What does David have in common with Goliath?

Regarded as one of the best Strength & Conditioning Coaches in Australia, Brendyn Appleby has switched from working with professional rugby players in the SuperRugby Competition to training the Australian Men's (field) hockey team. Despite the obvious physical differences, there are some key characteristics that are similar in the champions of both sports. 

The past few months have been an amazing time in my career as an S&C coach.  I have changed careers from rugby union to hockey – in a sense, from Goliath (115kg battering rams) to David (65 to 75kg nimble whippets).

Whilst re-learning the intricacies of a new sport, what has been reassuring has been the awareness of the commonalities between the greats in contrasting sports.

There is consistency in habit amongst the great players regardless of their sport.

These consistencies are not in the physical qualities, but the practices.  In a few simple, yet key elements below, that I think they share in common, and what makes them great.

Work Ethic

Without doubt, the greats have work ethic – and pain tolerance. They put the work in when everyone is watching (they’re usually a leader), but what puts them apart is the work they do that no one notices.

It ranges from the run on the weekend, or the extra weights session – these are the big things that most see.

Work Ethic

However, look closely and you will see they are longer on the park throwing/hitting a ball, extra stretching or video.

They are diligent and don’t cut corners – ever.

Injury Prevention

The great players are best at what they do because they train and play a lot.

They can do this because they are rarely “out” with a niggle.  They know their body and take care of it.

Injury prevention

We all know everybody is different, but what all players have in common is an individual “kryptonite” – that is, a specific symptom that warns them of impending injury.

For some it’s a back awareness, or a tightness in a calf or glute.  They all have it and they listen to it.

The greats are in tune with their body and they are often dealing with it in plain sight.  It may be that extra shoulder exercise they are doing during the strength session, the casual stretch they are doing after the skills session, or those seemingly meaningless, yet critical, injury prevention exercises on their day off.

Observe the little things that these players regularly do.


A simple day-to-day habit that I’ve observed that is one that is easily unnoticed, again, hiding in plain sight.

Pay careful attention and I guarantee you will always see a water bottle within reach.


I’ve noticed the great players from either sport were always paying attention to this small detail of preparation.

Body Composition

For most sports, excess fat is a hindrance.

(A colleague of mine has often stated that the easiest way to increase vertical jump is to decrease excess fat.)

Rugby union players are sometimes criticised of being “fat”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Whilst it is true that the front row are not “ripped”, to call these players fat is ignorant.

Fat calipers Scales

Undoubtedly, there are players in a rugby team that have 'higher' skinfolds, but they are not 'high' skinfolds, they’re just not in the 30’s and 40’s like the backs.

It is not collision padding, its just a delicate balance between “calories in-calories out” whilst trying to hold weight when their body really doesn’t want too.


Whilst I love every day being a Strength and Conditioning Coach, helping athletes get stronger, faster or fitter, the best are the best because they play the game better and longer than their competition, because they’re skills are high.

It is the job of the S&C coach to maximise the skill training capacity of the athletes.

Give them the physical capacity to play, and the resilience to train and train and train.

The best are the best not for one reason, but for many reasons.

Brendyn Appleby is the the Strength & Conditioning Coach to the Commonwealth gold medal winning Australian Men's Hockey team, the Kookaburras. Follow him on Twitter @BrendynAppleby for more information. 

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