This weeks blog post is from Mark Brady of Brady Sports Performance. Mark is currently completing an internship as a Strength and Conditioning coach with Uruguay Rugby. Here Mark will share some of the insights of his time with Uruguay.
Reading Time Commitment: 6-7 Minutes
Firstly, thank you Ed for asking me to contribute to ES Performance which continues to be an excellent resource for athletes and coaches alike since it was started last year. With some excellent practitioners already writing pieces from ex classmates to world renowned coaches, I am delighted to share details of my experience so far as a strength and conditioning intern with Uruguay Rugby Union.
As many up and coming strength and conditioning coaches and sports scientists have realized, it is virtually impossible to walk into an elite performance coaching position straight after an undergrad. You quickly realize that there are countless other coaches out there with the exact same qualifications as you and sadly for us, we can’t all get hired.
The decision then is whether or not to do a masters? Unfortunately it’s getting to the stage now where even after completing a masters education, you still have huge competition for every role and more than likely you will stink at actually coaching.
I decided to postpone my plans of further study and fly down to Uruguay to do an internship with a team who twelve months previous were taking on the mite of England and Australia in the Rugby World Cup. Although Uruguay rugby may not be the most glamorous southern hemisphere rugby nation to work with, taking on an internship role with them presented a unique opportunity. With the limited budget Uruguay rugby have, each day I would get hands on experience coaching the six teams who train at headquarters such as Los Teros, sevens and underage teams. While doing an internship closer to home with athletes of the same calibre, it would be fair to say my role would be far more diluted.
With Los Teros (Uruguay Senior Team) currently away in San Antonio, Texas at the Americas Rugby Championship, I’ve had some time to reflect on my first three months in Uruguay. Accustoming to a new culture, climate and language has not been without its challenges which I will detail further on in the article. Firstly I will outline my general weekly routine as an intern.
It would be impossible to describe a typical coaching day here as there is always different tasks to be completed depending on each team’s training phase. Of course there are the less riveting everyday intern roles such as filling the waterbottles, setting up the ice baths, lugging around equipment and videoing training sessions. I am one of the first people at the gym/pitch in the mornings and definitely the last person to leave every night. With teams training before they go off to work in the mornings it tends to be regular early mornings (which I have grown to love). Most of the teams work off a similar day to day training schedule so high CNS (Central Nervous System) days for Los Teros, will generally be high days for other teams as well. During the day I will also be working one to one with players who missed training or injured players before the team sessions resume in the early evening. Occasionally I work with the analysis department and study opposition tactics and gameplay but the majority of my time is spent with the performance department.
My individual coaching roles during the training sessions vary from team to team. With most teams I will be acting as the assistant strength and conditioning coach during gym sessions, encouraging, spotting and working on technique along with modifying and changing exercise selection for injured players. Opportunities come about regularly to lead team sessions when the head of strength and conditioning is absent or if the team are travelling and I work with the unselected and injured players. I will have less involvement with collective pitch sessions as most of the conditioning work is done through rugby with a focus on skill but will regularly work individually with players who didn’t take part in collective training.
I have more responsibility with the Men’s Sevens leading most collective sessions and also travelling with them. This has been one of the highlights of my time here so far. Anyone who has watched sevens or has been involved with coaching in some capacity will know that it is one of the most anaerobic field sports there is. A distant cousin from the fifteens game with only an egg shaped ball common between them. Sprinting for fifteen minutes straight six times in two days with as little as ninety minutes between games. Programming for high level athletes who need to be able to repeatedly express high levels of strength and explosiveness with limited recovery requires exposure to different types of training stress concurrently presents unique challenges to the coach. Being in the dressing room and on the pitch with the boys in International competition is definitely one of my coaching highlights and when the time comes to leave Uruguay it is definitely a sport I want to be involved in.
Travelling across the world to a completely different culture has not been without its challenges. The majority of players have a decent level of English in Uruguay as they have been studying it since they were very young. The Irish accent however, obviously wasn’t on their curriculum and I have had to completely change my coaching style to accommodate for this. Using more kinaesthetic cueing and much fewer verbal cues you start to realize that a lot of cues you previously used are just unneeded noise anyway. Most athletes can almost instantly replicate exercises and movements after seeing them once which cuts out unnecessary coaching time. Research is also supporting the thought process that empowering athletes to solve movement problems will result in better long term learning and application compared to over cueing.
After spending years studying the science of performance training, the balance between the art and science of coaching is tilting towards science in my case. Every day I have an opportunity to address this imbalance with the boys. There are a few key lessons I have learned so far in my journey.
One phrase that has resonated with me is “the standards you walk by are the standards you accept”. Leading by example both in coaching and in your own lifestyle, players can see that you are not asking them to do something you wouldn’t be prepared to do yourself which creates trust and a positive learning experience.
Preparation and organization may seem like a given but if a coach is consistently great at planning and time keeping, training will always be of a high standard. Potential difficulties with space or player numbers will be catered for rather than having to react when a situation arises which inevitably will take away from the quality of the session. To use a famous Roy Keane quote “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”.
When a player is coming in to train seven or eight times a week you can be sure there will be times they will be low in energy and motivation. You can also count on being tired and lethargic yourself at some point even if you are the most passionate motivated practitioner the world has ever seen. Energy is magnetic and if the players sense that you are tired they will unconsciously respond negatively. Whether it’s through the use of caffeine, power naps or strapping on a brave face it is vital that each session you are at 100%.
Internships provide young coaches with the opportunity to hone their coaching skills in a manner which is impossible on a desk chair. You can read every book from Dale Carnegie to Dan John but until you coach people face to face you will not develop the practise of coaching. Whether it is with the local rugby/GAA/MMA team, seek out opportunities to coach and learn. The earlier you make your big mistakes the better.
Once again I would like to thank Ed for asking to write this article and if you are interested in seeing what we get up to in Uruguay, be sure to follow Brady Sports Performance (@bradysportsperf) on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter.
Thanks for reading!