Lachlan Penfold Interview


I have know Lachlan for close to fifteen years and I have seen grow as a coach over that time. He is relentless in his pursuit of knowledge. He has had great success in a variety of sports. He was the conditioning coach for the Gold Medal winning Australian Women’s Water Polo Squad in the 2000 Olympics. He is the conditioning coach for the Australian Women’s Softball squad who have won two Olympic medals during his time working them. Currently he is the conditioning coach for the Brisbane Lions in Australian Rules Football.

What are the essential requirements for a successful conditioning program?
Thorough knowledge of the sport and athlete
Good level of understanding of all aspects of the conditioning mechanisms (e.g. speed, endurance, strength, power), the underlying physiology, and the effects they have on the body and on each other
Acknowledgement and use of methods of training that work best with each athlete, even within a team structure.
A systematic and thorough plan that is able to be adapted
Non adherence to the systematic plan when the athlete’s adaptation responses indicate to do so would be detrimental. This is much harder than you think, as it is easier to stick to the plan written 3 months ago.
Close working relationship with coach (skill based sport) and other sport science / medicine professionals.

What are the most common mistakes in conditioning?
Not having a plan to work to, or poor planning

Sticking to a plan when it is not working or the athlete is not coping

Being too hard on an athlete – being too soft on an athlete

Continually using the same training program because it worked in the past.

Using a program developed for another athlete / team.

Incorporating training methods without knowing what effects you wish to gain, because you had seen someone else doing them.

What is “functional training” from your point of view?
Training relevant to the physical qualities and movement patterns relevant to the sport for which you are conditioning.
How important is specificity?
Not at all until sufficient levels of fundamental physical and technical skills have been developed. Following this, the level of specificity needs to be considered as to whether it is movement specific (mimicking the sporting action) or quality specific (developing the specific quality – i.e. power). However the early emphasis of training an athlete must be to ensure that acceptable levels of fundamental strength, stability and range of motion have been developed before any move into higher forms of training is considered.
What aspect of conditioning athletes is the most difficult and how have you tried to address it?
Adherence to training within a team structure whereby focus is less than an individual athlete – attempt to individualise programs as much as possible based on injury, positional and individual requirements.

Middle Distance Running (800m / 1500m) – trying to get the correct mix of all physical attributes – try and pick the brains of as many smart people as I could. Read as much as I could.
With the plethora of information available how can a coach determine what is best?
Experience – yours and others. Learn from your own situation and from the experiences of others. Must ensure that you mind stays open for different options

Application of scientific knowledge to the stated claims and analysis of supposed gains.

Good recording of training applications and effects.

Where do you stand on nature versus nurture? How much difference can training make?
I know you won’t be able to print this but there is a saying “you can’t make strawberry jam out of pig shit” – so there must be a degree of athletic talent / ability to start with. However, aspects of training, desire, application, dedication, mental ability etc, etc all go into the making of a champion and a lot of these are a result of nurture / training. Rather than a nature OR nurture, it must be a combination of nature AND nurture.

Conditioning makes a bigger difference in “physical sports” as opposed to “skill sports”, whereby decision making abilities can often make up for physical deficiencies.
What do you do differently with the female athlete in terms of conditioning?
Greater amount of time spent in strength development due to weaker gross and relative strength levels.

More time spent reassuring them and being a confidant to their fears and problems.
What has been the biggest innovation in training that you have seen during the course of your career and where is the biggest room for innovation in training athletes?
Don’t know if these are the biggest but 2 things that are very useful / beneficial are the Ballistic Measurement System as a means of quantifying power output, and the GPS systems which allow a more accurate and highly available source of “time motion” analysis information.
What’s the biggest issue in training athletes today?
Drugs – and how to do better than those that are on it.

The effect of professionalism on the lives of the athlete’s

The over-riding power of commercialism which compromises the morals and ethics of sport and those involved.

Who has been a role model in your career and why?
Kelvin Giles – gave me a great understanding into how to work with athletes, with teams, and with coaches. How to ensure that you are able to convey your message in the best possible manner. To always strive for excellence, and to not compromise your values or beliefs.

Vern Gambetta – willingness to share his thoughts and ideas so willingly. His ability to think of training from a functional and movement related aspect. To be able to state what seems so obvious and practical, yet hasn’t been stated until he mentions it.
What are the biggest professional challenges you have had to face?
Whether to accept compromised standards from coaches, athletes or administrations
What do you enjoy most about coaching? Dislike?
The challenge of developing the best possible training program.
The challenge of helping someone become better at something they love doing.

Being involved with good people and sport.

The continual quest for knowledge in an area that I enjoy.

The many good people I have met along the way who have been so open and sharing with their thoughts and ideas



Dealing with egotists

Did there come a time in your career where you were faced with a “fork in the road?” If so, do you ever revisit the decision you made or didn’t make?
My own sporting career – whether to try and continue and neglect following coaching or stop playing to take up coaching. I chose to take on coaching and haven’t regretted it.
What inspired you to get into coaching?
Loved sport and wanted to be involved in it in some way

Realised that I could have trained so much better if I had the right advice when I was younger and didn’t want others to feel as though they could have been better with the right advice.

Is failure ever valuable?
Yes in learning where your deficiencies are, especially in relation to high quality opposition.

Yes as a source of motivation for increased training intensity.

Yes for a kick up the bum in terms of being over confident

No if you blame everyone else for the failure and refuse to acknowledge your shortcomings

Which changes now taking place in your field that should be encouraged, and which resisted?
Drug testing – must continue pushing for a test for EPO and Growth Hormone.
Discuss entry

Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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Vern Gambetta

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