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Want to work in sport? Become a performance manager

Why is sports performance management important?

Every coach who works at a professional level has a clear and comprehensive model in their mind of what ‘high performance’ looks like for the athletes that they coach. It includes not only physical capabilities and technical skills, but also things like training habits, lifestyle choices, social relationships and values.

Though the question that they continually work to answer is, how do you take an athlete or a team that you lead to their next level?

All coaches know that you “don’t mess with success” and so, evolving can be hard, because they want to make sure that they continue doing the fundamental things that brought their athletes success in the first place, and are aware that by incorporating too many changes at once could end up being a distraction both to themselves and to the athletes they coach.

This is where a Sports Performance Manager steps in.

Ben, who works within this enviable role with the Richmond Football Club and the Oakleigh Chargers Football Club tells us exactly what he does, and how you can do it too.

The industry and the job:

My ‘job description’ day to day as High Performance Manager at Oakleigh involves:

  • Setting and monitoring physical performance programs with S&C staff for athletes.
  • Communicating with the coaching staff in regards to injured athletes and the teams current condition.
  • Meeting with physios and doctors to discuss status of injured players.
  • Meeting with Sports Science staff in regards to rehab plans, recovery and GPS data.
  • Weekly reporting relating to athlete wellness, GPS performance, Rehab and match day data.

The biggest part of my role though is getting to know and gaining the trust of the athletes. All the reporting/admin is well and good, but I take pride in knowing all the boys and knowing how to get the best out of them. Forming trust and relationships is the key.  

How to get your break:

Lesson number one? People who are trying to break in to the industry have this misconception that it will just happen, or that you can just open the classifieds and apply for a job. You need to email, contact and network as much as you can.

As part of my undergrad I completed a placement at the Richmond Football Club as an S&C Assistant. I then stayed there after the completion of my studies to gain further experience in the industry and to continue to grow as a professional.

 The S&C industry is a tough one to break in to, and once you are in you are definitely not going to get paid straight away. 

I also completed a Sports Science internship at a company called Exercise Research Australia. These two roles played a key part in me being accepted in to post graduate studies.  

I lined the internship up on by chance. I was not expecting to be offered anything I was just looking for some advice/to be pointed in the right direction. But off the back of a phone call that I happened to make at the right time of the year, I was offered a spot at Richmond. It goes to show, you have to put yourself out there and good things will happen.

Work hard, ask questions, never say no to good opportunities, get to work early and stay late. Above all you need to be able to relate with many different types of people on many different levels to be an effective coach/communicator. This is something I try to get better at every single day. There are many talented, hard working individuals who are out there gunning for the jobs you want/have so continuing to evolve and improve is extremely important.

Do you need to study?

I completed a Bachelor of Exercise Science specialising in Sports Science at Victoria University. In that time I was also a participant in four research studies within Vic Uni’s research Institute. Once I completed my undergraduate degree I went straight on to start a Masters in High Performance Sport at Australian Catholic University. I would highly recommend the course to anyone who wants to work in elite sport. Just be sure that’s definitely what you want to do; it is a big investment. I am currently undertaking a research project as part of my masters looking at the associations between player wellness and player workloads.

At the time I completed Year 12 (2008) Deakin and VU were the two universities that offered Exercise Science courses and my marks gained me a spot at VU. In regards to post-grad, there are really only two courses on offer in Australia that specialise in elite sport; one being at ACU and the other being at Edith Cowan University in Perth.

The degree is important, but real world/practical experience is even more important. The degree gives you a nice grounding but going out to apply/learn on the job is the key. Now in Australia you will struggle to gain a high quality job in Sports/ Strength and Conditioning if you don’t have a Masters degree too.

If you don’t want to study, there is always another way in; I am a very firm believer in that. There are diplomas that are offered as a way in to both undergrad and post grad. Coupled with this you could always do another course at the same university and transfer courses with solid marks.

The missing footnotes

Get a PT job coaching as early on in the piece as you can. Even before you set foot in a sporting club it will work in your favour to have coaching experience on any level.

You need to put yourself out there again and again. There will always be someone willing to lend you a hand (good people, it wouldn’t matter what profession), offer you an internship or just give you some advice. Work hard, work for free and never say, “I cant”. Be prepared to be thrown in the deep end once you do get an opportunity, its honestly the best thing in regards to professional development. You will learn more from making a mistake then you ever will from a textbook.

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