Barnsley’s sports scientist offers glimmer of hope on return

WHEN something is suddenly taken away, it is difficult to come to terms with – as the football world is suddenly finding out the hard way amid its coronavirus crisis.

What makes it harder for everyone connected within the beautiful game is not knowing when something resembling normal service will be resumed.

These are unprecedented times for the national sport and present specific problems for fitness coaches and sports scientists who are incorporated on club’s payrolls.

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Football could re-start in June, but then again it could resume in July or August. Or September, or maybe later, with everything currently in the lap of the Gods.

Closed: Barnsley’s Oakwell stadium, as the coronavirus lockdown means no live sport for the foreseeable future.

As challenges go, it is totally different to a pre-season when players and staff work within set parameters and structures in order to be at pristine fitness for the big kick-off.

It is one which no club has previously had to contend with and presents a real conundrum.

Barnsley head of sports science Luke Dopson said: “It is a little bit different (to pre-season) as the players started their programmes in top condition already, having already played nearly 40 games in the league this season.

“Fitness levels are already really high. That makes it easier to set really high intensity work, knowing that they can cope with it. The difficult side to it is not knowing when the end-point is.

“Normally with an off-season programme, we give them maybe two or three weeks off and then maybe build it up with steady work and then it will gradually intensify as they reach the start of pre-season.

“At the minute, we don’t know when the start point is, so that makes it a little trickier and it just means I have to be on my toes a bit more and adapt to the plans as we find out more information from the league.

“It remains to be seen just how long a preparation period we get – whether it is straight in after one week or whether we get two or three weeks to prepare the players again.

“It is all up in the air and is why it is so important that the players keep working hard as we don’t know if we will get a preparation period.”

If and when football is handed a start date to resume, with fixtures likely to be played behind closed doors in all likelihood for a fair spell, there are likely to be additional factors to contend with.

Players at a number of Premier League and EFL clubs have returned to their home countries on the continent and theoretically could face spells in quarantine before resuming their work in this country.

Barnsley head coach Gerhard Struber is back in his native Austria alongside the likes of Patrick Schmidt, Marcel Ritzmaier and Michael Sollbauer, while defenders Bambo Diaby and Daniel Pinillos have returned to Spain.

When games do resume, the idea of keeping squads locked away in hotels for the duration of the remaining matches of the season and a spell afterwards has also been mooted between clubs.

Potentially placing players in strict hotel quarantine and separating them from their families could have knock-on effects in terms of their mental health if such a scheme was implemented, with maintaining the well-being of squads and individuals representing an ongoing challenge.

A weekly league table based on the individual fitness records of players is at least maintaining some competitive element to Barnsley’s training programmes which the squad are following from home – and doing its bit to keep players motivated in the here and now in the process.

Dopson continued: “In terms of the mental health side, it is a case of me and the other coaches trying to keep in contact with as many players as we can. On a daily basis, I am texting 10 to 15 players and just having a little chat to see how they are going and just checking everything is okay. I know the other coaches are doing the same.

“It is as much for our mental health as it is for the players.

“With us not having a start and end point when football is back, it is difficult to keep that motivation going to work at home and that is where we have tried to implement things like the league table to make it as fun and engaging as we can – to keep that motivation.

“Gerhard has been very interested and we have had phone calls and Skype calls and chatted about stuff. He is just very keen he makes sure that the work we are doing is replicating football movements.

“He does not want players going out and just doing a steady long plod, it is players really doing the real high intensity work of changing direction and doing the sprints, so that if we do have to go back into games at a week or two weeks notice, everyone is ready to go with all guns blazing.”

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