Darren Burgess on Monitoring Liverpool FC


Lack of published research should never deter clubs from using technology to monitor players and performance. Clubs should however, ensure the data they collect is both reliable and valid, at least for their playing group. This can be difficult in such an applied environment but it’s essential that these tools are used in a robust environment in order to assess their true effectiveness.

– Darren Burgess Head of Fitness and Conditioning Liverpool FC

I really liked the Leaders in Performance article as it showed the need for robust solutions. Darren says what people need to hear, that implementing a true system of gathering relevant and valid data is not easy. Liverpool was smart to hire Darren, but without compliance it’s hard to make change in a traditional culture. Coach Burgess outlined an interesting morning timeline of events for a player, but I would have loved to see the headaches and burdens of the coaches and medical staff each day, as they need to repeat the steps and do more for 20 or more athletes daily.

Here is an alternate timeline of what is possible now, and any coach with a small budget can experience similar results with a few weeks of effort. 8:30 am – Wake up and place Zeo Headband on charger. At a quick glance I hit 105 putting me in the lead for my track club for sleep.

8:31 am – Finish collecting morning HRV with ithlete app, the file is updated using Dropbox and go downstairs to have breakfast.

8:40 am – My app pushes breakfast options for today based on my blood analysis I did three months ago and I take my fish oils and vitamin D. My nutritionist’s questionnaire of what food I like is paying off as I have lost 3 kilos of weight and my practices feel like I am on rocket fuel. A few taps on my iPhone and a photo is sent to the team.

9:15 am – Hop in my car and start listening to my angry man mix with a few tracks from my strength coach. My strength coach is like an uncle to me as he is constantly finding ways to keep me motivated after competing for 10 years as I am starting to get stale. I love customrapsong.com as my words come alive with Flotilla C and HI-Rez.

10:00 am- I arrive at the complex and walk to the locker room and I got a new headset from Skull Candy. Everyone tells me to go get the hook up with Beat’s by Dre but I am a Skull Candy guy for life. I step on the Wifi scale and tap on my iPhone the areas on the body that are sore and need a rub down after my tempo run.

11:00 am- Finish the tempo runs and enjoying the smart fabrics that coach has us use instead of the annoying strap. The soccer club next to us is having a mutiny because the GPS systems look like woman’s bras and are annoying when they practice. The freelap data shows that I am still getting in shape and the inshoe system is showing that last weeks manual therapy on my foot is holding up. I am glad we don’t have to run on treadmills anymore with this wireless system. I like the outside and my friends.

11:15 am- Start my upper body and core workout and feeling good on the circuit. Coach doesn’t allow iPhones in the weight room so I hand in my clipboard and he scans it before discharging me for the day. I get the video of last weeks race analyzed with Darfish and begin to visualize my lead arm over the first three hurdles to get me in striking distance of the leaders. The cytofuse tastes much better than chocolate milk, as nutritionists seem to forget that I lactaid tastes nasty in the summer and isn’t portable on the track. I want watermelon, not milk. Being lactose intolerant makes me have to find lactaid milk and it doesn’t taste as good as the other brands.

12:45 pm- After a quick lunch with Coach he is telling some good jokes about some fun he had in Las Vegas while I spy on this waitress. She gives me a wink and I get her number while coach is in the men’s room.

2:00 pm- I get a massage on my calf and left hamstring by my therapist. He is a great guy and really appreciates me showing up on time and driving out instead of him driving to my house. I drink an entire liter of water afterwords and head home.

3:30 pm- Call of Duty is calling me for another round of action, so I dominate Will who plays on the Dallas Cowboys and then get a phone call from the waitress again. I thought a 24 hour rule existed? Must be the Axe body spray.

5:00 pm- Read Elitetrack.com and found out that the Zone drill was used by this guy Wilbur Ross. I am a little nervous doing it for the first time so I google it.

7:00 pm- Meet the waitress who is from Barcelona and was a young girl when the olympics were going on. She orders some tapas for me and all of it is very rich. I say no to that Sangria as I am in training but it’s a cheat meal anyway. My coach notices the Facebook status update and the photo of food and suggested the artichoke hearts so John Berardi doesn’t get on my case. He also notices the big butterfly ring of the waitress and adds in a like.

9:00 pm- Drop off Catalina at her apartment. She is nice but I didn’t like the fact she didn’t say thank you after the dinner. I will need to think things over about her.

10:00 pm- Called my mom after looking at the meet video. She is happy for me and doesn’t know how to use Skype.

11:00 pm- Put the Zeo headband on and check the team scores as I am leading the group with my score. Just got an update that Ron is heading out to the clubs and he is been struggling all season with injuries to his achilles. Coach says you can fly with the eagles during the day if you run with the Turkeys at night. I plan to have a nice club tour in Europe in September for two weeks as my reward. 45 more days!

What was not shared was the coaches perspective here. Notice that much of the saliva and urine testing was gone, not that I don’t believe in it, but in the US it’s not as well known and very little support exists. Here is how I do biochemical monitoring and physiological testing. Some of the options I have been doing over the last ten years some this year. Some I need to do a better job in.

Season-Total body assessment. I have gone to great therapists such as Marchese, Pallof, Faust, and Morgan to get medical evaluations. Medical side of things needs to be done as small problems become big problems down the road. I also do a full blood analysis if it’s in the budget. Better to find out we have problems in areas than to dig a huge hole and never come out. I find it strange we use so much blood analysis to confirm problems rather than to prevent them. Nutrient deficiencies are the backbone to health, and you can’t put fitness on biochemical dysfunction. If one is low on Vitamin D or depleted in ferritin, why are we worried about IGF-1 and neurotransmitters? Also gait analysis is good to see if things are working well or if problems are lingering. It’s good to look at the yearly information of when they started training and practice versus rehab durations. So many times I get athletes starting in the winter without GPP and compare to the previous year and are confused why they open up slower.

Phase- Body Composition 3-4 times a year. I hate skin folds but need to get access to more accurate measurements. Still skin folds are cheap and a better option of head in the sand. I don’t have problems with this with sprinters because of talent, but sometimes objective reminders helps. Doing a PCA or FMS is a good start. I also think a few invasive tests such as lactate, cortisol swab, and CK loads are good to see as mini research experiments for more insight.

Month- Power and Speed tests such as Jump and Running. I like 150m, 30m acceleration and fly, and practice runs. Best lifts and if we hitting benchmarks in practice. Also total body scores to see how many days different joints and muscles are sore. I don’t do a lot of calculations of workload as I don’t know how to quantify some things in practice besides distance and speeds. I am not getting medicine ball distances because I find athletes use their low backs to get 15m and I would rather just get squat jumps with weight vests. I think MSK Ultrasound is going to be used to track little nagging stuff that could become serious as the price point may dip into 5k range in 3-5 years with smart devices.

Weekly- Weight and Tempo Testing. I use a modified SAHRT with athletes at risk of overtraining. I also think Tensiomyography is going to be something that coaches in the US are going to look at to see how gait and medical screens relate to workload. I am also excited to see more GSR. Video and timing should be done once a week at minimum.

Daily- Sleep, HRV, Mood and Food. It’s no mystery I love ithlete, Zeo, and simple apps like Tapforms. Dropbox is making all this stuff work better and I expect more API aggregation in 2013 so coaches can wake up and see the data charted on a tablet versus doing a little administration work.

A lot is possible, but nothing beats face to face attendance and a check to see they did the workout. After that we can drill down but I find that smart coaching is like feeding dogs medicine, you got to sneak the pill in the food or they will not swallow. Most of my time is finding ways to make data acquisition passive and faster, so athletes are not annoyed as I reboot a laptop or switching batteries. I hate technology while coaching. I love technology as a tool, but most technologies are great for geeks but not coaches. Here are some quick tips for coaches looking to get an edge, a real edge with technology and data.

Think backwards and reengineer data sets- What information do we need? Too many times we get equipment based on what other teams use. Using some things daily is great but sometimes just once a week tells a story at the end of the year. Think seasons versus sessions.

Make active streams passive- Keep finding ways to make collection automated. Each year someone will suggest what to measure or test, but without making legacy data sets passive and more rapid, one is not going to have enough time.

Aggregation and Analytics- All the data needs to be seen at once in a timeline. Individual charts are great for isolated research studies but not for coaches. We usually make global decisions. Get all the data on one page so everyone is one one page. A good idea is integrating more sensors or tools at once while collecting data. Instead of adding more tests add more concurrent use of tools. Make it fast and lean as setting things up must be 1:20 ratio or athletes will rebel and coaches will give up.

Simple and Minimal- Simple doesn’t need to be diluted, as complicated and big data can be stored for later use. Sometimes a indicator light is better than a chart. Most decisions in training are very crude, such as skipping a part, choosing a lighter workout, or calling it a day. We need enough to make a decision, not to look like we are building robots.

Share and Collaborate- Dropbox is looked at as something just for consumers and not for big guns. I love hearing complaints of server crashes, slow networks, and other problems teams have. Dropbox is cheap, reliable, and just works with everything. This is where I think most large teams struggle. I have not seen with my own eyes a great system here because individually things are not up to par. Collectively it makes things worse. AMS systems will be the next big thing next year.

I have experimented with everything and found that most of what was promised was just snake oil or false hopes. Next week I will be a subject in a research study to experience more lab testing so I can make the lab portable, fast, easier, and integrated with coaches. My goal in the future is just to have an iPhone in my pocket and only use it a few times in practice as a glorified remote. I think we are going to get back to basics and let technology help us instead of being slaves to it.
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Carl Valle

Carl Valle

Track & Field Coach
Carl is an expert coach who has produced champions in swimming, track and numerous other sports. He is one of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and restoration.
Carl Valle

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