FFF meets Tom Allen

29 January 2018 Ben Cartwright interview, sport, science, football, performance, coach

Can you give us some background about yourself regarding your career, experience and development to date?

I have now been involved in football for the past 7 years having joined Aston Villa as an intern straight after finishing my BSc degree at the University of Birmingham. I spent 6 years there working my way to Lead Sport Scientist at the club, doing my MSc in Sports and Exercise Science in this time. Throughout my time at Villa I experienced working with many coaches with different coaching styles and philosophies which allowed me to see how we could implement principles of sport science in a variety of ways. In July 2017, I joined Arsenal as the Lead Sport Scientist for the club.


Why/how did you become involved with the soccer science conference?

Rhys and the team at Statsports contacted me about presenting some of the info we use here at Arsenal. Specifically, how I would look at measuring drill difficulty and planning training load throughout the week. Having seen the calibre of talks being planned I was humbled to be asked to join. What Rhys is trying to do is excellent for our field. Enabling a forum for all coaches, sports science and medical staff to come together to listen to experiences and to share ideas can only help us all improve.


What can we expect to see from you at the conference in terms of what you are presenting?

The title of my talk is “Different Drills, Different Loading” and this will focus on how we can use the Statsports GPS system to measure our drill difficulties in training. I will be talking about how I came to decide on the categories I feel are important, also outlining other potential ways of measuring drills. Having worked with 11 different managers (7 permanent, 4 caretaker) I have had to adapt how the information is delivered dependant on the managers philosophy. The one common question they all had was “how hard was training?” I am hoping to discuss some of the experiences I had to determine how best to answer this question.


Can you (very briefly) summarise your approach to developing football fitness:

Ensuring everything we do has a sound rationale as to why we are doing it. Players must understand the reasons why we do what we do and how it can benefit them both personally and collectively. It is imperative that footballers are sufficiently prepared to cope with more than the most demanding of periods in the game, whilst achieving this within the vision of the management. Intensity of the session is key when developing and maintaining fitness.


What area would you say you are most passionate about in the area of football fitness?

Load management to enhance / maintain physical performance throughout the season. How we must understand that it’s not a one size fits all policy and how we can best prepare 30 players individually as well as a collective.


What do you feel is the biggest training mistake others make in developing football fitness?

Overcomplicating information for coaches. As a department it is our job to look at a variety of methods that inform a decision but the coaches should have very simple feedback to assist in their decision making. This feedback needs to be succinct and may need to be adapted depending on the coach you’re working with.


What has been the most effective thing you do in terms of career development/CPD?

Talking to others, learning from their experiences. It’s always good to have a network of people to bounce ideas off both inside and outside sport. Always have a willingness to chat to others and get those people to question your ideas. Often, they can help you improve your original idea; seeing it from a different perspective.


How do you link with Tactical coaches? Do you have a good working relationship?

It is important as support staff that we assist the coaches where needed. Therefore, it is imperative that our principles for fitness can be achieved in several ways. I have worked with coaches that want to run players, coaches that want everything with a ball and coaches that want a mixture of the two. Working closely together is important so that the optimal outcome can be achieved.


What recovery methods do you use with your players?

A mixture of active recovery (on field and indoors), cryotherapy, cold baths, contrast, massage and compression wear. Most importantly we focus on the benefits of nutrition and sleep. We encourage players to do what they feel benefits them as part of the recovery process giving them the best possible chance of producing their optimal performance.


Do you have any advice for young practitioners?

Be willing to put in the hours for developing your knowledge and skills, understanding it rarely works straight away. Coming out of university into the field of sport science highlights the difference between textbook knowledge and applied skills. Be aware you will not know everything and look to improve where you can.


Reach out to people at conferences such as the Soccer Science Conference. It is a great platform to exchange ideas and practices with other people in the field. Don’t narrow your perspective to just sport science but take principles from other walks of life such as banking and retail. We must remember that companies have been looking at data and applying principles for much longer than we have in sport.


Most importantly enjoy what you do!



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