BURNLEY’S squad may have returned to pre-season training as a group last week, but they have been building up to this moment individually for far longer.

The days of taking the summer off and returning to the training ground having sat on the sofa for six weeks are long gone, and while Sean Dyche’s players certainly enjoyed toasting their successes of last season, they were quickly getting both their mind and body ready for the return to Gawthorpe.


The footballs tend to come out quickly in pre-season now, with small-sided games taking place on most days last week at Burnley, and part of the reason for that is that the players have undergone their own mini pre-season for two weeks to build up to a base level of fitness before the real work starts.

That is just one of the many advances sports science has made in the game in recent years.

In part it is to boost injury prevention, and the data and detail now available to the players helps them understand what they need to do during the close season to look after their own bodies.

While Dyche, assistant manager Ian Woan and first team coach Tony Loughlan took training this week, a key figure in the pre-season fitness work is Mark Howard, Burnley’s head of sports science.

“Although it’s the first time we’ve seen them it’s not technically the start of pre-season, they’ve had some work to do which brings them back in,” he explains of last week’s return to Gawthorpe.

“Then we just get started, it’s a long process, we want to nudge them forward each day.

“If you go from doing not very much to doing an awful lot then you’re at a higher risk. With a squad of players if you haven’t been doing much as squad then you do a lot on a day or over a week, because we look at weekly loads as well, the risk goes up quite a lot.”

The individual work before the group return to pre-season means hardly any players across the game report back unfit now.

“A long time ago that happened, I don’t think more recently players did nothing,” said Howard. “I think they realise now you have to do something.

“With the introduction of sports science and medical provision at a higher level with a lot more understanding players are well informed about what the close season needs to look like.

“That’s the big difference now.

“Years and years ago players maybe didn’t understand what they needed to do, and this is all linked into injury prevention, so if you don’t want to get injured in pre-season then you need to manage every day properly with the coaching staff and get the balance.

“But you also need to prepare for that and get the balance in pre-season, and make sure you’re well rested but also prepared to come in both mentally and physically, both are very important.”

After every training session Howard and his team will retreat to the sports science offices at Gawthorpe to analyse what they have seen.

Every player wears a GPS unit now, allowing the club to monitor how they have worked in a session and what signs they are showing.

But it is about far more than just crunching the numbers. Those numbers are then used to inform decisions about future sessions and workloads.

“We look at every player every day,” explains Howard, who has been head of sports science at Burnley since February, 2013, having previously held a similar role with Blackburn Rovers.

“What’s more important is how we use the information, we have millions of data points every day, and we need to make sure they’re not doing too much too quickly.

“We have individual thresholds and squad targets. We manage that every day, we sit down with players and give them feedback.

“We coordinate the football and the physical objectives.

“The science really supports the football philosophy to make sure everyone is on the same page and we’re all moving in the right direction.”

The balls may make an early appearance in pre-season these days, but that is as much for psychological reasons as footballing ones, with the mental side of preparation just as vital as the physical side.

“For motivation players like to see the ball,” said Howard.

“Every club will do a different version of the same thing, some will be more running based early doors, some will be purely football, but we like to get the balance of the two, we think it’s important.

“The fact players do that preparation work means we can get stuck into football a little bit earlier than we would otherwise.”

The mental side of returning rested and refreshed will be key with Burnley’s Euro 2016 trio, with Tom Heaton and Stephen Ward currently due back the week after the Clarets’ Evian training camp, and Sam Vokes a week after that.

“They’ve all been training, some more than others, playing in games so getting the balance of rest is important now so they’ve got some time off so that they’re psychologically ready when they come back in,” said Howard.

“The longer they go in the tournament the challenge is your closer to the start of the season, so it’s getting an appropriate time off and then coming back in and us trying to accelerate them back into games quickly without taking too much risk from an injury point of view.

“It starts with them being motivated when they come through the door. We give them a few bits and pieces to try and make sure when they’re resting now their fitness doesn’t drop off too much.

“They’ve all had conversations with the gaffer about having time off and the psychology comes into it. We want them back feeling they’ve had a mental rest and that they’ve factually had a rest as well, physically and mentally.

“The biggest thing is when they come back that they are hungry to go through three or four weeks of pre-season and get into games and get to optimal condition before the games start.”