We are excited to former WRU S&C intern now West Ham Sport scientist Matthew Evans on this latest edition of Q&A’s.
1) Give us the high speed, nuts and bolts version of your experience in the S&C industry?
During my Degree in Sport & Exercise Science at Swansea University, the university had good links to professional elite teams who used the facilities, staff & students for pre-season screening and testing. Being part of this really fuelled my ambition to work with elite athletes & teams.
Following my Degree, I undertook an S&C internship for eighteen months with the Welsh Rugby Union under the guidance of both Craig White & Adam Beard. My time at the WRU included the Autumn International campaign, 6Nations tournament & Rugby World Cup Preparation.
Following my internship I gained a full time position at West Ham United football club a Sport Scientist / S&C coach, where I have remained for three seasons.
2) from your experience what do you think are the common characteristics of a successful athlete/player?
Self-drive and a desire to improve along with a professional attitude towards everything they do.
The ability to listen and take on advice from professional staff around them is also big for me. I think this point goes a bit unnoticed sometimes, but the ability to trust the program / rehab / exercise is important. I have seen players think they know better than the S&C coach or physio just because they have done something different in the past, but the majority of the time the successful players are the ones who trust the information they are receiving (providing the information is correct).
3) What are the differences you’ve seen in S&C going from Rugby to Football?
S&C is still very new to football compared to rugby and relies on skill over physical capabilities more so than rugby. Physical capabilities and qualities are obviously important in football but not to the same extent due to the different demands from the sport. There is still a stigma sometimes in football that ‘weights will make you slow’ or ‘only go to the gym for rehab’, but this old school mentality is slowly changing.
The main emphasis of S&C within rugby is performance enhancement on the whole, whereas the emphasis is slightly more to injury prevention for football. Personally I think you cannot separate the two but that’s how it’s perceived in my opinion. (If you make someone stronger then subsequent performance is enhanced and risk of injury is reduced).
Rugby uses a lot more of the traditional lifts (squats, presses, Olympic lifting & variations), whereas football tends to involve more single leg work, more time is given to core strength and injury specific exercises for previous injury prevention.
4) What are your go to on-line resources?
I am lucky that I have access to an Athens account though our S&C Intern at West Ham so I can access all the traditional journals. Along with that the UKSCA Journal is something I have been reading throughout my time as a student and now into my career. Eric Cressey is a well-known name in the S&C world and he provides free blogs, articles, tweets etc all which I find extremely helpful and informative. The NSCA also have good articles which I use and also T-Nation has some really good stuff on there. They are the main ones I use but I try to look for new sites / avenues of new material fairly regularly.
5) What exercises will you most commonly find in your programming?
Deadlift variations tend to be one of the most common for me working with footballers. We have a couple of players who perform traditional deadlifts and a continuum of players who fit into different variations of the deadlift (RDL, Single Leg, Top Half etc) depending on their individual requirements and histories.
The Bulgarian Squat is another exercise that I commonly use and see used with footballers. The ability to gain mobility in one leg while gaining all the benefits of the opposite leg ‘working’ is something that I really like as a coach. You get the two in one benefit from this exercise. I also like this exercise as very quickly players can gain results, whilst there are also a lot of variations of this exercise, making progressions or regressions easy to implement.
Upper body wise I use the body weight pull up regularly in my programs. Again the variations are vast and so simple changes can provide a different stimulus for the player, which helps when working with athletes who like variation. The results are easy to measure and relatively speaking it’s a fair assessment of an athlete’s level.
6) What exercises do you use with footballers with regards to injury prevention?
The main soft-tissue injuries in football from my experience are; hamstrings, rectus femoris and adductors, subsequently injury prevention focuses a lot on those areas. Deadlift variations as I previously mentioned help to strengthen the hamstrings, but I use various hamstring bridging exercises for the strength endurance aspect.
Bridging is something we also use for the adductors such as a groin plank, along with the single leg work we do (Bulgarian Squat etc) for the stabilisation aspect.
For the rectus femoris we use a reverse Nordic which involves an eccentric stretch of the rectus femoris muscle.
These exercises feature prominently in my programming.
7) What is your number one industry and also personal development books you have read?
NSCA Essentials of Strength Training & Conditioning – Industy.
The Celestine Prophecy – Personal
8) Recovery plays a huge role in professional sport what are your thoughts on this and what do you think is important?
I think that recovery is arguably one of the most important aspects of S&C / Sport Science support. If adequate recovery does not occur, then subsequent maximal performance cannot be achieved. That applies to recovery from games, but also training both on the pitch and in the gym.
During busy times in the season (Christmas & New Year for example) West Ham played eight games in just under four weeks due to League and Cup fixtures. During this time we had compulsory squad and individual recovery protocols in place to help aid the recovery of the players as much as possible.
One area that I am not so sure receives enough attentions is mental recovery. For team sports especially where the season can be long and repetitive ensuring that sufficient time for mental recovery, be it in the form of reduced loading, variation in training, changing of environment etc can have a big effect in my opinion.
9) What has been your light bulb moment this year?
Working in football has changed my S&C philosophy slightly. Footballers in my experience are much more responsive in a football specific environment. Developing speed for example can be done in a variety of ways, but with regards to footballers research has shown that the element of competition firstly improves peak speed reached and secondly the introduction of a ball increases peak speed further. These findings hold true in my experience, where players reach a higher speed when in a football specific environment (chasing a ball during a team shape drill) than they do under non-football specific conditions (30m sprint). Therefore I think for me the understanding of how footballers respond to the different physical qualities that the S&C coach / Sport Scientist is trying to develop or improve has helped me be more specific in my programs.
10) Who is the best/ hardest trainer you have worked with?
Leigh Halfpenny (Welsh rugby player) no question!
11) Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
Liam Kilduff was my personal tutor at university and I have a lot to thank him for with regards to helping me pursue a career in professional sport.
12) Most impressive feat of strength you have witnessed (in person)?
Without mentioning any names a well-known Welsh rugby player squatted 280kg, during an International testing session prior to the World Cup with perfect form. In person that is the biggest load lifted I have witnessed.
13) How would you sum up your training philosophy in a sentence?
Providing support that enables an athlete to reach their physical potential and reduce their risk of injury but allowing no disruption or expense from the overall goal of the athlete or team.
14) What does the average week of programming look like in the life of a footballer if games are Saturday and Saturday?
There are two main methods to my knowledge; the traditional British method for a Saturday-Saturday week follows the following pattern;
Sat – Match
Sun – Off
Mon – Extended recovery pitch session & individual needs gym session.
Tues – Hardest pitch session of the week & team gym session.
Wed – Off
Thurs – Pitch session with a shape or tactical emphasis, harder than a Monday but easier than a Tuesday & individual needs gym session.
Fri – 11 v 11 Match preparation pitch session.
Sat – Match
The volume & frequency of gym sessions will vary between different teams but this is a method I have seen used regularly in football.
The second method is more of a European method and is used by the likes of Jose Mourinho;
Sat – Match
Sun – Recovery session
Mon – Off
Tues – Pitch sessions involving small spaces
Wed – Pitch sessions involving big spaces
Thurs – Pitch sessions involving speed & agility
Fri – Pitch session involving reactions & tactics
Sat – Match
15) What does 2014 have in store or you?
Hopefully continue to improve and learn in all areas of S&C / Sports Science. I am still fairly early on in my career so I just want to keep developing and expanding my experience.
16) In a perfect working day answer all the following:
a) Place to Train – Somewhere with more lifting platforms than machines!
b) Team/Athlete to train – Any athlete with a desire to improve.
c) Ideal Training Partner – Anyone stronger than myself (provides that extra bit of motivation).
d) Person to have an hour to learn from – Eric Cressey.
e) Place to eat and Recover – Gyms Kitchen (Restaurant Chain that I would 100% recommend).
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We realise you are incredibly busy so we thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to complete this, we really appreciate it.
Chris & Andrew