There’s no denying that playing games is the ultimate enjoyment for anyone who plays sport.
However, preparation through strength and conditioning is a vital key to ensuring professional athletes can get the most out of their performances.
This is where Rugby Victoria and Wallaroos Head of Athletic Performance Brendan Whelan is an expert at conditioning Victoria’s elite junior rugby talent and the best female union players in Australia.
Whelan is in charge of ensuring the Melbourne Rebels’ Under 16s, Under 18s and Under 20’s Academy players, as well as members of the Wallaroos squad, are ready for the rigours of rugby union.
“It’s about getting players athletically fit for the rigours of professional footy,” Whelan said.
“We have a long-term player pathway to develop them physically to make sure they move right and have flexibility.
“We also have nutritionists on board where they have workshops every couple of weeks, whether it be cooking classes or one on one sessions and they also have the rigours of testing both running and in the gym.”
While most would think developing athletic performance is only confined to giving players a training program sheet, there’s a plethora of other aspects which encompasses the role of a strength and conditioning coach.
Whelan says the key to any good S&C is to not only develop a training program, but to also possess the ability to work with the player and be adaptable to the many variables which can affect an athlete’s performance.
“As an S&C Coach, I hate spending time behind computers and being inside, so getting hands on is what I enjoy doing,” Whelan said.
“If you want to be there and dictate what they need to do on a piece of paper, you won’t get any results. If you want results, you get hands on, eyes on, talk to the player, remembering every day is different.
“A player might turn up not having had enough sleep, woken up with a bad back, had a fight with their partner or have recently moved house, so you’ve got to taper that session because that piece of paper is only good if they were fit and healthy.”
Whelan has developed this mantra and ethic over a number of years in his role with Rugby Victoria.
The Irish native has previously been a Strength and Conditioning for the Melbourne Rebels Super Rugby side for three years after he was initially at Rugby Victoria for six years in the same position.
Now in his eleventh year in Rebels fraternity, Whelan has been impressed with the drastic levels of improved professionalism across Victorian Rugby when it comes to implementing strong S&C programs.
“It used to be a case where at most places, there was ten minutes of what they called Strength and Conditioning before training, which was pretty much the warm up and then the coaches took the rest,” Whelan said.
“There was a long time standing around, low intensity sort of 90-minute, two-hour sessions and the players were expected to perform at high intensity on the weekend and people didn’t understand why that wasn’t working.”
However, Whelan says the introduction of the Rebels in 2011 proved to be a perfect tonic for local rugby players to transition their approach to playing rugby from an amateur to a professional level.
“The induction of the Melbourne Rebels into Super Rugby has been a big thing for a lot of the Victorian players,” he said.
“Because they think, ‘ok I want to play Super Rugby and there’s an opportunity, there’s local boys coming through, so why can’t I do it’?
“We’ve got a lot of players out there looking for extras and Clubs are starting earlier, it’s changed from most Clubs starting in January to now they’re getting back in November.”
One of the biggest satisfactions for Whelan throughout his tenure in Victoria has been the development of local players graduating into Melbourne’s Super Rugby side.
And amongst the group that Whelan has seen develop into Super Rugby athletes, are a string of current Rebels players.
Above all though, whether it be the players he mentors at the Wallaroos or at Rugby Victoria, Whelan says the biggest reward from the job is seeing players achieve their goals of playing elite level rugby.
“It’s a joy to see the players succeed,” he said.
“When I moved into the Super Rugby side, we had Jordan Uelese, Rob Leota, Fereti Sa’aga, Sione Tuipulotu and Ikapote Tupai all progress into contract positions and that gave me a great sense of pride,” Whelan said.
“For the Wallaroos last year, I saw all those girls working in their full-time program sacrificing work and family time just to be a pioneer in their field and to be an inspiration to the next generation coming through.
“So, seeing them standing there for that national anthem and you’re looking at them and you’re seeing how proud they are to stand out there and seeing those girls succeed is the best reward you can get.”