The first international CPD trip I took was to Sydney in 2017. I have since gone on a number of visits which I will write about in future posts, but I consider myself extremely lucky to have had opportunities to do so.
I always reflected deeply on the content I consumed (people I spent time with, conversations I had), and it has been the foundation of a lot of the work I have done in Hong Kong. One thing that stimulated a lot of thought in my own head was an interview question I was asked one time, which I didn't answer well. The question was "Of all the places you've been, what has been the best?"
It was an extremely difficult question, as every time I returned from a trip, I would think to myself "that's the best CPD trip I've ever done." So picking out one trip, or one element of a trip I had completed would be an injustice to all of the others. But perhaps one thing I should have highlighted (and this may have had a positive impact on the result of that interview), was that each trip had it's own purpose given the stage I was at in my career at the time. I wasn't just travelling to various cities for sightseeing visits (although the sights were pretty spectacular - see below!).
This post will discuss my 2017 trip to Sydney - why I went and what I took from it. It seems a long time ago, and if I went on the exact same trip again, I would no doubt take many different things from the people I met and programs I engaged with. But my learnings were probably representative of where I was as a practitioner back then, and my take homes served a huge benefit for my growth at the time.
What brought me to Sydney?
My situation at the time I went to Sydney (March 2017) was that I was in the middle of my intern year at the Hong Kong Rugby Union. There was a sports scientist role coming up in Hong Kong in May, so I wanted to use this trip to get a greater insight into load monitoring and specifically the use of GPS in team sports. The main reason for travelling to Sydney was to complete an Immersion program (1 week full exposure) at the GWS Giants AFL club. The previous August, I had interviewed with David Joyce, Lachlan Wilmot and Andrew Bahnert to be one their next interns for their season-long internship program. I did not land that role, but David Joyce (someone who I had met 2 years previously in Perth, WA when he was Head of Performance for Western Force) rang me and offered me the opportunity to come out to Sydney to complete their Immersion program.
Sydney Opera House.
The time I spent at the Giants was an incredible insight to a top level backroom team. It was extremely encouraging to see how much can be done in a relatively short space of time as the first competitive season for the GWS Giants was in 2012 (< 5 years previously). While it was always unlikely that we would be as well resourced as the backroom team at the Giants, their level of resourcefulness was something we could aspire to.
Not alone was it a hugely beneficial week from a professional point of view to see outstanding practitioners do their thing, but it was also a fantastic week personally as the place was full of outstanding people (staff and players). From a professional point of view there were 3 areas that I took a lot from in particular:
Strength and Power
This area was headed up by Lachlan Wilmot (who has since co-created on to Athletes Authority (@athletesauthority on Instagram) in Sydney via Paramatta Eels). Our weight room changed for the better as a result of seeing the weight room at the GWS Giants. One of the most valuable things that I took was the use of an app to streamline all programming. This app was called TeamBuildr and it is something we subsequently subscribed to in Hong Kong. At the GWS facility, there were 3 laptops/ipads set up for players to access their program and record their session. This cut out the paper trail of printed programs (something we were doing at the time in Hong Kong) and created a much cleaner and more efficient environment.
The coaches had created a table for each player of idealistic workloads to allow players to regulate their training intensities based on how they were feeling. 1) Performance Zone (this was the target when players felt fresh), 2) Short-term Maintenance Zone (the minimum players should be aiming for) and 3) Red Zone (players should aim to spend little to no time here).
Return to Play
This area was run by Mick Byers (S&C coach) and Luke Heath (physio). Again, this was a great experience, watching two people working together to achieve optimal results. The first thing I noted (like the weight room) was the system they had in place to program and design sessions for their players. An added advantage to having a clear and simple system was that players could manage their own session, including timings and rest periods, and this frees coaches up to coach the player's movement.
This was supplemented by the use of GPS monitoring. One rule that they had was that all players must hit 90% of max speed before leaving the rehab program.
Another small detail around their training process was that players must come to a complete stop in an athletic stance at the end of each shuttle run they do. This ensure that players are building their deceleration capacity even when they are moving at 50% of their maximum intensity.
This was the primary reason for my visit - to get an insight into Sports Science practices at an elite organisation. Andrew Bahnert was the head of fitness and conditioning, and was assisted by James McBrien as head of data analytics, who both worked closely together.
Monitoring training is a multi-faceted area, and the Giants used a combination of internal loads (HR), external loads (GPS) and a global measure (RPE). The combination of all three along with critical coaching eyes led to a complete picture on player monitoring. Regarding GPS metrics, there was no one magic metric (there never is), but rather it was a combination of metrics to paint a colourful picture of what the backroom team are dealing with.
In terms of the conditioning philosophy used at the Giants, one thing that stood out for me was training with a high neuromuscular demands was at the tart of the week when players were fresh, to more metabolically demanding later in the week. This was the general philosophy adopted during pre-season, with Saturday being a mixed metabolic demands session, similar to a game. The in season philosophy was simple: players must recover from the previous game, overload to ensure detraining is not occurring, and taper leading into the following game.
Bondi Beach, from the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk. I am not sure if there is a cooler place on the planet!
What else went on in Sydney?
Part of the upcoming role that I was planning to apply for was Athletic Development Coach for the Podium program (7s Rugby Academy for players aged 15-17). Therefore I wanted to spend time in a development setting while in Sydney, and fortunately I got to visit two schools - Newington College and Endeavour Sports High Schools.
The Head of Athletic Development at Newington College was Nathan Parnham. Nathan was great in helping me understand the needs and demands placed on school kids, and how this affects their training capacity. For example, Nathan mentioned he regularly got approached by sports science load monitoring companies, but from a player's perspective, if Nathan was to ask players to fill in RPE or wellness on an app, it would almost feel like homework, and players could potentially come to resent the training process.
Matt Jay was Head of Athletic Development in Endeavour Sports High. Matt had just returned from working in EXOS China with the Chinese Olympic Committee and it was great to compare stories as someone who was starting out in their "expat" journey. Matt was extremely helpful in pointing me in the right direction to develop a Strength and Conditioning curriculum for our Podium program, and was willing to share valuable resources to assist me in doing so.
What did this mean for us in Hong Kong?
I presented back to our backroom team (coaches and support staff) - see slides attached below. One slide I shared existed as a roadmap for our program (on performance side) over the coming months and years, and it gave us a target as to what we wanted to achieve and the level we wanted to get to.
Personally, upon returning to Hong Kong, I worked hard to implement as much of what I learned as I could. Ultimately, this trip helped me land the role, and that is where I have been since (4 years into the role now, with various progressions along the way). Still to this day, some of the things I took from this trip guide me, and I am grateful to all of the people who took time to speak with me.