“I saw a video of him on Facebook the other day taking on a couple of blokes – that was special,” says Coburg’s high performance manager James McConnell about Lion-turned-Gold Coast Sun Adam Saad.
“It was really good to work with Adam. It was awesome seeing his progression.”
Strength and conditioning is McConnell’s passion. He’s dedicated to helping Coburg’s playing list improve physically and enabling every player to get the best out of themselves.
Wanting to work at a level close to the AFL, McConnell joined Coburg in 2009 as part of a university placement during his exercise science degree. He was kept on after completing his compulsory 300 hours and became the club’s assistant strength and conditioning coach in 2010. McConnell then spent two years as rehab coordinator before landing the high performance role.
After being appointed high performance manager, McConnell decided to study online for his master’s degree in high performance sport in order to “go back, learn a little bit more and keep myself ahead.”
Along with his work at Coburg, McConnell has strength and conditioning roles at FC11 – a sports development diploma for ambitious young soccer players – as well as Australian Ice Hockey League team Melbourne Ice’s men’s and women’s sides, and, for six months every year, the Australian women’s national ice hockey squad.
Instead of using his holidays to take a break from his busy schedule, he travels to broaden his knowledge even further.
“I’ve travelled quite a bit to the US and I make a habit of it – even if it’s in the middle of the season – to extend my knowledge because as much as we think we know everything, there are people all over the world that know more,” McConnell says.
“I’m lucky to get over there a couple of times and learn as much as I can. Everyone in the industry looks to better themselves from other people.”
McConnell’s tasks at Coburg vary considerably but typically include organizing players on game day, liaising and organizing with coaches, physios and other staff, managing player load management and ensuring they’re all in the gym.
He is appreciative of the help he gets from his high performance team –Todd Jones, Stefan Romeo and Ryleigh George – and believes they will only get better after having spent a full season together in 2014.
“The biggest thing this year is that we’ve really set our high performance team,” McConnell says.
“We’ve got Todd, who’s come on from last year, Stefan’s been around for a few years and then Ryleigh’s come on as well. Having a really good team, where we can work together, has really lifted us. It allows us to implement more and more things to look after the playing group and manage them through.”
Despite the eventual loss to Essendon on Sunday, McConnell says that the Lions were outrunning their opposition and believes the club’s fitness levels are well and truly up with the biggest teams in the competition. This was helped by Coburg’s 2015 pre-season that spanned 22 weeks – longer than the actual VFL season – and McConnell was pleased to see the leadership group lift to help the playing group get through the tougher moments.
“Through the whole pre-season the leadership group were excellent,” McConnell says.
“We had our nice big hike out to Sugarloaf on a really, really wet day and seeing the leadership group step up that day was awesome. That was Cale Morton’s first week at the club and he really surprised me and lifted a lot to get the group through even though he was brand new to the group. So that was a big positive.”
McConnell was reluctant to single out a player but was full of praise for midfielder Nathan Thomas.
“He just runs all day, “ McConnell says. “He always kills our fitness testing and he’s strong as well – so he’s someone that never lets you down and works hard – but I could say something like that about every player.”