As one of Fit Future Academy’s dedicated senior tutors, Nick Parke lives and breathes everything PT. Here he outlines the silver lining to his many injuries; how a background as a Personal Trainer helps him as a football coach and why you’ve got to have big dreams.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily.”

  • Zig Ziglar

Nick Parke is passionate about soccer – or as his British roots demand it – football. Born and raised in Auckland, his passion for the sport has deep family roots.

“My grandfather was a one cap international footballer for Northern Ireland and he also played football at Macclesfield Town in the United Kingdom, which is a feeder club to Manchester United,” Nick said.

“My Dad played for the youth side at Portsmouth FC in the UK for a spell and won numerous honours with Mt Wellington and Eastern Suburbs before coaching me; teaching me to kick a ball as soon as I could walk. Make no mistake, I was born into it! I absolutely adored my grandfather and, like most boys, my dad was my hero. My passion for football very much stops and starts with them.”

Now a strength and conditioning coach as well as an assistant football coach at Mount Wellington’s Bohemian Celtic (Boh’s Celtic), Nick knows all too well the physical toll of the sport when taking the body for granted.

“I experienced multiple overuse injuries, and consequently spent way less time playing the sport I loved because I was always injured,” he said.

“I was playing football at a good level, having been involved in football my whole life. When I was 18yearsold I started encountering exhaustion and overtraining, resulting in numerous overuse injuries through my knees and eventually, hip bursitis. I also had the usual injuries one can suffer from while playing competitive football; a broken leg, high ankle sprain, hamstring tear, low back pain, blown VMO. I didn’t know at the time, but I was doing way too much; training and playing every day and for multiple teams while not understanding the science behind how the body works and how best to structure training.”

A decision to delve into the science

Nick’s broken body led him down the training track, as he looked at how best to manage and understand his own injuries.

“An old coach and mentor of mine, Alejo Perez, worked for FIFA as a fitness coach for the world’s best referees. He introduced me to sports science and physical training around the time I was battling various injuries,” Nick said.

“I wanted to learn how best to structure training for myself and how best to train athletes to prevent injuries and improve performance.This led me to study a Bachelor of Sport and Recreation at Auckland Universityof Technology(AUT) on Auckland’s North Shore, majoring in Sport and Exercise Science. I loved it so much I would later return to complete a Post Graduate Diploma in Sport and Exercise Science and Strength and Conditioning.”

A highly competitive industry

Nick has found the world of sports science and strength and conditioning exceptionally competitive.

“Getting noticed and earning opportunities is extremely difficult,” he said.

“Jobs are scarce and many of them are unpaid – some places even go as far as ‘offering’ 40-hour-week, unpaid internships. To overcome this challenge, I just have tokeep getting better. I continue to learn and volunteer coaching as much as I can.”

There have been times in the coach’s life where he has felt disillusioned; struggling to find work in his field and working piecemeal jobs to make ends meet.

“This period of my life was difficult as I couldn’t have felt any further from where I wanted to be if I tried,” he explained.

“Thankfully, through an Alumni network at AUT, I managed to pick up 10 hours a week tutoring for Fit College NZ – now known as Fit Futures Academy. I’ve been with the company for four years, enjoying a diverse role that has involved tutoring, lecturing, workshops, marking and curriculum development and of course, student support. I enjoy the role for the people I meet – my colleagues during my time here have been the best!”

Combining science and sport coaching

Nick’s Personal Training background as well as his experience on the competitive football field is a double whammy when it comes to his coaching responsibilities.

“If you are involved in coaching sport and you have an educational background in how the body works, whether that be as a physio, a strength or conditioning coach or a PT, that holds you in good stead. It means you don’t need convincing that recovery is wise. It means you know how much competitive advantage can be gained from fitness, strength and power training. It also means you know that movement prep and injury prevention methodologies are critical,” Nick said.

“One thing that can be difficult is getting coach and player buy in when you are a trainer working with teams, so working with coaches that already have that appreciation cannot be understated. During my team’spre-season,we made them run and performEurofit and Tabata style HIIT training; very few teams at this level are doing this stuff. I think our unbeaten nine-match run is testament to competitive edge.”

All kneel at the altar of fitness

From this perspective, Nick believes fitness is the most crucial element of being a competitive athlete – but the type of fitness depends on the sport. 

“Sprinters over 100m won’t need much aerobic capacity as their events are dominated by the anaerobic energy system. For team sports it’s a little different,” Nick said.

“High fitness levels help guard against injury and can impact greatly on one’s potential to rehab from an injury quickly and recover between training sessions and match days. For Boh’s Celtic, we place great emphasis on developing the player’s maximal aerobic speed (MAS) over the pre-season; this is just the slowest speed someone can run at when they reach maximal oxygen uptake. In team sports, which are intermittent by design, they require contribution from all three of the bodies energy systems. A lot of goals are also scored late in games, in critical moments, when teams fatigue. The fitter your team is the more likely it will be your team that is taking the spoils late in a game, as opposed to giving the game away to the opposition.”

The coach emphasised the ease for implementing MAS. “It doesn’t require any fancy or expensive resources – you literally just need a stopwatch, some cones and a tape measure,” Nick said.

“After calculating an athlete’s MAS score you can easily calculate individual training running distances. It has been heavily researched by the likes of Dr Dan Baker; a well-respected strength and conditioning coach, formerly of the Brisbane Broncos. He put it best at a workshop he took at the Filex conference in Sydney a couple of years ago. He said, the higher the MAS, the fitter you are. A high MAS score also correlates with potential to play and compete at higher levels of competition. When everything else like skill, attitude, and tactical knowledge is created equal, fitness levels can be a huge predictor of athletic success and can be used to help identify talent and select teams.”

Don’t be afraid to dream big

The tutor is currently registered as a level one strength and conditioning specialist with the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association (ASCA) and would like to kick it up a notch and complete his level two at some stage, edging him closer to his goal of working in the world of high performance sport.

“I was always told and encouraged to dream big,” Nick said.

“I shared a pretty lofty goal at AUT a couple of years back and didn’t know what to expect as a response. Our lecturer, John Cronin, was very supportive and encouraging, saying that it may be a big goal but if you can dream it, you can do it. Long term, the lofty goal is to spend some time living and working in the states. Specifically, I’d love to reach the NCAA or the NFL – that’s the ultimate dream.”