|Sidney Crosby celebrates the Pittsburgh Penguins' 2009 Stanley Cup victory with long-time trainer Andy O'Brien. (Supplied photo) |
Sidney Crosby was already a highly touted prospect when Andy O’Brien met him 13 years ago at an elite hockey school in P.E.I.
“He was introduced to me as the best 13-year-old hockey player in the world,” O’Brien recalls in a one-on-one interview during a recent Reebok media event in Toronto.
“A lot of people were rolling their eyes back then because it’s like, ‘Oh, we’ve heard this before.’”
But O’Brien, just starting out as a strength and conditioning coach at the time and a guest presenter at the hockey school that Crosby just happened to be attending, was immediately impressed with the kid from Cole Harbour, N.S.
“Typically, when you think of a skilled player, you think of guys with just really good hands, like a good shot. … It’s like you’re either skilled or you’re a hard-working, grinder-type guy. That was the tradition.”
But Crosby was a mix of both. And that’s what amazed O’Brien.
Perhaps more amazing, however, was that the teen sensation had already accurately pinpointed his weaknesses — and he was more than willing to work on them.
Among them, Crosby was a “lumbering” skater, O’Brien remembers.
“He was this bright young kid that recognized at a young age that speed didn’t come naturally to him and that his skating and speed were what he needed to work on because that was the direction the game was going in. I thought he had tremendous foresight as a young guy to make that recognition.”
The teacher and student, whose philosophies jived perfectly, ended up hitting it off at the hockey school. Crosby told his parents about O’Brien. And a short time later, Crosby signed on as the strength and conditioning coach’s sole client.
Their first summer together, they trained three times a day in six-hour chunks.
Crosby’s working-class parents would drop him off at O’Brien’s Halifax residence at 8 a.m. His mom would pick him up around 2 p.m., after she was finished work.
“We spent quite a bit of time together,” O’Brien says. “It was really fortunate. I wish I had that much time with every young athlete that I start with nowadays.”
During his training sessions with Crosby, the focus was on proper technique in order to minimize the risk of injury.
“And during breaks, we would eat together and I would teach him all about physiology, the names of the muscles and the philosophy behind what we were doing,” O’Brien notes.
“It was an opportunity for me when I was younger to really key in on one young guy that had a lot of talent and was very motivated.”
Building on that solid foundation, the two have continued to work together — mostly during the summer months — while rising to the tops of their respective professions.
These days, O’Brien, 35, is considered a world-class strength and conditioning coach. His stable of high-performance athletes includes American swimmer Dara Torres, Canadian hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser and Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan.
Now based in Calgary with a training business in Toronto, O’Brien has also worked with players with the Florida Panthers, Miami Dolphins and New York Yankees.
On his LinkedIn profile, O’Brien dubs himself as a “human performance specialist.” And on his Twitter account, along with the title of “strength and conditioning coach,” O’Brien lists himself as a “sport science expert.”
It’s no exaggeration. The business of training athletes has evolved into a science. And O’Brien has certainly helped lead that evolution.
“Philosophically, I always try to be really specific,” he says. “It’s not just about getting them fit. It’s about trying to figure out what makes them perform.”
Next week: A closer look at how O’Brien has trained Crosby over the past 13 years.
Did you find what you were looking for on our website? Please let us know.