It’s always encouraging to see ex-players getting involved in the Strength & Conditioning industry. Beside having paid their due’s on the field and gym, they have learned their trade through experience first and science later.
Andre Smith is one such trainer having experienced both sides of the fence. He played some decent rugby up to varsity cup level before switching lanes and completing his studies at Maties before becoming the trainer of the Maties Varsity Cup team. Maties have been in the last three finals before winning the cup this year.
Andre has also been involved with the SA u/20 team and had a stint with the SA “A” team. He has a unique experience of working with student-athletes, developing athletes as well as senior pro’s. Andre has established himself as a knowledgeable, respected, likeable trainer within the industry.
rugbyscsa: As one of the more experience and successful varsity cup trainers, can you give us a bit of insight into your unique challenges regarding periodisation in the off-season?
AS: A quick outline of the year would be Jan- April (Varsity Cup) mid-April to mid-May (league), mid-May to mid-June (exams and USSA prep) first week in July USSA, end of July to end of September (2nd part of league), October – December (exams and Varsity Cup pre-season). I try and streamline my gym periodization with a focus on what I want to achieve during varsity cup so long-term player development with regards to gym outcomes.
Field periodization will cater for the different parts of the year with a very strong emphasis on fitness during the October to December window. After that, fitness will be customized to address individual needs during the season
rugbyscsa: What would a typical varsity cup player’s week look like regarding balancing training and going to class?
AS: Class will always take priority over any training session because we need the players to do well in their studies and pass to be eligible to play the following year and to obtain their degrees because that is why they study in the first place.
In season varsity cup week would be:
Monday class + match day
Tuesday class + 17:30 recovery session
Wed 6:00-7:45 recovery testing and gym & 17:30 field session
Thu 6:30 field session & 17:30 field session + class
Fri 6:30 & 12:30 gym session (can choose which of the time slots he wants to attend)
Sat 9:30 field session
*class 8:00-17:00 so everything needs to work around those times
rugbyscsa: Working with the University, you have had access to some training technology. Can you give us a breakdown on some of the tech you guys use and how you apply it to improve player performance?
AS: Grant van Velden and the HP unit under Sean Surmon (Maties HP manager) helps me with all my technology support. We have the Vision and decision lab that helps the players with reaction time, vision, hand-eye coordination etc. and Grant is the go-to guy there. The players enjoy it and we try our best to make sure we improve our players in all areas.
GPS: important in terms of weekly distance covered especially in pre-season. We are at a stage where we know how much distance we want to cover during a week in pre-season. Based on the live GPS info on the last day of the week I immediately know whether we did enough or if we have to do some extra after the field session. It also helps a lot at giving feedback of our conditioning games. Variables I look at is total distance, high-speed distance, intensity and accelerations/decelerations.
Gym aware (velocity based training): the information is readily available so players receive instant feedback at velocity they are moving. I mainly use it with squat jumps loaded and unloaded, which helps with looking at the power profile of the players.
rugbyscsa: What are your 5 non-negotiable (and why) for any rugby conditioning program?
AS: At Maties, our philosophy for a strength and conditioning plan to work are:
- A well-designed plan (you need to see the entire picture before you start so that whatever you do will speak to your end goal!)
- Buy in from team and coaches (without a good culture the best-designed program will fail)
- Fitness level (a fundamental requirement for the brand of rugby that we want to play)
- Strength/power/speed ( I put them all in as one as we never stop working on all three but only emphasize the one more than the other, depending on where we are in our year)
- A basic monitoring plan to make sure your loads speak to your periodization plan.
rugbyscsa: What are some of the most common mistake you see in rugby conditioning?
AS: Effectiveness and meaningfulness of the data you gather, if gathering data doesn’t contribute to your decisions on a daily or weekly basis then I don’t think there is any use for it. Sometimes less is more.
I have learned that whatever you do has to make sense and align with goals and sometimes we tend to just exercise for the sake of doing it.
rugbyscsa: With the surplus of information available how can you determine what is best and applicable to you?
AS: You have a unique environment as a trainer. You know the needs of the players and that should guide you in making decisions about what is applicable. In the beginning, I struggled a lot with it as you want the most innovative training program in the world, but Sean (Surmon) and Warren Adams (Springboks S&C Coach) helped quite a bit with aligning with the reality of the student-athlete and the limitations that come with this environment.
rugbyscsa: You have been involved a couple of times with the SA ‘A’ team. With a limited time available, what have been your focus regarding their training and conditioning for short series?
AS: Focus on the field will be to make sure the coach gets through his to-do list in the allocated time. All these players are professional so I don’t prescribe programs as they already following programs from their respective unions. I just extend the invitation if there are individuals that need extra work after training that I will gladly help them.
In the gym, they follow their union programs and I just facilitate the session and obviously steal some nice ideas if I see any.
rugbyscsa: In your experience of working with the baby boks for a couple of seasons, what are some of the essentials aspect of their conditioning that you hope they have under the belt by the time they come to you. What must the School S&C coach have done to make your job easier?
AS: They should have the basic fitness levels as a top schoolboy rugby player. The training loads at the camp are very high so if you still struggle with overweight unfit individuals then you always at a risk of injury.
Basic movement education I feel should be drilled in at school so that we can maximise strength, power and speed without wasting time teaching fundamental movements.
rugbyscsa: What are your current go-to resources for educating yourself?
AS: Am I allowed saying Sean Surmon? He has been a great source of knowledge and experience to bounce ideas off.
I do search YouTube for any interesting videos also what the top teams will do NZ, England, Ireland
Networking, asking opinions and exchanging emails with trainers in our profession and also in other codes, adds valuable knowledge to my personal development