LA Galaxy Performance Blog presented by Herbalife

Interview with LA Galaxy’s Head of Strength and Conditioning, Adam Waterson | LA Galaxy Performance Blog presented by Herbalife


Herbalife is the sports nutrition and presenting partner for the LA Galaxy. Registered Dietitians at Herbalife work closely with the LA Galaxy technical staff to make sure we are maximizing their nutrition to support performance goals.

Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background.

I’m Adam Waterson and I’m Head of Strength and Conditioning for the LA Galaxy. This is my 7th season with the club in the MLS, prior to this I was working with teams in Australia for 10 years for clubs including Parramatta Power, Sydney FC, Western Sydney Wanderers FC, Newcastle Jets, and after that, South Korea for a stint with FC Seoul.

I studied Exercise & Sports Science at Australian Catholic University, hold the Level 3 Elite Coach license with the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association (ASCA) and also have the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Performance Enhancement Specialization qualification.

What inspired you to begin working in professional sports and what was your pathway to working with LA Galaxy?

Probably the same for a lot of young kids, growing up I enjoyed playing sport and maybe you’re not quite good enough to be at the elite level yourself, so what’s the next step - that’s probably coaching elite level athletes.

It actually started for me when I was managing a health and fitness center and the new A league (similar to the MLS) in Australia just started and a new Sydney team was training out of the facility there. One day the head coach was training there by himself, I recognized him, and I thought it was a great chance to go chat about football and the path I wanted to take, and he ended up allowing me to come and do an internship with the team. That was the foot in the door I needed, and then it was just about making contacts, doing a great job, showing up on time, and all of the things that you need to do to prove yourself - and that led me to a career in sports for the past 15-20 years.

Over those years I have worked with and met some brilliant practitioners which have helped me hone my craft along the way. In our industry, you often rely on these people to help you secure the next job. It’s less about applying online the old school way for different roles, I really believe that if you’re doing a good job, then people around the league looking for recommendations will hear your name. That’s how it happened at Galaxy. I had spoken with a few people in the league who had put in a good reference for me, then I had 3-4 interviews via Zoom since I was back in Australia, and then got offered the role and told to get on the next flight over to start pre-season.

Can you please describe what a typical day in the life of your role looks like?

In the pro-sport environment the best laid plans are done in pencil as things change constantly and quickly. So no day is ever the same.

Generally, it starts fairly early to make sure everything is set up for the players to come in and perform without any excuses. My main focuses are on getting the activation/pre-hab in the gym organized. We theme the activation to match the content of the field session for that day. So if it’s going to be a more accel and decel day on the field, then the movements we do in the gym will mimic that so they’re preparing the body for the demands of the field session. I will also check in with medical and performance staff to assess the day’s training and return-to-play (RTP) requirements. I perform a large component of the on-field RTP at the club, so it's very important that I have met with the relevant staff and then design a session to match the players requirements for that day.

Then it's time to head to the field and assist with any set-up required, then coach throughout the session. Post-training it’s about collecting all of the GPS/heart rate straps, or collecting RPE’s (rate of perceived exertion) and then head straight back into the gym and take the players through the strength or power session prescribed for that day.

I also will work closely with the two full time dietitians at the club, Erica and Ashley, to ensure players have all of the supplementation, hydration or fueling requirements met pre-, during, and post-session.

Post-training, we look to get the group in the gym at least 2-3 times per week to continue developing their strength and power. We group the guys into different buckets and then prescribe programs aimed at maximizing their athletic ability.

After all that it’s a bite to eat and then review the data from that day’s training session (GPS, heart rate, video etc.) and analyzing that to make decisions on the data for the next day’s training, specifically for the players in RTP. How hard did they work today - was it what we had planned? If it wasn’t, then what do we need to change to safely prepare for tomorrow’s training? If we overcooked them today, then tomorrow we probably need to pull back a little bit. If we undercooked today, tomorrow we may need to go a little bit harder.

Lastly we will then have a Performance and Medical meeting with all the staff to discuss each individual player so that we are all on the same page and no mixed messages to coaching staff for the next day.

Why is your role crucial for the team’s success?

I feel like as performance coaches we spend so much time with the players that we are pretty close with them all and have a very good line of communication. We do a lot of performance testing and from this we work hard on their weaknesses, any asymmetries, where they think they could improve - so when they come to us we can map out strategies for them to improve, whether that is power-based, strength-based, eating better with Nutrition, and really tying everything together. The back room staff is really so vital because we provide the platforms to enable them to get better in whatever it is that they want to achieve as a player, on the field or off the field.

Also, through our formal education we have the science but also through our coaching experiences we have the art so combining the science with the art, being approachable, bringing good energy - we really do feel we help the players to maximize their athletic ability day in day out.

What is your favorite part about your role?

I enjoy being outdoors, so this job allows me to do that each day. Especially working in Sydney, Australia for long periods, and now LA, I have been fortunate to work in some of the best climates in the world.

I also enjoy keeping relatively fit and this job allows me to be very active with the players, especially in RTP, so I feel that keeps me young. The fact that you can travel with the team as well, although I don’t travel to all of the away games, there are so many great opportunities to explore the country when time allows. This job has really allowed me to see the world, and that’s been so rewarding.

I’ve also met great people - often like-minded people who want to progress their careers, who are eager and committed to being the best that they possibly can in their role. Those are the main traits of people in this field, and I’ve made lifelong friends. Working with pro athletes is also great because they challenge me as much as I try to challenge them. They are the best at what they do, so that motivates me to stay on top of my craft and continue to get better to maximize the outputs of the athletes that I work with.

What is the most challenging part about your role and how do you respond to it?

There are so many challenges. I think it is a very reactive type of job. You can have the best plan on paper, but in an hour’s time you could do a session and someone gets injured, then you need to rip up that plan and start again. So yes, you can be proactive and plan, but the job is very reactive to what happens on that specific day. Things can go really well, things can go really bad, and it’s about how you react to that. Also, you need to keep evolving. Your plan may have worked last season, but that doesn’t mean the same plan will work this season. You may have a completely different cohort of players and that brings many challenges. So you’re constantly refining your craft, challenging yourself to get better, thinking outside the box for new strategies to improve. You can never guarantee results, however, you can control your commitment and preparation, which goes a long way to creating sustained success.

Not being able to switch off, too. When we’re in-season, it’s a long season, around 10 and a half months. I’ve made the mistake in the past of living and breathing my work, and when you go home you take that stress and work home with you, and that is not ideal to maintain a balance with a young family. It’s been a big challenge for me to work on being a better father, husband, partner, outside of my job. Many in this industry will live and breathe the work like it is their identity - that was me in the past, and now I don’t want it as my whole identity. Yes, I want to do the best job possible while I’m here, but I also want my identity to also be as a father and husband, and someone who enjoys life outside of professional sport as well. I think it’s important for people to hear that you can get so caught up in the pressure of the role, and that’s all you think about for 11 months, and then you’re missing weddings, birthdays, weekends… That can be really challenging.

Do you have a personal nutrition or food philosophy?

I’ve always gone by an 80-20 rule where, for example Monday-Friday I am disciplined and fairly strict about what I put into my mouth and what I drink, then Saturday and Sunday I am really relaxed, so if we go get pancakes for breakfast and I have a couple alcoholic drinks, then I’m fine. It’s about having that balance. When I’m at work, I’m able to have a consistent pattern and be strict since we get served the best food, so I’ve got no excuse. But when I’m on my own I’m a lot less strict on myself. I’m 41, and still feel fit and healthy, so it’s working okay for me.

Describe your favorite meal you’ve ever had.

This is a tough question, being raised in Australia we are lucky that we are such a multicultural country that we get so many great food options. But if I had to go with one, I would start with some fresh Australian prawns as a taster, and then for the main I would go for some type of Asian Noodle type dish (Pad Thai or Pad See Ew). Wash that down with a Canadian Club and Dry Ginger Ale or two, and then for dessert could be either Sticky Date Pudding or Creme Brulee.

What is your favorite Herbalife product and why?

I’ve got a lot… If I need to exercise, I take Liftoff® because I don’t drink coffee - so it’s my chance to get some caffeine, and I enjoy the taste. When I go home, I really enjoy all of the Herbalife SKIN® products: Daily Glow Moisturizer, Replenishing Night Cream, Strengthening Shampoo, Strengthening Conditioner, Hand & Body Wash… I think that’s something a lot of people don’t know about Herbalife - they have a suite of different options, not only food and supplements, but also lifestyle products. I am so thankful for their partnership at the club and the opportunities to use the products which come with that partnership.

Do you have any advice for someone pursuing a job in professional sports?

There are so many positives, but just be aware of what it takes to maintain success in the role. It really does require 24/7 work in the early years to establish yourself, refine your craft, build a solid reputation, and to gain trust of the coaches around you. There is a lot of groundwork needed to consolidate yourself in the industry, so you’re going to miss out on a lot of events, as I mentioned before. You’re also probably going to work for free, especially in the early years of your career. So, yes, it’s a glamorous type of role on the outside but also a lot of hard yakka too, which may not be seen. Long days, external stresses, weekend work, late nights, arriving from trips at 3 AM… Before we chartered flights, we were going to airports and waiting for hours to get on flights. So, while there are many great things about the role, there are plenty of challenges that people at University don’t speak enough about.

My main advice is to speak to people in the field who have good experience, and get the pros and cons, and then you make your own decision. If it’s what you decide to do - awesome, but don’t go into it thinking that you’re going to work with the best players in the world and that is just glitz and glamor, because it definitely isn’t. Also be aware, that if a coach brings you in and the results don't go too well, then often you will be let go with the coach. Stability is not guaranteed. All of our roles are expendable and we are easily replaced. So it’s important to go into the role knowing you may have to bounce around between jobs, that's the reality of pro sports.

Can you leave us with 3 fun facts about yourself?

  1. I have a 3-year old and a 1-year old who are both American citizens. So I actually had to get Visas to bring my children back into my own home country. When they turn 18, they can sponsor me to become an American citizen, but until then, I still have to renew my Visa every year.
  2. My mother’s background is from Denmark, and I was born in Sydney, Australia.
  3. I’m part of the Herbalife Fitness Advisory Board.