What separates great from good
There are a lot of people out there working on one-percenters. Coach whisperers, hypnotists, meditation experts. I don’t have the luxury the others do, where the results can be intangible.
I have a stopwatch and that rules my life.
I am a sprint coach, with a staff of 16 coaches, specialising in making elite sports stars quicker. In State of Origin I, six players I’ve worked with were on the field. I’ve worked with Jarryd Hayne from the start and helped him with his breakthough to NFL.
I helped Sonny Bill Williams transition from league to union, and I’ve worked with David Warner on his pursuit to turn twos into threes.
It’s usually athletes who are down on confidence who will try everything to improve their performance. Then you have a special group who are great athletes who say they can be the greatest. I see a lot of them.
Earlier this year, Souths and New South Wales star Damien Cook said he was reluctant at first to come and see me because he thought I’d tell him straight-out that his technique was shit.
I have a reputation for that, for being blunt. It’s just the way I coach. I hate people talking behind my back. My philosophy is, if I’ve got something to say I’ll say it out in front of you and vice versa, so there’s always no grey areas.
I feel the athletes appreciate it. I think sometimes with athletes of a certain status that within clubs some members of the coaching staff can more or less become cheerleaders, because they’re so overwhelmed with the status of the athlete that they’re training.
They like that they can come to me and just get their work done. It’s not, ‘Ah, let’s get this shot for social media, let’s get this angle,’ or, ‘let’s do this,’ where all they do is spend time doing everything except progressing with speed development.
The best part about my job is it’s so quantifiable. There’s nowhere to hide.
You come to me at a certain time, you run a certain distance, we test you over that time and then we go back to that.
You either go one way or the other. I’ve never regressed an athlete. I might have maintained but, more often than not, improved them.
There can be negatives. Speed is about 100 per cent application and exposing yourself to maximum velocity. There have been some difficult situations because there is some risk.
I have hurt a couple of athletes with hamstrings, not broken them completely, but I have returned some back to their teams having to face an embarrassing question.
I’m a risk taker and they know that and I’m straight honest with them, especially the ones that come to me during the season.
I always make them aware. ‘You don’t have a speed base. I’m going to delve into waters that are risk-taking and really it’s up to you, are you willing to do this?’ Because without exposing your mechanics to that higher velocity is debatable whether you would get improvement.
You need to be exposed … mechanical change, yes is crucial, but getting them to be exposed to maximum velocity with those educated mechanics, that’s where you get speed development.
It’s different for every athlete. Some people are born with a gift that some aren’t. Some are born with nice mechanics and most aren’t.
Even the ones that are born with nice mechanics, you can still get to the next level and take them where they haven’t been before. Otherwise I wouldn’t have a job.
I THOUGHT IT WAS A JOKE
I’ve worked with Jarryd Hayne ever since he was graded. Before I started coaching fulltime I was training him on the side, part-time. What Jarryd did, going from the NRL to the NFL, was Herculean.
I was the first person he told that he was going. He called me and said, ‘You know, Roger, I’m done. I’m going to go over and try NFL’. I thought it was a joke.
I encouraged him but I didn’t think there was any validity to it whatsoever. I knew the coin that he was on here, and I certainly knew what he had done here, and of course he had a lot to offer.
But he went over there completely raw, no idea on anything, and to make a roster was one of the greatest achievements I’ve seen in sport. I know for a fact that at the start the 49ers thought it was a gimmick.
I think they considered it as purely a business decision. Why wouldn’t you take a player from Australia who’s not going to cost you any money, could potentially sell you a lot of memorabilia or paraphernalia in your country, what have you got to lose?
Yeah, we’ll give you a chance, a training camp, a couple of pre-season games and then send him off.
To see what he did in a pre-season game – and he did it on more than one occasion – and then get picked on a roster, that’s a Herculean task.
Before he went, I was working on his straight-line speed and he ended up in the Top Ten when he went into the combine. Then we worked on his change-of-direction speed.
In the off-season, the players have a green light to do want they want in terms of extra work. And that’s really where most of the magic happens because I can get consistency and I can get specification. I don’t have to work in conjunction with an existing program.
They can dedicate good time to it, I can take my time and dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ as opposed to just picking up somebody in the season where you’ve got to try and make miracles happen.
I’m not God; I can’t just after one session bless you and suddenly you’re so quick.
EVERY LITTLE DETAIL
Sonny Bill Williams is a good example of a great athlete prepared to do everything to become better.
All you need to do is watch him take his shirt off – he looks like an Adonis. You think, ‘bloody hell, this guy’s paying attention to everything.’ Eats well, trains well, very focused, dedicated, all the values that a top athlete would desire, he displays them.
So it was a challenge to improve him. I have an athlete who’s completely well-rounded, who’s very athletic and I had to find a way to improve him to keep him coming back. And we found quite a lot.
That was his transition from moving from rugby league to rugby union and I think he was moving from the forwards to the backs, so speed became a big part of his game.
PASSION YOU DON’T OFTEN SEE
I met Josh Addo-Carr when I was at the Sharks. He was in the lower grades and I heard about him and that he was quick. I only spoke to him in the grandstand once, but nothing really eventuated from it until much later and he was at Melbourne.
I can’t believe he ended up being the player he was, and I think Craig Bellamy takes a lot of credit for that. But he’s another of those athletes who didn’t sit content with what he had but sought improvement with a level of enthusiasm and passion that you don’t see very often.
Two weeks after winning the 2018 Grand Final, almost everybody else in the NRL was off partying, in celebration mode. Josh was back with me, working on his speed.
A LITTLE BIT OF BAD BOY
Somebody asked me, ‘Do you think it’s a coincidence that all these bad boys end up working with you? You know, you’ve worked with Matt Lodge, you’ve worked with Todd Carney, you’ve worked with Jake Friend, you’ve worked with Jarryd Hayne, you’ve worked with Mitchell Pearce …’
I don’t know whether they can just relate to me, or they know that I can relate. I try to give them the pathway and be more than just a coach, maybe a mentor and a friend as well.
I feel I get on really well with a certain type of player. There’s a little bit of streetwise or bad boy in them and I think we find that common ground.
I always get 100 per cent. That’s a given. They’ve chosen to come to me. Nobody tells them they have to go there, so I’m never going to be worried about commitment and application.
I can tell who’s going to excel or not. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I think it’s something much deeper.
Those higher echelon blokes like Hayne, Sonny Bill, Addo-Carr and Damien Cook, when I talk about coaching cues with them, I can see them visualising it and trying to execute the movements while I’m talking.
An athlete who isn’t quite at that level will just listen and then try and execute.
These guys are different. They have the ability just to process that information so much better than somebody else. I can’t believe it’s a coincidence.