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This week saw the inaugural Soccer Science Conference at Bristol City FC which proved to be a fantastic event for all involved in science, performance, coaching, analysis and technology in football. The information on offer was diverse educational and eclectic with contemporary, experienced and international speakers all contributing wise words and wisdom in abundance. Dr Tom Little of Preston North End set the ball rolling in the sports science round table with his grandiose biological referencing and complimented the impressive outline of the modern practitioner provided by Arsenals Tom Allen and Jonny Northeast form MLS outfit DC United.
The second session saw the arrival of football powerhouse Germany with Impect managing director Lukas Keppler. Impect software provides innovative algorithms of analysis for the purpose of goals and key passes (or bypasses) for unlocking defences and creating goal scoring opportunities.
Mike Phelan and Dave Horrocks followed and the first shock result of the day materialised as Greece beat Germany 1-0 courtesy of a disputed goal from the eternally cerebral Greeks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur5fGSBsfq8. Horrocks provided insight in organisational structure for winning teams and discussed the importance of summarised information from the multi-disciplinary team in enabling football mangers to win games. Key points included: The Dunning-Kruger effect in high intelligence transfer, and how scientists should trust themselves in their roles, be concise, be brave and make clear decisions if the relationship is to be successful.
Serial winner and Manchester United legend Mike Phelan offered a fascinating insight into the operational practices of a consistent and multiple winning organisation. Content included the chain of command through to Sir Alex Ferguson, the culture and expectancy of Manchester United Football Club, the coaching process, the professionalism and training diligence of players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney and how challenge is a bi directional relationship in the elite player – coach dynamic. Mike closed the session referring to the importance of information and the decision making process in an elite environment. “Practitioners must be evidence based, be brave, and be rapid and clear to operate efficiently in an organisation playing every 3 days and winning trophies in battery fashion.”
The vastly experienced Chris Neville then complimented this real world backdrop with his lived and logical insight into the session planning and the rationale of a sports scientists work. Chris’s slot provided excellent best practice examples and years of knowledge money can’t buy in a well-received hour of high quality practical information.
After a much deserved lunch break the information juggernaut continued at a relentless pace with further high quality practice and information. David Eccles did a fine Dr Evil impression as he outlined Chyron Hegos impending roadmap for world domination and declared laptop war on Russia in 11 days’ time. The World Cup will see technology present in the dugout this month as football science continues to change the game. The question therefore must be asked, will the most expensive transfer and new superstar of this world cup be he who scores the most goals or a performance analyst from the technical area? (Watch this space….)
Lille assistant manager Joao Sacramento continued the afternoon pointing a critical lens at tactical statistics and provided the floor with best practice examples of how performance analysis can be efficiently integrated into the coaching process. Joao provided an extremely insightful session with the key message of letting the game be the teacher, efficient use of video and how lies, damned lies and statistics could never be a truer statement in the interpretation of everything you see as being accurate in the world of football data.
Next up Tom Allen part of the new breed Arsenal evolution. Tom delivered an assured presentation on managing the training loads, having an eye on worst case scenario physical requirements of players and how to record then use information. Important points were made in assessing multiple markers in any decision making process and a professional awareness in the fact that science is important but is only one part in a vast jigsaw. This session dovetailed perfectly in support of Mike Phelan’s earlier rationale that information must be clear, to the point and detailed evidence must be available if required.
Experienced coach and Welsh FA educator Dave Adams provided the penultimate session of the day with real world practice and coaching rationale from his many years of experience at varied levels. Dave’s session once again highlighted the importance of evidence and video in the modern game and provided simplistic yet effective coaching advice for any coach and scientist crossing the boundaries or working together.
As the day drew to a close the ever popular and energetic Tony Strudwick closed the conference with an inspirational keynote on winning moments and operational practices at the highest level of the sport. Tony followed on from the earlier markers laid down by Horrocks and Phelan with regard to winning. “Ultimately that is the objective, it is why we are here and it is what will keep you in a job”
An information packed hour took the audience on a journey through the rationale, the culture, the people, the working practice and the operational challenges of Manchester United. Key soundbites included “The sports science department must push players and build robust, readily available athletes”. “These players must be capable of navigating unprecedented demands with sustained regularity in an organisation which plays every three days and internationally over 10 plus months of the calendar year”.
Tony then elaborated on how you may only ever get 30 seconds a week with the manager or key decision making team and that as a result your information must be meaningful, concise and relative. The session concluded with extreme pressure real world evidence from the champions league final of 2008. The lesson highlighting the importance of analysis and player psychology at the pinnacle of the game, and how evidence based player decision making in a champions league final was ultimately the line between success and failure.
Overall the Soccer Science Conference was a fantastic event. Credit to Rhys Carr founder and organiser of Soccer Science. A well organised information rich and professionally delivered event which is sure to be a success in years to come and a regular on the football CPD circuit.