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

09 December 2019 Ben Cartwright No Tags

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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