Fitter, Faster, Stronger Phoenix. The name Lee Spence won't ring a bell for the majority of Phoenix fans but the strength and conditioning trainer is the man entrusted with preparing the Wellington players...
Fitter, faster, stronger Phoenix.
The name Lee Spence won't ring a bell for the majority of Phoenix fans but the strength and conditioning trainer is the man entrusted with preparing the Wellington players for the physical demands of the A-league.
Originally from Edinburgh, Scotland, Spence grew up playing rugby. It wasn't until the dream of becoming a professional player looked unlikely to become reality that he pursued a career in sport science.
After a brief spell as a personal trainer after graduating university, Spence decided to head for Kiwi shores when his mother landed a job as a palliative care nurse.
"Mum and dad had always wanted to move out to New Zealand, and once I had finished uni the time seemed right,” Spence said.
While working nights behind the bar at Kitty O'Sheas, and days personal training at Body Works, Spence noticed the job of sports scientist advertised for the Wellington Phoenix.
"It was the first time the job had been advertised. Usually the position was handpicked, so I was lucky enough to get an interview and then the job,” he said.
Affectionately known around the club as ‘Jeff’ after a case of mistaken identity, Spence says he has learnt to handle the banter with professional footballers as part and parcel of the job.
"I had to deal with a little bit [of banter] and obviously took some time to be accepted into the group,” he said.
"My first week I tried a few different warm up games with players and they hammered me for them.
"Now I let them play their favourite game of 'Sheva' (piggy in the middle) before starting warm up drills".
Spence was on edge after the club and former coach Ricki Herbert parted ways. He, like the rest of the playing staff and squad, was unsure whether the new coach would require his services. Spence says he was very fortunate that no changes were made.
"I was very lucky that Ernie came in and didn't change any of the back room staff,” he said.
Spence said he and Coach Ernie Merrick have a good relationship.
"It's a lot more collaborative now than it has been. I can tell him what I need and he's happy as long as he gets what he needs,” he said.
Merrick is not just trying to improve his players but his staff also.
"He's always challenging our standards, asking questions about what we're doing and I always have to have that validation behind it,” Spence said.
It seems there is no place for the players to hide on the training pitch with Spence implementing the use of technology such as GPS and heart rates to monitor players’ workloads.
"I can see if players aren't working hard enough, and then I can give them extra work if I need to,” Spence said.
Having his players as some of the fittest in the league isn't his only goal this season. Spence said he would also like to keep his squad injury free and available for every match.
"I can go to Ernie and say a certain player is feeling sore and tired and he would be fine to give that player a lighter session,” he said.
The Phoenix recently hosted English premier league sides Newcastle United and West Ham. With a surprise victory over West Ham and a solid effort in a narrow defeat to Newcastle, the Phoenix players looked in tip top shape, especially considering the early stages of their pre season.
The English heavy weights may well be asking who's responsible for producing such finely tuned athletes in an effort to acquire his services. Luckily for the Phoenix and their fans Lee Spence is more than happy in the capital and wants to help build the club into one of the A-league’s best.