Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting TANEWS to 80360, or email
Nick Allamby ensures structured return to training as Bradford City players get back in groove
What would Howard Wilkinson and football’s old school say?
The days of pounding up and down the terraces until you throw up in a bucket have been consigned to the past.
With few exceptions, training is now dictated by the appliance of science – and pre-season will never be the same again.
Where it was once a case of run, run and run some more, the focus now is on the aerobic fitness. The effectiveness of sessions are measured on the quality of work, not the amount of time you’re out there.
Nick Allamby is the man behind the programme at City. As the club’s sports scientist, he decides on the timings and levels of work for the players each day.
Phil Parkinson and his coaching staff put the squad through their paces but everything has been factored first with Allamby.
He said: “The traditional pre-season would involve thrashing the lads for the first two weeks. They would just run their guts out for thousands and thousands of metres without seeing a ball.
“But for me that just builds up fatigue and doesn’t do you any good. What we try to do is structure the holiday break. So although the players were away from the place for eight or nine weeks, we gave them stuff to do with set points when they had to come back to be tested.
“A footballer needs to be aerobically fit. That’s the starting point, so we know that they came back in a decent enough position.
“If they’ve done nothing before pre-season, then we have to start them at a lower level. You have to catch the others up, which obviously carries a bigger injury risk.
“But all the lads got up to the required standard. Now we can have a structured, gradual build-up and it’s my job to monitor them day to day to make sure they are improving.”
Not that it’s a cushy number for the modern-day footballer; far from it. Allamby is not afraid to put them through the grinder when the need demands.
He said: “I do differ from some others because I don’t mind a bit of old-fashioned hard work. They don’t enjoy some of the really hard aerobic sessions but it’s all within a structured plan. It’s what we call a periodised system.
“But rather than coming back and just running all the time, most of the work is done through the football.”
Parkinson is a firm believer in sports science, which is why he was so keen to tie down the former head of fitness at Middlesbrough to a new contract after working on a consultancy basis last term. Allamby values the support from above.
He said: “You can’t put this in place without a coaching staff who believe in it. Our manager is very good at understanding sports science. We train at set intensities for every day; one will be at high intensity, then the next a lot lower.
“When it first came in, coaches did their bit and sports scientists did theirs and we didn’t intermingle. But when you look at the overall load that players are subjected to, 80 per cent of that work is with a football. You have to work together.
“So I guide the coaches on how hard their training sessions should be from one day to the next. That goes all the way down to number of players on each side to the size of the pitch they are playing on.”
Fixture congestion is the biggest headache. Allamby admitted he could do little to help City during last season’s manic March, with ten games in the space of 32 days – including five successive Tuesday nights.
He recalled: “That was almost unmanageable. How the fixtures had come together like that was ridiculous.
“We didn’t do anything bar play the games, do a recovery session and bit of tactical work and then we were playing again.”
As football evolves, sports science has become the accepted method of preparation and maintaining fitness. Allamby estimates that more than three quarters of clubs now use it and the vast majority of players and coaches are no longer sceptical.
He said: “There are still a few managers who want to do things their way and don’t believe in it. But a lot of the newer breed have gone through their coaching badges and it’s a massive part of the UEFA B, A and Pro Licence.
“It’s gone full circle now. When players go to clubs where it is still old school, they don’t enjoy it. Before, we were convincing them that this might help you. Now a lot are wondering what’s happening when it isn’t there.
“We don’t do everything right all the time. Our job is support; it’s not the be all and end all. The crux of a sports scientist is to make sure by Saturday that the manager has as many players as possible to choose from.”