Behind the Castle with Al Strokosch
This week, we take you Behind the Castle to meet Al Strokosch, who has been part of the club's Strength & Conditioning staff since 2018.
After hanging up his boots following the 2017-18 season - ending a 14-year professional career - Strokosch returned to his boyhood club to take up his first role in Strength & Conditioning at the very place it all began.
Was a career in S&C always a path you wanted to take post-rugby?
“Yeah, for quite a while. It was always something that I had enjoyed as part of my rugby career and it was something that I felt was beneficial for me as a player. I wasn’t particularly skilful, so I had to be good at something!
"So, I decided to start looking into it and learning about it. I went to university and did all my qualifications while I was still playing, with a plan and an aim that, by the time I got to the end of my career, I would be we placed to get into a job.
“I also tried to get a bit of work experience in coaching when I was in France with the Catalan Dragons Academy as well as the Perpignan Academy. So yeah, I always had the plan, and then the right place at the right time came up with my move back to Edinburgh.”
What was S&C like the early point of your career and how much has it developed to this point?
“It’s hard to describe the difference really. When I first started at Edinburgh, there was one S&C coach and one laptop shared between three coaches! There was nothing really. Whereas now, we have a staff of three full-time S&C coaches and two interns as well.
"We have a PHD and two Masters within the department and it’s extremely scientific and statistical now compared to what it used to be."
Who was the biggest influence on you from an S&C perspective as you came through the ranks in Scotland?
“When I first started in rugby, I became really good friends with Neil Potts, who used to work at Edinburgh – he was the Head of S&C at Scottish Rugby back then, and he has always been a great friend of mine and still is. We kind of hit it off from the start and he’s been great with me.
“And also, when I moved down to Gloucester, there was a young assistant S&C coach who joined us… his name was Nick Lumley! [Edinburgh’s current Head of S&C] And again, I ended up becoming good friends with him as well, and we’ve been close for 12 years now. I guess we share an enjoyment of S&C and we’re good friends now as well which is great.
Was the move to Edinburgh a case of perfect timing with you having finished your career and settling back in Scotland with your family?
“Essentially it was. I tried to get as many ducks in a row as possible before retirement. I tried to get into the best position as possible to move into a job – I had qualifications, certification and also a little bit of experience as well. So, I had done everything I could, and as with everything in life, there was a little bit of luck involved.
“A good friend of mine had a position going at his club – which happened to be my old club! – and I was looking to come back to Scotland as well. The stars all aligned and it all came through in the end.
Was it a fairly odd experience coming back into an environment where you’re now coaching guys who you’ve played with at club and international level?
“It wasn’t too weird, because I had stopped playing for Scotland in 2015 after the Rugby World Cup, so there were a few years of separation as I finished my career over in Perpignan.
"There were a couple of guys at the club who I had played with, the likes of Grant Gilchrist and Matt Scott, so the transition really wasn’t too bad as those guys were always younger when I was at the tail end of my career. Apart from Fordy, who’s been my old mate for ages! Fordy is such a laid-back guy, he was extremely easy to coach anyway."
What has been the toughest part of the role so far?
“What hasn’t been tough is probably the real question! It’s been a real eye opener, and as much as I think I was prepared for it, I was chucked in fairly at the deep end to start. But I found that was really the best way to learn.
"It’s just dealing with so many streams oF information at the same time and trying to sort out what is useful at the right time, and what you can act on. So yeah, that and the commute from Glasgow everyday have been two of the biggest issues so far!"
What is the best thing about your job?
“I’ve always thought the next generation of rugby players should be better than the previous ones. So, it’s about being able to make the guys running about playing now, better than those who came before them. Then hopefully the guys who are coming through next are better than the guys now. That's the best thing about the job."
Finally, why do the S&C team refuse to wear long sleeves on match night - no matter the weather - and can you confirm that Nick Lumley has a sleeveless thermal under his tee shirt?
“I couldn’t confirm or deny those rumours. But, what I can say, is that it sends a strong message to the opposition when they see S&C staff displaying weapons like that when they’re running water on to the pitch!”