Brett Brown’s Passion For Sport Science Born From Aussie Rules Footy

ProfilePhiladelphia 76ers Head Coach Brett Brown developed a passion for sport science during his 12 years coaching in Australia, primarily through relationships he established with legendary AFL coaches.

It’s no coincidence, then, that Brown has looked Down Under for the man he hopes will transform the Sixers into the fittest team in professional hoops.

After decades working with Australian Institute of Sport athletes in Canberra, David Martin has signed a two-year contract to become Head of Sport Science with the 76ers.

Adding Martin represents a crucial element of Brown’s plan to operate at the cutting edge of global sport science.

Brown told Downtown last year that he was heavily influenced by some of the greats of AFL coaching during his days working in the NBL with the Melbourne Tigers, North Melbourne Giants and Sydney Kings.  It was then that he began to develop an interest in health and fitness at the elite level.

“I started paying attention to the AFL teams because everybody was trying to find an edge and gain an advantage,” Brown said. “I had such respect for the AFL; guys like Denis Pagan, Mick Malthouse, all the great footy coaches.”

Brown said that the wisdom he gained from AFL coaches in the ‘90s was the beginning of an obsession with sports science and finding that ‘edge’ – an obsession that has ultimately led to Martin’s hiring.

“For me it was the tipping point of trying to study the fitness side of things,” he explained. “So now going to Philadelphia I’m trying to find an edge with these young guys. I’ve really dumped everything I have into their health, into their weights, into understanding the importance of sleep, diet, nutrition, hydration, etc.”

“I go overboard on that,” Brown added. “I’ve challenged my guys to be the fittest team in the NBA.”

AFL Premiership Coach Denis Pagan heavily influenced Brett Brown's interest in sport science.
AFL Premiership Coach Denis Pagan heavily influenced Brett Brown’s interest in sport science.

Brown’s passion for fitness ultimately led him back to Australia as he searched for the right person to take Philadelphia’s sport science department to the next level.

While Martin may not be an AFL guy, he is regarded as one of Australia’s pre-eminent sport scientists, having worked as the senior sport physiologist at the AIS for the past twenty years.  During that time he has worked with numerous elite athletes and world champions, including 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans.

Martin is excited about joining the Sixers and becoming part of Brown’s ambitious sport science goals.

“They want to do some amazing things, they want to give back to the city of Philly and make something the city can be proud of,” Martin told Fairfax’s Chris Wilson yesterday. “It’s been a long time since the team’s been successful.”

Of course, Martin’s under no illusions as to the rebuilding state of the Sixers franchise.

“I love the start-up mentality,” he said. “I like taking the impossible, breaking it down with a team of excited people and saying let’s make it possible. That’s a real rush for me.”

After over a decade as an assistant to Gregg Popovich at the San Antonio Spurs, Brown signed a four-year contract with Philadelphia prior to the 2013/14 season. He believes his focus on sport science and the lessons he learnt in Australia were crucial in gaining his first NBA Head Coaching position.

“The development thing in San Antonio and the Australian thing with the health and the sport science really were the two things I tried to sell,” Brown told Downtown.

As coach of the North Melbourne Giants, Brown would spend his spare time learning from AFL coaches... and fishing.
As coach of the North Melbourne Giants, Brown would spend his spare time learning from AFL coaches… and fishing.

Brown has enjoyed two successful seasons of development at Philadelphia, playing his role in the most extreme rebuilding process in NBA history.  Sixers principal owner Josh Harris and GM Sam Hinkie have committed to ‘bottoming out’ in order to rebuild to a championship level through the NBA Draft.

As a guest on the Grizz & Tizz podcast last year, Brown told Downtown that patience was the key when working with inexperienced players as well as rabid Philly fans.

“I put it out to the city of Philadelphia – which is a brutal sports city – that we’re in a three-to-five year plan,” Brown said. “I’ve never said that means finals or that means playoffs, I just think it’s going to take three-to-five years to put in a system and have our guys get a little bit older where we can grow something that gives us the chance to annually be amongst it.”

“I think the problem with pro sports – and the NBA is no different – coaches get fired, GMs get fired, teams get sold, you trade this, you trade that… there’s never a hint of stability,” he added. “I just think it’s going to take three-to-five years to build stability, to put in a structure and a system and to grow our young guys.”

Putting in place an innovative sport science program is seen as a crucial element of that plan.

“I’ve really centred my attention with Philadelphia on health,” Brown explained. “The whole sports science side of things has influenced me a lot.”

“The players know that the goal is ‘I’m going to help you to be the fittest you’ve ever been’,” he added. “They’ve bought in; skinfolds have gone down and they’ve taken great pride in getting their resting heart rates down. After having really solid two/three/four minute grinds they can now get their heart rates down to a respectable level and they’ve kept building on that.”

With the highly respected David Martin now heading up his sport science department, Brown’s goal of coaching the fittest team in the NBA is one step closer to being realised.


Follow me on Twitter @liam_santa

Follow Downtown @Downtownball


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