Coaching Interview #6 – Nathan Parnham

This is the sixth installment of a series of interviews with industry leaders in fields such as Strength & Conditioning, Coaching, Physical Therapy, Sports Psychology, Nutrition & Physical Education.

In this latest post we hear from Sydney based Level 2 ASCA coach, Nathan Parnham. I got in contact with Nathan via the litte blue bird in regards to LTAD models, as I knew he was doing was some great work in this area and then ended up having a 45 minute conversation with him a few days later. After getting through the LTAD details, it was evident that Nathan and I had similar views on the industry in general and the principles which underpin good solid coaching. It seems Nathan and I graduated from ECU in the same year, 2010, however I really cannot remember meeting him when we were in Perth before finishing the course – Tim Mosey might be able to address this for me 🙂 Apologies Nathan!

Through his exposure to a range of S&C opportunities and the mentors he has worked under, Nathan has amassed a wealth of knowledge and practical experience which sets him apart from many other coaches. From improving the physical literacy of adolescent kids to working with elite combat athletes, Nathan has a sound view and level of confidence on what is required and necessary for success at each level. Enjoy the interview!

Parnham

Can you share with the readers a little bit of your background (education, sports, previous/current role/interests).

I graduated from an Exercise Science degree at ACU in 2003, continued with a diploma in education in 2004, and then in 2010 from ECU with a Master in S&C. I’m a L2 ASCA accredited coach among other coaching courses. I grew up playing a variety of sports, coming from a big family with a Tennis background, I competed regularly in the JR’s and then eventually moved towards Muay-Thai in 1998, and have since been involved in the sport in some capacity ever since.

Who are some of your major past & present influences/mentors in the S&C field?

I was very fortunate to have been welcomed into the industry in 2002 by Darren Burgess (Port Adelaide Power- AFL) at Parramatta Power (former National Soccer League) for 2 yrs whilst completing my undergraduate degree which was one of the most valuable learning experiences I’ve had to date. More recently I’ve reached out to David Joyce (GWS Giants- AFL) on a couple of occasions who has been great in providing some time to me over the past year. Both probably don’t realize how much of an impact they have had on my coaching style/philosophy. Another coach I really enjoy following is Brett Bartholomew from EXOS for his ability to look outside the box and look at the ‘art of coaching’.

You grew up in an individual sport environment and how now moved into a semi-professional team setting; how did the contrast of these settings influence your approach and philosophy to S&C? 

I started off originally just training in Muay-Thai. My older brother began competing and I just became obsessed from there and how the human body can be pushed/respond to such high demands. I never wanted to compete, the more I trained and experienced it the more it just fuelled my thirst for knowledge. This is what actually got me interested in studying it further and pursuing a career in S&C. I’m a big believer in training or jumping in on certain sessions in working with sports so you can gain further appreciation and understanding of the requirements of the sport, and this stemmed from there.

Team sport settings are very different from individual sports. They are also more feasible employers for S&C coaches. I’ve tried to get involved in all the field based sports from day one (already having played Rugby and Football as a kid) as I knew this would increase the likelihood of getting a full-time role. In regards to Rugby League, I was involved in the development levels at Westfield Sports High which led to eventually getting a start with Balmain Ryde-Eastwood Tigers (West Tigers NSW Cup) for a season. This then eventuated into a role at North Sydney Bears (South Sydney Rabbitohs NSW Cup) having just finished my 5th season. The beauty I’ve found is because of my contrasting sporting background I’ve been able to bring some new ideas and look at things outside the box for a lot of the sports I’ve worked with.

In regards to how individual vs. team based training differs, I’ll go into this a little later…

You are a Level 2 accredited coach under the Australian Strength & Conditioning Association coaching structure; can you detail how ASCA has been part of your development as a coach?

I first became involved by attending their conference in 2004, then by completing my L2 in 2006. I’ve attended just about every conference since. I’m a big believer in supporting your profession and governing bodies to enhance the industry and it’s credibility. I’m also a big fan of giving back to an industry that has given me so much, so naturally I’ll keep supporting them where I can. There’s a large bunch of great S&C/performance coaches with the ASCA all doing great things, so I’ve been supportive of it ever since.

What advantages or limitations have you found specific to S&C with training elite level athletes in both and individual and team setting?

I’ve been fortunate to work in both settings and whilst they are similar there are many differences that come from both.

Individual Setting; You can target movement and conditioning in far greater detail. You’re able to take things to another level and get fast/large improvements because of the individual attention. This purely comes down to that individualised approach and the 1 on 1 attention. Because of the relationship you build in this setting it’s also easier to tap into the psyche of your athletes and the impacts of this (which is a big passion of mine also). A limitation of this can be the tough conversations you as a coach have to have and are accountable for. Athletes demand the best of your services for them and I think it’s only fair to expect this in return.

Team Setting; The team dynamics is what really excites me about this setting. You have so many different personalities who may not always get along, but building that trust and bond with each other enough to forgo these differences to get the best out of one another is a massive drive for me. This goes for both athletes and coaching staff alike. Depending on the level you work in and resources available the biggest limitation is the individualized approach you adopt and the priorities in doing so for the sake of the team. Team settings demand the most of your time because you have so many individuals trying to better themselves.

What is the periodization/programming model or philosophy which you use in preparation for the Rugby League season?

Phase Off-season Pre-season Pre-comp Comp Finals
Dates 5th Oct-8th Nov 9th Nov-25th Jan 26th Jan-1st March 2nd March-30th Aug 31/8-4th Oct
Priority

areas

Hypertrophy/

Mobility

Hyp/Strength

Endurance/

COD

Str/Power

RSA/Agility/

Tactical

Str/Power/Injury Prevention

RSA/Reactive Agility/

Recovery

Maintenance/or

Fun-Goodtimes

I wouldn’t be able to give you an exact model or a particular philosophy, it generally looks something like above. There are several other non-negotiables I often work with or try and target which include:

  • Testing all year round; A must to see how the athletes are responding, where they are currently at, and reporting to the coach.
  • Team based competition; Pre-season requires top end commitment and I always do this by dividing the entire pre-season into 2 teams and they compete every session to win the week. They’re athletes, they love to compete!
  • Maintenance; Whilst certain types of training may be labelled this I encourage trying to improve whatever parameter you are targeting in that particular training block. This is often challenging particularly with concurrent training.
  • Programming; I always provide every player their own program for strength work and they’re responsible for completing. It’s an educational thing as well as a training opportunity. If you’re an S&C who freestyles it on a whiteboard session to session, you have to question what you’re doing? Sure nothing is ever set in stone, and coaches will sometimes flippantly mess with your plans but that’s the art of it.
  • Recovery; personally I think coaches can tend to over value certain modalities of recovery and under-value the simple things in life. At a semi-professional level and sometimes even at a professional level time with their family/loved ones may mentally rejuvenate them far more than throwing someone in an ice-bath ever will.

Can you detail some of the unique physical requirements Rugby League athletes must endure during this time to prepare for a season which can span 3-4 months?

There’s a number of challenges faced when it comes to programming for such sports like this and one thing that should never be overlooked is at a semi-professional level these athletes often have labour intensive jobs, so in regards to gaining weight this proves difficult. The challenge namely is gaining weight (for younger athletes) and building on their endurance at the same time (concurrent training). This gets very complicated and you just have to adopt the model of best fit for the circumstances. Another consideration relative to the same age group (namely U/20’s NRL Holden Cup graduates) is trying to establish a long-term physical pathway to accustom them to playing against grown men… It’s a different game, and the contact is more real.

 In contrast, can you detail some of the unique physical requirements combat athletes must endure to prepare for their event?

Some of the unique physical requirements of combat athletes include weight management considerations and timing of loss prior to bouts, how cutting will impact on their prescribed training, recovery from bouts is high on the agenda (particular for those fighting regularly), and the implications of resistance training and with whom or how it is implemented.

Extending on the previous question, specific to combat athletes, can you explain the periodization/programming model used in preparation for a bout/fight?

The biggest impact an S&C can have when working with a combat athlete is periodization alone. To participate at a decent level in such sports requires a certain type of individual. This can often be to detrimental to their success, because all they want to do is work and work hard! Sometimes the biggest impact you can have on these individuals is just pushing and pulling them the right time. Because of the large psychological aspect of any combat sport the physical side is more relevant the more experienced they get. Due to a particular franchise, combat sports have become popularised in recent years. I think a lot of people in the fitness industry become disillusioned with the glitz and glamour of it all and what these athletes are capable of. Many of them have extremely young training ages and have minimal time to accomplish changes. Most of the physical preparation side of things is pretty simple, and if done correctly you get results doing so. To answer the question though, I generally will go off a 4 or 6 week periodization model with those I have worked with. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, this is often the short time they have in getting notified of match ups. Secondly, they should already have a solid foundation aerobically to build upon. Lastly, this can often change at short notice because of pull- outs and late acceptance of fights. Unless they are a big name fighter on the professional scene, most of the top level fighters in the country don’t get ample time to prepare for big fights, and if they do there are smaller fights leading up to them. In which case for Muay-Thai, an area I believe that has the biggest impact is not necessarily their prep but their recovery after fights due to the extent of their soft tissue injuries.

What have you found to be the most bang for buck type of ‘Strength’ or ‘Conditioning’ work for the athletes you work with?

Hmmm, this is an interesting question! I’m not sure if this is the answer you’re looking for, but personally I believe the biggest ‘bang for buck’ is adopting a holistic approach. Knowing what exercise, type, or equipment to use and when is what counts. This is what I love about the field. Too many times S&C coaches get preoccupied with a certain type of training. They all have their merit and every athlete responds differently. Sure trends come and go, but knowing the why and how to get what you want out of it is key.

Monitoring athletes is high on the agenda for most Physical performance professionals; can you explain the monitoring methods you use with the athletes you work with?

I mostly use subjective alternatives, and this comes down to resources really. If you don’t have the luxury of professional outfits you have to think outside the box and try to create your own in many instances. Things I have used in the past are RPE (weekly loads), wellness measures, post-match/weekly counter movement jumps (neural fatigue), HRV (ithlete), and UP bands/or apps (sleep productivity). Whilst some of these might not necessarily be backed by research to be deemed as valid or reliable, as I said before it’s about trying to use what you can and see if any meaningful relationships are discovered because of it.

You are also Strength and Conditioning Co-ordinator for Newington Boys College, Sydney. Can you detail how you ended up in the role and what the role entails? 

I’ve been working with developmental age athletes since I started in 2002, and this has eventuated from there. My first full-time role was at Westfield Sports High, which was a great environment and such a talent hot-bed for athletes in a variety of sports. The role was advertised at Newington which I knew well having grown up around the area. As with a lot of S&C roles advertised (I’m sure many aspiring S&C coaches can relate to) I wasn’t even sure it hadn’t already been filled. So I applied and after a few interviews I came out on top! Which I have been absolutely stoked with ever since! In the role I manage the gym (equipment/budgets/timetabling), my coaching team (5 casual S&C coaches), liaise with sporting bodies, design and implement the overall coaching philosophy and framework, hands on coaching and then finally privately consult for various athletes.

What is your overall philosophy to training adolescent aged athletes at the College?

Movement! We work with yrs 7-12 and encourage all of them to come in from day one. This is particularly important with this generation. Gone are the days of ‘you can’t commence resistance training until 15/16yrs because it will stunt your growth’ . Many of the youth coming through today are poor movers and simply don’t have the foundations to start building their physicality upon. I preach movement first followed by performance aspects second. The earlier they commence the better physical literacy they have, and this translates into better performance towards the back end of their schooling career.

Can you describe the culture of the College and how Strength & Conditioning/Athletic Development sits within the College framework and curriculum.

Prior to my arrival culturally the students lacked guidance and there was too much disparity between sports. The first thing I did was get everyone on the same page regarding the philosophy moving forward, and this started with each of the directors. Traditionally the students were preoccupied with getting big and lifting as heavy as they could in doing so. Their bodies weren’t physically ready and obviously injuries were sustained because of it. Which is partly why I came on board, and have been the first full-time S&C in this role. So as stated previously I encouraged movement by limiting loads, ensuring all students had their own progressive programs to follow, and adjusted the layout of the gym and equipment within it. It’s optional for students to participate in S&C, except for the senior representative teams (i.e. 1st/2nds). All students are encouraged to, as this sets up a better foundation particularly those flagged as potential rep players. Another big cultural shift was to encourage all students to participate, not just those involved in specific sports. This is more to do with a psycho-social well-being model, and the beauty of it is these such students may end up enjoying it so much they do decide to commit with a little more intensity to their chosen sports, which in turn only increases the talent pool to choose from and the likelihood of continued participation throughout adulthood.

 What are some of your current interests in the S&C field? What types of technology do you have available for use? 

I try not to follow one particular area, but rather stay up to date with a variety. Whilst we do have different forms of technology available (i.e. Gym Aware) to use, I don’t have the luxury of many of the other areas such as GPS, as it’s just not high on our agenda. Other areas I’ve utilised are more of a subjective nature like wellness measures etc. most of which are created by us rather than use certain systems to implement. It starts first with priorities, followed by resources/funds available. Although one of the biggest assets we have certainly is the gym aware system as this is a fantastic educational tool for developmental athletes in teaching the difference between strength and power. This allows them to see it’s not about how much you lift but rather how you lift it at specific times of the year. Other things it’s great for is encouraging maximal efforts through competing with their peers, and learning Olympic lifting progressions with tracking the bar path etc.

As a young and aspiring S&C coach, where would you like to end up in the profession?

Firstly, I like the way you refer to me as young haha! I’m still trying to hold on to that 30-34 age bracket. As with many aspiring S&C coaches I’ve always aspired to work full-time in the professional ranks in any sport to really test myself and push those around me. Originally, the goal was to train fighters in some capacity and one day have the opportunity to train some of the big overseas name fighters in boxing, but that just comes from contacts I suppose. Another was to travel on the circuit with professional Tennis players. But a big thing that I’ve learnt the longer I’ve been involved in the field is sometimes you need to take the blinkers off, and just enjoy the ride to where it takes you. I often found myself pre-occupied with the goal rather than the process itself, and it’s only been in recent years I’ve become appreciative of how far I’ve come as an S&C coach. So I just focus on the present and enjoy the environment, athletes, and other professionals I work with for now and whatever comes will come. One thing’s for sure and that is I don’t believe a lot of S&C coaches working with developmental athletes get the credit they deserve for what they facilitate and create. Working in this area S&C coaches play such a large role in how athletes’ move and their overall make up prior to entering the professional ranks… and this holds some weight. I like to pride myself on having those involved in such professional teams question where an athlete is from, and if they’re told Newington College, they’re confident they will have good foundations to build upon.

Just before we finish up, what are your favourite/current industry blogs/books to read, or recommend others to read?

Aside from the usual peer reviewed literature that everyone would know, my go to txts would be:

  • Periodization- Bompa/Haff
  • Supertraining- Verkhoshansky
  • High-Performance Training For Sports- Joyce/Lewindon
  • My biggest bang for buck these days are podcasts!
  • Iron Game Chalk Talk- Ron McKeefery
  • Pacey Performance

Blogs…. There are too many I follow to remember, except 1.

College Strength and Conditioning 😉

Thanks to Nathan for contributing to the College Strength & Conditioning Blog. We have a BIG coaching interview coming up, so stay tuned folks!

Twitter: @NathanParnham

Instagram: NATHAN_PARNHAM

Blog: nathanparnham.com

 

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