Freelap Friday Five with Aiden Oakley
Aiden is a NRL Strength Coach with the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Previously, Aiden coached at the Aspire Academy in Doha, Qatar. He has also worked at Al Arabi FC, the Scottish Institute of Sport, and the London Broncos Rugby League.
Aiden is a UKSCA Accredited Strength & Conditioning Coach and an ASCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach. He has an MSc in Strength & Conditioning and a BSc in Sport Science & Exercise.
Freelap USA: What’s your take on quantifying the effect of the strength coach on team performance? Is this something we’ll ever be able to have a firm grasp on?
Aiden Oakley: I don’t think so. Until you can prove that what you have done in the gym or on the pitch directly affects the scoreboard or individual plays, then it is always going to be a grey area.
What we can do, though, is show that as a coach and as part of the program, the athlete/team is now fitter/stronger/faster. Hopefully, this can match up with increased completion rate, decreased errors, stronger finishes late in the competition, etc., depending on the sport.
In my opinion, coaches are prone to subjective feedback that an athlete looks to be moving better, or is looking stronger or faster in the context of their sport. This is great if it gets buy-in from the coaches, but we also have to be able to back it up with numbers, be it a percentage increase or using MBI (magnitude-based inference) to say how meaningful the change is. A sad reality of our profession is the need to also cover your ass, so that if a coach says the team isn’t fit enough or strong enough, you have the data to at least hold a debate.It’s always useful to be able to dig deeper into performance, and back improvement up with numbers. Click To Tweet
Sometimes teams are fit enough but have a high error rate. It’s always useful to be able to dig deeper into performance. Unfortunately, in team sports the outcome is reliant on so many external factors (readiness, opponent’s tactics, injury, weather, luck, etc.) that it’s hard to tie in the precise impact of the strength coach.
For now, I think we have to rely on a blend of objective testing and match data coupled with the subjective opinion of the tactical coach—hopefully, they agree.
Freelap USA: What are your thoughts on the blend between physical preparation coaches and sport coaching, or more notably, the idea that physical preparation coaches are responsible for the strength and fitness of the athlete and nothing else (i.e., not responsible for more-specific outcome entities such as perception and reaction, or designing skill specific training methods)?
Aiden Oakley: I think, as a profession, we are the first to say a physio or tactical coach is stepping out of their lane and into the S&C’s, but we are more than happy to step into other domains. The reality is that there is always going to be crossover between the disciplines involved behind the scenes in a team sport environment, and there needs to be if we want everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction. In my opinion, the best S&Cs, physios, nutritionists, psychologists, etc. are those that understand the sport, but also the context in which their skill set is relevant in that team setting.
Should the S&C coach understand the sporting requirements and game model the head coach wants to implement? Absolutely. But equally and ideally, you’ll also have a head coach who understands the physical requirements for their technical drills. I don’t think S&C coaches need to step into the technical coaching realm of perception and reaction or designing skill-specific training methods. Instead, a conversation needs to happen first on why that skill drill needs to take place and what the physical output of that drill will be.The S&C coach is there to provide the athlete with the stimulus that the training or game doesn’t. Click To Tweet
In my opinion, the S&C coach is there to prepare the athlete for the demands of the sport, and to provide the stimulus that the training or game doesn’t provide to the athlete. If the coaches decide on drills that don’t expose the athlete to the opportunity to hit, say, max velocity, or the opportunity to hit some hard accelerations and decelerations, then that’s when the discussion around the options of other drills that may allow the exposure to these physical requirements while still hitting the technical and tactical objectives can take place. If these drills don’t exist or aren’t exactly what the technical coach is after, that’s when the S&C may step in with their drills.
If you want perception and reaction, then play the sport.
Freelap USA: What is the most underutilized wing of the physical preparation field that you think will become more standard practice in the next 10 years (such as sport psych, workloads, etc.)?
Aiden Oakley: I think we have seen the multidisciplinary team being embraced more and more each year (or at least becoming more prevalent with the growth of social media). Obviously, some countries or sports do it better than others. I don’t think any of these disciplines are underutilized as such. I think the use of each discipline and the impact they each have will vary from sport to sport based on the requirements of the sport, but also with the sport based on what the technical coach requires.
The biggest change we may see in the field will probably be the impact each discipline has. We live in an age when information is readily available and the answers to your questions are an email away. It is how we use this information to improve the athlete, and equally how we engage with the athlete to empower them to take responsibility for their actions and use this information themselves.The goal of educating athletes is the ability to facilitate behavior change within the athlete. Click To Tweet
Athletes are likely to experience a state of information overload and ultimately information wastage. The ultimate goal of educating athletes will be the ability to facilitate behavior change within the athlete. That will require dialing in on the most important information (relevant to each athlete and their goals), and explaining why that information is important and how it will benefit them in their sport (this is really all they will care about).
Freelap USA: What are the best skills for physical preparation coaches to have to be successful, outside of actually coaching athletes?
Aiden Oakley: First and foremost, be a decent person. We are in the profession of dealing with people and if you can’t get on with other people then you won’t go far in this profession. (The profession is small enough that good and bad reputations travel far.)
You can rattle off the usual—being humble, hardworking, passionate, motivated, knowledgeable, etc.—as well as having the ability to check your ego at the door and having a personality that you can engage athletes with. It’s easier to get athletes to do things they don’t want to do if they like you and/or respect your knowledge.It’s easier to get athletes to do things if they like you and/or respect your knowledge. Click To Tweet
Being emotionally intelligent and having the ability to influence behavior change will get you a long way.
Freelap USA: What are some ways that career burnout in physical preparation can be avoided?
Aiden Oakley: Find a role/sport/boss that you enjoy working in/with.
Remember: It’s a job at the end of the day and life exists outside of it. Get a hobby, spend time with your partner/family, switch off.If you spend 2x as long as other coaches to do the same job, it’s not the grind—it’s inefficiency. Click To Tweet
If you are spending twice as long as I am to do the same job, it’s not part of the grind—it’s being inefficient. Don’t spend a minute more in the building than you need to (but make sure what you need to do is done). Sure, there will be long days in sport, but on the shorter days finish up and leave. No one is giving out medals for coaches getting burnt out or sick just as they don’t give out medals for coming in last.
Work smarter not harder!