IRFU Certified Conditioning Course – Mark Lyons

Last week, we hosted the IRFU Certified Conditioning Course (CCC) Course at the University of Limerick. Kevin Cradock alongside Fergal O’Callaghan coordinated a fantastic weeklong programme that forms the basis of the Strength and Conditioning module on the MSc Sports Performance Programme. Both Kevin (IRFU CCC Course Director) and Fergal (Munster Academy and Age Grade Strength and Conditioning Coach) bring a wealth of experience to the delivery of the course. Fergal has worked for over 17 years with Munster Rugby and Kevin was Head of Strength and Conditioning with Connaught Rugby from 2008 -2011. Experience aside, they both bring great enthusiasm and passion in their pursuit of developing coaches of the future.

Over the week, the course content was delivered through a seamless mix of theoretical sessions, seminars, discussions, practical workshops and assessments. Students covered theoretical sessions with Fergal and Kevin including:

  • The Demands of the Game
  • Principles of training
  • Movement Screening
  • Warm-up and Movement Skills
  • Rugby Specific Conditioning
  • Programming and Planning
  • Recovery and Monitoring

A number of practical workshops linked to these topics were also delivered including:

  • Warm-up and Movement Skills
  • Lower and upper body strength development
  • Rugby Specific Conditioning
  • Fitness Testing

On the Monday afternoon, guest speaker Nick Winkelman (Head of Athletic Performance & Science (IRFU)) delivered a part-theory, part-practical workshop on maximum speed development with key messages to coaches around the importance and science of cueing and attentional focus in terms of maximizing performance.

Nick Winkelman delivering workshop on maximum speed development

On Tuesday, there was also an excellent part-theory, part-workshop on Strength Training for Rugby delivered by guest speaker Dr. Eamonn Flanagan (Lead Strength & Conditioning Coach – Irish Institute of Sport). A former PhD student in Biomechanics at the University of Limerick, Eamonn also brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the CCC course having previously held roles as IRFU Academy Strength & Conditioning Coordinator, Lead Strength & Conditioning Coach to the Ireland Under-20 Rugby Team, Strength & Conditioning roles with the Scottish Rugby National Academy, Scotland ‘A’ and Edinburgh Rugby teams.

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Over the course of the week, students also completed a number of practical assessments and presentations around periodization, coaching strength, speed and conditioning elements.


Left: Dr. Eamonn Flanagan delivering lecture on Strength Training for Rugby

Below:Kevin Cradock & Fergal O’Callaghan conducting the practical strength assessments & providing student feedback

Above: Students presenting periodization plans

On Thursday, guest speaker Professor Ian Jeffrey’s (Lecturer in Strength & Conditioning, University of South Wales) delivered a part-theory part-practical on Gamespeed for Rugby. Ian explored a number of aspects of gamespeed including its definition, gamespeed constraints as well as the importance of developing correct mechanics when coaching drills. Ian delivered a number of key messages to the students around (1) movement being a skill-based element (2) the fact that drills alone will not produce the desired result and (3) the importance of coaching the drills and scrutinizing the performance of those drills by your athletes. A practical workshop followed where Ian took students through a series of exercises/drills aimed at developing speed and agility in athletes.

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Above: Prof Ian Jeffrey’s delivering practical workshop on Gamespeed for Rugby

On Friday, a lunchtime lecture by guest speaker John Kiely (Senior Lecturer in Elite Performance at UCLAN) explored issues around inconvenient truths regarding training and periodization. A previous graduate of the BSc Sport and Exercise Sciences programme at UL, John’s professional career in strength and conditioning spans numerous sports and previous roles include Head of Strength and Conditioning for UK Athletics (2005-2009) and strength and conditioning support coach to the Irish Rugby team since 2014 to name just some. John’s critical analysis of the existing literature on periodization was refreshing and take home messages for students included the need to plan systems and processes that can be adapted. He delved into predictors of overtraining and the importance of understanding other stress/stressors in an athlete’s life. John’s talk was also perfectly positioned on the last day of the course, as there were a number of suggestions for coaches as they move forward around of the dangers of emotional dependence, knowledge without thought, certainty without deliberation and the importance of cognitive dissonance.wk14 ML pic 10

Above: John Kiely delivering lecture on Periodization: inconvenient truths.

As course director of the MSc Sports Performance programme, the CCC provides our students with an excellent mix of theory and practical sessions aimed at increasing student’s knowledge base in the area of strength and conditioning whilst also developing their coaching skills. It was also very pleasing to see students from the BSc Sport & Exercise Sciences Programme taking part and doing the course as part of their own CPD. I hope that this course will also provide a springboard for students going on to do other CPD work and possibly gaining other qualifications in the future.

Overall, the week was enjoyed by students on the MSc Sports Performance who commented:

“I really enjoyed the IRFU CCC programme … the balance between theory and practice was excellent and I found Fergal, Kevin and all the guest speakers to be extremely knowledgeable and approachable throughout… I am now looking forward to putting what I learned into practice….”

“I found the course practical and engaging. There was a good environment provided to allow for discussion and questioning in regards to training and coaching practices.”

“Very insightful talks from world class coaches and really enjoyed the practical elements of the course”

Sincere thanks to all the tutors who contributed to the delivery of an exceptionally high quality CCC Course. Special thanks to Fergal O’Callaghan and Kevin Cradock for coordinating the whole week, the assessments, guest speakers and delivering a significant volume of the content. Thanks also to UL Sport for the support we received with respect to making key facilities available throughout the week. I will leave the last word to Kevin Cradock (IRFU CCC Course Director):

“Having just completed the week in UL working with the students on the MSc in Sports Performance, I can say it was an absolute pleasure to work with such a positive, enthusiastic and engaging group. The staff, facilities, environment and culture of sports performance around UL has created a fantastic learning environment for students. I would like to wish the students the very best in their future careers in Sports Performance”.

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Students on the CCC Course visiting the Munster High Performance Centre

Mark Lyons is a Lecturer in Strength and Conditioning & Course Director of the MSc. in Sports Performance here at the University of Limerick. View Mark’s Profile here!

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