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Dr Paul Bradley FFF Interview: ‘Looking at Physical Match Performance Through a Tactical Lens’

9 Dec '2019

Here are the first couple of questions we posed to Paul Bradley for our online community interview. You can view the FULL interview by joining the fastest growing online football fitness community at the link below.


Dr Paul Bradley is currently a Reader in Sports Performance at LJMU. He is a BASES accredited Sports Scientist with Chartered (CSci) status. He specialises in Integrative Football Solutions (linking scientific data together). He typically conducts translational work within an elite football setting that bridges the gap between cutting edge research and professional practice (e.g. not just research for research sake but work that adds value to the applied setting). In addition to working as a consultant to elite clubs he is also very proactive in working with sports science/medical staff within this setting as part of their CPD through research supervision (PhD). He has published >65 peer reviewed papers in the science of football area acquiring >3100 citations and is one of the book authors of ‘Fitness in Soccer: The Science and Practical Application’.


Q. Can You Tell Us About Your Background Paul and Current Role?

So my background is probably very similar in some ways to lots of people who work behind the scenes in elite football or are academics in the football science area. In so much as I was a ‘failed’ footballer myself! I was a youth footballer when I left school and when that came to an end, I thought the next best thing was to get involved as a support staff member. Surprisingly, I initially thought I wanted to be a physiotherapist but actually became a sports scientist!

So after my trainee time ended, I went to college to study sport science, and then onto University to complete various qualifications. This provided me with a strong scientific/theoretical knowledge base but only a limited ability to add value to the applied setting through the translation of such knowledge. So when an opportunity presented itself to work in football, I jumped at the chance. So for four years I worked as a sports scientist at a professional club. This made me realise that there was a huge gap between the science I was conducting and what was actually happening at the business end of the game.

As my passion for applied sports science grew, I then decided to go full time in academia and this led to positions at numerous Universities before moving across to LJMU in 2016/17 in which I now hold the position of Reader in Sports Performance. My decision to come across to LJMU was solely based on the heritage and excellence in football science at the institute as a result of the pioneering work of the late, great Professor Tom Reilly. My current role enables me to work on some really exciting and novel projects and gives me the opportunity to do a fair bit of consultancy work with a number of elite clubs/organisations and increasingly more enterprise based work. But I suppose the most rewarding part of the role is working with the talented people I have in my football performance group which includes a diverse mix from sports scientists in elite clubs to data scientists that are outside the sports domain.


Q. So Your Current Integrated Match Demands Research is Currently Creating Some Real Waves in the Football Industry, Can You Tell Us More About This?

Yes, of course but some background information is probably needed first on previous research/approaches. One of the first comprehensive match demands papers based on my knowledge was published in 1976 by Reilly & Thomas. This paper is basic by today’s standards but was the starting point for everything published ever since. It effectively quantified the distances covered in games across position using a manual method. Since its publication over 40 years ago, literally hundreds, if not thousands of match demands papers have been published. Most of this work uses a ‘traditional approach’ of simply analysing the distance and/or frequency of various motion categories from walking to sprinting. This is usually in isolation with little or no consideration for the technical and tactical aspects of the game (including some of my old papers!!!!). I give this basic approach the amusing term ‘blind’ distance covered as it is effectively distance with no context (See Figure 1A below for an example).


As I faced this issue personally for over a decade, I’m fully aware this reductionist approach results in a one-dimensional insight into what has actually happened during a game. In my experience, we don’t get great insights from data in isolation (e.g. physical data on its own) but from data integration (e.g. connecting the physical, technical and tactical dots). The traditional way of analysing physical match performance in isolation effectively gives us the ‘WHAT’. For instance, ‘WHAT’ distance a player covers in a game but the key question we should be asking ourselves is not just ‘WHAT’ but ‘WHY’ they covered that distance. As practitioners do not necessarily want to determine which positions are the most demanding or cover the most distance (they generally know that already!), but rather how each individual player performs their duties in relation to a specific opponent and in line with the team philosophy and/or game plan.


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Training secrets of the worlds greatest footballers: How science is transforming the modern game

9 Oct '2019

It was with great pleasure that a copy of ‘Training Secrets of the World’s Greatest Footballers’ by James Witts landed at Football Fitness Federation headquarters as it was a title I’d been looking forward to reading since I saw its announcement on Twitter. With so many contributions from the most respected Sports Scientists and Coaches in the game it was always going to be high on the ‘must read’ list and it certainly didn’t disappoint.


The first thing that strikes you about the book is that it’s both extremely well researched and very easy to read (I’ve come across many books in this subject area that are extremely hard going and should come with a warning that it may not be suitable for those without a doctorate in certain scientific area). It must be pointed out that the fact it’s so concise and simple to read it doesn’t detract from the books quality, in fact it’s strength lies with being able to explain its complex content in a simple manner that makes this publication suitable for all involved in football (not just Sports Scientist) players and coaches included.


The intention of the book is clearly illustrated from the outset, the author seeks to fill the hole between theory and application (which, I’m happy to report it does with great success). A standout line from the books introduction demonstrates its intention to produce a text that has an ‘accessible narrative that will open your eyes to footballing science, not blind you with it’. Indeed this moniker could be applied to a wider context highlighting exactly the problems faced by both practitioners and writers who can sometimes fall short when communicating the value of sports science support in developing performance in a way that’s understood by its target audience (namely those involved in playing and coaching).


The author hasn’t just decided to write masses and masses of text regarding complex biological processes or biochemical pathways like some ‘Sports Science’ books, instead concepts are skilfully segmented and accompanied by expert insight from leaders in the field of each individual area. Names like Buchheit, Bangsbo, Bradley, Burgess, Drust and many others all contribute something extra to their particular specialism and each does a great job of adding value to the book and it’s concepts.


James has done well to cover a good range of topics within the Football training sphere from the use of data to the choice of players equipment via nutrition, recovery, managing injury and of course those training methods used by the top clubs around the globe. A great contextual example is the chapter covering Barcelona and their training level of specificity (looking at Positional data and using it to inform training) with some good commentary from Paul Bradley. By maintaining a level of plain speaking language it’s surprising how easily the information can be used in all settings, which is quite unique. James ability to explore the detail that these elite practices require and still engage the reader is to be applauded.


The book also address those claims, practices or approaches that are unsubstantiated by empirical evidence but are included to give balance and insight from practical experience in a way that allows the reader to draw their own conclusions rather than drive an ‘acceptance’ of what’s been researched in labs but not on the field. No stone is left unturned the complete range from marginal gains to integration of technical and tactical training in a complete approach to training is analysed and discussed with interest.


Given how easy its was to understand I was a little surprised at the use of some language such as ‘energy systems’ and ‘by products’ in an otherwise flawless Football context. This does not in anyway detract from what is an exceptional text. What I personally enjoyed about the book was the implication of both research and practice on the future game and how players will need to adapt if they are to be prepared successfully to develop and perform in the Football matches of tomorrow. I also found the Recovery section particularly interesting, right down to the detail of bedding and sleep wear, truly remarkable.


I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was not only easy and engaging to read but it had me constantly looking forward to what would be revealed next the further into it I got. I certainly found it insightful and not only is it a book that can be used to inform Practice immediately, but it will also be one of those books kept on the shelf handy to be referred to time and time again.



Get your copy of the book here http://bloomsbury.com/trainingsecrets

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How You Can Train Athletes with Minimal Technology

24 Jul '2019

Imagine a world where instead of swiping right on a dating app, you initiated a conversation with someone you found attractive at the supermarket. Or a world where instead of sending a passive aggressive text, you confronted someone face-to-face. Or a world where instead of looking down at your phone, you walked with your head up and admired your surroundings. Or a world where instead of relying on Facebook to remind you of a friend’s birthday, you used the hippocampus in your brain to remember it. Or a world where instead of staring at data and charts, you made eye contact with your athletes and asked them how their day is going. Maybe I’m an old soul, but I miss the days of when glowing screens didn’t run our lives. If you’re an avid reader of this blog, you’re either a sport scientist, soccer coach, or strength and conditioning coach who has dabbled in the use of technology, or who uses it full-time. But before I dive in, I’m going to a take a wild guess you chose this career path to help human beings. To coach. To teach. To connect. To communicate. To that end, technology has its way of making these things wane if we aren’t cognizant or aware.


And in the sports world, athletes are becoming numbers, data, equations, rankings, avatars, and so much more. More flabbergasting to all of this, athletes are humans just like yourself, who want to be heard, supported and encouraged through their sport and life pursuits. They need conversation. They need active listening. They need actionable solutions. They need critical thinking. They need creativity. They need sweaty high fives. They need hugs. They need good old-fashion coaching.


Now before all of the science guys come at me, hear me out: this article is not to poo-poo on sport technology. If I had $10,000 of cash collecting cobwebs in my closet, I would buy GPS units with the bat of an eyelash. For one, I see value in using technology as ammunition against coaches, and to ensure they’re not idiots and don’t program endless sprints the day after a game as punishment. I see technology as a valuable load monitoring tool to tweak strength sessions and volume for the week. I see it as helpful information to make sure players who play less have the chance to work out harder during a micro-cycle and not get deconditioned.

I see it as a way to elicit a high intensity conditioning effect during my anaerobic, speed endurance sessions and to call players out if they’re not going hard enough. I see it as an insight into my players’ top speeds, mileage coverage, change of directions, eccentric loading statistics, souls and so much more. Okay, let’s shift gears for a second. As much as technology in sport has helped players stay healthy and improve their performance on the pitch, I’d argue if you don’t have access to it, you can still help them immensely. Look. I’m an American youth soccer strength and conditioning coach in the private sector, and after the seven years I’ve been at this, I’ve had no ACL injuries, no hamstring strains, and a roster of athletes continue to D1, D2, D3 and into professional programs. Better yet, they’ve become amazing humans with fulfilling careers and lives when their soccer careers came to an inevitable end. I guess I’m doing okay for using printed paper and ripped binders as programs:

Or, who uses an obsolete vertical jump mat:


Or, who uses, not hi-tech machines, but the burly lacrosse athletes as added chaos for my soccer players: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9zf9RFV10k

Yeah. I don’t use any technology. I don’t have the privilege to use it. Admittedly, the furthest I’ve gotten as a soccer performance coach is using heart rate monitors.


It’s nothing grandiose. It’s nothing that will shout, “look at me! I have fancy gadgets!” It’s nothing that will impress people on Twitter. It’s nothing that will get clicks and followers. It’s nothing that will make reality tv.

It’s simple. Just like a handful of other private sector performance facilities, we are a successful business that has flourished for almost two decades at the youth, academy, college, and professional levels for both lacrosse and soccer athletes. And with minimal technology, we’ve made one hell of an impact. So how do you train athletes with minimal technology? Let’s do this: 1. Use time-based or Ratings of Perceived Exertion methods. Without GPS trackers, how do we know our players are receiving a desired conditioning effect? Enter time-based training and Ratings of Perceived Exertion. For the sake of brevity, here’s a nice breakdown of conditioning under a time-based model: - Maximal Speed Endurance: 30-40 seconds of work, 1:5 work-to-rest - Maximal Repeated Sprint Ability: <10 second of work, 1:5 work-to-rest - High Intensity Aerobic: 1-4 minutes of work, 1:1 work-to-rest - Maximal Speed: <10 second, 1:10 work-to-rest If you find that athletes are not eliciting these conditioning effects under these time standards, it may be best to move to Ratings of Perceived Exertion, where they rate their feeling of intensity on a scale of 1-10:  

Of course, this is a tougher one because athletes might not always be telling the truth. But given you’re a professional who instills hard work and autonomy in your players, they will be honest when it comes to RPE. Better yet, when they’re saying their RPE out loud after a conditioning run in front of their teammates, they feel much more held accountable. I highly recommend trying this. Okay, story time. This summer, I had all of my athletes work up to 9/10 on the RPE scale for a continuous 50-yard shuttle run, and when one athlete finished I asked their score and they said, “9/10.” However, they weren’t out of breath, able to hold a conversation, and were cracking jokes. The best part? One her teammates called her out and said, “no! You’re a 4 at most!” So what happened the next go around? The girl who lied then pushed herself because her teammates took notice and held her accountable. When using RPE, I suggest you have everyone announce their personal rating because when the rest of the group is listening, there’s no hiding. I’d be remiss not to mention there’s tremendous value in competing, too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FSdR95qOcA

One more thing: if you’re lucky to snag yourself some heart rate monitors, awesome. Here’s a nice breakdown of what to look for in the energy systems: - Maximal Speed Endurance: > 90% HR max - High Intensity Aerobic: >85%-90% HR max - Moderate Aerobic: 75%-85% HR max 2. Communicate for load monitoring. Because sometimes, it’s easier to have this conversation:  

Me: “How many minutes did you play this weekend?” Athlete: “80 minutes.”


Me: “How do you feel today?” Athlete: “Extremely sore.” Me: “Okay, then you should stay away from the eccentric single leg deadlifts and change of direction in a few days.” Athlete and I high five. To give you another example with a totally different athlete, here you go: Me: “How many minutes did you play this weekend?” Athletes: “80 minutes.” Me: “How do you feel today?” Athlete: “Not sore. Ready to lift.” I then dug deeper in that conversation to figure out why she wasn’t sore after 80 minutes of playing. They played an easy opponent, won 5-0, and played possession the majority of the match. Chances are, this athlete did not change direction, reach maximal speed, or cover that much mileage this match since the style of play was very composed and nonchalant. So what did we do two days after the game? Deadlifting, pull-upping, lunging, single leg squatting, and small-sided playing. But, what about lying about soreness? Ah, yes. Good one! Again, it’s all about observing and knowing your athletes. If they’re looking lethargic in the gym, form is declining on strength lifts, their focus is off, then something may be whacky. Always communicate and observe. That’s what coaches are meant to do.


That’s all that needs to go down. When in doubt, communicate with questions that showcase how the athlete is feeling mentally and physiologically. Also, observe their body language, exercise technique, and demeanor. Taking the conversation beyond athlete-to-coach, it’s critical to communicate with team coaches as well. Some of the best coaches I have worked with on load monitoring and strength and conditioning training are the ones who blast out their schedules, tournaments, ID camps and practice sessions to me, and update me by the hour of what is going on. You bet I’m tweaking my programs weekly and hourly.


Tournament on the weekend? Monday will be yoga and mobility. No games for two weeks? We are using this in-season “window of opportunity” to speed train, lift heavier load (80-90% 2-3 sets, 1-5 reps), and add in more eccentric work. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhMNu5qCNUw

Last night’s practice was 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3 drills on a large pitch? The gym session the next day will be only sub-maximal strength with nice, graceful deadlift pulls.


This is where soccer specific knowledge of the game from the performance specialist comes into play. Knowing what drills produce what physiological effects is paramount to monitoring load and tweaking your gym programs. Have common sense. But moreover, think deeply about the game, and simply about gym training. 3. Change behavior with nutrition. Newsflash: you can toss all your meal plans in the trash. Are you handing your players food measurements, portion sizes, macros, and calories on Excel sheets and graphs and pie charts? Well, aren’t you cute! Of course, it is wise to educate them and break down the numbers, but nutrition needs to be an ongoing conversation, too. The problem with nutrition nowadays is people know what’s wrong, yet still fail to execute a radical solution. We all know greens are better than fried food. We all know water is better than alcohol. We all know apples are better than potato chips. We all know 1,000 calories a day is not ideal for a soccer athlete. No amount of hypothalamus brain tests are going to solve whether your athletes love or hate themselves, and tie what they eat to these deep emotions. Here are some tips for behavior change: - Provide your players with samples of healthy snacks - Eat in front of them (lead by example). - Ask them, “what foods bring you to life?” - Ask them, “what foods bog you down?” - Ask them, “are you eating out of love or hate for yourself?” - Really have them get clear on the above questions. 4. Write down and progress load. On the first day of off-season here, my athletes get their programs in a thick binder.

“This looks like an encyclopedia!” they exclaim with smiles on their faces. Receiving their programs is like getting a gift during the holidays: not only is it infused with novelty, written with care, but it is filled with love and customized movement prep to fit what they need extra help with:

Too, in order for athletes to progress load on their own terms, they need their own pen and program. If an athlete has to do 3 sets at 8 reps for an exercise, and by the 8th rep they feel they can do a several more (Reps in Reserve Method), I always tell them to go up 5-10 pounds. If they feel on that 8th rep they only could squeak out only one more, then they may be at a great weight that allows them to do good form, but it is still a grind. There’s power in writing down load each week. It allows athlete to be autonomous in their progress and hold themselves accountable with their feats of strength.

5. Use your eyes to look for imbalances. There’s a ton of high-tech machines floating around the sport science space that tell us if our athletes have asymmetries, weaknesses, faulty biomechanics, excessive knee valgus, or a left earlobe smaller than the other. And many of them are tremendously accurate. But again, not all of us are privileged to have these all-embellishing toys, so what do we do? Use our eyes. It’s not hard to see excessive knee valgus that makes you want to bang your head against a wall. In fact, if an athlete is performing a movement and I’m cringing even just an itty bit looking at form, something needs to be fixed. And you as the professional has to be able to catch this. As strength coach Michael Boyle says, if it looks like sh*t, it probably is. To that end, if I see an athlete shifting their hips to the right when coming up from a squat, you bet I’m adding in extra unilateral glute medius work to their program:

If I see an athlete not grooving hip mobility enough during a lateral squat, you bet I’m adding in the slideboard and increasing their lever arm by having them extend their arms: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEyMnsHgdV8

If I see an athlete collapsing their posture in athletic stance, you bet I’m adding in Chaos Ball Hugs to hone in on this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDi1VIvG0MU

Or, if hip shifting and favoring of one side is apparent, I may switch completely from bilateral to unilateral movement:



Erica Suter is a soccer strength and conditioning expert in Baltimore, Maryland and has been working with youth soccer players across the world for over seven years. She works as a full-time strength coach at JDyer Strength and Conditioning, where she designs in-season, off-season and pre-season programs for soccer players in Maryland. In addition to being a tenacious and passionate in person coach to hundreds of athletes, she consults with youth coaches, clubs and players worldwide in the realms of strength and conditioning, load monitoring, and mental skills training. She is a published writer and the author of the Total Youth Soccer Fitness Program, which has sold copies to soccer coaches in over 20 different countries across the world.  Blog Twitter Instagram

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