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Eck coaches Nevada athletes to success
by Sami Edge - Special to the Tribune
Aug 08, 2013 | 1420 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune file photo - Matt Eck is the Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning for Wolf Pack athletics. Here he was caught enjoying a moment with his son Mason at the Silver and Blue scrimmage last spring.
Tribune file photo - Matt Eck is the Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning for Wolf Pack athletics. Here he was caught enjoying a moment with his son Mason at the Silver and Blue scrimmage last spring.
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Matt Eck’s typical workday lasts somewhere around 12 to 13 hours. Either from his glass office perched loft-style overlooking the athlete weight room or on the training floor with his athletes and assistant coaches, the 34-year-old Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning for the University of Nevada spends his days training athletes, conducting research, testing new technology and otherwise overseeing the conditioning of the 17 collegiate sports that the campus has to offer.

It’s a time consuming task.

Regardless of the impending workload, Eck makes sure to start each day by focusing on his own wellbeing — typically arriving on campus around 3:30 or 4 a.m. for an early morning workout session.

“I start my day by making sure my energy is in the right place,” Eck said.

And it’s his focus on positive energy that makes Eck’s weight room unique.

“(Eck) is obviously very enthusiastic about his profession. He thinks he can make a difference with the way that he coaches and I honestly think that he does,” Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning Matt Barber said. “That’s pretty infectious about him.”

As the Assistant Athletic Director of Strength and Conditioning, Eck manages his student athletes and assistant coaches alike with a dynamic of trust, respect and individual responsibility.

“I put a lot on our players. Once they learn what they’re doing, I put a lot of trust in them to run them and develop that teamwork philosophy within them,” Eck said. “I stem that tie with my staff and with what we do. We work so well together — the other four guys that I have on staff and myself — we all work like brothers.”

Eck started his career in kinesthesiology and biomechanics as a football player at Kansas State University. After years of playing football, it was Eck’s initial interaction with Rod Cole, former Wildcat conditioning coach, that convinced him to pursue the study of human movement and muscle development as a professional career. With Cole, Eck understood for the first time the intent behind the strength training regimens implemented by his coaches — spurring his deeper interest into the mechanics of the human body. Cole has since become a close friend and personal mentor of Eck’s, and his coaching style provides the basic model for Eck’s system at UNR.

“Cole communicated with us — it was never a yell and scream, it was always an educational experience for the players. That’s what really sparked my interest and got me in deeper,” Eck said. “I understood what I was doing and how I was benefiting and that’s really what sparked my relationship with Coach Cole ... and (when I) began to understand what strength and conditioning is really about.”

After graduating from Kansas State, Eck worked with Cole for a number of years before leaving his home state and moving to Reno when an assistant coaching opportunity opened up at UNR in 2001. Twelve years later, after ascending through the ranks of coaching staff from graduate student and assistant coach to a head position in the athletic department, Eck feels as if he has achieved his highest goals.

“I wanted to be in this position. This has been my goal since I started playing football and since I started getting in with Rod Cole, to become a director of strength and conditioning at a Division I university and to help the athletic department reach its goals in any way I can. I’m excited to be where I am and very proud of what I come from,” he said.

As a coach, Eck arranges his priorities into three main objectives. First and foremost, it is the coaching staff’s responsibility to ensure the health and safety of the student athletes, he says. After that, he aims to ensure the peak functionality of each athlete’s body, and finally, once those goals have been achieved, he worries about increasing their athletic performance.

The success that Eck has accomplished so far, he attributes back to the energy of the weight room. By practicing in an atmosphere that revolves around community, responsibility and respect, athletes have been able to achieve peak levels of fitness and maximum performance while keeping in touch with their original motivation to play in the first place — good, old fashioned fun.

“We’re able to get what we feel is the most out of our athletes by giving them that trust, by giving them that respect from the start … We’re going to let you lead your program. It’s not about me; it’s not about my assistant coaches. It’s about how you’re doing and we’re going to let you lead your own program. We’re just there to guide them along the correct path.

“It has paid dividends in that we see the child-like behavior of football coming back to these guys. They’re having fun with what they’re doing and wanting to be in the weight room and wanting to be in the film room and wanting to study and wanting to ask questions and getting better in every aspect. That’s fun for me and that’s rewarding for me. The fruits of our labor are starting to come out within our guys,” Eck said.

Barber, who has been working with Eck at UNR for just over a year, believes that the success of UNR’s athletes is based, in part, in their involvement in deciding what’s best suits their body’s needs. They take pride, and strive to achieve, in a system that they feel a part of.

“You see athletes taking ownership of the program, and wherever there’s ownership, there’s a program that functions better,” Barber said. “The program that’s bought into is always going to have better success than one with no buy in.”

It’s a feat, Eck says, that he never could have accomplished on his own.

“When I think about what we’ve accomplished here, there’ve been a lot of great moments just in the past six months where our coaching style and what we’ve invested into our program, me and my staff, we get out of our athletes. That’s fantastic and that’s been great for me,” he said. “I’ve had numerous people who have helped me along the way. There are a lot of great friends who have been my encouragement and been my hope and I owe a lot to them, as well as my coaching staff and my family. Not necessarily a lot to me, but a lot to those people who helped me get here.”

Despite the toll it takes on his family life, and any free time he might be expected to have as a 34-year-old in his prime, Eck can’t imagine his life any other way.

“I joke to my wife all the time that this is home No. 2, and my staff is the same way. We wouldn’t be in this profession if we didn’t love what we were doing,” Eck said. “The hours don’t matter to us ... There are days that I miss just being able to go home and being able to play with my kids, but I have a job to do and I’m expected to do that to the best of my ability, and if it takes us being here for that long, then that’s what we have to do.”
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