How sports science helps Barnsley keep their inactive players competitive

FOR ALL footballers, the expectancy of looking at an updated league table after your team has just won provides a sense of exhilaration which money cannot buy.

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Amid the suspension of leagues across Europe owing to the Covid-19 crisis, it is one of the many pleasures which players are having to do without, with losing the competitiveness of match-day and battling for points at either end of the table representing their most painful deprivation.

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Fortunately, such clubs are thinking outside of the box in order to keep the competitive juices of players flowing.

Head boy: Patrick Schmidt, above-left, is top of the tree in Barnsley’s out-of-the-box training programme. (Picture: Bradley Collyer/PA)

A league table is currently in full operation at Barnsley and while it is nothing to do with the Championship, it has everything to do with the individual fitness records of players and is producing a fair amount of rivalry.

Head of sports science Luke Dopson explained: “We have a little group on Strava and most are recording sessions on their phones or watches and report to me. I track it all and put it into a league table. It was the manager’s idea, but it’s worked really well.

“We put all the players’ running data and strength and flexibility statistics into a league table twice a week to see how they compare to everyone else and it has created a good bit of competition within the group. Last week, Patrick Schmidt was the runaway winner – he has access to a lot of green spaces in Austria.

“The competitive element is massive and we have to use it to our advantage. These lads love to win and compete week in week out and day in day out in training. Everyone wants to win the five-a-side and races in warm-ups.

Barnsley's head coach Gerhard Struber. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

“It is tough going out on your own when you are not used to it and motivating yourself.

“If there is a competitive element where they see each other’s data, no-one wants to be bottom.”

With footballers unable to go to gyms and most club facilities being closed, a certain degree of improvisation has had to be incorporated into training regimes of many as they follow set programmes at home. It is far from ideal, but a case of ‘make do and mend’.

Dopson added: “It is difficult in some respects, but we are managing it quite well. It is things like activation and mobility sessions to keep their joints and muscles supple and then it involves running sessions.

“The players have individual and position-specific movement and running sessions. The idea is to replicate game-based movements. Defenders have shuffling to replicate one-v-one situations and strikers have little sprints to replicate running in behind.

“Then there’s a mix of traditional aerobic running and biking. Some players don’t have access to a football pitch, so it is difficult to do change of direction and do agility work on the street.

“Some are just sprinting between lampposts, changing direction and sprinting back. It is uncharted territory in adapting the programmes, but most have access to grassed places.

“We have Alex Mowatt and Cauley Woodrow running around pitches. It is a challenge to get in their movements, but they are managing it, even though they will look a bit strange to anyone walking their dog past!”

For some, daily training is far more difficult than for others, more especially for the defensive duo of Bambo Diaby and Daniel Pinillos, who are adhering to strict lockdown procedures in Spain, one of the countries most severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The rules for the German and Austrian boys are pretty similar to England. But Bambo and Daniel have struggled in Spain, which is having a really tough time of it,” continued Dopson.

“The rules are a lot stricter and they are literally confined to their own houses and running is off the cards for them.

“They are probably driving everyone else mad in their house with their little circuits and jumping around the living room.

“At the end of the day, it is just football and a game and we have to respect the rules, which are in place to save people’s lives and if it means they lose a little bit of fitness, it’s just unfortunate.”

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