The Watson 4 (The Four series)

By John Rahme


I still had not entered the world of Strength and Conditioning when I first met Paul Watson. I knew of him as I was preparing for a fight with alongside Grant “Bomber” Barker and had met Paul whilst doing some conditioning sessions together. These conditioning sessions were Mainly on Paul’s private playing fields, “THE SAND DUNES.” My first meeting with Paul was whilst working at the Cronulla-Sharks home ground doing concrete works there. I stood outside of the gym and was reading the board which had their weight program on. The exercises were not alien to me but the sets, reps and percentages were. I was completely confused to why you would have such a set and rep scheme? And percentages?  What for? Where you trying to make yourself look good? You see my background in weight training was bodybuilding. Paul then approached me and I introduced myself to him and I asked him would he mind if I asked him a question. Anyone that knows me will know that it wasn’t one question I was after; it was every single bit of knowledge Paul had in his head. Our conversation went well over an hour.


Without further ado, the four questions.


  1. How has strength and conditioning changed in your time over the years?


As John Rahme alluded, we first met many, many years ago, outside the Cronulla Gym. The Cronulla players were still not full-time professionals, I along with some of the players, upgraded the gym with some new equipment, laying flooring, painting and building gutters outside for drainage. The gym budget was small and what we could do would allow more money for equipment. I use to put the programs up inside the gym on a blackboard written in chalk. What John doesn’t mention about our chat was that I was also questioning and learning from him. This was my first paid S & C job and I was on a steep learning curve.

The Wanda Sandhills, where we had crossed paths, we’re still wild and untamed. I had loved them since young and while quizzing the late and great Peter Armstrong (Ex St. George Legend and our Cronulla CEO) he told me that during the Saints 10-year Premiership run they had trained out there frequently. This just confirmed my love of training at the Sandhills and would be a basis for my S & C journey.

When I first started my S & C journey there weren’t many defined career pathways, a few years before the Sharks opportunity I had enrolled in a Diploma of Exercise Science which evolved into a Degree in Sports Science. The thing I most loved about it was that our Uni had a very practical component to it as well as having an academic flavour. The lecturers (Dr. Paul Batman and Dr. John Shell) walked their talk and not only delivered the latest science, training methodologies, testing methods and theories but also were actively involved in exercise and training themselves. Part of our course was performing various sports, physical training and reaching certain exercise physiology standards. It wasn’t just about the course but transforming your mind and body and exploring its potential.

We did however think we were on the road to nowhere, we use to sing “We are on the road to Nowhere”, as there were not really many defined career paths to pursue other than working in a gym or as a PT.

I was very fortunate that John Lang and Shane Richardson took a chance on me, and definitely owe Bobby Sheens the outgoing S & C, a depth of gratitude for giving me a recommendation.

These days there are so many career pathways and jobs available not only in S & C, but also in High Performance, Exercise Physiology and many other health and fitness related fields. The change has been enormous and it will be so interesting to see where we are in another 20 years.

The internet and computers had just started to become accessible, and as with most other areas of life, this would lead to dramatic changes. There is now so much information available to everyone and with the influence of Social Media, the landscape has changed dramatically.

Everything always evolves and what I love is the access to the latest information, which can be both good and bad, so always critically appraise what you read and see. That is why it is important to keep learning and apply some analytical thinking!




  1. What is the method which you subscribe to or YOUR way when it comes to athlete preparation in the gym and field?


I’m not sure if I have a “My Way” though some might differ. I am a really positive person and I know not everyone likes that. The thing I do know is that I have always loved training and probably enjoyed training alongside my athletes as much as coaching them.

I know myself; I want the people I am training to be their best version of themselves, and give their best in preparation. This encompasses all facets of their lives, as what we do away from training is as important as the training itself.

I want the individual to have gratitude for their wonderful opportunity and ability to pursue their sport, health and fitness, whilst doing something they love! I would like them to appreciate this amazing part of their lives where they get to explore their potential.



I believe It’s important to get to know and to train the individual firstly, but also (as part of a team sport) in the team environment! I think these days this can be performed more effectively with the High-Performance set ups that most teams and individuals have. When I first started it was basically you with the task of programming over 70 athletes. There was hardly any budget and most of the monitoring systems were nonexistent. So, it came down to the art of coaching more than having science and statistics to guide you in load management. These days there are so many monitoring systems and brilliant people analyzing and using such systems that the science of training has improved exponentially.

I really believe in athletes training hard, which basically is having a high work load. But this has to be performed to a plan that allows the time for the loads to be adapted to and once adapted maintained.

After the off season it was always expected to test your returning athletes to have a base for going forward. I have always believed that you should spend the first two-three weeks adapting back into the training regime and then test. It doesn’t look as good on the improvement scale but definitely helps with the injury reduction rates as it gives the athletes time to adjust to the loads. I know that many of today’s athletes do not allow themselves to detrain during their offseason, and so come back into the programs ready to go, so consider this when you are planning.


Next manage your spikes in load which I have usually performed through periodization and offload from a classical Tudor Bompa perspective. Again, try to apply this to each of your athletes individually as well as team wise.


Recovery is critical, with my favourite of all-time sleep, then nutrition and then what works best for you. If your training is highly demanding and you want to be your best then sleep, nutrition, hydration, mobility and pliability are essential for you to remain at your best and for reducing the chances of injury. Recovery reduces your risk of injury; lets you train to your potential and balances your stress.



  1. What does leadership mean to you? 


Being true to yourself firstly so you can be an example to those you wish to lead. I love the saying “Walk your talk”! If you are in the field of health, fitness, high performance, nutrition and wellness and not living what you are preaching then you are out of touch with your true values. I know it can be hard at times with the working hours and the rest of life balance, but if you truly believe what you are preaching then be a living example in your own life.




  1. What advice would you give to a young sports scientist, strength coach?


Number one don’t “become an expert” as you then start to become set in your ways and experts generally stop adapting to new ideas. I’ve always preached lifelong learning! Keep learning, keep asking questions and learn to ease off on your ego and stay humble!

Don’t fall into the trap of “I’ve got the secret”. If I could critique what I have learned to now, with what I thought I knew at 20, some thoughts and ideas would hash but many theories would not hold sway!

Get to know who you are training as it’s not just about the training, it’s a relationship.

There are also so many variations in training factors and not all are what you can control.

Some athletes can handle high volumes and rarely get injured, some are highly strung machines and you need to be careful as they have a higher likelihood of injury. While some are the “inbetweeners” who are a little bit of both. This is a simplification but I like to think about this individuality when setting out the training programs. Always get feedback from your athletes as this will give you so much information on how to train them.

Lastly the demands of sport are very intense so you have to train hard to let your athletes realise their potential. Develop your own philosophy but you owe it to them to see how high they can rise!



I could not think of one strength and conditioner today who would stand with me for over an hour in front of a gym and enlighten me on a new way of training other than Paul Watson and Ashley Jones. I interrogated Paul with questions. Why? How come? What if? If you? And he stood there and answered all of my questions and more. Paul ignited a flame within me for more thirst and knowledge in this field and Ashley Jones filled up a very big well in the ground with information. Some meetings with people are easily forgotten to them. And some meetings with people are the start of a path for you. Thank you, Paul, for helping me start me journey.