Modern-day football has changed rapidly since the start of this century, with developments in sports science making the game a very different place than was previously the case.
There are four main strands to sports science – physiology, psychology, motor control/learning and biomechanics – with each playing an important part in enhancing player performance.
First utilised by the former Eastern Bloc nations back in the 1950s, there was a big boom in the study of sports towards the end of the 20th century and it is a trend that has continued ever since.
Read on as we look at four ways that sports science has created a new breed of super human footballers.
Players sleep their way to success
Rest has become an integral part of every top footballer’s training regime. Alongside nutrition, recovery time is widely considered to be the most important factor impacting a player’s performance.
Many top clubs have ‘sleep pods’ at their training grounds to allow players to have a power nap in between sessions, while the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Chelsea have employed ‘sleep coaches’ to help them maximise their resting hours.
The coaches educate players about the importance of preparing for sleep at home, with factors such as optimising room temperature and avoiding blue light from electronic devices amongst the areas covered.
Sleep is crucial for psychological functioning and daily performance, which is why clubs are investing heavily in resources that will help to get the best out of their players.
Taking recovery seriously improves alertness, awareness and reaction times, leading to better on-pitch performance. While traditional training helps to hone a player’s skills, it is the period they spend resting their bodies that takes them to super human levels of fitness.
Supplements give players an extra edge
Arsene Wenger was a pioneer of the use of pre and post-workout supplementation after being appointed as Arsenal manager during the 1990s and many clubs have subsequently latched onto their benefits.
There are numerous different types of daily supplements available including Whey Protein, Maltodextrin, Creatine, Tart Cherry and Beta-Alanine, while Caffeine and Beetroot Juice are popular match-day supplements.
Players can use these different kinds of supplementation to enhance their training results, on-field performance and speed of recovery.
Football is a high-intensity activity that can cause severe muscle damage due to its unusual muscle contraction associated with the duration and distance covered.
Players are likely have a considerably reduced concentration of muscle glycogen in fibres at the end of training or a match, making it important that they take on sufficient supplements to rectify this.
While supplements are not designed to replace exercise or rest, they are products that can undoubtedly play their part in improving the performance of players.
Sports psychology helps stars deal with pressure
Modern professional football like the Premier League is a hugely pressurised environment, with clubs desperate to secure success.
Games are scrutinised like never before, meaning that players must deal with having their performances dissected in minute detail.
Their behaviour off the field is also heavily scrutinised, creating situations that many players may not be equipped to handle adequately.
For some players confidence and composure are natural traits, but many others require their mental skills to be developed alongside their physical ones.
This has led to an increase in the number of sports psychologists working in the sport. They can teach players numerous mental tools and techniques including positive self-talk, anger management mechanisms and refocusing techniques.
Research has shown that negativity is associated with the stress hormone cortisol, which reduces the brain’s ability to function effectively. Positive language releases dopamine, which is linked to confidence.
Sports psychologists teach players to focus on simple goals, allowing them to avoid over-thinking situations and helping them to make the most of their abilities.
Crunching the numbers boosts performance
First developed in France over 20 years ago, data analysis was adapted as a coaching aid by Leeds-based company, Prozone, and first used by Derby County in 1998.
The system uses multiple cameras inside stadiums, with human operators manually recording data to gather information on key areas such as possession, passes, tackles, runs, interceptions and shots.
Chelsea and Manchester City are amongst the top clubs who use the technology to conduct video tracking-based analysis during games, although many focus on using the system post-match.
Derby are still one of the English game’s finest examples of using data to maximise performance. The club’s modern analysis suite connects to a huge camera system at the training ground, which provides a huge range of integrated technology.
Technical data, combined with GPS data, drawing tools and a mobile app, allow analysts to share video footage and feedback with players during training sessions and after matches.
The players can then request feedback to improve their personal performance and assist their continued development.