Inside the US Olympic Training Centre, Colorado Springs USA

2017 US Olympic Strength & Conditioning Symposium

Three days spent in talks and discussions throughout the symposium were provoking, challenging and interesting. The great part about this was we all go to know each and every one of the 100 coaches throughout the conference with multiple breakout discussions and interactions both in the conference rooms and around the campus.


Day One: The Head US Olympic sports psychologist kicked things off with a fantastic ice breaker to get us all acquainted. After a series of ‘challenges’ we were paired up with a complete stranger and had three minutes to tell them about our role within sport, while they sat there in complete silence.

After we switched roles we then had to introduce our new buddy and tell the group what we learned about each other. I was paired with Ben who is the current England national football (soccer) S&C. He shared some insights into what it's like to work with a squad of players who collectively earn about 400 million pounds a year! His path to the national team came from his prior role with the UK women’s hockey team where they won gold at the Rio Olympics. What a start to the conference!

Coach Maib from Texas University was the first speaker at the conference. His talk was on Culture as a cornerstone – building and sustaining a championship culture. Firstly we’ve all heard that everything is bigger in Texas – well the University is living proof of that.  52,000 students attend Texas U so when a guy who is the head of the Athletic department has something to say it's usually pretty inspirational. The Texas Long Horns are one of the big four in US NCAA football and he spoke in depth about not only building culture but further developing it so complacency doesn’t creep in. He actually quoted the All Blacks in his speech and recognised they are the leaders in this field. One particular quote I liked was ‘the greatest threat to tomorrow's success is todays success’ – giving reference to some of the best teams he's worked with have slipped up and lost crucial games because they felt they were ‘bigger than the game’.

Tracy Forber was the next speaker, an exceptionally talented lady who works as a top US Olympic S&C, with a sports medicine background so is a fully qualified physio therapist. She showed some amazing videos on how she got aerial skiers back from horrific knee injuries, as well as the work she does with paralympians. I learned that a one legged paralympian can snatch more than I can which was extremely humbling I can tell you.

Following this we had a couple of presentations regarding force plates, and another on reactive strength assessment which created some great discussion around the group.

That night we had the opportunity to socialise over a few cold ones.  Keeping them cold wasn’t a problem seeing that it had been snowing all day (even though the day before was 23C!)


Day Two: kicked off with one of the Titans of the S&C world, Mike Young speaking about subjective and objective measures to monitor player welfare. Mike's worked with almost all the top sports teams and his current role is with a Major League Soccer franchise. His talk was incredible in the fact that they spend a large part of the day analysing player welfare, fatigue and overall happiness through a variety of monitoring means.  They have created their own software systems to do this and various algorithms crunch this into a player welfare scale. Hes also a massive technology buff so chances are if any gadget or machine comes out in sport he's analysed its potential with athletes.

Peter Haberl (US Sports Psych) then gave us a very interactive talk on Mindfulness & strength & conditioning. Hes such an awesome sports psychologist and I took away a lot of valuable information from his discussions. The entire talk focused around the ability to regain attention when the mind wanders. A simple drill he did with us to demonstrate this was to sit in silence for a minute and try not to think of anything.  Immediately I thought of the marshmallow man from Ghostbusters……!  Anyway, you had to count every thought you had if your mind wandered and I ended up with 15. I challenge you to try this!

Tim Gabbot who is a highly published strength and conditioning researcher from over the ditch spoke about deciphering training load to build more robust and resilient bodies. I won't bore you with the stats but I found it fascinating that in all his research they are still trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ for optimal training load for athletes of different sports.

John Crawley was next up  and I got to know him really well over the three days. John is the head S&C for the US Ski & Snowboard team. Turns out he’s a massive fan of NZ and thinks Cadrona is one of the best snow fields in the world, which is why he brings the US team down here so often to train in the off season.

John spoke about the art of building resilient and durable athletes, focusing on an athlete centred approach.  Some of the take home messages I picked up from this was the five pillars they look for within their athletes: Resilience, adaptable, durable, confident & creative. The word I liked the best (which is their ultimate goal for all athletes flying down the mountain) was STEZE - style with ease.  They put special emphasis on the ‘process’ of training and not the outcome. This keeps their athletes from looking too far ahead and losing focus.

At the end of day two a few of us popped out to have a beer and a game of pool at a local pub downtown. It was quite a surreal game of pool as I was playing with the Sacramento kings NBA trainer and the Houston Texans Strength Coach!


Day Three: The day kicked off with what could only be described as the single coolest S&C in the world - Jeremy Sheppard. His current role is with Canada Snowboarding, but prior to that he was working with a number of surfers on the world tour. He had some great chat regarding the ins-and-outs of what goes on in the world surf tour and how he trained the guys to become better athletes. He spoke often about ‘embracing the chaos’ because programs change rapidly in professional sports.

Jeremy recalled one time watching Jon Jon Florence (surfing legend) surf a break in Hawaii and saw his practising a move where he would basically fully invert himself. He said Jon Jon wiped out over 100 times and seemed happy to being doing this. His method was, in order to succeed we must be comfortable with failing.  Turns out Jon Jon was getting used to being inverted so when he pulled it out in competition he would have no fear, and subsequently it paid off massively for him.

Ben from England Football then spoke on his campaign to winning Olympic Gold at Rio with the UK women’s hockey team. In essence they built a team around hard work and extracting the most out of every player all the way up to the games. The girls weren’t scared to push their physical limits and even though they had a terrible tournament leading up to the games, they knew they would peak at the right time. A very insightful talk and given I work with hockey players I've taken home some great info.

Ernie Rimmer from the University of Utah did what could only be described as the most over the top theatrical presentation which could be turned into a Hollywood movie. It was quite distracting but entertaining at the same time as he spoke about applying the scientific method in the quest for greater training outcomes. I got to speak with Ernie earlier about the systems they utilise in their athletic department at Utah and he (understandably) looks to challenge his staff every single day.

The last presenter was right up my alley – Michael Lepp from Joe Gibbs racing (NASCAR). His talk blew us all out of the water regarding how hard the pit crews on these cars work to get tenths of a second advantage in the pits - which can make all the difference when it comes to the chequered flag. The guys they recruit are all ex university sports stars who no matter how good they are, they all have to undergo three years of training to even get out onto pit row to work on the cars. To give you an example of the speed they have to work at – the wheel nut guy has to take off five wheel nuts in under 0.6s! It’s a high pressure job and unfortunately as a pit crew you receive very little recognition unless you make a mistake!


So that’s a wrap for the 2017 US Olympic Strength & Conditioning Symposium. The three days spent immersed in the elite world of high performance sport has inspired me to roll out new and innovative ways to work with my athletes back in NZ.

The networking and interaction will my fellow strength and conditioning coaches has been a blast and im extremely thankful for the Sport & Rugby Institute and Massey University for giving me the opportunity to take part in this symposium.

- James.