New Zealand's 200m national record holder Chris Donaldson now works as strength and conditioning coach with the national cricket team. The Black Caps have emerged as one of the Cricket World Cup's most exciting performers; the Olympic sprinter tells SPIKES what role his athletic expertise has played in that.

Teaching the technique

“I was always fast as a sprinter, but in the early years I was technically awful and as a consequence I picked up a lot of injuries. It was only later, when my coach taught me how to run efficiently, that my movement patterns improved and I was able to pick up fewer injuries and run faster.

“Improving technique translated well to cricket, because three key elements connected to performance are: how to field, how to run between wickets and how to bowl more efficiently. Teaching the guys how to run and move properly covered everything from running to jumping.

“Acceleration off the mark was a big part of this and getting them to make sure they started their movement pattern in the crouch power position rather than starting from a standing upright position was one element.

“Another area we would work on was making sure the players were in the correct body position to dive properly. A lot of the cricketers I work with are very gifted athletes already, what I try and do is enable them to apply force and power as quickly as possible.

“That is what running is all about. It is about applying force as quickly as possible in the shortest amount of time – that's what makes Usain Bolt better than anybody else.” 

Cricket is beautiful. New Zealand is beautiful

Getting the lift

“My background as a sprinter was as much about working hard in the gym as it was running – it was through my gym work that I learned the lifting basics. In fact, I would say the basics I picked up in the gym form a huge part of my knowledge base as a strength and conditioner.

“As a cricketer, strength is vital and work in the gym allows the players to withstand the huge stress placed on the body. On the lifting side I wanted to ensure that wherever they were in the world touring they would be able to effectively perform the technique without hurting themselves.

“Life is tough as an international cricketer because there is no off-season. They are active for pretty much 12 months a year. I work more closely with the players on a full conditioning phase during that three to six-week period between tours.”

Injury prevention

“As a former sprinter – I was involved in an explosive sport for many years – I picked up my fair share of injuries. Yet what my experiences taught me was I knew how close to the limit I could push it and this is helpful for all elite sportsmen trying to maximise their potential.

“With the cricketers, I knew that they needed to be stronger and I needed their muscle tissue to adapt and allow them to handle the load I was putting them through. Recovery is a huge part of injury prevention so implementing a nutritional and recovery programme with protein shakes, hydration, ice baths and massage have all been a huge part of that. The players have a full-time physio and medical team, so I can't take all the credit for work in this area.

“Where I'm lucky is that I work with an outstanding group of athletes who are very focused and professional and I have a coach who trusts me and gives me autonomy over the group.”

Chris Donaldson ()

Donaldson's 20.42 200m PB set in 1997 has never been bettered by a fellow Kiwi

Foundation skills

“Track and field is the foundation for all sports and it taught me so much. What I've done is implement standards within the group and made their training very transparent. All 20 contracted Black Caps can see where they are ranked across a number of training exercises to measure speed, power, strength and aerobic fitness.

“The strength test is measured by a dead lift, squat, bench press and bench pull. Speed via a 10m, 20m and 30m run. Aerobic fitness through the yo-yo test and 1500m run and power test via three single leg hops for distance and three double-foot bunny hops. The bowlers are generally the top athletes, but across the board the Black Caps score very highly.

“Ultimately to be a great cricketer you need the skills to be able to play the game. A fantastic athlete cannot necessarily be able to play cricket. However, an average athlete can still be a very good cricketer and that's what marks it out as such a unique sport.”