Thanks to ELMO Software, our HR & payroll partner, we chat to Strength and Conditioning Coach, Steve Forcone.

Name: Steve Forcone
Tenure: 2015 - Present
Role: Strength & Conditioning Coach
Favourite food: Japanese
Favourite gym activity: Bulgarian Split Squat

Take us through your role at the club.

I look after the strength and power training programs for the players. I’m also involved with our first-fourth year professional and player development program.

What does your day-to-day look like, in-season and out of season?

In-season when the boys are at the club, we get in and generally there are one or two meetings with staff around what the plan is for each player for the day.

That can be a quick process for guys who are healthy and have no problems, but it’s often just planning for guys with minor issues or things we’ve been looking after - such as what we’re going to do for them for that day, how they go into training and what they might be doing physically in terms of medical treatment.

During training, I’ll look after any players who are on a modified program and manage their physical work for the day. Then in the afternoon I’ll coordinate with my colleague Marcus on the strength and power programs for the players. We also spend time working with players on what their personal development looks like.

Out of season, we spend a lot of time planning for what’s up next, looking at what we did previously and exploring ways we can optimise our processes going forward. So there’s a lot of time spent on reviewing things we’ve done and trying to plan on better ways to do it.

How did you get into your role?

Straight out of school I started volunteering at various sporting clubs, before landing a permanent position at the Calder Cannons, which is in the NAB League.

I worked there for seven seasons and during the day I would study and work as a personal trainer. I then got an opportunity at St Kilda through the High Performance Manager at the club.

Why is culture so important in a team environment? 

Working to a high standard, keeping a high level of professionalism and pushing each other through competition – that’s where good culture thrives.

The better culture, the more people are onboard. That feeling generally floods across the group and encourages them to do the right thing by each other. 

What differences are there when preparing a program for a new draftee, compared to a veteran in the system?

It’s purely dependent on the ability a player shows us and what they might need.

A new draftee, regardless of how good they are - we tend to take some time with them. For example if there’s a draftee who’s quite advanced, we will still put them through a pretty introductory program with lots of repetition of key movements, because the change in becoming an AFL athlete is a lot to take on and we don’t want to go ahead and change/do anything too crazy to the program, as we’ve found that that can cause issues.

With an established veteran - let’s say someone who’s fully healthy and doesn’t have any physical problems - it’s a collaborative process between what the player feels they need and what the coach feels they might benefit from. Depending on what stage they are at we would develop their individual program accordingly.

How do you keep players engaged and enjoying what they do, while driving high training standards?

My natural personality is very much about enjoying hard work – I’m a pretty extroverted person so I feel I bring a lot of fun and humour into our sessions once the players have earned the right to be able to do that.

I put a really strong emphasis on explaining the reasons why we do things rather than just asking them to do it blindly, and that seems to improve their engagement.

We know the attention that full time athletes like AFL players receive can be a bit stressful to young guys at times, so we try to keep it pretty light-hearted, but only once they have demonstrated the right stuff for us. We definitely reward them with a pretty good environment.

In a high performance/high stress role, how important is maintaining mental endurance and strength. Is it as much as the physical side?

It’s the same level of importance as the physical side.

It’s something that I think a lot of society as a whole doesn’t fully embrace and we’re trying to convince our guys that because they’re exposed to different levels of stress and expectation to perform than an everyday person and exposure to criticism on a public level, they need to put actual work and effort into their mental strength.

We would call our mental health training like 'gym work for your brain'. We value it extremely highly and it’s of equal importance to anything we do physically or with a footy.

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What are the biggest changes or challenges you have seen in the last few years in the approach to training or management of elite athletes?

I would say how much social media has grown to be a normal way of communicating. It’s quite challenging to think of new and creative ways to engage players, because their attention spans have definitely changed.

They’ve become used to very quick bits of information that they find entertaining and exciting, then moving straight onto the next thing. So in terms of getting someone's attention and keeping them engaged, that’s the biggest change since I started and has changed how we educate and communicate with players.

How would you define ‘high performance’?

High performance is being able to accept the hard times and still maintain really good levels of professional behaviour and motivation to push yourself during the bad times as well as the good times. A lot of athletes (or any person) are really good at performing and behaving well when things are going great but the challenge is to keep up the same behaviours when things do become challenging, because it’s going to happen – a pretty philosophical way of how I’d describe high performance but I reckon it’s doing the right thing most of the time during good times and bad.