Defining Sports Performance with Altis Performance

Tue, Nov 17, '20

by KRISSANIA YOUNG

interviews

In this, a conversation that untethers the limitations that the term ‘strength and conditioning’ places on his profession, Sports Performance coach—Shayne Cooper—highlights the gaps left in Caribbean cricket due to the lack of coordination among Cricket Coaches, Sports Performance coaches and Strength and Conditioning coaches.

Krissania: Would you like to begin by stating your official title?

Cooper: Well, my name is Shayne Cooper. I am a Sports Performance coach currently specializing in cricket performance.

K: Right, and you currently operate your own Sports Performance facility. 

C: Yes. So, I used to work with Elite Development & Performance Unit in Trinidad and Tobago. I had served at a government-run facility and when my time was up there and I started working with the West Indies, I decided to open my own facility where I could train and develop athletes outside of my scope of work.

K: You’ve also had multiple stints with the West Indies team.

C: I started working with the West Indies—well my first stint was in April 2017 and that was with the under-19 boys when they were preparing for their World Cup.

K: Was the under-19s the only West Indies team that you worked with?

C: No. From there, I went on to work with the President’s XI team and then I had the choice of going back to the under-19s, or working with the Women’s team, and I decided to work with the women.

K: You also had a stint in the Caribbean Premier League with the Tridents. What was your job description during that time?

C: Well, that, actually, was what started it all—the time with the Tridents. I often tell people that, before that, cricket was never really on my radar. I did not grow up around cricket, playing cricket or enjoying cricket. But I was given the opportunity to work with these athletes and assist them with mainly the speed and power training; and it piqued my interest. I grew up in Trinidad, but cricket just never interested me. T20 cricket is a recent development, so before that, there was Test cricket: and for me, sitting down and watching Test cricket for an entire day… I could do other things, man. I could play a game of football or basketball in the same amount of time. At that time in my life, I did not get it. But, you know, [now] I appreciate the skill of the game and the talent necessary [to play/compete].

K: The “facility” you previously stated you opened is called Altis?

C: Yes.

K: Can you give an overview of the operations of Altis?

C: Altis is an Athlete Development Company. We focus on younger age groups. So anywhere between ages ten and seventeen is our target market because we believe that these [athletes] are the future. So, we want to give them the best foundation so that they can excel in sports and raise the level of sports in Trinidad and Tobago. And as time goes on, hopefully, this is something that will be spread throughout the region so that the Caribbean can make a claim to sports, as we have the talent and skill [but] we are just lost in terms of the proper training patterns. That is basically the philosophy on which Altis was built—on providing a framework where we could better develop the athleticism of athletes so that we could have a better future—a longer future—setting the best foundation for [athletes].

K:  Having just outlined the specific goals of Altis, could you draw parallels from those to the goals of Sports Performance facilities in general?

C: Yes. When you speak of Sports Performance facilities, I think, mainly, the target market is what may change, but most [organizations] tend to want to train or develop athletes. So, where we may focus on the younger generation, you may have somebody else focusing primarily on elites and trying to get the elites better. Then, you might have somebody else who focuses on, say, the older age brackets—so senior citizens—who also need this type of training for longevity in life. I think most of the time, the idea is the same and the goals are the same, but they might just be little differences in the mission and the vision of companies. At Altis, for example, we focus on enhancing sports performance and athletic development practices to produce the best possible athlete. Another organization may just be about better movement, only. But Altis is definitely sport-specific and sport-focused.

K:  I read that a single Sports Performance facility may offer several services including Psychology, Nutrition and Recovery. Can you now share the services offered by Altis?

C: Well seeing that we are a young company, a young organization, we [are more likely to] partner with other people. So, those [you mentioned] are aspects that we promote, but we are more likely to partner with people who have their own set-up or own consultancy firm. Partnering with them, [gives our patients] a better rate, if we send them over. You are right, all that is a part of it, but currently, at Altis Performance, we offer Massage Therapy, Rehabilitation Therapy, and for anybody who is injured, there is, of course, Sports Performance—mainly for the athletes, but we do have what we call ‘general population’.

K: Who are some of the experts and consultants you work with?

C: For Psychology, we work with Amanda Johnson. She is renowned in the country; she is one of the top psychologists in the country. She also consults for Cricket West Indies, as well. We work well together, so I often recommend people to her. It is easy for me to send people by Amanda if they want that physical interaction. [And] in Nutrition, we work with Tracey Pierre. Those are the facets we have covered right now. At the facility, we have two massage therapists: Akini Smart and Mallia-Polo Chandree. And we have two rehab therapists; Ruel Rigsby, who was a part of the management team with the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) champions, the Knight Riders, and Rejan Chin, who worked with the Tallawahs.  

K: What do you make of the labelling of your profession as “strength and conditioning”?

C: Yes, that is the general term, that is what is thrown around, but because I do not just focus on strength or conditioning, as I said, we also specialize in cricket performance and sports performance, [so] I prefer to call myself a Sports Performance coach because I specialize in the performance of the particular sport.

K: Can you, though, define what the term ‘Strength and Conditioning’ suggests? As well as the methods used in strength and conditioning?

C: When people speak about Strength and Conditioning, to me, it continues to be a bucket in an even broader term, because before, we were called ‘Strength and Conditioning coaches’, they just called us ‘Fitness Trainers’. So, I think, in an attempt to provide some kind of merit and specialization for what we did, it was then called Strength and Conditioning. When you speak about Strength and Conditioning, it still continues to be a general term [for] developing the athleticism of the athletes in a holistic fashion—attacking, speed, power and strength, based on periodized plans. Which is why I prefer the term ‘Sports Performance coach’ because we look at what the sport requires for you to perform better [while] a Strength and Conditioning coach is an overarching review; as in, ‘you play sports and I’m just going to get you stronger, faster and give you more endurance and have you peak in time for whatever your next tournament or game coming up will be’. Whereas, the Sports Performance coach will look at what the demands of your sport are, where your weaknesses are and how can we improve those limitations, as well as improve your strength, to make you better at that sport as well as the quickest way to get you there.

K: How vital a role does exercise play in what you help athletes to achieve?

C: Well, all that encompasses exercise, when you look at it because exercise just really means physical activity. So that would just continue to be general as Strength and Conditioning is exercise, Sports Performance is exercise, training is exercise. It’s just a matter of physical activity. I think, what I could say is, how we implement it. Basically, that is where it changes; how I implement it, versus how a Strength and Conditioning coach implements it, versus how a cricket coach would implement it—those are three different means and manners of implementations and that is where the separation comes in.

 K: Go ahead and make the separation.

C: So, the cricket coach is supposed to—and we expect them to—stay on the technical path. They are the ones who would teach how to hold the bat, how to strike the ball, how to bowl the ball, and how to field the ball; that is their role—improving the technical aspect of the game. The Strength and Conditioning coach focuses on load management; when do we run, when do we fall back from running, how much running to do, when do we do gym, how much gym to do, when do we go from high-volume sets to low-volume sets, when do we lift heavy, when do we lift light. That is what the Strength and Conditioning coach does. So those are two of the separations: one manages load, basically looking at the strength, and the other one looks at the technical [aspect]. When it comes down to the Sports Performance coach, he basically binds the two; so, he looks at the athlete pulling on the leg-side [and thinks] ‘these are the implications in the technique, how do we fix that? What exercises do we need to do so that the athlete does not get injured, or can he increase the power of that shot?’ That’s where the Sports Performance coach now differs from the strength coach, who now differs from the technical (cricket) coach. But they all have one thing in common: which is to make sure that the athlete can perform at an optimum level.

K: Having already described your target audience, what is the average age that you get athletes seeking your services? Would you say, for example, that a 14-year-old and his/her parents or his/her coach understand the need for your services?

C: To be honest, a lot of the older athletes tend to believe they have already made it. You hardly see that older crop coming in, especially once they make it to the first-class [level]. It’s a matter of, ‘I got here on my merit, why do I need you? Why do I need to do additional work, especially work that is hard for me?’ So, you will hardly see a lot of those athletes coming in. We actually got a lot more recently. We [usually] get more younger athletes. And you are right, some of them may not have the maturity to understand the importance of Strength and Conditioning, but their parents do. And as a result, the parents understand the importance, understanding that the child’s dream or goal is to make it to X point in cricket, and will like to assist in providing the best pathway for their child. And I think that’s a parent’s natural instinct, to want to give their children the best opportunity to achieve their goals. Because they understand how important that is, they tend to go down that road and apply, or introduce it to the kids and explain it to the child. Nine out of ten times, when the child comes in, they also see the importance of Strength and Conditioning and Sports Performance. And they start to enjoy it, they want to be a part of it. They are willing to practice longer. A lot of these times, the incentive for them is the ability to play the sport they love more. So, if as a 10-year-old, after 30 minutes you are tired, yes, you want to continue, but you cannot keep up with the other guys and then all of a sudden, after doing Strength and Conditioning, you realize you can go for an hour, that alone will be drive for them to want to continue.

K: Would you be comfortable sharing the male to female ratio of the young cricketers that seek your help?

C: 9 to 1. We definitely get a lot more males coming in than females. Why? I do not know, yet. I mean, I have some speculation, but I cannot put my head on a block and say what it is exactly. But I see we have more female tennis players than cricket players, though.

K: Would a program workload differ for a female versus a male cricketer even if it is the same program?

C: It should. It definitely should. And that is where education comes in. I do not want to say experience because the women’s game is young, training in the women’s game is young. And I see a lot of coaches, both technical coaches and strength coaches, take the same mindset of: ‘these are what boys or men do, so the women should be able to do it as well’. And that is not so. Women have different genetic and muscular makeup than men do. Women experience periods that affect the way and the intensity at which they can train. There are a lot of other components that you have to consider as a Strength and Conditioning coach for male and female cricketers, that, a lot of times, are ignored. That is probably why, especially in the West Indies, we see so many injuries and things like that. I think those other countries have a lot more data on it. Australia and England have a lot more data to assist with their training methods. We are currently still playing catch-up in that regard. But basically, there should be a difference. You cannot train a male cricketer and a female cricketer the same in terms of volume nor in terms of direct intensities. We need to look at quality versus quantity in training sessions, you know. That is the only way to ensure it is properly done.

K:  Would you then say that we are missing out on something in the Caribbean with the lack of Sports Performance facilities in operation?

C: Right. So, it is not just a matter of Sports Performance facilities, but even having competent Sports Performance coaches. And what I mean by that is, we have a lot of athletes—and I have this experience first-hand—who will faster go to a gym and see a trainer at a gym and say, ‘hey, I want to work with you because I need to get stronger for cricket’. But all that guy knows how to do is be a Fitness Trainer. They probably never really trained anybody, but they are big and strong and the athlete is saying, ‘well, I want to get stronger so this person can help me’. But [that training] is not related to the sport, the aspects nor the characteristics of the sport. It does not even take into consideration when their games are, or how hard they practice. And that is where we fail these athletes. It is a matter of having more Strength and Conditioning coaches, more Sports Performance coaches and then, really, having the cricket coaches have good relationships and trust in those Sports Performance and Strength and Conditioning coaches, because if the coach has that trust in them, then a good program could be built through good communication and planning.

K: Do you know of sports facilities developing programs for longevity in sport?

C:  In Trinidad, it depends on the athletes. We have worked with Keiron Pollard, I have worked with him personally. Darren Bravo, he comes to our facility and he also trains with another coach in Trinidad—Gregory Seale. It depends on the individual and how open their eyes are at wanting to be better and understand that longevity in the sport requires some sort of Sports Performance work and being at the top of their game 100 percent requires Sports Performance work. So, you get those elites, like Pollard, Sunil Narine, DJ Bravo, Nicholas Pooran. I mean, it is showing in his (Pooran’s) performances in this IPL and this past CPL. He also started to focus a lot more on S&C (sports science) over the last year, but those athletes tend to put in the work. When they find a coach that they are comfortable with, they stick to them. A lot of the time, when they want to train on speed and power, they come to me, or they may just work with whoever is the strength coach of the team they are on at the time, seeing as that is covered by the team.

K: What of the programs for sportsmen and women retiring from sports?

C:  So that is another factor that is of high importance because what you just said there is the leading cause of obesity in retired athletes. If you see a retired athlete who all of a sudden has a big belly or is overweight and stuff like that, most of it is a result of not readapting to life after sports. They just came from traveling a lot, playing a lot of cricket, doing a lot of training and stuff like that, where your calorie count was really high and your body adapted to a method of recovery that involved play hard, recover hard. Then you take all that away and it shocks the system. Mind you, your calorie burn is much lower now because you are not training as much, you are not traveling as much, but you are still eating that same amount.

Up Next: Part 2

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