He’s met and worked with some of the biggest sporting names in the UK and now Mark Simpson is helping sporting legends to succeed on the other side of the Atlantic.
Mark, who grew up in Rastrick and attended Longroyde Junior School and Rastrick High School, is working as an applied sports scientist with top NBA team Oklahoma City Thunder.
Before that he worked in Manchester with the English Institute of Sport helping to turn elite British cyclists into a world-beating team in the run-up to the London Olympics.
His specialist expertise has been employed by top football teams such as Manchester City, Chelsea and Aston Villa, rugby teams such as Leicester Tigers and the English cricket squad and he has worked with elite athletes in track and field, swimming and taekwondo in preparation for the Sydney and Athens Olympics.
Sports-mad as a child, Mark started out as a keen young gymnast before becoming involved in football as a teenager. He played for Clifton Rangers and represented Rastrick High School, winning the George Ardesley Sports Award, and Huddersfield and West Yorkshire Schools squads. He also played Sunday soccer for local pub teams including Top Club.
“I loved sport and I loved football but I didn’t really know how to have a career in it. I thought I would end up running a leisure centre or becoming a PE teacher,” said 41-year-old Mark.
Instead he decided to buckle down at school, pass his GCSEs and A-levels and apply to university. At Loughborough he studied the increasingly-popular subject of sports science to Masters degree level and then stayed on to become head of the university’s Sport Science Support Service.
“Loughborough was recognised as a centre of excellence for sports science and we had elite athletes and sports teams coming to us to work on strength and fitness. I got the chance to work with some amazing people.
“You are working with athletes on an individual basis to tailor a programme to their needs to ensure maximum fitness and readiness to compete.
“A lot of athletes and top sportsmen and women are tempted to push themselves too hard and over-train which leads to injury.”
From 2004 to 2012 Mark was based in Manchester heading the delivery of strength and conditioning to cyclists within the British Cycling World Class Programme. He had responsibility for implementing cutting-edge scientific research to advance the cycling squad’s performance programme.
It was a crucial time for British Cycling, with preparations underway for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the London Olympics in 2012 on the horizon.
Mark got to work with elite cyclists such as Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins, helping to bring them to a peak of fitness and readiness for the most important competitions of their careers.
At the same time he was working with Premier League football teams, mentoring and coaching, and developing sport science programmes.
Six months before the London Olympics he was offered the chance to move to the US to join the world of basketball and Oklahoma City Thunder.
“It was a hard decision to make because I had been working with the cycling squad to get ready for the London Games and I wouldn’t be there to see them compete. But in the end it was the opportunity of a lifetime and I just felt I had to go for it.”
Mark now travels all round the States with Oklahoma City Thunder and came to Manchester when the team took part in an exhibition event.
“In America basketball players are like superstars - they are like David Beckham!
“The profile of basketball has risen over recent years thanks to TV coverage and it’s now followed around the world.
“I was the first sports scientist employed in any of the ‘big four’ American sports but I think the US is now catching up because there is so much money involved in sport and clubs and teams need to protect their investment - in other words their players - and protect them from injury.
“They can’t afford to have players out injured and missing games for long periods of time.
“It is high pressured but I’m doing my dream job and sometimes I have to pinch myself.”
Mark has two brothers in Brighouse, a sister in Drighlington and nieces and nephews who he visits as often as he can.
He loves life in America but misses his family and Yorkshire people.
“There are some great characters in Yorkshire and I miss that. I also miss British TV, it really is the best in the world.”