7 Pieces of Advice for Young S&C Coaches wanting to work in Football

I haven’t written a blog post for a long time, but have decided to make it more of a regular thing, to discuss some of the questions I get asked regularly.

I thought a good way to start these blogs would be to give, what I feel, is the 7 best bits of advice I have ever been given. I have been really fortunate to have the support of some excellent individuals from within the Sports Science / S&C profession in football, and that alone has helped me forge not only my own philosophy but some pointers that have stayed with me throughout my career. Here are some of those tips (in no particular order!).

1) Believe in your own ability to succeed


Football can be a high pressured environment, especially in S&C/Sports Science. Performance is everything, and lots of individuals will have opinions on how things should be done, and probably how you do things. If you don’t have the belief in your own ability, then it will be hard for anyone to believe in you. This goes for sending an email in hope of getting an internship or work experience to practically coaching a group of senior players. Have belief in yourself, and keep things real, you need to create opportunity for yourself in this game, learn all you can about coaching – do a level 1 coaching badge if need be – it will help you to become confident with groups!


2) Not all that glitters is gold.


If your sole aim is to work for a big 4 club and be the guy warming up the players during a Champion League game at the Nou Camp, then so be it (nothing like being ambitious!!). However, don’t expect to walk into a club with a bit of paper in your hand and find yourself working with players in the San Siro. Be prepared to put in everything you have to earn the right in the game. You will need to work long hours, and do many thankless tasks to earn the right for these golden moments and they are definitely to be savoured! In the beginning you will probably find yourself doing an awful lot of work for free, but what you reap what you sow. Professional football is a very small community, do the best job you can, and be willing to give your all, from making shakes to sweeping gym, whatever it takes – and who knows maybe one day you will make your BT Sport Champions League debut! 


3) Knowledge is power, the use of knowledge is powerful.


There is tonnes of emerging research into virtually everything in football, from the nutritional side to small sided games and sleep patterns. Applying most of this theory can be challenging and can often have a reverse effect if the application isn’t suitable for your players. Trying to put novice players through advanced techniques is suicide. Learn the basics, and apply them. By all means use the research to guide your decisions, but by trying to re-invent the wheel you may end up doing more harm than good, or simply just be wasting your time and the players time! Contact time can be low in the game, so bang for buck is the key! 


4) Be a sponge.


Get to conferences, get to know the people who are applying in the game, listen to podcasts, get yourself known and be a sponge. Absorb what you can from who you can. The internet and social media has opened up access to those within the game who are applying knowledge everyday. Read the books, push yourself to learn your trade everyday. Make it your craft, and be relentless in your own personal development. 


5) Enjoy the process, be realistic, and learn from your mistakes.


Working with top level players can be extremely rewarding, but it can involve long hours, and lots of situations can arise, in which people will require your expertise. Don’t be fooled by thinking that a few hours a day is all it takes and then you are home with your feet up watching The Chase with a cuppa. You might get the odd day like that, but those days can be rare. Manage your time well though as your health and well being is just as important as the players and staff you work with. Be realistic. Walking into a top level job, with little or no experience is highly unlikely, but if you put the hours in and get as much experience as possible, whether it be with your local club or as an intern, the process needs to be enjoyable. You will make mistakes, but thats the best way to learn. Keep pushing yourself to attain high standards and eventually you will get to where you want to be in the game!! 

6) We coach humans, not spreadsheets.

Our data drives the decisions we make, in some respects, and we collect the data to help us make informed decisions to assist the head coaches & management. However, we still need to be able to coach people, and that where I have seen others fall down or lose the players. This can be fatal. I personally love the research and academic side of sports science and its a pleasure to be involved in research projects, looking for areas where we can improve players through our own data collection and that of others in the research field – but we still have to be able to coach & communicate with our subjects. The best coaches understand this, they know the value of getting their messages across clearly & concisely and by avoiding jargon – players don’t want to be confused, they just want to perform.

7) Players are human too, take time to understand human nature.

Football is a highly pressured environment which so much going on at once it can be very intense to say the least. Players are human beings though, and they have the same wants, needs, desires, flaws, goals, ambitions, hopes, dreams as any other person you will meet. Not everyone in life will want to be open with you about their life or even like you, thats just life itself, but players are human too, do your best to understand what makes them tick (all individuals are different!), what their interests are away from football and so on. Their maybe a time in your career that you may have to have an awkward conversation with a player (maybe from your data collection!), but this can be made a lot easier when you have taken the time to understand the player – thats what the best coaches do, work with the people not against them.

Featured post

Soccerology Podcast #1 featuring @Fergus_Connolly

Welcome to the first episode of the Soccerolgy Podcast with Dr. Fergus Connolly.

Dr. Fergus Connolly is a performance consultant who has worked with a variety of sports teams including Bolton Wanderers, Liverpool FC, San Fransico 49ers and the University of Michigan.

In this episode Fergus discusses:

– His recent experiences in sports science across multiple team sports

– Fergus’s books 59 Lessons and Game Changer.

– Advice for young sport scientist’s and coaches.

– Learning from Prof. Vitor Frade, Brendan Rodgers, Sam Allardyce, Bobby Robson, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Charlie Francis and many others.

– Buy-in and the art and science of coaching.

– Individualization in team sports.

– The Policeman, The Drunk and The Priest…

To listen on Itunes Click here

BASES 2018 Presentation

A copy of my presentation, ‘The effect of sleep on high speed running during a weekly micro-cycle in elite female soccer players’,  at the BASES Student Conference, Newcastle (2018).

 

Taking the Academic Route – a reflection.

I wrote the bulk of this post on Facebook (highest form of evidence) last week after some reflection. Having attended the BASES Student Conference over the last few days, and whilst listening to the keynote speakers such was Prof. Graeme Close, Micheal Naylor, Nick Grantham and Dr. Steve Ingham, I decided to add to it and publish as a blog post.

So here it is:

Into the final few days at university after 5 years.

I was the kid at school who didn’t do particularly well, consequently I was always told to concentrate on studies rather than football. That wasn’t going to happen. Football is my life and has been since I was 9.

I actually started a degree in 2006, but quit after a year and a half. On reflection, I probably wasn’t that bothered about Sports Science/S&C/Nutrition. I just wanted to play or coach. After another serious injury, and my inquisitive nature, I knew there was more to my rehab, to strength training, to my pitch based training. I went back in 2013 and started all over again (fortunately I was allowed back on my course, but had to start from the bottom again).

It has been a challenging, but interesting, few years. I have suffered loss, that of close friends in tragic circumstances, and close family members. I won’t lie, this has been incredibly difficult to process.  I have also had to hold down a full time job and work in football. It’s not been easy, far from it. Time management is crucial – I found that out the hard way.

One defining moment for me was sitting in my hotel room a couple of years ago. We had just beaten Rangers 5-1. I was elated to have been part of the game and the occasion, especially being the first women’s game ever at Celtic Park. I opened an email from the University, and the mark was low, very low. I listened to the audio feedback: “Andrew, this is problematic, very problematic at this stage of your academic career”. From elation to utter disbelief. At that moment everything changed, I decided I never, ever wanted to hear those words again. Ever. I went to work and asked to cut my hours, taking a hit financially was tough but one of the best things I have ever done. I new I had to give it my all. I had quit before and that wasn’t going to happen.

I have been incredibly lucky to have the support from so many, from fellow practitioners, academic staff, family & friends and those within the clubs I have worked with over the past 5 years (especially those at Celtic FC), its been a long journey, but its coming to an end (this part anyway!).

On Thursday I presented the results of my study at the British Association of Sport and Exercise Science in Newcastle, and have had a couple of articles published recently – of which I am incredibly proud (I failed English Language GCSE btw!).

But this post is more about what I have learnt along this incredible journey as opposed to me:

1) Read everything – you will never stop learning.

2) Ask questions, seek out the best in your chosen field and get to know them, ask them what you want to know, be proactive. You will learn far more from listening.

3) Understand your why, what makes you tick and consistently set goals and evaluate them.

4) Be patient. Easy roads lead nowhere. Take your time.

5) Fail upwards. There is no failure, only feedback.

6) Go get as much experience as you possibly can, don’t expect everything to fall into your lap neither. It won’t. You need to develop your craft and then keep refining it.

7) You are never too old to try something new. If I can do this 26 years after leaving school, anyone can!

8) Get out there, go on field trips, visit clubs, do whatever it takes to learn more.

9) Keep your feet on the ground, and stay focussed. There will be huge highs and demoralising lows – but you must learn from the lows. There is a lesson in everything in life, seek it out. There will be detractors, and that can be difficult at first, but don’t give them airtime.

10) Excellence doesn’t go unnoticed, neither does BS. Work hard, seek to improve, but more importantly strive for excellence instead of perfection. Recognition will come at the right time, the right place, with the right people.

I really hope that these words will inspire just one person to go and push themselves to better themselves.

Oh, and one final point…

Maybe you can concentrate on your studies – and do the study in football.

 

Recent articles:

A critical review of the gender differences in male and female ACL risk factors and prevention in soccer.

Women’s football & the menstrual cycle – how can we further individualise?

 

Critical Thinking vs Criticism

I have been meaning to write this particular blog for a long time – so here it goes!

Often in a world dominated by social media, it sometimes feels like it is acceptable to judge a point of view on how many retweets or like a post get. In turn, interactions are created between authors and followers that may have positive and negative consequences for both parties.

However, are we losing the art of conversation and debate? Where does criticism end and critical thinking begin (or vice versa!), and what is the difference between the two?

Let’s start by having a look at two very broad definitions:

Critical Thinking

“The intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualising, applying, analysing, synthesising or evaluating information from, or generated by, research, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication as a guide to a belief and action”
 

Criticism

“Being inclined to judge severely and find fault”

Critical thinking is an active process as we are effectively thinking about our own thinking, constantly evaluating our thoughts and actualising. Criticism is a passive process whereby we act on our first desire, thought or emotion without any evaluation. As there is no real evaluation or questioning in our thinking or any process involved,  criticism is easy to give and often hard to accept.
Critical thinking is not negative and should not be perceived as such. Whilst critical thinking is about judgement, which can include finding faults, it has more emphasis on questioning and analysis, whereas criticism will have negative undertones as it is finding fault based on passive thinking and / or emotion.
Another big difference is getting personal, something I have seen a lot of on social media very recently. Criticism is more than often directed at a personal level. However, critical thinking should always be directed towards the argument (this may include published work, or theories / concepts).
The critical thinker is open minded, will question their assumptions/beliefs and consider all views, but not necessarily accept them.
The Open University (2008) uses a ‘stairway’ to demonstrate the skills involved in the critical thinking process:
Step 1: Process – Take in the information (i.e. in what you have read, heard, seen or done)
Step 2: Understand – Comprehend the key points, assumptions, arguments and evidence presented.
Step 3: Analyse – Examine how these key components fit together and relate to each other.
Step 4: Compare – Explore the similarities and differences between ideas.
Step 5: Synthesise – Bring together different sources of information to serve an argument or idea you are constructing. Make logical connections between the different sources that help you shape and support your idea.
Step 6Evaluate – Assess the worth of an idea in terms of its relevance to your needs, the evidence on which it is based and how it relates to other pertinent ideas.
Step 7: Apply – Transfer the understanding you have gained from your critical evaluation and use in response to question.
Step 8: Justify – Use critical thinking to develop arguments, draw conclusions, make inferences and identify implications.
Source: ‘Critical thinking: online guidance’, the Open University (2008) no longer available but cited in Williams (2009)

 

Hopefully this blog has demonstrated not only a few of the differences between critical thinking and criticism, but also the real skill in training the mind to think critically.
Further reading:

Williams, K. (2009). Getting critical. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

Reading Scientific Literature

After a long month I have recently completed a literature review for a research project I have been working on. Anyone who has been through this process will empathise that it can be a long, laborious task that can be painstakingly frustrating at times. However, it is an incredibly important part of the research process. It can often feel like a project within itself, but it is a key academic skill that demonstrates the ability to not only critically review the relevant literature available for a research project,  but to identify any gaps  within the literature that you will be attempting to address in your own research.

Reading scientific papers is something I am used too and it provides the underpinning of my practice. However, it is a skill to be able to read a paper and interpret it,  something that can seem daunting to those from a non-scientific environment.  Every now and again though a paper will come out that lead to an individual (or group of individuals) reading the abstract and forming a conclusion based on this very small part of the paper. This can lead to total mis-interpretation and mis-information being passed on.

For this blog, I am going to attempt to put some small tips up to help you with reading the various sections of a scientific paper. It is worth noting that there is no set-in-stone way of reading a paper, but hopefully the following tips will help you make sense of the scientific literature.

The starting point for me before searching for a paper is by asking myself what my research question is. It could be, ‘Does squatting improve sprinting in footballers?’ or ‘What are the absolute speed thresholds in female football players?’

After a brief search (PubMed, Google Scholar, EBSCO, University Library etc) and finding literature that relates to my question its time to get reading.

Generally, research papers are split into six sections, while others may read papers in a completely different order. However, for the purpose of this, blog I am going to keep to the order in which the sections of the are paper generally divided:

Title & Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion & Conclusion

Read the Title & Abstract 

It may sound incredibly obvious but this is the first step. While reading this part of the paper I am asking myself if the paper is relevant to the question I am asking. The abstract will give you a quick overview of what the paper is about and will help you decide whether the paper is actually relevant to what you are researching. The abstract will summarise why the research was needed, how the researchers carried out their investigation, what they found and how the found it, and what the key takeaway points of the study are. Bear in mind here that most of this information will be condensed into 100-250 words, but should give you a good idea of whether this research is applicable to your research question. While it is short, the abstract is valuable and can help you to ask yourself the following questions:

What is the study is about?

What was investigated and why?

Who are the researchers? Are they credible?

How did they carry out the research and why did they do it a particular way?

When did they do the research? Is it recent?

Where was this research carried out? Is the journal peer reviewed?

After asking these questions you should be able to decide whether or not the paper is going to be of any use in helping you answer your research question. If you are still not sure then read on…

Read the Introduction section

In this section the authors are doing there best to provide you with some background information on their research topic. The introduction though is not a systematic review of their topic. However,  the introduction should give you some information that can connect the research and the bigger issues or provide the writer’s argument as to why this research is important. It should start to become clear now whether the paper has any relevance to your question.

Understand the methods 

For some (and I include myself) this is the most important part of the paper. But it can also be a love/hate relationship for some! It can sometimes seem overwhelming, and appear to be the most difficult section to understand. What did the researchers do to get their results? This is where we need to ask questions about the methods used. Was there any bias in the authors methods? One key point here for the methods section is that if you fail to understand the methods used by the researchers, it could be very difficult to judge the veracity of their results and conclusions. Understanding what the gold standard research methodology here may be incredibly helpful e.g. did investigators use hydrostatic weighing for body composition analysis or did they use handheld bio-impedence device in their methodology? If you feel that the quality of methodology is sufficient, read on! It is worth spending a lot of time on the methods, and try to understand the experimental set up, how the data was collected and and how the authors analysed their data. The methods (and results) section allow you to deconstruct paper to ensure it stands up to scientific rigour.

The real meat – the results

This is the real nitty-gritty of the paper, where we can start to draw our own conclusions about the research. We can normally extract different types of information from the results section: the data from the research methods, ideas about how to improve the methods, and an understanding of how the data is represented. The results could tell you the real story about the experiment! Make sure you examine each figure and table, read the figure legend so you understand what all the research variables are, and head back to the methods section if you’re unsure of how the data was collected.

The Discussion & The Conclusion

Its not uncommon to have the conclusion included in the discussion section, hence the reason I have included them together here. This is where the authors are trying to demonstrate the value of their research and express their opinion. In short, the researchers will interpret their results and discuss at length what they think their results mean to their field of study. They may try to put their results within the context of other studies or exchange ideas for future studies or the authors may acknowledge any limitations in their research methodology.  The key point here its that the discussion may only be the authors opinion or their own interpretations, not necessarily the facts. The discussion section is still a great place to gain ideas on areas within research that may still have unanswered questions and the authors can do a great job of interpreting their results and relating it back what others have found. Here we can find the takeaway points from the authors research (if any!) and/or any recommendations the authors make based on their research. Overall this section can provide some interesting points and help you with points that you may not of thought of before.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, there is no set way to read a paper. Interpreting the paper is a skill, and as repetition is the mother of skill, I would thoroughly recommend going back over the paper, reading areas you didn’t understand, and highlighting areas you feel are important.

If in doubt – read again. Not all studies are created equal!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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