These days every man and his dog in strength and conditioning wants to go study or work in the USA, yet so few do. I decided to pick the brains of an Irish strength coach who has, so we can all get some insight into what it takes to study and work in American Collegiate strength and conditioning.
James Collins is a member of the postgraduate programme at Springfield College, and a current strength and conditioning for the prestigious Northeastern University in Boston, which I recently visited for the BSMPG seminar. Here is what he had to say:
1. What is your current position and how did that come about for you?
Currently, I am a Strength and Conditioning intern with Northeastern University in Boston. My masters in Springfield requires you to do 3 internships (2 off site) and my advisor recommended Northeastern to me. Good thing I listened.
2. What are your primary responsibilities at Northeastern? Are there any areas there that you have found particularly new or challenging?
At present, I am assisting with men’s, women’s Ice Hockey, men’s Basketball, Track and Field and Rowing. The more I figure out the finer details of NU’s training system, the more responsibilities I get.
NU sports performance training system is very unique. They are very progressive. They do a great job incorporating the work of the postural restoration institute (PRI). Understanding some of the PRI concepts has been the biggest challenge for me as of yet. It kind of goes against a lot of what I have learnt previously but the more I learn about it, the more it makes sense. I would prefer not to get into the details of it just yet as, I won’t do it justice! I will say though, NU do a good job of incorporating it into their system.
They use two different readiness systems, Omegawave and Pro2. So they never have a set in stone training block, the workout changes daily which can be difficult to keep up with at times. Thats the way it should be though!
3. How have you found the MSc programme at Springfield? How did that move come about? Was it a big step for you to come out to study in the USA?
Unbelievable! The masters program at Springfield College is like no other. It is the only program where you will get to actually practice your trade, and thats to coach!
I was looking to do a masters and I looked at places in both Ireland and the UK but all of which were very theory based. In my opinion, a MSc in Strength and Conditioning which involves you predominately sitting in lecture theatres, cramming presentation slides into your head for two years is a complete waste of time and money. Springfield was the only place that I found that forced you to coach whilst taking classes and also allowed you to get top class internships in pretty much wherever you want. The people in the S&C program at Springfield are very good coaches also. So, being around these people and competing against them makes you such a better coach!
It was a huge move for me yeah. I am very close with my family (Bit of a mammy’s boy if I’m being honest) so it was tough. I also had to leave three teams which I worked with in Ireland which was really tough. Having to leave a team has to be the worst thing about this field. But, making these sacrifices have made me a much better coach.
4. What are the major differences you have noticed in the training style and culture between Ireland and the USA?
Its quite difficult to compare really. The US system is way more structured and I guess formal than Ireland. For instance, I was a head S&C coach in Ireland for two years whilst doing my undergrad. That would never happen here.
I think the culture in the US is a lot better and a lot of that comes down to the money involved in sport in the US compared to in Ireland. I think the US coaches are better at creating cultures and changing attitudes. But I also think its difficult in Ireland to do this because, I don’t think people in Ireland appreciate what we do (particularly in the GAA).
In terms of training style, again, its hard to compare because there are so many jobs in S&C here compared to Ireland. But speaking in relative terms, I think we are on par, if not better than the US. The great thing about the Irish is that we’re very open minded and will swallow up any information out there. But unfortunately, the money and appreciation isn’t there for Irish coaches to express themselves, which is a shame!
5. What do you think the rest of the world can learn from the USA when it comes to strength and conditioning?
I think US coaches bring an incredible presence and energy to their teams. I think US coaches (not just S&C coaches) create a better team environment or ‘brotherhood’ as you will. Little things like, players fist bumping and ‘high fiving’ each other after they finished their set or just walking past each other, or ‘breaking it down’ as they say after the lift is finished makes such a difference. Despite, personally thinking it was really cheesy at the beginning but it does make a big difference. I know Barry Solan did something similar in Clontarf RFC after their lift and it makes a big difference, especially for young/new players.
6. What can the USA learn from the rest of the world? (you don’t have to trash Springfield or NU here, just be general!)
Lose the ego! A lot of S&C coaches over here have this tough guy persona and that begins with making your athletes call you ‘coach’. Thats something that I dislike personally (For another day!). I think the ego problem leaks into coaches here not being very open minded to information from all over world.
Luckily, I have not had a lot of direct experiences with these types of coaches! Particularly at NU, where the head of Strength & Conditioning (Dan Boothby) has visited several EPL clubs and have taken a lot of what they do and incorporate it into their system.
All the greats in the US (Ands theres a lot) are all extremely open minded.
7. Who do you listen to in the industry and why?
I’ll listen to anyone to be honest. You can learn from everyone, even if its learning what not to do.
My main influences are my three biggest mentors, Barry Solan, Robbie Bourke and Kieran Collins. They have helped me a ton over the years and continue to advance our field (Despite going unnoticed a lot of the time). I’m a big fan of Mike Boyle, despite not fully agreeing with everything he says, I still think he revolutionised the field. He also helped get me into Springfield, which I’m very grateful for. I like a lot of EXOS’ stuff, particularly their speed and COD system. Big Dan Baker fan for obvious reasons and I love Mladen Jovanovic’s blog (Despite not understanding half of the articles). Dr. Thompson at Springfield College. The guy has done it all and remains one of the nicest people you will ever meet. The guys at Northeastern (Dan Boothby, Dan Sanzo, Art Horne, Jon Lynch and Justin Painter) and you of course.
This list is constantly growing though.
8. What advice would you give to new, young coaches who want to break into the industry and/or make the move out to the USA to study?
In terms of breaking into the industry, ask me in a couple of years cause I haven’t done it yet. I would say to get out and actually coach though. Reading a ton is obviously hugely important but you have to develop your coaches eye and how to command a group. Find the best available mentor near you and annoy him until he lets you work with him. I had to ask Barry Solan about ten times and eventually he got fed up saying no!
In terms of moving to the US, you just have to go for it! If you have a goal in mind, you have to just jump right in. It sucks being away from friends and family but if the right place for you to develop is the US or Australia or wherever, you have to make sacrifices. Theres no magic answer for this unfortunately.
9. What are your career goals moving onwards from NU?
Well, I have to move back to Springfield in August to finish my masters and take up a graduate assistant position in which I have 4 or 5 teams to coach.
My end goal would be to work in professional/international rugby. Being in the US, away from a major rugby playing nation has made me appreciate the sport a lot more. Short-medium term, I would like to stay in the US to work. No real preference as to what but somewhere, where I can learn a lot and where the people there can challenge my beliefs and methods (Like Northeastern!).
Doing a PhD has been on my mind too. I get this weird demented satisfaction about the process that goes into research.