FFF meets Tom Williams

The next of our FFF meets series sees us catch up with Tom Williams. Tom has an outstanding CV with clubs such as Derby County, Nottingham Forest, Leicester City, Sheffield United & Toronto FC in the MLS.

Tom talks us through his current role and what he is most passionate about in relation to football fitness.


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

I began my career as an academy football coach during my time at Loughborough University studying Sport and Exercise Science. I worked at Derby County and Nottingham Forrest FC with the youth development teams. This gave me a great insight into the demands and requirements needed to progress in the football industry. It was my main focus to become a “fitness coach” (what S&C/Sport Sci/Physiologist-the list goes on, used to be called!) An opportunity arose to join Mansfield Town FC as the first team “fitness coach”, which I firmly grasped with both hands. I had to learn a great deal very quickly dealing with senior players and the demands that came with senior level football. This was the first step in my career into the world of physical development, which put me on the path to join Sheffield United FC to work in the medical department as the first team Rehab Coach. I gained some great experiences here working under some very good backroom staff and managers and it played a big part in moulding my future career progression. I had four years there before moving down to Leicester City FC to lead the academy strength and conditioning department.

I enjoyed my time at Leicester, the support team there were fantastic and were very forward thinking in developing the players to progress through the system. From then I moved to my current role as Head of Strength and Conditioning at Toronto FC in the MLS.


What is your current role? What does it entail?

As head of strength and conditioning, I oversee the physical development program throughout the club from our youngest academy team the U11s all the way through to the first team. I am responsible for programing and the delivery of all gym based sessions, field content, including pre-training and game warm ups, on field conditioning and speed and agility sessions. The role is great, as it allows me to work with all aspects of the players physical development and building a capacity to perform each week. From my experience, many UK clubs generally have my role split into the sport scientist and the strength coach, whereas at Toronto FC I can oversee both. Along with the strength and conditioning side, I also take charge of the player monitoring on a daily basis. As a club we use GPS and heart rate for every session and game, and for me it is important to educate the players on how to train. We need our players to be resilient and relentless so they can hit top gear each game, so understanding what they need to be doing throughout the week is vitally important to us as a club.


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

My approach to developing fitness is very simple in the fact that to perform at the highest level each week the players need to be in the best condition to do this. It seems very basic but quite frankly this has never changed in terms of developing athletes. In order to win titles players must be able to produce and maybe more importantly re-produce high intensity movement throughout a season. With that goal in mind, you must train hard to build a mentality and resiliency but also train smart. Each training day is measured and quantified for a specific outcome, be that high speed running or maximal efforts i.e accel/deccel/max velocity. Developing an ethos where the players know why they are training the way they are, is key and is an ongoing educational process both on the field and in the weight room. Each player is given a specific plan for the day and week where they will have their pre-training routine, aims of the field session and the strength or power exposure required. In terms of my approach in the weight room, it’s important that the players can move well in a variety of ways with various loads, as I believe it’s far too easy to only train certain movements and exercises. Having variability in a strength program is paramount, as it not only decreases training monotony but also increases engagement and movement quality.


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

I love being on the field and in the gym, so to narrow it down to one thing is difficult. I think generally having a gym full of first team players lifting is quite rewarding. In my experience, this always seems to be a tall order. But for us, we have developed an ethos of “this is what we do here”. I like the players to see improvements in their development, be that in strength, or power testing, or in body composition. In my experience having a relationship where you can talk to the players about their goals is very important, then when they improve, it creates more trust in the pathway to get there. With that said, as I oversee the S&C provision at the club, seeing the young players develop our culture and system of training is very fulfilling. The club wide philosophy is to breed honest hardworking players, so that they come through the system into the senior squads with that mentality, and this is also something I am passionate about.


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

I think there are many opportunities to learn in the industry currently. There are a lot of higher education courses becoming more specific to areas of physical development and implementing more practical elements into the curriculum, which is encouraging in the development of students. Along with education I think social media is key, there is so much information and debate occurring every minute with some very experienced coaches, and being able to access experienced coaches opinions and interact with them in a simple way is great. But you can’t beat networking. Reaching out to coaches, sport scientists, S&C coaches in the industry is invaluable, and can lead to building strong relationships and gaining a potential mentor. I was lucky to have worked with some very experienced coaches who taught me a great deal, now when we travel, I always look to meet up with other professionals from other teams, be that in football, ice hockey, basketball or from university athletics.


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

This is a tough question, as the relationship between a performance and medical department with their technical staff is the very important. I have worked on both sides of the fence as a youth coach early on in my career and in my current role in physical development, so I can appreciate the tight rope we have to walk on a daily basis. Like I said before, it’s an ongoing education process for both sides, it can’t be the re-occurring skit of the coaches saying, “they keep talking about the science, but I’ve won # titles!” and the fitness staff saying “those lot are old school”. It’s about having an open line of communication for both departments, discussing objectives and goals of the team. I have worked with coaches who don’t appreciate the science aspect at all, and it’s a battle, but it’s important to remember the end goal, everyone wants to win. Therefore, finding common ground and appreciating how each person gets to this goal is vital.


Who has had the biggest influence on your career to date?

Having had the opportunity to work with some great coaches in various parts of the world, each of them have taught me something different. In terms of physical development, I worked with Dean Riddle at Sheffield United, who is now leading the sport science department at Seattle Seahawks, Kevin Paxton who is the head of academy performance at Leicester City, and currently Jim Liston the high-performance director at Toronto FC, who was the first full time “fitness coach” in the MLS back in 1998. Each of these coaches have played a big part in my development. Being able to talk about their experiences, both positive and negative, and bounce ideas off them has been great and we regularly keep in contact. I think building strong relationships across the backroom staff is key. Danny Wilson (Manager) and Frank Barlow (Assistant Manager) at Sheffield United had a great impact on my growth in the industry, being such honest and knowledgeable people who were always willing to pass on their experiences.


Thanks a lot to Tom for taking time to answer our questions. Keep up with what Tom is up to on twitter @Williams26Tom

Football Fitness Federation