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The changing face of pre-match preparation

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Jack Ross | 09:33 UK time, Monday, 29 March 2010

The events of the past week have only reinforced the fact that football is a results based business, and that your ability as a manager or player is judged solely on a match day.

I am not suggesting that such a judgement is an unfair one, and indeed it is one that will most probably remain as consistent in the football future as it has in the past, and is in the present.

While the significance of a match day has remained untouched, there has undoubtedly been a big change in how both coaches and players prepare for this judgement day.

In my own experience, the differences were only evident in terms of the tempo and intensity of training and the individual ability of players as I progressed to better teams and leagues.

This was until I signed for Falkirk and the club began to base itself at the University of Stirling. I consequently embarked upon a significant strength and conditioning programme, made possible by the facilities and staff available at the University.

rosstraining595.jpgI have always been very open minded with regards to new training methods, especially those which could improve performance levels and prolong your career, but I am honest enough to admit that beginning such a different training regime at the age of 29 brought some challenges.

However, once my body adjusted to the demands of the new schedule, I certainly moved to a new level in terms of fitness and physique.

The strength and conditioning work was carried out alongside a regular testing programme where our body fats were monitored during 30 metre sprint tests, vertical jump tests and a "yo-yo" stamina exercise.

The frequency of these tests ensured that results consistently improved, and that I had to move with this improvement if I wanted to remain in the team.

It is still difficult to say for certain if this modern and ambitious training regime was responsible for the relative success the team had (in finishing seventh in consecutive seasons in the SPL) or whether manager John Hughes simply had a good side but it must have had some degree of influence upon our performance.

When I moved to St Mirren I found another management team keen to embrace progressive techniques and push to have the club finance individuals who help apply these methods.

An example of this at St Mirren is the work carried out by Grant Cassidy, our video analyst, who films each game and provides a DVD copy to every player who wants it.

He also compiles Prozone statistics which list an individual player's possession and passes totals, as well as pass completion success, number of tackles made, shots taken and so on.

I personally take great interest in the stats he provides, and they undoubtedly help to give you a more balanced reflection upon your performance.

In football there is often reluctance to change and a cynicism as to the benefits that can be achieved from it. Therefore the manner in which new methods are employed can be just as important.

For example, we are required to provide urine samples before training two or three times a week so that our sports scientist can measure our hydration levels. The results are always pinned up in the dressing room, but there is no punishment for those outside the required level of hydration.

That is because the manager has always emphasised that the testing is there to educate rather than being a threat, and in truth there are usually very few players not hydrated properly.

Hopefully this provides a brief insight into how much training methods have progressed. Performances will always be criticised but preparation and dedication shouldn't be...


  • Comment number 1.

    Very interesting JR. Is this training regime the type of thing that is taught when coaches do their UEFA badges, or is this brought in to the game by physios, nutritionists etc?

    I just wondered if this can happen at a club as a minimum standard, regardless of who the coach is, or if it is something that is solely driven by the coach (Gus MacPherson in your case). It is interesting, as few people give much credit to the coaching staff for this side of the game, however physical strength and fitness form such a large part of the game today (especially with the current skill-sapping pitches we have during the winter).

    Also, do you think the physique of a player is more important than general ability/skill in today's game? For example, have you witnessed players in your junior days who were better than the players that surround you now - that with better self-preservation might have been playing professionally?

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Jack,

    Interesting read again. They Prozone statistics sound good - any chance we can have a wee read at any interesting (surprising) statistics that you have your hands on? Would be interesting to read.

    I can't say I'm surprised the team was tired on Saturday after the two previous games (in the same week) but was just wondering if there were any methods taken to prevent this? I take it the training was much easier in between games in preperation for the game? That was a good three hour trip I had to take to the game anyway - at least we had the final push where we should have snatched something! It is annoying because I think we would have won any other week.

    What are your thoughts on the Hearts game? The players must see this as winnable - they are not a great side anymore and in Jim Jeffries they have a manager whom Gus has often got one over. Are we capable of producing another cup semi final peformance - or do they only come when the bonus is high or the pressure is on?

    Here's hoping that you (plural by the way) prove yourselves to be a team who are up for the fight rather than a team who just turn up for the big games!


  • Comment number 4.

    How much are you drinking a day , before during and after workouts or on rest days to remain hydrated? I have read just minus 2% hydration can have a massive knock on effect.

  • Comment number 5.

    Jack great blog as usual I found this really interesting. I also think its good to see that Scottish clubs are embracing technology and sports science to improve performances and help get the best out of players. For years we have been tainted with that old fashioned stereotype that our players prepare for games with a fish supper and pint of beer so its good to see that even a club like St Mirren is investing in this area. When I say a club like St Mirren I mean no disrespect I just mean that considering it's financial difficulties and the fact it might not be considered a massive club in Europe it is still demonstrating a professional approach and investing in the players.
    However, I would like to know your opinion on whether or not all the advances in the modern game are actually killing it slightly of the old fashioned entertainers that this country has stopped producing. With so much science and stats involved, is there still the emphasis on players expressing themselves and enjoying the game? When you look at players like Jim Baxter, Gazza, Jimmy Johnstone etc its hard to see these guys becoming a slave to these ideals as they just wanted to play football and enjoy themselves. At the top level you can imagine the emphasis on producing athletes being even greater and so do you think the game will be affected any by this. I know currently the modern game has guys like Messi, Kaka and Ronaldo so there is an argument that these types of player are still being produced, but do you see the advancement of science in football taking the game in a different direction where success is based on speed, athleticism and fitness rather than natural flair and an ability to entertain?

  • Comment number 6.

    The pre match warm up has changed out of all recognition. When I started watching football in the late 1960's.The players would run on to the pitch five minutes before KO and kick a ball around. Now it's about 40 minutes with fitness coaches etc.

  • Comment number 7.

    Having completed the main part of the "A" Licence qualification albeit with the assessment still to be undertaken I can say that these courses make coaches aware of different techniques and methods available, and educate them as to the possible benefits. The current financial climate means that managers may have to decide between an extra player in their squad or an extra member of the backroom team-in an ideal world they could add expertise to their support staff without affecting their ability to add players.

    The points made regarding physique etc against ability are interesting. I think it is fair to say that if athletes, swimmers and so on are getting quicker and stronger then the same must be assumed of footballers. Therefore the game has evolved, and those successful in the past may not have had the same impact in today's game and vice versa. Whether or not the entertainment value has diminished is hard to say as I still play in, and watch some great matches.

    Returning to comment 1, I have seen several players who possessed lots of natural ability but never made it to higher levels of the game. I have never believed the theory that this failure was a result of poor dedication, liking a night out too much etc. Yes, it is a factor but there are countless other attributes that are required to reach the top level. Ability and dedication as mentioned, along with mental strength, self belief, ability to handle pressure and criticism and being able to cope with the huge increase in work off the ball that is required as you move through the leagues.

    A small insight into the Pro Zone stats is that within our team, a player may sometimes find himself in possession of the ball 60-70 times in a game (not sure if this more or less than what fans would expect).

    With regards to the hydration, it is difficult to put exact measures on what I consume, as over recent years I have become used to a daily routine which ensures I drink enough fluids to ensure proper preparation and recovery. What I would say is that nowadays the dressing room and training ground are awash with crates of water and sports drinks. When I started my career there used to be one big tub of juice to share, and even that was only in pre season!

  • Comment number 8.

    Jack, thanks for taking the time to answer. Very informative.

  • Comment number 9.

    Excellent blog Jack. i really enjoyed reading this.

  • Comment number 10.

    Great to read a blog with more focus on the day to day life of players and coaches behind the scenes. I had a brief professional career in England, and currently coach in the US college system, where strength and conditioning forms a huge part (a bit too huge in my opinion) of the players' regimen.
    We keep tabs on nutrition, bmi, heart rates etc, and conduct yo-yo tests at regular intervals throughout the year. These analysis tools are supplemented with football-specific strengthening sessions (mostly body-weight and resistance stuff) up to 3 times per week in and out of season. I think this approach has it's obvious benefits in terms of overall physical conditioning and injury prevention, but almost to the point of overkill. I really believe that so much time training away from the ball goes a long way to explaining the lack of imagination in the American professional ranks.
    I have been removed from the English game for some years now, and would love to learn more about how the game-day routine has evolved, from breakfast and pre-game meals to how the warm ups are approached. The generally accepted game warm-up here in the states resembles a 55 minute training session, complete with an intense bout of keep-ball, which I think is far too much. I would love to know if pro-teams at home take a similar approach or not.
    Thanks for a really insightful article.

  • Comment number 11.

    just reading 'tommy' views on training and for once here's someone who has his finger on the pulse .
    years ago it was taken for granted that players would have a general skill and ability to play football but now we seem to have lost even that , you might be looking for twenty two very fit guys on the park but if they haven't got the skill then whats the point . i have watched football in this country for years and the skill factor has all but disappeared , no amount of preparation can sort this before a game .
    a first touch most of the time would do for starters , i watched a premier league game before christmas and there was a passage of play where six pro's couldn't bring the ball under countrol , a touch then a tackle . i don't want to mention the game but it did involve the present top team .
    you can have all the sports science going but if players can't do the basics what good will it do .
    we have had sports science for years in this country but as a football nation we have dropped off the map at european level , maybe the science does work but the application of the players and work ethic surely must be questioned .
    we are too used to accepting second best and second rate in the country , hopefully it will change , there is no reason we can't compete at all levels . we should be.


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