Australian Nathan Plaskett is living his dream after being appointed strength, conditioning and rehab coach at English Championship club Derby County.
Plaskett, who joined the Rams in January, works across the club’s first-team, Under-23s and Under-18s sides. The sports scientist helps the younger players get ready for senior football action in the Championship, as well aiding in the physical development of Derby’s seasoned professionals like Curtis Davies and Matt Clarke.
After working previously in the A-League and in the NRL in strength and conditioning roles, Plaskett decided to head to the UK to try and break into English football.
“Working in English football is one of those things, I mean I’ve always been a big admirer of the English football system as a fan growing up of the sport,” he told The World Game.
“But in a professional sense I knew the opportunities, and the calibre, the academy systems set up in English football, it was always something I wanted to work in.
“It was always a goal I had in the back of my mind that I wanted to really build towards. Both personally and professionally the stars kind of aligned back in Sydney and I kind of thought that it was, probably halfway through last year that me and my partner decided and we thought if we don’t do it now we might not ever do it.
“So we resigned from our jobs, left at the end of September, had a little bit of a holiday and then arrived in the UK. I went on the job hunt. I knew I had to put myself over here first to give myself the best chance.
“I did a lot of preparation work, networking and building my own abilities up, and then I was living in Burton and by some ridiculous stroke of luck I managed to get a job at the football club that’s closest to where I was living.
“I was willing to go up and live in Middlesborough, I wasn’t too concerned, but it’s pretty wild when I look back on it now to be honest.”
One of the oldest clubs in England, Derby have competed in the Championship since 2007. The historic side has been managed by Dutch great Phillip Cocu since July last year when he took over at Pride Park from Frank Lampard, who joined Chelsea.
Plaskett is relishing his time with the Rams and working with the likes of Cocu and Wayne Rooney.
“It’s been really, really good,” he said.
“It’s a big Championship club and the staff and the calibre around the club is really high. I guess it was a little bit intimidating environment at first, but everyone’s been really good to me.
“I love the versatility of my role, I get to work across the full-time squads, the first-team, the Under-23s and Under-18s. We have a category 1 academy here, so it’s a Premier League academy so our Under-23s are playing the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City.
“Then you’ve got the calibre of the Championship. So everything about it is really, really good. I’ve enjoyed the challenge so far. I’m involved with a lot of the off-field work, the strength and conditioning, the testing and the monitoring.
“So I spend a lot of time in the gym, working across the full-time squads. Me and my boss Luke Jenkinson are two of only three staff in the sports science and medicine department at the club who work across all three teams in our profession.
“We get to see a really good systemised structure of how we want things to look and obviously making sure that those players that we have at those younger levels come into that first-team environment prepared. Essentially that’s our job; preparing them for any other club they may end up at as well.
“COVID kind of threw a few obstacles in the way, like it has for everyone, but yeah I’m back on track a little bit now and just cracking on. Working under a system of a manager who has such an extensive history in the game, who has played at such a high level, is great for everyone involved.
“Just for me, working in the English football system is a step to the next level for me anyway. Everyone involved in the coaching staff, behind the scenes, has been awesome to work with.”
Born and raised in Sydney, Plaskett went to the Australian Catholic University and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise and Sports Science, and a Master’s in High Performance Sport. At university the 25-year-old studied under the Socceroos’ respected former head of sports science Craig Duncan.
After getting his degree Plaskett worked with the Australian Canoe Slalom Team before spending a year and a half as a sports scientist with Western Sydney Wanderers.
“Through Craig [Duncan] I jumped on board with the Under-21s Wanderers side,” he explained.
“That was my first real experience in football. I got to work under Trevor Morgan there who’s a fantastic coach. He was really well-informed about our profession, so he was a great first coach to work with.”
Plaskett then spent some time as a strength and conditioning coach with the GWS Fury netball team before a year with Sydney FC as part of his Master’s degree.
“I had to do a project with an internship,” he said.
“It was the 2016-2017 season so I was fortunate to have Andrew Clark there as a mentor of fine. Even getting to watch Arnie with his team, to observe a winning environment like that was really awesome.
“Obviously they had an incredibly successful season. I do think that in terms of the football people I worked with in Australia has really helped me adapt to things over here.”
Plaskett, who also had two years working with FFA at Young Socceroos and Joeys training camps, then had stints with NSW Rugby League, The King’s School at Parramatta, NSW Ambulance and with the NRL’s Wests Tigers’ Under-20s and reserve grade teams.
But football was always calling to him and Plaskett made up his mind to ply his trade in Europe.
“Football’s my favourite sport,” he said.
“It’s a sport I’ve supported quite passionately for a long time. I’ve always wanted to work in it. It’s a sport over here that’s very well-funded.
“Then in terms of English football it’s a very physical brand of football. It’s very different to other parts of Europe that might be more technical.
“It’s a good challenge to prepare players for that kind of football. I’m really excited to be in a position to test that out.
“It’s interesting because football in general has developed a kind of a stigma that strength and conditioning isn’t quite as important [compared with other sports]. Social media hasn’t really helped, there’s videos going around of European teams and they’re doing things that are probably not ideal or that beneficial.
“But in comparisons with football in Australia, we’re doing very much similar things in terms of our off-field gym work. Everyone’s squatting, everyone’s doing hamstring and groin work.
“The biggest difference over here is the resources we have available to us in terms of the gyms and the monitoring technology we’re able to have. [But] I’d love to progress in this system as far as I can.
“I’m just trying to soak up as much experience as possible. In the future I’d love to be running a department. For now, I’m very, very comfortable where I am and what I’m doing.”