Home Rugby EXCLUSIVE – New Zealand Strength and Conditioning Coach Jamie Tout: “We’ve Seen An Evolution Of The Player”

EXCLUSIVE – New Zealand Strength and Conditioning Coach Jamie Tout: “We’ve Seen An Evolution Of The Player”

Jamie Tout’s career is all about using science, technology and most importantly the integration with the coach, to get the very best out of some of New Zealand’s premier athletes.

He is the strength and conditioning for New Zealand’s Black Ferns, the NZ Rugby’s (NZR) elite referees and a resource coach to several other NZR programmes.

In 2000 he began working independently as a coach and he was specialism was speed and agility training, having developed the XLR8 program, focusing on the ‘weekend warrior’ and sub elite sports person. In 2004 he began working with High Performance Sport New Zealand – across multiple sports and with many, many athletes – but it was this position that ultimately saw him devoting his time to rugby:

“Dealing with multiple governing bodies and multiple coaches was pretty cumbersome and clunky, so I refined down what I did and I ended up landing a couple of roles with New Zealand Rugby.”

“In terms of my wider role with New Zealand Rugby, they use the VX Sport monitoring system and as a by-product of that I find myself in conversation with some of the Super Rugby franchises and others like the All Blacks: what they’re monitoring, how they’re integrating it with other technologies. They’re really good conversations and working out how we can best help the different teams at any given time of the year.”

“As for the New Zealand Black Ferns, I came on prior to the last World Cup, part of my role leading into that was to set up some reasonable training hubs. NZR have been fantastic in terms of their support in our women’s programmes that run in different provincial unions, and we took a stand that if you’ve got a provincial women’s rugby programme then you’ve got to help to establish more regular training sessions with qualified strength and conditioning coaches.

“The nine provincial unions are at the coalface and they make a lot of the day-to-day decisions while I was trying to standardise what we were looking at, how we were measuring it, and making sure there were some structures leading into our domestic competition, our club competition and the pinnacle events in our international test windows.”

Whilst many rugby fans might know of the terms ‘athlete monitoring’ and ‘strength and conditioning’, the actual work that these coaches do can appear alien to the ordinary spectator, but Tout explains exactly what they involve:

“Athlete monitoring is two-fold these days – one is from a purely performance aspect where we’re trying to understand what the demands of the game really look like, and there’s the old adage: “We must train like we play”.

“For a long time we didn’t have any real clarity around how a coach’s drill really implemented game performance, so now we have the ability to library a set of the coach’s drills and work out what the physiological output is and that helps to tailor training and live up to that adage of training like we play.

“The second aspect is really from a workload and injury prevention standpoint: how we measure chronic and acute load. Chronic load happens over a period of a month or depending on how you set up your campaign, and acute might be closer to a week, but by managing that workload we now have a better understanding of how we keep athletes on the park.

“For each position, each sport that we’re involved with, the things that we measure may change but ultimately the goal is to make sure players are available for as long as they can be.”

Embedding new technology is a significant part of Tout’s role and he explained a number of the new software and hardware that the Black Ferns are using as part of their training.

“We do use GPS, heartrate, inertial movement sensors to capture data. We’re capturing a huge amount of data on every athlete, on every game and we’re using VX Sport technology to do that. Sports Code video analysis is something that can be used to match up the physical to the technical tactical data and something we are evolving. As part of our training or game reviews, we can see how a physical metric has affected the execution of a skill.

“From a recovery standpoint, the medical team of Isobel Freeman (Physio) and Dr. Deb Robinson (previously the New Zealand All Blacks’ Team Doctor), have a thorough recovery schedule in place, part of which involves technologies like Normatecs – they’re there to try and reduce muscle soreness and improve circulation, it’s essentially a gradient-controlled compression device that the athlete wears on their legs.

“We also use Game Ready, which is an integrated sleeve that can be worn on different parts of the body, and it’s both cold and compression and that’s again to reduce pain after all the knocks and the combative nature of rugby and increase the speed of recovery.”

“We’re using other technologies as well; when we travel long haul there’s an option to wear a Humidiflyer mask, so we’re always looking for ways to minimise the effects of jetlag. The Humidiflyer mask is one of those things where there’s a 50% uptake; some swear by it and some choose not to. You’re trying to decrease your dehydration, avoid dry air and reduce fatigue by wearing a mask like this.”

Tout also explains that training generates an enormous amount of data, and it is part of his role to help manage that sheer amount of information to best suit both coaches and players.

“When we pull that data back in we’re getting millions of data points, one million points every ninety minutes of training per athlete. That data is based on sample rates but it’s not actually what we look at, we’re really looking at four to five key metrics from a physical standpoint, and from a coaching aspect we’re pulling in some of the video coded data as well, and that’ll differ depending on what the coaching session was.

“So whether it was an attack session looking at potentially line breaks or acceleration speeds, or if it’s a defensive session we might be looking for tackle accuracy or whether it’s a breakdown session, we’re looking at how many balls have been won versus how many contests you’ve arrived at, that sort of thing. There is a lot of data there and we’ve become a lot better at simplifying that data down to some more meaningful metrics, some BIG ROCKS and then make sure they relate back across our different pillars.

“Whilst I may look at four or five different metrics, which is presented back to the coaches as a single digit number, that becomes our workload score and that gives them a bit of a visual dashboard of where each athlete is for that day or for the week or the month, and we colour code that simply by traffic lights. That becomes a discussion in the coaches’ meetings and it’s really a conversation starter. It’s important to remember as many have said… ‘Statistics are like a drunk with a lamppost: used more for support than illumination’. Don’t let statistics overwhelm your coaching.

“In terms of players we have a very simple ideology, with the Black Ferns it’s about what metrics matter and we’re looking at for any given session, what you default to and this is what you should expect to see as ‘your’ normal. For example, we might use distance covered versus that covered at high speed. That differs between positional groups and they know independently what that looks like. If they haven’t done that, then that’s again a conversation starter about “how do we make up that load?” or “how do we manage load if you’ve gone over a key value?”

Nor is Tout’s role ever static: rugby is a constantly changing sport and it’s not any different in terms of strength and conditioning.

“We’ve seen an evolution of the player as well, where bodyweights have increased by an average of 15kg since professionalism. Speed has remained relatively the same of late, but they’re bigger athletes, so each time we see either a rule change or training methodologies get better and the athletes get better we’re constantly looking at how that affects the players and what we’re hoping to get out of them.”

Tout’s role encompasses working with New Zealand’s referees as well as devoting much of his time to the women’s game, which presents a completely different challenge for him:

“With the referees it’s a different demographic of athletes straight away, so we’ve got very few under 25s referees at the highest level, you tend to see more 25-40 year olds who are refereeing Super Rugby, and possibly closer to 30-35 for the international referees, so there are challenges there. That said, they are still all scoring over 18.1 on the Yo-Yo test. They do a hell of a lot of travelling, they’re managing their bodies in a slightly different way being older and generally coming from different backgrounds to players, they wouldn’t have necessarily have played at the highest level, so those sort of things are significant.”

“But the referees are professional, so the guys that I look after that’s they’re day to day jobs. With the Black Ferns, we have a mantra that we want to be the most professional amateurs that we can be, but the reality is all these athletes the Black Ferns are generally studying, they’ve got families, they’re balancing their work life. Some of them have got the challenge of playing both sevens and fifteens.”

Finally, Tout is full of pride in terms of the work that is done across New Zealand to keep teams like the Super Rugby franchises and the All Blacks at the forefront of the game:

“It’s about not over-complicating things. [New Zealand All Blacks’ strength and conditioning coach] Nic Gill and the ABs won’t adopt every piece of technology that they come across, and Nic will go out to the franchises and ask what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, and digest it that way rather than inventing something new with the All Blacks. Nic really is a gold standard in the industry. When there are so many moving parts in the modern game, sometimes it’s a matter of doing less things better, than more things well”

Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena

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About Paul Wassell

Paul is an English teacher by day and an avid rugby fan the rest of the time. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook, or contact him at paul@punditarena.com