Darren Burgess is the former head of sports science for the Socceroos and has worked in the English Premier League at Liverpool. He is currently the high performance manager at Port Adelaide football club in the AFL. In a recent presentation he offered up his thoughts on player monitoring and below are some of the key points along with my reflection on what he had to say.
- For any test that is implemented to monitor it is important to know each athletes relative scores for any test they complete. The example Darren used would be for Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and Resting HR. How do you know where a player is at in regards to how they were a few weeks ago? For Darren HRV is a test that gives him a good assessment of his players stress. It can tell him that a player is stressed from training, everyday first world problems, or the onset of overtraining. It is then his job to find the source of the stress and then get rid of it if possible. This can be a useful tool if everything is kept constant in regards to athlete compliance and how the testing process is completed.
- Darren described visiting a number of different international and world class clubs as the – “Best experience of his life.” Seeing how everything is done in a practical environment rather than just in text books enhanced his learning and progression. This is something I look forward to doing whilst visiting and working with other teams. Every player is different – When he was at Liverpool Football Club prehab was very individualized – not every player can be put through the same program, you have to cater to their needs based on history of injury and even cultural background. What have they been doing as exercises throughout their lives to get them to this point? Darren commented that he learnt a lot from Brazilian and Portuguese physios who did less common or well known techniques that were effective. Sometimes it’s OK to think outside the box and consider others practices and opinions to build on your own.
- Injury Prediction through Monitoring – Having a periodised plan that you then alter your monitoring protocols to in the lead up to games is important. The example Darren used was a plan used by most EPL clubs starting 6 days prior to a game. This plan is strictly regimented and something that teams stick to 100%. The overall message was to adhere to this periodised approach to minimize injury and maximize performance.
- When communicating information to players and coaches it is important not to overload them. Darren spoke of the Training Reports he produces and how he caters to his audience. For example, On reports for players and coaches he would only include information on Total Distance (volume measure) / High Intensity Distance (Intensity measure)/ Heart Rate Load (Internal load measure – what did it cost the player?). The GPS and Heart rate data in this case would act as a fitness assessment to gauge where a player was at for that session. Eg: low distance / low intensity / then high heart rate load then that is an indicator that something is wrong.
- A key part of the monitoring of players is that as their training loads increases it is important to pick up on any markers of stress that they exhibit. Once these markers have been identified the decision must be made to modify the individuals program. An example Darren used was the Isometric Mid-Thigh pull: which is a test of strength and an assessment to see if players are responding to programs. This leads to a better resistance to injury but also can indicate when players are suffering from fatigue.
- I enjoyed listening to Darren speak about the Fitness Vs. Fatigue Model: He outlined a process to warn you of injury risk for an athlete. First by identifying outliers and risk factors based on each individuals performances and team performances. Then using neural networks in choosing the variables that you think contribute to injury risk and identifying points in your season where players get injured most. You can look back at the combination or interaction of risk factors and see what lead to the injury. Finally, set up an alert to let you know if the same combination of risk factors pop up again in the future you can react to reduce injury risk. I agree with this approach as there are so many examples of when practitioners are reactive to injury rather than being proactive like this to reduce injury occurrence.
- Darren finished up with some advice for those who want to work in High performance sport: “You have to go and get as many experiences working with teams as much as you can – anywhere!” What he looks for when recruiting people to work with him? He prefers masters or post grad experience and experience in front of players at any level in the applied environment.
Application to the High Performance Environment:
Darren made a number of points that I would like to expand upon based on my own personal experiences….
- Athlete compliance for testing is important and the need to keep things constant – How do we do this? You will always get the one or two players that you will have to chase every session to fill out their data, do a test, or fill out a questionnaire. The key I think is educating your athletes on why their input is important and that any unreliable or non-entry of data blurs the picture they are portraying to you of their current status.
- One size doesn’t fit all – Treating athletes as individuals was a message Darren repeated throughout his talk. Just because one exercise or treatment works well for one athlete doesn’t mean it will for another. This also leads into keeping your athletes guessing when it comes to things like prehab – try to stimulate them by mixing it up so things don’t become monotonous.
- Communicating data: The info you have available Vs. what they need to hear or see? By catering your data to an audience they will be much more receptive to your message. Just because you have every variable at your fingertips doesn’t mean coaches want to know about – sure, collect it for further research that is going on behind the scenes but only present what they absolutely need to know about. And if they would like to see more – then for sure let them have it!
- Identifying tests that you can rely on through known markers of stress and fatigue. Darren has a number of “go to” tests that he is comfortable with using and has had many years’ experience with such as the mid-thigh pull and HRV testing. I’ve noticed with many of the practitioners I have been involved with that they are similar in this sense. Being able to track a player’s progress and knowing the sensitivity / reliability of your tests inevitably leads to the basis of how you get to know your athletes inside and out.
- He also mentioned EPL clubs implementing more aggressive rehab on injuries and getting players back on the pitch quicker with similar re-injury occurrence to that of Australian sporting clubs. So why don’t we adopt the same approach so that players miss less games if injury occurrence has no difference? How do we shift in this direction of aggressive practice? The answer to that is that we haven’t really needed to…yet – we don’t have the same amount of games and therefore as limited time constraints between games compared to that of EPL clubs. Although an argument could be raised to the contrary with more A-League clubs, such as Western Sydney, qualifying and going deep into the Asians Champions League. We may see a shift towards this type of practice in Australia soon due to the increased amount of matches completed by these clubs.