It was a typical Sunday at home for Salisbury University’s Coordinator of Sports Performance Matt Nein.
That is, until he received a text from Scott Caulfield, director of strength and conditioning for Colorado College and former head strength and conditioning coach for the National Strength & Conditioning Association.
“Are you making the jump?” the text read.
At the time, Nein had no clue what Caulfield was talking about. And that’s when the link came through to an article from Fansided, a network of sports websites dedicated to major professional sports teams.
This article, written by Bret Stuter of the Los Angeles Rams website Ramblin Fan, was headlined “5 strength and conditioning coaches the LA Rams must interview.” Nein’s name made an appearance in the story.
“Being number five on that list … I’m not gonna lie, that was pretty neat,” Nein said.
While being recognized by a Rams writer is a unique experience, Nein has received plenty of recognition for his work. Nein was also named the NSCA College Strength Coach of the Year in 2018.
Nein said being mentioned in the article helps shine a spotlight on what the sports performance side is doing well.
“It’s also great for our program, and even from a recruiting standpoint,” Nein said. “We’re delivering the services that we try to deliver … that are elite. They’re everything that these bigger schools are doing, and that’s the product we want to produce every day.”
Nein played college baseball for Towson University while working toward his undergraduate degree in health and physical education/fitness. He was redshirted in his first year, did not play in his first year of eligibility and logged just seven innings of play in his second.
But in his fourth year with Towson, his third season of eligibility, Nein saw significant improvements in his performance on the mound. He said that despite being less talented than a lot of the players on the field, he had to be at his peak physically.
“I knew that if I wanted to play, I had to be better than everybody else in anything that I could control,” Nein said. “I was never going to throw 90 mph, but what I had control over was my ability to be fit, to be strong, to be powerful and to hone my technique.”
Nein saw an opportunity during his junior year in a midweek game against the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. In the start, he took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning and earned his first collegiate victory.
A couple pf weeks later, Nein threw a complete game against perennial powerhouse the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was then given the spot as the fourth starter for the Tigers.
Nein finished that season with a 5-2 record. He received an invite to a collegiate summer league in which he notched a 6-1 record.
He would go on to receive his master's degree in applied health physiology from Salisbury University. Despite his passion for baseball, Nein realized he had just as strong a pull toward the strength and conditioning side of athletics.
He contacted every Major League Baseball team on the East Coast, looking for internships in strength and conditioning with baseball.
Former Baltimore Orioles head strength and conditioning coach Tim Bishop reached out, providing Nein an opportunity. He helped with various weekend camps, getting him some experience in the field he was passionate about.
Shortly after, a seasonal job in strength and conditioning for the Toronto Blue Jays opened. Nein was hired to work in short-season and in extended spring training as a Minor League strength and conditioning coach.
Looking for jobs in the field, Nein saw an opening at Salisbury University and left his job two weeks before the season ended to return to the school he attended less than a year prior.
Nein and the sports performance program work with athletes across SU’s 21 varsity sports. On top of improving athletes' fitness, the program also handles injury prevention for the athletes.
Using various models, it can project the amount of fatigue players will experience based on the intensity of their practice.
All of these things go into what Nein calls "readiness." He views this as the physical ability to execute on game day.
“We use the equation 'preparedness + readiness = optimal performance,'” Nein said. “Preparedness is the skills and abilities they’ve been developing at practice … and the readiness piece is, are they able to implement that on any given day, at an optimal level?”
He also said that strength and conditioning play an important, if not overstated, role on the outcome of each game.
“In this field, too often, strength and conditioning is looked at as the role in wins and losses,” Nein said. “I believe that a paradigm shift needs to happen in the field … We really only have one-third of the equation.”
This equation includes athletic ability, skill and mentality, all of which add up to what Nein calls "optimal performance."
While strength and conditioning coaches can improve an athlete’s fitness, they typically cannot teach specific skills or control the mindset of a player going into a game.
Athletes are not the only ones that benefit from a nationally recognized sports performance program. Nein said getting Salisbury’s name out there helps bring in better coaches and makes the program better as a whole.
“It becomes a cyclical loop,” Nein said. “If I bring better coaches in, our athletes get better coaching. The only way we’re gonna get better coaches in is if we get coaches out of here and get them jobs. The only way they’re gonna get jobs is if people know our program.”
“We’re a small school, [a] Division III program competing against major Division Is … they’re producing graduate assistants and interns, just like we are.”
At the end of the day, helping athletes reach a higher level of fitness is the main goal for Nein and the program.
Nein said the main goal is to encourage a lifestyle of fitness for the athletes he works with.
"Our vision is to make sure that our athletes love fitness," Nein said. "They're gonna be the coaches of our kids and things like that, so we want to push the correct stuff ... If they don't love it here, they're not gonna love it later."
By NICK LEWIS
Featured photo: Sports Information image.