What is sports science? Whilst the term itself is often mentioned in modern football there is still uncertainty of what it is all about. Indeed, the general belief is that this is merely the modern equivalent of the role that in the past used to be carried out by the club doctor.
Such lack of clarity is hardly surprising given that it wasn’t that long ago that the job of physio went to some former player as a way of rewarding him from his service.
Sports science, however, is much more than that. “Sport Science is the application of scientific principles to exercise and sport.” So says Chris Cone who covers this role within the Bristol Rovers academy.
“It a rapidly expanding area in football. Part of my role is to develop and enhance the sport science support offered too all academy players with an aim to improve individual and team performance.”
“My main objectives are to reduce injury occurrence, whilst improving physical preparation, athletic development and overall performance.”
There is a difference between the work that a sports scientist carries out within an academy and that which is done at first team level. “At the academy we try provide an overview of total physical development,” Cone explains. “We take into account the different growth rate and maturational status of all our players and focuses on developing certain physical qualities at different age periods in the academy too elicit different training adaptations.”
As with most others within the Bristol Rovers Academy, Cone’s path to his current job wasn’t a straightforward one and involved a lot of study. Indeed, this interviewed took a considerable time to set up as he tried to find time from his continuing studies.
“Whilst studying a BSc in Sport & Exercise Science degree studies I also studied coach education qualifications gaining the UEFA ‘B’ Diploma and the FA Youth Award during my academic studies,” he details. “I wanted to specialise in both coach education and strength and conditioning and bring the two together to develop a unique blend in Sport Science delivery.”
“From there I went onto to develop a further specialism by studying a Master’s degree in Strength and Conditioning.”
“Whilst studying my degree and coach education qualifications I gained employment with Cheltenham Town Football Club as an Academy coach. After a couple of years I approached Bristol Rovers Football Club and have been employed as an Academy coach for the past three years.”
One of the principles at the Bristol Rovers academy is that of allowing their younger players to practise other sports rather than pushing them to focus exclusively on football. Cone explains the benefits of this approach
“With our younger players we try avoid early specialisation by giving players low structured Fundamental Movement Skill practices (invasion/ evasion) that encourage play and games from different types of sports.”
“As players progress further in the age groups players go through more structured Sport Specific Skill practices that build upon developing speed and agility.”
All of this helps the players gain skills which will, in the long run, allow them to be better equipped for the modern all action, technique based game.
Both of those are important. Far too many have focused on the need to create technical players – and rightly so – whilst threating the players’ physical ability as something of a dirty phrase. In truth, you still need strong players who can keep up the pace for the whole game.
Cone agrees wholeheartedly. “The demands of the game have rapidly increased. The tempo of games has increased over the last 10 years, players covering more distances during match play and absolute work demands of match play vary at different ages and playing positions.”
“With the increase in physical demands of the game, training and match selection it is important for players to further develop physical qualities in areas such as strength, speed, agility, power and mobility to avoid sport related injuries.”
“We support players through providing progressive individual movement programmes that focuses on injury prevention.”
“Players also receive progressive group strength and conditioning sessions that focus on improving strength, power and mobility. All these physical qualities are periodised to prevent fatigue and overuse injuries.”
This individual attention to players is key.
“Individual plans are linked with Functional Movement Screens that each player undergoes every 6 weeks,” Cone explains. “If players successfully complete the Functional Movement Screen then they move on to the next progressive individual programme.”
“If unsuccessful then players continue to work on same individual programme and receive additional assistance to help them progress to the next programme.”
None of this, however, would be anywhere as effective without the buy-in of all the coaches within the academy.
“We run interdepartmental Sport Science CPD (continuing professional development) events for the coaches. These cover sport science protocols within the club that covers areas such as pre-training, match routines and recovery strategies.”
“We believe that this shared practice among coaches and players and brings together a holistic approach to the coaching we provide at the academy.”
This is the fourth part in a series of articles looking at various roles within a football academy. Previous installments can be found here, here and here.
Thanks to Chris Cone, who can be reached on Twitter, for his help in the writing of this article along with everyone at the Bristol Rovers Academy.
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