As the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach and the Coordinator of the Internship Program at the University of Notre Dame, no two days are ever the same for Michelle Truncali. She discusses everything from the importance of a strong relationship with student-athletes, to how collegiate sports science differs from professional teams.
“There is nothing better than seeing a freshman grow into a young adult and prosper in their academic and athletic career.” It’s clear Michelle has a great deal of passion for her career and her athletes, and she has always wanted to work in collegiate sports in some capacity. Whilst interning in various athletic departments, she initially thought she would be a sports coach, “but when I walked into the weight room, with the music blasting and athletes being pushed to their limits, I was hooked.”
There’s no correct answer or definite way to view data, and that’s one thing Michelle wishes she’d known before starting her sports science journey. “Early on in my career, this facet frustrated me, because I always wanted the answer to every question. Today, I welcome this challenge.”
In her role at Notre Dame, Michelle works with the women’s lacrosse and volleyball programs in the weight room and on the court/field for conditioning sessions. She analyses data from technologies such as Catapult and Forceplate, and utilises it to develop and implement individual and team programs. Each day brings a different challenge; daily she is able to see her athletes’ data, viewing it from many different aspects and determining how to implement and communicate the best program for them to succeed.
“Sports performance was nothing like I thought it would be. I initially thought it would be all about just ‘picking things up and putting them down’, but I could not have been more wrong.” Michelle was excited by the science behind sports performance, particularly the anatomy of the body, and how intricate and connected it is. She loves the data, creating limitless reports, and making educated performance decisions.
When discussing barriers in her career to her position today, Michelle cites youth as a bigger issue than gender. Whilst it’s no secret that sports performance is male dominated, Michelle found the biggest challenge to be her relatively young age compared to most strength coaches. “When I am introduced to new people, I am often presumed to be an athlete or an intern.” As a result, Michelle felt under pressure to prove her worth as a serious strength coach, but heaps praise on her mentors–Mike Szemborski, Erik Hernandez, Duval Kirkaldy and Brijesh Patel–who “never looked at gender or age as a requirement for being a good strength coach”.
Michelle credits Erik Herndandez, the Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning at the University of North Carolina, as having the biggest impact on her career so far. Erik introduced Michelle to abstract ideas transcending lifting form and conditioning programs and her approach to strength and conditioning grew beyond “black and white terms”.
Erik sparked her interested in different areas, such as fascial release, and “really invested time into educating me on different technologies and data implementation within programming.” It’s a working relationship which extends beyond her early career, even now when Michelle posts anything on social media, Erik is the first person to comment and give critiques, which she welcomes.
One major challenge Michelle experienced was earning the respect of athletes and coaches when given responsibility for their teams. “When the athletes have worked with other strength coaches who have different styles and methods, it often takes time for them to adjust to my style.” However, Michelle presses the importance of open communication, trust and positive results, to develop strong relationships.
When asked how sports science compares at the collegiate level to the professional field, Michelle highlights that “at a collegiate level, it’s a relatively new and growing field.” Whilst certain colleges–such as Notre Dame–have embraced the use of technology and data, there is a lack of funding at the collegiate level. In the future, Michelle is of the opinion that universities will start to spend a higher portion of their S&C budget to fund technology. “As the technology evolves and becomes more prevalent, there will be a need for more education specific for sport data analytics.” As a result, Michelle believes it will allow future strength and conditioning coaches to better analyse data, creating more effective programs for their athletes.
Michelle takes pleasure in savouring small victories each day. “Too many people base their career ‘victories’ on their team’s win-loss record, but for me, there’s no greater victory than when an athlete I’ve helped recover from an injury takes to the field again.” For Michelle, this isn’t a victory in the sense that she did her job correctly, rather it is a victory for the student-athlete, who has battled through so much and can finally enjoy their sport again.
It’s clear to see that having a strong bond with her student-athletes keeps Michelle so engaged in her role at Notre Dame, as she leaves us with the parting remark: “the most important reason I have chosen a career in sports performance, is my athletes. The relationships I have built and continue to build is what has kept me motivated.”
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