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Sports science helped Clarets to Premier League promotion
1:09pm Monday 12th May 2014 in Sport
IT was a charge levelled against Burnley by the doubters almost all season – the squad’s not big enough, they’ll pick up injuries, they’ll fade away.
But the Clarets were resolute.
They sat in the top three from September onwards and, Ross Wallace, aside suffered no major injuries until the final few weeks of a gruelling season when Sam Vokes, Danny Ings and Kieran Trippier picked up knocks.
By then the damage was done.
Burnley were almost over the line and, Vokes aside, the latter pair were able to return to the squad having missed only a handful of games.
So was Sean Dyche’s side’s strong injury record a coincidence?
Mark Howard thinks not.
“We genuinely believe that we can reduce, almost completely, the soft-tissue injuries the players have by training them appropriately and the lads have been first class in training,” said Burnley’s head of sports science, once a key cog in the Premier League success enjoyed by Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers.
“When you look at time between games it’s not really rocket science sometimes to know you don't have a lot of time or do you have some time.
“Once you have a lot of time after a game it opens up opportunities to develop fitness so long as it's not too close to the next game.
“On a Saturday, Tuesday, Satsurday schedule there's not as much chance to develop fitness if we had Saturday-Saturday.
“In the middle of that week we've got some days that are far enough from the last game and far enough from the next game, so it's quite simple.
“Sports science has the potential to complicate things sometimes but what we do really well here is we have a good foundation and we work very well on the basics and that comes from all of us talking to each other every day – medical staff, sports science staff and the coaching staff.”
And Howard, who was on the staff at Blackburn Rovers before making the move down the M65, is quick to praise the Turf Moor staff – led by Sean Dyche, Ian Woan and Tony Loughlan – as well as the players themselves for their attitude towards training.
Howard added: “One thing that we don’t have to do here is worry about players not having done enough. When they do train, they train properly. “The players deserve a lot of credit for how they train every single day and the manager tells them that.
“That’s driven by the manager and the coaching staff and myself, there's a great mutual respect from everybody at the football club.
“The lads have been first class all season and the football training sessions delivered by the manager, Ian Woan and Tony Loughlan are set up to give them the appropriate amount of work and because we know they apply themselves properly in the work that we set then there’s no problems with fitness.
“It has been mentioned that we train so hard that sometimes the games feel easy, which is a good position to be in.
“The coaches have been brilliant this year because we all have a degree of flexibility so we can come up with a solution.
"It has been mentioned by players that the intensity of our training is very high which can be an issue when players come in, whoever they are if they haven't been training so hard there is an increased risk for injury when they do start training very hard every day.
“We take that into account, we build them into the programme slowly and make sure they're up and running.
“When players have joined us they've commented on the work ethic in training and they soon just drop into the same mentality of this is how we do things here.”
Listening to Howard it sounds like any newcomers to Turf Moor, and there are likely to be a few this summer, will face a tough time on the training ground.
“If they join at the start of pre-season we can do the tests as we do with all the other players,” he said.
“It becomes more difficult when a player may join us in the middle of the season because we've got to be a bit more careful when they join the rest of the group.
“We want to get them in there as quickly as possible and get them up to a level that we're happy with.”
It’s not just in the gym and on the training field where Howard feels Burnley are successful. It also comes down to diet.
"One of my responsibilities is to educate the players in a number of key areas and nutrition is a massive one,” he said.
“It's not rocket science - we try and educate the players just to eat a very healthy diet.
“There's no way of cheating the system, taking a tablet and making you recovery and perform very well. It's about hard work and getting things in the right order.
“Nutrition is a big part of what we've done this year. We like the lads to be lean and if you get the nutrition right they'll be healthy and will recover and be ready to play another game.”
Burnley’s fitness has long been heralded as a reason for their success this term, along with consistency of selection.
Indeed, the Clarets were able to field an unchanged starting line-up on 21 occasions during the 2013/14 campaign – more than any other club in England or Scotland.
Captain Jason Shackell was the only outfield player in the Championship to play every minute of every game.
Now the challenge is to replicate that next year, at a higher level, against sides who are likely to retain possession and force Burnley’s players to work harder.
Howard continued: “We’re looking to improve on what we did this year.
“We want to continue having all the squad available for all games in the Premier League and look at our performances and be a team that's known to be a very physically fit team that deliver the philosophy of the manager and the way he wants to play football.
“Essentially my job is to support the manager and the football philosophy.
"Every player will have a programme for the summer which will involve mental and physical rest.
“Every player has worked really hard this year and we do want their bodies and minds to rest.
“Then at the right time we've given them programmes where they will start to build up and build up a tolerance of certain exercises so when we come back into pre-season it's not a shock to the system when we start working really hard again.
“I'm sure the players will come back fresh and have a good fitness base ready to tackle pre-season and get ready for another exciting year.”
Howard believes the way the Clarets train has been able to play a key part in forging the team spirit in the Turf Moor dressing room that almost all the players have referred to at some stage during the season.
Indeed, the 36-year-old insists that the way the group trains can have such a positive effect on match day that Burnley can start games with such a high level of confidence that it should be no surprise they then go out and win matches.
He added: "When you generally train properly every day and you do all the things you need to do to be in that position it really gives you a big confidence boost in that tunnel.
“You turn around and know every one of your team-mates is the same, you know you're going out there in a good position. “When we've played other teams this year the lads know they're ready to go out there and compete and the rest is history really.
“It's got us where we are today."
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