Resident football analyst Kate Cohen interviews Raymond Verheijen about sports science. Host Richard Parkin analyses the A-League with Cohen and Ann Odong covers the W-League.

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 Part 1

(Interview begins at 29 min 10 sec)

Richard Parkin: Welcome back to the Leopold Method Radio Show. Our very special guest today is world renowned conditioning expert Raymond Verheijen. He was recently in Australia educating coaches on football periodisation. Our very own Kate Cohen caught up with him in Sydney.

Kate Cohen: Thanks for joining us Raymond. To start, you’re a big advocate of the Holistic approach to football training. Why is it so important that football exercises are a base for football fitness?

Raymond Verheijen: Well if you want to improve football, then football is the context. Science has proven that learning is influenced most by the context – implicit learning. So, if you want to improve football, the one thing that is necessary is the football context. And fitness, being an integral part of football, means that fitness training has to take part also in the football context. Traditionally fitness has been isolated from football, so people thought that first you had to be fit before you can play football. But thankfully the modern development, thankfully people understand that you don’t need fitness first to play football, but by playing football you develop fitness. And in the meantime, you also develop football, and that is what science proves.

KC: So when you’re using the football games as a base for improving fitness, is fitness something that can improve immediately or is it something that can take a long time to improve?

RV: Well first of all it’s important that you define ‘fitness’. And traditionally, like I said, fitness is defined in fitness language. Which means non-football language, non-contextual language. And if you define fitness in non-contextual language you will end up with non-contextual exercises. If you define fitness in football language, then you’ll end up with football exercises. So for example, what you don’t want to improve traditionally is aerobic capacity. But in football language, what you want to improve is maintaining the playing style for longer. And if your definition of fitness is maintaining the playing style for longer, then this definition already means – because it has a context – that you will play football, and that next week you will play for longer than this week, so that your body is forced to maintain it for longer. So language and definition is the starting point.

KC: So, you use that example of maintaining the playing style for longer. With your writing and the literature that you’ve written, you’ve defined football fitness in four terms. You mention maintaining the playing style for longer; minimising the recovery time; maintaining that minimal recovery time; and then maximising the football action. Can those four elements be trained simultaneously and what types of things do you need to do to improve those four elements?

RV: Yes the first thing every player wants is a better action. Better pass, better pressing, better defending etc. And now the question is – how does football fitness contribute within a better action? And in football language it means you want a maximum explosive action. So you want the pressing and the transition, and the passing executed more explosively. Because this higher explosiveness contributes to a higher speed of actions which is necessary because at the higher level you have less space and less time. So that is the first component. The second component is that you also want more actions per minute, you not only want to train quality of actions, but you also want to train the quantity – more actions per minute. And if you make more actions in the same period of time, it means that the recovery period between those actions gets shorter. In other words, from a football fitness point of view, you want quicker recovery between football actions. So you want the action itself to be maximum explosiveness, and between the actions you want quicker recovery. And these two components you also want to maintain them both for 90 minutes and then you have your four characteristics. Because you have defined it in football action language, then it is a very natural transition to football exercises.

KC: This theory, and the way you explain this theory, is this easy for an amateur coach to apply to their team when they may be only training two or three nights per week?

RV: Yeah it’s very simple. Because philosophically, everybody’s playing the same game. So whether you are an 8-year old girl in India playing football, or you are a 28-year old professional player in Spain, obviously there are big differences between these two players. But the similarities are ten times more. Because despite the differences, they both want to pass, they both want to dribble, they both want to win, they both want to score. The football characteristics are the same. So if you develop a football philosophy based on the characteristics of football, you develop a philosophy that is relevant for every single person in the world who plays football.

KC: On top of the extensive work you’ve done on football conditioning you’ve also done research on the importance of recovery times for elite performers. Some of your research has discovered that when a team with only two days recovery plays against a team with three or more days recovery, that they’re 39% less likely to win at home and 42% less likely to win away from home. For a professional coach who can’t alter their playing schedule, is there something they can do that maximises their chances of winning without increasing the likelihood of getting an injury for one of their players?

RV: Yeah, what we found was that two days between games is too short, that players are still fatigued on that third day when they have to play the next game. And basically it has to do with the fact that after a game you accumulate fatigue, you produce fatigue, you have to get rid of it – you have to recover. The day after it you do a recovery session to speed up that process, and normally on the second day after the game, you have a day off. I mean, everybody has experienced that in his life, probably. That if you play squash with a friend for two hours, then tomorrow your muscles are sore, but on the next day your muscle soreness is sometimes even higher. That means that on the second day after intensive work, the body is at its lowest. And the same is for football players, so the day after the game recovery, the second day after game off. But if you only have two days between games, then on that second day after the last game, is the last day before the next game. And what you don’t want is a day off the day before a game – so you have to train. So while the body is at its lowest and needs a rest day, you need to prepare for the next game, which means that you cannot fully recover from the last game because you’re already training again. So you have unfinished business when you play the next game. So you start the game with fatigue from the previous game. And if you play an away game on that day, then the effect is even worse than when you play a home game. And that also has to do with your brain and your thinking because if both teams have two rest days but you play at home with your home fans supporting you, or you play away, in terms of the thinking that is a huge difference. And as a result the away team will struggle more with fatigue than the home team.

RP: You’re listening to the Leopold Method Radio Show. That was part one of our interview with world renowned football conditioning expert Raymond Verheijen. After the break, more.

Part 2

RP: You’re listening to the Leopold Method Show on 2ser, your home of intelligent, insightful football analysis.Here is part two of Kate Cohen’s recent interview with football conditioning expert Raymond Verheijen.

KC: When you talk about traveling away from home, in Australia that is a big factor. For example Perth Glory traveling from one side of the country to the east coast of Australia is a long travel time. And also Australian teams competing in Asia, so not only short recovery time but also how important is that factor of travel in accumulating fatigue and increasing the likelihood of a player receiving an injury?

RV: Yeah, first for the traveling itself is fatiguing and also the traveling slows down the recovery from games. So that itself is a factor – the fact that these teams also have to travel, you cannot change, so the only thing you can influence is how you deal with it. So the traveling is a fact, the time difference is a fact, so what is smart in general is that you train first and travel second. So you train in the morning, you travel in the afternoon instead of training in the morning and traveling in the afternoon. Because that is risky, that is like Russian roulette, because then you are training in the afternoon with more fatigue because you have traveled. What is also important for these teams in Australia is that they optimise their recovery and use the best possible recovery strategies. And one of the best things to do, is straight after the game, go to the swimming pool. You increase your blood circulation, you get rid of your fatigue but without loading your muscles or your joints. Because their is gravity but not for your muscles and the joints. And also you get rid of your adrenaline. Because after the game, you sleep late, you sleep light, you sleep short because of the adrenaline. Go for a session to the pool straight after the game and you increase blood circulation means that you get rid of your adrenaline, you sleep earlier, you sleep deeper and you sleep longer. And sleep is the crucial element in recovery, so this recovery session straight after the game is the biggest area of improvement for teams in Australia.

KC: How much of an important role does diet, nutrition and hydration play? You mentioned sleep, but do those three elements also play a crucial factor in improving the recovery of players?

RV: Yeah absolutely. Nutrition is your fuel – you cannot drive a car with an empty tank. So players need carbohydrates, the energy to make football actions. Players need proteins to build up your muscles and repair muscles and the damage of the muscles after the game. But the most important thing is the fuel for your brain, because the muscles are the slaves of the brain. So yes you have to feed the muscles, but you have to feed the brain even more. And the fuel for your brain are neurotransmitters – that’s how the call it – and that is the latest development in sports in general and in football in particular. That you are not only feeding the slaves but you are also feeding the brain. So I think in the upcoming years nutrition will be one of the main areas.

KC: What would be a typical post-match meal for a player who has just played a game and then is expected to travel?

RV: Well straight after the game it is proteins – proteins are the most important. People always think that carbohydrates is the most important, but carbohydrates, your energy source, you can also restore that more gradually with your normal food in the day after the game etc. It goes slower, but it is possible. But proteins is something to repair your muscles. Restoring your energy can wait till tomorrow, but repairing your muscles cannot wait till tomorrow. And that is something you have to start with as quickly as possible, as soon as possible after the game. So proteins is crucial after the game, obviously also carbohydrates are important and supplements such as neurotransmitters for your brain. Because as long as your brain is functioning well then everything else in the body will follow.

KC: Finally, what role does sports science play in making sure players recover quicker and reduce fatigue so they are able to play again soon after.

RV: Well  science plays an important role, because there is a lot of things that football can learn from science. The only thing is that you have to put it in a context. What you see traditionally is that scientists step into the football world with good intentions but they keep speaking the wrong language. So nobody in the football world understands what they’re talking about. During the courses I always use a metaphor that I am from Holland, and I step into Australia and I keep speaking Dutch. Nobody will accept that. But in the football world, when people from outside step into the football world, and these people keep speaking scientific language, nobody says – ‘hey stop, football language please.’ So that is important that we can learn from science, but in football language. Because if you use scientific language then nobody understands what you’re talking about. Scientific words are non-contextual and as a result, science will result in non-contextual solutions, which by definition are less effective solutions than contextual solutions – football language. So I think the biggest challenge for sports science is to first of all call it football science, so that already means that there is a context, and for football scientists to learn the football language so that they transfer their valuable experience and their valuable knowledge in a language that everybody understands and will result in contextual solutions.

RP: Some fascinating thoughts from football conditioning expert Raymond Verheijen there. He spoke with Kate Cohen.