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An interview with Dan Cleather

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Can you give us an overview of your role at St Marys within the S&C programme?

I am the Programme Director for the MSc in Strength and Conditioning. I have been involved with the MSc since its inception, and have at various times been module convenor of all modules apart from physiology. Currently I am module convenor for the research methods and evidence based practice module.

What is your history with S&C?

I first became aware of S&C when I bought the book “Strength and Conditioning for Basketball” in order to help my own performance and later realised I wanted to be an S&C coach after having seen Tim Henman’s S&C coach at Wimbledon.

In order to get started I went to the US to study for an MA in Kinesiology at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). During this time I volunteered in the weight room working with college athletes. CSULB has a great pedigree in terms of S&C – in particular because John Garhammer is a biomechanics professor there (he was my dissertation supervisor). However, the biggest influence on me during my time in the US was Jason Miller (then Head S&C coach at CSULB and now Director of Athletic Performance at North Dakota State University). The way I coach today is still very much a product of his tutelage.

Midway through the course of my studies at CSULB, the English Institute of Sport recruited their first wave of S&C coaches. I was lucky enough to land one of these jobs – initially in the North East of England – and so I left the US to take up this role (I later finished my MA at distance). Six months later I was appointed as an EIS S&C coach based at St Mary’s (and have been here ever since). I worked for the EIS for around six years. During this time I worked most closely with GB women’s rowing, distance runners and women’s rugby.

Can you talk us through your main research interests?

My PhD was in musculoskeletal modelling – briefly, this is the use of computer based models of the body to predict the forces experienced by the body during movement. I like thinking about the functional geometry of the lower limb, to see if I can find any new insights into the mechanics of movement.

I'm also interested in translating S&C practice to the medical arena (exercise is medicine) and in performing well designed training studies to better understand the impact of the key training variables on improvements in strength. I also like jumping.

Discuss how an S&C coach can apply your research to their practice and where you see the potential benefits to the community?

Musculoskeletal modelling has a lot of potential for informing training. Currently we don’t really know what forces muscles, joints and bones experience during movement, as it is very difficult to measure this directly, and we often have to rely on proxy measurements (e.g. EMG for muscle force). Musculoskeletal modelling can provide an estimate of these forces and thus be used to ask all sorts of interesting questions that relate to the training process.

For instance, we have recently used this technology to explore the effects of “glute activation warm ups” on subsequent exercise performance with some (interesting and suprising results) and to assess the ( changes in joint loading following strength training), both of which were led by students on our MSc in S&C

Do you have any advice for those entering S&C? What advice did receive or what would you like to have been told earlier?

The real challenge is in building strong working relationships with skills coaches where you are able to influence their ideas and practice. 

The most important thing is to get lots and lots of experience in coaching. This serves two ends: firstly, you can only become a great coach by doing lots of coaching; and secondly, above all else, the thing that will get you job interviews is the coaching experience that have on your CV. Take every opportunity you have to network, and make sure that when you network that people like you.

If you are not good at networking then make sure you learn – don’t wait to do this, put yourself in uncomfortable situations where you are forced to network. Don’t think that because you are good at building relationships with athletes that you will be an effective S&C coach (this is a prerequisite for the job) – the real challenge is in building strong working relationships with skills coaches where you are able to influence their ideas and practice.

Be honest with yourself – is S&C really your passion? Does your behaviour demonstrate this?

How can we find out more about your current research and / or applied practice? 

View Dan's staff profile