‘Make sure your schedule reflects your priorities.’ David Jones – Olympic S & C coaches interviewed Episode 17

David Jones strength & conditioning coach of Bronze Medalists from the Rio Olympics 2016 Brouwer / Meeuwsen, European Champs 2018 Meppelink / Keizer and formerly worked with tennis player Nick Kyrgios outlines his journey into strength & conditioning, his biggest challenges, and the lessons he has learned.

This interview discusses

Christian: In this interview, I am joined by a Strength & Conditioning colleague David Jones. David has worked as a strength and conditioning coach with Tennis Australia, where he worked with athletes like Nick Kyrgios. Dave now works with Beach Volleyball national team of the Netherlands. Some of his most noticeable successes of his athletes, the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics 2016 from Brouwer / Meeuwsen and then recently the European Champs 2018 Meppelink / Keizer.

Welcome, Dave.

David: Thanks mate, thanks for having me.

How did he get into the Strength & Conditioning profession

Christian: How did you get into strength and conditioning?

David: I think probably a pretty similar story to a lot of guys, I had a real interest in training and the training process as a teenager growing up and enjoying my sport. I tried to be an athlete at different periods, so from there that led me to a Human Movement degree when I finished school, and knowing that I wanted to work roughly in that space, not knowing what that would look like.

I had a real interest in training and the training process as a teenager growing up and enjoying my sport and I tried to be an athlete at different periods.

And sort of by chance, as often happens in life, the girl I was dating at that time, her father was a fitness adviser at one of the AFL (Australian football league) clubs, so he really opened my eyes to what strength and conditioning is and the performance world, so that’s probably what got me into it and interested and got me started with it.

Christian: And you’re also a qualified physio, right?

David: Yes, that’s right. I’ve done a Human Movement degree, did all the internships and personal training and rehab hospital, that sort of stuff. I tried to be an athlete through that period as well as a volleyball player and then made the decision to go study physio and in that period actually got my first job in strength and conditioning in Tennis Australia, a job which I was in for five years. And then I made a switch and I’ve been here in Holland now for five years already, so it’s going quickly.

Christian: Time flies.

David: Yes, it does.

Dave’s darkest moment as a Strength & Conditioning Coach

Christian: As an S&C coach, what was your darkest moment?

David: I think some of the worst moments are when an athlete gets injured, especially if you’re partly responsible in those situations. The one that sticks out in my mind is an incident with a young tennis guy back in Canberra, we were doing some speed work with a bungee cord and the attachment broke, so it was on full stretch and it came back and cracked him in the stomach. That was a nasty injury, but also one that could have easily been a lot worse; if it had got him a bit higher or a bit lower, he would have been in real big trouble.

Some of the worst moments are when an athlete gets injured, especially if you’re partly responsible in those situations.

Christian: Or in the face.

David: Yes, or in the face, or anywhere like that. So, I was really lucky that it wasn’t worse than what it could have been. I was also lucky that it happened to the right kid who took it well. That’s one I still feel sick in the stomach when I think about it, so that’s one that stuck with me. And there were also other injuries that happened along the way,

I mentioned Brouwer / Meeuwsen who have had some successes, but they’ve also had some other records on the World Tour. They were the first team to withdraw from a World Tour final without actually attempting to play, so that was also a moment where you had to reflect on why that happened and how we can do better.

Brouwer / Meeuwsen was the first team to withdraw from a World Tour final without actually attempting to play, so that was also a moment where I had to reflect on why that happened and how we can do better.

Christian: How has that influenced you, and what did you learn from it?

David: I think those moments trigger you to think and reflect. For the bungee cord one and the tennis one you realize you just have to be thorough with your safety and make sure that you’re providing a safe environment for the athletes all the time. That was a hard way to learn that lesson, but just be thorough.

You have to be thorough with your safety and make sure that you’re providing a safe environment for the athletes all the time.

And with the Brouwer / Meeuwsen incident, it probably actually triggered me to go searching into the numbers and into some of the workload stuff, so that was a good one to turn into a positive from that program. So, we took some good lessons out of that in terms of how to build the guys towards a tournament.

Christian: What numbers were you looking at?

David: At that stage, it was patellar tendinopathy, and it was the weekly increases in the jump loads.

Christian: The number of jumps?

David: Number of jumps. These guys had good success, they managed to play a lot of matches in that tournament, about seven or eight matches. But of course, they probably weren’t physically prepared to do that, so now we’re looking at the percentage increase of jumps with the weights specific to Rob and what they can handle, and so that’s giving us a good guideline, so we have this 40% upper limit that we sort of try to stick to now.

So, from making some mistakes along the way there we’ve managed to keep them a bit more consistently healthy, so that was a real positive for me.

From making mistakes along the way there we’ve managed to keep them more consistently healthy, so that was a real positive for me.

Dave’s best moment as a Strength & Conditioning Coach

Christian: What was your best moment as an S&C coach?

David: That’s also a good question. There is not one that is sticking out in my mind. I think it’s a really cool job where you get to travel the world, see lots of different things. Through work I’ve been able to see things like Sam Stosur in US Open in 2011, it was really cool. And through working with Tennis Australia I was lucky enough to see Rafa  and Djokovic in, I think it was 2012 final, six hours or something

I think it’s a really cool job where you get to travel the world, see lots of different things.

 Christian: It was the Aussie Open, 2012, I remember that yes.

David: So, just some really cool sporting events, and also ones I’ve been more directly involved with – the boys at the Olympics was cool to see, also Chris and Reinder at World Champs 2015 did everything but win the event, that was so close, but that’s how sport goes. That was also a moment that sticks with me.

Dave’s advice to his younger self

Christian: What advice would you give your younger self?

David: I think it would be to be less conflict-averse. I don’t think you have to go out seeking conflict necessarily, but not being afraid of it I think, and at least have more confidence to state your opinion, dig in on some issues and have a constructive conflict as well. So, that took me a while to learn that that can actually be quite a healthy thing in the workplace.

Christian: And that refers to working in a multi-disciplinary team, or with athletes?

David: Yes, in the multi-disciplinary team, I think. If I could advise myself earlier on to learn that lesson, to understand that you can, and in fact need to, dig in on some issues I would have.

And it actually strengthens the team when there are different views. And as long as it’s all done in a respectful way it’s a real strength for the team. So, if I could have learned that one, I’m still learning it now, but if I could learn that one earlier that would have been good.

Be to be less conflict-averse, it actually strengthens the team when there are different views.

 Christian: That will come up again later on because it’s very common in the multi-disciplinary team.

The best advice to young and aspiring S & C Coaches

Christian: What advice would you give young aspiring S&C coaches who want to break into the industry?

David: I think for young coaches I would be happy to share the same advice that was given to me. I think I still am a young strength and conditioning coach in the industry, but the advice would be to work in different sports early in your career just to broaden your horizons and get that broader experience and understanding.

Work in different sports early in your career just to broaden your horizons and get that broader experience and understanding.

Christian: Working practically.

David: Yes, exactly. Also, working abroad I think was good advice that I followed. If you talk about the softer skills of coaching, it develops you as a person in general and you’re better able to understand different perspectives, different cultures and communication. So, I think having gone through that experience you’re a better coach coming out the other end of that.

Working abroad, developing soft skills, understanding different perspectives, different cultures, and communication, will make you a better coach coming out the other end of that.

And then the practical stuff, the advice that was given to me was to get a broad grounding in your own training and experiences, so either through an Olympic weight lifting course, or go train with Olympic weightlifters, get down to the athletics club, get involved in that world, know what running fast is about. And also do something at the other end of the spectrum under the physio realm or Pilates realm, so you’ve got that broad experience, if possible, across all spectrum.

Dave’s coaching philosophy

Christian: What’s your coaching philosophy?

David: My coaching philosophy is to do what’s right for any individual at any given point in time based on the information you’ve got available. Maybe it’s a bit of a cliché, but I think the important elements out of that is that it’s individualistic, one man’s meat is another man’s poison and so you don’t have to be married to any particular method.

Do what’s right for any individual at any given point in time based on the information you’ve got available.

I think it’s having as many tools in your toolbox as you can, as you think is possible, so you can find the right method at any given time. And it also speaks to information, so that means continually learning and continually developing. And the information I think through physio training they’re really drilling that evidence-based practice model of understanding the research and the literature and drawing upon your own experiences. And then also have the beliefs and stuff with the coaches and athletes that you’re working with, so trying to put all that together to make the right decision at the right time.

One man’s meat is another man’s poison and so you don’t have to be married to any particular method. Have as many tools in your toolbox as you can, so you can find the right method at any given time.

Who has influenced him most as a coach

Christian: What person has influenced you the most as a coach, and why?

David: I think Loris Bertolacci, he was the guy I was alluding to earlier, he was my ex-girlfriend’s father. He worked in the AFL, he was an ex-Australian Hammer Throw champion and he was on the front line through the 80’s and 90’s of strength conditioning in Australia, he got me interested in doing it. He’s a mentor to this day and has truly helped me out along the way, so I got a lot to thank him for.

And also, Tennis Australia early days, Ian Prangley is a great practitioner, he was also a physio and strength and conditioning coach, so he taught me a lot in the early days as well. And I think later down the road my colleagues here in Holland have their regular meetings and you always take something away from those guys around you and your direct environment, so steal a little bit from everyone.

How to manage expectations

Christian: Speaking about different individuals and dealing with expectations, very often what I found in my practice is that the expectations of the individual and what they like to do are not always what a coach believes is best for them to do. How do you deal with that?

David: I think there are a few strategies I have to deal with that. I think often the programs I’m working in it’s a coach-driven or head coach-driven program, so I think it’s important to understand your place in that team. And often you’re reporting to that head coach or working with them, so often the first line is just giving feedback regularly to the head coach and reporting on those behaviors and attitudes, and then it’s up to the coach to decide how they want to deal with that in that scenario. And sometimes that might be just giving the green light back to you to address it directly, or they might deal with it in their own manner. So, that’s probably the first one.

The sports I’m working are a head coach-driven program, so it’s important to understand your place in that team.

The second strategy – if you are going to go into a discussion with an athlete around difference and expectations I usually like to prepare really well for it, so I wouldn’t address it directly, I usually take my time to think, gather my thoughts, compose my arguments, think through what they’re going to say, so I am really well prepared for that discussion.

And in that preparation, I’m always writing notes as I go through, reflecting on each session, taking notes on a few athletes, so drawing upon a few examples or maybe going into some data that you might have collected that may be relevant in supporting your argument. So, yes, that’s the second one, being really prepared and well thought out and rational in your discussion.

If I am going to go into a discussion with an athlete, I like to prepare really well, I take my time to think, gather my thoughts, compose my arguments.

And the third thing I can say on it is that it’s much easier if you’ve made those expectations clear at the front end. So, if the goal post is shifting as you go then that’s a harder conversation to have. If you periodically check in, like every season or every so often on how you work together, what agreements you make, what to expect of each other, and also involving the athlete or the staff member or whoever it is in that process, then it’s much easier to hold them to the standards that they’re sort of setting or agreeing to as well.

It is much easier if you’ve made those expectations clear at the front end. If the goal post is shifting as you go then that’s a harder conversation to have.

Christian: How do you that? Is it formally, kind of as a meeting, or on the fly with athletes or the support staff? How do you do that?

David: You’ve got to gradually work your way into a program. So it wasn’t really formal at the start, but then after a period I sort of try to say, “Let’s have a proper sit-down, actually have a chat about it.” I think that supporting that it’s always that mix of formal and informal, you have so many discussions and interactions on a daily basis it’s not necessarily one formal meeting, and so some of the time all these things come together.

You’ve got to gradually work your way into a program.

It’s also having to reflect on myself, make the expectations clear, so, “Am I doing a good enough job of that?” And then if that’s in place then you can take the next step and try to talk with the head coach, for example, or other coaches or other staff. Rather than reacting and waiting for a situation to happen, one week before that tournament, it’s good to discuss hypothetical scenarios of what could happen before the tournament. And so, we get to understand each other and understand how we’re going to react to certain scenarios.

Reflect on yourself, and talk with the head coach, rather than reacting and waiting for a situation to happen.

Christian: I think one of the best pieces of advice I have received in that context is to start talking when things are going well and don’t wait until things are getting out of control.

How to deal with decisions that you don’t agree with

Christian: You touched on this earlier when speaking about the multidisciplinary team, that coach and the other staff members, everyone wears his own hat and has his own viewpoint, and it comes to having different views on things. How do you deal with that if you don’t agree with some decisions or some arguments that they make?

David: I think ultimately, it’s understanding your roles and responsibilities and how the programs are run. So, often we’re in the position where we give our best advice, and then if it’s really clear that someone is choosing to say, “Okay, I understand your advice. I’m going to choose to go a different way”, you can then accept that if you’ve spoken your mind and given your advice.

Ultimately, it’s understanding your roles and responsibilities and how the programs are run, often we’re in the position where we give our best advice.

I think maybe what I was speaking about earlier is what I didn’t do enough of earlier in my career was give that advice or give that opinion, so being a bit more forthcoming in that and then understanding that it maybe doesn’t go the way you want, but it’s being able to accept that.

Christian: And how do you do that?

David: Tricky question. I see it all the time in the classic multi-disciplinary team where you have your opinions. Some things that I think have worked for me are if we had different opinions on how to approach rehab or whatever the scenario might be, I’ve called in experts into our group, so we got a medical expert called in and he spoke with all the medical staff, the coaching staff, so everyone could get a perspective from an expert. That was one strategy.

If we had different opinions, we’ve called in experts into our group, so everyone could get a perspective from an expert.

The other strategy I’ve used is just internally within your department presenting on your philosophies, your ideas, your approaches. And I think at least the staff that you work with them, they maybe don’t agree, but they appreciate that there are at least some thought and some reasoning behind your stance on an issue and your position. So, I think that gives you some credit with your office.

Present on your philosophies, your ideas, your approaches. The staff that you work with, maybe they don’t agree, but they appreciate that there are thought and reasoning behind your stance on an issue and your position.

A typical day in the life of a Strength & Conditioning Coach

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

David: The days can be really varied, which is one of the nicest things of the job. It’s really cool to be able to go on a training camp or have variety in your work day. But a typical day would be early morning programming stuff before there are too many disruptions in your day. And we’re usually in the gym early, 8:00 or 8:30 for gym sessions.

The days can be really varied, which is one of the nicest things of the job.

I build in some reflection time after that, so debriefing session, think about it, take any notes from the session, that’s usually a good window in the middle of the day. We have a couple of fixed meetings, formal meetings, but also, just informally we’ll chat with the staff and athletes. Then the afternoons are pretty similar, another training time slot, and that training can be difficult where it’s sometimes in the gym or sometimes you’re on the volleyball court. That’s a standard day for me.

I build in some reflection time after that, so debriefing session, think about it, take any notes from the session.

How to design a training program

Christian: How do you design the training program?

David: You need to gather all the relevant information and start from that. Working with Olympic programs they sort of have a long-term plan or at least a rough framework in your head, so maybe a 4-year sort of concept, or maybe some of the time it’s longer. And then you’re planning on a yearly basis, where are your events, where are your big moments if there any, penciling those in and working backward through that.

You need to gather all the relevant information and start from that. You’re planning on a yearly basis, where are your events, where are your big moments if there any, penciling those in and working backward through that.

And then the relevant information, a big part of that job is sifting through. There is so much capacity to measure things and so much information out there now that sorting through information is a big part of the job. So, I think combining that analysis of the sport combined with the analysis of the athlete, marrying those two things together to give you your immediate needs, and then making sure that your schedule reflects your priorities.

There is so much capacity to measure things and so much information out there now that sorting through information is a big part of the job.

I found that Alex Wolf spoke about his performance problem-solving framework, that’s one that interests me and stuck with me. It’s trying to figure out what the limiting factor is in performance and then how you have to address that and making your program reflect that. So, that’s a little bit in the process. You have the long-term plan, you have the yearly plan, working backward from that with all the measurement and monitoring data filtered through. So, that’s a little bit my process.

Figure out what the limiting factor is in performance and how you have to address that, and then making your program reflect that.

Dave’s interview nomination

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

David: Yes. I think Victor Anfiloff, would be a good one to have a look at, he’s always got some interesting thoughts on sport. Also, Scott Dickinson is probably a good one to chat to, he’s back in Australia now and Narelle Sibte is probably also worth looking up at some point.

Christian: All Aussies.

David: All Aussies, yes.

Christian: Thanks, Dave.

David: Cheers man.

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