EVER wondered what happens at a professional football academy?
Well, three representatives from Coleraine FC were recent visitors to Premier League clubs Bournemouth and Brighton & Hove Albion to see a glimpse of the action.
Strength and Conditioning coaches Chris Gregg and Luke McIntyre were joined by Academy coach Andrew Law for the four day trip.
Speaking to colerainefc.com, Chris Gregg, who is the owner of the No Pain, No Gain gym based at The Showgrounds, answered a series of questions relating to how young players train, eat and recover after gym sessions at Premier League clubs.
Q1. What are the gym sessions like for under 9’s right through to the under 18’s at Premiership clubs?
All age groups will do pitch based conditioning and gym strength training. Sessions are tailored to age and ability in the gym. There is nothing we are doing different to what the boys are doing in a professional set up. If anything, we have the luxury of one to one for the boys that attend our gym so are probably advancing quicker than in a group environment.
The amount of coaches per child (we saw 24 players and 9 coaches) meant that pitch drills ran smoothly and had plenty of coaches to facilitate many different drills at the one time. Defending/Attacking/Rehab etc.
Q2. Did you find out how under age players continue their education, as well as eating healthily?
From the first year the boys could be playing three nights per week plus one day of school per week. Come 16 years of age, they go full time and are conditioned better for full time football. Something that the coaches said our players from N Ireland and Europe can struggle with, increasing the risk of breaking down early in the season purely based on the increase of playing time. This goes back to nutrition as the boys are fed in the academy as there is a large emphasis on fuelling their sessions.
Education plays a large apart of the academies, from what I was told the teachers do have a large part to play in the boys’ sessions, in that if they are not up to date with school work, their football time is sacrificed before school time.
Q3. How do the coaches individualise gym sessions in large groups?
All fitness based/testing/reaction work is undertaken by the Strength & Conditioning coaches.
The Strength & Conditioning coaches design 15 sessions to accommodate all training ages. All boys start with the basics and coaches decide when boys are capable to progress to more advanced and weighted exercises. Again, something I am very fortunate with working mainly one to one with my lads.
There are many tests the boys go throughout the season. If they are not meeting standards set by the club they are “hammered” for not being the correct body fat or meeting the demands of the physical testing. Something I would like to see more of in youth AND senior football. For all the money in these Premiership set ups, it costs nothing to be physically better shape.
Q4. What is the one of the things that you found different to the youth set-up back home in Northern Ireland?
The under-18 squad had a manager, coach, GK Coach, S&C Coach, two full-time teachers and two performance analysts. I watched the Bournemouth U13s and U14s, who had 24 players and 9 coaches on one pitch.They had three drills running – one coach working with two lads who were coming back from injury, two coaches working on attacking phase, two on defensive play and two observing with us on the sideline.
Each player at different stages throughout the year rotates position. At Bournemouth they rotate every six weeks. Defenders will become midfielders; midfielders become strikers and so on. I believe from the top down we should be trying to implement the same in Northern Ireland. I spoke to many coaches this week and I understand with the pressures of staying in leagues, player and parent demand to play certain positions (My son is a striker!! Amazing how you decide that at 10 years of age!).
At grass roots we just don’t allow players to play other positions in fear of losing our best players. It is not for me to decide how we implement change however it must start from the top down. This is a generalised opinion and I’m sure teams throughout our leagues do their best but are restricted for many reasons.
Q5. You would have agree that money is a deciding factor in the difference between football here and across the water?
This goes hand in hand with what I said in question four. The money available to these clubs means they can employ many coaches and to allow players time to develop, giving all boys game time as well as having the pick of the bunch when selecting players. The boys play on carpets, have access to 3G indoor pitch when needed and have full time coaches on hand every week. So the coaches we have in our youth football – the majority volunteering in their own time – do a fantastic job with the facilities they have.
Lastly I’d like to thank both Bournemouth FC & Brighton FC for being fantastic hosts, they were extremely helpful and allowed us access to pitches, gyms, and pre match set ups. They fed us well too.