It was the opportunity of a sporting lifetime – until COVID-19 intervened and left Sam Coad sitting on the bench.
The former Bond University student had just been hired as performance manager at NFL franchise the New York Giants, the biggest break so far for the 28-year-old in eight years’ working in the professional sports industry.
As the deadly virus swept through New York, and the “city that never sleeps” prepared for a sudden slumber, Coad raced home to Texas to be with his wife and to prepare for a now-uncertain first season in the big league of professional sports.
Hailing from Katherine in Australia’s Northern Territory, Coad completed both his PhD and a Bachelor of Sports Science at Bond, including short stints working with the Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Titans in 2012.
Breaking into the United States in 2014 with a role as performance manager at the University of Michigan, securing the job through fellow Bond graduate Aaron Wellman, Coad spent almost a year in the American Midwest before heading south to the University of Oklahoma and a new job as performance manager – football.
Wellman came calling again in November last year, after earlier taking over as strength and conditioning coach at the Giants, recruiting Coad as performance manager and assistant strength and conditioning coach.
Coad said COVID-19 presented a unique set of challenges in trying to prepare elite athletes for a season which still might not happen.
Having just completed preparation of an “at home” workout plan for the Giants’ roster, Coad said his main focus was ensuring the athletes were able to do everything needed to be ready for their first day of camp in late July, ahead of the NFL’s planned regular season kicking off in September.
“It really now comes down to the individuals and trying to communicate and work with them to say ‘is there something going on here, are you struggling with something, what do you need in your situation?’
“When you’re dealing with high-performing athletes worth millions to a club, and they’re saying they can’t do X, you’ve gotta have a plan to get them on track. The psychological side of things is more complex than what you get from a textbook.”
The challenge was further complicated by the different lifestyles of each member of the Giants playing group. While some of the team’s multi-million dollar superstars had elaborate gyms in their homes, rookie players were starting from scratch.
Coad said even for a lifelong sports fan like himself, it took some time for him to adjust to the scale of American sport.
“The very first game I went to in Michigan was 110,000 people, so you’re talking an AFL grand final every weekend. Instead of having 30 or 40,000 at a game, you’ve got 100,000 for a college game. It’s not even pro level, they’re not even paying the athletes.”
It’s not just the size of the crowds that’s different either.
“In Australia, a lot of coaches don’t yell and scream at athletes, they coach them and they tell them what to do, and how to do it, and everyone listens and follows suit. Over here you’ve got coaches that are more intense with their communication with athletes, it’s very in your face. The players don’t take it the wrong way, the coaches don’t take it the wrong way, everybody’s coming from a place where they want you to get better.”
Coad is hoping the United States’ efforts to combat COVID-19 will allow him to get his “boots on the ground” and properly start work soon.
“I’m looking forward to contributing what I can contribute. I’m very eager to get to work and help the way I think I can help. There’s stuff that I can contribute that I really think is going to help what we do.”
However he’s not expecting an easy road, and understands the sporting environment he returns to will be very different from the one he barely got started in, back in November.
“Every industry coming out of this is going to struggle because you can’t take the world, give it two months off, then expect to go back to how it was.”