NSCA’s Coaching Podcast, Episode 109: Joseph Denk

by Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS, RSCC*D and Joseph Denk, MS, CSCS
Coaching Podcast September 2021

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Joe Denk, Applied Sport Scientist and Strength and Conditioning Coach for Naval Special Warfare, talks to the NSCA Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager, Eric McMahon, about immediate and actionable sports science data for tactical athletes. Topics under discussion include the dynamic of working with tactical athletes, how resiliency and recovery are connected, and how technology has enabled coaches the ability to implement training programs effectively from a distance.

Find Joe via Email: denkjc@gmail.com| Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs

Show Notes

“And I wanted to find a way to manage our measures, so to speak, to make data actionable in real-time. So the guys I'm coaching, how can I use the information and the analytics we're collecting to immediately help them and help me make better decisions as a coach.” 3:39

“So I came up with a system that allows us to combine some wellness data with some physiological readiness data to merge it together and to come up with the thresholds that we could deliver through an athlete management system so that they could actually get the recommendation in real-time on their application on their phone.” 4:07

“You don't have to generally tell these guys to work harder. You're often acting as a governor trying to help them preserve as much of that resiliency. Because our goal in tactical strength and conditioning is long term sustainment.” 8:38

“For us, we might be trying to get somebody to sustain high performance for 10, 15, 20, 25 years. And that's way different than what I think a lot of traditional team sport coaches are dealing with.” 8:59

“Still do something, still train, still have a meaningful training session where we can accomplish something and get the right stimulus we're looking for, but train appropriately.” 16:55

“. The end user themselves, the military member, needs to be able to have some ownership of his data so that he can make better behavioral changes. If we can show guys their own information, show guys their own data, I'm a firm believer guys will make better decisions. They'll drink less, they'll sleep more, they'll prioritize recovery to your point, or because they want to see better data trends. They're very excited about looking at their own information and their own analytics so we can create awareness around that.” 20:49

Transcript

[00:00:00.00] [MUSIC PLAYING]

[00:00:00.72] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast Episode 109.

[00:00:05.01] I wanted to find a way to manage our measures, so to speak, to make data actionable in real-time. So the guys I'm coaching, how can I use the information and the analytics we're collecting to immediately help them and help me make better decisions as a coach?

[00:00:20.49] 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.

[00:00:31.12] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast. I'm Eric McMahon. Today's episode is about sports science and tactical strength and conditioning. We are joined by Joseph Denk, an applied sports scientist and strength conditioning coach working with Naval Special Warfare over the last seven years.

[00:00:46.08] Most recently, he was a speaker at the NSCA's Annual Tactical Training in Norfolk, Virginia. Joe, welcome.

[00:00:53.37] Thanks for having me on, Eric.

[00:00:54.93] One of my favorite things about being the podcast host here is that I get to connect with coaches who have different backgrounds than I have coming from sport. You have an extensive background in tactical strength and conditioning. If you would, tell us your path into the field. What led you into coaching and sports science?

[00:01:13.27] I think my path is a little bit atypical. It's probably not the usual one that you'd find for a strength and conditioning coach, certainly. I enlisted in the military after my senior year in high school right after 9/11. And I wound up serving five years in the military.

[00:01:27.79] And one of my duties that I had when I was in the military was I was what was called a physical readiness coordinator, or a PRT coordinator. So I involved helping to help train guys, help to administer the annual, semi-annual physical readiness test, and all of that.

[00:01:43.18] And I was confused. I was perplexed by the idea of why my scores were good and why, when I was trying to help a fellow service member, I could get some guys to perform better and other guys not to perform better, and why that was all happening. I had no idea at the time that exercise science or strength and conditioning even existed as a field.

[00:02:03.23] And it really sparked my interest into trying to understand the why and the how behind how you help someone perform physically. And then I discovered there was a science to it and an entire career profession.

[00:02:15.10] So after I got out of the military, after five years, I went and got my undergraduate degree in kinesiology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And then from there, I went on to the University of Georgia where I got my master's in exercise science with an emphasis on strength and conditioning.

[00:02:31.94] And then I found my way into an opportunity in Norfolk actually working at the Joint Forces Staff College, leading a strength and conditioning program called Shape, which was the Sustained Health and Performance Endeavor. I did that for about two and 1/2 years and got to work as a strength conditioning coach working with the military.

[00:02:50.14] And that's really where my passion aligned with my academic interest from my previous part of my life too. So I got to combine my military experience with my love for strength and conditioning. And I've just stayed in the tactical field ever since.

[00:03:03.31] That's great. I connected with that that you didn't even really know strength conditioning was a viable career path. And then most recently, you spoke at Tactical Annual Training, so a national conference in the field of strength and conditioning for tactical athletes.

[00:03:18.34] For anyone that missed that event, what was your topic and some of the areas you talked about?

[00:03:23.80] So the title of the presentation was Immediate and Actionable-- applying an autoregulatory training and recovery system to the tactical community. And what really started the whole passion to give that talk was, I'm an applied sports scientist right now. I also do a hat as a strength conditioning coach.

[00:03:39.91] And I wanted to find a way to manage our measures, so to speak, to make data actionable in real-time. So the guys I'm coaching, how can I use the information and the analytics we're collecting to immediately help them and help me make better decisions as a coach.

[00:03:55.73] So I think in the past, we've always seen, like, sports science more research-based and things like that, more long-term studies. I wanted to apply it in real-time and make it something that I could actually use with my guys.

[00:04:07.15] So I came up with a system that allows us to combine some wellness data with some physiological readiness data to merge it together and to come up with the thresholds that we could deliver through an athlete management system so that they could actually get the recommendation in real-time on their application on their phone. And then I as a strength coach have various workout options programmed in automatically for their goals. And they just pick the intensity threshold that matches the workouts I've already programmed as a coach.

[00:04:35.57] So it's a great way to marry the idea of applying autoregulatory intensity prescription via training, along with autoregulatory recovery principles in real-time. So we weren't having to go home and look and scrub through data. Guys put their information in. And, within seconds, they literally have a recommendation for training or recovery.

[00:04:55.48] And it's been great. And I just wanted to share that principle with everybody so that the community can maybe learn from it and find new adaptations, new innovations, off of it.

[00:05:04.32] I think we talk about these things often related to sport. But a lot of these concepts are making their way in in the same way that we apply them to sport, but making their way into the tactical community.

[00:05:20.18] I want to ask you about the growth of strength and conditioning positions in the military. A lot of the coaches who listen work in sport. What are some of the key differences and challenges you see working with tactical athletes?

[00:05:34.49] Well, to start with-- the idea of the field as a whole. So I've been in the field now for almost 10 years. It's really expanded and grown tremendously over that period of time. The program that I work in and is the Preservation of the Force and Family, called POFTFF

[00:05:51.50] There's other areas and opportunities that are popping up all across the DoD. The Air Force has its own programs now. The Marine Corps is rolling things out. The Army has their H2F program, which is a massive initiative. They're be hiring probably dozens, if not hundreds, of strength and conditioning coaches and other professionals in related fields.

[00:06:10.38] So the field is expanding. I think the demonstration of measures of effectiveness and return on investment and all the metrics that are needed for these government programs to work with the government are starting to be really visualized. And the concept is robust and it's sticking, and people are seeing the value. So the opportunities I think are expanding tremendously across all the different components of the armed forces.

[00:06:33.29] In terms of the biggest differences between traditional sport athletes and those in the military, I think, a lot of it comes down to the mindset of the individual and really the schedule. So in traditional sport, we have teams, we have a schedule.

[00:06:50.51] I mean, maybe the exception of last year with COVID where everything was thrown haywire, but I think that normally you know what your schedule is. You know, hey, we're competing on these days. We have these tournaments on these weeks. We have an off season, we have a peaking season, we have a competition period.

[00:07:06.23] You don't really get that in tactical. It's a lot messier. And I think that creates a lot of interesting challenges, but also opportunities for strength and conditioning that are a bit outside of the norm.

[00:07:17.48] There's also the idea, I think, that maybe this one's obvious. But in sport, guys are preparing for a game, for a competition, for peaking themselves and preparing themselves for that a chance to win a championship.

[00:07:29.90] Versus, our service members-- they're training for battle, they're training for war. It's a whole different mindset. And the stakes are different obviously. But it's a different type of person, I think, gravitates towards those environments.

[00:07:43.94] The people we have, the opportunity to work with in a tactical field, they're unbelievable Americans. They are patriotic, they're hardworking, they're diligent. Their greatest asset is their resiliency and their work ethic, so much so that it's also I think their greatest adversary.

[00:08:01.34] In that the analogy I like to use for our population is their resiliency is a double-edged sword. And I like to use the analogy of a rope. So every day they're training, they're rubbing their own rope over a rock. And when they're younger and these guys are unbelievably resilient, they can get away with all sorts of bad habits and crazy training patterns and things like that.

[00:08:22.52] And they don't even know it. Because they're so resilient, they bounce back from unbelievable stressors, total loads, just incredible what these guys can absorb. But they can sometimes create pitfalls and obstacles in their own path because they're so resilient and they work so hard.

[00:08:38.00] You don't have to generally tell these guys to work harder. You're often acting as a governor trying to help them preserve as much of that resiliency. Because our goal in tactical strength and conditioning is long term sustainment.

[00:08:49.82] Versus, you might have an athlete in team sport you're trying to get a contract out of them. You're trying to get a period of play from their freshman to senior year development, or whatnot, or trying to get somebody into the league.

[00:08:59.45] For us, we might be trying to get somebody to sustain high performance for 10, 15, 20, 25 years. And that's way different than what I think a lot of traditional team sport coaches are dealing with.

[00:09:11.18] So we often ask act as a governor. There's training age and technical age difficulties. So versus team sport athletes, guys are coming up with a greater heritage, greater technical development throughout their life. They're used to being around strength and conditioning coaches and human performance professionals.

[00:09:27.68] In our field, it's becoming more commonplace now that there's more pathways. And it's more embedded now than it was 10 years ago. But you still run into the occasional guy who's never squatted before or can't bound or can't do a plyometric correctly or can't hinge.

[00:09:44.69] And you have to coach that out of them at an older age that you'd never have to do with a normal team sport athlete. So that's different.

[00:09:50.42] There's cultural challenges as well. There's the military way of doing things, which is wonderful at times and frustrating at others.

[00:09:59.96] You probably get some of that too in team sports too with different coaches and their perspectives on things and punishments and training, but there's a lot of it in the military. But part of our job is instilling education. It's talking to these key leaders within the organization, helping to instill culture change, helping people to understand the training process, the why and the how.

[00:10:18.62] Going back to why I got in the field-- trying to impart that kind of wisdom to the military so they can understand a little bit of method to their madness and how they go about doing business. But I can't say enough about the actual military members. They're incredible to work with, they're a pleasure. There are guys that'll do anything once they buy in that you ask them to do.

[00:10:39.27] And they work. They come in every day and they train hard. And they're doing amazing things for our country. And we should be very proud of them.

[00:10:46.64] That's awesome. What a great message. And I think on the training side, it really speaks to that long-range mentality of training beyond that four-year window that we typically think of in college or someone's peak athleticism years that they can be a professional athlete.

[00:11:03.74] Well, these athletes are trained to sustain this as long as they can. This is a viable career for them. And how they move and how they function physically, that ties into their confidence and their ability to feel great at what they do.

[00:11:18.68] It is a great message about coaching in general. You talked about basically communication and teaching and educating. And no matter what level you're coaching at, that's what we do. That's what we do. We communicate and we take what we know from the strength and conditioning field and apply it to whatever given situation we find ourselves in.

[00:11:45.94] I think all coaches can find themselves in situations that they don't expect sometimes. And in a way, I was talking to one of the H2F directors a while back about a new tactical training paradigm.

[00:12:01.78] And I experienced this in professional baseball. It goes back to the traditional linear training model of the way we think or the way we're taught strength and conditioning. Well, when I got into professional sports playing games every single day, you couldn't train that way. We needed more flexible training. And that type of undulating or non-linear training models have emerged as a result of some of those realizations.

[00:12:31.99] I think in the tactical space, well, this is a new area. And it's a new set of challenges that you're taking on every single day. So I think you really included a lot there. But I think it's such a positive message.

[00:12:47.08] And you mentioned the work ethic of our soldiers and just what they bring every day. One thing that it made me think of was guys working so hard and really pushing themselves on a daily basis. How important is recovery and how do you approach recovery in your training or in just your messaging with tactical athletes?

[00:13:12.51] Recovery is huge. And recovery is the ability of the body to bounce back. It helps preserve resiliency. So if you think of resiliency as more of that genetic grit that you have, the better your recovery is the better you able to reserve that, spare that rope, so to speak, from rubbing over that rock. And I think that's huge, especially when you look at the tactical population, like we said, because we're talking about longer careers-- longer careers, much more unknown training loads.

[00:13:39.54] So another big thing with this population is, I had this conversation at a conference with some sports coaches a few years ago. Imagine, let's take football for example. We know that there's four quarters in the game, the field is 100 yards long, so many fields wide.

[00:13:54.09] You could expect to run so many plays on offense and defense unless you go into overtime. You know there's going to be a coin flip. Everybody's going to shake hands and they're going to go play.

[00:14:02.61] That's not the case in tactical. One day at a football field could be 500 yards long and you could be playing with 50 people. The next day, it could be 20 yards long in the water and you could be playing with 100.

[00:14:12.96] So the constraints of the game are changing all the time. So if you think of the challenges associated with sports and the needs analysis, it is incredibly difficult to do that in a tactical community because the constraints are always changing. They're always in flux. And you never know if you're ever going to play the game.

[00:14:29.82] Even our service members who are overseas deployed around the world, they don't know if they're going to go into combat that day. It's not like you wake up Saturday and we're like, game time's at 11:00, kickoff's at 11:00, we're going to go play. You don't have that luxury in the tactical community.

[00:14:43.51] So from our preparation point-of-view, there's a lot of general physical preparation to make sure we're well-rounded for everything. And you're right, traditional approaches to periodization really struggle in tactical. If you're a block person or a linear person, it doesn't really work. There's a lot of concurrent emphasis periodization, a lot of very flexible-- the autoregulatory system I'm doing is an example of that. That also includes recovery to your point.

[00:15:07.47] And the idea is, I believe we can look at recovery and we can measure it, whether it's through wearable devices, whether it's through wellness surveys. We can detect the symptoms of mal-recovery or maladaptation. And then we can go ahead and we could augment recovery through various modalities, nutrition, sleep, load undulation.

[00:15:26.73] And we could help to preserve that guide. And I think we could use data as our guide for that. So in the system that I talked about at TSAC, one of the things that the system does is it automatically reads the user's data and it tries to detect, are there statistical deviations that have crossed minimum thresholds that we care about as pertinent.

[00:15:45.57] And then it'll automatically provide recovery recommendations to the user. We're fortunate we have a lot of different recovery tools. and things like that. But we really emphasize the basics of the recovery hierarchy, which is sleep and nutrition and proper load management, as best as we can.

[00:16:01.26] And also, there's this idea, I think, in the field that you have to be recovered well to be able to perform well. I don't believe that. We've seen record set when guys are in the, quote, unquote, "red" all of the time. I've seen people who are unbelievably exhausted do unbelievable superhuman things while they're under-recovered.

[00:16:19.83] What I do think is the cost of doing those things while in a state of poor recovery takes a tremendous toll on your resiliency going forward. So you're going to pay the man extra when you decide to perform in the red. You might need to. Maybe you're at the world championships or maybe you're a service member who's overseas in combat potentially and you need to be unable to perform in that moment. But you're going to pay a cost for it to the right.

[00:16:44.67] So I think one of the things we can do is in our community, since we could always seem to afford to train further to the right, is pick the right days when we want to push hard, pick the days where we're primed and optimized to do that, and back off the days we're not. Still do something, still train, still have a meaningful training session where we can accomplish something and get the right stimulus we're looking for, but train appropriately.

[00:17:04.65] And I that's what the autoregulatory system does. It helps us to train up to what that person is able to digest that day from a recovery point-of-view and also from an adaptation point-of-view. And if we do that correctly, we can help preserve a guy longer.

[00:17:19.22] But we emphasize it all the time. We're fortunate to have a team that has great professionals in sleep and experts in nutrition. And we as train coaches are constantly trying to unload programs the right way and try to match it with their training schedules, which is difficult, because we don't always know what's going on.

[00:17:35.66] But we do the best we can, but we can monitor it through wearables and surveys and we can detect fatigue and we can figure out that stuff ahead of time and try to then augment recovery to facilitate a rebound faster.

[00:17:49.78] Training for the unknown, something that came to mind when you were talking. And that really lends itself to some of the sports science work that you do on the monitoring side. Sports science, analytics, how are these areas currently being applied within the tactical setting? And where do you see them going in the future?

[00:18:11.81] It's a great question, Eric. I think they're budding. And I mean, by that, I think sports science, in general, not even just in the tactical field, is where strength and conditioning was in the '70s and '80s. It's just getting going.

[00:18:24.20] People don't really know what to do with it. They know there's value there. They understand it can bring something to the team and organization. But they're not quite sure how it fits.

[00:18:32.99] And talking to a lot of friends in sport, that's the vibe I get there. And I feel like that's where we are in tactical. I'm fortunate I work in an organization that's pretty progressive and I have a boss who's super supportive and I'm able to do some things that are, I think, a little bit ahead of where some of my other counterparts are just because of the freedom to maneuver I've been granted on it.

[00:18:51.44] But I think what we're trying to do is separate to different areas of sport science. And I think it gets confused. So in my opinion, there's two different sides.

[00:19:00.11] There's the research-based sport science, which is traditionally let's test guys in the lab. Let's attach a bunch of sensors. Let's VO2 max them, like that blending of applied and exercise physiology. Long-term research comes out of that-- good measures of effectiveness, best practices, we can look at data around sleep and injuries, do predictive analytics, that kind of thing, big data, big statistics, really important stuff. That's one end.

[00:19:26.21] I think where we're making a lot of ground, I think we're doing good things there too, but it is more in the applied into real-time. I like to focus on what I call the three A's. So I like to try to make sport science available so we can actually apply it and use the data, that we can create awareness for our staff and for our end user, and that we could provide assistance.

[00:19:45.44] And what I mean by apply is we should have the data be able to be immediate and actionable. And you'll hear me say this term all the time. What I mean by that is, data that has to go into a system and be mined and pulled out four days later to make an analysis, it's useless for the short-term applied sports science perspective.

[00:20:00.71] For the long-term stuff, it's great because you could use that to run all your statistics on and run your models on. But it doesn't do anything in the meantime. So I want to find a way to apply data in the immediate.

[00:20:10.49] The other thing is awareness. So I think in any organization, in tactical, the ratio of coaches to the guys you're working with, it's not in your favor. So we need technology, we need analytics, and we need sports science, I think, to be a force multiplier. We need something that helps create more awareness around helping to manage all these different measures.

[00:20:27.81] So I need to be able to see very quickly what's happening in my entire organization, who I need to help with that day. We need our dietitian and our rehab guys to know who has injury issues, who has huge caloric expenditures, how that plays into other things like sleep and biomarkers and training loads. So we need to create awareness around these variables.

[00:20:45.99] We also need to create them around the end user. The end user themselves, the military member, needs to be able to have some ownership of his data so that he can make better behavioral changes. If we can show guys their own information, show guys their own data, I'm a firm believer guys will make better decisions. They'll drink less, they'll sleep more, they'll prioritize recovery to your point, or because they want to see better data trends. They're very excited about looking at their own information and their own analytics so we can create awareness around that.

[00:21:13.83] Another thing is assistance. So you might be working with a guy who needs some performance enhancement. He's fallen behind for some reason, or maybe he's coming back from an injury and you're trying to bridge him back. Or somebody who has a very specific goal that's just not getting done regularly.

[00:21:27.18] So I think analytics can empower us as coaches to then use that to assist in the training and recovery process of a very specific goal for those guys. And I think we could look at everything from sleep data, from physiologics, HRV, subjective surveys, all sorts of training load measures. We could put that all together and we can arrange them in a picture that really helps us to get what I term the systems analytics model. Essentially, it's just taking the general adaptation syndrome and applying analytics to it.

[00:21:58.13] And what we could do from that is we could define the total load the guys are under. We can look at the actual stimulus that they're getting from training. We can analyze how they've recovered. And then through assessment, we can look at how they adapt to the training stimulus of the load.

[00:22:12.98] And if we could do that and use those analytics, and this is what we're working on and doing every day, we could paint a better holistic picture that has all the context necessary to figure out how to help those guys, help the HP staff that's around them, and help them to meet and accomplish their training goals and objectives.

[00:22:30.27] Even on the best day, we're outnumbered as coaches in the field. And when we talk about our approach in coaching, it's always been to simplify, keep it simple. And now things are expanding and growing-- data, sports science. We don't have the choice to keep it simple forever.

[00:22:52.12] We need to expand. I really liked how you said that sports science analytics, the tools we use need to be force multipliers. They need to give us more capability within our self as coaches. That's a really powerful message. And I think it's something that is often the disconnect between the research side and the applied research side or field-based research side.

[00:23:15.97] Touching on the three A's, what a great message that is. It speaks to our capability as coaches, as sports scientists, as practitioners working with these athletes. And now there are more resources, staffing than ever before. But still, we feel that pressure of being outnumbered and trying to continue to offer more.

[00:23:42.19] I want to ask you about some of the other things, too. What are some of the non-weight room skills that you rely on heavily and working with your athletes?

[00:23:51.55] Communication. Our guys are all over the place. You've got to find different mediums to connect to the guys. Building relationships. I think is a tenet of coaching anywhere. So you have to find a way to build those relationships and build trust.

[00:24:04.97] So I think in the tactical community, one thing coaches might challenge or find challenges with is that initial trust building. You're an outsider coming into a military organization as a civilian. And these are guys who are I don't want to say they're overly guarded, but there are people who serve our country. They have dangerous jobs. They've earned the right to be there, so to speak, and you're an outsider.

[00:24:28.78] So building trust with them and building relationships, showing them why you're there, how you care, are great ways to build inroads with them so that then you can get your coaching messages that are more technical and tactical out a little bit more specifically. But I'm building relationships with the guys, finding ways to communicate.

[00:24:46.66] We talked about education earlier, trying to get the education out to the senior leaders. My boss does a phenomenal job of messaging everything we do to leadership so that they understand what's going on, so they can make better decisions. And then we could work the organization from the ground level, but also from the top down. And I think that gets better every single year.

[00:25:06.22] And you learn lessons. You're going to make mistakes in any field. We've made plenty of mistakes. I've made plenty of mistakes. But you try to learn from them, rely on your solid relationships. And once the guys know and trust you you're going to do the best for their interest there, you're in a better position to help try to make some of those cultural changes.

[00:25:24.40] The day-to-day the job, there's a lot of coaching, but there's a lot administration work if you're going to work for the military and the government, things that often don't have anything to do with coaching, which is frustrating. But you do those things. You work on those other roles because you know it's going to help the program.

[00:25:40.49] And if you're helping the program, you're helping the guys, which means you're helping the organization and the mission. So you have to wear a lot of hats, I think, if you're going to work in a tactical sector. And a lot of coaches who have come in from the sports side and weren't prepared for that, I think have struggled.

[00:25:54.88] And they have to grow and realize there's a lot of other duties and responsibilities and things like that that are going to have to happen for them to be successful in that environment that they may not have ever had to worry about as a sport coach. So there's a lot of different things that are going on outside of just coaching and just programming and just looking at analytics. If that answered your question, Eric?

[00:26:15.01] No, it's good. And one thing I do want to ask, on the technology implementation side of things, and this for a lot of athletes is very new. Does that add a layer of complexity to your communication with athletes or challenges? Or do you feel like tactical athletes are being very receptive to some of the recent advances in technology?

[00:26:35.95] For the most part, and it's like I refer to as irreversible momentum. It's like you said earlier, it's happening. We're not going to be able to roll back the clock.

[00:26:45.21] We've embraced it, me in particular. I've really embraced it because I could see the benefit to it. So if you're working with a group of guys in the coaching setting that might be in sport, you're going to have your team. In front of you. And you're going to see them when you coach them in the weight room.

[00:26:58.44] Our guys, it's not necessarily like that. The guys are training, they're off doing other things, they're not always around. So we need a medium to be able to reach out to guys. And technology has helped us with that tremendously.

[00:27:08.98] We use a mobile strength and conditioning application. I communicate daily, monthly, hundreds of times back and forth with our guys through those mediums. Text messaging-- guys text you all the time-- other communication systems, email even, just any way to stay in touch with guys to try to look at what they're doing so you can provide better feedback to actually help them perform from a physical perspective so they could do their jobs better. It's all incredibly valuable. And we've embraced technology to help us reach out and be able to speak with them on that kind of thing.

[00:27:40.50] Some of the older guys, they might not be as receptive to it, but you'd be surprised. There's some of the older guys that have rolled around with it quite well too. I think the younger generation picks it up a lot faster, to be quite honest. It's just more intuitive to them.

[00:27:51.87] But I think as a coach, and I've seen this a bunch of times, coaches come in very hesitant to embrace technology. They've done everything their own way. They have that spreadsheet going back 30 years that they've used. Maybe it's an Excel, maybe not even.

[00:28:04.62] And It's tried and true, they know it. They don't need to go back and reinvent the wheel. I've heard that a lot.

[00:28:11.37] I also think, though, that there's good things that come from progress with technology. So if we think even like in military terms, think back to the turn of the century, we had a military that was cavalry-based. It was horses pulling wagons. And we had tactics based upon horses.

[00:28:26.18] How much you had to feed horses? How far a horse can go? How many pounds of gear you could travel with them? All of our strategies based upon that.

[00:28:33.18] And then we developed mechanized infantry, armor, vehicles. And those horse generals, which were great generals, they had to do one of a couple of things-- they had to either adapt and learn how to use this new technology and new tactics, or they were probably going to get killed on the battlefield by guys who used it, or they were going to retire and move out of the way and let the younger generals move up that knew how to use armor and those types of things.

[00:28:55.74] I think we're kind of at a crossroads with technology now where it's providing extreme advantages, but it's going to take some time to learn how to use it and apply it to make sure it fits your organization in the right setting. So you need to have the right systems in place so that it's not confusing and overwhelming, that it is not being a burden on your organization. It's actually helping you.

[00:29:14.55] And some systems are better than others for that, and how you arrange those systems. They can need the right staff in place to make sure the right perspective is there with a growth mindset to adopt those things. And then you have to have the right organization where you could actually cause some of that behavioral change.

[00:29:28.44] But I think it's progressive and it's moving in the right way. It's making us better, but it's not replacing coaching. And I can't stress this enough-- technology never replaces coaching. Whether the program is delivering on an application or a whiteboard or a piece of paper or whatever it might be, the coach is still the one giving the programming. He's still the one coaching the guys, the relationships, all that is critical.

[00:29:48.81] I believe the two can coexist perfectly together. And it doesn't have to be a one or the other argument, which I've heard from a lot of guys. It's either going to be this way or it's going to be that way. My perspective is, let's blend them together. Let's unify these two things so we can get the most out of technology and the most out of coaching without pulling our hair out in the process.

[00:30:07.44] That's a great cavalry example for just the progress of technology in the military. One thing you touched on as well was technology, in most cases, is, first and foremost, a communication tool. And if we think of it as empowering the coach versus replacing the coach, that actually helps us, brings us back to being a force multiplier and allowing us to do multiple things and get more information, be more productive as coaches. I think that's such a powerful message.

[00:30:44.23] I want to ask you, you talked a little bit about coaches making their way from sport into tactical. What advice do you have for coaches who are interested in working in the military, or current students who think that tactical strength and conditioning might be a path they want to pursue?

[00:31:01.91] For one, it's a great field. Whether you decide to stay in in sport or you decide to go into tactical, you're getting an opportunity to help people, help people accomplish their goals and their dreams and their jobs. And I think that's very powerful. You get to be a servant of others. And whenever you're doing that and you're doing it for the right reasons, I think that it's just a tremendous satisfaction to get by the time you get home at the end of a long week.

[00:31:25.17] I would tell any young, aspiring tactical strength coaches out there is get as much experience as you can in college. Coach as much as you can, try to get that three to five years of coaching experience at the collegiate level. Most jobs that are going to be looking for tactical strength and conditioning coaches are going to be looking for three to five years of full-time employment as a strength coach at the collegiate and professional level.

[00:31:49.36] This is an area that you will develop your coaching skills, your mentality, your philosophy. You'll build some networks and relationships that will be really critical for your professional development and your professional career. And it allows you to really hone your skills. So those collegiate years, I think, are huge.

[00:32:05.17] So if you're in that field and you're thinking about joining over, I get calls or emails several times a month or a week, even, with coaches who want to go right from college right into a tactical setting, but they don't have the job qualifications. You need to make sure you get that core group of experience down before you're going to be eligible for some of these other jobs.

[00:32:23.37] Almost every job I know of requires a CSCS. So you're probably going to have to sit for that exam, which means you're going to need to finish your degree, at a minimum. There's other certifications as well that are accepted. It's not just the CSCS, but you're going to have to get some type of a professional strength and conditioning certification.

[00:32:39.48] But then also really, if you want to go into the field of tactical, I think it's important to consider why you want to go into it. Me, as a veteran, it is unbelievably rewarding to be able to go and give back to the military and to help that community who is going and helping the country all the time.

[00:32:54.70] So if you have that type of passion to serve and also to serve country, to give back, it's an incredibly rewarding field, because you get to do both. You get to use your knowledge, skills, and ability to give back to your country to the guys who are out helping your country every day. And it's so powerful, it's unbelievably rewarding. It's why I can't imagine myself leaving this field, because it's just a great feeling.

[00:33:18.69] The other thing I'd say is, when you're in school, it's easy to push off coursework as irrelevant. It's easy to not learn the things you need to do to get by, to get through it. You're busy, you're in graduate school or undergrad, trying to get through the coursework. I can't tell you how many times I've been thankful for getting a very good education at Illinois and Georgia in exercise physiology and science.

[00:33:41.43] I believe firmly as a coach if we can understand the why and the how, going back to why I got into this field in the first place, and your first question, Eric, if you understand those things, it's only going to make you a better coach. You're going to understand why you're applying certain loads or stimuli at certain times, what is happening in the body, what adaptations are occurring.

[00:33:59.22] If you can understand the science behind that, you're only going to be a better coach. So take advantage of those college years, study, learn your sciences. Understand that later on down your career, you may not even anticipate it, you should be able to draw from that well of knowledge to be able to understand the next periodization cycle or to be able to overcome the next performance issue that you're doing with a guy.

[00:34:19.32] If you don't understand that science, you're oftentimes just drawing upon what somebody coached you through what you did or what you saw somebody else did. And there's nothing wrong with that. You're going to get good results from it, but it's shortsighted, in my opinion, because you're not seeing the ultimate potential of where you could take a guy. You're just drawing off of your experience and what others have done to you or for you. And you're kind of throwing darts, hoping that they hit.

[00:34:40.64] But if you understand the science, you can guide the process more strategically. And I've seen that with a lot of young coaches too is they didn't take their education as seriously as they could have and they don't understand what they're doing. They're just doing what they did when they were an athlete playing. And this is what their strength coach had them do, so that's what they're going to carry on and they're going to do.

[00:34:59.02] And I think it just limits your potential. Again, nothing wrong with it. I think from my perspective-- study, get as much coaching experience as you possibly can, take your academics incredibly seriously, get experience, do internships. And then if you want to get them in the tactical field, make sure that's for the right reasons.

[00:35:16.36] Great advice, speaks to the value of education, taking your college age years seriously and getting the preparation you need to serve throughout your career. And knowing that your perspective and maybe your stops along the way, your job might change, but a strong scientific foundation for this field is very valuable.

[00:35:40.90] One thing I thought was really interesting is, and it speaks to just the current path into tactical is that, to get hired in tactical strength and conditioning, that might be a pathway through sport for a number of years to get some experience in the field. That's where a lot of the internships and entry-level opportunities are. So for young coaches, consider that. That's extremely valuable insight.

[00:36:09.22] Here's another question for you just in terms of young coaches pursuing tactical jobs. There's contract positions, there's GS positions. What advice do you give young coaches just to navigate the different types of job descriptions that are out there? And what they should be looking for? Or maybe just how they learn about what some of the terminology is if they don't have exposure to it?

[00:36:36.76] Sure, you've done your homework, Eric. You're absolutely right. There's a lot of different types of positions. It's part of the joy of navigating the tactical field.

[00:36:45.91] I'm a government employee, I'm a GS. And we work in a staff that we have several GSs and we have several contractors. We're kind of a hybrid staff.

[00:36:53.62] Some organizations are entirely contractor. There's pros and cons to each. In this field, the pros and cons are probably a little bit less dissimilar than they would be maybe in other government sectors. So they're closer to each other.

[00:37:08.50] Contractors, a lot of it has to do with just the hiring process, and then the scope of duties and responsibilities then that individual has while they occupy one of those roles. So as a government employee, we have a lot more administrative work we have to do. We have a lot more administrative responsibilities and things with budgets and spending and inventories and things like that-- a lot of the not so fun things, but things that are absolutely necessary to make sure a program runs.

[00:37:34.99] Going back to, again, if you could take care of those logistics, you're taking care of the program, you're taking care of the guys. But it often occupies a lot of time. There are plenty of days where I feel like I'm writing contracts all day or I'm doing things with purchasing or other various tasks I have as a government employee. And I'm like, man, I just want to go coach right now.

[00:37:53.56] Traditionally, contractors do more front-line coaching. Their scope of responsibilities is smaller and they're more focused on coaching. Preparing the differences, though, are in job security and benefits and things like that. So government employees, unless you really screw up, it's very difficult to get fired. As long as you're doing a good job, you have good job security.

[00:38:15.55] Contractors, the government could let go on a whim without any notice. So it's a little bit harder to get rid of the government employee than it is to get a contractor. I've heard them jokingly called mercenaries. They could bring them in for a period of time they do a really good job, and then they bring in a different contract or different contractors.

[00:38:33.17] So it's a little bit easier to get the contracting jobs in terms of the competition and how jobs are marketed. And how you compete for jobs-- government, there's a lot of veterans' preference. So if you're not a veteran, it's hard to get a government GS job. If you're competing against other veterans, you're at a disadvantage.

[00:38:51.46] Versus as a contractor, it's literally an interview and a resume process. And if you're the person they want to hire, they can do that pretty easily. So there's some little ins and outs, differences between them.

[00:39:02.27] We work hand in hand, contractor, NGS, where I work. We do the same things. I'll have a little bit more administrative burden, but we're all coaching. Our contracting coaches are doing a bit more of the coaching hands-on now that we have more of them, which is great. So it frees up time for us to do some of the other programmatic things that we need to do as well.

[00:39:19.72] But there's pros and cons of each. If it's a job that you want and you think you can make a meaningful difference there, then you can go ahead and go for it. And I wouldn't worry whether it's a contractor job or a GS job.

[00:39:33.49] I appreciate you sharing that. That's something we don't hear all the time from the tactical community just in terms of how to pursue those different opportunities and what they might mean. Joe, I want to ask you, for our listeners that may want to reach out, what's the best way to get in contact.

[00:39:50.62] So, ironically, Eric, despite all this talk about technology and everything like that, I'm pretty social media inept. So I have a LinkedIn. If you hit me up there, I will never see it, as I haven't used it in years.

[00:40:04.33] The best way is just through my standard email. So it's my last name, so denkjc@gmail.com. And that is the best way to go. I see that every day.

[00:40:15.37] One of these days I will get around to revamping my social media. My wife is constantly on me about getting an Instagram account. It's just not me.

[00:40:25.22] So I kind of just stick to old school there, ironically, right, after we're talking about progressiveness and technology. But that's the best way to get a hold of me, Eric.

[00:40:34.90] Well, really appreciate you sharing with us. Great session at tactical training this year. And just for anyone that missed it, this was a good glimpse to hear what you missed.

[00:40:45.82] For all of our listeners, thanks for tuning in. We'd also like to Sorinex Exercise Equipment. We appreciate their support.

[00:40:52.78] 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.

[00:41:03.26] 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.

[00:41:14.74] [MUSIC PLAYING]

[00:41:15.61] This was the NSCA 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.

[00:41:26.71] Serving coaches for over 40 years, the NSCA is the trusted source for strength and conditioning professionals. Be sure to join us next time.

[00:41:34.15] [MUSIC PLAYING]

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Eric L. McMahon, MEd, CSCS,*D, TSAC-F, RSCC*D

Strength & Conditioning Coach, NSCA Headquarters, Colorado Springs, CO, United States

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Eric McMahon is the Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager at the NSCA Headquarters in Colorado Springs. He joined the NSCA Staff in 2020 with ove ...

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