NSCA’s Coaching Podcast, Season 6 Episode 11: Ashley Jones

by Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS, RSCC*D and Ashley Jones, MSc, CSCS*D, RSCC*E
Coaching Podcast September 2022


Hear from a more than 30-year strength and conditioning coaching veteran in the sport of rugby, Ashley Jones. He talks to NSCA Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager, Eric McMahon, about his progression in the field, beginning in 1988 to his current roles as part of the NSCA Rugby Special Interest Group, Awards and Honors Committee, and Certification Committee. Jones provides insight on the important roles of NSCA Committees in supporting the integrity of the coaching profession. Learn more about the expanded roles of strength and conditioning coaches in non-mainstream sports, like Rugby in North America, while also helping to support skill and game development. This episode also includes great lessons on program planning within the team setting and how to emphasize the “human element” in coaching.

You can contact Ashley by email at ashley@ashleyjonesstrengthcoach.com| Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs  

Show Notes

"If you're not a member, join. Because it's not just about paying your dues and saying you're a member. Really, it's about the extra access you get to the education materials. When it comes to what qualifies and what doesn't, it goes back to high standards." 20:00

"One thing that will be addressed through the accreditation process is the addition of field work and just reading through the requirements that have been developed and academic programs are currently being vetted for this. It's not just, you do an internship with one program and graduate and you're done. You actually need to have separate experiences, fieldwork experiences, in distinctly different environments." 25:58

"But a new team, you have to sit down with the head coach first and foremost and say, what are you going to emphasize with the playing group that we have? What sort of game do you want to play? Do you want to play a more physical game? Do you want to play a more widespread, a more running game, which obviously will impact on how the strength existing program develops." 42:10

"I'll probably answer that with two, in that first and foremost is, don't take yourself too seriously. But take what you do very seriously." 45:01

"I think that's where I would sort of advise more and more the younger S&C coaches to look at the human elements. And even now that we're pushing more towards a metric driven life as far as strength and conditioning with sports science and all those elements, which is fantastic, don't get me wrong. But it's still making that connection to the human being who happens to be the player on your team, to develop them to be the best they can be on and off the park each and every week." 48:04


[00:00:04.42] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast season six, episode 11.

[00:00:09.52] What are you going to emphasis with the playing group that we have? What sort of game do you want to play? Do you want to play a more physical game? Do you want to play a more widespread, a more running game, which obviously will impact on how the strength and conditioning program develops.

[00:00:28.68] 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.

[00:00:39.42] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast. I'm Eric McMahon. Today we're joined by a previous guest on a past season of the NCAA Coaching Podcast, Ashley Jones. If you've been a part of the NSCA for a number of years, you probably know Ashley coming out of New Zealand with over 30 years of career coaching experience across four continents. Always great catching up. And, Ash, great to have you with us.

[00:01:06.06] Thanks very much, Eric. It's a great pleasure to be asked to come back on the podcast. Had a great one with Scott Caulfield a few years ago now. So it's great to be able to sit down to chat with you.

[00:01:17.18] We've been through a lot since you won the Coach of the Year award back in 2015. And probably did the podcast around that time. And COVID 19 moved the podcast to all virtual. So you're home in New Zealand. I'm here in Colorado Springs. It's definitely opened up the ability for us to talk to people all around the world. So always good catching up with you.

[00:01:43.13] We're going to talk about a few things today, you know, your NCAA involvement over many years, strength and conditioning in the sport of rugby, something that a lot of coaches maybe don't get the chance to connect with very often. And first, I'd like to just hear for anyone that maybe doesn't know your background, just share that with us. How did you get into the profession? How did you find the NSCA and what does it mean to you?

[00:02:08.60] Well, I guess the NSCA and my strength and conditioning career have been sort of really side by side the entire way. Because I actually first found out about the NSCA when I was my first week at Teacher's College back in Sydney, Australia where I was born and raised. And my first week at Teacher's College, I went to the library just to check that out and see what was around, and happened upon the NSCA Journal in one of its original formats back in 1980.

[00:02:43.04] And sort of grabbed it, sat down and sort of read it cover to cover. And from that point on, I realized that although I was doing a teaching degree and majoring in physical education, which back in those days was the only way that you could actually be involved with sport, would to be a phys ed teacher rather than the plethora of associate degrees that you can actually do now.

[00:03:10.02] So I'd started that and was trying to still play a little bit of rugby at the time, but realized that I'd probably peaked as a teenager, and now moving into my late teens, early, 20s that my best chance to stay with sport was to be a strength and conditioning coach, was which was a completely new concept in Australia back in those days. Because no one actually knew what a strength and conditioning coach did or was or was involved in. But after reading the journal, that was basically me set up for the rest of my life in sport, really. And it's gone on from there, now what? 40 odd years later.

[00:03:52.55] Yeah, we were connecting about a year or two ago in your time with major league rugby working out of Houston. And you're an active member of the rugby special interest group. You're also a member of the NSCA certification committee and the awards and honors committee. We pushed all our members to all our certificants to get involved with the NSCA. It's important that we have leaders at the community level that represent the NSCA, and spread the word of what we're doing from an education standpoint and the value of our credentials in the field. Share your experience just on those committees within the special interest group and just how impactful that's been for you.

[00:04:41.10] Well, it's been quite a journey along with that, because obviously, I first got my certification, my CSCS back in 1988. And I think the last time I spoke to some people at the NSCA, I think there's probably less than 100 people with that time under the bar type of deal, that Dave Tate would often talk about, with the certification. So it's a great honor for me to have that.

[00:05:09.72] And it's always been a part and parcel of what I've stood for is holding on to that certification, and gradually becoming Star D over the last couple of years with a greater involvement in the NSCA activities. So, because I'm an international representative, I was able to become a member of the certification committee, which I've sat on for a number of years now. And I think that's been really eye opening for me, not only to hold the certification for so long, but to look at the diversity of people wanting to become CSCSs, which I think is fantastic.

[00:05:49.62] And also to look at the number of increasing certification specialists coming through as well. And not just in CSCS, but in the personal training area and the tactical area, and now in the sports science area as well, which obviously is a massive task to put a certification, a new certification in place. But really shows where the NSCA is growing towards as well, which obviously, starting in coaching and then encompassing a lot of different areas.

[00:06:25.68] And now sort of spreading their wings around the area of sport science, which is really such a massive area of the whole strength and conditioning industry and profession. So it's great to see that involved as well. As you said earlier, I was very fortunate enough to be awarded the professional strength and conditioning Coach of the Year award in 2015.

[00:06:50.73] And that sort of allowed me to venture into the awards and honors committee. Because one of the prerequisites is to have been awarded one of those NSCA awards. So to see that and to be part of looking at who can be honored within the NSCA. And it's great to be looking at the breadth of people involved now that committee is looking at. And together with sort of looking at the nominations committee and looking at all the available resources that we have now to push people forward.

[00:07:30.53] And really, it's such a great method to actually reach a wider range of people and to recognize their support of the NSCA, but also their support of the industry that we've worked long and hard since Boyd Epley first started the association back in 1978, to where we are now, is such a massive journey along that way. So to be a part of those two committees is really important to me. Because you are part of something bigger than just yourself.

[00:08:05.17] And it is a way of also giving back to the profession and trying to develop it even further by looking at the experiences that you've had within the NSCA and the strength and conditioning industry as such. And trying to improve areas and to sort of be a part of developing things further so that the NSCA can go further afield and have its continued recognized place as the leading strength and conditioning organization in the world.

[00:08:37.73] I think it's really exciting. And I'll jump on the awards and honors train first. It's really exciting every time one of those awards gets given because I think the one that stands out to me, and maybe the a little opposite of how we think of these it's the Assistant College Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year Award. You know and we obviously have our Research Award, our Lifetime Achievement Awards across all of our disciplines.

[00:09:05.00] But in the area of coaching, our Coach of the Year Awards from high school, and then we have the three, the two college and the professional award, but that assistant award is one that I think is so special and unique, because it really can be such a springboard for a up and coming coach in their career that really affirms that they're doing the right things, that they're making an impact, that they have great recommendations, that they are vested in the association. They're an RSCC coach. They're learning and they're growing. And that's just one that I really pay attention to.

[00:09:44.33] Ryan Metzger won it at Clemson, now at University of Tennessee this past year, Andy Stocks the year before. And when I got into this job, you know, I really thought about the future, the future of the association and where it's going. Because we've all been there where we hit some roadblocks or some bumps along the way or wish it was a little bit easier at various times.

[00:10:15.08] And now we're in that position, whether you're a volunteer with the NSCA, part of a committee, part of a special interest group, you're in that position to actually voice in on policies, procedures, just to help be part of the decision making process that's going to impact things for years to come. So I'm very thankful for all the work of the awards and honors group. And it really-- the inspiring of young coaches to advance in their careers and move into more senior roles. And we're seeing a lot of growth right now.

[00:10:56.50] Yeah, I think it's very important in that sort of when I first started, there was not too many people, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, that were actually full time employed as strength and education coaches. And now you look at the number of educational programs around the world and the number of graduates coming out. Obviously the number of graduates seems to be outweigh the number of positions. So there is a lot of avenues that you need to look down to see if this is the right path for you and how you can make it work.

[00:11:28.72] And I think, looking at volunteering and being part of the NSCA and other avenues and other areas that you can help out with before you actually get that big break and move into a fully paid role as a strength and conditioning coach is a key area as well.

[00:11:48.23] So, certification committee, one thing that maybe gets overlooked at times is that we have five certification programs at the NSCA. Not a lot of associations manage that many certifications simultaneously. And it really is a lot of work to do that. There's a lot of process. Anyone who's been along with us in the journey of building this sports science credential has heard the various steps.

[00:12:15.88] And we've tried to be very transparent in communicating where we're at and when timelines are coming along. And just now we're actually about to finalize the cut score for the first 50 or 60 people that have taken the test, with over 350 applicants already just in the first year. So a lot of excitement around that. Talk about what the certification committee does. I think that's one of the ones that, when you're in the building is very important. But when you're out in the NSCA community, you may not have a full understanding.

[00:12:51.83] Well, the certification committee looks at people who have completed the exam or looking at completing CEUs. And some people have been unable to complete it. And we look at rationales to why we could give an extension to certain people, and trying to maintain the policies and procedures of the NSCA, which are clearly identified to all certificate holders as we go through. But some people, particularly over the last couple of years with COVID, inabilities to actually get their CEUs complete at the end of each certification cycle.

[00:13:36.19] We basically have numerous Zoom meetings to get to analyze each and every one of these people that have put up rationales to why they should be given more time or to find a reason why we can maintain the certification. And that's not something we take lightly. We sit down and discuss and go through detail with the NSCA staff, which provides such a wealth of knowledge and backgrounds to each and every one of these people putting their case forward.

[00:14:10.53] And we determine whether we can allow more time to complete their CEUs or rationales to why we should allow them to reset the exam and things like that. But we want to maintain the credibility of the certification. So it's not an easy process. And we all that have been on the committee for an extended period of time look at the standard as what we want to focus on.

[00:14:37.50] And we are human, so we also look at that human side of things to allow people to provide evidence that they should be given extra time to do something. But we do have rules and regulations to sit by as well. So it's a lot of different arms within that certification committee. And also looking at the review of the exams as we go through. So that we actually maintain the standard and credibility and keep up to date with the trends within the profession as well.

[00:15:07.44] And I think one thing that's really interesting, you're talking about the appeals process and the exam writing process. And obviously those exam development committees are subcommittees of the committee at whole. And it's really interesting when we get in the conversations around what content applies under certain CEU categories. And there's always some updates with every three year recertification cycle. Talk a little bit about what it takes to be qualifying for CEUs.

[00:15:42.57] This is a question we get a lot at the NSCA. The term DCO, detailed content outline, that everything, all roads go back to, the content that the exam is based on and how credit gets assigned. How does the certification committee look at content or topics that get submitted for CEUs that may or may not qualify?

[00:16:09.06] Yeah, I think that's been an important point that we've been looking at the last meeting we had in the spring meeting just gone, in that so many people have sort of trying to jump on these sort of unaccredited courses to get their certification CEUs up. And I think it's really looking at the value of the course in association with the certificate that you're trying to actually renew, in that there are clear guidelines posted on a regular basis for these particular areas. But I think some people in the last minute or the last rush tend to reach out for any courses that may be offered online and variations on that.

[00:16:59.41] And some of them just aren't fully accredited so unfortunately we have to negate that particular course, and hopefully direct people towards courses that they may be able to do. And that's why the NSCA has been pushing a lot of their free CEUs online. I mean, they mount up pretty quickly when you're getting 0.2s and 0.3 CEU credits for actually doing a free educational unit.

[00:17:30.12] And it's a real great credit to the NSCA, which they're starting to look at different lines of education that they can actually push people towards to actually improve their ability to get their CEUs within that time frame. And I mean, attendance at the conference either virtually or in person is, still for me, the best way to get your CEUs up relatively quickly. Because obviously you're getting to 2 CEUs for each attendance.

[00:18:00.41] And you will get 5.5 for that particular grouping of CEUs for attendance at conferences. And then if you were to just do a couple of these CEUs online through the courses online, you've allocated your six already over the course of the three year cycle. So for some people it seems to have been quite difficult over the COVID era.

[00:18:22.58] And I guess we're just coming out of that and in-person events will be a lot easier to attend. Even for people like myself, coming from across the opposite side of the world, I really look forward to getting to those in-person events. We've had to do a couple of virtual over the last couple of years. But it's actually that networking opportunity and sitting down and chatting with like-minded people at either the coaches conference or the national conference, which I've probably been to more than anything else.

[00:18:50.10] But I really like to go to a tactical conference at one stage, and looking at, particularly from my sport of rugby, how the relationship between the tactical training and rugby training are relatively close, I think. And the type of people that there are very similar to rugby people as well, which would be wonderful to see. So I think that's the big thing as far as CEUs concerned is, trying to best fit your lifestyle, your needs, to what is available through the NSCA CEUs. Which it's not as difficult as it may seem, six units over three years. And it's just a matter of looking through those details to get the right fit for you.

[00:19:33.29] Yeah a couple of things there. You know, I was just at an event in the ASCA. Australia had a booth set up and they had flown in. So things are starting to open back up internationally, which is really great to see. And I think one of the big take homes here for anyone that maybe struggles to get their CEUs completed over the three years is, start early. Get in your inbox and see when the free CEU opportunities come out for members.

[00:20:00.10] If you're not a member, join. Because it's not just about paying your dues and saying you're a member. Really, it's about the extra access you get to the education materials. When it comes to what qualifies and what doesn't, it goes back to high standards. You know, and the goal we all had-- you go back to 1978, Boyd Epley and the association coming together, a group of coaches, they came together for the unity of the profession, and it was about principles.

[00:20:31.60] I think we all know those principles if you're in this profession. And it goes back to those principles, but those principles became standards of our profession, of the coaching profession. And it's fun to talk about this, because we get a lot of questions at the headquarters about this every three years. And it's not-- this isn't a renewal year. But we're already talking about it because we're trying to get out in front of it to help people keep their certifications, keep their credentials current. And I just thought this was a great opportunity actually to dive into some of these things.

[00:21:10.57] The last thing I want to talk about on this side of it is, we're talking about high standards. In 2030, the NSCA CSCS exam is changing. It's changing so that you have to go to an accredited academic institution. And that process is underway right now, where you're going through a full curriculum, including coursework, including field work through our accrediting body, CASCE. And we'll put all the links for this information and the show notes for anyone that maybe isn't familiar with what we're talking about.

[00:21:48.50] But from a certification committee standpoint, just someone that's been part of the NSCA for a long time, going back 1980 to today, what have you seen just this evolution of the CSCS and just the integrity and impact of the certification and the value of the certification in terms of standards?

[00:22:12.58] I think I'll pick out a couple of words there that you've mentioned. I think firstly, the value of the certification. Being an international, the CSCS has still been a really important part of my [INAUDIBLE] journey if you like. In that, when I first did that in 1988, I sort of was young, enthusiastic, fancied myself that I knew quite a bit about strength and conditioning, and then I sat the exam and thought, I walked out of there thinking, I think I failed that exam.

[00:22:45.49] I don't think I know anywhere near as much as I thought I did. And fortunately, I passed the exam. But from that point on I've actually realized the value of it, as not just a tool for a job, but it's almost like a red badge of courage. It's part and parcel of me as a strength and conditioning coach is having my CSCS.

[00:23:13.67] And that's been, I mean what? That's now coming up 11 recertification cycles, I think that is over the course of that period of time. And I'd hate to think how much money I've spent over the years coming from Australia or coming from New Zealand and trying to maintain that linkage. But it's been worth it along the way, in that for me, it's the one element of my involvement the NSCA, which I've continued all the way through.

[00:23:46.96] I sort of had peaks and troughs of involvement. But I've had the CSCS all the way through since '88. And then since then, CRSCC Star E was added on top of that as part and parcel of that certification. So it's been an extremely important thing.

[00:24:04.67] The other aspect you mentioned was integrity. And the integrity of the certification I think is improving because of this transition into accredited education facilities, in that it always irked me a little bit that someone could have done a degree in French literature, and not to downgrade French literature as a degree, but I always thought that you really needed to have a degree based in exercise physiology or physical education, as I did back in the day, or some form of sport science things like that, to allow you to have a good background of knowledge to actually be able to sit the exam and to get the accreditation.

[00:24:53.03] But now, we're going one step further, and looking at what we need within the programs, within the schools, to actually increase the integrity of the certification for the CSCS to be even more of a gold standard that has from day dot to 2030, as we get closer. And that's only eight years to go now, which is obviously going to accelerate fairly heavily in the next wee while. So I think the values and integrity that you spoke about is just so evident and becoming even more evident as we move towards that 2030 deadline.

[00:25:33.05] Yeah, I actually like when I get a lot of calls from coaches. And some coaches have a lot to say or things we could do better at the NSCA. And one of the ones over the years that's been very, just been very common or a question that comes up in our special interest groups is, hey, why isn't there a hands on portion to the CSCS exam? And whether they're there could be or not, beside the point.

[00:25:58.94] But one thing that will be addressed through the accreditation process is the addition of field work and just reading through the requirements that have been developed and academic programs are currently being vetted for this. It's not just, you do an internship with one program and graduate and you're done. You actually need to have separate experiences, fieldwork experiences, in distinctly different environments. That might be an internship in college strength and conditioning and one in the private sector. Or one in professional sports and one in tactical strength and conditioning.

[00:26:41.54] So you're actually coming out of one of these programs a more well-rounded entry level strength coach that allows you a little bit more versatility maybe in your profession. And that's so relevant today, when we look at just the number of opportunities that are out there.

[00:26:57.32] I think that's-- yeah, I think you've nailed it. Because when I did my initial teacher training, we had to do a practicum in special education. We had to do a practicum in primary school teaching. We had to do a practicum in junior secondary teaching.

[00:27:13.67] So it allowed us to get a more rounded education in the teaching environments. And it's like when I've coached overseas and coached in a language that was not my own, what that does is very similar to that education process in that you have to be 100% sure in your own mind of what you want to get across when you are speaking in a foreign language. And otherwise, if it's interpreted or translated incorrectly, then you're not actually going to get that emphasis into the coaching program.

[00:27:55.09] So the same thing when you're actually going through teacher training, looking at working with special education units, you're looking at longer term adaptations, not the short term adaptations that we look at applying in normal training situations. But you're looking at that patience and looking at best ways, best practices, to actually develop those skills. So that when you're actually coaching and in your own language, it becomes a lot easier to get the message across. Because you know 100% in your own mind what you actually want.

[00:28:32.53] Yeah. I really like that. And I think one thing here, the more we do these international episodes, I think it just introduces the idea that there's so many opportunities out there for coaches to find. I had a great experience coaching in Italy with the MLB Europe program early in my career. And really fortunate that I got that. Talk about being around another language, fortunately a lot of my athletes at the time, they were international level players, youth junior players, so they spoke a good amount of English.

[00:29:05.71] But you get really thrown into the fire. And you're in a different country and you're by yourself. And you actually can learn a lot about how great a coach you are and how effective you are when you throw yourself into those situations. And I want to jump into coaching a little bit with you, Ash.

[00:29:25.75] Last time we talked coaching it was a rugby special interest group meeting. I always joke as the staff liaison with that group that I am just there to learn. I know very little about the sport of rugby. But I think it's such a great game in that there's such a high conditioning element, but there's also such obviously a strength and physicality to the sport. Talk about your experience with the sport of rugby and just what you're seeing with the growth of it in the States right now.

[00:29:59.33] Well, it's interesting, I'll tell you a story. When I was in Houston with the Saber Cats for the last two seasons, I attended a World Rugby, USA Rugby seminar in Houston. And this really gives to me-- it really made the picture complete, in that there was about probably 50 plus people in the room from a whole wide diversity of rugby environments in the United States.

[00:30:29.37] And the moderator said, OK, everyone stand up. And he said, sit down if you were introduced to rugby after you left college. And probably about 60% of the room sat down. And he said, OK, sit down if you were introduced to rugby during your college years. And about another 20 people sat down. He said sit down if you were introduced to rugby during high school. And the majority of people sat down.

[00:31:01.00] So he said, and I think there's three of us left. There was myself, a guy from the United Kingdom, and a guy from Argentina left standing in the group of 50 plus people in the room. And they said, well, when were you introduced to rugby? And I said I was introduced to rugby playing under eights for the DY Lions in the area where I grew up in Sydney. And that's the big difference, I think, between the US rugby experience and experience of rugby around the world, in that a lot of people involved in rugby now are coming from different sports and haven't played rugby for that extended period of time.

[00:31:45.23] So the skill sets you develop as an 8 to 10-year-old stay with you for a long period of time. So it's that introduction of rugby at the high school level and at the junior school level, which I think is going to drive rugby in the United States to even greater heights. And I think outside of the United States, we've all mentioned in the past that when the USA gets their rugby program fully together, they are going to be-- they're going to conquer at some stage down the track, because of the athletic nature of the players that you have there.

[00:32:26.45] I mean obviously, there's a great program out of Glendale, Colorado, which you may be familiar with since you're based in a similar area, called the XO Program, Crossover Athlete Program and Paul Emerick is the head coach of that program. And I worked with Paul at the Saber Cats the last two years. And they're looking at introducing rugby to athletes who have got to the end of their college program or and have got nowhere else to go.

[00:32:58.79] They've not gone to the NFL. They've not gone to the CFL. They're not going to the XFL from a football standpoint. Or they might be wrestlers or they might be basketball players or volleyball players. And they're going to transition into this sport of rugby. So it's introducing the skill sets. They've already got the physicality that they've developed over the years of playing the sports that they've loved playing.

[00:33:21.72] But it's now introducing the rules the tactics and adding that cardiovascular fitness which you mentioned to mostly anaerobically trained athletes that the United States has developed so well over the years. So it's quite an exciting time, I think. And I just hope, fingers crossed, that the World Rugby will allow the United States to host the Rugby World Cup sooner rather than later.

[00:33:49.34] And you all see what happened to the sport of soccer in the United States after the USA hosted the soccer World Cup a number of years ago. Professionalism and teams just proliferated and the sport was played all at lower levels, junior levels and things like that. So, I'm hoping that will have the same effect with rugby across the board.

[00:34:13.91] But I've been involved in rugby as I said since I was eight years old. So that's over 50 years of involvement in rugby at different levels from playing and coaching and strength conditioning, to where I got to the United States for the last two seasons with the Houston Saber cats, which was really interesting. It was really fantastic.

[00:34:33.87] It was the first opportunity after all these years, I got to actually develop my own weight room for the team. And the team ownership were fantastic in building me a purpose built facility, and also allowing me the budget to actually speak to EliteFTS.com and to get the gym outfitted the way I wanted it for a rugby specific environment, which was fantastic.

[00:34:58.41] I think we can all connect with that a little bit of the different sports that we grew up with, and how maybe that shapes our thinking in this field as strength and conditioning coaches. In the US sometimes you hear about the sport of bobsled being one of those that would recruit college football players when they're done playing or Division I track athletes, something along those lines. David Epstein talks about this in the Sports Gene, just finding athletes that are great athletes but in different sports and then applying those skills and honing those sports skills into new activities.

[00:35:37.49] I want to ask you, and I think this is there's a lot of non-rugby strength coaches out there, but I think this is a relevant question that relates to just working with different level athletes. In a sport where you-- here in the US rugby skills likely aren't as high as internationally. But from a strength and conditioning standpoint there's still a need to develop strong and conditioned athletes. How does the role of the strength coach change when you're working with lower skilled individuals in their sport, or it's one of those hybrid situations that you're really just trying to develop the game and develop the sport?

[00:36:22.03] It's actually a really interesting question, because it actually comes back to actually when I did my master's study years ago. And the topic I was looking at to develop my master's program was, the title of the master's thesis was the relative contributions of technique training and skill training to the learning and performance of a closed explosive motor skill. So that said, I wanted to work with a motor skill that was not taught at high school. So I actually chose the hammer throw.

[00:36:55.10] So what my premise was, was looking at the way the former Soviet Union trained their hammer throwers to the way the United States trained their hammer throwers. And it appeared that from my readings at that stage that the United States hammer throwers recruited discus throwers and shot putters that possibly were not going to make Olympic level discus and shot put and converted them into hammer throwers. So they already had a massive amount of strength behind them and now they were trying to overlay that strength with the skill development of a hammer throw.

[00:37:36.87] The Soviet Union, on the other hand, brings in the old sports schools, introduces younger athletes to the range of different sports, and then they fine tune them into track and field and then they fine tune them into the throws, and then they fine tune them into hammer. But the strength levels are brought along as the skill development comes along as well. So they actually had the skills first and then put the strength over the top, or concurrently develop those two together. The US had the strength first then tried to put the skills in place.

[00:38:09.17] So it's very similar when we extend that out to rugby. From a strength and conditioning environment, obviously athletes transitioning from different sports already have quite a good literacy, if you like, within the strength and conditioning. But they have a very low level of literacy in this rugby sport skills.

[00:38:29.69] So it's important to actually introduce, probably a far more, a higher element of skill development training, and sort of not maintain strength and conditioning, but actually emphasize the skill and slowly add a little bit more of the strength of conditioning as they're going through. And I think it's like a basketball player, for example, who has been told he needs to get a bit stronger in the off season, but he doesn't practice any of his basketball skills. He just actually lives in the gym for a period of time.

[00:39:07.68] And sure enough he gets out of the gym and he's definitely big. He's definitely stronger. But his shot's slightly off, because he hasn't been concurrently developing a skill of the shooting to actually adapt to his new levels of strength. Similar too in rugby, where the emphasis has to be on the skills.

[00:39:26.19] And that's why I think any strength and conditioning coach who hasn't worked with rugby before would benefit greatly from doing a rugby coaching level one skills course, because you can actually look at integration of fitness and fitness games into the skill development program and actually kill two birds with one stone kind of situation, where you're actually developing the skills, but also looking at acceleration, change of direction, visual awareness, spatial awareness, and looking at all the elements of the game, but actually conditioning at the same time. So I think I would really emphasize that if anyone wants to transition across into the sport of rugby in the United States at whatever level, get a good understanding of the skills of the game.

[00:40:19.97] You don't have to play the game. But I would actually do a coaching course and develop some of the-- look at what the skills are. And then you'll understand a little bit more where the strength of conditioning fits into that skill development program.

[00:40:36.79] When I talk to a lot of college coaches, it's pretty common for, you get hired, you're an assistant strength coach. And you might have a primary sport that you work with. But you might have a secondary or a third sport that you work with as well. And I've heard of coaches that, they get assigned to water polo. But they never played water polo. It's not as common a sport.

[00:40:58.48] So I think coaches do get put in situations where they need to learn a sport very quickly and stick to the principles of strength and conditioning, and just build a foundational program that allows for success as we all know. But then, this speaks to some of our more developed sports, football, basketball, where you actually get into some pretty individualized or advanced programming, that, if that's not your athletic background, there's value to really diving into the skill aspect of the sport.

[00:41:33.01] And not just from a training standpoint or how you manipulate or adjust exercises in the weight room, but just your relationship with the coaching staff. So that you're essentially part of the solution when they're trying to work through challenges on the court or on the field.

[00:41:55.75] Oh, I couldn't agree with you more, Eric. It really comes down to how I would approach the beginning of a new year or going to a new team. And obviously, I'm quite experienced over the years with the strength of conditioning for rugby. But a new team, you have to sit down with the head coach first and foremost and say, what are you going to emphasize with the playing group that we have?

[00:42:24.06] What sort of game do you want to play? Do you want to play a more physical game? Do you want to play a more widespread, a more running game, which obviously will impact on how the strength existing program develops. But then you will look at talk to the medical staff, and say, well, what are some of the exercises or limitations that an individual player has which we need to work around?

[00:42:49.83] But then also talk to the player, and say, well, and I use this all the time and saying that, OK, Eric, you're a first five eight. Who's the best first five eight in world rugby? And why is that person the best five eight in world rugby? And what do you need to do to start approaching where that player is?

[00:43:12.69] So you've got these three different areas that you need to discuss elements of the program and then put into place the sort of program. It's an individualized program within a team setting, which I think is the holy grail of sports conditioning for team sports. It's trying to individualize each and every athlete within a framework of a team.

[00:43:36.58] And obviously the skills of the team is the important factors. They're the lectures in a university program, as how we adjust the strength and conditioning elements to fit in to then becomes the tutorial elements of a university program. And saying, well, the elements are compulsory, but what makes them up is what makes the program individualized. And I think that's the key to developing a specific or a successful performance program in rugby for sure.

[00:44:09.52] You know, this kind of brings us to where we're at today. There's a lot of layers within performance teams, from the performance staff itself, the strength of conditioning staff, the medical staff, now this new layer of sports science. Ash, I always enjoy talking with you. As we connect pretty regularly on internal NSCA stuff, and also just at our conferences and events.

[00:44:37.74] Want to put you on the spot a little bit with just one last question. You know, you've been in this profession for a long time. You discovered it. And it wasn't maybe the degree you went to get initially as you talked about. What's the one thing that you think would benefit young coaches to know that you wish you knew when you first got in?

[00:45:01.39] I think I'll probably answer that with two, in that first and foremost is, don't take yourself too seriously. But take what you do very seriously. And I think I sort of took myself a wee bit too seriously when I was younger. And I missed a lot of opportunities to have that fun element within what we do. And the interactions I had, which I possibly could have had a more broader reaching interactions with a number of athletes that I worked with. But I was just a wee bit too serious.

[00:45:36.86] But the other element is, keep it simple. I mean, don't let complexity dictate how you do things. It's far better to do the simple basic things to the best of your ability, the best you can possibly be, rather than do the complex things poorly. And that doesn't matter if it's programming in the weight room, looking at conditioning elements, looking at the way you do your speed, your flexibility, all those elements that make up the strength and conditioning program.

[00:46:12.89] But I think simplicity of programming doesn't make the sessions any easier. They can be brutally hard. But it's also trying to maintain that human contact with the player. And saying, this is probably for me now this is the most important thing I ask a player every day at training. Before we start, Eric, how are you feeling today? Are you 100% good to go.

[00:46:46.45] If not, right, we need to have a conversation. We need to sort of modify things. And I think earlier in my career, I would have said, right. I've written the program. It's now etched in stone. It's not changing. I'm the most important element of this team.

[00:47:03.81] Whereas now, after 30 odd years, it's like, this is the program I've put in place. Are you physically, mentally ready to do the program? If not, what elements of this do we need to change? Is this a day where we just basically go out and we actually don't do a performance rated gym program. We do more of a care program more a rehab specific program. Is that going to give us benefit more?

[00:47:34.91] So it's finding out from each and every player within the group what they need to do today to get to the back end of the week ready to perform 100% in the game. And strength and conditioning is just an element within that process. It's interacting with coaches, interacting with medical, interacting with front office people to make sure that we're able to get all that input as well.

[00:48:04.08] And I think that's where I would sort of advise more and more the younger S&C coaches to look at the human elements. And even now that we're pushing more towards a metric driven life as far as strength and conditioning with sports science and all those elements, which is fantastic, don't get me wrong. But it's still making that connection to the human being who happens to be the player on your team, to develop them to be the best they can be on and off the park each and every week.

[00:48:35.18] That's great advice right there. For everyone listening in, what's the best way to get in touch with you? I'm not very big on social media. I'm an old man trying to stay relevant with an ever evolving profession. But I think the Facebook page that we have, which is the rugby, NSCA Rugby Special Interest Group SIG it's probably one of the best ways to connect with me.

[00:49:02.84] But I'm more than happy to give you my email, which is Ashley@AshleyJon esstrengthcoach.com. And I've never really not answered an email over the years. And I think that's an important element to do, in that if someone takes the time to send an email to a coach, it's up to that coach to find the time to answer that email.

[00:49:30.41] Because I think it's-- I was very lucky in many, many years ago, I had the opportunity to meet someone who was just like that when I was only 16 years of age. And I wrote him a letter and he answered me back. And he was an older man who was working professionally in rugby.

[00:49:51.47] And from that point on, I've never not answered an email or a letter in response. And I think that's the important thing to remember is that we're all part of this together. And we can help each other out along the way. It's an important thing to do.

[00:50:06.64] Ash, thanks for being with us today.

[00:50:10.30] Great pleasure, Eric. It's wonderful to catch up with you. And unfortunately, I don't think I'm going to be across the US for the next couple of months. But hopefully there for January next year for coaches.

[00:50:21.79] That'll be great. Yeah, a lot of great takeaways here today for aspiring coaches if you're new to the profession. But I think even for coaches that have been in the game for a while that maybe don't have a full understanding of what all the NSCA does from the committees, from volunteer opportunities. If there's a take away from the staff and a take away from our volunteer community, I'd say get involved.

[00:50:46.40] And if you don't know how to do that, we'll put some links in the show notes. But also don't be afraid to reach out to me directly. Reach out to Ashley. And we'll get you plugged in where is best for you. There's always opportunities to be involved with the NSCA. And a thing I like to say is that the NSCA is in 50 employees in Colorado Springs.

[00:51:09.76] It's each and every one of you. We're a community of 60,000 strong. It's a huge number, when you actually see that and you see the reach of the NSCA to our international community. The organization means the world to me. This is my 20th year as a member, and I'm very thankful in this role just to be your host and be able to connect with great longtime members like Ashley Jones, who've been in the game just a little bit longer than I have.

[00:51:38.56] So yeah, thankful to everyone listening in today. We'd also like to give a special thanks to Sorinex Exercise Equipment. We appreciate their support. Thanks for listening to another episode of the NSCA Coaching Podcast. We value you as a listener just as we value your input as a member of the NSCA community. To take action and get involved, check out volunteer leadership opportunities under membership@NSCA.com.

[00:52:07.70] 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,*D, RSCC*E

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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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Ashley Jones, MSC, CSCS, RSCC*E

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Ashley Jones' career in strength & conditioning and fitness spans over four decades and he has coached professionally on four continents across three ...

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