Starting off in the Hills district in Sydney, Adam Waterson has come a long way to now be training the likes of global superstars Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Javier Hernandez in sunny California.
While Waterson’s name might not be well-known in Australian football, the fitness coach has had a remarkable career that has taken him from the NSL to the A-League, Korea and now Major League Soccer.
The former head of strength and conditioning at both the Newcastle Jets and Western Sydney Wanderers joined LA Galaxy in January 2018.
At the MLS giants the Aussie has worked with players like Ashley Cole, Mexican internationals Jonathan and Giovani dos Santos, Norwegian striker Ola Kamara and Argentine forward Cristian Pavon.
After nearly two years out of professional football, Waterson admits it was a “no-brainer” to take up a role at the Galaxy.
“An opportunity to work abroad, get back into professional football with a big club in the MLS, in an amazing part of the world, was really a no-brainer,” Waterson told The World Game.
“My wife was really supportive and with her being from Brazil it was a little closer to see family too. It’s been a great experience thus far. I was made to feel welcome from the very start.
“The resources the club has and the investment it makes into the running of the club is immense. The training facility is really good, everything that the players need is onsite.
“On the field we have had some success but also had seasons of inconsistency like 2020. We are hopeful next year resembles some form of normality and we can rebuild and enjoy more success.”
Waterson started in football as a young player at Baulkham Hills FC and then Hills United. But a broken leg suffered at the age of 18 sparked a serious interest in strength and conditioning, and he started studying Exercise Science at the Australian Catholic University.
There he learned off former Socceroos, Liverpool and Arsenal high performance guru Darren Burgess, and interned with Parramatta Power and then Sydney FC in the inaugural season of the A-League.
“My Parramatta Power experience coincided with my time studying at the Australian Catholic University with Darren Burgess,” Waterson explained.
“Darren was conducting some research and needed help tracking the players' movements on the pitch during games so I would film the games and then he would spend hours watching film and analysing all the players' movements.
"It was the final few seasons of the NSL and the team was full of quality players and had some good success.
“It was my first experience in a professional team setting and it certainly fuelled my desire to continue on the S&C path. I had a couple of experiences in roles with the youth team and first-team at Sydney FC. The first came about in 2005, the first season of the A-League.
“It was such a chance moment. Sydney FC had just announced Pierre Littbarski as the head coach and I was working at a local gym in Kellyville and he and his wife came in and used the gym, and from there I formed a relationship with him and it led to being offered an intern-type role at the club.
“I did everything from filling up the drinks, cleaning the boots, helping with the laundry and also helping Darren Welch who ran the S&C program. The team was exceptionally talented and many of those players are now in head coaching roles around the league.
After backroom staff roles with Sydney United and Sydney FC, Waterson was appointed head of strength and conditioning at the Jets in 2010. There, he worked under Branko Culina and, later, Gary van Egmond.
“Nathan Tinkler had just purchased the Jets and the Knights,” he said.
“It was an exciting time to be joining the club under the coach at the time Branko Culina. Newcastle is a great town to live and work and the team is really well supported by the locals.
“From a performance perspective, some challenges we faced was the travel. At that time we weren’t able to fly direct to some locations such as Wellington and Perth, so when we did play those teams it was after a two-hour bus trip to Sydney airport, then the flight - which isn’t ideal.
“The second season I worked under Gary van Egmond, who is a really good coach who challenged me day in, day out to produce quality sessions for the players, which ultimately improved me as a coach.”
In 20212, Waterson returned to his hometown for the birth of the Wanderers.
Under Tony Popovic’s brutal training regime, Western Sydney arguably became the fittest team in Australia and went on to reach two grand finals, winning a Premiership and the Asian Champions League.
“It was an amazing experience working with Popa and JT [John Tsatsimas, Wanderers CEO] in helping build the club’s S&C program from scratch,” he said.
“It was bare bones at the start; no gym, no training equipment, no sports science tech, no athlete monitoring system, no support staff, no players, so being able to play some part in establishing these things was a valuable learning experience.
“The success we achieved in both the A-League and Asian Champions League in those first three years really was a great reward for all the work the players and staff put in and the culture we were able to instil.
"Popa was instrumental in driving the standards day in, day out at the club.
“It was a pleasure to work with a coach that supported you and the programs/systems I was trying to implement into the performance program at the Wanderers.
"Internally he was very challenging but was always externally supportive and backed you. He is a very good motivator and his attention to detail was meticulous.”
Waterson believes the club’s impressive early success was built around excellent preparation, hard work, a strong culture and canny recruitment.
“Players knew their roles and bought into the processes we had built,” he said.
“The team’s preparation throughout the week was always extremely thorough. We always went into games well prepared for the opponent we were coming up against.
"Everyone was working towards one common goal and that was to get better every single day.
“I’m sure you would agree the performances in the first few years would support this. We were a fit team, very hard to beat and didn’t concede too many goals.
“Fitness is only a very small component and, realistically, you are only as good as the cattle you have and I believe Popa did a great job bringing in local players that had points to prove within the league.
"Also, he didn’t miss on the foreign players we brought in that year.
“Shinji Ono, (Youssouf) Hersi, (Jerome) Polenz, (Mateo) Poljak, (Dino) Kresinger, all of these guys came in with great attitudes, were change-room leaders and didn’t toss off the hard work.”
At the end of 2015, Waterson departed Western Sydney to head up strength and conditioning at K League 1 side FC Seoul. He only spent three months in Korea, but feels his time in Asia improved him as a coach.
“It came about from a recommendation from a player we had at Western Sydney who just signed with FC Seoul: Yojiro Takahagi,” he said.
“I had also met the coach a few times from when we had played FC Seoul in the Champions League. The football culture was obviously very different and being the only English-speaking coach on staff was a good laugh.
“I had a young interpreter with me full-time whom helped me a great deal with everything off the field.
"But on the field, getting the messages across the way I wanted was challenging. From a performance perspective, it was a real eye-opener to see the methods being used to train the team.
“Quite different to the way I would normally go about preparing athletes back home but I certainly respect the durability and mentality of the Korean players. Their work ethic, discipline and respect for me as a coach was unbelievable.”
After two years working with the NSW Police Force as a strength and conditioning coach, Waterson was enticed to the United States.
Over a three-year period, some of the talent he has come across on the training pitch includes ex-England international Cole, the indomitable Ibrahimovic and former Manchester United striker Hernandez.
“Ashley was a funny guy in the locker room and a machine on the pitch,” he said.
“Even though he was closer to (the) end (of his career) when I coached him, he still had an amazing capacity to run up and down the sideline for 90 minutes, at a good clip mind you. He’s a smart, smart player and I think he will have a successful career as a coach.
“Zlatan is Zlatan. The ultimate competitor at everything. Everyone knows his quality. He’s the best finisher I have ever seen and it was a pleasure to watch him train and play for two years.
"He demanded success and put pressure on everyone around him to be at a certain standard. He was incredibly strong in the gym too.
"We do a lot of baseline strength testing in pre-season and he was by far the strongest in the squad.
“Chicharito was a new arrival in 2020 and his progress like everything else has been disrupted by COVID-19.
"You can see his class in and around the box and I am really looking forward to getting a full pre-season with him in 2021 and helping him have a big year.”
With head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto sacked in October and interim head coach Dominic Kinnear placed in charge, the Galaxy are in a period of transition.
But Redondo beach-based Waterson is keen to help bring back the good times to one of the powerhouses of the American game.
“My wife and I just had a baby boy Enrique so my focus is on looking after them and making sure they are comfortable,” he said.
“I also am extremely motivated to help the incoming coach bring a trophy back to LA Galaxy. I would love to extend my time here in the US but in football you just never know.
“I have formed some good relationships with some coaches back in Australia, so perhaps in the future I can help contribute more to football back home.”