Ben Cross – Premiership winning Rugby League Player to Brisbane Broncos Defensive Coach

Ben chats about his time at 3 NRL clubs and when he started planting the seeds to become a coach… Where he played his best football and how that affected his coaching philosophy… How he improved his coaching by moving backwards… And he made an important distinction that most don’t understand about being “comfortable”…

Interview starts at 4min 30.

Brant chatted about the differences in preparing for a World Championship, Commonwealth Games & Olympics (and what is “High Performance”)… What we should be doing for our own coaching development… What he learned from interacting with coaches & sport scientists from outside his sport… What S&C Coaches need to learn about the aquatic environment…

(General chat until 4:58. Fast forward to then to get to the interview.)

Brendyn chats about how he got his first paid job at the Western Australian Institute of Sport… What he learned coaching multiple sports, both sexes and all levels… He expands on the differences he had to adjust moving into professional rugby… What he would do differently now that he has been with one the most successful Australian teams (Men’s Hockey)…

Dan chats about his progression through the military… His transition to High Performance Sport… What the Military can learn from HP Sport… What HP Sport can learn from the Military… How he kept learning when there was no equivalent of his position…What he has learned about fatigue… And how you can apply this knowledge…

PS Unfortunately we lost the first 13sec of this interview where we asked Daniel to give us a brief intro into his military career/education.

Depending where in the world you might be reading this, there is a slim to good chance you’ve heard of the university I graduated from: University of Stellenbosch.

Surrounded by vineyards, it is, ironically, a sporting Mecca.

In fact, in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics many of the British sports based themselves there.

Conversely, it probably doesn’t matter where in the world you are, there is almost no chance you would’ve heard of the university where I completed my post-grad work: the University of Zululand (aka UniZul).

Ignored by the apartheid government it was recognised as ‘previously disadvantaged’ and, admittedly, wouldn’t have been most graduate’s first choice.

However, the Biokinetics (think: Exercise Physiology or Exercise Therapy) program had some awesome aspects that I’ve yet to see in the more internationally recognised and prestigious programs.

Below are some of the valuable elements the program had that should be introduced to all places of study :

 

Journal Presenting

On Fridays, the students had to present two journal articles to the class and staff (including the Dean).

As long as the journal was related to sport, exercise, therapy or training it was acceptable.

The audience was instructed to ‘tear apart’ the studies presented.

This lead to an interesting dynamic where, as the presenter, we would make sure we’d identified every flaw and weakness in our presentation – having a staff member correct us wasn’t great, but having a fellow classmate do it was humiliating.

By the same token, the audience analyzed every detail presented in the hope of picking up an undetected shortcoming.

To this day I still read every journal article as though I was presenting to the class, scrutinizing every aspect of the study. A good habit to develop for sure.

A knock-on effect has been every presentation since then is exponentially easier to deliver as the delegates are more forgiving.

The third benefit of this practice was every student (both as the audience and the presenter) was being exposed to new research that deviated from the prescribed course.

 

Operations

UniZul had a relationship with the local hospital and on Thursdays the Biokinetic students would attend the orthopedic operations.

While this lead to arguably my most embarrassing life story, from an educational point of view it was fantastic.

Until you have watched a live ACL or total knee reconstruction, it is impossible to understand how much each operation resembles a woodwork class more than twenty first century medicine.

Watching these operations might not be classed as ‘critical’ to my development, I’d definitely put them in the ‘hugely valuable’ column.

 

Use it… Use it again…. And again.

Catching up with students who were doing their post-grad at other universities highlighted an attitudinal difference between the faculty at UniZul and the rest.

Many of the other universities exposed students to some technology (often through observation) and assumed that was enough.

UniZul was different. Isokinetic testing (remember, this was a while ago : )? VO2 Max testing? Blood testing? Physical screening? Everything we learnt we applied and tested on every classmate.

(Sure, it might have meant having to run a VO2 test many times… Or not being able to walk after eccentric KinCon hamstring tests…)

BUT when we were in front our first patient we were ready.

 

A Full Time Job

The expectation at UniZul was that, if you weren’t in class or working on your thesis, you were in the Lab (read: Clinic) seeing patients/clients to fill up (at least) a 40 hour week. In other words, UniZul recognised that Class taught the science but the Lab developed the art.

We worked with athletes, house wifes, business men, kids… It didn’t matter. The mindset was to coach and to rehab and to train anyone and everyone we could get our hands on to develop those ‘soft’ skills.

 

 ‘Volunteering’

Frequently our class was ‘volunteered’ by UniZul to provide services to the public.

For example, we massaged at local and national running events; did health screening at Expos; performed blood tests at shopping centres; worked at the local special education school; etc.

Firstly, this was great for the exposure of Biokinetics.

Secondly, again, it developed our people skills. Interacting with such a wide variety of clients, patients and athletes in all sorts of setting enormously increased our confidence and our ability to connect once we became professionals.

 

Summary

Living in Australia now, I am hugely grateful for the opportunities and development UniZul provided for me and hope that other universities and programs and learn and grow their program so that their alumni are grateful too.

1) Journal Presenting – to develop 1) critical thinking and 2) public speaking skills.

2) Operations – to gain a deeper understanding of what your patients and athletes are recovering from.

3) Use it… Again and again – building confidence through repetition.

4) Full time job – tacit knowledge is just as important as explicit knowledge.

5) Volunteering – gaining exposure to as many different environments as possible.

How to Choose a Coach for your Child?

Choosing a Coach isn’t always easy, especially when considering the variables such as qualifications, experiences, results, costs and proximity.

Below are some guidelines Parents might want to take on for choosing the next Coach for your child.

Scout for Coaches. See which Coaches are in your catchment area (depending on how far you want to travel). The closest might not be the best.

Gather (a few) opinions. Call the State or National Sporting Organisation and see whom they recommend. Have a chat with Parents & Athletes involved in the sport and find out their opinions.

            TIP: Don’t rely exclusively on any one opinion. It is quite possible that person’s experience with the Coach was an ‘outlier’. On the other hand, where there is smoke there may be fire…

 

Have a chat with the prospective Coach. Find out what their priorities are. If they only talk about the results of their Athletes, this is a red flag. You want a Coach that is focused on processes, not results.

Ask to see the Coach’s qualifications. They don’t make a Coach but it is a good start. Make sure they are relevant and up to date.

            TIP: Don’t be impressed or intimidated with jargon. The better Coaches will be able to explain their principles, concepts and philosophies in terms you can easily understand.

 

Do question the Coach. If there is something you don’t understand or agree with, follow up with a question. A good Coach will appreciate the questions and not get defensive.

Watch some sessions. Watch how the Coach interacts with their Athletes; and watch how the Athletes respond to the Coach.

Use a Coach that has structured sessions. Make sure there is a warm up, a cool down, scheduled times for drink or a snack. Even better is if the Coach has the session plan written down for the Athletes to see.

            TIP: Don’t use a Coach that slams other Coaches. Great Coaches are busy Coaches, and busy Coaches don’t have the time to bother themselves with gossip and put-downs.

 

Listen to the Quantity of feedback the Coach gives. Even at the top level, Athletes can only respond to about 3 pieces of information. If your child is young, they might be only able to take on 1 piece of information. Any more and the Coach is 1) showing off, or 2) confusing your child, or 3) both.

Listen to the Quality of feedback the Coach gives.  Is it personal or vindictive? Is it balanced, constructive or negative?

            TIP: Don’t be overly impressed if the Coach is talking the whole time. Many of the best Coaches feel the need to say very little; after all, it’s about the Athlete, not the Coach.

Ask for some ‘trial’ sessions. This is a great way to include your child in the process by ensuring they have a say on how much 1) they enjoyed it and 2) how much they learnt.

            TIP: The best Coach for your child is the one that help your child achieve their goals.

I differentiate between a Course (measured in hours to days), Work Experience (measured in days to weeks) and an Internship (measured in months to a year) in time AND in hands on experience (Course: role-play; Work Experience: mainly observing; Internship: making decisions and owning the outcomes).

Typically there are three types of Internships: Unpaid, Paid and Pay-to-Play.

Below are my thoughts on each.

Unpaid Internship

In the Strength & Conditioning world, these are possibly the most common type of Internship. And there’s a reason for this: you probably don’t have many skills that are of much value.

Sure, you might know some theory but your ability to put it altogether isn’t great, hence the Internship.

What to expect: In the beginning you’ll probably just be observing but as soon as possible you should be given tasks (collecting information, loading barbells, filling water bottles, etc.).

As you build trust with your Preceptor and you understand their systems, you should be loaded with more responsibility.

After a few (two to six) weeks you should be given the chance to practice making decisions and giving feedback to the Athletes.

Most of the time the Preceptor should be close enough to observe you and give feedback after sessions.

What to give: Get in early. Be the last to leave. Don’t be a wall-flower. Offer, offer and offer again. Offer to do extra. Offer to help the Athletes. Offer to take on more responsibility.

Pros: You’ll probably be exposed to plenty of practical experiences.

Cons: Between studies, working to make money and your Internship, you probably won’t have much free time.

Interesting: Since you’ll often be in your Preceptor’s vision you have a great chance to impress them.

Paid Internship

This is where the Intern receives financial renumeration that is either inline with market value or is at least a ‘liveable wage’.

An important point to note is for this to occur the Intern must be able to justify their position and earn the Preceptor some income. In other words, there needs to be some value provided by the Intern.

In most internship cases there is an inverse sliding scale between ‘What you Learn’ and ‘What you Earn’: the greater the former, the less the latter. And vice versa.

What to expect: Since your market value is rather low and the Preceptor needs to justify you as an expense, you can expect to do lots of (unsupervised), repetitive work with very low levels of decision making required.

For example, you might perform generic health and wellness assessments in the corporate setting.

What to give: You should be in this to help others so give your all.

Also, this might not be the most stimulating type of introduction into the profession so make sure you’re seeking other opportunities in the field. Example, offer to do the rehabilitation for a sports club.

Pros: It’s probably better than doing the graveyard shift at McDonalds and, while not the most exciting, you’re still getting paid experience in the field.

Cons: It’s highly unlikely you chose this profession to do the type of work usually associated with paid Internships.

Interesting: In my experience, most of those who took the ‘cash option’ have left the health/performance field.

 

Pay-for-Play Internship

This is an interesting paradigm: the Intern pays the Preceptor.

I understand* it but I am not sure I agree with it: most people offering these seemed to have learned from others at no cost.

*The Preceptor has knowledge and experience that they and the Intern value and a financial transaction takes place.

What most don’t seem to grasp is this turns the tables as the Preceptor is now working for the Intern.

What to expect: If you’re paying for this it’d better be:

  1. great information that can’t be found elsewhere (difficult, when you consider the amounts of information on YouTube, blogs, etc.); and
  2. so well recognised you’ll leap-frog other candidates for most entry-level positions you apply for.

Try this: Ask a few leaders how much they value your Preceptor’s influence before signing up. You might save a truckload of money.

What to give: Your money..?

Pros: The pressure is on the Preceptor to deliver to you.

Cons: There aren’t many of these Internships that are worth it. I can’t think of one.

Interesting: You’re the boss so demand the ‘product’ you’re receiving is worth it.

 

Summary

It’s a Course if:

  • it’s completed in hours/days; and
  • role-play is where most of the ‘experience’ comes in.

It’s Work Experience if:

  • the duration is days/weeks; and
  • you’re mainly observing.

It’s an Internship if:

  • it takes months to a year (anything over a year is slave labour); and
  • you’re many making decisions and facing the consequences of those decisions.

Inverse-sliding scale: There is an inverse relationship between What you Learn and What you Earn.

There is no ‘best’ scenario it all depends on what you can afford to Invest (time, money, etc.) and what you want for your Return on Investment (practical knowledge, money or the Preceptor’s time).

1) Thank your Parents

First up, without them, there is no ‘you’. So thank them.

Also, thank them for driving you to training. And to competition. And paying for both. And giving up their weekends so you can compete.

 

2) Have an Athletic Portfolio ready

If you want to compete, even at the junior level, sport has become expensive.

So it pays to have some sponsors that can help you.

An athlete should have an ‘Athlete Portfolio’ – think of it as resume for your sporting achievements– that you can hand over to any potential sponsor at any time.

 

3) Have friends that don’t compete in your sport

It’s easy to only hang around those that compete in the same sport as you but it’s better if you have friends outside of that circle that have different interests to you.

They will remind you that there is more to life than your sport.

 

4) Coach a younger athlete (Be their mentor)

Remember how awesome it was when one of the older athletes chatted with you or helped you out?

Well, it’s good idea to pass that on to an athlete that is younger than you.

Take them under your wing, ask about their training or their performance or invite them to come train with you for a while.

They’ll love it and you’ll learn from it.

 

5) Keep all your doors open

There will reach a time when it’ll be tough to participate in other sports and still improve in your main sport but keep participating in those sports as long as possible.

There will reach a time when it’ll be tough to continue with school and still improve your main sport but keep in school as long as possible.

You never know what might happen and you’ll never know when it’ll happen so keep all your doors open for as long as possible.

 

6) Clean and carry your own equipment

I have a rule for all my Athletes: carry and clean your own equipment.

This will help keep you respectful and humble.

 

7) Be so good to your sponsors they want to help you regardless of your results

When was the last time you thanked your sponsors? How did you thank them? Did you pop in and thank them in person so that their customers could what a great job they’re doing? Did you write a hand-written letter and attach a picture so that they can proudly display at their work?

However you choose to thank them, remember that if you go above and beyond, chances are they’ll go above and beyond.

 

8) Thank your Coach

Even if your Coach gets paid, it is almost guaranteed that they do more than is expected of them.

Send them a text, give them a call or write a note.

Just say thanks (and know you have made someone very happy).

 

9) Keep your room tidy

There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, a cluttered room often means a cluttered mind and great performances rely on laser sharp focus.

Secondly, your parents will really appreciate it. They want to be proud of their home and a messy (smelly?) room does the opposite.

So give it a tidy and keep it that (you know it doesn’t take that much effort!).

 

10) Give your Mom a hug

She probably does more for you than you’ll ever know. She also feels your pain when you’re injured, your despair when you don’t get the result you worked and the disappointment when you don’t get selected when you thought you would.

So, the next time you see her, go and give her a massive hug.

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