Ask the expertYouth strength and conditioning

Ask the Expert – Sam Joyce (Nottingham Forest FC)

The latest Ask the Expert interview comes from Nottingham Forest FC U18 Sport Scientist, and host of the “Growing Up Strong” podcast, Sam Joyce.

1)Give us a bit of background on yourself… (sporting career, qualifications, coaching experience)?
It was pretty evident from an early age that I was nowhere near a good enough player to earn a living from football, so I knew the academic route was my way into sport. I wanted to instead be a football coach and went to the University of Glamorgan to Study ‘Sports Coaching and Performance’, where our modules were a real mix of physiology, analysis, the UEFA B coaching course, principles of coaching and, crucially, strength and conditioning. I was so lucky to have Iain Jeffries as my s&c lecturer at that time and he really lit the fire for me through his passion and knowledge for the profession, it struck a chord with me and I knew this was the path I wanted to take.  As soon as I finished my undergraduate degree, I used Linkedin and emailed 60 sports clubs offering my services for free either as an intern, to shadow, or just anything to get some more experience. Nottingham Forest were one of the few who replied and after a couple of informal chats, I had my foot in the door as a part time intern with the U18 and 21’s Squads. At the same time I was completing a full time masters in Strength and Conditioning at Coventry and I also worked on Menswear at Next to pay my way (My apologies if I ever gave you fashion advice). I couldn’t drive so got the train from Leicester to Notts 4 times a week. I remember checking my bank account and it saying I had 12p to my name, but I definitely think that time helped to build some resilience and was a valuable period personally. I was lucky enough during the football off season to get the opportunity to work with some GB athletes at Leicester Uni which again helped me look at sports performance from a different perspective away from football. Gradually I worked with more and more squads, eventually being offered a full time role within the academy set up and progressing from there. I owe a lot to the people who first gave me an opportunity, and am proud of how I strived to make the most of it! 
2) What has been your biggest influence in your practice?
Without wanting to self-promote too much, the academy at Nottingham Forest is a special environment. I’ve been here for nearly 5 years since that first internship and have worked with individuals and departments that really show what a high performance environment means. The drive within the group of staff is different to anything I’ve seen or heard of and I feel privileged as a young practitioner to be around these people. It definitely makes you aware that you aren’t just there to observe and you have to bring something to the party too. Everyone drives each other and one of our ‘Academy Traits’ is to be an ‘Energiser’ for the players and each other. Seeing this environment develop and being a part of it has by far been the most influential thing in my career so far, learning so much from so many people about my area of performance support but about life and growing as a person as well.
 3) What is your particular area of interest in sport?   
I love working with young players and helping them to develop into top adult athletes. I saw on a job advert once that an academy were looking for someone who ‘Has a passion for working with academy age players’ and I would very much put myself in that bracket. I don’t see my role as a stepping stone to ‘higher’ positions and I don’t think it’s particularly useful to do so. Yes I’m ambitious but that ambition is to constantly improve the physical development of the athletes I work with and drive towards being the best I can be with young athletes.
There is so much to consider with these guys that I feel its effective to be a generalist and concentrate on what’s right for each individual within your programme. There are players within our full time scholarship programme this coming season that were 11 years old when I started and it’s fantastic to know that I’ve made a positive contribution to that, however big or small. 
4) How do you think this particular area applies to youth athletes? 
Youth athletes are my area! One massive thing that I’m trying to learn about and read up on at the moment is how to engage with younger athletes in a positive way. Yes we were all young once, but the environment, society and social makeup is different now to when I was trying to give girls a deadleg as a way of talking to them! It’s vital to see the perspective of who you’re working with and positively connect with them. It’s almost like we are no longer coach and athlete, instead we need to be partners working positively together towards this individuals progression. 
5) What is the best piece of advice you’ve received as an athlete or coach?
Control the controllables. We have such a vast amounts of information now through data collection, multi-disciplinary integration, external resources and more that it’s easy to get caught up in sifting through it all with little effect. My personal experience is that if you concentrate on the major pillars of your programme and getting them right, you achieve positive results. Of course I’m aware of the view that sports science is about the small margins and percentages, but there is a great deal to be said for a strong and successful structure. If you try to spin too many plates, you’ll drop one sooner or later.
6) What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes?  
It’s a cliché but coach the athlete as an individual rather than a statistic or a clone. What works brilliantly with one player may make little or no difference with another, especially when working with youth athletes. There are so many different variables that can shape the makeup of a young athlete, if you aren’t individualising then you have less chance of a positive effect.
7) Can you recommend any particular resources for personal development?
I’m starting a podcast, so I’ll have to start with a shameless plug for that; It’s called ‘Growing Up Strong’ and features interviews with sports professionals working with younger athletes. The aim is to be a learning resource across many sports and environments, so check it out! I’m big into podcasts as there’s so much more opportunity throughout the week to listen to information instead of reading it. The Pacey Performance podcast is a great one, very popular and rightly so, but away from sport per se is Michael Gervias’ ‘Finding Mastery’ podcast. It’s a great one for an insight into what drives successful people to be so, and how they continue to strive for excellence.
 In terms of starting out, reading Keith Ferazzi’s ‘Never Eat Alone’ was a big eye opener for me and I still have a quick look at it from time to time. I would recommend it to anyone looking to network or simply learning to communicate more effectively. 
8) Where can people find out more about you and your work? 
People can catch me on twitter at @coach_joycey and listen to me hosting Growing Up Strong on Podbean or Itunes. Alongside that, I’m always happy to chat over email at
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