Strength and conditioning coaches are critical to the success of any sports team or individual elite athlete, regardless of the code in which they compete.
Some coaches develop a range of skills and expertise specific to one particular sport, while others, such as John Noonan, use an approach that can be adapted to different sporting disciplines.
John’s experience over 15 years as a high performance and strength and conditioning coach has included positions at the top of the English Premier League with Chelsea and Everton, at Yorkeshire Carnegie Rugby Club, with British Olympic skiing and snowboarding squads, and currently at Hintsa Performance in Formula 2 motor racing.
John told hosts Ben Tripodi and Jack Shepherd on a recent episode of The High Performance Project that his approach to coaching was more about focussing on the individual than the sport they compete in.
“This is a people first mentality, and it's less about coming in and talking about this sport science methodology, or that training concept, and more about learning about the environment and the people and the culture at play,” John said on the podcast.
“So what are the behaviours of some of the people that run the organisation, who are the alpha males that you really need to influence… and who are the more tricky ones that you need to spend quite a bit of time… getting them on board with a concept.
“So people first, and second, taking your time to listen, learn and then lead in an environment is critically important.
“I think once you've got that, then you've got enough information. You can arm yourself with the intelligence to approach certain people differently because they need a certain approach.
“(You can then) lead a group in a certain direction with a knowledge of where their weaknesses are, where their strengths are… and eventually over time can take them to a place that you consider to be best practice… or to a program that is more high performing.”
John said that finding the purpose, the values and the beliefs of an individual is an important step in tailoring a coaching plan that will work for them.
“Once we understand where the individual’s coming from, what they really need and at what level they're prepared to do business, what sacrifices they have to make, how they really want to live their life against what you think they should be doing from a lifestyle point of view, that’s probably the critical first step. And once you have that, then you build an opportunity to create a plan which is a little bit more autonomous in nature.
In the early years of John’s career, coaching with Chelsea FC and other teams, he took a very professional approach to his role on and off the field. That perspective, he said, has evolved over the years.
“I probably didn't understand the importance of balance for some of these high performing individuals who just need to let off steam,” John says.
“Sometimes eating the things they want to eat or going out for a few beers doesn't align with high performance, but from a personal balance point of view, it's critical. And if you've got good personal balance, you've got a high performer when it matters.”
Helping athletes find balance also extends to offering friendship, when appropriate. John said with many athletes separated from family and friends for long periods of time, they can find themselves quite isolated.
“We travel between races for hours in a car or on a flight with them, we will often go out to dinner because they don't want to eat alone… so I guess you take a lot more baggage on, or you take some of their baggage for them as well, in order to help them do their job, and unload some of their problems they have in their relationships with a girlfriend, or their family problems, or just general thoughts that they have that they want to dump onto you so that they can be where they need to be mentally.
“So it's a critical point, I guess, to wear different hats at different times… it's the skill of the coach to be able to flip the switch and then put someone under pressure and know that you're now being serious about this, and it's time to go.”
John said that research supports the strategy of giving athletes a sense of control over their training programs, as it drives buy-in and boosts motivation.
“We want to give them some sort of control over the program, some kind of decision making, be it in terms of an exercise that they choose, or the time of day that they do that exercise,” John said.
“We want to make sure that the type of exercise is aligned with their purpose. So if they want to improve their ability for an endurance sport, we want to do things that they believe are associated or aligned strongly to improving endurance outcomes. And then, of course, one would be doing things that these guys have some sort of ability or competency in.
“So, for instance, my driver at the moment, he doesn't particularly like the steady state endurance cycling. We know that it's fundamentally important to develop a really good aerobic base and the capacity to perform at higher intensities in the car for longer durations for a long season… (so) we had to find other ways a little bit more in keeping with his mastery and ability to keep his motivation high.”
Lumin Sports works closely with elite strength and conditioning coaches to advance high performance teams all over the world. Find out more about Lumin products and get in touch here.
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