You are expendable. So put your home life first. Unfortunately, to most employers, you are easily expendable. They don’t have an obligation to look after you. Nor should they. So, I’m making sure to put my home and family life as my first priority. That’s not to say I’m not giving my all to my job. It’s to say to create clear boundaries between work and family time. Based on my experiences with COVID and the many other strength & conditioning coaches I’ve talked to, the strength and conditioning department is the first to go in a tight financial situation.
With the success of the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this difficult period in our history. But before we jump back into the routine of the normal life that we lived in 2019, it would be a shame not to pause to reflect on what we have learned during this time. The social isolation caused by the pandemic really was an opportunity for a collective pause, and a global self-assessment about who we really are, and what we really want in life. With that in mind, I created this series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, and I had the pleasure of interviewing James de Lacey.
James was the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Romanian Rugby Union. He has previously worked in America’s professional rugby competition Major League Rugby with Austin Elite and the NZ Women’s National Rugby League Team. He is also a published academic researcher and has completed an MSc in Sport & Exercise Science from AUT, Auckland, NZ.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
I was born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand. From a young age, I wanted to be a professional tennis player. However, like most strength & conditioning coaches, I didn’t have what it takes to play at that level.
It wasn’t until a knee injury in my mid-teenage years that I fell in love with strength training in the gym. It was all I could do for physical exercise since I wasn’t able to run or play sport. This led me down a path of wanting to become a physiotherapist. To help injured athletes such as what I was currently going through get back to their sport. It was a way I could still be involved in professional sport.
However, I didn’t have what it took academically to get into the physiotherapy program at university. While going through a similar degree to try to get the marks to transfer back to physiotherapy, a guest lecturer from the exercise science department spoke to the class about what sport and exercise science was about.
That one talk changed the trajectory of my life and career. You could say that my knee injury and that guest lecturer presentation were major catalysts for where I am today.
I went through the rest of university for 5 and a half years finishing my bachelor’s and master’s degree in sport and exercise science publishing two scientific research papers and becoming an intern at my favorite sports team here in New Zealand in the process.
Since then, I have worked in a professional rugby union in Romania for a year. Following that, I got my first International role with the New Zealand Women’s Rugby League side called the Kiwi Ferns. Not long after this, I landed a role in Austin, Texas in the newly formed Major League Rugby which is the new professional rugby competition in the USA. After two seasons there, I got the call to lead the Romanian Rugby Union which was a great opportunity to get my hands dirty in International rugby.
Being a coach was always going to be my future, I just didn’t know it. The only job I ever had was coaching. I started at 14 years old coaching tennis part-time at my local club. This was my part-time job all the way through to training people and athletes as a strength & conditioning coach.
Are you currently working from home? If so, what has been the biggest adjustment from your previous workplace? Can you please share a story or example?
Right now, I am currently working from home due to arriving back in New Zealand from overseas. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is trying not to work too much which is very easy when you don’t have set and defined working times.
When working as a coach, you have set training times. You have tasks before training sessions such as planning and tasks afterward such as reflecting and analyzing. Once that is done, the workday is finished other than some self-study.
When working from home on my own projects, there is no set working time. I can literally work from morning to night building my online projects and not bat an eye. So I make sure to balance my life with my wife and prioritize only the most important work for that day so I have that extra time.
What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?
Being able to coach regularly and help athletes achieve their full athletic potential. Coaching is fun for me and I’m constantly learning and applying which makes for a challenging but fun career.
The pandemic was really a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic?
Slowing down. I never realized how frantic life was before COVID. Looking back, it seemed every year was getting faster and faster regarding the speed of life. Socially, COVID has been like a reset button for much of society where more people are taking time for themselves and their families and placing less priority on work. I’ve realized myself there is no rush to the top. No rush to climb the career ladder. Opportunities will come in time.
What if anything, do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response? We’d love to hear some stories or examples.
One major positive is less reliance on having employees in an office. More people are working from home which allows them more time with their families and more time in general as there is no commute. Companies have now realized that employees often don’t need to be in the office to get things done.
Since COVID, this is the most I have been home ever as my job required me to go into training camps quite often which would leave me away from home for weeks on end. Being home has been an eye-opener and I’ve been able to strengthen my relationship with my wife which wouldn’t have happened without lockdowns.
How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?
There were a couple of things that made being locked up very productive. Firstly, my wife and I made sure to train every day in the yard of our house. Various band and bodyweight workouts kept us physically in shape while being locked at home.
Further, I dove deep into the realm of digital marketing, SEO, and blogging. At this time last year, I bought a blogging course which set me down a path of making income online using my writing skills and my career knowledge. Since then, I’ve written well over 100 blog posts on various topics and currently have four different websites bringing various levels of income.
Being able to dive deep into another area that can support my career financially gave me a lot of purpose during lockdown and kept me focus on getting the most out of the time stuck at home.
Aside from what we said above, what has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?
Losing my job and waiting to be able to travel back home to NZ with the possibility of being stuck in another country while overstaying our visas due to how difficult it was to get back to NZ.
We were lucky in that the cost of living in Romania is very cheap so we were able to buy our food and pay our rent each month. Both my wife and I were earning a side income online which was a lifesaver as we had some money coming in.
Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- I must have more than one source of income.
This was highly evident with my time in Romania spending most of 2020 without a full-time job. Luckily, I had a side job online that would bring in some money each month. There is a major problem in the coaching profession and this quote sums it up nicely. “There are two types of strength & conditioning coaches. Those who are looking for work, and those who are about to be looking for work.”
Job security in the strength and conditioning coaching profession is well known to be shocking. For this reason, I have been building online businesses to offset these financial insecurities so I can work my passion career job without fear of having no money for my family.
- You are expendable. So put your home life first. Unfortunately, to most employers, you are easily expendable. They don’t have an obligation to look after you. Nor should they. So, I’m making sure to put my home and family life as my first priority. That’s not to say I’m not giving my all to my job. It’s to say to create clear boundaries between work and family time. Based on my experiences with COVID and the many other strength & conditioning coaches I’ve talked to, the strength and conditioning department is the first to go in a tight financial situation.
- Creative date nights. Before COVID, heading out for a date night didn’t have to take much thinking. It could be heading to the local bar for a drink, going out for dinner, or finding something new in town that you haven’t experienced before. But being locked at home removes all of these date night options.
The worst thing we can do in our relationship is to fall into a routine where date nights no longer happen because we are locked at home. This is where creativity needs to come into play. Simple things such as cooking a nice dinner that you don’t normally eat, using candles for meal or movie time, or playing board games together are cheap creative options when you are stuck at home ensuring to keep the romance alive and kicking.
- The importance of mown health. My wife and I know many people that have contracted COVID. Some showed no symptoms and recovered fine. Others were sick and are now suffering from health complications even after recovery. Others we know have passed away. My health is more important than anything else I will do in life. Staying fit and healthy can decrease your risk of being sick or at least help you fight disease if it ever comes to that.
- How fast life was before COVID-19. Before COVID-19, everything for me was about what is the next in my career. Where was the next opportunity coming from. Lockdowns and the pausing of life were a blessing in disguise as I was able to slow down, focus on building my financial freedom and stop relying on the next job to get me through life. A year after being locked down, I’ve become more aware of a lifestyle that is too fast-paced and doesn’t have enough stillness.
The book Stillness Is The Key by Ryan Holiday has been a great resource and reminder of this. Not everything needs to be done all the time. Just getting the few things done each day and everything else is a bonus is much better on the mind than rushing to get ten different things done.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?
“When one door closes, another one opens.” This quote has rung true throughout my whole career. Coaching is notorious for having very little job security so I’ve been in and out of jobs a few times. When losing my job during the pandemic, I knew that something else will eventually pop up. Everything I’ve done in the past adds up to the opportunities that will be presented now.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Neil deGrasse Tyson. One of the smartest people on Earth yet he can explain astrophysics concepts to a 5-year-old. I strive to understand sports and exercise science on that level.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.