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Dr Adam Owen - Pre-Season Training, Periodization, Should Conditioning be all Football?

Updated: May 28, 2019

Dr Adam Owen is a World Leading UEFA Pro Licence, Ph.D in Sport Scientist, former Wales National Team & newly appointed as Head of Performance of Hebei China Fortune (China Super League)

He is also the Author of bestselling books:

Football Conditioning: A Modern Scientific Approach - Speed & Agility | Injury Prevention | Periodization Training | Small Sided Games - which are on discounted sale at the end of this interview.

1. For what age group should coaches start to implement conditioning training into their sessions?

Having held many positions over the years from academy level through to 1st team senior levels, there was a large emphasis placed on developing speed, agility and strength at youth level of children around the Under 9-10 age groups.

Obviously, children are not mini-adults and should not be placed under the same demands as senior players, however, there are key things that can and should be done alongside the maturation stages in order to maximise physical development.

2. Should conditioning be all football specific?

This is a question that always comes up and I suppose it depends on the coaching philosophy you have as a coach. I prefer to perform conditioning aspects with the ball as much as possible, within a tactical strategy based on how we will look to play in the next match. However, that’s not to say I don’t include specific exercises to stress certain energy systems without the ball!

3. How does a knowledge and understanding of science affect the performance aspect?

From my perspective, it’s vital to have a generic knowledge and understanding of performance aspects. The game has become and continues to be more professional, with the finances available for success becoming greater each year.

I firmly believe the days when the manager had no involvement or understanding of the physical development aspects of the players has gone - they no longer leave it all to the fitness staff. Managers and coaches must have an understanding of training load management, injury prevention and how various sessions impact the readiness and preparation of the players, due to the fact they are responsible for the match day performance.

4. How important is Periodization for performing at an optimum level consistently?

Periodization is a term that is often used and in a lot of cases misunderstood from my perspective. It is basically a term that was developed many, many years ago in the old Soviet Union with the aim of balancing a tapering or decreased training load strategy with a progressive overload (increased training load) on athletes to ensure they peaked at a given time in the future. The Football Conditioning books outline how to implement Periodization into your training to achieve optimum results for your team.

Within football, players need to peak once or twice per week as all games are important and they are all worth 3 points! From my perspective, the key is to ensure performance dips are kept to a minimum and fitness elements are developed over time, with the long-term vision of the players upheld - especially in the earlier ages groups.

5. You put a lot of emphasis on small sided games - can you explain why implementing small sided games is so pivotal for fitness training?

I have spent a lot of time researching the impact of various sided games on amateur, youth and professional players to see how they adapt, recover and potentially improve performance through the use of them in training.

The exposure of players to various sided games throughout the course of the training week can have an extremely positive response on the players from both a physical and technical point of view. Different player numbers, area sizes and possession rules significantly affect the demand placed on the players in these sessions and as a result, influence the training response of the players in various ways. All this is highlighted in the book.

6. What are the main aspects of injury prevention?

You cannot prevent all injuries, but you can reduce the risk of soft tissue or non-contact injuries. As a coach, understanding the recent science behind this topic is key, as you will start to see how training load management and the total output on the pitch are directly linked to certain types of injuries. Coaches have to take responsibility for these types of injuries as 90% of the time it's the coach who manages the on-pitch training content.

Performing strength and conditioning, core development and functional strength exercises (all included in the book) will assist in maintaining a healthy conditioning state - however, if the pitch training content is wrong or too much/not enough then generally we are adding more load to the body at the wrong stage.

7. How important is it as a coach, to adapt practices and create your own ideas?

I think it’s very important to establish your strength and weaknesses as a coach and develop your own ideas, changing exercises to suit your needs and coaching style. However, as I said before there are not many sessions being performed that other coaches have not done and as a result, it’s about how you as a coach deliver the session, engage and create that buy-in from the players. They need to understand the key principles of the session and how that fits with the strategy of the upcoming match.

8. Do any of your football conditioning principles change when training players at a lower level? If so, what are the main differences?

Each level of players you work with have what we call a specific ‘training age’ and this is different based on athletic competency or their previous exposure to exercise or sport. The principles within this book can be developed across various stages of play from youth, semi-professional, professional and elite.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that principles needed to be changed, however the expectation of technical and physical performance across levels would obviously differ.

9. Do you have to have a scientific understanding to benefit from reading your work?

The key to the development of my work is to ensure that we appeal to managers, coaches, players, physiotherapists, sport scientists and fitness staff across all levels and abilities.

The scientific language in the Football Conditioning books is certainly toned down to ensure a smoother read and the key integration of infographics to summarise the text lends itself well to the simplicity.

10. With pre-season training approaching, how will these books help coaches and players prepare for the new season?

These books will allow coaches and players to understand the key physical elements needed to be stimulated, in order to improve different fitness aspects. We provide examples of practical drills and sessions that can be used, but also underpin everything with scientific evidence and a history of success.

11. Can this be applied to coaches/players at different ages and levels?

Yes, the fact that the human body responds to training in a similar way ensures that the content of the books is applicable across various levels, ages and abilities of play.

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