Guest Post: Pay it Forward

As the High Performance Manager of the Sydney Roosters, Lachlan Penfold set up a program that won the NRL Premiership. Two weeks ago he wrote this piece that every young S&C coach should read. This week he has another tip from the top. 


Following on from my Bandits experience, I would like to recommend to you that you make sure everything you do is not all about money. Two of my early experiences brought this home to me, and proved to end up benefiting me in the long run, both financially and intrinsically.

I had started working with the Q.A.S. (Queensland Academy of Sport) Softball squad, partly through my work with the Bandits.  This squad had a number of Australian players who were being provided their own training programs via correspondence through another S&C coach.

The Australian Head Coach at the time had seen what I was doing with the QAS squad, and liked what he saw.  Initially he wanted me to help supervise his Australian players, who were able to train in their own gyms, unlike the QAS athletes who trained at the QAS facility.  So I would start at Hendra Healthworks and work with 2 players from 5.30am-6.30am, drive to another gym and train 2 more players from 6.45am-7.30am, then drive to the QAS gym and train 3 more Australian players with the QAS girls from 8am-10am.

This constant training-driving routine was considered to be “servicing” the Australian QAS members, and part of my QAS role, even though we hadn’t budgeted for it. It didn’t greatly concern me, as all the Australian girls were great to work with, and I enjoyed challenging them.  When the person providing the strength programs for the Australian women decided not to continue, it was an easy choice for the Head Coach to go with me, as he knew my work.

This lead to a 10 year stint with the National Team, as the Head of Strength and Conditioning and the Sports Science / Sports Medicine Co-coordinator, involving 3 Olympic Games where the team won 1 silver medal and 2 bronze medals.

I had the great experience of working with hard working, dedicated and humble athletes, great coaches always willing to learn and share, and some great sports science and sports medicine staff.  All these people helped me become a better professional and a better person, and I’m forever grateful for my time working with the Olympic Softball Program.

After I had been working with the Softball squad for approximately 3 years, I was approached by the QAS Water Polo coach who asked me to help one of her athletes coming back from shoulder surgery.  At this time there was no money in her budget to pay me, and she originally just wanted me to give her some ideas.

At that stage it was easy enough for me to write a program while writing all my softball programs, as despite the obvious playing surface differences there were a lot of similarities between the sports.  I told the coach that if the athlete was prepared to train when the softball girls did, then I was happy to supervise her as well.

This then grew to 3 “development squad” athletes, which a couple of months later grew to the QAS squad of 7 women.  At this stage all free of charge.  But I was happy to help out - these were extremely dedicated women, aiming for a goal of Olympic representation, but also committed to becoming better.  They were happy to work around my schedules, and I was happy to try and help them achieve their goals.

Eventually the coach got some money in her budget and I started getting paid for my work, and not only was the QAS coach happy with the improvement in the girls, the National Coach was impressed enough to offer me the opportunity to work with the Australian team for the 2000 Olympic Games.  What a great experience that was - working with a great group of women athletes, really nice and down to earth people, and a great coach in Istvan Gorgenyi and his coaching staff.

Again a massive learning opportunity and a tremendous experience being involved in the 3 month residential camp based on the Sunshine Coast.  And the biggest highlight - being a part of staff that helped the team win an historic Olympic Gold Medal.  Being there on the night of the dramatic final, when Yvette Higgins scored the winning goal with seconds left, still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

Following this I then was contracted by Australian Water Polo to act as the Head of Strength & Conditioning and the Sports Science / Sports Medicine Co-coordinator for the Australian Women’s’ Water Polo team through to the 2004 Olympic Games.  Not only a great role, but also a substantial paying role.

Am I suggesting that you go around offering you services for free - absolutely not.  I was already getting paid for other work, so I guess I felt that I could make the decision to be somewhat altruistic in providing help for these people.  It’s a difficult balance as you start out - you need the work to establish yourself and your credentials, but you also need to be paid to both survive and ensure that at least some value is placed on your services.  Sometimes people aren’t in a position to reward you financially in the initial stages, but if you trust them to deliver later then take a chance, you never know where it may end up.

All these rewards, financially, but most importantly intrinsically, came about because I was prepared to help out an athlete or a squad without looking for financial payment up front.  And with no initial intentions of doing the work for payment.  Never in my wildest thoughts would I have envisaged my offer of help would lead to being part of Olympic glory and the financial windfall that it did.

The experiences I gained far outweighed the “lost money” I missed out because I didn’t charge people for a few hours of my time.  I guess that’s why they call it Paying Forward.

Lachlan Penfold has trained over 80 Olympic athletes over 4 different Olympic Games, with many of these athletes achieving medal success. For more info on Lachlan click here

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