A Chance Encounter with Men in Green Brings Me Back in Time
I was travelling to Portugal from Dublin airport this week with my family when I noticed some big men in green tracksuits going through security. I recognised some familiar faces, Josh Vander flier, Caelan Doris, Ciaran Fawley, Tadhg Furlong, Ryan Baird, scrum coach John Fogarty, analyst Vinnie Hammond, Gary Keegan and many more of the Leinster Rugby players I had worked with over the past 10 years. I couldn’t help but feel my heart rate increase and the adrenalin flow as my body filled with familiar energy. I used to see these athletes on most days for the past 10 years and hadn’t seen them in over a year. I stopped to talk to as many as I could. They were so relaxed, so comfortable in their skin and looking forward to a training camp in Portugal.
I meet Joe McCarthy, still such a young man, he’s beaming, “How are you Joe? You look great!?”. “Thanks, yes, bigger and leaner!” he says. I think to myself, wow, that’s just outrageous, his stats were already exceptional. He is now one of the most impressive physical athletes in world rugby, I can’t wait to watch him fulfil his potential. He was one of the guys that always stayed back to ask more questions, messaged me for feedback and tried to lead his peers with good behaviour! That’s usually a good indicator of someone that will go far in life and sport. He is only getting started and has already made such a big impression, I’ll always be rooting for him.
Do you miss it?
These are some of our greatest athletes, our greatest minds that are gearing up for an incredibly exciting world cup. The preparations are in the latter stage and you can see they are fit, lean and at the peak of their powers. They seem to have really benefited from a pre-season with lots of hard work but with lots of breaks too. You have to get the balance right between being really fit and ready to perform with being mentally fresh too.
At the gate I was able to talk to some of the players a bit more. They smile and ask “how are you?” “How is daveynutrition going?” “Do you miss Leinster?”. daveynutrition is great, I love doing my own thing and creating something new but yes I miss working with Leinster, yes I miss the team, the conversations and day to day life. I try to get a photo of my little girl with Josh and Ryan, but she’s having none of it and starts screaming! Oh FFS, that’s not going to work! I meet Tadhg Furlong when I turn around and he is so relaxed. “Who’s this?” he asks as he smiles. He can see the excitement on my face and says relax!! I think I am relaxed but my body is suggesting otherwise. I always got on well with Tadhg, he is a character and always has time to chat.
You forget quite quickly how imposing, how powerful, how big and strong these men are. They are the country’s greatest male specimens. They stop to take photos with anyone that asks and bend down to talk to children as they look up at them in awe. Each photo and moment brings so much joy to each person they greet.
What does it take to reach the top?
It brings me back to what it takes to be where they are and what fascinates me about elite athletes and professional sport. There is a relentless pursuit of improvement and there is incredible physical development, training twice a day 4 days a week. Building lean mass, strength, power, aerobic fitness, skills, game play, knowledge and then of course there is the development of their mental agility, mental skills and resilience! This is the skill that intrigues me most. The willingness to take setbacks, wins, injury and the constant pressure and challenges that comes with being a professional athlete and still continue to improve. I love watching people and athletes evolve with each development phase, constantly looking to improve without ever feeling they are done!
What do they do to build this aspect of performance? They think about it, they don’t ignore it. They talk about it with team mates, coaches, sports psychologists and other backroom team members. This is the part that’s so hard to define in terms of its impact but an aspect of performance I wish we talked about more of. There is a belief among the leaders of sports performance that we have to know a large amount of what defines physical performance, but it’s mental performance that’s going to see the biggest development in the next 10 years. Breath work, visualisation, self-talk and mindfulness will all be key parts of performance preparation.
Building new foundations and vision
I do miss those Leinster players, of course I do! I miss the conversations, feeling a part of something very special, being challenged all the time to evolve my practice and input. It is a drug to me, a feeling I have been addicted to, but I had my time and I am grateful for it. The part that’s not really talked about that much is knowing when the time is right to move on and how difficult it can be to marry elite sport and family life. It really is easier when you don’t have the responsibility of a mortgage and creche fees! Having said that, I do hope I am in something like it again in the future, but for now I am happy to be building something really special with the daveynutrition team.
A new vision, a mission to really show people the power and impact nutrition can have on body and mind. New courses, resources, events and 1-1 meetings and even a new joint health product with Kinetica which has huge potential for peoples joint health. When I think back about this year and what we have done, it reminds me that I too have to keep building and looking forward, nothing stays the same. It would be much harder to make that transition with knowing what I want to achieve and even simply that I work best with a team.
You can’t sit still
We’re sitting behind the team on the plane. They are still taking photos on the plane with other passengers. My wife Sandra turns to me and says “they are so good with their time aren’t they?”, I respond “ya, they always are”. I shift my thoughts, think about where I am, still a sheep farmer from Sligo, a performance nutritionist with the same ambition and drive, but now it’s about looking to my future. I love what I do. I am excited for what the next 10 years has to bring and sharing all I have learned with those who are interested enough to listen. What’s that? I am still figuring that out but I know it will be shaped by my time with these athletes and how they challenged me to be the best I could be. I wonder what I’ll think reading this back in 5 years’ time. That thought excites me. Yes it’s different, but it has to be. You can’t stay still no matter where you are, unless you are moving up and evolving.
We land and what do you know but my bag is missing. Some of the support staff suggest that maybe it was taken by the Irish Rugby group. I think maybe, I will message Caelan Doris, he is solid. He is straight back, “I will get onto our kitman, sorry we didn’t get to have a proper chat!”. That’s the class of those men! The kitman finds my bag and it’s back with us within the hour. Time to get on with our holiday.