‘Value your network and foster your relationships.’ Phil Moreland – Olympic Strength & Conditioning Coaches interviewed Episode 95
Phil Moreland, Strength & Conditioning coach with 30 plus years of experience in strength and conditioning. Phil has coached Olympic champions, Paralympic champions, and professional athletes.
Phil has worked as a Strength & Conditioning manager in different continents and headed four different Strength and Conditioning departments in three different countries.
Phil outlines how he got into Strength & Conditioning before it actually existed, the challenges of working in different cultures, and the life cycles of Strength & Conditioning coaches.
Furthermore, we discuss
- How he got into strength & conditioning
- The trends that have entered the industry over the last 3 decades
- The reasons why technology is appealing to coaches and athletes
- His darkest moment
- His best moment
- His advice to a younger Phil Moreland
- His advice to young, aspiring S & C coaches
- The differences between working as a Strength & Conditioning Coach and as a Strength and Conditioning Manager
- The qualities he is looking for when hiring Assistant S&C coaches and S&C coaches
- The biggest challenges when working with different cultural backgrounds
- His coaching philosophy
- The importance of involving your athletes
- His core values
- The person that has influenced him most
- How to manage expectations
- How do you deal with decisions you don’t agree with
- The athlete-centered coaches driven vs athlete-centered coaches supported approach
- A typical day in the life of a Strength & Conditioning manager
- How to design a training program
- His interview nomination
- What’s going on in the life of Phil Moreland at this moment in time
- Where can you find Phil Moreland
Christian: In this interview, I’m joined by Phil Moreland. Phil has 30 plus years of experience in strength and conditioning and high-performance sports. He has coached Olympic champions and Paralympic champions. Phil has headed four different Strength and Conditioning departments in three different countries.
Phil: Christian, thanks for having me, mate.
How he got into strength & conditioning
Christian: Phil, before we get into it, you are onto leaving high-performance sports, but we’ll get into that later. How did you get into strength and conditioning?
Phil: It’s an interesting story. I was a young rugby player back in the mid-eighties. I got my first injury and wandered off to a local Physio that was recommended to me and I got to know this Physio over a course of time.
I was struggling with what I was going to do post high-school and where I was going to go and what was happening. The Physio spoke to me about this career that was opening up in the US called Strength and Conditioning.
I was struggling with what I was going to do post high-school and where I was going to go. The Physio spoke to me about this career that was opening up in the US called Strength and Conditioning.
It was really early days in Australia and it wasn’t big in Australia at all. There wasn’t much happening, but he felt it was going to be the next big thing. He told me that I should think about heading off and doing a sports studies degree or a human movement degree, as it was in those days, and potentially that might be a career path that opened.
So I headed that way. I finished high school. I headed off and did an Associate Diploma first in Sports Studies. I got a little bit of a taste of doing some conditioning work with a local rugby league club.
The university I went to was the University of New England at the time, which is now the University of Southern Cross. It is a fairly famous organization here in Australia from a human movement and strength and conditioning point of view. Lots of good people have come out of there.
I got a little bit of a taste of it and I thought that it could be pretty good. I tried to pursue it a little bit. Ultimately, I didn’t really get much traction, and actually, I ended up working as a recreational for a number of years in the hospital system in Brisbane.
Then at the back of that, I really didn’t enjoy that, so I went and did my undergraduate degree at the University of Canberra. The AIS [Australian Institute of Sport] was then flourishing in the early nineties for a while and I got to spend time in the Strength and Conditioning department.
Now the department at that time was headed by a guy by the name was Harry Wardell. Harry was probably one of the big fathers of Strength and Conditioning here in Australia. The Assistant at the time was a guy by the name of Jeff Dan.
The Scholarship Coach at the time, Julian Jones, was somebody that a lot of your listeners will probably know. So Julian was a young Scholarship Coach just starting out in his career as well. I got an opportunity to hang around those guys, and that was me hooked.
I just kept working myself in that space every opportunity I could get to hang out with those guys at AIS. I spent two years in Canberra finishing off my undergraduate degree, and then I left Canberra and headed to Brisbane and was lucky enough to land the role with Queensland cricket and the Queensland Bulls.
Then it just went on from there. I had part-time contracts here and there for 8 years. Eventually, I landed my first full-time contract in about 1999 and that took me overseas.
I had part-time contracts here and there for 8 years. Eventually, I landed my first full-time contract in about 1999 and that took me overseas.
That was my first overseas stint in Brunei of all places. Then it just kept rolling from there.
The trends that have entered the industry over the last 3 decades
Christian: You’re looking back at 30 plus years of experience in the industry. We have seen trends come and go. What were trends that stayed and what were trends that were more fads in your opinion?
Phil: Yes, look it’s been interesting if you can look back on things that were big, but then disappeared. I think that the trends for me that have stayed, and I don’t know if you call it a trend, but it certainly links into my philosophy, is just good, sound, solid coaching. It’s doing the little things well and doing the fundamentals really, really well.
It’s not really looking for the sexy things. I haven’t really looked for the sexy stuff in my career. I’ve found it on just doing those little things well, but you see things come full circle, don’t you?
What has stayed, and I don’t know if you call it a trend, is just good sound, solid coaching. It’s doing the little things well and doing the fundamentals really, really well. I haven’t really looked for the sexy stuff in my career.
I remember back in the day talking to guys and a lot of the Eastern block coaches about Soviet-type calisthenics space work, body-type work and fundamental movement type work was the big thing back in the sixties and seventies, or even fifties and sixties.
We seem to have come full circle with that again and that type of work is at the forefront. I think the fads that we’ve got at the moment in and around technology are really taking a lead and is really driving it. I feel sometimes we get lost in that technology space.
We’re finding coaches are quite paralyzed and not being able to do things without something flashing numbers at them or giving them a buzz when something goes right. So, technology space has really taken us over now.
We’re finding coaches are quite paralyzed and not being able to do things without something flashing numbers at them or giving them a buzz when something goes right.
I’m constantly talking to coaches about coming back to our roots as coaches. I talk to them about how we can fix the broken movement and how we change movement patterns and how we’re not relying on technology and numbers in front of us.
The whole core control stuff, such as the Swiss ball fads, the circus acts jumping on Swiss balls, standing on Swiss balls on one leg, and all that type of stuff came big in the nineties and has drifted away a little bit. There have been so many trends.
What we’ve got to keep coming back to as coaches is that fundamental piece that we’re really good at which is interacting with people using our eyes to be able to observe movement.
What we’ve got to keep coming back to as coaches is that fundamental piece that we’re really good at which is interacting with people.
Then we have to use our knowledge to be able to change those movement patterns and make those people better.
Christian: Yes, I agree.
The reasons why technology is appealing to coaches and athletes
Christian: Why do you think technology takes over? Why is it so appealing to people?
Phil: It has probably a little bit to do with the type of athlete that we’re working with now. We’re working with an athlete that’s come through an age of instant gratification. They play a video game and they get an instant piece of feedback.
There seems to be stuff that’s just invaluable to them all the time and every minute of every day and I think that ability to see a number or to hear a noise or something along those lines on a piece of kit is exciting for them.
We’re working with an athlete that’s come through an age of instant gratification. That ability to see a number or to hear a noise on a piece of kit is exciting for them.
Look, I still believe there are lots of uses for technology, but I think we get over a line on it. We become dependent on it and I have an argument for somebody who, for example, is using velocity based training and they can’t run a gym session without a gym aware.
What happens if that athlete’s on training camp, how are we educating that athlete to be able to move that bar just as quick, or to understand what that bar feels like rather than just having the technology that tells him what it feels like?
I think there’s a number of reasons. I think some of our coaches at the moment don’t really know how to coach. I don’t think they really understand the pedagogy of coaching and what it means to coach.
I think some of our coaches at the moment don’t really know how to coach. I don’t think they really understand the pedagogy of coaching and what it means to coach.
So for them, coaching is hearing and seeing a number that goes higher or hearing a noise that tells them a bar’s moving quicker rather than being able to see, feel and understand that from an environmental point of view.
Christian: Yes, we shouldn’t forget that technology is just one tool in the entire toolbox we have, right?
Phil: Absolutely. And I talked to coaches a lot about the coaching toolbox. We talk about that ability to reach into the toolbox at the appropriate time and pull out the appropriate tool for the right scenario.
You had Kelvin on this cast, and I’m constantly reminded of a phrase that he uses all the time, that if the only tool you’ve got in your toolbox is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.
- Check out the interview ‘Coaching starts with the unmeasurable quality of presence.’ with Kelvin Giles. In case you don’t know Kelvin, Kelvin has 40+ years of experience in strength & conditioning working in Olympic sports and professional sports.
And that’s been a big one for me and that’s a big one that I’ll use with young coaches. You’ve got to be able to have a broad depth and a broad range of tools in your box to be able to use at the appropriate time.
His darkest moment
Christian: In your life as an S&C coach, what was your darkest moment?
Phil: Probably when I lost my first job and not understanding why I lost that first job and trying to work out what I hadn’t done because the job I lost, the team I was working with was a successful season. We’d had positive results.
We’d won both the trophies that were available for us to win. I guess I was trying to fathom what it actually meant.
I lost my first job and not understanding why I lost that first job and trying to work out what I hadn’t done. I was trying to fathom what it actually meant.
Was it a reflection of me doing a really bad job? Was it the coach trying to reinvigorate and reshape the environment because he just had his contract renewed and so therefore he had to make something look different and feel different? Was I just not good at what I was doing? How do I miss things?
There were lots of things going through my head at that point in time, but I reflect back on that and I actually think it was probably one of the best things that could actually happen to me. It made me think more about the way I do things. It forced me to probably be a lot more reflective with what I do.
A lot of young coaches today probably don’t actually really experience that. I know here in Australia, a lot of our roles, particularly in the environments that I’m in at the moment in the State Institute or in the Institute networks are government positions, so it’s very hard for people to lose their jobs in government.
So I’m not sure that a lot of coaches have really experienced that or young coaches have experienced that. It put a lot of self-doubt in my mind. I was questioning whether I wanted to continue this.
I thought that maybe it was easier to go back into the gym world and just work with Joe Public and work in that space. But ultimately, it made me a better person and it helped me really focus on how I wanted to do the job going forward and what I needed to be a better person moving forward.
I reflect back on that and I actually think it was probably one of the best things that could actually happen to me. It made me a better person and it helped me really focus on how I wanted to do the job going forward and what I needed to be a better person moving forward.
Christian: And how did you recover from it?
Phil: At that point in time, a lot of these were part-time contracts. I put my focus on the other contracts that I had. I spoke to mentors that I had at the time and friends that I had at the time that helped me steer myself in the right direction.
I tried to make myself better. I tried to really understand what it was that caused that decision to be made and then move myself forward from there. I used my network strongly at that point in time, just to help me get to where I wanted to get to.
Ultimately, I just really focused on the contracts I had and the teams that I was working with, and the individuals that I was working with to make sure that I was doing the best job that I could. Then the opportunities opened again.
I just really focused on the contracts I had and the teams and the individuals that I was working with to make sure that I was doing the best job that I could. Then the opportunities opened again.
You quickly learned that it wasn’t necessarily about you. You had been doing a good job and in this instance, it was the coach wanting to reshape the environments and he just wanted something different and a different voice.
I’d been in that role for probably three or four years and he just wanted something different. I guess the other thing that it had taught me is that your life span in contracts like that are finite, that is, they’re short.
You’ve either got to start to reinvent yourself and look for ways that you’re constantly evolving the environment that you’re working in. You’re also constantly trying to shape the environment that you’re working with or else your time is finite.
I often talk to coaches about sometimes how I reckon our life span within an organization is about seven years. If you can take it beyond that seven-year mark, two Olympic cycles, then it’s happy days. But I think that’s the time when you’ve either really look to reinvigorate and reshape what you do, or it’s time for you to start to maybe find a different challenge and look for a new challenge.
I often talk to coaches about our life span within an organization is about seven years. After that, you’ve either really look to reinvigorate and reshape what you do, or it’s time for you to start to maybe find a different challenge and look for a new challenge.
Christian: That’s interesting. It’s similar to the economy. They say there’s a depression every seven to 10 years. So, there is this 7 – 10 year cycle.
Phil: Yes, it is. I’m not sure who spoke to me about that, but a number of people, we’ve had those conversations. I remember when I first landed in the UK and this whole UK system was setting up, we often spoke about two Olympic cycles, the embedded change.
For example, when we first kicked off with this Sports Institute in Northern Ireland in 2002, the view was by 2010, 2012, you’ve probably really embedded in that change and you’ve really started to shape the system to what you wanted to shape it to.
I’m a bit of a believer in that. As I said before, I’ve seen that in a number of places where you’ve either got to reshape and start to rethink about what you do and how you present what you present, or you’ve got to look for different challenges.
I guess if I look at the organizations as I’ve stepped across the time, that’s probably been my timelines in those organizations. It is maybe eight years or similar before I’ve decided I needed a new challenge or a new change or equally I’ve had to reshape what I was doing in that organization to take me on a few more years.
His best moment
Christian: What was your best moment as an S&C coach?
Phil: There’s been a number of them, but this was one of my most enjoyable moments. It was the gold medal in Sydney with Natalie [Cook] and Kerri [Pottharst].
If I reflect back when I was exiting from my undergraduate degree and starting on this bit of a journey if you say that one of your goals is to work with one of your own groups of athletes and win a medal at a home Olympic Games [Sydney 2000], that’s probably everybody’s biggest dream and to actually do it, that is absolutely amazing.
When I was exiting from my undergraduate degree and starting on this bit of a journey if you say that one of your goals is to work with one of your own groups of athletes and win a medal at a home Olympic Games, that’s probably everybody’s biggest dream and to actually do it, that is absolutely amazing.
I remember sitting courtside at the end of that, kind of thinking about what I should do now. I wondered what was next. But yes, that was probably one and a big highlight, but I guess I’m not one that’s always just shaped by the medal winner.
I look at some of my athletes that I’ve worked with who have just achieved personal best at games or have just made a games team. Equally for them, that was a defining moment for them or an important moment for them. But I also really enjoy seeing coaches that I’ve mentored and I’ve worked with succeed.
I also really enjoy seeing coaches that I’ve mentored and I’ve worked with succeed.
There’s a young lad at the moment by the name of Dan Jefferson who started with me in Scotland. He is a plumber by trade and transitioned into this world of strength and conditioning.
He’s just landed a role as the lead boxing S&C coach for the Indian Boxing Federation. To be a part of that journey and help him and see him flourish on that journey to land this role has been equally as enjoyable as that gold medal moment.
Christian: Really cool.
His advice to a younger Phil Moreland
Christian: What advice would you give a younger you, if you could travel back in time?
Phil: If I could travel back in time and give a young me some advice, it would be to be patient and don’t look to rush things. Enjoy the journey because sometimes there have been moments where it hasn’t been enjoyable and I think you’ve just got to sit back and enjoy it and everything happens for a reason.
The other big piece of advice, which I didn’t really recognize in myself at the time is to value your network and foster your relationships. You have to value the people that you meet along the way and really foster those relationships and build those relationships.
Value your network and foster your relationships.
I probably didn’t really learn that till quite late in my career, how important your network is and how important those mentors are, and how important those people are around you. So that’s the biggest piece of advice.
I find myself giving that advice to the young coaches all the time now. I tell them to really spend time in fostering their network and to spend time in building those relationships and keeping those relationships strong.
His advice to young, aspiring S & C coaches
Christian: You already answered the next question. What’s the advice to young, aspiring S&C coaches?
Phil: Look, that one is big, but the one that I really find I give a lot to people is going out and experience the world. Don’t just sit in your own little patch. Don’t just be comfortable in your environment that you’re in, for example, in Australia or in other cases, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Go out and experience the world. Don’t just sit in your own little patch. Don’t just be comfortable in your environment.
Go and experience the world because what you learn and what you gain from immersing yourself in a different culture, in a different place, and experiencing different versions of this high-performance world that we live in strengthens you, makes you a better coach, and teaches you different things.
My time spent working in Asia was where I learned patience. I was a really impatient person because in Australia, when you push, normally you get where you want to get to, and things happen.
When you try to do that in Asia, it just shuts down and people start to distance themselves from you because you become this pushy Australian, or this annoying Australian, so that taught me patience. It taught me that there are different ways to approach a problem and you might have to be quite solvable in the way you approach a problem.
I don’t think I would’ve learned to hone some of those skills, just sitting here in Australia and experiencing one sporting system. So I guess that’s a big one – experience the world, get out of your comfort zone, and challenge yourself.
- Also check out the interview ‘Never stop learning, go out of your comfort zone, and explore the world.’ With performance expert Dr. Ann Quinn and ‘When you are willing to be flexible and move around, opportunities will open up.’ With gold-medal-winning Strength & Conditioning Coach Rett Larson, who both talk about the importance of going and working abroad.
Don’t be comfortable in the space that you’re in and broaden your toolbox. Make your toolbox as big as you can and make it as rich as you can. Just because people tell you that Olympic lifts are the be-all and end-all, yes, that’s one tool to put in your toolbox.
Go and experience the other myriads of ways that you can go and develop force production or explosive power or whatever it might be to give you a big richness of what you can offer an athlete and what you can offer a sports program.
The differences between working as a Strength & Conditioning Coach and as a Strength and Conditioning Manager
Christian: You have worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach, as well as a Strength and Conditioning Manager. What would you say are the main differences in working between these two roles?
Phil: I think the differences are not huge. At the end of the day, our profession is about people. It’s about relationships and it’s about building relationships.
Our profession is about people. It’s about relationships and it’s about building relationships.
When I’m working within a sporting team on building relationships with the coaches, I’m building relationships with the athletes. When I’m working with my team as an S&C Manager, I’m wanting to build those same relationships. I want to understand them, not just like coaches, I want to understand them as people.
I want to know what their dreams and aspirations are. I want to know if I can help them achieve those dreams and aspirations. Having worked in the Institute Networks, I’m very cognizant of the fact that Institutes are developing grounds. We tend to develop coaches who want to go on and work with pro sport and who want to go on into those types of environments.
So I feel part of the recognition as a manager is if I lose good people to better jobs, then part of me feels that I’ve done my job well. If I’ve lost a coach to a better position, if I’ve lost a coach to a pro sports team, and that’s their aspiration and that’s their dream, and we’ve had some role to play in that, and we’ve helped them get there, then I’ve done a good job as a manager. I’ve done my job to help that person progress in their career.
If I lose good people to better jobs, then part of me feels that I’ve done my job well, and I’ve done my job to help that person progress in their career.
That are the differences, but also the similarities, I’m trying to help athletes progress in their career and I think sometimes as coaches, we don’t recognize the point in time to let an athlete go. We don’t recognize a point in time when we’ve done what our role has being to do at that point in their journey.
It’s okay to let that person go and move on and I think that’s the bit that I also want to try and bring into developing my staff. It’s okay to let them go. Do I want to keep good people?
Absolutely, I want to keep good people, but I also recognize that sometimes you’re going to lose good people. You want to help them transition if that’s what I want to do and how they move on. I think it’s a similar but different type of thought process.
The qualities he is looking for when hiring Assistant S&C coaches and S&C coaches
Christian: When you hire an Assistant S&C coach or S&C coaches, what qualities are you looking for?
Phil: First and foremost, I’m looking for good people. That’s the piece that I want first and foremost. I want good people. I want people that have strong values. I want people that have a good moral compass. I want people that are there for the right reasons.
I’m looking for good people. I want people that have strong values. I want people that have a good moral compass. I want people that are there for the right reasons.
They’re not just there for the money, or they’re not just there for the badge or the tracksuit or whatever we want to say. They’re there because they want to help people and they want to work with people.
Secondly, I want people that have a really good ability to think broadly. It’s not just about the sets and reps there, and we’ve heard people say this a lot. I want people that can really get under the bonnet of the sport. I also want people that can think strategically about where this sport is going or where the athlete is going, or how are they going to move an athlete forward.
I don’t want somebody that can just mindlessly write down some exercises and some sets and reps on a piece of paper. I want people that can really, really get under the bonnet of the sport and really think about a sport.
I want people that can coach and that have a broad coaching toolbox and people that can handle pressure situations. I remember listening to your podcasts with Kelvin. I think he told you about our interview processes that we’ve run.
We really challenged them and put them in really uncomfortable situations because I think if you put them in challenging situations, you see the true them in that moment of time. You see whether they can anchor onto a set of principles and values and ways of working that will help them get out of that situation or whether they’re robots and they’re relying on that ability to just put exercises down on paper.
I think if you put them in challenging situations, you see the true them in that moment of time.
I guess they’re the types of qualities that I’m really looking for. I was actually talking with Mitch Pemberton the other night. We were doing a presentation to a group of UC candidates and his reflection on the interview process that he went through in Scotland.
He actually found that was one of the most challenging interviews that he ever went through. But he actually also recognized it was probably the best interview that he’d ever been through. So I like to think that that’s a good thing if we’re giving him that type of experience as well.
Christian: Mitch came to visit us. He was with us a few days to shadow me plus another few coaches.
Phil: Yes. A really good operator and the interview process that we ran at the time because we completely restructured the department in Scotland was a really funny process. We went through a three-stage approach.
The first stage was just the presentation to tell us a little bit about themselves. We gave them a sport that we wanted them to present on to see if they could think about things. Mitch actually was a nightmare.
His presentation was not good and the other members of the interview panel actually wanted to finish it then and there. That was like stage one and I told myself that there’s something there. You know, as the manager that there’s something there that you want to explore and that intrigues you.
We moved him onto the second process. I made a bit of a captain’s call on that one and we moved him on to the second process and he interviewed better. But then as part of the interview process, if you can imagine they’re sitting there in their suit and tie and they’ve just been grilled by a three or four-member panel.
We thanked them very much for their time and then told them that there’s one more thing. I asked them to come with us and we take them outside and there’s a group of athletes there and we get them to run a warm-up with a very specific outcome.
You’ve got this group of team sport athletes. They’re about to do a max velocity session. You’ve got 15 minutes to warm them up and you set them off. Mitch at the time really anchored onto some really strong coaching principles and was able to just deliver a really good quality warm-up and cultured, engaged, moved, and motivated the athletes.
We’d seen other people that had presented well, interviewed exceptionally well, and we put them in there in that situation, and you’re getting the questions about whether they can go and change. When they were told no, they were surprised that they had to do it in their suit and tie.
They just couldn’t grasp the situation and they just couldn’t work in that situation. It was really foreign for them and really difficult for them. So kudos to him and I guess that’s the other thing is what you get at an interview is sometimes not what you get when you put them into those types of environments. And that’s why I think that environmental piece is just so important.
The biggest challenges when working with different cultural backgrounds
Christian: You have headed S&C departments in three different countries and two different continents. What would you say are the biggest challenges when working with different cultural backgrounds?
Phil: The challenges are numerous and broad, but ultimately really rewarding because they teach you a lot about yourself and they teach you how to be a different person. My very first experience in 1999, when I flew out of here and landed in Brunei and started to work in that environment was one of Muslim culture. I never experienced that before in my life.
The challenges are numerous and broad, but ultimately really rewarding because they teach you a lot about yourself and they teach you how to be a different person.
There was lots of talks before we arrived there about this thing called Ramadan and what it might mean and how it would challenge us. There were also talks about the sensitivities around the culture and what we needed to not do and what we could do.
They also spoke about things that were valued and things that were not valued and things that were deemed offensive and things that were not offensive. They tried to bring all of these types of things into your coaching practice.
You made lots of mistakes and you learn lots about yourselves. You learn how to change your practice to manipulate the situation. So if we take Ramadan, for example, where ultimately they fast from sun up to sunset, break the fast, and then we had coaching sessions running at 11 o’clock at night.
We had athletes in the gym from 11 o’clock at night through to one to two in the morning. So we had to completely change the way we operated, worked, and delivered our sessions.
I remember one of my positions just doing one of my sessions with a group of athletes. We were just simply doing floor-based work. A couple of those athletes found that really uncomfortable and not appropriate and I couldn’t understand why.
It was in relationship to the viewing of being put into a position like a dog and that was really disrespectful. I guess those types of things, I really struggled to understand, but ultimately, I think I learned a lot from that and it changed the way that I did that.
I think then stepping out of Asia and stepping into Europe, where I worked in Scotland and Northern Ireland and parts of Great Britain. They’re two really different countries with two really different ways of operating and working.
You’ve got a Scottish system that’s very heavily aligned with the GB system, yet every four years in the Commonwealth Games as an independent country who really disliked the English and you’ve got all those cultural sensitivities that go on. And then you go to Northern Ireland where you’ve got a North, South, East, West dimension.
So you’ve got some athletes representing Great Britain in the UK, and you’ve got other athletes who are representing the Republic of Ireland. How do you manage those types of situations in terms of funding coming from one part of the United Kingdom, which is ultimately funding athletes that are competing for Ireland?
So there were all those types of sensitivities that we have to manage and work with and the richness in the learning there is really important. Then ultimately, in a number of the countries that I’ve worked in, Strength and Conditioning, when I arrived there, was really in its infancy. It wasn’t a profession.
When I arrived in Northern Ireland, there were two S & C coaches in the country. It was myself and a guy by the name of Phil Mara, who was with Ulster Rugby. So how do you create an ethos? How do you create a vibe or a profession and pathway out of that as well?
When I arrived in Northern Ireland, there were two S & C coaches in the country. How do you create a profession and pathway out of that?
That was the big piece that we really pushed early on is how do we actually get a career path established in Northern Ireland for Strength and Conditioning Coaches. Now if you look around the world between the North and the South in Ireland, and there were some good people in the South as well, pushing the same sort of things.
There have been some amazing S & C coaches that have come out of the island of Ireland in recent times. So that’s something that, again, you look back and go, well, if you had a little part to do with that, and that’s a pretty amazing thing to do.
His coaching philosophy
Christian: What’s your coaching philosophy?
Phil: My coaching philosophy is ever-evolving as I think every philosophy should be. I think you should be constantly questioning and challenging the way that you do things, but I think over time, I’m very rooted in the athlete as an individual.
You should be constantly questioning and challenging the way that you do things.
So how do I work with that individual in front of me and then using those strategic thought processes that I spoke about before to really understand what that athlete needs? I guess, again, taking some guidance from Kelvin, who’s been a fairly big influence on me, I ask three key questions when I first started working with an athlete.
The first question I want to know is where are they now? Where are they going to, and then what’s my role at this point in time of their journey? So if I can answer those three questions and have a really good understanding of that, that really helps me shape the way that I work with that athlete.
I ask three key questions when I first started working with an athlete. Where are they now? Where are they going to? And what’s my role at this point in time of their journey?
But my philosophy is really founded on getting the fundamentals right and getting the basics in place. It’s not about the sexy stuff.
It’s about making sure that the athlete is treated as an individual, can move well, and has all of the tools that they need to handle whatever’s going to be put at them or thrown at them, regardless of where they’re going on their journey and regardless of where they are in their journey. I’m not going to stand here and say that my philosophy is around Olympic lifts and explosive power development. It’s not about that.
It’s really about developing that individual person that sits in front of me and what is it that I need to do to make that individual better? It is not from just coaching, strength or a power or a movement or a conditioning point of view, but to make that person better, I think is what is really important.
The importance of involving your athletes
Christian: And when you ask the three questions, do you involve the athlete in that, or you have it in your head?
Phil: The athlete and the coach are critical and depending on the age of the athlete, mum and dad might be critical too. You’ve got to use all of the resources that sit around that athlete to understand those questions and to be able to check and challenge those questions as well.
You’ve got to use all of the resources that sit around that athlete to understand those questions and to be able to check and challenge those questions as well.
The big one is understanding that destination. What are their aspirations? What are their dreams? What are their goals?
Some are on their destination to the elite, but others are on their destination to somewhere else. But you might not know that at that particular time. The destination still might be the elite, so, therefore, let’s make sure we’re giving them those appropriate tools and those appropriate skills.
If they deviate onto a different journey at a lighter stage, so be it, then check, adjust, and shift. So involving the athlete is really, really important, and really critical. The relationship that you then build with the coach is really important as well.
- Also check out the interview ‘My job is to help express the athlete’s ability come game day.’ With Dr. Nic Gill the Head of Strength & Conditioning All Blacks S & C Coach, who outlines the importance of knowing your athletes.
And not only just the coach, if we’re talking the performance world that we live in, the relationships of all the performance team working together is really, really important. It builds into another area that I’m really fascinated about is this area of integration and what we think is integration and what we call integration. I would challenge that a lot of what we call integration is really coordination because we’re not really integrated.
I would challenge that a lot of what we call integration is really coordination because we’re not really integrated.
I know what you’re doing and you know what I’m doing and we know what the physio is doing, but are we actually integrated and working together on all of that?
Or is it just my bit finishes and your bit starts and your bit finishes and the physio’s bit start. I see a lot of that being described as integration and it’s not. So that relationship piece is really important as well, to make sure we’re steering that athlete in the right direction.
His core values
Christian: What are your core values?
Phil: Honesty! I think that’s going to be my number one value. What you see is what you get. I will always be upfront and honest whether I’m working with an athlete, whether it’s my staff, whoever it might be, I think that’s a really, really important value to me.
What you see is what you get. I want to make sure that I give honest and I expect honesty in return.
I want to make sure that I give honest and I expect honesty in return. That’s a really important thing with my staff as well. I really value honesty in my staff. I really value honesty from the athlete as well.
Tell me if it’s not working and if I’m not doing a good job. Tell me if you’ve got challenges that we’re not meeting. I think that that honesty piece is really, really important.
Then that goes kind of hand in hand with trust, doesn’t it? Honesty and trust are two really important pieces. I want to build trust in my athletes. It’s a really hard time at the moment when you know that you’re moving on and you’re coming to the end of working with a group of athletes.
- Also check out the interview ‘S & C isn’t an end in itself, it’s a means to an end.’ With former Head of Strength & Conditioning at British Cycling Martin Evans, who outlines the importance of honesty in building a high-challenge and high-support environment.
You can see that they’re quite upset that you’re going, and you’re still trying to support them and you’re just having conversations with them about how they’re feeling about all this and all of that. When one of them throws to you that you’re the first S & C coach they’ve trusted and the first S & C coach they’ve trusted to take me where they know they want to go.
That’s really important to me. If I’m equally trusting of them that they are going to do the work that I ask of them. It starts to build a bit of a two-way street. I would say that they’re probably my two biggest core values. They’re the two things that are most important to me.
The person that has influenced him most
Christian: Which person has influenced you most and why?
Phil: There’s been a lot at different stages. I spoke about Harry Wardell really early on. He showed me what this profession could be about. He showed me the pathway that you could travel that this was vulnerable.
I spoke very early on about Julian [Jones]. He was a Scholarship Coach who has become a really good friend but as equally becomes a mentor as well. He is someone that has influenced and shaped my career and has given me the opportunities to talk about different things at different stages.
My first boss at the Sports Institute in Northern Ireland, a gentleman by the name of Ronnie Smith, he gave me the belief or he empowered me. I arrived at the Sports Institute in Northern Ireland, as just an S & C coach.
There was no such thing as a Head of S & C or anything like that, but it fast became apparent that I couldn’t do this by myself. I needed to have holidays, so I needed staff and I needed to develop interns. He empowered me to explore this leadership and this management piece and eventually supported me in the creation of a Head of S & C role, which I fell into.
So I’m forever grateful to him for trusting in me in that leadership space and helping me hone and foster those leadership abilities. Then you come to someone like Kelvin [Giles] and I’ve referenced Kelvin a lot tonight, and I guess there are a lot of S & C coaches in Australia that owe a lot to him.
He’s developed a lot of us and has set a lot of us on our pathways, on our journeys, and we talked to him quite a lot and we listened to him quite a lot. He brings a lot of wisdom and challenges us a lot as well. He makes us question what we do.
He makes us be better people, and I guess his influence really started to shift and change me in the early 2000s when I was still in the UK. He’d moved back to the UK and we kind of reconnected.
He started to challenge me away from that Olympic lifting guy into someone who looked at the athlete as a whole person. He encouraged me to look at the athlete more than just how much force they can produce or how much they can lift or the reps and sets on a page. He really started to steer me into looking at this athlete in a different way and how I work with athletes in a different way.
So I’m not going to say that there’s one person. And I think coming back to the younger me, I think that learning that networking piece would be the thing that I’d say to the younger me.
Additionally, for young coaches today, it’s to recognize it’s not that one magic bullet person. There’s going to be different people along your journey, but they’re going to give you different bits and pieces.
There’s not one person, it’s to recognize it’s not that one magic bullet person.
Nat and Kerri [Nathalie Cook & Kerrie Pottharst] taught me a lot. They gave me an opportunity to do something really amazing and really special and that journey that we had, they put me in the places where I drew on skill sets that I didn’t have or didn’t know that I had.
They forced me to look at things differently and to do things and challenge myself in ways that I hadn’t been challenged. So I think there’s going to be people that will do things and help you and guide you all the way along your journey. It’s important to recognize when those people appear and then what you can get from those people.
Christian: And that also probably comes back to the seven-year life cycle that you mentioned earlier. People come in, spend a lot of time with these people and then you move on.
Phil: Absolutely. But you find there are constants. Kelvin’s been a bit of a constant for me. In fact, in my very first meeting with Kelvin, I remember vividly, and I told this story when I introduce him.
I was told politely to go away and when I had done something with my career, I could come back and talk to him. I was a really young coach in 1987 or 1988, I can’t remember what year it was. It was around then, maybe 1989, when he was still at the Brisbane Broncos as their Performance Director.
I was told politely to go away and when I had done something with my career, I could come back and talk to him.
Even though that might seem really harsh and that might seem really challenging, it was actually, again, another light bulb moment to say, I can’t just expect these people to bend over backward and just hand me stuff on a platter. I do have to go and work for this and go and find things myself.
But equally, it also taught me a bit of a lesson. I probably find that I’m a little bit more open to younger coaches when they come asking for my advice or they come asking to look for me because there are a number of experiences early on in my career where I’ve had that pushback.
I was told to go away because they don’t want to know me. They told me that when I had done something, I could come back and talk with them. Whereas I want to probably foster those young kids these days and give them those opportunities that I didn’t get.
Christian: That is exactly what I have at times with some of my colleagues or younger coaches that come in. I see the younger Christian and I think that I would have loved to have someone who helped me. I do enjoy that.
How to manage expectations
Christian: Let us talk about dealing with individuals. As an S&C coach, we deal with individuals and their expectations. Sometimes the expectations of the individual, the athletes, are very different from what we think should be done. How do you influence change and manage expectations?
Phil: A wise man once told me that if you want to bring somebody along on a journey, then you’ve got to make sure that you’re creating a coherent, concurrent argument. You’ve got to make sure that you’re really coherent in what you’re wanting to do. You’ve got to ensure that you’ve got a good, strong base to be able to put your views and your thought processes forward.
A wise man once told me that if you want to bring somebody along on a journey, then you’ve got to make sure that you’re creating a coherent, concurrent argument.
But ultimately for me, it’s about investing time really early on to develop that relationship. It’s the time invested in developing the relationship with the individuals, be it a coach, be it an athlete, be it, another service provider, that allows you to have those hard and difficult conversations.
We’ve got to be comfortable to have those hard and difficult conversations. However, it’s really difficult to do that if your relationship’s not strong and if your relationship’s not good.
I can reflect on times where I’ve been working with an athlete and the relationship probably hasn’t been what it needed to be. It may be that we come back to that cycle, where it’s been a long time and you’ve been working with that athlete for a long time and they very much see that they want to go a different way.
You want to keep going the way that you’re going. The relationship’s starting to break down a little bit. You’re not really in a place to have that honest conversation.
You’ve then got to be able to recognize that and I’ll come back to that bit before where that’s maybe the recognition point in time to say that it is actually time to go somewhere else. It’s time to do something else. It’s time for you to experience something different.
Sometimes as coaches we’re fearful of that. We think that makes us look bad. Or we think that that makes our reputation poor. However, I actually think that that’s a sign that you’re very comfortable with what you do and that you’re a very mature coach and you’ve got good reflective pieces and you’re very self-aware of what it is that you’re doing and how you’re doing things.
We really need to start having those conversations with the coach. It’s really about getting yourself into their space and understanding if it’s the coach being able to talk in that sports language and being able to post questions that allow them to start to think about it.
I think we get lost sometimes really trying to force our opinions on the people and really trying to force our way of doing something onto athletes and coaches. We’ve got to be a lot better at bringing them along with us. When I’m working with coaches, and I want to take them on a different journey, I always ask a lot of questions.
We’ve got to be comfortable to have those hard and difficult conversations. We really need to start having those conversations with the coach.
What if we could do this? What do you think? What if this could happen that would allow your athletes to show up the next morning in a better-recovered way. What if we thought about training in this way, how would that help you?
I really try to put it into that type of framework and into that approach, rather than coming in and saying that I think what they’re doing is really bad. I don’t want to say that we’re going to change training to look like this, or the way they’re doing that exercise is not great and we’re going to do it this way.
It’s taking them on that journey with you and thinking about the language that you use. You want to make sure that that relationship is really strong, that if it does get a little bit challenging, then you can have an honest conversation.
How do you deal with decisions you don’t agree with
Christian: And now we move on to coaches and support staff. In a team of coaches and support staff, everyone is wearing his own head. So how do you deal with conflict when different causes of action are proposed?
Phil: It’s a tough one and I come back to the example that we used before about this coordination versus integration and I think it’s a broken record. It’s the relationship piece all over again, isn’t it?
How do I foster those relationships? How do I spend time to understand where the coach is coming from? How do I spend time to really understand the sport so that I can talk to the coach in that space?
How do I build the relationship with the physio that we can have challenging and tough conversations, but equally we can have vibrant and really positive conversations? I always struggle with the silo type thing and I think the silos happen when the sports program that you’re working with doesn’t have a real strategic vision.
Silos happen when the sports program that you’re working with doesn’t have a real strategic vision.
So nobody around the table really knows where we’re going. So that allows every individual around the table to form their own destination. I think I mentioned it really early on.
It’s about being able to get that strategic picture for that sport, anchor around that real strategic vision and a real strategic direction, which then allows you to anchor around really strong objectives. If you’ve got really strong objectives, then you can anchor onto those objectives, and there becomes the commonality that you’re working towards.
My history and where I see performance teams have gone bad, or relationships have gone bad is there hasn’t been the time invested in developing that. And so again, the physio thinks that he’s going to do this because that’s the most important thing to him.
- Also check out the interview ‘Expect that this journey will take an incredibly long time.’ With Andy Murray’s Strength & Conditioning Coach Matt Little, who outlines the importance of spending time together as members of the support team.
The S & C coach is the same. He is saying that he’s got to get them really strong, so he’s going to go off do a particular thing. The coach is really just interested in what they’re doing in the picture and the pool or wherever that might be and we’ve lost sight of how do I make this athlete better.
If we come back to how do I make this athlete better or how do I make this team better? Or how do I close this gap for this athlete to this World Champion? All of a sudden we can start to pull that team in towards that set of objectives and that strategic vision. And I think that’s the bit that we’ve got to get better at, and we’ve got to do a lot better.
The athlete-centered coaches driven vs athlete-centered coaches supported approach
Christian: It’s an evergreen thing, right, that’s what we really have to hone into of working together and getting the athlete better? Actually, it’s athlete-centered coaches driven, right, but so often it just doesn’t happen the way it should?
Phil: Yes, the athlete-centered coach driven approach. The other one I like is the athletes-centered coach-supported approach because it’s making sure that the athlete is at the heart of whatever we do and it’s making that athlete better.
Christian: I think what you’re referring to from the way I see it, I think it depends also a little bit of the stage of the athlete in his or her career. So for a younger, developmental athlete, they are probably more coaches driven. The older, more senior athletes are probably more coach supported or facilitated even.
Phil: I agree. I guess I had the privilege of working with Nat Cook across five Olympic cycles, in various guises. Sometimes it was full-time, sometimes part-time, from afar, sometimes in just a little consultancy piece and then step out. I look at how my coaching practice and relationship changed over those years and I think it was very much that very early on it was coach directed.
I’m really going to direct what goes on here because I know best. That’s what I thought about the last London 2012 Olympic cycle where it was very much a facilitated approach where we were working closely together.
She knew her body just as well, if not better than me and her input and her feedback and her influence in shaping the program were really important to get us to that final end-goal of getting her to London. So I think that’s a really good example of what you’re talking about there.
A typical day in the life of a Strength & Conditioning manager
Christian: How does a typical day in the life of an S&C Manager look like?
Phil: There’s still a lot of coaching in it. I’m still coaching in programs, which is really important. So there’s still all those things around program review and program analysis. There are those program meetings that happen with coaches, physios, and all that type of stuff.
But then you step onto the other side and then there’s a lot of stuff that’s around the day to day operation and management of the facility. These include catching up with your staff, both formally and informally and I’m a really big believer of the informal.
This could be dropping by the desk to have a conversation, going out on the gym floor, and having a conversation with them on the gym floor. Those informal interactions are more important than the formal interactions.
Those informal interactions are more important than the formal interactions.
It’s where you can have good conversations about where they’re at, how they going, how’s things going in that program; how’re things going with you and with these sports? You can have those really good interactions and they’re the interactions that I really enjoy.
But then you step into this higher management space. You now have the interaction with senior management, the interaction with Chief Executives, the interaction with High-Performance Managers who are managing multiple sports programs.
You also have the interaction as a Head of the discipline group, here you’re sitting around a table with Heads of Performance Medicine, Heads of Biomechanics, and looking at the performance operation structures of an organization and the way you’re implementing aspects of the organization’s business plan.
So how you’re bringing that business plan, and then you’re articulating it down to the operational aspects of your department. How are you trying to create what we spoke about before in core values?
What’s our vision and mission? What are our values as a department? How do we start to bring ourselves together as a team? How do I foster those things on a day-to-day basis within the group?
There are all those really rich things that go on as well in the day that you’re constantly tapping in little bits and pieces. And then when all of that stuff starts getting too much, you can step out on the gym floor and go coach some athletes and your world becomes a little bit back to what you wanted to do when you first stepped into this world of Strength and Conditioning.
Then that two-hour gym block finishes and then you step back into that corporate business type space, which is an interesting one, and it’s challenging, and I’ve really enjoyed it. But equally, you go back to that young you, they’re all the things that you never got taught and exposed to at Uni.
No one at Uni said one day you’ll be the head of a department of 12 people and you’ll have to do all this type of stuff. So you’re really learning all this stuff on the fly as you go and developing those skillsets pretty much in isolation.
How to design a training program
Christian: How do you design a training program?
Phil: I come back to that first piece, which is those three questions. Those are really important to me – the destination, really understand where we’re going and where are they now?
So that involves the assessment pieces, the understanding all of those aspects of it. What’s my role now? What am I trying to achieve now? What do I need to do now?
I’ll roll out another ‘Kelvinism’. It’s that balance of what you’d like to do and what you must do. So what must I do at this particular point in time with this athlete? Understanding the strategic piece of the program, where’s this whole sports program going?
What do I need to understand about this sport? What do I need to understand about this sport that applies to that individual sitting in front of me? When I know all that, then I can start to think about the sets, the reps, the periodization, how it all looks, and how it all starts to come together.
That’s the process that I really worked through. I want to really understand what it is that I’m doing. I want to really understand where I’m going, and then I can stop to make decisions about what needs to be put in place to get that athlete there.
I want to really understand what it is that I’m doing. I want to really understand where I’m going, and then I can stop to make decisions about what needs to be put in place to get that athlete there.
It’s not starting at an exercise place. It’s not starting at a training drill place. It’s not starting at a physical quality space. All of those things come later once I’ve got a better understanding of the individual in front of me and the bigger picture piece I think is really important.
Are we one year out? Are we two years out? Are we at the start of a cycle? All of those types of things will influence where I’m at. Are we one year out and this athlete’s just come to your rodeo? What’s the biggest bang for the buck that I can get in the next 12 months that’s going to achieve the outcome that this athlete’s looking for?
I think there are lots of variables that we need to make sure that we tick off and we look at and we think about before we sit down with a piece of paper or VCP [Visual Coaching] or Team Builder or whatever software it is we use and start pumping exercises into a spreadsheet and reps and sets into a spreadsheet.
His interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Phil: I would love to nominate someone to be interviewed. There’s a whole raft of people that I think would be great to do this. I’m going to throw out a guy by the name of Dave Lasini.
Dave is Head of Strength and Conditioning Sports Institute, Northern Ireland. I’m sure you’re aware of him. But he’s had a really interesting journey as well. I think he’s a really good coach. He’s a really good person.
He’s been a strong colleague of mine over the years, and he’s navigated lots of different environments. He was Sports Science Coordinator for UK Sport in the very early days of UK Sport.
He went on to be the Hockeyroos in the Kookaburras, Head of Strength and Conditioning for a number of years, and then he stepped back into a role as Head of Department in Sports Institute, Northern Ireland, as well as some time in pro rugby. So he’d be an interesting person for you to have a chat with.
Christian: Really cool.
What’s going on in the life of Phil Moreland at this moment in time
Christian: What’s going on in the life of Phil Moreland at this moment in time. Exciting things ahead?
Phil: Exciting things ahead. I have four days left at the New South Wales Institute of Sport and then next, I start as Senior Sports Science Manager for Human Performance and Safety with the Royal Australian Air Force. This is going to be a challenging and exciting shift.
It’s definitely something that’s taking me out of my comfort zone. It’s definitely something that is exciting me a lot about what the future holds with that role.
How do I take this skillset and the stuff that I’ve done in the high-performance sport over a great number of years and apply it to a different performance environment with different outcomes and different needs and ultimately different consequences, if things don’t work, to a big organization with an Australia wide remit, that’s got multiple layers and multiple levels of performance?
We’re talking performance in its guise as a fast jet pilot to its performance in its guise as a clerk or chef or something along those lines, because equally for this machine to work, all of those aspects have to perform and perform well. So I think there’s a broader performance spectrum now.
It’s not just about putting an athlete on a podium. It’s how do I help get a recruit out of basic training into a place that allows them to progress on to become a pilot? How do I get a recruit to come out of basic training to transition into a different job?
So yes, it’s going to be really exciting to see how I apply that skill set and how I make that work. So, yes, I’ll let you know, maybe in six or 12 months’ time, mate, if we do this again, how it has gone.
Christian: I was about to propose, I talk to you in two years and then see how it goes, but we can’t do it in one year as well.
Phil: Yes, two years might be it. I might be back in sport in two years, but I don’t think so. I think the timing’s right. I think the exciting thing is potentially it also gives me a little bit of time back with my family.
We all know the sacrifices that we make in performance sport and sometimes our families are the ones that bear the brunt of those sacrifices that we make. So I think this is going to be a good opportunity to get some time back and to invest some time in that space as well, which is going to be really fun.
Where can you find Phil Moreland
Christian: Where can people find you?
Phil: They’re not going to find me on Twitter. They’re not going to find me in any of those spaces. I’m not a big social media person. I am on LinkedIn and I’m more than happy for people to reach out to me on LinkedIn and touch base with me on LinkedIn.
Phil Moreland’s LinkedIn profile
I’m pretty old school, so that’s why you won’t find me in any of those social media spaces. I honestly couldn’t even tell you how to operate Twitter or do anything in that space, so I’m not going to be there.
But yes, I think LinkedIn is the best way to touch base. As I said, more than happy for people to touch base with me and reach out, and I’m happy to have conversations with people, however, and whenever.
Christian: Phil, first and foremost, thanks for your time. Secondly, all the best with your new role and we speak soon.
Phil: Cheers. Thank you very much. Thanks for the opportunity.