Former rugby international leads contact sport workshop

Strength and conditioning practitioner Joel Brannigan

Strength and conditioning expert Joel Brannigan is leading next month’s TASS Contact Sport Workshop in Leeds and we caught up with the consultant practitioner beforehand.

In the first of a series of applied CPD workshops for the TASS network, the former Scotland international rugby player will tackle topics as diverse as neck strengthening, injury prevention and robustness.

TASS: Please describe your current role and who you work with.

Joel Brannigan: Following various roles in institutes, professional sport and the university sector I am now working independently on consultancy roles in organisations, with teams and individual athletes. I also work actively with the UKSCA as an assessor and a tutor.

TASS: What is your background in S&C and what attracted you becoming a practitioner?

JB: I took a slightly less conventional route into the profession in that I had a previous career in professional rugby. If I’m honest, I first got involved in S&C following forced retirement as it was the only thing that allowed me to keep close to sport! I always liked training and just felt I had something to offer based on my experiences. From there, I took every opportunity to develop myself and grow as a practitioner.

TASS: Has the profession changed or developed in your time as a practitioner and if so, how? 

JB: The last few years has seen a rapid growth in the field and there are more roles now than ever, as well as more practitioners. In my opinion, in the early days you saw a lot of training over coaching and it was not always objectively measured. That has changed and there has also been a greater move towards injury prevention, monitoring and optimal recovery. However, the fundamental purpose of S&C has not changed. It is still to ‘win’. Sport is a competition and as such the result is important.

TASS: How does your experience as a former rugby international influence your work?

JB: When I first started, it was useful in terms of making contacts in the industry. However, at first I wanted to be ‘the scientist’ and did not see my practical experience as beneficial. But as you develop you realise where your strengths are. Unless you have operated in a performance environment, I think it must be difficult to appreciate the ‘nature of the beast’ of competitors. You have to know who can be pushed, who can be pulled and ultimately you need thick skin and confidence that’s actually backed up with experience. It’s about your ability to engage with a wide range of personalities.

Joel Brannigan in training with Scotland (Credit: Getty)

TASS: Do student-athletes who play contact sport face any unique challenges and if so, what?

JB: I don’t think the challenges are unique and are of equal importance for all athletes. If the young person can be developed and educated and given an environment to develop, then we can make a big impact. For example, the issue of concussion is an important area practitioners are keen to improve, both in terms of minimising the incidence, and crucially managing the return to play. Although this can be hard to do at university level as the lifestyles of young adults are not always conducive to structure and process!

TASS: Does S&C support benefit athletes in any other ways aside from sporting performance?

JB: I think the physical development is the main benefit but sometimes we lose sight of the associated benefits of good overall mental and physical health, self-awareness, confidence and resilience.

TASS: How do you predict the profession will develop in the next five years?

JB: This is a big question. There are a lot of S&C roles available now, but I believe personality, life experience and people skills are now just as important as the relevant qualifications. For that reason, I think we are going to see the return of the ‘specialist generalist’ over the academic. Alongside this, the school sector is the biggest growing area with some great opportunities and resources available to develop their practitioners.

TASS: Why do you think it’s important for TASS to host discipline-specific workshops?

JB: CPD is fundamental to practitioner development in terms of disseminating best practice, but also to discuss with peers what works. There are no secrets and we are better working together rather than against each other.

TASS: What do you enjoy most about being an S&C practitioner?

JB: I would be lying if I said I did not like to win, or at least do all I can to win. However ultimately I like helping people get better and develop. I have been lucky enough to be contribute towards many medals and championships but equally I’ve been lucky to have had a positive impact on someone’s life, irrespective of sporting success.

To find out more about CPD opportunities across all disciplines, please contact TASS Practitioner Development Lead, Ralph Appleby by emailing