NSCA’s Coaching Podcast, Episode 111: Joe Siara

by Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS, RSCC*D and Joseph Siara, CSCS, RSCC
Coaching Podcast October 2021

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Joe Siara, Manager of Peak Performance Programs for the New York Yankees Major League Baseball (MLB) team, joins NSCA Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager, Eric McMahon, to discuss the path from Minor League Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coach to sport scientist. The discussion includes a recap of the 2021 Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society (PBSCCS) Baseball Sport Science Virtual Clinic, an explanation of the Certified Performance and Sport Scientist (CPSS) exam development process, and practical applications of technology across a variety of performance settings.

Find Joe via Email: jsiara@yankees.com | Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs

Show Notes

“I think that the two big things are just the scalability of whatever you're wanting to do. So we work with the Major League team down to our Dominican League teams. And I think staff education, so making sure everyone is educated on the technology, how to use it, how we're going to give this information to the players. So we really try to put a big emphasis on building a sports science culture.” 4:36

“I think my number one thing that I've kind of realized is always stay curious. You know, you can be skeptical about stuff but always try to be learning.” 9:41

“So I think the less invasive we are with people in the future, the less invasive you can be, the simpler you can be with the athlete, the better. And I think that's kind of like where I said the biomechanics is kind of that next step. You've had all this statcast data, you see what the ball does, now as a pitcher or a hitter, what are your actual mechanics in game that's producing that result?” 14:19

“I think as schools and teams and people start to add performance science, I think getting that key leader in place first, having a true director of sports science, is going to kind of build the culture up.” 23:25

Transcript

[00:00:00.60] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast episode 111.

[00:00:04.29] Always stay curious. You know, you can be skeptical about stuff but always try to be learning.

[00:00:11.19] 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.

[00:00:22.03] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast. I'm Eric McMahon. Today we're joined by Joe Siara, the manager of the peak performance program for the New York Yankees. Joe, welcome.

[00:00:32.82] Eric, thanks for having me.

[00:00:34.83] Joe and I connected last week at the PBSCCS Baseball Sports Science Virtual Clinic. It was a lunchtime panel discussion with members of the baseball special interest group and sports science and performance technology special interest group from the NSCA. Joe brought a lot of insight and knowledge from his work with the Yankees. And it was just a really great session, so I'm excited to dive in and learn a little bit more about your background if you would. Just give us a little segue into how you got into the profession and where you're at today.

[00:01:09.81] Yeah, so originally from Indiana, I went to Indiana University. Got a Bachelor in kinesiology. Ended up at the University of Florida working on my master's of science with a focus on human performance. And kind of doing that, I got in with men's basketball, men's and women's golf, and men's and women's tennis under Matt Herring. And that's kind of when I fell in love with working with athletes and the whole strength conditioning profession.

[00:01:40.71] And then from that I was able to get a job as head strength coach at Santa Clara University, mainly working with men's and women's basketball. And I did that for three years. And then ended up back in Florida. And I was lucky enough to get a job with the Yankees. This is my ninth season, I started off as a minor league strength and conditioning coach for four years. And then I've kind of transitioned into the manager of peak performance programs position for the last five years.

[00:02:11.07] So talk about that path from strength and conditioning to sports science a little bit. So that's a question I get a lot here at the NSCA of what is a sports scientist. And I think from a coaching standpoint you know strength coaches are sport scientists but not all sports scientists are strength coaches. So now you're working in a lot of different areas, talk about that a little bit. What does sports science look like to you? And how is that path from strength and conditioning led you into the role you have?

[00:02:48.51] Yeah, it's funny. If you would have asked me like 10 years ago would you be the sports scientist for an MLB team I'd be like, what are you talking about? I'm a basketball strength coach. But the opportunity kind of came up. And you know it's like a dedicated full time-- I think each team in each place, a sport scientist can be a little bit different. And I think my background is strength conditioning. And so kind of when I got asked to kind of come into this position, it's making sure that the technology can kind of go across the entire org. It's taking stuff off other people's plates. So from the strength and conditioning side, taking off some of the testing, taking off maybe the speed gates, taking off some force plate stuff. But also kind of helping the org with the logistics of bat sensors or motion capture and kind of facilitating that.

[00:03:46.20] It was kind of like a broad job. And I think everyone's got different titles, I say I got the fanciest title in sports science, but it's 100% dedicated to collecting objective data to help player performance and an injury prevention.

[00:04:03.60] For those listening in who don't know the minor leagues and Major League system that well, I think one of the biggest challenges is that your organization gets spread out for a lot of the year. So all the minor league affiliates and your athletes are everywhere. You have staff all over the country, communication, collaboration is key.

[00:04:22.29] Joe, would you talk about what are some of the big challenges in implementing technology on that scale when you have multiple locations and a large staff.

[00:04:35.44] Yes, so I think that the two big things are just the scalability of whatever you're wanting to do. So we work with the Major League team down to our Dominican League teams. And I think staff education, so making sure everyone is educated on the technology, how to use it, how we're going to give this information to the players. So we really try to put a big emphasis on building a sports science culture.

[00:05:01.81] I usually joke that everyone thinks there's this sports science utopia where all the players want to do the testing, you know. It's perfect. And it never is. So I think the more we can educate our staff-- we do that through presentations, we do it through Zoom meetings, we do it through traveling around to all the affiliates-- with the ultimate goal of making all of our programs better to develop a championship level Major League talent.

[00:05:35.86] I want to ask you about hitting and pitching laboratories, that's been terms that have been thrown around over the past few years across baseball. I'd say there's more of a focus going into biomechanics nowadays. And maybe these labs are evidence of that integrating force plates in different technologies. What have you seen with regard to hitting and pitching laboratories? And how is that concept applied with your players?

[00:06:07.36] Yeah. So we just finished completion on a lab at our player development complex. So we've got all the bells and whistles. We've got force plates in the mound, force plates in the batter's box. We've got Hawkeye, we've got Vicon, we got Edgertronics, we got whatever you can think. With the ultimate goal of collecting all this objective data and creating plans for our guys. And I think, you kind of hinted at it, I think biomechanics is kind of like the next frontier in sports science, definitely in professional baseball. And we've got some experts in that field that are doing a great job and kind of building everything out. So I'm just lucky to be part of it and kind of learn what I can and be part of a big team.

[00:06:58.01] It's exciting to see all this growth. And one thing I think about a lot getting into the field, and I think this speaks to our time getting into the field in the early 2000s, there was a lot of knowledge to be had. We had great professors you were starting to see more strength and conditioning and kinesiology based academic programs, but technology was nowhere where it is today. So we were very process focused. We were looking ahead at things we potentially could do now, these things are coming to fruition. And it's exciting. It can be overwhelming at times I think even sometimes for the athletes. And I'd like to ask you, you know, what's the process of onboarding new technology in your programs? How well received are these technologies by your players, by your athletes? And talk about that a little bit.

[00:07:55.35] Yeah, so I think that is the big challenge and I think also that kind of speaks to the earlier when we were talking about the scalability. But I like to keep it simple. So it's like focus on one thing and get really good at that. So I wouldn't try to roll out four new technologies at the same time, it's like we've been doing this, I've been in the department for five years now, the department's seven years old. So what I kind of said on the panel too is we paid our dues earlier on the bumps along the road. We had a performance science director that did a great job of building the culture, and right now we're at the point where we can collect it, we can give reports, we can modify stuff. But keep it really simple.

[00:08:36.74] So if just for example, if you're going to roll out force plates like now, you've got portable force plates so you can have them from the Major Leagues all the way down in the Dominican. You can educate the staff up on those. And then you're just displaying like one metric. So you still kind of learning, but how can I focus instead of trying to tell someone hey, here are the 15 things and this goes with this and we're going to do this. Like just trying to keep it as simple as possible, making it really, really good and efficient. And then showing the value and then growing it from there.

[00:09:07.79] Going back to the beginning for you, I want to talk about your strength coach days. And I think there's a lot of coaches, whether they're getting into the field or mid-career, that aspire for more, that are looking for what their next steps are going to be. Maybe they want to be a head strength conditioning coach. Maybe they want to go into sports science. What were some of the key lessons that you picked up along the way that you think might be valuable for that next generation?

[00:09:40.18] Yeah, I think my number one thing that I've kind of realized is always stay curious. You know, you can be skeptical about stuff but always try to be learning. And I really think that's kind of what helped me transition just to get offered this job in sports science was always looking at new technologies, always trying stuff out on myself, always being curious on how can I be a better strength coach.

[00:10:05.38] And you know, there's going to be a lot of stuff that you come, you try out, it's junk. It's almost like you got to throw out all these fishing lines and there's all this stuff out there. What makes sense? But it doesn't mean that because one, technology was bad. Or I'd never tried to dismiss anything, I always try to stay as curious as possible. And I think whether you want your long term goal to be a strength coach or whether you want your long term goal to be in sports science, either way it's going to help you out.

[00:10:36.20] I think we can all go back to when we were in school or when we were studying our popular books in the field. But now with this new realm of topic areas, you know, we talk about biomechanics, there's a lot more focus on mental performance, behavioral aspects of performance. What are some of the key resources that you've gone back to coming from your strength coach background to be more well-rounded in your current role?

[00:11:06.52] Yeah, so I always try to go down communication or leadership realms. One book I really like Team of Teams, I think it was by General Stan McChrystal, I could be wrong on that. But basically you have all these operation teams and you're going into war. And you've got operators and you got analysts. And I almost try to think of it in kind of the sports science realm, you've got your strength coaches, you've got you're hitting coaches, you've got your pitching coaches, you've got your sports scientist, you have all these teams with the ultimate goal of creating one big team. And that comes to leadership, that comes down to communication. So I really try to focus on educating myself and trying to get better in that because I think it'll take care of the technical piece. And some of the technology sides, instead of just reading like research articles all the time, communication and teamwork I think are huge.

[00:12:07.03] One of the concepts that has come out of sports science is the idea of data mining and just having a large pool of data to dig from and find meaning in Major League Baseball. I don't know if everybody knows this but teams have access to statcast data. A huge database of what's going on the field, you can see how fast players are moving, how far they're moving. A lot of really cool information there. And every team sort of has their recipe of how they interpret that information and apply that information.

[00:12:45.07] You know, they're in the field and there's GPS, there's LPS, there's all these different technologies. But baseball isn't one of those end to end sports. It's not a football field, it's not a basketball court where maybe we traditionally look at heart rate. What are your thoughts on uses of these different technologies with baseball athletes? And you know you said you keep an open mind to things, what are your thoughts on these?

[00:13:14.38] Yeah. So I think they're all good. I think it depends on what the team wants to do or what question you're trying to answer or maybe what's the hypothesis? And what do you think that if you learned this, what could you change to help out the player? So we use all of it.

[00:13:34.48] Luckily for me, I'm part of a bigger team that we have dedicated analysts just for performance science. So we can collect a bunch of data, they can run through it, and we can find out what's valuable or what's not. So I think there's a little bit, you have to stay exploratory with some of the stuff. And you might not think oh, what's GPS? You know, they're going to be inside going to the weight room, they run to this field, they go hit, like where's the value at? I think that goes back to the curiosity piece where you're always trying to learn from something and I never dismiss anything.

[00:14:09.07] I think that the Hawkeye is going to be really big in professional baseball. And so that's the endgame markerless biomechanics. So I think the less invasive we are with people in the future, the less invasive you can be, the simpler you can be with the athlete, the better. And I think that's kind of like where I said the biomechanics is kind of that next step. You've had all this statcast data, you see what the ball does, now as a pitcher or a hitter, what are your actual mechanics in game that's producing that result? And I think the more we can learn there, the more we can help educate the player. And the better off for everybody.

[00:14:50.40] When we talk technology, sometimes we can lose a lot of people that maybe don't have the resources in their programs. Or just don't have the facilities and logistics of the New York Yankees. I think we all know how great your setup is but I want to ask about onboarding new pieces of technology into your program. But keep in mind that for many coaches in the field, it might not be the state of the art piece of equipment that's available. It might be something that is readily available to them and they're setting that is extremely useful and valuable. But what processes do you think are valuable in vetting a new piece of technology to make it meaningful in your program?

[00:15:42.71] Yeah. I think looking into the research. And then I think looking into someone in a similar situation as you. So if you're at a high school, maybe reaching out to other high schools around the area or other people's opinions that you value. Hey, what have you guys used? This is my budget, this is what I'm looking for. And using the opinions of others. And then diving into the research on the validity or the reliability of does this piece of technology answer the question that I'm seeking or trying to answer with the budget that I have.

[00:16:21.96] So I think talking to people before we built the lab, we toured around, we talked with a bunch of people what worked, what didn't. What technologies did you use? What kind of force plates did you put in? So we just kind of went down that route. And whatever your situation is, I would do the same thing.

[00:16:40.59] Going back to the PBSCCS webinar Doctor Kenneth Smale with the LA Angels, he's a biomechanics with them, he was talking about bias. And he said that in the field, we accept bias. Sometimes, as long as it's a consistent bias that we can account for. And I think that speaks to the practical decision making that would occur at the affiliates, that occurs in strength and conditioning across the board.

[00:17:10.74] You get to rove around, travel. You've seen a lot of strength and conditioning coaches. You've been one at the affiliate. Speak to the value of practical decision making in just the day to day when you're working with your team and trying to make the most of the situation.

[00:17:27.93] I think it's huge. You know, I'm in the sports science department now and we're always about obtaining objective data to make decisions. But we know that that's just one part of the decision making process. I usually say it's one small piece of a really big pie. And whether that's a strength coach at the affiliate or part of the amateur scouting department and you test a kid and you give them some objective data like the scouts have been watching them for years. There's a practical side of being in it day to day that you see things. So I value that a lot. And I think it's a huge part. And everything that we collect from an objective side, everything that the strength coach sees at the affiliate or whatever weight room you're in, is really, really important. And then you take in all these different things, not just one thing, to make the best decision for that athlete.

[00:18:23.46] So you are on the exam development committee for the new NSCA certified performance and sports scientist certification. And a lot of excitement around this certification program. A lot of questions. And I think that's to be expected. I want to peel back the veil a little bit and give the audience a chance to just understand what it takes to put together a certification exam. What are some of the processes that you go through that maybe you didn't expect when you got into this?

[00:19:02.75] Yes the one thing that I've learned, and I started back a couple of years just volunteering and I was writing quizzes for the journal a couple of years back and then got asked to be part of this exam writing committee. And a lot goes into this. First of all, the book is amazing. I've read it a couple of times now and I learned a little bit each time because you realize that sports science covers all these different disciplines. And so I've learned a lot from the book, I've learned a lot from the panel that was assembled.

[00:19:35.45] The panel was from all different spectrums. Tons of meetings, biweekly meetings that go into it. You know, you've got to be a little vulnerable when you write a question and you've got 15 other really smart people on the panel that are about to pick it apart. And how to write a distractor and how to write it write a stem. And the one thing that I can say about the exam that when it comes out, a ton of time and effort went into it, tons of thought into the whole process, whether it's the qualifications, the exact questions, the percentages that they take from each discipline. And I was really fortunate to be a part of it because I felt like I learned a lot from the process.

[00:20:18.65] But, you know, when you just think oh, I'm going to take this 100 question exam or whatever it is and I want to try to pass like just knowing that the NSCA spent all this time and effort to write the book and collaborate with all these smart people all over the world and the exam as well, it's pretty cool. I feel really fortunate to be part of the NSCA and to be part of that process. And I'm excited for when the exam comes out. And I'm excited to get the feedback from people. And I'm excited for the certification because I think this sports science culture is growing and the NSCA did a great job of putting it into a book and putting it into a certification. And I think it's only going to help everything grow from here.

[00:21:01.17] I'm really excited to see. We talked about collaboration, we talked about unity of the performance industry in the field. And I think that's something that going back to I mean I think back to early in professional baseball it was all about have a good relationship with your athletic trainer. We were already talking about these interdisciplinary relationships, right. In the college setting it was hey, how are you going to communicate with the coaching staff and have a good relationship with your head coach when you go in as a strength coach in those meetings? So this idea of communication, collaboration, it's not new at all. We've been doing it. It's really the foundation of this field of making it work, making the strength and conditioning coach role valuable.

[00:21:53.24] Well now it's expanded into a number of different academic disciplines scientific processes. There's a deeper understanding of that. So this credential raises the bar in that way. But now we're thankful to have you on that. And it's been a really exciting process for the NSCA for everyone listening in. I'm excited by what this is going to mean for the field. I think it is a unifier. I think that's a great way to think about it. I've had a lot of athletic trainers reach out and ask questions, physical therapists, dieticians, and even athletic directors, people in senior leadership roles at their institutions that see value in this knowledge because they might be hiring a sports science department. And they need to at least have enough knowledge to understand what that means.

[00:22:51.71] I want to ask you about the department structure a little bit. You know, you're in a great situation with the Yankees. And I think this is, as more programs start to add sports scientists, there's the question of hey, you know, what roles are important on this staff? Who plays what part? Speak to your experience with that.

[00:23:13.71] Yeah so, like you kind of said I'm part of a big team. So we have a director of performance science, we've got senior biomechanics, we've got a performance science analyst, and there's a lot more positions. But I think as schools and teams and people start to add performance science, I think getting that key leader in place first, having a true director of sports science, is going to kind of build the culture up. I think to get someone in that position that has kind of like a vision on where they see it in three years from now, five years from now.

[00:23:50.78] We were really lucky here at the Yankees, we had John Kramer. He was our original performance science director, he's still with us. He's in a pitching role now because he wanted to be more with the athletes. But he did a great job of building the culture. He knew that biomechanics was going to be big. He got people from different realms with different skill sets. And I think getting that first person in to kind of have that vision and build it from there was key for us so I give a lot of credit to him. But each situation is a little bit different. So I think kind of planning out where you see this new progression three years from now, five years from now like I said, whatever, wherever you're in, whether it's strength conditioning or in high school or in pros, is going to be key going forward.

[00:24:33.72] And now to take that to a completely different group, I think one way that I guess I've been exposed to sports science in this role is that there are high resource programs like what we're talking about. And then there are lower resource programs, or programs that just don't have as many staff. So you got to wear a lot of hats in these roles. Maybe at the Division II, Division III college level. Or a high school strength coach. If you were working in one of these scenarios, what would you prioritize on the sports science end as part of your strength and conditioning program?

[00:25:12.57] Yeah, so I think, I mean that's a tough question to answer. But you know, I think kind of like those disciplines that we talked about. One section in the NSCA book is about sleep. So maybe if you're at a high school and you're trying to roll out and you're trying to wear a sports scientist and you're trying to wear the strength coach hat, you've already got your normal strength conditioning program. Maybe you add a VBT product. And it's objective. And you can focus on that and get really good with that.

[00:25:43.26] You can also roll out a sleep education program. And maybe you start rolling it out and you educate once a month. And then the goal is to try to grow that to every other week. And then maybe it's hey, I'm going to put out a documentation about around our game plan and around the three days before the game. And so I think kind of like growing out the different segments what you can, whether it's with a technology that's cost effective for your situation. And then also kind of doing it from the education side on some of those other disciplines we talked about.

[00:26:16.32] What I'm hearing is start small.

[00:26:18.69] Start small.

[00:26:19.29] And make it manageable. I think that's something that we all try to do no matter what our resources are. And I think one thing our field has done a great job of. And it really speaks to some of the veteran strength conditioning coaches and in professionals that we've really fought for more staffing and more roles definitely across baseball. And maybe sports science and in a department that you're in, that's really proof of that progression.

[00:26:53.96] I want to ask you, you know, you've worked in professional baseball for a long time. There's a lot of coaches that listen in that maybe never even thought about working in professional sports or professional baseball. What's been your favorite thing working in the pros? And specifically baseball.

[00:27:13.92] Yeah, I would say never, never limit yourself. Because I said when with my story was I think one thing that we've done that's probably not good in our profession for strength conditioning is we've pigeonholed ourselves as just a basketball guy or just a football guy or just a baseball guy. And I kind of did that early on in my career and I had these visions of just being a basketball strength coach. And then I was luckily and fortunate enough to have the opportunity to join a professional baseball team and ended up loving baseball now. And never played baseball.

[00:27:51.00] So I would always keep your options open. And I think each situation has whatever it is professional baseball, whether it's a high school or whether it's a college, I think working with the athletes, I think one thing that always is consistent everywhere is you can't replace the locker room atmosphere with players and coaches. You know, there's no other job like it. If you go work for a financial institution, you know, just from playing sports early on and now like I always love that atmosphere of the team.

[00:28:26.73] And luckily I work for the Yankees and I'm in a professional baseball team but there's a lot of good opportunities out there. So I always tell people like just always stay open to every opportunity.

[00:28:39.03] That's awesome. Great, great outlook there. And I think that it's powerful. I think one thing when you're 18, 19 years old pursuing a profession, it's easy to say exactly what you think you want to do. But five, ten years go by, your perspective, your outlook might change. And preparing yourself to be as well-rounded a professional as you can be and keeping an open mind to the different area is extremely valuable.

[00:29:11.90] Joe, Thanks for being with us. I want to give you the opportunity for anyone who wants to reach out learn more from Joe Siara, what's the best contact info for you?

[00:29:22.64] Yeah, so feel free to email me. I love connecting with people in the profession. So it's this jsiara@yankees.com. Reach out, I'd love to learn from some people and also be a resource. So feel free to send me an email.

[00:29:40.05] Thanks again, Joe Siara. Thanks to everyone tuning in today. And thank you to Sorinex Exercise Equipment, we appreciate their support.

[00:29:48.44] 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.

[00:30:11.07] 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.

Reporting Errors: To report errors in a podcast episode requiring correction or clarification, email the editor at publications@nsca.com or write to NSCA, attn: Publications Dept., 1885 Bob Johnson Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80906. Your letter should be clearly marked as a letter of complaint. Please (a) identify in writing the precise factual errors in the published podcast episode (every false, factual assertion allegedly contained therein), (b) explain with specificity what the true facts are, and (c) include your full name and contact information.

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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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