He might not have joined the club in the easiest of periods but most Liverpool fans will have fond memories of Darren Burgess, the man who served as Head of Fitness and Conditioning between 2010 and 2012. He had previously gone to the World Cup with Australia as their Head of Sports Science of the Football Federation of Australia and fitness coach of the national team, and during his time on Merseyside he further enhanced the fine reputation he built there.
Darren is currently working in the Australian Rules football as High Performance Manager at Port Adelaide Football but, despite the busy schedule, he kindly agreed to answer a few questions about the physical aspect of the development of players.
At what age should coaches start focusing on the physical side of their players?
I think this needs to begin during the maturation process. Prior to this it should be co-ordination and skill development.
Are there any dangers of starting too early? Or any benefits?
There is great research that suggests that starting prior to this can impede the natural maturation process, cause decreased participation rates and offer no physical benefit to the young athletes.
Based on these three points there’s probably not a lot of benefit in starting prior to maturation.
What should coaches be on the lookout for? For instance, are there signs that might indicate that a player needs to alter something that he is doing in order to avoid injury? Or when a player has a growth spurt?
Certainly, coaches should be aware of when a child is growing through a growth spurt as this can cause increases or decreases in co-ordination and growth related injuries such as shin splints and heel pains.
Generally, young players who are experiencing pain should avoid training and return once advised by an appropriate medical professional and certainly not train or play through any pain.
To what extent can anyone predict how much a player will grow?
I’m not too sure you can. The parental height will give some indication but unless you have a wrist MRI scan handy it is pretty hard to predict!
Finally, a question that is a bit more personal: professionally, how important (and why) was it for you to work in different sports and countries?
I think it provides a greater awareness of alternative, holistic training and treatment methods. Too often people can think that one culture, sport or method is the only way to train players. However, if you are exposed to many different methodologies and training practices it allows you to learn from each one.