In English professional soccer the margins of victory are getting finer with every passing year. Sides down as far as League Two (England’s fourth professional tier) will now do all they can to gain an advantage over their opponents.
The use of soccer analytics, including big data, has become widespread in order to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of opponents each week, while the same department is increasingly being used in recruitment decisions. However, the main area teams use to try and get ahead in the fitness of their players.
It can make a sizeable difference to the results of a club if their players are better conditioned to deal with the rigors of being a professional athlete.
Gone are the days when footballers would run out of the pub, straight into the dressing room before kick-off. Today’s players are given strict regimes to help maintain their peak fitness levels throughout the season and even during the summer break.
Here are just a few ways sports training and conditioning are being used in modern soccer to help clubs get the best out of their athletes.
Sports science department
Not every team in the EFL (English Football League) will have a sports science department but most will have a fitness coach or something similar. In the Championship (the second division), where the prize of Premier League promotion is just one good season away, the area of fitness and conditioning is being taken more seriously than ever.
Brentford Football Club are considered one of the most intelligent in the way they run themselves. They are an example of a forward-thinking modern team, breaking away from their past in which they were mired in the lower leagues.
Chris Haslam fronts their sports science department as Head of Athletic Performance, and this is just one of the reasons they are currently flying high in the Championship.
And flying high they are. When looking at football betting at Space Casino, Brentford are currently -140.00 to win promotion this season: another nod to the fine work the club are doing both on and off the field.
Pre-season training used to be running up the tallest hill with a teammate on your back but as sports science has progressed, so has the conditioning work that goes into the schedule prior to the new campaign kicking off.
Use of body fat ratios and individually tailored training programs see the players return from the offseason in a better condition than ever before and then the use of GPS tracking and data helps get the group finely tuned, ready for the new season.
Warm weather training
Warm weather training is something brought into English soccer by European managers. Jurgen Klopp used to do it during his time in Germany and Nuno Espirito Santo also takes his Wolves players away to warmer climates.
Training in hotter conditions means the heart has to work harder to pump the thicker blood to the muscles. The body responds by increasing the blood plasma volume which helps improve cardiovascular fitness, which is why so many clubs take this option.
Even League Two Oldham Athletic headed out to Morocco last summer to take advantage of this type of training, not something you’d see even 10 years ago when smaller teams would never head abroad for fitness conditioning.