Chelsea Romero – Interview

Chelsea Romero is a Strength and Conditioning coach based in L.A.  She works with a number of college teams and sports including tennis, golf, track and cross-country at the University of Irvine as well as a junior college softball team. For the last 3 summers, she has worked for the NFL team L.A. Rams as Intern Strength & Conditioning Coach.

2019 brought a new challenge for Chelsea, in June, she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy with only 4 weeks to recover before heading back to her 3rd NFL training camp with the Rams! We chatted with Chelsea about her coaching journey, her experience of being one of a handful of women who has worked in the NFL and how on Earth she went back to work after only 4 weeks!

How on Earth did you manage to give birth and then go straight into coaching at an NFL Training Camp?

I was in really good shape before my pregnancy and throughout my pregnancy I stayed in shape.  So after the birth, my body just adapted to the stresses it went through quite well.  I didn’t have any pain meds during my labor, so my body could just bounce back, which may be hard for other women to hear because it takes longer for some women to recover.  But I put my recovery down to being in shape before hand.  And even during pregnancy, I made sure I walked, biked, and did some strength training.

I wasn’t cleared from the Doctor until right before training camp, but mentally it was tough.  It’s all about your mindset, but it was tough to leave my baby at home.  I had a great support system with my husband and family.  I’ve been with my husband for 13 years, married for 3.  He was able to stay at home and work from home while I was at training camp.  My Mom and Sisters also helped, but it was tough!

I got through it mentally by focusing on where my feet were…to remind myself ‘OK, my feet are at training camp, so I need to make sure that I get these athletes better and stronger and help out the Rams any way I can.’  And then, when my feet were at home, I could focus more on being at home.

I was of course thinking about my son whilst I was at training camp, but my husband had an awesome idea of helping to alleviate the worry.  He got me an Apple Watch so he would text me updates like ‘he’s sleeping right now’, or ‘he’s eating right now’.  I could be running around coaching and simply look at my watch which would then stop me worrying.

A tip for coaches – if you can invest in an Apple Watch, please go get one if you can because it was so easy to check on my baby without being too distracted by my phone!

Would you have gone back to work so soon if the timings of the training camp would have been different?

At the University that I coach at during term time, I get medical leave for 6 weeks, so I took that 6 weeks off from the University.  But really, I only had 4 weeks off with my baby because I started coaching at the Rams after 4 weeks.  I would have taken the full 6 weeks off fully if the timings had of been different, but I didn’t want to miss out on another opportunity to work with them, so I had to go back.  

It worked out well though really, this year their training camp was actually a little shorter as they went to Napa with the Raiders and then to Hawaii to train for a while.  I didn’t go with them because I had a newborn at home, but it all worked out well.  When I found out I was pregnant, I spoke with Coach Rath (Ted Rath, Head S&C Coach) and he told me the timings were different this year for camp, so I knew it would work out.

When training camp was done, I then went straight into coaching my junior college Softball Team, and then in a week and a half I will start back at my University coaching role.  My boss at the University of Irvine joked with me saying ‘oh it’s perfect timing you having a baby in June haha!”  Because the sports I coached are spring sports and are slow in the summer months.

Now that training camp has finished, do you have any involvement with the Rams now the season has started?

Currently I am coaching at UC Irvine and have 5 teams – men and women’s tennis, men’s golf, cross country and track and then my junior college softball teams.  My contract with the Rams was just for training camp, but my role with them right now is just to be supportive.  I still text the coaches before every game and after the game and showing my support wishing them luck and saying well done on wins etc.  They text back saying ‘Thanks for being supportive, we hope you and the baby are doing well”.  But no official position right now.

My husband thinks it’s awesome that I know all the players, we’ll be watching the games on TV and shouting ‘what a great run Todd Gurley did’, or ‘what a great sack Aaron Donald did!’.  I am the biggest fan, unfortunately I don’t have any direct working with them, but I have my other teams in Division 1 and Junior College.

I’m actually also a Wedding Coordinator on the weekends too, I only do that part time and haven’t done one since April, but I am getting back in that too!  I love multi-tasking!

I of course want to work for the Rams again next year and my end goal is to hopefully be fully employed by them.  I tell the Head strength coach every year that I want a role with them even if it’s in a different role like operations or equipment etc, I just want to work for them and they know I am very eager to work with them.  It’s just a timing thing – but hopefully I will work for them one day.

When you say a timing thing, is it that there isn’t a role available?  What is it that needs to happen for you to get that full time role?

I’ve asked this question for 3 years to the Head Strength Coach!  He says it’s just a position thing, something needs to open up or a position created.  I’m not saying someone needs to get fired, but I know every year when the off season comes in January and February they look at the season ahead and decide what they need.

My Dad has always told me, you get a job in 3 ways; PRO.  Performance, Relationships and Opportunity.  Coach Rath in my second year told me ‘Chelsea, you already have the P – your performance in the last year has been amazing and we want you to be part of the team. You have the R, because you have built relationships with us and the team, I am just waiting for the O, the opportunity for you’.  Hearing that was tough, but I’ve got to be patient.  Maybe a higher power is just making me be patient right now in making me wait for the role.

Would you take a position with another team if one didn’t come up with the Rams?

That’s a hard one, because my husband has a good job where we are at currently, but I do want to work in the NFL…so I am open to all opportunities for sure.  I think though that because I’ve been with the Rams for 3 years and built those relationships with the coaches that makes me want to really work for those guys.

The other thing is, the environment at the Rams is so great.  For example, I have worked at other Universities, some amazing Universities, but they’ve had bad people, and that makes you not want to work there.  You don’t connect with them, or they don’t you and then you don’t enjoy it.  So with the Rams, I have a great working environment with great people, so I want to work there.  It’s a very family orientated organization, they all have kids themselves, the culture is so amazing.  

Can you talk us through a typical day on training camp?

So we set up the lifts prior to athletes coming in.  We would have either Offense or Defense coming in to do their lifts.  I would be in charge of a certain position group, so each coach is assigned to a group.  I would then work with them on form, on the weights to choose, making sure they are following their sheets, filling out their sheets, encouraging them etc.

After the guys have finished in the weight room, they would go off and we would clean up the weight room, put everything away and then go through a walk through. This is our down time, but I liked to watch the guys run plays or hear them talk through plays.  I wanted to be a sponge and soak up as much football knowledge as I could, because it helps me as their S&C coach, but also because I love football!

After that, we all go to lunch, which was a great time to build relationships with players or coaches.  Then we would get prepared for practice, so I would be in charge of helping bring the bikes out to the field, (for those guys who were injured).  I have also been in charge of the heart rate monitors – each of the players wears one during practice so we can measure their heart rate, their speed, how many yards they go in practice.  Through using an iPad, you can see live how each guy is responding to training, what their HR was at, distance etc.  LA Rams are really far ahead on the Sports Science, they have an amazing Sport Scientist called Tyler who keeps track of everything.  They really protect their players. 

After practice, we would have meetings followed by dinner.  After dinner there are more meetings!  In times before, I would always stay after dinner for the meetings, but this training camp, I left after dinner to go home because I wanted to be with my baby.

My main role is in the weight room, but during practice, the Strength Coaches get utilized everywhere!  Everyday is different.

In the weight room, is there a big difference in the types of exercises an Offensive player would need to do compared to a Defensive player?  Is this why they are grouped that way in the weight room?

During training camp, their lifting program isn’t as taxing as the off-season (March, April and May), so in training camp we back off a little because they are playing so much football.  We have to separate them in groups because we can’t have 90 players in the weight room at one time.  An Offensive Lineman v a Defensive Lineman for example, actually have almost identical workouts.  But there are differences in work out for the Skill guys.  Also, the workouts would be different for the guys who are older, or injured for example.  You don’t want the older guys squatting, so we would get them doing a Goblet squat or BFR training (blood flow restriction) which allows the player to train in the same way, but without loading the joints as much as the younger guys.

Is there a ‘go to’ exercise that every player needs to master to allow them to build the foundation of power and strength?

Total body strength is super important, not just lower body or upper body.  People tend to split it, but in proper strength and conditioning, you do a total body workout.  For example, an upper body push, upper body pull, then lower body push, lower body pull… foundationally though, Squat and Bench press are important for football.  There’s so many things you have to work on to stay balanced, but overall I’d say the squat.

In training in camp, the big focus is on the speed of the bar, as opposed to the weight of the bar (as this is in prep for competition).  So they are doing Cleans and Squats…we use a gadget called ‘Gym Aware’, it’s like a little iPad that you connect to the bar and it tracks the speed of the bar.  It rings a bell and tells you how fast the bar has travelled.  Some of the Rookies for example will make the mistake of adding a lot of weight on the bar to perform their Clean’s, but then the Gym Aware won’t ring that bell to tell them they have gone fast enough.  So they know then they need to take off the weight, in order to move it fast next time.

It’s also a great way to measure how tired they are, as the other coaches can see how that athlete has performed.  For example, if the athlete did not hit their speed with the weight bar, the coach knows they might be a bit tired or fatigued.

What advice would you give to other women who want to be a coach and a Mum?

I don’t have that much advice because I am still all new to it and it’s all very situational.  I am fortunate enough to have my husband who was able to work from home and care for our son whilst I was following my dream.  I think my main advice is to find a company, or a University or a team that values culture.  The Rams have that, the culture right from the owners down to the interns, is great.  They take care of their people.  So I would say to any Mom’s out there who want a job, find a job that feels like a family and family orientated.  At the Rams, Coach Sean McVay makes sure everyone knows it’s ‘We not Me’.

Also, I would say that you have to ask for help.  Sometimes we want to be Superwoman and not ask and think you can do it all…even when I was pregnant, I still wanted to move weights in the weight room.  The athletes kept reminding me not to pick it up and they helped me a lot.  So ask for help when you need it, if you’re tired, if you need help.

Lastly, I would say to remember that you are you first.  Just because you had a baby and now you’re a Mom, your identity is not ‘just a Mom’.  Of course your baby comes first, but the baby is an extension of you.  You still need to do other things like be a coach, do things with your friends etc, some women think that when there a Mom, there are things they can’t do any more, but there is always a way.

What advice do you have for other S&C coaches who want to work with professional athletes?

Be patient!  I want to work with the pro’s but I have to be patient for an opportunity to come up.  Keep grinding and learning everyday – the KEY is to keep educating yourself.  Be a great communicator.Get great people around that are great – it’s not just who you know, but who would go bat for you.  You’ve got to know your knowledge, build relationships and then have someone that puts themselves out there for you.  

Coach Ted Rath did that for me when he nominated me for the NFL Women’s Forum with Sam Rapopport – without that, I wouldn’t have met all the other women I did at the NFL Women’s Forum.

Dream Big, Stay Focused and Surround yourself with great people.

And don’t forget PRO – Performance, Relationships, Opportunity. 

Is there a big difference in the attitude of the players when you work across College level and Elite level players?  

The main one is that the elite guys see it as a job that their livelihood depends on.  They take it a more seriously – although it does depend on the team.  There are teams at college level who are just in it for the social aspect, then there are those who see it as a career and their role as a college athlete as a job.

Coaching them, I do try and coach them the same way.  I never really change who I am for college or NFL.

Do you get frustrated when you go from coaching NFL players back to College level players? I imagine the NFL players focus is way higher than that of the college players, so is this a frustration for you on your return to college?

It can be yes.  After my first stint with the Rams in 2017, I spent the summer with these super energetic players, and then went to coach junior college (no scholarship athletes), they don’t really want to be there.  And then you have to spent time working with their motivation levels, and reminding them why they are there.  At that age of 18-22 year olds, there also have a lot of other things going on like their social life, love life, school, lack of sleep.  They don’t sleep enough, they don’t recover well! So it can be frustrating! But you have to be a mentor to them and help to affect their mentality, which is totally worth the effort!  And I am so grateful to work with all these types of players and athletes.