Christian: Today I’m joined by John Mitchell. John has 3+ decades of experience as a Strength and Conditioning Coach and has worked with Olympic sports, such as rowing, gymnastics, Rugby Sevens, and professional sports, Rugby Union. John is also a board member of the ASCA, the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association.

Welcome, John.

John: Thanks for having me, Christian.

How he got into Strength & Conditioning

Christian: John, how did you get into strength and conditioning?

John: When I was young, I had a good friend who had a gym set up in his garage. We were reading a lot of Joe Weider and Muscle and Fitness magazines. From about the time we were 14 or 15 years, we were always messing around with weights and trying to add different exercises and all that sort of thing.

I played a lot of sports myself as a young man and then I wanted to be able to improve my own performances. I went through university and became a PE teacher because I thought that was the best avenue to be able to explore strength and conditioning, since strength and conditioning wasn’t full-time professional employment, 30 years ago.

I went through university and became a PE teacher because I thought that was the best avenue to be able to explore strength & conditioning, since strength & conditioning wasn’t full-time professional employment, 30 years ago.

I was lucky enough that at the time I was going through uni, there were a few guys just starting to forge their way in strength and conditioning around the world. That got me excited about moving from teaching into a full-time strength and conditioning role.

For nine years or so, I taught and I was doing strength and conditioning in the mornings and in the afternoons, I was working with rugby league teams. I then managed to get a full-time position working with the ACT [Australian Capital Territory] Academy of Sport, working with a lot of Olympic sports. So that started my full-time career in strength and conditioning.

That’s where I started and was a manager at the ACT Academy of Sport and then, I got to work with a whole different range of sports, such as basketball, rowing, cycling, archery, and baseball. So it was a really good set for my career to start there.

His darkest moment

Christian: What’s your darkest moment as an S&C coach?

John: When I read this question, I was thinking through it and I thought I haven’t really had any dark moments as an S & C Coach. I’ve been really lucky in that I’ve had some great athletes to work with and coaches. Then I thought probably my darkest moments were when we haven’t had much success.

You go back to your hotel room and you’re away from your family and everyone else is feeling pretty bad about themselves. No one wants to talk to you or anything like that. You’re just left to your own thoughts and feelings and you really want to ring up your family and talk to them, but their time zones are all out of whack, so it makes it difficult.

You can be in a room on your own and just having nice thoughts about everything you could have done differently or better. I could have encouraged someone to be right out in the day or was it part of the preparation often in a place that made this result poor this weekend.

The touring component and not being successful in touring is probably where I’ve had some of my darkest moments. But again, the next day you get up and it’s a new day and your athletes are there and they need you to put an arm around them or give them a pat on the back to get them going again. Then everything’s good again. So, your dark days become some of your best days.

The touring component and not being successful in touring is probably where I’ve had some of my darkest moments. But again, the next day you get up and it’s a new day and your athletes are there and they need you to put an arm around them or give them a pat on the back to get them going again. Then everything’s good again. So, your dark days become some of your best days.

I haven’t had the misfortune of being fired yet or anything like that. I’ve been pretty happy in all the jobs I’ve had, so the dark days haven’t been that many.

Christian: That’s good.

His best moment

Christian: What was your best moment?

John: That’s another tough one. I’ve had a lot of really good moments. I think one of my favorite ones was working with the Paralympic cycling team. We had a one kilometer time trialist, who was a vision-impaired cyclist who had competed in the 2000 Olympics as a high jumper. He got talked into crossing over to track cycling to be on the back of a tandem bike.

The guy who was a pilot on the front of the bike was a young fellow I’d work with who was a one K time trialist. Back in 2002, he had won the one kilo time trial in the sprint at Junior Worlds. The jump from juniors to seniors was quite a large jump, was still easy in cycling and the head coach decided to pair him with this Paralympic high jumper because he had some spark in that.

So we put together a plan for the 2004 Paralympics in Athens. I had a number of different tournaments or events that I had to go to start with and one of them was the World Championships in Prague in 2003. We sat in a bar and started talking about what we’re going to do and I pulled out a beer coaster to write some notes on them.

We did our periodized plan for our six-month plan into this World Championships in Prague on the back of a beer coaster. I still have that beer coaster today. It’s to remind me of the success and how they won a gold medal in Prague and then they won the gold medal in Athens in the kilo time trial. So that was really exciting.

We sat in a bar and started talking about what we’re going to do and I pulled out a beer coaster to write some notes on them. We did our periodized plan for our six-month plan into this World Championships in Prague on the back of a beer coaster.

But really anytime when you put a plan together for your athletes and you’re working with a coach, your athletes, and the support staff, and it comes to fruition, what you wanted to do, and they win a championship and win a gold medal, that’s a great moment.

That’s why you do your job. So getting that plan through and seeing their success is what I enjoy the most.

His advice to a younger John Mitchell

Christian: If you could travel back in time, 10, 20, maybe 30 years, what advice would you give a younger John Mitchell?

John: I think a younger John need to be more patient. A younger John wanted success a lot quicker and to that point, I suppose I’d say ‘‘Don’t get bored with the simple stuff. The simple stuff is what often gets you the results.’ You don’t have to come up with the best program in the world.

Don’t get bored with the simple stuff. The simple stuff is what often gets you the results.

You don’t have to be trying to get up to the next level as quickly as you can. You got to be patient, learn as much as you can off of the people around you, and be prepared to give a little to gain a lot.

Be prepared to give a little to gain a lot.

It’s not always about taking. It’s about helping other people out, so be patient and learn as much as you can from anyone you can. That would be my advice.

How to balance ambition and patience as a young ambitious young S&C coaches

Christian: Most often young S&C coaches are very ambitious or some of them are very ambitious. So it would be a balancing act between being ambitious and being patient, right?

John: Yes, that’s true. The ambition is good. You’d like to see young S & C’s that are ambitious and want to strive to be better in what they do. The hardest thing is to ensure they understand,  that they need to go through these processes.

So sometimes it’s good to question them about what their process is. You want to know how they come to that decision that they’re going to design the program that way, or select an exercise or approach an athlete in a certain way.

By continually questioning and reviewing what your intern or assistant S & C coaches are doing will help them develop without making them feel that they’re being slapped down every time they’re trying to get their head above the clouds.

By continually questioning and reviewing what your intern or assistant S & C coaches are doing will help them develop without making them feel that they’re being slapped down every time they’re trying to get their head above the clouds.

It’s about building that good relationship with you and the younger S&C coaches as well. So keeping a very open mind to relationships and giving opportunities to progress as well.

His advice to young aspiring Strength & Conditioning Coaches

Christian: What advice would you give young aspiring S&C coaches?

John: It’s always to be open to learning and as I said, be prepared to give a little to gain a lot. It’s not everyone who is going to think about what you want to do is the best thing since sliced bread, so to speak.

Always be open to learn and be prepared to give a little to gain a lot. Not everyone is going to think about what you want to do is the best thing since sliced bread, so to speak.

You have to be prepared to take on an athlete’s ideas or a coach’s ideas and be able to try and implement them and build trust and confidence with the athlete and the coach. Once you build that trust and confidence, then you can start to ask what they think about an idea or doing something a certain way or if they think you should try something else.

But if you go in all guns blazing to start with, people will get a little bit scared. They will start to wonder what you’re trying to make them. They will think that you don’t know them or their coach.

Be prepared to sit back a little bit and learn from your athlete and from your coach as to what they want to achieve and where they want to go. Then you start to build in your ideas into what they want to do as well. That would be the best advice I could give a young S&C coach.

The qualities he looked at when he hired Strength & Conditioning Coaches

Christian: You have hired assistant S & C coaches or S&C coaches. What were the qualities you were looking for?

John: The thing is it’s got to be someone that inspires greatness in the athletes that they work with. Passion, knowledge, and experience is always very handy. But again, they have to be somebody that’s a people person.

It’s got to be someone that inspires greatness in the athletes that they work with.

You have a lot of very serious strength and conditioning coaches who have great knowledge and they’re very technically angled in the way they do things. But do they relate to the athletes? Do they relate to the coach?

Can they get the athletes and the coaches to buy into what they’re doing? Can they inspire in the weight room, out on the field, or on the running track? Do they have that energy and passion to be able to drive athletes? That’s what I look for in coaches.

Christian: How would you assess these qualities in an interview process?

John: It just comes down to asking questions about what excites him or her about coaching. What makes them get out of bed to come in and coach athletes at six o’clock in the morning or at nine o’clock at night?

When athletes are having a bad day, what makes him tick, makes him want to be there and teach these guys to be better at their lifting or to be just better human beings? What makes them different from other S&C coaches? So those are the sort of questions.

Because you interview a lot of S & C coaches that will come along. They all know how to lift. They all have the knowledge, but what’s going to be the little golden nugget that you have that’s going to get you across the line?

Is there a particular skill you have, is there a certain set of knowledge that you have insured, the tough situation with that sport where you hang at the other end? Or is there an experience you had with a difficult coach and how you build a relationship with the coach to be able to come in and get a successful outcome.

Or even when it looked like there was certainly no way I’d come because you saw one way and the coach saw the other way. So I look for little things like that. How can they add to our team of Strength and Conditioning Coaches? What are they going to add to our environment?

A lot of S & C coaches that will come along. They all know how to lift. They all have the knowledge, but what’s going to be the little golden nugget that you have that’s going to get you across the line? How can they add to our team of Strength and Conditioning Coaches? What are they going to add to our environment?

Are they going to be able to inspire? Are they going to be a good support person? Do they have a good technical base, databasing, or applications and things like that? How can they help? What can they bring and what passion do they have, if that answers your question?

Christian: It does. Thanks.

How he stayed motivated for 3+ decades

Christian: Let’s go from young, aspiring S&C coaches to senior S&C coaches. In the strength and conditioning industry, you see people transition out after a couple of years from strength and conditioning to performance management or lecturing.

When I spoke to Dan Baker, he mentioned it happens around the 15-year mark. Considering you’re in the industry for three decades, how do you stay motivated?

John: Well, I think it’s just the passion to getting people to do incredible stuff. When I go to the gym or if you’re doing a conditioning session, most athletes are not really champing at the bit to do it. So what method can you come up with to create energy around a session to motivate that athlete, to inspire and to do great stuff?

It’s just the passion to getting people to do incredible stuff.

I like to look at different quotes from different athletes or coaches, or just from people in the community that inspired other people. I then use that as a basis for a session. I’m also working on some stuff at the moment which is different animals in the environment and what they can do. For example, the dung beetle can lift 1,141 times its own body weight which is an incredible  human being pulling along six double decker buses.

So if a small little dung beetle can do something like that, imagine what you can do as an athlete. We want you to do this sort of stuff. Dung beetles basically pull shitty things all the time. So let’s get in and get it done. It’s about getting that motivation and inspiration.

Again, you got to create your own energy at times too, because you can come in on the back of a loss and your athletes are feeling down and then how do you get them up? So yes, you’ve got to have different techniques and angles to be able to, once again, inspire them to get up off the floor and get in and try and be better every day at what they do.

You’ve got to have different techniques and angles to be able to inspire them to get up off the floor and get in and try and be better every day at what they do.

How do you encourage them to make their teammates better because great athletes make their teammates better? I think that’s the continuous evolution of a strength and conditioning coach and you lose your passion. Your passion may go somewhere else and that’s life. That happens with everyone. They change in what they do.

For me, I still enjoy getting up in front of a group of men or women and trying to get them to be better. So that’s what drives me, and sometimes it’s hard. As I said, you come along and you’ve got a group of athletes who’ve had a bad round, or they’re tired and cranky.

Rowing’s a classic one where they just get the pulp right out of them on the water. They then send them into you in the gym after they’ve been on the water for four hours and you got to try and do something with them.

You got to create that energy. I can say sometimes it just becomes hard for coaches to be able to come up with the energy to be able to inspire those people who’ve just been smacked around for the last four hours on the water or belted out on the rugby pitch.

I think that’s why people move on and they can’t find that inspiration to keep trying to challenge athletes and make them better. Or they find a new challenge too. People might find it too easy and then decide that they can become an administrator and change things from the top and make life better and create more resources and that sort of thing too.

So there’s a lot of different reasons why people move on. For me, I just sure enjoy what I do, so that’s why I keep going.

The differences in working as a Strength & Conditioning Coach and a Strength & Conditioning Manager

Christian: You have worked as an S&C coach, as well as the Head of S&C or S&C Manager. How would you describe the different ways of working in these two roles?

John: It comes down to how organized you are with anything you do. So if you’re just working independently as a Strength and Conditioning Coach or working within a team, you need to make sure that you’re organized, prepared, and well planned.

As a Strength and Conditioning Coach or working within a team, you need to make sure that you’re organized, prepared, and well planned.

This is so that the people you’re working with aren’t negatively impacted by you doing the wrong thing or not being there on time or not having your equipment put away or various different things like that. That as the manager, that’s a really important skill to instill in your group of coaches or your team of coaches that work with you.

You want to make sure they’re organized or they’re well planned, as well as creating that energy. If you can share that energy and enthusiasm and provide opportunities for your staff to excel and give them tasks where they feel like they’re working in an area that they feel passionate about.

If you can share that energy and enthusiasm and provide opportunities for your staff to excel and give them tasks where they feel like they’re working in an area that they feel passionate about.

So, for example, I have two staff members, who one focuses on the conditioning side of things and he’s got really excited about designing conditioning programs based off the time trial stuff, looking at GPS data and how we can relate the GPS data similar to like an MAS score.

We talk about peak game intensity running and he’s gone off and created these fantastic matrices of running programs that are specific to rugby union.

Then the other guy who’s with me, he’s a speed and rehab specialist. We’re talking about a young group of players that are coming in and they relatively brain in terms of their speed, technique or skills and that sort of thing. So I said we need to go back to absolute basics with these guys.

It was a really good opportunity for him to say that he’s worked at a higher level with athletes and trying to come up with ways to inspire them and keep them entertained. Whereas now he’s gone back to bare basic and seeing how the basics go.

The basics have been really rewarding for him, and he’s got some good results from that. So just giving your coaches the opportunity to express their energy and enthusiasm in the areas that they feel passionate about, it’s a real key to being a manager.

Christian: Yes, I was thinking about that when you spoke about inspiration and motivation. Motivation only goes so far, right? If someone is not intrinsically motivated, it’s like how do you say that flogging a dead horse or something? I think you outlined it quite well that you need to find where they are already motivated and then take it from this point forward.

John: You can go in and give them all sorts of speeches and that sort of thing, and that’ll work for some athletes. But other athletes will be motivated by targets or something.

So for example, with rowing, it might be a certain amount of kilometers that they want to be able to do by the end of a certain block. Or they want to be able to do a certain time. That time, depending on what it is, can be broken down and work on getting to that time.

So you’ve got to be faster through a part of the course. To be faster through a part of the course, you’ve got to be able to have good strength endurance base through that part. To have that strength endurance, because you’re riding so much, you’re going to lose lean muscle mass.

You need to be able to put lean muscle mass on, so you can maintain your strength and power qualities throughout the race. So for you doing this type of circuit is going to help you maintain your lean muscle mass. This will help you maintain your power, so that in that middle part of the race, where you start to drop off, you actually surge through.

So it’s going back and looking at the criteria of their event or their sport, and then bringing it back to those individual specifics as to what they need to be better at and give them some more motivation. So it is just breaking down individual components.

Another good example is to determine when they put the power on through the oars or the front end of the stroke or the back end of the stroke. So if they’re not getting any power at the front end of the stroke, we need to work on more rate of force development work, or if they’re not getting the power on it at the back end of the stroke. What’s the reason for that?

It’s looking at those different elements and then talking with your athlete, then you can motivate them to do better.

So it’s how we work on a specific component so that you can be better, which will make you faster on the water or better on the rugby pitch or whatever it is. Also knowing that the coach can give you a lot of information is good too.

So when you’re talking to your athlete and trying to motivate him, you can tell him that the coach thinks he’s really good at a particular thing and think he needs to improve in another area. Let him know that you really think you can help him to improve by doing certain activities in the gym, or on the running pitch.

It is just coming up with stuff that’s related to the sport or related to something that they want to be better at. So you need to build that relationship with your athlete.

His coaching philosophy

Christian: What’s your coaching philosophy?

John: My coaching philosophy has changed many times, but I think I sound a bit like a broken record. It’s to create and inspire a positive training environment and really, within that environment, I want to promote a winning mindset.

It’s to create and inspire a positive training environment and really, within that environment, I want to promote a winning mindset.

Our athletes are competing to be better all the time. So regardless of what the session is, there is always something that they’re trying to win.

So whether they’re using velocity based training in the gym, or whether we’re trying to get a new PR, whether they’re trying to complete an MAS set and every time, creating a winning environment, creating a mindset where they want to be the best they can be every time is around my philosophy there.

But then that’s a general philosophy, I guess, in terms of looking at all the areas that we work at within strength and conditioning. Now, do you want me to go more specific into lifting or running or whatever, but I think our role is to create and inspire that positive environment.

His core values

Christian: What are your core values?

John: My core value is that you always try your best. Always prepare for the session you’re going to go to. There’s respect with yourself and the athletes you work with. And to have that resilience to be able to come up with a solution to any problem.

Always try your best. Always prepare for the session you’re going to go to. There’s respect with yourself and the athletes you work with.

It’s not always going to happen on the spot and it may be that you have to go and research and talk to other people. But yes, those are my core values; making sure you’re organized, being resilient, being energetic, making sure you’re ready to go every time.

The person that has influenced him most

Christian: Which person has influenced you most and why?

John: As an athlete myself, or a rugby league player, my first S & C Coach I had was Kelvin Giles. He was the sort of guy that could get you to do anything. I always say that Kelvin could get you to crawl across broken glass.

Kelvin Giles was the sort of guy that could get you to do anything. I always say that Kelvin could get you to crawl across broken glass.

He was just that charismatic figure in the gym that if you thought you can’t do something, he told you, you could do it and he wouldn’t let you fail. He was always there pushing you as hard as you could and a very positive influence on anything you tried to do.

Kelvin and probably my first season of playing rugby league under Kelvin, this shaped the coach I wanted to be and be that person that when athletes walk in, they were prompt and ready to do whatever I asked them to do. He’s probably the most influential from that point of view.

There were three of the other board members that I worked with that I’ve known for a very long time. David Boyle was very passionate about strength and conditioning. Twenty years ago when I first met David, he was very passionate about and always asking me about my training and what I did for myself.

I thought I’ve got to think more about my training as well and not just be focused solely on the athletes. From that point, I stopped trying to make excuses why I didn’t train myself and then started to make sure I continued to train.

Then there was Dan Baker and again, he was just very enthusiastic. He’s incredible and his love for S&C and his love of knowledge has really influenced me and makes me want to continue to learn to be the best Strength and Conditioning Coach I can be.

Then finally, Julian Jones, who I was lucky enough, he took me through my Level one and Level two courses for the ASCA many, many years ago. We’ve been colleagues, we’ve been on boards together, we’ve worked on national programs together, we’ve been on the ASCA board and his understanding and political landscape is second to none.

His understanding of how to get things from an administrative point of view and not upset people and make sure you get the right result has really influenced me in my dealings with administration and people. In my role, that’s something you have to do.

You’ve got to be able to try and squeeze that extra dollar out of this, so you ought to be able to get the stuff you need to be able to do the training that you want to get your athletes to do. You want to buy that nice new bit of kit that is going to help you achieve what you want to achieve. Those four people would be the main people that really influenced me.

Christian: Yes, two people I have interviewed. So the other two are probably good recommendations to be interviewed.

John: Definitely.

How the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association identified the need for a mentorship program and how the mentorship program looks

Christian: When I did my research, I saw you’ve been heavily influenced in the mentorship model of the ASCA, the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association. Two questions – how did you guys identify the need for having a mentor/mentorship program? And second question, can you give a rough outline how that mentorship program unfolds?

John: What we wanted to do was create. In Dan Baker’s words, people who had good knowledge of S & C were able to pass on that knowledge to whoever is up and coming, such as younger strength and conditioning coaches.

We wanted that people who had good knowledge of S & C being able to pass on that knowledge to up and coming younger strength and conditioning coaches.

We put in place a structure and a professional coaching accreditation scheme, where we had our master-level coaches underpinned by elite coaches, by professional coaches, and then by our associate-level coaches So the associate level coach is the entry-level into the mentor program.

An associate coach should be mentored by a professional coach and then a professional by elite and an elite by a master level coach. My idea around it is that once the associate coaches have been working with a professional level coach, the professional’s already got all these connections.

This builds a good network of coaches within one person’s mentor frame. The way we work it is depending on which level a coach applies for, they need to ensure that they have a mentor. So they’ve approached someone to be a mentor and they’re also mentoring somebody else. It’s a two-way street, so to speak, or that’s top and bottom.

We have a mentoring agreement that our coaches must sign onto and in signing onto it, they’re putting in place a plan as to how they’re going to work in the mentor program. So if it was you or I Christian, I’d sit down with you and I’d let you know that I’d like to be able meet with you on a regular basis.

If you tell me that you are busy, and can only meet once a month, then I’ll agree that once a month would be great. Then we would discuss if we would do it on the phone, by Skype, or if we would meet in person. We might decide to do it on the phone for two sessions.

Then we might do a session where we meet face to face and do it that way. So again, just trying to make sure that whoever the mentee is isn’t taking up too much time with a mentor as well. So they agree to a plan.

Then they agree to the different things that the mentee wants to achieve from the mentor program. So it might be that if I was working with you and I want you to be my mentor, it might be that I ask you to teach me how to make really cool podcasts and find really cool people from all around the world to be able to come and do podcasts with you.

That might be part of our agreement. The next one might be how do you deal with the Dutch athletes and their environment and how do you deal with travel or something like that.

You come up with some different questions so that the mentor knows exactly what’s going to be asked so that they can be prepared as well when the mentee makes contact with them and wants to have a chat about different facets of strength and conditioning. I’m a fan of a really good program that the coaches coming through it, gaining a lot of benefit from it.

The networking component of it becomes really powerful when you may ask me a question and I’m not sure what the answer is. I can tell you that I know somebody, for example, Dan Baker, who knows about that topic. I would tell you that I would ask Dan and get an answer back to you from him. I can also suggest that I put you and Dan in contact with each other and then again, that grows that relationship.

The networking component of it becomes really powerful when you may ask me a question and I’m not sure what the answer is. I can tell you that I know somebody, who knows about that topic put you in contact with each other.

So it’s all about building up those networks and growing relationships. Then that strength comes when somebody’s been mentored for a period of time and I apply for a job and I can say I’ve been mentored by Dan Baker or by David Boyle or Julian Jones, or someone like that.

Then straight away someone sees that and says that this person has come through some good breeding. We can definitely look at them for an interview or potentially for a position. So it has quite a lot of power in that way.

Christian: Out of personal interest, you mentioned, for example, Kevin Giles, that he could get people to do anything he wanted them to do. In our industry, there’s always this unquantifiable coaching ability that it’s very difficult to put on a CV. It’s very difficult to articulate as well. It’s something that you just have to be able to do as a coach. Is that something you have addressed in your mentorship program as well?

John: Not specifically, it’s something that comes up in conversation. For example, you can be working through that mentor agreement with someone and they’re a bit dull and don’t speak properly.

Start to talk to them about how they can change the tone and inflection of their voice so you can feel more energy around what they’re doing to be able to get their athletes to do what they want to do. So again, it comes down to what your mentee is trying to achieve through the mentor program.

Also, as a mentor, you can give advice, but you have to be careful about how you give advice. You can turn someone off very quickly if you start telling them that they’re pretty boring. You cannot tell them that they don’t give much energy and you’d never go to the gym if you were their athlete.

It comes down to what the mentee wants to achieve through the mentor program. As a mentor you can give advice, but you have to be careful about how you give the advice.

You just got to be careful about how you get things across to your mentees or even when you talk with a mentor. You have to be respectful of their feelings and that sort of thing as well. But it’s a really good program. It works well.

How to deal with decisions you don’t agree with

Christian: In a team of coaches and support staff, everyone is wearing his or her own head. If there’s conflict between the different support staff, how do you deal with that?

John: It comes down to your overall goals of the program you’re working within. So you look at the final result you ultimately want to achieve and then how your role fits into what you want to do.

It comes down to your overall goals of the program, the final result you ultimately want to achieve and then how your role fits into what you want to do.

You might be working with strength and conditioning coaches, physios, doctors, nutritionists, sports psychologists, coaches, assistant coaches, and specialist coaches. It comes back down to ultimately trying to win a championship, over time, trying to do whatever it is.

So let’s go backwards through the process of what we’re trying to achieve, or what was the plan we put in place. A plan was to do either B and C. But for some reason we can’t do B. Examine why you can’t do B.

Is it because of an athletic limitation or is it a limitation of the support staff? How do we find a solution to that problem? So I think going back and looking at what the process, what the plan is and what we’re trying to achieve, you can generally get a result that way.

But again, different people have a different way of getting from A to Zed. Mine might be through sticking to the plan as good as possible, someone else might be around and cutting bits out. So again, it’s about going back to what was the agreed plan that we had.

This is a plan we agreed to, so why haven’t we continued with the plan? Is it a problem with someone going off of track? Is it a problem with the athlete not following the plan? What’s the problem? We then bring it back to something that’s objective and not make it about individuals not doing the right thing.

We bring it back to something that’s objective and not make it about individuals not doing the right thing.

So what we wanted to achieve is this. At the moment, we’re not achieving it, let’s get back to the plan and try and get through the problem, the situation or whatever it is by reassessing what we said we wanted to do. Then how can we improve it to get to where we want to get to?

How to manage expectations

Christian: As S & C coaches, when we’re dealing with individuals and athletes we have some high profile individuals who have their own ideas and expectations. If an individual’s expectation or ideas is very different from your idea of what needs to be done, how do you approach that situation?

John: It’s a difficult one because you’re dealing with individuals who are very strong-minded and very driven in what they want to do. I’ve had my best experiences working with those people whereof I really listened to exactly what they want to do, how they want to do it and how that’s going to benefit them.

I’ve had my best experiences working with those people whereof I really listened to exactly what they want to do, how they want to do it and how that’s going to benefit them.

Then by incorporating that into what I want to do, it gives them more ownership of the program, instead of ‘I’m a Strength and Conditioning Coach who has been doing this for 30 years. I know stuff, so you should listen to me. I know what I’m doing.’ You don’t know the athlete, and you don’t know how they think, so spend time listening to them.

A good example is when I first came back to work with rowing. I was working with a rower, she’d been rowing for eight years at a high level.

Leading into the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, she had some pretty strong ideas of exactly what she thought was going to be the way that she would be able to get to where she wanted to go. I had my own ideas as well as to what I thought would work.

So over a course of a few weeks and months, I was able to know through gaining confidence in her and by using her ideas, was able to thread in my own ideas as well. I talked earlier about giving a little to gain a lot.

That works really well with senior athletes and athletes who have a strong opinion on exactly what they need to do. You need to help them out if they want to do biceps or curls as part of their program. You don’t really think they’re important, but they think they’re important.

So stick some bicep curls in their program and they’ll be happy that you listened to them and they will start to trust you. Then you can stick in your other three or four exercises that you think are important. But because they want to do bicep curls, there’s no harm in throwing that in there.

Is it going to help them be better? Probably not. Is it going to make them feel good about themselves? It might. Is it going to give them trust in you? Yes, definitely.

Is it going to help them be better? Probably not. Is it going to make them feel good about themselves? It might. Is it going to give them trust in you? Yes, definitely.

So yes, be prepared to put in some things that you don’t necessarily agree with, but if the athletes want to do them, that will give them that confidence in you. Then you’ll be able to get a lot more later on because they have that trust and confidence in you.

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

John: What does a typical training day in the life of an S&C coach look like?

John: I’m not sure if there are typical days, for me. It usually starts pretty early. I like to get up and walk my dogs with my wife. We go out and have a walk and we talk about our days.

You get your head in the right shape for the day and come home and maybe have some breakfast. Generally, my kids are still asleep at this stage. So we’re heading off to work.

I’ll arrive at work and look at my computer to make sure there’s anything else there that may need to be answered. Then generally, in the role I’m in now, I will go into a coaches meeting where we’ll look at the final planning for the rugby session that’s going to happen for the day.

Then from there, that’ll generally flow into a team meeting, or the coaches will talk about different strategies or tactics with the players and show footage of games. Then that’ll generally transition into the preparation for the field session, so there’ll be guys down with the physios, guys having ankles taped and shoulder strapped and that sort of thing.

Once they are done, we are walking around talking to the athletes, looked at their wellness data that they put in earlier in the day. You inform them that they put down your hamstrings seven out of 10 today, but they were four out of 10 the day before.

You ask them what is happening and why they are feeling tired. They may tell you why they are feeling tired or they’ll tell you that it was a mistake because of fat fingers or they didn’t put in the right data.

So you just start to build up that rapport again with your athletes. In the end they might tell you that they were not feeling great that day. So it’s a real opportunity to get around and touch base with all your athletes and discuss with them how they feeling.

So you just start to build up that rapport again with your athletes, it’s a real opportunity to get around and touch base with all your athletes and discuss with them how they feeling.

Because you can put all that data into whatever spreadsheet or whatever it is until you actually talk to the person, you don’t have the context around exactly why they feel tired. Then I’m generally dealing with my S & C staff about what’s going to happen while the rugby sessions on.

We’ll be talking to the sports scientist, who’s looking at the GPS data while the sessions going, and we’ll be looking at who’s not meeting their running metrics during the session. Then we’ll discuss exactly what we need to get topped out, whether we pull someone out of it, certain drill, or put them back in.

Generally, at the back end of the session, we’ll have top-ups for guys that need specific topping up, the guys that are returned to contact. So we have guys for a different return of contact elements where they’re making tackles and making tackles.

Coaches are giving us feedback on different players throughout the session. So I’ll make notes in a little black book that I keep with me all the time on the field or in the gym. At the back end of the session, we’ll generally review it with the coaches as to how successful it was.

While this is happening, one of my assistants are preparing the recovery center to make sure that the guys are going through the recovery. They also make sure they’re getting the nutrition and hydration sorted out and getting any sort of hydrotherapy or cold stuff they need to get done.

That’ll flow into lunch and after lunch we’ll have a review of how the morning went. I’ll be checking the numerous emails you get while you’re out on the field and ensure you’re answering whatever has to be done there.

Then I’ll prepare for the gym session in the afternoon and with a big squad in rugby, we generally have to run them through in two groups. So we’ll split them into forwards and backs. We’ll have to prepare the gym for the forward session if we’re doing any velocity based training like if we’re using timing or sprint gates.

If we’re starting out on the field and doing more of a locomotion, hip mobility circuit or something like that before they come into their mind lift, just to make sure that’s all prepared and ready to go. As I said before, I have little presentations for the players when they come in.

I just remind them exactly what’s expected of them in the session, whether we have a little quiet there or whether it’s giving some fun fact. I ensure that it’s all good to go and then throughout the session, I’ll have assistant coaches and interns that all have specific roles and tasks that they need to perform.

Then I’ll work with certain players in different groups around coaching within their sessions. Again, they might have recovery on the back of that. They might have massage or something similar in the back of that session and we’ll have two groups go through.

Right now, they might be over two-and-a-half-hour period that those two groups will come through. In the back end of that session, we’ll have the wrap-up and just talk a bit about what we tried to achieve during that session and assess.

If anyone did something great, you point them out let them know that they did a really good job. Then again, we’ll bring the group together, including the coaches that were working in the gym and just do a quick wrap up and review of how the session went and how we can be better and what it needs to be.

If anyone did something great, you point them out let them know that they did a really good job.

By this time, it’s usually four or five in the afternoon and I’ll look at what other work I’ve got to do. Then I’ll try and squeeze in a session of my own, and make sure I keep my body ticking over so that I am fit and healthy and then get home to the family.

If I’m lucky when I get home, my lovely wife has got some dinner prepared for me, or she’s there waiting for me to get home and cook it. That can be interesting. I spend a bit of time with the family and then again, probably knock over another area of work, such as admin programming or scheduling, and try and get to bed.

It’s not every day, but that’s a fairly standard sort of day as to how it works. Sometimes I will have weights in the morning and rugby in the afternoon, or we might have a recovery full session or a stretch mobility session or something like that throughout the day. It pretty much starts early and finishes late, so that’s my day.

The differences in working in Olympic sports and in professional sports

Christian: You have worked in Olympic sports and in professional sports. How would you describe the differences in the day to day working between the two?

John: Both sports are very similar or both environments are very similar and they can be very different. It can depend on the culture of the sport.

So for example, something like gymnastics, it’s very traditional and very driven in what they do. When I first sat down with the coaches with gymnastics, I asked them what a typical session looks like.

They told me that in their typical session, they go in, do a warm-up, go into the apparatus, and do various activities. I asked them what they would do in the afternoon, the morning, or the next day. They said it would be the same thing that they did that day.

I asked what they would do in three weeks and the answer was the same; what they did that day. I asked what would happen six months down the track, and again, they said it would be what they did that day. So sometimes the sports can be a full-time Olympic sports program, but it’s quite backward in the way that it operates.

And then other components, for example, when I was talking about the cycling, they don’t have much funding at all here in Australia. The Paralympic cycling is even less, but those guys were working full time coming in and training around.

Their work commitments, they’re working full time in office jobs or studying and that sort of thing and then coming in and training professional athletes. Then you can get professional athletes that’s what they do is their sport, but they train like their amateur athletes.

It depends on the culture of the sport and the culture that the coach and the staff that are working with the sport, bring to the sport as to how they operate. It can be very different, but very similar. It just depends on the groups and the individuals within groups as well.

It depends on the culture of the sport and the culture that the coach and the staff that are working with the sport, bring to the sport as to how they operate.

It can take one rotten apple in the barrel to spoil the lot as well. So identifying that athlete or coach or whatever it is, and then trying to change the way they think or their mindset within the group to create a better outcome.

That becomes very challenging, and you see that in both environments, whether it’s an Olympic sport or professional sport. You always get someone who’s going to cause a little bit of cancer. Fortunately, my little group of guys I’m with, are an excellent group and we don’t have any of those issues at all. They’re just great.

How to design a training program

Christian: How do you design a training program step by step?

John: Go back to what the goals of the season are and going back and doing a needs analysis, based on what do we need to be stronger. Do we need to be faster? Is it more about being more aerobically conditioned? What’s going to make us better for the competition that we’re going to be involved in?

So then I’ll look at what the structure of the season looks like, so if we’re trying to go to Olympics, it might be a four years quadrennial plan that you’re looking at. If it’s professional sports, like we’re in at the moment, it becomes a season by season prospect.

So to look at, what do we need to achieve to beat these other teams? What do we need to do to achieve a certain time? What do we need to do? So go back to that needs analysis.

Is it more about our leg power and drive and lower body strength or pretty upper body strength? What are those key elements we need to find? And then look at how is that structure going to work across a season? What periodization plan are you going to put in place?

If you’re working in a competitive sport, that’s a week by week prospect. You can’t really put in place a linear model of periodization. If you’re trying to get all the power component at the back end of the season, or all the phosphate components at the back end of the season, then you’ve missed big opportunities.

If you’re working to a single competition points up, it’s a World Championship, and you know you’re going to make the World Championship, then you can work towards a linear periodization model within the sports environments.

You have to use more of a sports conjugate mode, whereby you look at the different components of all of these that you’re working with and then break that up across a week. So, for example, with energy systems conditioning, we look at what we need to have such as aerobic, high lactic, and alactic components.

So where do we fit into the week within a speed environment? We need to have our acceleration max velocity and change direction elements, so how do we squeeze them into our week?

Then we would still need to work on injury prevention rehab type activities, as well as our strength and power and our reactive power and elastic strength and all that sort of component. So how do we fit all those into a week, or how do we fit them all into a microcycle?

So again, going back and looking at those elements and where they fit in is crucial in terms of your planning. For me, then the next step is what time have we got during a week? Within a rugby program, it could be that you get three exposures in the season to your strength and power elements.

So within those three, just how much time do you have? Do you have 60 or 45 minutes? What’s your time frame of the exercises that you need to put in place to be able to execute the skills that you want to execute to become better when it comes to the pointy end of the season?

There’s a lot of processing that you go through. But again, you look at the bigger picture and then start to work your way down from the full season, down into the different parts of the season. You want to break up into your weekly schedule, then it’s going to be into what your daily schedule looks like, and then splitting it up into how your program’s going to look on the day.

So what’s your preparation going to be for your running sessions? So what are the drills you’re going to do around the running that you’re going to go into?

What elements do you need to do prior to the session to ensure that you can execute the session correctly? How do you split up the timings you go from long to short, or are you going from short to long? Are you doing a mixed methods component within your running, within your gym session?

You’re splitting up your week and doing a lower or an upper-body split and then a whole-body power. For example, are you going to do a push-pull method or are you going to do an anterior chain and posterior chain component?

So again, it really comes down to what your emphasis is and not around how you put your program together. Actually, looking at a gym-based scenario you can come up with lots of elaborate exercises, but at the end of the day, the coaches aren’t going to give you a lot of time to get stuff done.

So what’s going to give you the biggest bang for your buck? What are the exercises you’re going to do? So for me, your core lifts are super important, so can I get the Olympic lifts done?

Can they squat? Can they do single-leg derivatives of squats? Can they push, pull, hinge? Are they doing your posterior chain work within your session? So those are the big things that I think we need to tick off.

All of my students will have a warmup component in them, which depending on what the session is, it might be more of a running emphasis. It might be more of a core emphasis or it’d be front row is within rugby.

We have like a scrum core complex that they do, where they are specifically in the position that they are doing a scrum. Then we give them challenges around how they move their core within that environment.

And then as I said, throughout the session, we’ll superset stuff where they’ll be doing one of the major core lifts. But then we might have an accessory or an arm exercise that we superset with it to make sure that we’re keeping on top of any minor things. So we might pair a squat with a lateral band walk.

We are activating through our hips and getting those things working. Then the back end of the session, we always have something the way we were doing an activity together. So it might be a core activity, maybe an arms, it might be for the shoulders or something there.

So, we’re always starting a session together doing our warm-up and we’re always finishing a session together. This prevents people from just wandering off and willy-nilly doing their own thing when we’re trying to keep everyone together at the end of the session so that they they’re doing something there. Does that answer your question?

Christian: It does. It’s good. Thanks

His interview nomination

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

John: Yes, there are some good guys out there, who have experiences to share and guys that I talked about before. There’s Julian Jones or David Boyle and I know you’ve interviewed Dan and you probably interviewed Kelvin as well.

But someone from another country who I worked with was a guy called Craig Twentyman. Craig Twentyman worked within rugby with me.

He worked with the Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens team that won a gold medal at the Rio Olympic Games. He worked with the Men’s Rugby Sevens program, and he’s just moved to New Zealand and working with the Vodafone Warriors Rugby League program over there.

I think he’d have some good insights. He comes from a track and field background as well. So he’s got some interesting stuff around his speed and power development stuff. I think he’s really valuable, so may be worthwhile having a chat with.

Christian: Cool.

Where can you find John Mitchell

Christian: Where can people find you?

John: The easiest place is probably on Twitter at JA Mitchell 0133. So they can get hold of me on there, or email wise, just on jamitchell013@outlook.com.

John Mitchell’s social profiles

Twitter

LinkedIn

Christian: Cool. John, despite all the technical difficulties we had, thanks for sticking to it. Thanks for your time.

John: Thank you, Christian. It’s been a pleasure. All the best.