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The sports science revolution

Friday 3rd February 2017
Football has taken bigger steps forward over the past 10 years than it has ever done. The influx of money from astronomical TV deals, foreign investors and increased coverage have brought the most popular sport on the planet to new levels.

This influx of money has made football an even more results-driven business, with more importance placed on gaining 3 points now than ever before. Because of this clubs have started hiring sports scientists to analyse and improve every aspect of training, but what impact does a sports scientist really have?

It's no secret that Leicester's success in the premier league last season was largely down to cutting edge research and analysis methods. The scientific team developed new training techniques and monitored the players extremely closely during training sessions and games in order to illicit the best possible results. With Sam Allardyce, Claudio Ranieri and Arsene Wenger all advocating the use of sports scientists in their training methods, sports science is now a big business.
The principle aim of a sports scientist is to use scientific methods in order to create a positive change in an individual or team. The first stage of any sports scientists' role with a team is to decide on which factors of the game have the biggest impact on the manager's playing style. They then compare these thoughts to established, scientific research in order to create plans based on these. If we take Leicester for example, the sports science team decided that the biggest factor in Ranieri's tactics was sprint speed and sprint endurance. If we look at Liverpool, however, the biggest physiological factor would be fitness due to Klopp's high pressing strategy.

The next stage is to observe and collect as much data as humanly possible. This is often done by asking players to wear heart rate monitors, distance and movement trackers and by simply filming training to see what players do. This stage also involves fitness, speed and strength tests to collect data from which personalised training plans can be made. These tests are originally done during pre-season and then repeated at intervals throughout the year. If we delve back into our Leicester case study, the key finding from the research stage was that improving 30m sprint speed was likely to increase performance and mean players were first to loose balls. With this in mind, they noted players 30m sprint speed every week throughout the season to see what impact training and games were having on this.

Developing specific and state of the art training methods designed at targeting the exact factor they have identified is the next stage of a sports scientists life. The data from the individual players is collected and the team of scientists use scientific studies to create innovative new drills to improve what needs to be bettered. Leicester developed a new hamstring exercise which improved the power in the muscle in order to improve sprint speed. Jamie Vardy and co were given specific training plans to target their hamstring muscles in order to speed up 30m sprint times.
As the season progresses the sports science team have to adapt to any changes in aims, results or injuries. A big part of a sports scientist's life in football is developing new methods to recover players from injuries. Things such as cryotherapy (sitting in a very cold room – minus 100 degrees in some cases – for short periods of time), pool based recovery and new stretching equipment are all techniques utilised in modern day football. Leicester was given extra days off during the week to recover, a technique which clearly worked as they fielded nearly exactly the same team throughout the whole season.

Sports science is now a valuable tool in football and a field which will continue to develop as the sums of money get larger and larger. Using proven techniques to develop innovative ideas is taking football to a new age and long may it continue.
Stephen Parkinson
23 year old Football fan, player and referee. Specialising in the Bundesliga since having lived in Leipzig for 2 years.

Total articles: 14

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