No-Holds-Barred Interview with Dan Baker

No-Holds-Barred Interview with Dan Baker

It has been a while since I have interviewed Dan Baker (click HERE if you want to read it). That interview was one of my favorite interviews I have done and read if not the very best, mainly due honest, extensive and personal answers by Dan Baker. I have said back then that Dan is my role model and he still is – even more now then ever.

I decided to interview Dan again and I hope this to be practice in the future as well (every 2-3 years J). I am more than thankful to Dan for his time and good will to answer all of my questions extensively, honestly, personally and insightfully like he always does.

The goal of this interview was to cut the crap with all that monitoring mumbo-jumbo and get back to the reality ~ to the building of the performance culture, winning habits and hard/smart work.  I hope that both me and Dan managed to convey this message. 

Enjoy this very insightful interview from one of the leaders in strength and conditioning.


Mladen: It has been awhile since the last interview we did and I am sure a lot of things changed. There is not need to introduce yourself, because I am pretty sure all of my readers know very well who you are. What did change in the last two years – give us an update Dan

Dan:  Hi Mladen, thanks for the opportunity again.  The biggest change I suppose it is the fact that I no longer work for the Brisbane Broncos NRL club.  I worked for them from Sept. 1995 to November 2013.  It is pretty full-on life at elite pro level, there is continual stress and performance scrutiny.  Now I can relax a little more and focus on coach education with ASCA courses and workshops, some occasional lecturing at Edith Cowan University and other private things that I do and plan to do.  So anything I talk about below is what took place in the last few years or from other times when I was there or from my other coaching experiences before the Broncos ~ it may not be happening at the Broncos now or in the future.

Mladen: My questions in this interview will not involve much “set & reps” questions, but rather some other profound things that needs to be addressed, but are always lacking focus. In my opinion I think that’s the team/club CULTURE and everything that goes with it and surrounds it (goal setting, communication, trust, responsibility, commitment, accountability, motivation and conflict management). What are your thoughts about it?

Dan:  Culture is set by previous traditions and practices at a club and how the current coach (& staff) and senior players see those traditions and practices in relation to the present.  If there has been a culture of winning by training hard, not complaining, doing what needs to be done etc, then generally new, younger players will buy into it.  If a previous culture was not to train too hard, lack discipline, aim for the occasional good performance, then will it (this culture) take you to the big games? 

 If your senior players set the tone, then who are the younger, less accomplished players to reject it?  So the senior players and coach need to come up with what they want from the team, then have overall meetings so that the larger playing group feel included about what the team culture is in regards to all these things.

From my experience, me complaining to a player about his non-adherence to anything (eg. diet, hydration, fitness levels, adherence to rehab protocols etc) is much less effective than if a senior player says to him  ”Can you get your act together over this.  We need you in good shape but you are not displaying to us that you are as committed to the rest of us.  It is like you are saying that your comfort levels are my important than the teams success”.  This has a huge effect.

At the Broncos, we always had good senior players who set good examples with regards to training and discipline.  I believe the problem for all sports/teams now is “Do archetypal Gen Y want to give up something (effort/comfort) for the good of the team?” Many people from many sports are questioning whether they do, so that will be the problem facing coaches in the immediate future, with regards to adherence to team culture.  A sense of entitlement exists with many younger athletes.  But yet again, some younger athletes are magnificent. 

So culture is sometimes “Monkey see, monkey do”.  

Despite all of the above, we still had financial fines at the Broncos for small breaches of discipline (being 1-minute late for training, not taking your protein or vitamins etc) but only young players ever fell foul.  But we should not have needed them, if younger players understood that PROFESSIONALISM IS NOT ABOUT A PAY PACKET, IT IS ABOUT A STATE OF MIND. 

Shannon Turley described it at the NSCA 2013 conference as the difference between a professional (does things necessary to do the basics of their job) and a technician (does things to do their job as perfectly as possible).

 I am not sure if financial fines allows us to see if a player is technician, professional, semi-pro or amateur in their mindset.  I never gave a player a fine.

 Motivation is easy in one sense, it is about goal setting and reinforcement, but it is also difficult.  It is really behaviour modification we are often concerned with ~ modifying the behavior of amateurs into semi-pros into professionals and then into technicians.  Making behaviours equate to the goals is difficult.  Everyone has the goal of winning the championship but are their behaviours (eg. eating junk food every day) going to get them there?

The Professional vs The Technician. See more by Coach Turley HERE

Mladen: It seems that monitoring and technology is on the raise lately.  What are your thoughts on monitoring sRPE (Session Rate of Perceived Exertion) and other subjective indicators, like Wellness Questionnaire, POMS and others? How can one use them in real life? How can you modify training loads, without being manipulated by the players who are lacking commitment? How to avoid boredom and lack of thrust in those? What should happen if an athlete report feeling tired? What is the right message to send to the players?

Dan:  Subjective measures like RPE, Wellness etc rely on trust and education. I have seen RPE’s abused by athletes who gave false scores, looking to get an unload session or unload week.  I think all monitoring need to take into account some objective data (total meters, GPS, pitches thrown, contacts in jumps, HR impulse data etc ~ whatever is appropriate to the sport/athlete) and some subjective data (RPE, feeling).  Take a look at the photo of the poster that used to hang in our training center.  It gives a pretty clear message – you have a certain responsibility to do things to aid your recovery.  If you are not doing them why would we change our program to offset your lack of being a Technician, your lack of respect to the efforts of your team-mates.  But if you are doing everything right and are not recovering, then we will do something (unload you etc).

 Boredom?  I have squatted just about every week of my life for 30+ years and I am not bored with it.  Training is always a challenge.  In saying that, sure things are manipulated to avoid early adaptation.  Subtle changes, dramatic changes, loading weeks, unloading weeks, strain, monotony etc.  But the reality is, athletes still need to train hard and get uncomfortable on a regular basis.  If they don’t want to do that, they need to take a big long hard look in the mirror ~ they no longer possess what is necessary to improve.


Dan Baker Rules



Mladen:  How do you juggle with different “functional” groups in the squad? By functional I refer to starting line-up, traveling guys, reserves and injured guys. Do injured guys train harder than the rest? How do you deal with reserves – do they train harder/more than starting guys and how do you keep up their motivation to do so? Are there used to be any squad rotation rules, so the reserves know they have a chance to start if they work hard(er)?

Dan:  I will talk about in-season stuff here, as that is what I think you are alluding to.  The NRL is different to soccer in that all clubs must name their teams by 12 pm Wednesday each week for the weekends games, there is no cat-and-mouse about the starting line-up till 2-hrs beforehand like in soccer.  We would typically play on a Friday night, so we would know most of our team by Tuesday even (sure sometimes you waiting on blokes injuries to heal or not, but the majority of the team is known).  So those not in the NRL team play State League, on a Saturday or Sunday.  So we would have three groups – NRL players, State League players and injured players for that week.  The injured players follow the same schedule as the NRL players, the difference being on game day, they had their hardest energy system training session of the week (typically a cross-training session if they are injured and incapable of running).  Injured players don’t travel, they stay home and train with me.  The State League players schedule is typically 1 or 2 days off-set from NRL.  So if NRL lift on Monday and Wednesday, the SRL lift on Tuesday and Thursday.  So players follow the schedule based upon where they played the previous weekend (NRL or SRL) to start the week and by Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest they follow the schedule for their group for the following weekend.  Pretty straight-forward, the only glitch is when we are waiting on an NRL player to recover from injury, if he doesn’t make it, the SRL player gets called up to NRL late, he usually misses one lifting session.

 Injured blokes get trained brutally hard.  It is an opportunity to improve energy system fitness without having to save their bodies for the intense blunt force trauma that rugby league contains.  We call the injured players “Rehab” and we would often play or sing the song “Rehab” ~ “they are trying to make me go to rehab, I say No, No, No”.  No one ever faked an injury because the option was, for example, light skill and tactical session with the team under the head coach or get mercilessly trained by myself and the other S & C staff in our cross-training shed (the Shed of Dread) looking at the rest of the team having fun doing ball-work.


Dan Baker shed of death

The Shed of Dread for the cross-training of injured players who can’t run, tackle or wrestle.  Contains Concept 2 rowers, Concept wall mounted ski ergos, Watt bikes, spin bikes, boxing gear, battling ropes and more.  The poster on the wall, partially obscured by the glare, says “We are only as strong as our weakest”  You can’t escape from energy system conditioning, even if injured!


If anything players try to fake recovery from injury to stop being in Rehab!

So Rehab group did their strength work the same (as best they could, depending on their injury) but every time the team did skill/tactics, they would do cross-training for energy system fitness (  They knew that by doing this they will easily be able to fulfill the game fitness requirements once they return from injury.  Also reserves/bench players with limited game time get a top-up to their fitness (say 1-2 sets of 4-8 mins) of some of the drills I detailed here.

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I am a physical preparation coach from Belgrade, Serbia, grew up in Pula, Croatia (which I consider my home town). I was involved in physical preparation of professional, amateur and recreational athletes of various ages in sports such as basketball, soccer, volleyball, martial arts and tennis. Read More »

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