Ask the expertCoach developmentLong term athlete developmentYouth strength and conditioning

Ask the Expert: Johnny Harris-Wright (Bristol Rugby)

  1. Give us a bit of background on yourself… (sporting career, qualifications, coaching experience)

I have played rugby most of my life and was lucky enough to play representative rugby in New Zealand and in Ireland at school boy and college level for my home province of Leinster. My most relevant qualifications would be my Undergraduate Degree in Strength and Conditioning and I am about to complete a Masters Degree in Sport Rehabilitation. I also have other qualifications such as diplomas in Sports Nutrition and Sports Therapy.

I have had a wide array of coaching experience from coaching swimming with kids all the way to my current field of strength and conditioning in which I have worked with London Irish and currently work with Bristol Rugby

  1. What has been your biggest influence in your practice?

As a coach one of the biggest factors that has impacted the practical side of my work would be the experiences (good and bad) I have had, taking part in sport at varying levels.
From a theoretical point of view what I learned in St. Mary’s University provided me with a very good base of knowledge, which has been developed through the coaches I have been lucky enough to have worked with over the past few years.

  1. What is your particular area of interest in sport?

Over the last two seasons I have had a focus on the integration of strength and conditioning in return to play and rehabilitation, due to my role at the time in Bristol and the academic work I was doing for my Masters.
An ongoing area of interest for me would be speed development and how best to maximise it.

  1. How do you think this particular area applies to youth athletes?

In relation to youth athletes I think understanding return from injury or injury prevention in key as the developmental years are key for a youth athlete. Injury prevention is key for any youth athlete as being available to train means they will gain maximum exposure to skill development and practice. If we apply this to the simple rule suggested, to become an expert in something you must accumulate 10,000 hours of practice. Therefore, greater exposure will allow an athlete to achieve this sooner. This being said I do feel it is imperative that youth athletes take part in a variety of sports/ activities for holistic athletic development and do not specialize in a sport until necessary.

  1. What is the best piece of advice you’ve received as an athlete or coach?

There are 2 pieces of wisdom that have been passed onto me during my time coaches and working in S&C. First in relation to my sport (rugby) or any sport which does not solely rely on physical abilities to be successful. I have learned in my situation that as an S&C coach and the work that I do is to service the rugby coaches. Something S&C coaches (myself included in the past) get bogged down with every detail of what we are trying to achieve and this can cloud the bigger picture of what we are here to really achieve and what is best for the athlete.
The second piece of advice I received and probably didn’t understand straight away was the more I learn the less I will feel I know about S&C. I know this is a paradox, but when I left university I felt very well prepared and felt like I knew the field of S&C very well. However, the more time I spend in it and the more people I meet (experts in their respective areas) the more I realize how little I know.

  1. What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes?

One really important thing for me is to enjoy and take advantage of the time you have working with youth athletes. Many S&C coaches are always thinking about the end goal or the “big” team of athlete they would like to work with. Don’t get me wrong it’s important to have that drive. But I have been lucky enough to work with both youth and professional athletes, and working with youth athletes can be extremely rewarding (sometimes more than with professionals). Many youth athletes dream of reaching the top in their chosen sport and you as their S&C coach are an integral part of that team working towards their dream. A good S&C coach can help best prepare a youth athlete physically and mentally for the trials they will face on that path. Also some of the most rewarding moments in my coaching career is seeing young athletes developing and achieving or even surpassing their own expectations.

  1. Can you recommend any particular resources for personal development?

I am currently working through is the EXOS performance specialist certificate which is an online resource. I think the course would suit a wide variety of S&C coaches at different levels. It allows you to work through the content at your own pace and provides a decent level of knowledge in almost all areas you would need as an S&C coach.

  1. Where can people find out more about you and your work?

You can find me on twitter at @jonnyhw12. However, I must warn you I am not a very active tweeter and especially at the moment as we have just started pre-season training so I have even less time than normal.
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