What is your role here at PUSH?
My title is Director of Sport Science. Sport science has become a rather vague yet encompassing term in the realm of athletic performance, with a rather large and varied scope of practice based on one’s experiential and formal education. My role with PUSH is multi-dimensional, but I can break it into two main categories, product- and client-based.
On the product side, it encompasses development, support, innovation, content creation, research and validation. On the client side, it involves supporting our whole team through knowledge translation, education, technical strength and conditioning expertise, client and public relations.
However, to keep it simple I like to tell people I am the resident strength and conditioning coach. The main users of the PUSH band are coaches in the daily training environment, so it immediately lets them know I am one of them. This usually follows with us talking shop for an extended period of time, as most strength coaches love to do.
What did you do before joining PUSH?
I joined PUSH just after the 2016 Rio Olympics. Prior to that, I was the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO). CSIO is the government not-for-profit that supports Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes. In addition to being part of the leadership team and managing 12 strength coaches and 2 facilities, I was directly responsible for the training and testing of our national teams in CanoeKayak, Gymnastics (Trampoline), and Freestyle Ski (Slopestyle). I have worked with numerous other national and provincial teams including Ice Hockey, Figure Skating, Cycling (Mountain/Road), and Basketball.
My formal education includes an undergraduate degree in kinesiology from McMaster University, specializing in athletic therapy and exercise physiology, and a Master’s of Science in Biomechanics from the University of Toronto specializing in the quantification of movement and lower limb mechanics. I also hold numerous designations including Certified Exercise Physiologist (CSEP-CEP), Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Kinanthropometrist (ISAK-1), and coach trained through the Canadian National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) in Olympic weightlifting and athletics (sprints and jumps).
I strongly believe in being a lifelong learner. When my direct learning stagnates, I try to focus on mastery of what I have learned, or put my energy into helping develop the next generation as I can learn from them while giving back and sharing the things I have learned over the year. I strongly believe in paying it forward to the next generation, as my mentors did for me. This industry evolves so fast (even though the fundamentals remain rather static), that you have to have a pulse on what is happening in order to sift through the dirt and find the gems. So if you aren't exposing yourself to a learner's mindset and environment, you are on the path to being obsolete in my opinion.
What are some of your biggest coaching achievements?
I am never one to take credit for an athlete performance. It is so much more than just physical preparation, which I only facilitate; the athlete still has to show up consistently and put in the work.
That being said, when an athlete gives you credit, not the public credit, but the one-on-one credit behind closed doors when no one is looking, that’s what stokes my fire. When they tell you they couldn’t have achieved their goals without your support, that to me is the biggest achievement, it validates every ounce of work that is put in. Making an impact, making a positive difference in another individual's life it what it's all about!
I’d say a close second for personal achievement is still being here, still being relevant and still loving what I do. I was fortunate to get into this field early in my career, which gave me more time to figure out a path and goals to work towards. This gave me more time to focus on thinking about solutions to problems and more time mastering my craft. Getting to where I am today wasn’t easy, there were a lot of roadblocks and struggles along the way. In Canada at the time there was no pathway at all the become an S&C coach, we all had to pave our own road. Unrelenting work ethic is what allowed me to overcome most obstacles, something my parents did a great job at instilling in me. Still being on this journey and still being excited about it is a massive achievement in my eyes, it validates my career choice.
What or who inspired you to get into your field?
I have loved sport for as long as I can remember. I am a cerebral athlete, my gifts were more mental, technical and tactical. I wasn’t anywhere close to the best physical specimen and always had to work hard at my athleticism. I got into a weightlifting gym class in grade 10 and my love for the gym started blossoming there.
As with many kids, I always dreamt of being a professional athlete. However, I never specialized in a single sport, and the sports I put the most time into I got bored of. This led to me being okay at everything, not great at anything. After high school, I decided not to pursue competitive sports anymore. While exploring many new sports recreationally, I decided to focus entirely on my career. I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete, so working with athletes and sports on a daily basis was my goal. This drove me toward kinesiology as an education and the rest snowballed from there. As for the who, it segues perfectly into the next question.
Was there a “crucible” moment in your career? A defining moment or turning point?
Being trained as an athletic therapist and physiologist prior to jumping in fully into the strength and conditioning profession, it was my first S&C internship and mentor, Steve Lidstone, that really paved the way for my S&C career to blossom. I was a recent graduate from kinesiology at McMaster and was working in the sport medicine clinic, and the school was hiring its first full-time strength coach, something that didn’t really exist in Ontario University Athletics at the time (we are way behind the U.S. up here). I applied for the job and naively thought I had a chance (i.e., had no chance at all). They hired Steve for the role, and when they did I decided I was going to try to be his assistant, work for him and learn from him, as I wanted to be in his shoes.
In his first presentation to all the potential S&C interns and assistants, I distinctly remember him telling the story of how he got to where he is, by sticking to one of his mentors like glue, bugging and hounding him to learn every possible thing he could. At that point I said to myself “I am going to do the exact same thing with you”. I stuck by Steve-O’s side and learned anything and everything I could from him, working as an intern, then an assistant at the collegiate level and helping with every external contract I could. When it was time for him to pass external work on, I was the person of choice, knowing he trusted me and trained me, that the program would be seamless. This opened doors for me to work with the Canadian Sport Institute and Hockey Canada. On that note I recommend to any young aspiring S&C’s to find the person (mentor) who has the job you want and learn from them. Volunteer, be unrelenting in your desire, do the prep work they desire, and keep coming back until they take you under their wing. Find a way to set yourself apart from the masses. Don't take no for an answer!
I have had a few other mentors along the way, as I always try to find someone local (i.e., who I can readily access) that is an expert in the area I want to learn, and I either give time, volunteer and shadow, or work for them. Chris DalCin, Dr. Tyson Beach, Sheldon Persad and Dr. Stu Phillips have all heavily facilitated my growth as a coach, scientist, professional and person, and I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today without their influence and mentorship.
What S&C topics do you specialize in? What do you find most interesting?
Through my work at the Canadian Sport Institute, I became an expert in two areas. The first being concurrent training. I was extremely fortunate to work with one of the most successful Canadian paddling coaches of all time with our Olympic CanoeKayak team. He already had an incredible model for training strength and endurance qualities, which produced medalists over multiple Olympics. When I started working with him it was my job to dive into the literature, poke holes, and validate the model. Every year we would tweak parts of it based on the latest research and see how it affected the athletes. We were fortunate to have a group of athletes that could win medals on the international stage on any given day, so squeezing more juice out of the orange wasn’t an easy task. But using a process involving decades of empiricism and coaches eye/intuition, supported by the literature and fused into a scientific process we were able to find ways to apply the research to break through plateaus and optimize adaptations to both strength and endurance training. I later modified this model to work with cycling (Mountain/Road) and saw amazing improvements as cycling is a sport scientist's dream since you can measure every pedal stroke with relative ease. This further validated the model of concurrent training in general and showed it worked irrespective of mode. I am always adding to this model as there is lots of new research coming out in this area specifically, as it seems to be a hot topic right now in the academic world.
The second area I would consider myself rather versed in is acrobatic and aesthetic sport. I worked with trampoline and figure skating over 2 Olympic cycles, and currently work with freestyle ski. This started out more as an opportunity, as trampoline was the first national team that was passed on to by my mentor Steve. But it ended up being a great fit. I grew up in a martial arts household having trained many styles over 2 decades. Combine that with a stint as a b-boy, and I have a pretty good understanding of the nuances associated with body control performance and the ability to produce an aesthetically pleasing movement or position. I also find I personally identify with these type of athletes, so it is an easy fit from a coaching standpoint.
The area that interests me the most these days is movement. In the mid 2000’s functional training was the hot topic, and the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) was gaining traction. Having spent a lot time applying and thinking about these tools/concepts, I ended up with more questions about movement training and testing. I felt like everyone was talking about movement but no one was measuring it, and I was getting nowhere in finding answers to my questions. This is what drove me to go back to school and formally study biomechanics. Specifically, I studied the qualitative and quantitative assessment of movement, movement systems theories and motor control processes. Thinking about movement as a behaviour, so taking less of a reductionistic approach and looking at the system as a whole. My graduate supervisors have definitely influenced my learning in this area, and I feel like it is the next frontier for S&C profession, the nexus of biomechanics and motor control.
How did you first learn about PUSH?
Rami, the CEO and founder of PUSH reached out pretty early on, when they were in the prototyping and beta testing stage. I had been in the Toronto S&C scene for a while so he sought me out for feedback. At the time I thought it was a solution to a lot of my problems. Having used all of the other velocity measuring tools that were available to date, they each had their own limitations. PUSH had solutions to all of them, so I was intrigued and offered to help any way I could. Further, it was the online portal software they created that intrigued me the most. At the time there was no software at all for S&C coaches to program and track their athletes' progress, and for years I was looking for something to get me off of excel. Technology should make less work for coaches, not more work. It should be easy and intuitive, not clunky and cumbersome. The portal was one of the earliest solutions to this problem, and clearly they weren't the only ones thinking about this as there are many players in this space now.
How can an S&C expert get in touch with you?
Easiest way would be by email - firstname.lastname@example.org. My twitter handle is @chappystrength which works as well. I am usually too busy to spend much time on social media but will definitely reply to direct messages.