I would be really surprised that the name Marco Cardinale doesn’t ring a bell if you are in the strength and conditioning field. Marco recently co-edited the book “Strength and Conditioning: Biological Principles and Practical Applications” with Robert Newton and Kazunori Nosaka that got really awesome reviews and feedback from the coaches and researchers I find highly influential – the book is definitely a must have for all the coaches and want-to-be coaches out there.
In the recent months I have been following Marco’s blog and I found it really ‘evidence based’, realistic and with a lot of critical thinking – by the way, what else would you expect from a sport scientist who is in charge of science and research for the British Olympic Team?
I am really thankful to Marco for his prompt response for my email interview request and I hope the readers will enjoy his insights.
Mladen: I must admit that I am really glad I am doing this interview with you Marco. I have been following your blog for some time and I recently got the book you co-edited. Can you please share some short info on who you are, what you do and what are your plans for the future?
Marco: I am a Sports Scientist working as head of science and research for the British Olympic Team. My job covers 26 summer and 7 winter sports. So every day is a challenge and an opportunity to learn something new. I had the opportunity to study in Italy (for my B.Sc.), USA (for my M.Sc.) and Hungary (for my Ph.D.) and worked in various roles in academia, sport, government agencies, companies in many countries. I consider myself lucky as I had so many opportunities to learn thanks to the opportunities I looked for and was exposed to since I was very young. I decided to travel very early as I am driven by a true passion for knowledge and I try to learn something new every day. I am blessed to work in Britain at the time of the Olympics being at home with so many talented colleagues. My daily job consists of doing applied science projects with sports as well as scanning the horizon for new things. I am probably some sort of consultant. I miss some of the day to day interactions, but I like the variety I get exposed to in this role. Plans for the future are to continue to learn and develop and hopefully help more coaches and athletes achieve their best as well as contributing to educate new practitioners and coaches.
Mladen: It seems that the role of strength and conditioning coaches evolved from the iron-work and run-to-the-ground to more planning and programming adviser and monitoring expert. What tips would you provide for up-and-coming strength and conditioning coaches willing to work in team sports? What skills and qualities they need to posses and where to search for the knowledge?
Marco: I think you are correct in saying that roles have changed. However in some professional organizations we still have a mix of conventional S&C coaches and sports scientists leading the planning and programming of coaching activities. Up and coming coaches need to focus on basic science to understand well biological responses to training paradigms, develop a scientific mindset and learn about technology and equipment. Too many do not understand the limitations and potentials of measurement technology and are not able to interpret the data correctly. It is a bit like photography. Everyone can buy a camera and take pictures, very few can take good pictures and express them well. A lot of young practitioner use testing equipment they don’t really understand and when you see the quality of data you wonder what training decisions they take. Good knowledge of statistical methods and other branches of science are also important. Finally good people skills are fundamental. You now work in teams and in particular in elite sport you work with international groups of people. So it is important to be able to relate to each others experiences and communicate effectively with coaches, players and support staff.
Mladen: Speaking of team sports, I really like your Training Team Sports Athlete articles. It really put the lights on the problems of working in team sport settings for the strength and conditioning coaches. Most of the contemporary training wisdom comes from individual sports and it is really hard to apply them to team sport context and constraints. Can you expand more on this and do you ever plan updating and expanding the mentioned article?
Marco: I plan to write more about when I will have some time. I have to say I don’t live the day to day operations of working with a team anymore and I am sure many things have changes since the times I did it. However I can say that still there is no significant improvement in planning and periodisation knowledge of team sports demands with reference to European or South American competitions. Some knowledge comes from American pro sports which have dense short competitive seasons and long time to prepare, unlike pro sports in other countries.
Mladen: In your opinion, what are the training consideration one need to address in most team sports, especially during the in-season? Do we need to follow the script (periodization plan) or address the strength~weaknesses of each athlete on individual basis? Bench guys comes to mind in this particular example. What role does strength play in here in terms of performance improvement/maintenance and injury prevention?
Marco: Lots of questions here. 1) you need to have script as this is dictated by the competition schedule you know. 2) The script changes due to competition changes/injuries/approaches to individual games. 3) You need to train individuals within the team which tend to cluster in 3-4 subgroups. In football you have the issue of players who don’t play a lot of competitive games so you have to decide how you train them according to their playing time. Strength is important but just like every other physical quality does not need to be emphasized (e.g. how strong is strong enough?). Also, when planning you need to know how much time you have available to be able to develop strength. If you have 2 sessions in a month, you have no chance, so you are better off dedicating more time to other training aspects.
Mladen: You are big on monitoring of the training workloads. Why is such thing so important and what new technologies are providing us the new and better ways to do it? What are ways to monitor how is the athlete adapting and recovering from those workloads and how to pull out some correlations? What are your thought on using HRV for this problem?
Marco: Training monitoring is important as it is the only way to understand how things are going. However I have to say I see people collecting tons of data they cannot interpret or use to adopt changes to training programmes. So when deciding what to measure, one should seek valid and reliable measures as well as measurements which are able to inform the training process. Methods of analysis should also be taken into account as only good longitudinal data can help building strong models to be able to make helpful decisions. HRV can be one of the useful ways to understand the implications of training and competition loads, but they can also be affected by other non-physical factors (stress at home, lack of sleep, caffeine use etc.). So again, data should be taken with caution. Recent work from Martin Bucheit using one of the indices (the log of RMSSD) seems to be a sensitive measure of individual responses to workloads.
Mladen: What’s the deal with cold water immersion? Some say they are really helpful in recovering the athlete (decreasing DOMS and perception of fatigue), some coaches in rugby use it to decrease edema from collisions, and yet the research shows they decrease training effects and some force/power indices? Do we need to use it in pre-season, or save it for later (in-season) not to decrease training effects? What are your thought on cold water immersion?
Marco: This is a good question. But it is important not to confuse recovery from competition with regeneration. Every time we decide to use an intervention we should look at the cost-benefit of the intervention. In the case of cold water immersion we know some of the benefits, we need to ask ourselves what are the costs (logistical, financial, emotional, physiological) and then we can decide if it makes sense or not. In my view there is no application in a training environment, unless there are particular issues or particular loading needs. There are potential uses in competition, but it is not for all sports, it is in sport where there is a strong collision element. Now everyone does it, and noboby can tell you why. I am working on a new recovery and regeneration best practice series with various international experts and hopefully we can make it available to everyone soon.
Mladen: I myself struggle with Excel – it is very powerful tool, but it seems recently I spend more time on ’paperwork’ (monitoring training, data collection, analysis, visualization…) that on actual field or gym coaching the athletes. Shouldn’t technology reduce our (paper)work? What tips can you provide for us „slaves to technology“?
Marco: This is a big issue. We went from no data to too much data and no integration. Still analyzing and reporting requires too many man-hours and visualization requires specific expertise with costly software programmes as well as many hours to develop nice dashboards. We are working on it in the UK and hopefully will be able to have something meaningful soon. Sadly no tips, however we can get help some students or interns to help sorting out data. Programming skills in software like R or Matlab come handy for such tasks.
Mladen: I think that the readers would really appreciate if you could share some quality information sources, like books, blogs, web pages. There is a sea of information out there, but it is hard to find good ones.
Marco: My primary sources are always scientific papers. Even if I read something on a blog, book or webpage I like always to find out more about the primary source. So PubMed is my best friend really. However I do read a lot. Books (read all sorts recently on talent and on checklists), blogs (curious about everything, but quality sometimes not good), rarely read webpages. The Twitter aggregator I use to produce the Daily Science is my source for scanning the horizon for interesting things to read in the science World. I tend not to read sports science unless there is a good paper. I prefer to read a lot of material from other fields. At the moment I am fascinated by everything relate to brain and behaviour and persuasive technologies.
Mladen: Thank you very much for this interview Marco and good luck with all your endeavors.
Marco: Thank you for your questions.