This is the fourth installment of a series of interviews with industry leaders in fields such as Strength & Conditioning, Coaching, Physical Therapy, Sports Psychology, Nutrition & Physical Education.
This week we hear from one of South Australia’s young, up and coming female Strength & Conditioning coaches, Ainsley Fairhead. I have known Ainsley for just over a decade, following her exploits as a rising star on the junior tennis circuit, and now as part of the local Strength & Conditioning community in Adelaide. Ainsley has a unique perspective on the process and structure of S&C due to being involved in a high performance environment as a talented junior tennis player. As a female, Ainsley is definitely in the minority as a female Strength & Conditioning professional but she is blazing a trail and carving out her own niche in the industry, while also learning and being mentored by some of the smartest minds in high performance cricket.
I recently caught up with Ainsley at an ASCA workshop in Adelaide where Dan Baker was presenting and while chatting afterwards, I was extremely impressed with the programming, monitoring systems and recovery modalities she had just put in place for her new squad for the upcoming season. Although I have not had many chances to ‘talk shop’ with Ainsley, it is clear that she is at the forefront of the latest happenings in the S&C world and is happy to discuss these topics, but in an applied setting, she sticks to the tried and true fundamental and foundational principles of the profession… Work Hard, Train Smart, REST.
Enjoy the interview!
Can you share with the readers a little bit of your background (education, sports, previous/current role, interests).
My background in sports involved everything and anything as a youngster. My parents spent their days as a taxi driving me around to little athletics, tennis, netball, SASI volleyball, football, and swimming. It got to the point where I had to choose a main sport to focus on which was tennis. I competed at state level, national level and after highschool competed on the international circuit.
My education post Brighton High School is a Bachelor of Human Movement and Health Science Unis SA, Master of Occupational Therapy Unis SA (with 6 months to go I transferred), Master of Exercise Science specialising in Strength and Conditioning ECU (Perth). Pilates Instructor via Polestar Pilates. I guess this makes me an Exercise Scientist and a Strength and Conditioning Coach (currently completing my level 2 accreditation).
Previous roles include a physical trainer for the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service (employed by CHG) which involved visiting fire stations in the metro area and conducting fitness sessions based on the physical requirements and fitness levels of the job. I have been a tennis coach for the past 11 years, personal trainer (working at Adelaide Fitness Solutions and Your world fitness), University Tutor at UniSA in Physical Rehab and Resistance Training, and a Wellness Consultant.
My current roles is Strength and Conditioning coach at SACA for the Scorpions (female state cricket team), and I have recently opened my own business (see at the bottom) offering strength and conditioning for athletes and personal training for the general population.
Although ever increasing, females are the still the minority in the Strength & Conditioning field. Can you describe how you have found the culture in the industry for female strength coaches?
Females are a minority in this industry however I do believe associations such as ASCA are working to help recognise the importance of female S&C Coaches. Whist studying at ECU I think I was 1 of 5 females to graduate from my course amongst 60 plus men. Whilst S&C can be challenging for females to find professional work I have been fortunate enough that being a female was no issue in my current role at SACA or training the SAMFS. However, looking ahead for roles as a full time female S&C there may be some hurdles to get over.
As a junior you were a nationally ranked singles tennis player, how did this influence you interest in the industry and your philosophy to S&C?
As a junior I was ranked number one in the state for tennis around the age of 15-16yo and reached a national high of number 11. I competed in the state league from the age of 13yo through to 27yo here in SA earning player of the year on numerous occasions. My sporting background has had a huge influence on my career choice. Unfortunately due to injury (3 bulging discs in my lower back) whilst playing tennis on the circuit in the US back in 2008/9 I was forced to put my dreams of becoming a tennis player aside and focus on career options. I knew I wanted to work with athletes and help them to reach their full potential. I found from personal experience unless you were in SASI or the AIS there was little help as an athlete to have correct guidance for an appropriate fitness program to suit your sport. I think knowing the motivation and drive athletes have is another reason I wanted to get into the industry, they will always give it their all and excuses generally get left at the door. Strength and Conditioning is so much more than just lifting weights at the gym… it is about using exercise prescription and rehabilitation to specifically improve performance in the athletic competition. In basic terms, I believe a full driven approach as an S&C covers all aspects necessary to reach the athletes/teams goals and full potential.
Your current role is Strength & Conditioning Coach for the SA Scorpions Women’s Cricket Team; can you detail how you ended up in the role and what the role entails?
My current role as the Strength and Conditioning Coach at SACA for the Scorpions involves devising an effective periodised plan for the entire season. This includes individualised programs for the girls throughout pre-season, in season and off season. At the moment we are in pre-season with gym twice a week, a bootcamp based session, a Speed and agility session, as well as conditioning sessions. I try and keep the gym sessions to 4-6 week cycles before changing them up. Running sessions can become tedious so I like to mix up the drills with circuit work, HIIT, and core work. In season I have been lucky enough as of last year to fly interstate with the team to assist with their warm up, cool downs and recovery sessions. It is very important to assess each athlete’s role on the team and the physical needs to complete this before devising a program. Regular screenings of athletes also assist in adjustment of the athletes programs to avoid injury and work on any weaknesses.
I know you previously have not had a major background in cricket; how have you found the culture of S&C in Women’s cricket and cricket in general?
I knew very little about cricket before landing this role 2 years ago and I am certainly still learning aspects of the game. Speaking to others who have been around the game a lot longer such as the Redbacks S&C staff certainly helped and plenty of time researching via books, internet and analysing video footage has helped. Women’s cricket has also taken a large turn in the past year regarding media recognition and opportunities which is fantastic. The culture has taken a large turn with a lot of focus also now on the fitness of cricketers and fitness testing takes place throughout the season to assure we can reach these bench marks.
What are the major performance outcomes you are looking to address and improve for the Scorpion players?
A large focus as mentioned earlier is now on the fitness of female cricketers and reducing the risk of injuries. A big one for us to improve is repeated sprint ability. Obviously the girls need to be quick between the wickets and sometimes are out there for a long period of time. Change of Direction technique has helped enormously along with trying to get the girls 2km time trials quicker. Early days the players were not very happy about the push for extra fitness gains however the last two squads have been very compliant and understand the reasoning behind the fitness testing and running sessions. Each player also has to log in daily and enter their wellness data which I can monitor and check on.
Has the impact of the different forms of the game, T20, 50-over and Test Matches, had an impact on the way you structure their S&C?
The Breezair SA Scorpions format is different from that of the Redbacks, who traditionally competing in the 50 over and T20 formats, this season will see the introduction of the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League. The Scorpions will continue to compete in the 50-over Women’s national cricket league while the Adelaide Strikers will compete in the WBBL which is played in the T20 format. This outcome is fantastic for Women’s Cricket and exposure.
You also work with the development cricket squads; what are some of the practices you are trying to instill in preparing them to make the transition to senior state level cricket?
With the U18 girls I am introducing them to the more basic strength exercises in the gym and agility sessions. This is to make sure the gap to the next step for the younger girls is narrowed and they also have some insight to what training is necessary to reach the next level.
How does your position of S&C coach for the Scorpions’ fit within the SACA High Performance banner?
As the S&C coach with the Breezeair Scorpions, I also liaise with a physiotherapist, dietician, sports doctor, fellow S&C coaches, and other high performance staff to ensure the group are all on track to their common goals and needs. I did not see myself working with cricketers (seen as my background sports never crossed the path of cricket) however I would not change it for a minute. I love my time with the squad and look forward to a very successful season ahead.
Being a young coach in the industry, where would you ultimately like to end up?
I am currently completing my level 2 accreditation through ASCA as an S&C Coach, and down the track would love be an S&C coach at national level. I don’t really have a particular sport which I would like to work with, but I just want to keep learning from my mentors, keep building up my knowledge and contacts, continue to network and see where it leads me. In Adelaide, there are only so many jobs at the elite level/institute of sport, so I may look to move interstate or overseas if the right opportunity arose. I love that Aussie coaches like Suki Hobson (Milwaukee Bucks, NBA) are establishing great names for themselves overseas and setting up a pathway for younger female coaches.
Just before we finish up, you have recently opened up your own boutique S&C studio, do you want to talk a little about this?
Yes that’s right, I have just opened my business (see fb link info below) in the Brighton area (SA) training not just local athletes but the general population interested in improving their strength and conditioning at a level which PTs won’t generally offer. The main aspects which I focus on range from rehab from injury (I am getting a lot more clients in this area), Pilates, Sport/Training goals, Strength & Toning, Nutrition plans and everything in between. Get in contact with me if you have goals you want to achieve! (shameless plug:)
Check out the latest video below from ScorpsTV to see Ainsley putting the Scorpions’ through a tough workout on the first day of their pre-season last weekend!
Thanks to Ainsley for being the first female Strength & Conditioning Coach contributor to the College Strength & Conditioning Blog.
Facebook page: Ainsley Fairhead Strength & Conditioning