Dr Mark Kovacs: Diet education, training overload, performance expectations and recovery

Dr Mark Kovacs

Diet education, training overload, performance expectations and recovery

Interview by Curtis Sutton

Dr Mark Kovacs is an internationally recognized high performance physiologist, researcher, author, speaker and coach with an extensive background in training and researching athletes and elite performers in many fields.

His coaching philosophy has been developed through his unique perspective and experiences gained from both sides of the athlete and coaching relationship.

We spoke to Mark about his career, diet education, training overload, performance expectations and recovery.

How did your experiences as a high level athlete influence your strength and conditioning approach?

As a former athlete, I utilized my experiences and combined it with my academic and practical background in my coaching philosophy and approach. From a strength and conditioning perspective, it was very important to better understand the athlete on the front end to allow for an individualized strength and conditioning program based on the sport and age/stage of development of the athlete, and also based on the goals.

Using experiences is a very important part of coaching; however, having the theory and the understanding of how to apply the theory in practical application is also just as, if not more, important.

As a young coach I utilized my experiences but made decisions sometimes on how I was coached, rather than what was the right way of approaching it from a scientific or performance based perspective. That’s something over time that all good coaches develop: the art of blending experience–what works anecdotally with some athletes–with what the science tells us with the best practices in the industry.

That’s how my experiences have allowed me to apply both aspects of hopefully becoming a proficient strength and conditioning coach and professional.

What are some of the lesser-known sacrifices young players have to make to reach the professional level?

A lot of young athletes have to go through significant training from a time perspective, but also a dedication and discipline perspective. To make it at the highest levels of any sport you have to give up certain things to achieve that. It may be hanging out with friends on the weekend, going to dances or prioritizing different events, different sports, even academics.

So it depends on what the total objective is of the athlete and how much time commitment they are willing to put toward achieving their optimum potential and then figuring out how that fits into the overall health and well-being of the athlete. The parent has a major influence on this, in addition to the coach. This needs to be discussed regularly to make the environment optimal to achieve success.

We all know that to be a professional at anything requires years and years of training, but the right training. That’s where the difference is usually made. A lot of people spend the same amount of total time, but it comes down to what they are doing in that time. Every hour, every day, can you really optimize performance while working smarter, not always harder?

Which mentors do you spend the most time communicating with and how did you meet them?

Mentors in any profession are really what makes a difference in your learning. Academic learning, book learning, going to conferences is huge. It’s the most important aspect of developing in the field. But having mentors – people who have walked in your shoes ahead of you – is really an area that makes the biggest difference.
They can tell you the pitfalls you aren’t even thinking about, and can explain to you situations you think may be appropriate since they have done that same path and figured out there is a better way.

I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have mentors across different fields. From a track and field perspective I’ve worked with guys like Vern Gambetta, Loren Seagrave.

In the NFL Combine world I’ve worked and communicated with some of the best in the industry. I was fortunate to be an intern many years ago at a facility that was leading the Combine training world and learned under the best of the best.

In the medical world I’ve been fortunate to be around some of the smartest minds on the planet. From Dr. Brian Hainline, Chief Medical Officer of the NCAA, to Mark Safran at Stanford University to Ellen Rome, the Head of adolescent medicine at Cleveland Clinic, Todd Ellenbecker -VP of Sports Medicine for the ATP Tour, Ben Kibler, Paul Lubbers, Nick Dinubile, Paul Roetert among many others.

All of these folks I am fortunate to call my friends and am able to pick up the phone or send an email with a question and they respond. That’s probably the greatest joy I have in the industry is being able to reach out to all these experts and discuss anything, and if they haven’t experienced a situation they know someone who has.

Having an environment where you can learn from the best is so important, and these people are also willing to share that information which not all people are willing to do.

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