by Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS, RSCC*D and Thadeus Jackson, CSCS, RSCC*D
Coaching Podcast July 2021
Thadeus Jackson, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Green Bay Packers National Football League (NFL) team, talks to the NSCA Coaching an...
Thadeus Jackson, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Green Bay Packers National Football League (NFL) team, talks to the NSCA Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager, Eric McMahon, about the importance of a support system in your career. Topics under discussion include the dynamics of working with professional athletes and how strategic data collection can make your organization better. Find Thadeus on LinkedIn: Thadeus Jackson | Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs
Thadeus Jackson, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Green Bay Packers National Football League (NFL) team, talks to the NSCA Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager, Eric McMahon, about the importance of a support system in your career. Topics under discussion include the dynamics of working with professional athletes and how strategic data collection can make your organization better.
“If you're going through things, call us. Ask him what do you recommend if you got a situation or problem going on. If you were trying to do some things different, what is your philosophy and your beliefs on that. So I think that, overall, everybody can help everybody in this business. And it can just only make things better. Like I said, develop those relationships, make things better, and just keep expanding.” 9:28
“So have some good foundational principles from a training perspective and from just more administrative perspective That you hold your hat on. And keep in mind those things may change. You may get a different job. You may go down a different avenue. Those things may change some time.” 11:44
“You got to have balance in life. You can't be all work, work, work, work, work, work, work. And you got to get yourself time, some rest time, recovery. We tell the players that. We all know that. You gotta get some adequate rest, recharge, and recovery. So I think that goes with the profession as well.” 15:43
[00:00:00.82] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast, episode 106.
[00:00:05.44] So I have some good foundational principles from a training perspective and from just a more administrative perspective that you hold your hat on. Keep in mind those things may change. You may get a different job. You may go down different avenues. Those things may change some time.
[00:00:21.19] This is the NSCA's Coaching Podcast where we talk to strength and conditioning coaches about what you really need to know but probably didn't learn in school. There's strength and conditioning, and then there's everything else.
[00:00:32.18] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast. I'm Eric McMahon and today we're joined by Thadeus Jackson, an assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Green Bay Packers. Thad, welcome, man.
[00:00:43.60] Thanks, Eric. Thanks for having me, man. I'm glad you invited me. We finally got this set up.
[00:00:49.42] Yeah, for sure, man. Thad and I connected back at the, I think it was the 2019 Coaches Conference in Indianapolis. And we ran into each other in the exhibit hall and stayed in touch ever since. And, yeah, just been really good connecting over the past couple of years, man.
[00:01:11.38] It's been real good, man, real good.
[00:01:13.45] So just want to give you a chance to share your story. How did you get into the field of strength and conditioning? And tell us a little bit about your path.
[00:01:21.33] OK, well, I got a background in athletic training. I was an athletic training student, which I started at Hinds Community College and transferred from Hinds to University of Alabama. And while I was at University of Alabama, I also was fortunate and blessed to get an internship with the New England Patriots in 2003 as an athletic-training intern. And came back after that was up, that whole training camp and continued athletic training. And I had a semester left of school. And at the time, my exercise fitness teacher, Dr. Mike Elosia.
[00:02:02.58] He was also a doctoral student, and he was working as an intern in the weight room at the University of Alabama. He invited me over to the weight room, and I met Kent Johnston. And Coach Johnston was working out, and Mike introduced me to him. And I just told him I wanted to do what he's doing. And he was like be here tomorrow at 6:30. I was there at 6:15, and the rest was history. So I started doing strength conditioning. And I saw myself saying yes I can make a career out of this. It was nothing negative about athletic training or anything. I just had a semester left of school. And I just wanted to volunteer in the weight room. And I eventually got hired at University of Alabama.
[00:02:46.65] And I've worked at a different sports there. But the main sport I worked was football. But I also work with basketball, softball, swimming and diving, track and field. And that's kind of it, man. I've worked at Alabama. I worked at Hinds Community College as a head strength conditioning coach. I also worked in the private sector, Young Champions academy in Waco, Texas. And I've been here, going on my 12th year, in Green Bay. So I'm very thankful. Been some good places, and I'm very thankful for the opportunity the individuals that helped me get to where I am and give me an opportunity to help work with them. And the individual that hired me as well.
[00:03:29.73] Yeah, you guys had a great season last year. Came up a little short at the end there. I was pulling for you guys. Speak a little bit to-- You been a couple of places. What's it like working in the NFL? What's the dynamic of the staff and-- Yeah, just share a little bit of that with us.
[00:03:48.07] Yeah, just over the years I think the number one thing, NFL or where every you at, is the people. You got to make sure you get the right fit, right people. You've got to get somebody that's going to support you and be with you through thick and thin. That's the biggest thing to me. Look at foundation principle. That's the biggest thing to me what I look at. Or just what I've seen over the years and develop those relationships. And where you're weak at you need to get somebody that's their strength. And so you guys can help guide each other. Because at the end of the day, you know you got one ultimate goal. And we know the ultimate goal is to achieve. And that's the biggest things I would definitely see at in that nature.
[00:04:38.37] And as you know in this role I get the opportunity to join a few NFL meetings with all you guys And to hear some of the veteran coaches, Mike Wojcik and Jerry Palmieri, and just hearing them speak with a passion to their experience that they've brought to this profession over the years. That relationship element, I think Mike Wojcik called it, the weight room a sanctuary for these players to have a place out of the limelight that they can be themselves. And it truly is more than just sets and reps and exercises and what we're doing from a training standpoint.
[00:05:24.08] It goes deeper than that. And so I think your point on relationships, that's really valuable. And I know that's come through just in my being kind of a newcomer to some of those conversations. That comes through loud and clear with you guys. You guys are a tight knit group, very welcoming group, to knowledge and education and open minded about what's going to help us professionally, what's going to help our players get better. And I want to ask you about that. You have your bachelor's degree. You have your master's degree. You're getting your doctoral degree. Education is obviously important to you. Speak to that value of pursuing higher education for strength and conditioning coaches and just what that provides us in this profession.
[00:06:08.45] Over the years, I just look at it like-- The reason I'm getting my doctorate is I didn't really have the management side of things. I'm in the United States Sports Academy and I'm getting my doctorate in sports management with an emphasis in the exercise field. And my ultimate goal was really to learn the management side of things, how things operate in sports. And just as I get older, that was a goal personally of mine. And so I started pursuing it. And I just think there's always room for improvement. I'll never get complacent. And if there's some guys out there that want to pursue it, go for it and try it. But it's never easy to go and do those things. But it takes time to do those. So I chip away at a little bit here, and a little bit there with it.
[00:07:01.45] But I think education is a good key. If you take those educational tools and also you keep developing your relationships, good things can happen with that. This industry can be very beneficial for you if you put it into work, and, like I said, get the educational part of it. I think the NSCA, in the years now, might require you to have your master's or even take the certification if we're going down that road. Am I correct with that?
[00:07:29.60] We're working with accreditation for the CSCS, and so it will be a bachelor's requirement. But it's going to be educational accreditation, which means certain academic programs will make you eligible for the CSCS exam, similar to some other professions that are out there. So it's all about raising those standards and standards for the profession not just for the test. No, I think it's great you recognize that. And, Thad, you're on the RSCC coaching task force. You're someone I rely on for feedback and input throughout the year. And that's really valuable. So I just want to say thanks for being a part of that. And it really speaks to the value of volunteerism within the NSCA community and putting yourself out there in a way to contribute.
[00:08:23.20] And one of the terms that comes to light is we talk about the NSCA community as a whole. That's how we ran into each other a couple of years ago. Just kind of wait, just in the exhibit hall. Speak to the value of us as a strength conditioning community, whether that be here in the US or globally and just how valuable that is to you as a professional.
[00:08:44.68] The biggest thing I like about this is just try to help individuals. Like some individuals that came along, Kent Johnston helped me, Coach Terry Jones, a senior, Scott Cochran, Mark Cravotta, and Chris Giese. Those guys have played an important aspect to get me to where I am today. And I'll always be grateful for that. But those individuals they helped me. And so I always just think about it, develop relationships and help other people. It's not a business where everybody knows everything. We're always here to help individuals.
[00:09:26.20] A certain individual may have a different aspect. If you're going through things, call us. Ask him what do you recommend if you got a situation or problem going on. If you were trying to do some things different, what is your philosophy and your beliefs on that. So I think that, overall, everybody can help everybody in this business. And it can just only make things better. Like I said, develop those relationships, make things better, and just keep expanding.
[00:09:54.52] Mentorship and giving back, remembering where we started. And I think all of us uncovered a passion for this field through our athletic experience in some way or just being exposed to the field of strength and conditioning. But it took help, and it took support. And being able to give that back to young coaches-- We have a lot of young coaches that listen to this podcast. I want to ask you a couple of questions here. What makes a strength and conditioning coach successful? You've already spoke to relationships. You can dive into that a little bit more. But what makes a strength and conditioning coach successful from a perspective of career advancement and just being a great professional?
[00:10:44.54] The biggest thing is, as I stated earlier, surround yourself with the right people. That's far and foremost-- It's vital. Become world knowledgeable about the profession. Always be prepared. Just having a plan. And just also understand that those plans could change. So with that being said, you got to be adaptable. Communicate real well with your staff, people you meet, networking, and also communicate with your athletes or your players. That's key as well. I always want to have a good coaching environment that you're in. Have a good coaching environment that's involved and be absorbable as a sponge and take things in also as well.
[00:11:33.61] I pride myself on taking constructive criticism. Because no matter who we are, It's life. You've got to learn, you've got to grow and do all those things as well. So have some good foundational principles from a training perspective and from just more administrative perspective That you hold your hat on. And keep in mind those things may change. You may get a different job. You may go down a different avenue. Those things may change some time. You might have to change them up. Develop trust. Develop trust. That's coach to coach, coach to a player, player to coach. Those things are vital when you're doing in those areas.
[00:12:15.52] Just to have good energy, have execution. And that's important as well with that. So learn how to handle your emotions. We're a strength coach. Sometimes we can get ooh, you know, in certain situations. If you're in a leadership role, you got to remain calm. You got to think things through. You channel those emotions and put them in the right way. Because you don't want to sometimes go off the handle, and you got to go back and handle it a different way. So those are some key things I look at. And last but not least, you just continue to educate yourself and put pride and personal growth and also put pride in empowering others. I think those go hand in hand.
[00:13:01.19] Yeah, man, that's awesome. You spoke to non-weight-room skills that are important for strength coaches. Obviously, the weight-room skills and just what we're doing specifically with our athletes in our field. And you also mentioned that your perspective might change over the course of your career. And that's something I think as young coaches we don't always realize is that we get married to a philosophy or a thought process. And it might be a new job. It might be a new head coach. It might be a new-- A lot can change real quick.
[00:13:37.73] That's why I said that. Mike Tyson say, everybody got a plan to they get punched in the face.
[00:13:45.20] And hopefully in strength and conditioning we're not getting punched in the face too much.
[00:13:48.80] No, but you know what I mean. Things more from change.
[00:13:53.15] No, but change is inevitable, man. And I want to ask you on the personal and family side now. How does family impact your effectiveness as a coach? How does it impact your thought process towards the coaching profession? Speak to family a little bit.
[00:14:12.86] Well, I recently got married in 2019. So I'm very thankful for my wife. And my wife has been very supportive of my profession. And I'm very thankful for that. So I would just say the biggest thing is having somebody support you in that, understanding what's going on, understanding your hours, knowing that it's a demand that come with this. And also it's a chapter that you've got to be willing to ride all the way with it. I've been doing this for 20 something years now if you include athletic training and strength conditioning. And it's been good. I'm focused on making a career out of this however long I can. But like I said, things morph and change. But you got to have that support.
[00:15:09.25] Sometimes when you have long day a work you want to get home and relax and decompress and just spend time with the family. That gives you balance. I think over the years and once I recently got married, it gives you balance. It gives you balance. It gives you refresheness as well. Clear your mind, clear your thoughts, focus on wife. If you got kids, spend some time with them. Reflect with those individuals. And then get ready to go back to the drawing board again and see where you can go. So I think it gives a good balance overall. You got to have balance in life. You can't be all work, work, work, work, work, work, work. And you got to get yourself time, some rest time, recovery. We tell the players that. We all know that. You gotta get some adequate rest, recharge, and recovery. So I think that goes with the profession as well.
[00:16:02.44] Yeah, man. Taking our own advice that can be hard at times.
[00:16:07.99] Oh, yeah.
[00:16:08.50] No, that's a real thing. That's a real thing for strength coaches working those long days and telling the athletes to make sure they're getting enough recovery and putting recovery practices in place. That's a really tougher area of our field to navigate, just the professional pressure we feel in our roles at times to serve our athletes and do anything and everything we can to support them. But we have to support ourselves, too. So that was really great, man.
[00:16:42.34] Thank you.
[00:16:43.06] I want to ask you about some of the newer things that have maybe happened in the field, technology and maybe just some of the training methods that we're using today that weren't around in the past. What's the role of technology? How much of that are you using with your NFL players in the weight room or collaboration with the game monitoring that goes on?
[00:17:10.16] Well, over the years, things have morphed and changed. And I'm pretty sure a lot of individuals know that that's been in this awhile. And the biggest things is the sports science and data tracking. And it's just where we've gone. And a lot of those tools, if you use those tools the right way, they can be great assets for you. The biggest thing I think, over the years, is having a plan in place. Don't just do something just because this particular team is doing it or this particular profession is doing it. I think that you have something in place.
[00:17:48.29] Have somebody research it. You research it yourself. You sit down as a staff, you talk it over. How can this make us better? How could this make a player better or athlete? How can this make our team better overall? How can this make our organization better? And that's, I think, where if you can find those things and find the positives and the pluses in there, that's where you go down that street and you go down that avenue. But at the same time, you have to make sure you do it in an organized and professional manner when you add those new tools into your program with that. You've got to be prepared. Have a plan and always be prepared as I said earlier with those things. Of course we know that the NFL's used data tracking. It's I think personally it's good. I think it's how you use those things. It's the biggest asset to me. And that's, overall, the biggest key with it.
[00:18:45.86] Yeah, the onboarding process with new technology where there's an onboarding for staff to learn the new gadgets and software. And then there's onboarding for athletes and the players who need to buy in or, in some cases, just know how to manage the iPad or the equipment or whatever it is you're using. So there's that element to it and--
[00:19:11.39] A lot of them can manage it, too, because they're managed on their phone. Everybody's got that phone in their hand. And like I said, it's good, but you don't want to oversaturate the athlete. You don't want to oversaturate the to where it's more of a stressor for them to do certain things. I think that's where you have to draw the line. If there's more things nagging them or is it more you getting something out them that's going to be very beneficial for them. I think that's good to have a good balance between those things.
[00:19:47.54] And that process that you mentioned is really important because something that might seem very simple, filling out a survey every day or plugging into an iPad or a piece of equipment to perform your workout, that can actually become pretty tedious when you're looking at the practice schedule or rushing in there to get your quick workout just in the context of the day. So you have to think big picture and know how the work day flows. And that's one area that you can't really find in a research paper. Strength coaches really have the pulse on that.
[00:20:28.50] Especially if you're dealing with colleges. You got 90 guys, 100 guys at one time, or training camp. You got 90 guys and it's-- Which I agree with you. It can be tedious sometimes.
[00:20:44.16] So that's one thing. I want to ask you a football question now. I'm not on your level, man. But I played college football and I remember being on a team with 100 guys. And one of the areas in our field right now that's gaining so much traction is communication and soft skills and relationships. That looks a lot different when you have 100 people on a team versus 10 or 15 or even 20. How hard is that to build relationships? You can speak to the NFL or working at the college level when you're dealing at those numbers. And what role does the strength coach play in that?
[00:21:24.72] Well, I think when you're in a leadership role that's a priority regardless. It comes with your job. That's important. You may not spend all the time with this one particular guy but, regardless, you need to check on this guy. You need to communicate. How are you doing? Anything we need to change or anything we need to work better at? These are those natures because as I said earlier trust, player to coach, coach to player, that's vital. The better you develop that trust with your player or your staff the more you bond, the more you grow together as a unit, the more I think good things can happen with that.
[00:22:10.69] The players they trust you. They believe in what you're doing. They see the results. They're going to work hard. They will want to do it. And that's vital with that. You got to communicate with them. I've always tried to take this personally as a goal with this. If you're a high-profile athlete, if you're a walk on, if you're a practice squad, one of my personal beliefs is try to communicate with you, try to know what's going on. If you got any questions about the lift, If you need something changed or altered, communicate with them. I think that goes a long way with players. I think they see that. They acknowledge it. And they respect it. That's key importance in this business with that.
[00:23:00.82] I understand you might have some guys that are starters and that are playing at a high-profile level, and you're depending on them more. And you might have to work with them at times more. I get it. I understand the business. But at the same time, we can't forget about those guys that are on the scout team, on the practice squad. We've got to make sure we take care of those guys as well, too.
[00:23:24.76] That's awesome, man. No, I think that's a great thought process because even on a large team, you've got to have those conversations. I'll tell a quick story of an intern I had working in the minor leagues of professional baseball. I can't remember how early it was, but it was something along the lines of how many players do we work with every day? And he was thinking just of the workouts himself. And I remember thinking, well I talked to all 25 of them every day. I mean, we're here. We were in passing. We're out on the field checking in. Might be in the kitchen. I mean, you're always connecting and having conversations.
[00:24:14.38] And that relates back to what we do in the weight room. And what we do in the weight room relates back to what we're doing in the kitchen or what we're doing out on the field and trying to keep it going both ways. So it's almost a two way street there, but those relationships they never really end. They don't end when the athlete leaves the weight room, and they don't live just in the weight room. Yeah, man, you kind of connected with me when you were saying that because I think it's something that we have to think about how we spread ourselves thin in this profession at times.
[00:24:51.65] But that's because we care. And we care because we know at the core of it all the athlete is complex. And we need to get to know those individual athletes to be successful with them. Yeah, man, it's a great perspective for sure.
[00:25:07.41] You're correct, man. Just to add on to that you can't-- I've learned over the years you can't approach every person the same. And that's where your relationship come in with that person. Some people can take a little bit more heat when you get home and some can't. So you got to understand what kind of individual you're dealing with first and progress from there. That's what I've always tried to pride myself on, get to know that person and get to know that athlete as a person and go from there with that.
[00:25:42.91] So I think a lot of times we think of the NFL and players in the NFL as sort of the pinnacle of athleticism in our field. And I think as strength coaches we celebrate that a lot. How much strength development is happening at the NFL level maybe with younger players versus just sort of maintaining what these guys already do well? What are some of the areas your programs are based on just given a different position types and athletes you have?
[00:26:14.34] Well, just over the years what I've seen just being at this level-- It's real well when you see guys come from programs on the collegiate level that are properly know how to do the proper lifts. That's a great plus. And even if the guys don't, you can't get down because this guy may have went to a different school, and I compare it to them. That doesn't matter. You take your time and you teach him. But the big thing if you look at it from a-- Just say if a guy comes in from the combine playing football, combined trained, and all the way up to the draft to us, that's a stressful year for those guys.
[00:27:01.60] They don't really have too much downtime. So the biggest thing is what I have seen over years is just try to educate them on the difference from the professional level to this level. They get in new place, new things thrown at them, and I think you just feed them piece by piece. You can't throw everything at them at one time. They're working on a particular thing. You may just focus on this today. From ground zero, for example, they may just come roll and stretch. Believe it or not some guys may not have that experience with that properly learn how to roll and stretch. After that, example can be just teaching them what a basic movement is, lower body. What a basic squat is, goblet squat, or things of that nature.
[00:27:51.86] You know how to properly do it. And don't get me wrong. I'm speaking from ground zero of individuals who don't know how to properly do things the right way. But you progress them from there. And some guys, like I said earlier, hit the ground running. Over the years as guys get older, dealing with older athletes, I honestly don't think they need to be stressed as much. They don't need to stress continuously all the time. Because older you get, the longer it takes for your body to recover with the stress and soreness.
[00:28:24.62] Our biggest thing is that as the guys get older we try to keep intensity, educate them on keep you intensity up and keep moving a little bit. You don't have to make this a whole three-hour workout, things of that nature. Especially when we get in season, come in get your lift in, get in get out, and-- Because, like I said, rest and recovery is just as vital. Because we know that the ultimate goal is to perform at a high level on Sunday. And that's what this is about, being available to practice at a high level and also being able to perform at a high level on the competition day.
[00:29:01.34] And that's exciting. I look at it as simple as that. Our job is to make sure we do everything we can, along with the other parts of this medical staff, other people along the way to help this goal, and help guys to be available. That's the ultimate goal, regardless, Get them to be available. You're available for practice. You're available for the game. We want you to get your opportunity to perform at a high level. And that's how careers simply can go. They learn and grow and move on from there.
[00:29:34.96] You have a great staff there in Green Bay. And I've connected with Chris Gizzi a few times, spoke at our national conference as a keynote. And, yeah, I'm glad you kind of mentioned how important it is to have that collaborative work environment with all the different professionals. I think that's so vital. And that's the topic he spoke on at national. And I just want to give everybody an opportunity to connect with you. What's the best way for our listeners to get in touch?
[00:30:08.65] Well, I am on LinkedIn. So guys can connect with me on LinkedIn. My name Thadeus Jackson, Jackson just like it is. And I have a personal email. Guys can, male and female individuals, can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. That's email@example.com.
[00:30:36.95] Thaddeus Jackson, assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Green Bay Packers, always enjoy connecting with you, man. So really appreciate having you on.
[00:30:46.28] Thank you, man. I enjoyed it. I look forward to doing it in the future with you guys.
[00:30:50.90] You got it, man. To our listeners thanks for tuning in. And we'd also like to thank Sorinex Exercise Equipment. We appreciate their support. From the NSCA, thank you for listening to the NSCA Coaching Podcast. We serve you the coaching community. So follow, subscribe, and download for future episodes. We look forward to connecting with you again soon and hope you'll join us at an upcoming NSCA event or in one of our special interest groups. For more information, go to NSCA.com.
[00:31:20.78] This was the NSCA's Coaching Podcast. The National Strength and Conditioning Association was founded in 1978 by strength and conditioning coaches to share information, resources, and help advance the profession. Serving coaches for over 40 years, the NSCA is the trusted source for strength and conditioning professionals. Be sure to join us next time.
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