Football

SSA Blog: Warm Weather Training

This weekend sees the Premier League make way for the 5th round of the Emirates FA Cup. Only 7 Premier League teams have reached this stage leaving a number of clubs with the opportunity for a winter training camp.

England hosts the only major European league without a winter break, for those teams no longer in the competition FA cup weekends are increasingly used for that role.

Liverpool, Southampton, Newcastle and West Ham have taken advantage of the extended break before their next fixture, while Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United are considering a trip to sunnier climbs in the next few days.

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For Liverpool this will be the second warm weather trip since the turn of the year. Jurgen Klopp justified the getaway when saying “There’s nothing good about going out of competitions, but if you are out you can suffer or you can use the time”. So why do clubs value these mini camps so highly and what are the supposed benefits?

There is very little direct research on the topic in Premier League Football. However, the proposed benefits can broadly be broken down into 3 categories, Mental, Physical and Tactical.

Mental

In 2016 a study by Smith et al, showed mental fatigue having a negative impact on running, shooting and passing performance in football. A training camp, even for a few days, allows players to remove themselves from the pressures of performance and possibly wider lifestyle concerns which can support mental recovery and therefore performance.

As we all know a change of environment can be enough to help impact our mood. When that change includes a perceived benefit, such as sunny warm weather, the response is often positive.

A training camp also offers a controlled environment with less distractions. Players and coaches can benefit from extra focus and use it to reinforce positivity among the group, remove negativity and deal with stress in order to prepare for the final few months of the season.

Physical

In 2012 a study of Premier League players found that 65% of the sample were deficient in Vitamin D in the winter months (Morton et al 2012). A warm weather training camp with greater exposure to sunlight will help alleviate this problem and the related decrease in performance almost immediately.

The increased sunlight and warmth also helps maximise training times. With less time needed for warm up, more time can be devoted to training with the goal of improving or maintaining players fitness levels. Linking back to the mental benefits, it is often easier to run double sessions, players being motivated by warmer conditions. With longer daylight hours, less warm up time, the quantity of work can be improved.

When away on these trips the club has greater access to the players, for example, they are not driving home after training. This gives the club enhanced oversight of players’ recovery, ensuring they are maximising the value of training.  

Tactical

Southampton Manger Ralph Hasenhuttl, pointed to better weather conditions making it easier to train tactically because “you can work in a good atmosphere”. If players are not distracted by trying to keep warm and dry, they have greater mental capacity to take in tactical messages. The warmer weather also makes it easier to spend time on relatively static or slow-moving blocks of tactical drills.

Developing team cohesion also plays a large part in training camps. Research has consistently shown a link between cohesion and performance (Filho et al 2014). For new players coming into a side via the January transfer window or players stepping up to first team level, these camps provide an opportunity to create bonds at a personal level and adjust to the tactical demands of a new team in a less pressurised setting.

Warm weather training camps are much more than a chance to get away and top up a tan. For clubs, they provide a chance to prepare players for the remaining months of the season. For players it’s a welcome relief from the pressures of Premier League life and for staff they create a conducive working environment aimed at maximising performance needs - whatever they maybe.

With the Premier League introducing a winter break from next season, expect to see all clubs jet away for an extended break in the sunshine. With the need removed to find an artificial gap in fixtures, hopefully it will be a catalyst of more than 7 Premier League teams to make it through to the 5th round of the Emirates FA Cup…     

 

Sport Science Agency uses its insight and expertise to tell performance stories and unlocks their value for brands, broadcasters and rights holders. If you want to know more about what we can do for you, drop us a note via info@sportscienceagency.com and we can arrange to go for a healthy vitamin packed drink. 

SSA Blog: Peter's podcast - the change in football nutrition

A quick glance at the podcast charts sees ‘That Peter Crouch Podcast’ firmly inside the top 10 (at the time of writing the podcast is 3rd in the Apple Podcasts Top Chart in the UK). In the show Crouchy is refreshingly honest about his time as a Premier League and international player. In a number of episodes, Crouch describes the contrasting levels of professionalism at the beginning and end of his playing career. Sport science is often the basis for that contrast. Every element of a footballer’s life has improved; training, tactics, diet, recovery, travel, the list goes on…   

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Alex Ferguson famously wrote that “sport science was the biggest and most important change in my lifetime”.

Sport science is now at the heart of elite football. Gareth Southgate’s appointment as England Manager has seen a shift in the approach to building a ‘performance programme’ akin to the marginal gains mantra that developed over multiple Olympic cycles by British Cycling. Coaches such as Guardiola, Klopp and Howe have sport science teams working across every area of player development, recruitment and performance. Much like British Cycling, these new performance led programmes offer sponsors opportunities to become part of the team, to support players, coaches and other staff in delivering part of the jigsaw required to compete at the highest levels. Integrating products, expertise and support within the club structure can add significant credibility sorely lacking in many traditional sponsorships.

One example of the drive to professionalism mentioned during the Crouchy podcast was the change in nutrition, particularly the post-match meal. The team talk about the transition, with some nostalgia, from a few cans and stopping off for fish and chips to now, where the team bus is equipped with a kitchen and the team chef travels with the players to ensure the correct post-match nutritional balance.

Mention is also made of the two-hour window. This is the period within which players will gain the most benefit from refuelling post-match. It is a story football nutritional sponsors have been trying to tell for some time with limited success.

A number of clubs have nutritional partners. The model is now fairly standard across the game. Provide product and a rights fee and off they go. While the products are part of the performance story and the credibility of use is not in question, they still find cutting through to a football audience a hard sell.

The nutrition category is one of the most interesting and should be one of the easiest to activate, yet success is limited. The football market is still dominated by Lucozade and to a lesser extent Gatorade. Both have tried to incorporate a wider nutritional product range. So far, both have struggled to leverage the UK’s biggest sporting market to make these new products a success. 

While nutritional supplementation is important and plays a key role in supporting performance, nutrition partners have the opportunity to go deeper and support performance over and above a well-stocked cupboard of products in the sport science office. They should be moving to offer clubs a full nutritional support package from the first team chef all the way down to parental support for youth team players. A few workshops and leaflets are just not good enough anymore. 

Obviously, there are considerations regarding continuity and control from the clubs point of view when relying on a sponsor to provide key staff or critical expertise. But Clubs should also be thinking about how their performance programmes can offer credible and integrated support to sponsors whilst still benefiting their performance goals.

There are only so many ways a nutrition brand can recommend that you eat within two hours of exercise to maximise recovery. If it is at the heart of the players’ diet plans, recovery, preseason training and the bus ride home, then shifting its message to a more holistic and brand led story should have more resonance and impact with fans. Brands need to prove they share in the common goal of supporting the team. Modern fans, who want to feel part of the club and closer to the players, seek behind the scenes insight at every level, and will act on the knowledge they gain in their own lives. Clubs need to support their partners allowing them to become the conduit for fans to access this information, therefore presenting sponsors as a credible vehicle through which fans interact with the club.  

If nutritional partners and clubs can work together more closely and use sport science as a genuine platform to activate their relationships then perhaps, just perhaps, nutritional sponsors could start to unlock the massive opportunity that football really offers…       

 

Sport Science Agency works with brands, broadcasters, rights holders and agencies to create insight, experiences and content from the latest sport science research. If you want to know more just drop us a note via info@sportscienceagency.com and we can arrange to go for a healthy performance boosting drink. 

SSA Blog: VAR and the physicality of football

Last week saw the introduction, into competitive English football, on a trial basis, of the video assistant referee technology system (VAR). It follows last season’s successful implementation of goal line technology and is the latest in a growing number of virtual, tracking or predictive technologies introduced to support officials and referees across sport.

Arguments as to the benefits and drawbacks have been well reported. What has gained less coverage is the potential impact regarding players’ physical load during a game.

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Throughout sport, rule changes and the introduction of technology have affected how the game is played and the nature of the players playing it. Tennis is a prime example.  Players often use the challenge system tactically, in an attempt to break opponents’ momentum or gain extra recovery time following a high-intensity rally.

Football at the highest level requires players to combine a number of fitness elements. It involves high intensity sprinting, accelerations, strength, an endurance base as well as the application of skill and mental agility to deal with tactical demands.

In the English Premier League, the average 90 minute game sees the ball in play for 56.17 minutes. Players are covering distances of nearly 11km per game of which over 10% is covered at high speed. But the biggest increase in activity levels has come in the number of high intensity runs players now make. Data from Barnes et al, back in 2014, showed that players were making 49% more high speed runs than in 2007 and the total distance and intensity numbers are expected to have continued to rise.

The game is undoubtedly speeding up though many have argued VAR may slow it down. What they actually mean is, VAR will impact the ball in play time. But can VAR actually increase ball in play time? Or could it lead to changes in player load and even greater physical demands?

A recent study examining the evolutionary changes in activity and recovery in Rugby League, published by Gabbett & Hulin (2017) in the Journal of Sport Sciences, showed the greatest impact on ‘ball in play’ time resulted from video referee stoppages. It also showed that ‘in game recovery’ time actually increased. So, while video referee referrals reduced the ‘ball in play’ time, it also produced greater recovery time for players, which can enable greater player load/exertion levels to be reached during games.

Could the same be a consequence of the introduction of VAR in football?

There are two areas to consider here:

  1. Will VAR reduce ball in play time?
  2. Will VAR effect in game recovery (and therefore training practices to address this)?

Until the system has been fully trialled and evaluated it is difficult to answer either of these questions. However anecdotal evidence from goal line technology points to more ball in play time as players no longer challenge the referee during breaks. This leads to play being resumed without incident. Evidence from Rugby League and Rugby union on the other hand, suggests that ball in play time has been reduced by the introduction of video technology as game time is lost during those time on and time off moments during referrals.

The really interesting analysis will be the impact, if any, on the players physical demands. Will, as we have seen in Rugby League, increased in game recovery time allow players to compete at even higher intensities once play resumes? Will more effective decision making mean less stoppages and a reduction of in game recovery? And what impact will this have regarding player preparation in order to cope with the potential physical challenges VAR might bring.  

It’s too early to know how VAR will impact player load and the physical demands of the Premier League.  As the system’s adoption increases, sport science teams will evaluate how its introduction impacts areas such as ball in play and in game recovery. If it does, as in both codes of Rugby, start to alter the physical demands of the game, the challenge for clubs will be to adapt training, ensuring players are prepared for these new demands. 

Sport Science Agency works with brands, broadcasters, rights holders and agencies to create insight, experiences and content from the latest sport science research. If you want to know more just drop us a note via info@sportscienceagency.com and we can arrange to go for a healthy performance boosting drink.