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CSCS Spotlight | Mike Potenza of the San Jose Sharks

san jose sharks

Potenza is a Managing Partner and Director of Human Performance for Tactical Fitness and Performance since inception (2009).  TFP is an innovative small business with a specialized focus on Human Performance for the Tactical Operator.  TFP created and managed the Human Performance Programs for two United States Air Force Pararescue teams within the National Guard Bureau. 

Potenza is currently in his 12th year as the Director of Strength and Conditioning for the San Jose Sharks hockey team. He is responsible for the team’s comprehensive health and performance enhancement program, including the physical testing and evaluations during training camp and rookie development camp.  He works closely with the Athletic Training staff on the rehab and reconditioning programming of all injured players. 

Potenza oversees the Strength and Conditioning staff for the Sharks minor league affiliate (San Jose Barracuda, San Jose CA).  He is also responsible for the physical fitness evaluations and design of the physical performance enhancement program for the 20 plus prospects within the San Jose Sharks organization.  Potenza has implemented a specific strategy to track player readiness through workload monitoring, blood analysis and a daily health assessment.  The information is used to create individualized workout routines, player supplementation strategies and on-ice training intensity/frequency.

Could you share more about the athletes you work with?

I work with so many different types of players. There are seasoned veterans that have been playing for 10 or more years. You have to plan and program for certain physical breakdowns with them. Then there are the rookies. They typically have fewer injuries and less mileage on their bodies. There is also the reconditioning group. This is the group that needs to rehab and have a transitional plan back to competition, which might be on a short or long-term level.

What does a practice day look like for you with the San Jose Sharks?

On practice days, we warm up as a group and do some movement prep. Movement prep can include self-administered tissue work, joint mobility, activation exercises, locomotor patterns like shuffling, spinning, transitional sprinting and neural work like jumping or throwing a medicine ball. During training, we split the group in half. We work with the seasoned veterans first, and then the younger guys later, which allows the coaching ratios to be a lot better. We also monitor practices with heart rate monitors and produce data reports to communicate with the coaches on the workloads in practice and workloads for the overall month.   

What injuries do you see most commonly?

We see issues with groins, hips, shoulders – mostly from impact, and concussions. Because of the mechanics of skating, we don’t see hamstring pulls or ankle sprains. Ankle issues arise from blocked shots mainly.

What is your philosophy in regards to strength and conditioning?

I take a three-level approach to strength and conditioning:

  1. Educate- We believe in educating our players as to why we do what we do. We look to create workouts that are formatted for the individual athlete’s needs.  The needs of the program come from our performance testing, movement profile and player role determined by the coaching staff.
  2. Culture of Work– We want to get better off the ice and on the ice. We ask the players, “What do you want to be better at?” The answer to that questions leads us to create a specific work plan off the ice and on the ice.  Players then learn how and where to invest time to be successful in their game.  The players have developed a tremendous amount of respect for each other when they see their teammate working with intent and specificity.
  3. Speed, Power, Strength- Players need to develop and maintain the qualities of speed, power, and strength in order to be a successful athlete. If one of these qualities is absent, then a player will lose the ability to perform at their top level.

What shifts have you seen in strength and conditioning throughout the years?

Now, there is more of an emphasis on specific programming and the details on how to train each individual strength quality so they do not overlap, optimization.

How were you introduced to the Marc Pro?

I learned about the Marc Pro through our head athletic trainers, who knew Gary Reinl. The concept for recovery with the device was simple and it made a lot of sense to me. Essentially, it is an electronic muscle stimulator unit that uses a low-grade pulse to create a stimulus at the muscular level.  This pulse acts like a pump to push the byproducts of training out and brings in nutrient rich blood. 

What is the protocol for using a Marc Pro?

We will have players use the Marc Pro for 20+ minutes on a specific area and then shift. We use the Marc Pro anywhere and everywhere we can—bus, plane, hotel room, home, post-practice, etc… We have to implement recovery within our team travel schedule since we are one of the most traveled teams in the NHL and one of the most traveled among the four major sports.

What is the most difficult aspect about your position?

Meeting everybody’s needs. I have to stay on top of each player’s needs and also meet those needs within the team framework. You cannot favor the best player and you cannot favor the player who has a lot of training needs. As a coach you have to meet in the middle and coach every athlete you have equally. You also need to stay up-to-date with all of the best training research.  The field evolves so quickly.  It is critical that you stay up-to-date on research and the practical applications to training that best fit your athletes. 

What advice would you give athletes about recovery?

It depends on what we are doing. If we are having a heavy lactate session, we tell players not to get into the cold pool.  We need a strategy that helps flush and pump fluids around the area trained to help facilitate recovery. Athletes can use a global approach to recovery and pulse multiple areas of the body when using the Marc Pro. During “recovery time” athletes need to get the byproducts flushed out locally and into the circulatory system.

What is your favorite part about working with athletes on a daily basis?

Being a resource for them. I let them know right away in the relationship that I want to be a resource they can go to for an educated and experienced opinion on performance and rehab.  I also make sure to tell them to do their own research so they can get educated too.  If I don’t have the answer, then I am sure to tell the athlete that I will go find it. 

I enjoy the day-to-day team aspect of climbing the mountain together towards a championship. We are part of the support staff, but we are a critical piece in how the players can do what they do best, at a high level daily without interruption. I love the role of being a guy the athletes can trust and come to.

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