keene. Andrew is the senior strength and conditioning coach for High Performance Sports New Zealand (HPSNZ), and is currently working with Kayak, Athletics, BMX and is the Lead Strength & Conditioning Coach for 9 S & C coaches at HPSNZ.

In the past, Andrew has worked with Track Cycling New Zealand and these were also his most notable successes, a three-peat world championship title in the team sprint in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and the silver medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics in the team sprint.

Welcome, Andrew.

Andrew:  Thanks, Christian.

Andrew’s way into strength & conditioning

Christian:  How did you get into strength and conditioning?

Andrew:  It was a bit of a long journey because I didn’t do it straight out of school. I left school and got a job. I’m not sure what triggered me wanting to go and do some study. I loved sport and training and something triggered me to go and do some study.

It was a bit of a long journey because I didn’t do it straight out of school. I left school and got a job. I’m not sure what triggered me wanting to go and do some study. But through my studies, it was reinforced to me that I liked the practical side of coaching.

I did a certificate in Exercise Science, a one year certificate and I loved that, so I continued to study and knew I just wanted to work in sport or work in fitness. And as I started to work through my studies, it was reinforced to me that I liked the practical side of coaching, and now  25 years later, still doing strength and conditioning.

Christian: That’s an achievement, doing it for so long.

Andrew:  Well, I’ve not been a full-time strength and conditioning all the time, I’ve been working in the fitness industry. I’ve been teaching and training. I have 25 years in the industry.

His darkest moment

Christian:  And in your life as an S and C coach, what was your darkest moment?

Andrew:  When I sit in the chair, I had to reflect on it, two moments came out that are quite different. One was being on the sideline of a rugby game and seeing an athlete that I looked after, badly injuring his leg. He actually broke his leg in half. His tibia and fibula had split in half and were bent behind him.

He was lying in pain on the ground and that’s a moment I just won’t forget. That was one of the first things that came to mind.

On probably an opposite into the continuum was when we got the silver medal at the Rio Olympics 2016. That’s a moment that I will not forget.

Christian:  Why was it a dark moment?

Andrew:  We were dominant going into the Olympic Games in Rio. We were unbeaten for over four years. We knew GB was going to be fast and strong. But we were in really good form and as it turned out, we hit the goals that we had set out for ourselves.

It turned out we’d done what we needed. We broke an Olympic record in qualifying. We got into the final and then lost the final by 0.1 of a second to Team GB. It’s just a moment I will not forget.

We were dominant going into the Olympics, we were unbeaten over four years, we broke the Olympic record in qualifying, we got into the final and then lost the final by 0.1 of a second. It’s a moment I will not forget.

Christian:  I believe that. What did you learn from these moments?

Andrew:  I think with the fracture of the rugby player, I realize how I can be calm in quite an extrusive situation. I was one of the first people to get to the player, and I was quite calm myself and I looked after him, as well as other staff.

That on reflection wasn’t a very nice situation. It was a cruel moment that I was able to be calm and supportive in a situation. It was quite horrible to see someone in that position with their foot like that. I had the presence of mind to be there for him, to support him and to be calm. That was a learning situation.

As far as the Olympics and the silver medal, the simple learning there is, just don’t be complacent. We thought we’d done enough, but we hadn’t. And that’s something that I will always remember.

Don’t be complacent. We thought we’d done enough, but we hadn’t. And that’s something that I will always remember.

Christian:  That’s an interesting one. You reached your target. You broke the Olympic record. But speaking frankly, maybe it’s just enough to accept that you did everything you did and sometimes someone is better. Do you think you had not done enough?

Andrew:  True and I agree. As anyone would say, working in sport, you are always looking to be better and in learning, you keep challenging. I thought we had a good plan. Everything was working well.

But in retrospect, I would ask ‘Were we challenging the right things?’, ‘Were we asking the right questions?’ And to be fair we still probably would have had the same outcome. It’s just around there, the complexity, challenging questioning, is there stuff that we were not doing right?

In retrospect, I would ask ‘Is there stuff that we were not doing right?’

But just a caveat to that, we hear about marginal gains. I always reinforced that, that’s what we call meat and potatoes. We are getting the 99% right first before worrying about the one per-centers. Therefore, ask the questions and challenge. Did I do the basics right? And we did the basics right.

His best moment

Christian: What was your best moment?

Andrew: The first team sprint world title in 2014. That was easily the top moment. The boys getting a silver medal at Rio 2016 was a fantastic and amazing achievement. But for me as new support to the crew, we had a new coach, new S&C and a new nutritionist. We were able to come together after centralizing in Cambridge. We’d only been in our building about a month before World Champs.

The first team sprint world title in 2014. That was easily the top moment.

Before that, we’d been making do in other facilities and it became quite tight. We got that first World Champs and that was definitely a highlight for my career.

Christian:  Did you learn anything from that moment?

Andrew:  What did I learn? I don’t know. I suppose at the time it reinforced that what we were doing was working. And I suppose when you look at achievements or non-achievements through your career these are times to reflect and benchmark.

What did I do? What can I do better? Obviously, we’d done quite well. It was a fast time from memory. I don’t think it was their fastest, but the program was moving in the right direction.

It was New Zealand’s first world title. It signaled quite a core era for this young side. In later years, we got the team pursuit world title, few World Championship medals and I think in the Keirin, and in the sprint. It was a good time for Track Cycling New Zealand and some really good performances leading into the Rio Olympics. It was a good time when you thought of it.

What advice would he give a younger Andrew Keene

Christian:  If you could travel back in time, 10, 15, maybe 20 years, what advice would you give your younger you?

Andrew:  This is an easy answer. Start earlier with an internship or giving away your time. As I said, I started rather late. I had another career. I started studying and I chose to chase money rather than opportunities.

I chose to chase money rather than opportunities.

I was offered teaching positions. I took them. So it gave me some financial stability, but it wasn’t really where I wanted to hit. Though, ironically, teaching makes you learn best and more deeply. You have a greater understanding and the opportunity to learn from others.

Along the way, it probably did help me to break into the full-time industry with high-performance athletes. I was working with high-performance athletes, but not a high-performance program. I was working in satellite programs with regional athletes who were representing New Zealand.

It was an amazing opportunity, but I wasn’t working full time. I was teaching and going out with bits and pieces. So for someone who wants to be an S&C, give away your time, get an internship, start working with athletes, get involved with programs and basically get known.

It’s the networks that get you into the jobs. It is very hard to apply for a position and not be known and then get the job unless you’ve got a great CV.

Get known, it’s the networks that get you into the jobs.

Christian:  What strategies would you use to get known?

Andrew:  Basically, get into the networks and the internship programs. Start giving away your time and assisting staff who are working in high-performance programs. Generally, there are internship programs available. Apply for them, if you don’t get them to keep trying.

And in the meantime, get practical coaching experience as soon as possible. It’s something I did on the side and it did help me. And I’d reinforce, if you can’t work with a workforce program as an intern or whatever, you got to be walking the walk. You have to get out on the floor, deliver and start developing your trade.

To get known is to get involved and start getting a reputation. That is what allowed me to get my first break. I got employed because people knew who I was and knew what I did. When I reflect on every job I’ve got since it’s because they knew me.

His advice to young aspiring S & C coaches 

Christian:  Speaking about S&C and advice, what advice would you give young aspiring S&C coaches?

Andrew:  Being a teacher and also having people ask me these type of questions, I do have an outline and I try to simplify it. Probably the first thing is to be able to talk the talk. Even though I appreciate that it’s an applied job, but at a high level, there has to be some significant underpinning knowledge.

It’s an applied job, but at a high level, there has to be some significant underpinning knowledge.

And so by talk the talk, I mean, understand the game, understand the research, understand what makes out high-performance.

Be able to answer questions, so when people ask you why you do something, you have an underpinning understanding and can talk to them about that and basically any question within S&C.

Then on top of that, the second thing is to be able to walk the walk. Try a range of different things. If I was going back to say my 15 or 16-year-old self, I would have done a whole range of different sports. I would try a whole range of different things to improve my ability to walk the walk and understand that.

I am not saying that it’s critical that you should be able to do different types of training yourself. However, by doing it yourself, you get a different level of understanding on top of your empirical knowledge base and understanding. I feel that the two are quite strong.

Once you’ve got some basic knowledge and a bit of understanding as soon as it is possible, even if you’re not ready, then the next step is to start training others. Being comfortable on the floor, it takes time. It takes real time to understand and develop your eye. I am still learning.

I was lucky enough to sit in a session with Dan Pfaff last year. I think I’ve got an okay eye, but what that guy can see is just crazy. He had four people doing skipping movements. I was able to look at one person’s lower leg movement and try to figure out what was going on.

He watched four people and he had the eyes to lay the different things that were going on in each person’s skills. That guy has an amazing eye. That’s a finely tuned eye. So that takes time and purpose.

So get on the floor, develop your leadership, develop your eye and start putting theory into practice. So start programming, start doing your procedures, your monitoring, your testing, etc.,. So start getting into that groove.

And then watch other S & C’s to help fine tune those abilities. Shadow them, ask questions and see their leadership program and leadership style. You’ll be able to do that. If you can’t, try and shadow an S&C, watch what they do and learn from them.

And I’ll also recommend if you’re able to do that, arrange with many different S & C’s, because every S & C brings in a different skill set and a different ability that you’ll be able to learn from. It allows you to compare and contrast as well.

Probably getting a bit more formal, try and get your CV built up and to get through some doors.

Get a strength & conditioning accreditation, whether it’s an ASCA or European accreditation. It’s an unfortunate thing, but when we look at a CV, we go straight to the accreditation.

It’s an unfortunate thing, but when we look at a CV, we go straight to the accreditation.

You can talk about the pros and cons of an accreditation, but it does establish a certain baseline of ability and knowledge. When I see it, I know that they have passed the test. It doesn’t mean they’re any good. It just means that they’ve established some sort of baseline.

For me, my test is I want to see them on the floor. I want to see how they lead, how they talk and how they interact with athletes, there is a skill to being on the floor.

And probably my last suggestion to a young S & C is to be patient. It takes a while. It’s not going to happen overnight. Sorry to sound like the old fart, but young people these days, and I can’t believe I am saying it, they expect it real fast, real soon and it just doesn’t happen. With these things, it takes time to develop these skills. It also takes maturity and understanding.

It takes a while, it’s not going to happen overnight. It takes time to develop these skills. It also takes maturity and understanding.

So my advice I know you want it tomorrow, but it’s going to take years. And if you get in too soon or get promoted too soon, you might find it backfiring on you. I’ve seen S & C’s who’ve gone in hard and early and have lost jobs and never got hired again. That’s probably a bit dark, but be patient.

Christian:  Do you think it’s the generation? I think I was also quite impatient, and I think to a degree, I’m still impatient, but do you think we were different?

Andrew:  Yes. We’re in an era where things are easy to get. We don’t have to wait. You buy now, pay later! I definitely think it is a generational thing. I feel like the old man, but they expect to hit them now.

And the simple answer is, “No. You will not hit them now. You’re not ready.” I’m not saying that’s true for everyone. People mature at different levels. Some people have different levels of intelligence and need more time to develop or less.

But on the whole, S & C takes time. I reflect on a study from the NCA years ago, where they had 4 S & C coaches and they watched them do sessions and they evaluated the sessions they delivered. The collective experience across these four S & Cs was like 120 years. These were senior S & C’s that had been around a long time.

What was really cool is the behaviors were quite similar across these highly experienced S & Cs. But what they found, and I am going to misquote it, but 80% of the time they didn’t do anything. They had the confidence to say nothing, do nothing and just watch.

80% of the time they didn’t do anything. They had the confidence to say nothing, do nothing and just watch.

Now, I realize I say and do less than when I started. Again, you give the athletes responsibility, you set the scene and structure for athletes what you’d like them to do and then let them go for it.

I am not saying I’m the expert, but I know I am getting to the point now where I am happy to say less and watch more. I just facilitate what the athlete is doing. That was one of the main outcomes in the study. That’s exactly what they were doing.

They watched, they provided feedback and facilitated as required. That takes time. Young coaches tend to actively coach more, and I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. There are times during the developmental progress of an athlete from young to old that you’re going to obviously have a bit more dedicated input.

You will have a bit more input with the young and you talk more. However, I still think it’s an opportunity to talk less and let them develop and learn. It takes time.

Christian:  I think it’s a good point. I once thought that it had to do with the maturity of the S & C coach. But I also think it has to do with what you just mentioned, the stage of the athlete. I’m thinking of this leadership model from Blanchard, that goes through different stages.

In the early stage, the leader is very directive, and then moves into more coaching in the next stage, followed by supporting in the third stage and the last stage, the leaders is a facilitator.

That’s also what I’m seeing, at least for myself with my athletes, the younger they are, you are a little bit more on coaching, coaching, coaching. The older the athletes are and they become self-sufficient, you are really more a supporter and facilitator. Sometimes you can question, do I need to be there?

But again, it takes time looking back at how long I worked with most of them, and we are talking about years to almost a decade.

Andrew: That sounds funny, but the goal is to not be needed. That’s the goal. Further on, yes, you’re always needed. You’re just needed in a different capacity.

The goal is to not be needed.

You become a facilitator and a consultant when athletes get really self-sufficient and understand. But then you might be working with athletes with 15 years’ experience, but you bring 25 years. You still have a part to play, but our job is to not be needed.

Christian:  In the end, I also think we need to teach them to be able to do it by themselves. Sometimes as an S & C coach, you are not always around and they still need to be able to do the stuff.

I remember in 2008, I was working with the Junior Davis Cup team from Britain, in the LTA. We had to train one day in a different gym. It was a commercial gym and the guys entered and they looked around and said that they could not do anything that was in their program.

Luckily I was there, so I rearranged the dip bars and then put the bar on top of the dip bars, so they could use it as a rack and do the squats, and similar small things.

But that moment I realized that if I was not there, they would have left the gym without doing anything. And that’s probably in the early stage of an athlete. They look around and were ready to go without training.

Andrew:  Yes, you would be thinking that there is a lot to do there. There are opportunities everywhere, but you just got to figure it out. And it’s interesting that you say that, I think something we don’t speak very often in S & C is, the importance of young athletes being exposed to different leaders.

I remember having a squad to look after. Some of the squad had come from another squad and half of the squad were athletes that only would work with me. They wouldn’t work with anyone else.

And I wasn’t around for a session and someone else came and took the session. The half that had only been with me, fought with the other S & C covering the session. Because the messages were not coming from me, they felt it didn’t sound and feel right. Whereas the athletes who had been with other S & C’s and heard different messages were fine.

I absolutely envy that. I reflected as part of the learning model if it’s possible to get them exposed to different people so they realized it wasn’t just one way. They would understand that there were different messages that hopefully would achieve the same thing.

Christian:  I want to come back to one of the things you said in the beginning, you have an outline for young S & C’s, can you share a bit more?

Andrew:  Yes, because I get emails all the time, and me being an accurate and precise, I don’t want to keep writing the same emails. If I get a question, I’ll reply to someone, file it away and just keep playing with it.

No doubt this is part of what you do as well, we start talking to other S & C’s and having meetings. We talk about things.  When the questions came up about training philosophies, we sat down last year as a group and we went through our philosophies. It was a really cool thing to do.

I’d recommend it to any team of S & Cs to sit down and talk through your philosophies. It actually got really emotional. There was a moment where they brought the team together and people started talking about their core philosophies, their beliefs, and their motives. It was quite cool.

It was interesting to hear the old guys versus the young guys and to hear different personalities. The philosophies of some of the young guys were very procedural. One plus one equals two because this is how we’re going to train people. But the old guys were not procedural at all.

It was more around the athlete, the environment and the program. That was quite a fascinating observation. That was part of the meeting. There were discussions on how we balance work life.

I’m not sure what it’s like overseas. In New Zealand, we don’t seem to keep the S & Cs in the industry. It’s a tough industry. They work long hours and that needs to be balanced for the longevity of jobs. We started talking about that as far as their philosophy about how we look after ourselves and how we look after athletes.

Christian:  That’s an interesting one. I remember you and I spoke about that a few years ago. Recently I sat down with Dan Baker I asked him, that there seems to be a trend, that S & C coaches transition out of the industry at some point, and he said it seems to be after the 15-year mark, plus or minus a few years, that S & C coaches look at transitioning out. They then become the Head of S & C or take on a more managerial role or they go into lecturing. So, it’s a phenomenon that we are facing in strength & conditioning.

Andrew:  Dan Baker’s the example of longevity.  He had twenty-two years with the Brisbane Broncos?

Christian:  Yes, he’s an example of a few things.

Andrew:  What was that?

Christian:  He’s an example of a few things. I highly respect him. I think he’s an awesome guy.

Andrew:  He certainly is. He’s an example. He’s involved in research. He’s got longevity with the Brisbane Broncos, he’s the main contributor to ASCA and as people know who go to the ASCA conference, he loves a good Corona.

Christian:  Yes, he does. But I mean, I like the stuff about S & C and development. We can have a follow-up interview on that or follow-up chat. Let’s talk more about S & C coaching.

His coaching philosophy

Christian:  What is your coaching philosophy?

Andrew:  Last year we met as a group and we talked about our philosophies. I talked mine out and so it’s actually a bit of a list. I’ll briefly go through it.

But the thing that kicked off when I was talking about philosophy is I do buy into our organizational philosophy, which is athlete focused, performance driven, coach-led. Those are principles our organization follow and I thoroughly agree.

I thoroughly agree with our organizational philosophy, which is athlete focused, performance driven, coach-led.

The philosophy is a big picture approach, it does need to be athlete focused, performance driven and someone has to lead, which most often is the coach. We the older guys tend to look at the bigger picture. I think one of the most important things for an S & C perspective is to establish a good training environment.

Athletes have to want to train. They have to enjoy being there. If that’s not established first, then you’re not going to have buy-in. You are not going to have committed athletes and you’re not going to have people enjoying it.

And segway again into the game in Dan Pfaff last year. It was interesting that one of the main things he talked about from an S & C and coaching perspective is that athletes need to have fun. And you don’t often hear coaches say that. You don’t often hear people in the industry say that, especially someone in sports in New Zealand. That word is not used a lot. There is the whole mantra in New Zealand about hard work, doing your time, throwing hard yards in, and these kinds of things.

The environment needs to be right. And as part of that, athletes are generally confident people. Most of them are awesome. The learning model from younger athletes, not necessarily older athletes, has empowered them. It gives them ownership and drives. The model teaches them to become involved in what they do. It also helps when you show genuine interest in them and what they do. Those are very important things.

Getting back to probably more nuts and bolts with S & C, it seems to me that one of the main things that one needs to encourage or facilitate is a consistency of training. Athletes do not become good in one session overnight. It’s an accumulation of training over the years.

By doing that, it made me realize, don’t dwell on one session, it’s the long game. We talked about how the environment, athlete buy-in and athlete knowledge can facilitate their consistency and continuity of training. Over the years, we get good progress, good outcomes.

And for me, the long term development is what I’d keep an eye on. Again, not overstating it, don’t worry about the now, the session right now. It’s about accumulation, a number of sessions to get to where you want to get.

Another issue here on public talks to is that athletes need to move well. Sports produce asymmetries that put bodies into weird positions.  But adaptations facilitate consistency and continuity in training, but athletes need to be fitting well.

As part of that, they need to move well, without that they most likely to be injured, develop maybe youth-type injuries and develop bad patterns. But we can encourage a change from bad patterns. But athletes need to move well and move well in the context of the sports. There are different sports that have different ideas of what good movement is.

But a colleague of mine just came back from France. He met up with a French decathlete Kevin Mayer, who just broke the world record. But one of his sayings was to bring his athlete back to the middle. It was brilliant! Bring the athlete back to the middle.

Like I said sports is about asymmetries. We do exaggerated things and we get maladaptation. He felt that a part of his role was to bring athletes back to the middle.

I mentioned that for any young S & C to have a good empirical understanding of training, the knowledge behind it. If someone asks why a particular aspect is in the program, there should be a reason. If there is no reason, then it should not be there.

So everything should be rationalized. When everything is considered some things are padding, but there is a reason it’s there, but I have a rationalized approach. It obviously is part of a bigger plan.

I think it’s really important as S & C’s that were reflective. It’s something I noticed in other organizations and one I work for at the moment. A reflective practice is something that’s facilitated and supported.

I’m a big believer that each session is a time to learn from. Like I mentioned before, it’s important to know that being a good S & C takes time. To help facilitate that learning, we need to be reflective of what we do.

Christian:  That’s good. Being reflective, I just wanted to jump in on that. The nine S & C coaches that you are leading, you’re facilitating reflective work as well?

Andrew:  My boss, the Head of Department, he’s actually just put a program in place which facilitates reflective practice. It’s a peer-reviewed process, and it’s a part of what we do. We reflect and reflect with another S & C and follow a process of reflection.

So I’m obviously a part and facilitating it with my staff. Apart from that, if we didn’t have the process, would I be asking people to reflect?

It’s a good question. Formally as a part of the process, I usually ask what they learn each year.

But funny enough, I don’t know if I would actually sit down with my guys and go through this list. I’ve only just sort of started with the job as the Lead S & C coach. Yes, it’s a good question. I think if I look at my responsibilities, there are some bigger rocks I have to hit first.

Christian:  Let’s move on with the list.

Andrew:  When we were having the meeting and talking about philosophies, I had a thought that you should trust your gut. There are going to be times when you get questions.

I’ve talked about a rationalization approach and I get it. However, you’re going to have a gut feeling about something that, yes, you can rationalize, but you are not quite sure. Your experience tells you that this is going to happen. Trust it! Trust it!

So sorry, it goes against what I’ve talked about, rationalized approach. That’s interesting because that’s a stage of learning. We talked about learning models. I never forget being in a lecture that talks about stages of learning and stages of expertise. As you get later in your career, you don’t necessarily do it, because you know how it works, you do it because you know that it works. That’s reflected on trust.

There’s going to be situations where your guts say no, trust it. And now I’m going to contradict that again by reinforcing what I’ve talked about. Rationalized understanding, understanding cause and effect, I think when I wrote this down, this probably comes more from monitoring athletes.

Monitoring and understanding performance, it’s especially important in some sports, like cycling. I would challenge our program to know what athletes are going to do. Performance shouldn’t happen by accident.

Performance shouldn’t happen by accident.

In a sport like cycling, you should know what contributes to performance. Understand there’s a human factor, the human factor can be an unknown, however, it can teach cause and effect.

So as part of our role is, that we should understand cause and effect. Understand that if I do this, this will happen and you might not know that straight away. So part of your role is to start understanding that. So if you are new to a sport or if the sport is new to the S & C, for example, you should know that if I do this, it’s going to have this effect and if not, start working it out.

My next point, coming back to reflective practice, is to continue to challenge what you do, comes back to my point about not being complacent.  I challenge what I do, I challenge my processes, talk about rationalize approach and trusting your gut, but I continue to challenge all I do.

Continue to be better and that’s one of the cool things about our job. We can always be better and we can always learn.  The day it stopped happening is probably the day I resign. It’s just a job of learningEach session is a learning opportunity.

One of my colleagues, actually the Head of Department, one of his philosophies, which I have stolen, is hit big rocks. Coming back to my point about marginal gains, his philosophy was to first thing get the 99% right. His comment was to hit the big rocks, get the basic things done well.

And then also to finish my list, we should talk less and watch more. That was another of my colleagues’ philosophies. I totally agree.

That was the list that I had written out before that meeting. I totally recommend people do it.

His core values

Christian:  So moving on from philosophies to values, what are your core values?

Andrew:  I’d say core value would definitely be around excellence. And I say that carefully because excellence can take you into a buried hole, as you’re always striving for it.

Excellence can take you into a buried hole, as you’re always striving for it.

But I think, when we talked about philosophies, and talked about understanding cause and effect. In order to do that you have to be collecting information and you got to be understanding the sport.

You have to be able to analyze the sport, be able to collect information and be thorough. With regards to excellence, you have to talk about rationalization. In order to rationalize, you’ve got to understand. You need to be reading, understanding the literature, learning from others and challenging yourself. Yes, I think a core value would definitely be excellence.

Christian:  And you mentioned it can take you into a hole? Is this because it’s never good enough?

Andrew:  Yes, that’s right. It’s probably something I should put as a philosophy. I might do it at the end of this call. Don’t be harsh on yourself. Be proud of what you have done.

Don’t be harsh on yourself. Be proud of what you have done.

I don’t think I’m as good as I can be, but I do some good stuff. Acknowledge that. So I think that’s something I’m aware of and I’d say to others, strive for excellence. Love it, but be happy with what you’ve done. Yes, you’ve made mistakes. Learn from them. You didn’t intend to make mistakes. You weren’t being deliberate about it.

You can’t be perfect. You can always try to be perfect. But be happy with what you’ve done. So, again, if you go down that hole of excellence and perfection, it can be a sad, sad journey.

The person that has influenced him the most

Christian:  Which person has influenced you most and why?

Andrew:  That’s an interesting question, Christian. I don’t know if there is one person. I know genuinely there’s been quite some awesome people that’d been fortunate to meet. As I said, I came late to the profession and my introduction to the industry was through my first certificate and my first study.

The lecturer who set up the course called John Winera, he wasn’t even an S & C. Truth is, he wasn’t even a PT. He was a biologist who knew about training. Interesting, his son won Mr. Universe, so there was obviously some pedigree there.

But he was passionate, knowledgeable and just a nice guy. That is probably another training philosophy. Be a nice guy, don’t be an asshole.

Christian:  It’s also part of the All-Blacks, right? They have the “No dickhead philosophy” or something or policy or something, right?

Andrew:  Is that right?

Christian:  I think so. I have read that. It’s a Kiwi thing, but it’s a good one, it’s a good one.

Andrew:  It’s a good policy. Well, yes, it had to be. Yes, people don’t want to work with dickheads, even if they are very good at their jobs. People don’t want to be around them. Again, that’s about the environment thing that I talked to before. Now, I lost what we spoke about before.

Christian:  You talked about the teacher who was a biologist who happened to know about training and was a good guy.

Andrew:  Yes, John was a top guy and definitely earlier on, helped me on my journey. And interesting enough, the next person on my list is another teacher or lecturer. My Master’s supervisor, Greg Anderson, an amazing.

He was thorough, knowledgeable and highly intelligent. Some of the things I learned from there was around critical thinking, challenging, asking questions and seeking knowledge. But critical thinking and being able to analyze and think outside the box was definitely skills from him.

He pushed my brain in a way that I had never been pushed before. It was a full on four years when I was doing my Masters. It was an amazing, amazing time.

For the S & C, Angus Ross, who actually worked with Angus now in my role for HPSNZ, however, I’ve known Angus for almost 10 years. He was someone I met earlier on when I was working with athletes at regional academies.

He was there as an S & C consultant and Gus is a guru. He is amazing. I had been lucky enough to be working with him for almost 10 years now. I still consider him my mentor and I am still learning things from him. He has a huge influence on what I do. He is a very amazing guy.

And then probably to finish my list, when I was reflecting on it, there was a coach I worked with Mike Mohill was an amazing coach when I worked with him. I’m not sure if you understand the word “mana”. It’s a Maori word. It means like respect. Probably respect is the closest word, but he had this “mana”, this respect about him.

“Mana” is a Maori word and it means like respect, he had this “mana”, this respect about him.

He never yelled. The players loved him. The players would die for him. And I will never forget the situation. He was a very successful coach and we’d won the season before. This was a club season. But the final season we had a bit of a losing streak. And so, what does Mike do, he stands up for the meeting. Mike never stands up for the meeting. We know we had a meeting two days before the game.

We had practice then everyone sits down together. Our players are on the floor, the staff is in chairs and he is a chair. He stands up. He gives the same sort of speech and the same tone of speech, and people are intently watching what Mike’s saying.

All he’s done is stand up. Mike was understated as a coach. As I said, he never yelled and never screamed. He had massive “mana” respect. We’d come into a huddle at half-time or during an injury or something, he’d be calm, collected and definitive in what people needed to do and their roles. He never yelled. But he stood up in this meeting and that changed our season.

So the reason why he’s an example of someone’s that was a highlight to me in my career was, I’ve never seen it before in a coach, the presence of the man was just amazing. The respect he had was amazing. I don’t know if it impacted on me as a coach. I know I have mellowed with age. I don’t yell as much as I used to. Maybe I learned that from him.

How to manage expectations

Christian:  So dealing with individuals, obviously, we are working with athletes and sometimes they have an idea of what’s best for them. If their idea is very different from your idea, how do you deal with that situation?

Andrew: There’s quite a bit that goes in before that meeting. When I write my notes, it’s based on the questions. But before that scenario comes up, well, if it has an opportunity to, you have already established a relationship. You already have an understanding of the sport, the long term plan and what the coach’s vision is.

The reason I bring it up if an athlete wants to suggest something that’s different to what I’m recommending, there’s a whole different thing to consider. So, if what the athlete’s asking is completely different from what the coach’s vision and the plan are, let alone different to mine, it needs to be rationalized and discussed with the guys. We discuss the plan, the coach’s vision and why it will work. I firmly believe there’s more than one way to train an athlete.

I firmly believe there’s more than one way to train an athlete.

I obviously have my preference, not to say, that is the only way. But coming back to being the older guy. If an athlete suggests different ways to do it. We just talk it through and if indeed the athlete is vehement, and even if I totally disagree, and this needs to be done with the coach as well. If the athlete is looking to take a different approach, that has implications for their performance. And these implications will then apply for the individual the team and it becomes a wider discussion.

So I’m talking in circles, I’m taking it out with the athlete. I’m not throwing it out if they’ve got a different suggestion, but it has to be talked through. It’s not as simple as what the athlete wants. It comes back to the coach and my suggestions for what I believe is best for the athlete. And if the athlete wants to do it and he or she is vehement and the coach is agreeable, we’ll try.

If people don’t talk, shit goes wrong.

I’m complexing the question. That’s natural working with people and programs across multiple providers and coaching staff. It’s complicated. But it’s made simplified when people talk. If people don’t talk, shit goes wrong.

Christian:  This leads perfectly into the next question. In a team, normally we are different members of the support staff and every member wears his own hat and has his own ideas. So if there are differences of ideas, especially if they are different from your idea, how do you deal with that in the support staff?

Andrew:  Well, you have to rationalize it. I am aware that sometimes we get into situations, where it’s almost a battle about whose approach wins. A battle is not a good thing, especially if the athlete gets wind of it.

Sometimes we get into situations, where it’s almost a battle about whose approach wins.

But you have to come to some consensus, you have to talk it out and rationalize it out. I’m passing the buck, but ultimately, it has to go through the gatekeeper, whether that’s the coach, high-performance director or a senior staff member. It has to be somebody who can listen to everyone and then make a decision about the way forward.

That’s me passing the buck, but there’s not one way to train an athlete. Staff is going to have different biases and approaches, but someone needs to stand up and decide on the way forward. But in saying that, you need to check your emotions at the door. You should try not to take things personally. Sometimes you just have to try things and I’m observing this program from a distance.

Very often S&C’s and Physios have totally different approaches and someone’s going to win the fight so to speak. They are going to go a certain direction and hope it works. And if it doesn’t, you go back to the drawing board. I’m sure this has happened many, many times before.

I think it comes to talking it out, rationalizing it, people putting the case together in a respectful and emotional way and then ultimately, it comes to the gatekeeper. You need to have someone who will get the “mana”, the respect.

You also need someone who’s got the experience, understands the big picture, understands what is the vision of the coach, if it’s not the coach, and then make the final call. It’s not easy, but if you’re someone who acknowledges that there isn’t one way and different approaches can work, and you need to be able to align with someone else’s way. But if you’re not, then the relationship starts to get strained.

How to deal with decisions you don’t agree with

Christian:  And you mentioned someone has to stand up and make the decision. So if the decision that is taken is very different from what you believed should have happened or should happen, how do you deal with that?

Andrew:  Well, I go with it, because if I’m not presenting buy-in to the athletes, they are able to pick up on that. If I don’t think this is going to work, it probably won’t. If you backed yourself, you don’t think it will work.

If I’m not presenting buy-in to the athletes, they are able to pick up on that. There has to be consensus, if not, things will break down.

But then, it’s best there be consensus with the delivery team of the coaches and other staff. There has to be consensus, if not, things will break down. Things will start to break up from within and the environment is such an important thing so there needs to be consensus.

This one needs reflecting because there have been times where I have and there are times where I haven’t. When I haven’t, it hasn’t worked out well. It’s a tough line Christian because I would like to think that I would buy-in, try this approach, present unity and to see if it happens.

And protect the long gain, as I said, these things don’t happen overnight. You have to appreciate the sports we work in. With the Olympic cycles, you actually don’t have a lot of time, but you just have to have faith that you got to try this and if it fails, it fails. It’s not easy.

Christian:  I think to answer that question, we also need to be a bit more specific. I think I can talk from my own experience. If it’s a question about training philosophy, it’s probably easier to align, than in a situation where athlete well-being is put at risk because of a certain approach chosen. So I think it can’t be answered easily, yes or no.

Andrew:  Absolutely, I talked about my philosophies, but it’s almost a given, that we have to protect the athlete.  It’s a part of your accreditation, do no harm. So that’s a different thing. So if we’re talking about someone having a different idea about an approach for poor performance that you think that’s it’s not going to work, that’s different.

It’s a part of your accreditation, do no harm.

If someone’s going to do something that is going to create harm, well that is simply a no go. No, I would fight that. If someone was promoting something that was going to do someone harm, I would definitely fight that. If the gatekeeper chose to go that way, no denying, I’ll be protesting that.

The gatekeeper would have to have a very good reason. Actually, if it’s going to do harm, I’d be fighting that. But I haven’t been in that situation. I think we’re in an industry with people that continually don’t do things that are going to create harm.

But I acknowledge that we are going to do things that are going to screw your body up for the rest of our lives. Sport is not healthy. I get it! They are going to have stiff joints, bad scar tissue, bad movement and balance for the rest of their life. I get it!

But you’re talking about harm in a bad way, whether it’s emotional, or some physical trauma above and beyond what we would expect from training. In training, we do some pretty terrible things to ourselves. So I suppose you define what harm is because I remember having a discussion with a physio about that.

I told the physio that if they are worried about the normal side effects that come from training and competing, then the athlete shouldn’t compete. Sport is not healthy.

And I loved him as a physio because he was very much about the athlete first, well-being and harmony. Sport is not healthy and it’s interesting. He was almost biting me. He said that there would be long term effects if we wanted the athlete to perform better. I told him that the athlete should not compete.

A typical training day in the life of an S & C coach

Christian:  How does a typical day in the life of an S&C coach look like?

Andrew:  A typical day? I suppose my day is different to what I’m going to talk to now because my day starts on a laptop looking at administration things. But I suppose this is very procedural based.

It starts with setting up for the day. They are sitting up for a session, obviously working out on the floor, getting the session done. Then there is de-briefing of that session.

We come back to reflect and focus and talk with the S&C coach for a session if you’re lucky enough to be in a sport where the coach is there. Then we find out how the debriefing session went.

I also do some administration in between session, whether it might be on-going programming, doing some data analysis and completing some reports. If I get a chance throughout the day, I informally talk to all the staff around, with regards to regular operations or just general chit-chat.

I ask them about any article that they read and what they have seen. We’re quite lucky, the environment I am in, we have very good S & C’s and we will talk sessions through. We talk about why some things are done, we discuss anything of relevance that we may have seen and the practical application of it.

The other things that might fill your day are case management meetings. I talked about coms before. As you well know, all the bloody meetings and emails can become a burden. But if done well, coms communications, it’s just so important. Again, we talked about being on the same page, delivering a cohesive program. It’s so important.

Then the rest of the day, I probably do a bit of a facility work, because I run the facility. Then I do my general leadership work with my staff, some mentoring and some discussions.

I’d like my day at some stage to involve some reading, I’m very bad at it but, but I would love to as part of my typical day if I had some reading and some wide space to do some thinking. I don’t, but that’s what I would recommend.

How to design a training program 

Christian:  Take us through step by step how you designed the training program?

Andrew:  It’s funny that when I saw this question, I know I’ve got notes here somewhere because I use to teach this stuff. I just wanted to do it in brief. I just started a new sport so this is quite an apt question.

One of the big things I do when I start a new sport is, I want to understand the sport. So I want to understand obviously the sport, the rules, and the biomechanics. I want to understand the athletes that I’m going to be training, understand their role in the sport, understand the coach’s plan and then understand the big rocks.

I try to understand what needs to be improved, how I am going to improve it and how I am going to monitor the improvement. I also consider what I am going to do to understand cause and effect.

I want to understand the sport, I want to understand the athletes, understand what needs to be improved, how I am going to improve it and then understand the big rocks.

In the sport that I’ve just started working in, I’ve started collecting data, a lot of training data, and I’m starting to run correlations to understand what contributes to the performance. I want to tease up as part of this and do a bit of reading around the sport. I want to find out about the literature that’s available and to see what the science is showing us.

I then try to piece it all together. Once I get an understanding of the sport, some of the cause and effect, the training that works, understand the athlete, the coach’s plan, then I put my plan in place. That plan is goal driven based on my philosophy around athlete-focused, performance-driven and coach-led.

I put my plan in place, the plan is goal driven based on my philosophy around athlete-focused, performance-driven and coach-led.

Well, my plans are goal specific with regards to improving specific performance aspect or whatever is part of the coach’s plan. And then where I have the resources available because you don’t always have the resources available, the program is individualized.

And individualized action can take time, because you’ve got to learn to understand your athlete, but always looking to fine tune that program. Obviously, this is the big stuff. Learn for the position, their age and their reaction to training, but then, continuing to fine tune them.

And as I mentioned, whatever plan I do, it’s integrated, so whatever loading, programming, the phases, and the periodization, it’s integrated into the athletes or the coaches plan. It needs to complement and it needs to match. I’ve talked about this a few times now, but it also needs to be monitored.

So, as part of reflective practice, learning, understanding and understanding cause and effect, you need to monitor. That can be a black hole within itself. I’m well-known to monitor a lot. I record a lot and I probably do more than I need to. I probably could do a lot less and be as effective, but that’s my personality.

I want to understand and eventually, I’ll funnel it. I’ll start with a massive amount of data and I’ll funnel to key things and that’s just how I work. When I was with cycling, that’s what was happening. I was starting with all this data and I was coming down to what I thought were the big rocks.

Next, big picture of how I design programs. The big stuff around understanding and being goal specific, individualized and integrated, actually, probably all the things that are out in the textbook.

His interview nomination

Christian:  Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?

Andrew:  I do know Nic Gill, the S & C coach of the All Blacks. I had worked with Gilly, I am not sure if I know Gilly well enough to tell him that Christian is a good guy and that he should talk to you. Because I bet Gilly gets these requests all the time.

Christian:  For sure, I bet he gets a lot of requests.

Andrew:  But if you get the opportunity to listen to him, he’s a smooth operator. He’s got the gift of the gab. He operates well, and he’s obviously got longevity. He’s been with All-Blacks now ten years, which is huge. I think he’s been around longer than many other providers have.

But the physio, Bill Gallagher, he’s been around as long as well and it’s quite interesting when you talk about successful programs and longevity. Just look at the All-Blacks since they had that horrible loss against France in 2007, the All-Blacks turn the corner and they are an incredibly successful team.

They have got a 94% run rate which is the highest run rates in an official team in the world. And to reflect that, when you look at the longevity of the support staff, you’re not surprised.

Christian:  So that’s the answer, Nic Gill?

Andrew:  Yes, Nic Gill, Gilly. He’s an interesting guy because he still works as a lecturer, he’s still involved with the university. He has a Ph.D., he has his fingers in a lot of pies.

Obviously, with his Ph.D., he still supervises. He is published. He has students publishing, but he is involved in the empirical understanding side of it. He’s always learning, learning and learning. And on top of that, he’s practicing with the All Blacks.

It’s not a busy job, it’s just busy at times. He might spend five weeks a year with the All Black on-site, and he’s monitoring remotely, he’ll go visit. So they are afforded some times to do other things.

I’ve heard about Herman Pete that travels overseas to visit different programs and to learn from them. That’s quite a strength. I was really lucky because the All-Blacks are obviously synonymous with winning. Doors open when you mention that you are with the All-Blacks.

I was really lucky because the All-Blacks are obviously synonymous with winning. Doors open when you mention that you are with the All-Blacks.

I was lucky to take the All-Blacks sevens team overseas the year before. And we got opportunities that I couldn’t believe. We went to Auckland Raiders for a day. When they saw us walk in, I’ve got my New Zealand Sevens All-Blacks kit on, but people don’t know the difference.

And people are coming to talk to us and I don’t follow NFL that much, but it turned out there were these legends coming to talk to us. This one guy came up and talked to us and he walked away and commented that there was a nice guy in our team. Pretend that to be the highest paid player in the NFL, and all was possible because we’re were wearing the All-Blacks kit, people came to see us and wanted to talk to us.

They open doors and I got to see the NFL. I saw the Auckland Raiders and got to see how they operate. That was fascinating. I’ve got notes if want them, Christian. It was fascinating to see how they operate.

I got this visit, Strata Independent Commission Organization that train athlete off-season. So official football, soccer, baseball and ice hockey offseason, they’d send their athletes for these people to train them and it was fascinating seeing how they worked.

But what did dawn on me on this trip was how easy it is to train genetic freaks. The programs are actually quite simple and they need to be because they’re freaks. They are not trying to get the one percenters. They are the one percenters. In New Zealand, we have a very small talent pool.

We have to make the most of the 400 million people and there you get the cream of the crop. That’s nothing. The approach for the NFL was more about keeping them in one piece and try to make them better. It works. They are freaks.

Those guys in the Oakland Raiders team, they have three players who could run low teen 100’s and they weigh 100kgs. You got three guys who could run a low teen in a 100 meters and weigh 100kgs. Who does that and there are three of them.

I saw some big ass class, I don’t know the positions in the NFL. They were doing their recovery day. There was one guy who had 150 kg on a bar, doing some mid-thigh shrugs. He was talking to his mate.

He was talking to his mate as he is doing his 150 kg Shrugs and the rugby coach that I was with is watching this and he wondered in amazement if it was safe for him to be doing that without being warmed up. I informed him that this activity was his warm-up based on how fucking strong he was.

It was so different Christian. It was a genetic freak, obviously with a bit of augmentation. But coming back to the All Blacks, their reputation that people want to hear what their system is. People have read their books, watched the documentaries if you get the chance to read or talk to anyone, take it.

Where can you find Andrew Keene

Christian: So to wrap it up, where can people find you?

Andrew:  Where can they find me? I’m based at Cambridge, working for High Performance Sports New Zealand. We run a gym out there. Apart from sport, obviously, cycling is a big part of it, but we also operate other sports as well for athletes, based in the region.

But we have three centralized sports in Cambridge or Waikato and that’s cycling, rowing, and triathlon. Triathlon is centralized but less. In the future, we are expecting canoe to centralize. It’s in Waikato at the moment, which is based in Auckland, probably for the foreseeable future, but apart from that, I work with a range of athletes that are based in Cambridge.

Christian:  Any online channels or you aren’t all for that?

Andrew:  I’m a consumer of knowledge, but not really a presenter of knowledge at this stage. No, I don’t generally put myself out there. Happy to be behind the scenes, I don’t put myself out there.

I think I’ve got far too much more to learn and I know there are people out there, far more informed than I am. I talked about Angus Ross. He’s always reading. He has crazy knowledge and experience. He’s the sort of guy who should be getting his word out there.

You get people who have an opinion and talk to staff. It might be little biased, but for the time being, I don’t think I am that guy to be talking to the masses. I definitely have something to say, but I don’t think I need to say it.

Christian: Okay, good. Thanks for your time and insights. That was really good.

Andrew: Thanks for having me.