As the self-proclaimed “only strength and conditioning coach without tattoos”, Mar Alvarez stands out in the rugby world. In this interview, the Spanish National Team’s Strength and Conditioning Coach discusses her challenges, highlights, and everything in between.
Mar began working in performance when there was not that much research, and even less in Spanish, so she built her own coaching philosophy, based on her experience and studies. “Everyone has a unique coaching style. You need to ask yourself: how do your athletes react to your approach?”
Like many others, Mar’s keenness to enter the sports world came from being active growing up. She played basketball in school, then athletics for seven years. In university she rediscovered her love for team sport, starting with field hockey, “and then rugby for the rest of my life!” Whilst at University, Mar studied sports science. Although her first job was a P.E. teacher, she soon realised she wanted to work in high performance and team sports.
Initially, Mar was keen to try an internship with soccer as there were a lot of possibilities with the sport in Spain, but her attention soon turned to rugby. “My first training practices were very focused on an energetic system, but as I began to get to know the game more, I started to integrate as much game content as possible in the S&C training.
“I reached the conclusion that I needed to play the game to understand it fully.” This led Mar to play in the female team whilst working as the S&C coach in a male team in the Spanish top league, the División de Honor de Rugby. Mar became the Head Coach of a men’s team, helping them achieve promotion to the National League. It wasn’t long before the national team came calling.
“I started to coach the U19 Spanish team, then I received the call from the Spanish Head Coach offering me the S&C Spanish Team role”. Now, Mar is Head of S&C of the Spanish National Rugby team, managing senior male and female, U20, U18, and academies.
When naming her top career highlights, a few, in particular, stand out: “the Spanish team achieved second in the European Championships, and as of last summer, being part of the team that achieved the highest World Rugby ranking in the history of Spanish rugby”.
As we segway from highlights into challenges that Mar has faced, it’s clear that each challenge presents a new opportunity. “Every time I join a new team of staff, I view it as a new, positive challenge to overcome”. Mar highlights that quitting her “comfortable, stable job as a government teacher”, to start from zero in the high-performance sports world, was a big leap of faith, as she put all her savings together to study a Masters in Sports Performance with the Spanish Olympic Committee.
With Mar’s career mainly being centred around men’s teams, but as a player with female teams, she is in a good position to oversee the differences between the two, which she says are “resources and visibility”.
“I started as an S&C coach fifteen years ago, and the environment is ever-changing. I like to think that when a person has talent and works hard, opportunities will appear”.
When looking ahead to the future, Mar has her sights set on finishing her Ph.D., but that’s not forgetting her coaching role. “My goal is to help Spain qualify for the Rugby World Cup in 2023”.
She highlights that when she started in rugby, “the fitness, strength, and lifestyle change needed for players and organisations was not a priority.” Now, however, “Spanish Rugby is aware of every small thing it takes to improve the performance of athletes and pave the way for success.” And Mar will be there with immense expertise and passion to help with each step.