In this latest blog post we interview Jack Nayler, who is currently working as the Sport Scientist in Carlo Ancelotti’s backroom staff at Real Madrid. Jack has previously worked at Chelsea Football Club and Paris St Germain,after graduating from Loughborough University. He talks here about the challenges in his career path and his mentor Nick Broad, his thoughts on some of the debates in Sport Science and football today and his advice for aspiring Sport Scientists.
You are currently working as a Sport Scientist at Real Madrid; can you tell us about the career path that has got you there?
My career path really starts at Loughborough University. Nick Broad at Chelsea FC contacted the University as he was looking for two student interns. Through the application process I was selected and worked at the club for the 2008-2009 season between the second and third years of my degree. Having finished at Loughborough in 2010 I couldn’t find any work. In November Nick rang offering me three months work that consisted of data entry and organisation. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking to do at the time but it was the environment I wanted to work in and Nick was someone I wanted to work for. I ended up staying until the end of the season on a rolling contract and was offered a full time position ready to start after the off-season break. Unfortunately the club decided to change the management and a number of the support staff including Nick so I never got the opportunity to start.
After another 6 months unemployed in which I enrolled on an MSc course, Nick rang me to say he was going to work with Carlo Ancelotti at Paris St-Germain and needed some help for one month to get set up in a new country and new environment. One month turned in to eighteen and a full time position. One year later in January 2013 Nick passed away in a car accident in Paris. I lost my boss, my mentor and my best friend in Paris overnight, my life was turned upside down. I went from graduating university to having to act as a stand in Performance Manager at a Champions League club in two-and-a-half years. Initially it was a huge challenge but I ended up learning an awful lot from the experience and it helped inform my ambitions for my career moving forward. At the end of the season in which we won the league, Carlo announced he was moving to Real Madrid and asked me to accompany him. I loved my time in Paris and it was tough to leave after only 18 months there but Real Madrid was an opportunity not to be missed. It is a very different experience to clubs I have worked in before, the pressure to perform in every match is huge but the first season went fantastically well and we ended by winning the Champions League which was beyond anything I could have hoped for.
I am still completing my MSc (part time due to work) and learning a lot in a very different environment to where I have worked before. I am very fortunate to have had the experiences I have had thus far.
Who have been the biggest influences on your career?
By far and away the biggest influence has been Nick Broad. His attention to detail, high standards and forward thinking taught me a great deal. My mantra is “What would Nick do” whenever I am faced with decisions at work and I have continued to work in a way that is heavily influenced by him.
Paul Clement (assistant coach to Carlo at Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid) has been a great help to me as well. As the only English guys in Madrid and in Paris after Nick passed away, Paul offered a lot of support and direction to me and I will always be very appreciative of that. He is an excellent coach and it is good to work closely with him and understand how he thinks, so I can support him in the best way possible.
I have been very fortunate to work with a large number of different staff at all the clubs I have worked at and I have learnt something from all of them, both good and bad things. Working where I have has meant working with some of the best players in the world. They can be very demanding, but often because they have high standards and you have to strive to meet these.
You are currently doing a distance learning Masters degree in Exercise Science (Strength and Conditioning) with Edith Cowan University, Australia – how have you found the course and juggling it with a full time role? What do you think it adds to yourself as a practitioner?
I have really enjoyed the course. It has been a bit of a long path to take (currently on the third of four years) but it has been very informative. The advantage of the course is that it is nearly all delivered online. The lectures are loaded up each week and I can just log on when I have the time and complete the work I have to do. Normally you would do three modules a semester and complete the course in 18 months, I am doing one a semester hence the longer time frame but I find it fits well around work and the work load is manageable this way.
On top of the increase in knowledge I have gained it has made me a better researcher and critic of literature and has taught me to write more concisely. All skills that are very important in this line of work. I have also gained an insight in to conditioning practices in other sports. I think it is important to step out of your environment sometimes to get a different perspective, I have found it can really help spark new ideas in the way we work.
Lastly the lecturers on the course are world leaders in their fields so to have access to them and their experience is hugely beneficial.
There is a big debate in football with regards to all training on pitch versus using gym work to supplement conditioning – what are your views on this debate?
We work with a very pitch dominant model at the moment. I think GPS analysis of players is developing at a rapid rate and has the potential to provide us with a lot more detailed information, particularly using the accelerometer, in the future. Whilst I don’t think that footballers need squad wide strength and conditioning programs as you might see in a sport such as Rugby, I really believe that there are individual weaknesses and needs for each player that can addressed with some targeted work in the gym. I think in general although we don’t want to increase body mass too much we can help to make the players generally more athletic. I also believe the work in the gym doesn’t have to be carried out in a “football specific” way, but rather we should aim to make general improvements in athleticism or any weaknesses and allow the players to then express those improvements in the specific environment on the pitch.
Last week you spoke at the UK Sport Elite conference on “individualised planning of training and the integration of science and medicine into the coaching process” next month – can you tell us a bit about why and how you believe (GPS) technology should be incorporated into monitoring football?
For a start I think for any monitoring process to succeed (whatever the modality used) it has to have consistency. We monitor with GPS and heart rate every player every day in training and rehabilitation. In this way we can build up a longitudinal profile of the players allowing us to analyse any fluctuations in their results that may be indicative of performance changes, fatigue or injury. Everything is accurately stored in databases and we can delve back at any moment to points in the past to carry out comparisons and analyses.
I don’t think that there is any one piece of technology that provides us with an overall view of how a player is doing. I think that assessing a source of data streams will add pieces to the complicated puzzle of player monitoring in relation to training load and fatigue.
There are several things to consider when looking at a monitoring system/piece of technology. The first is what return will we see for investment? Can this very expensive piece of technology tell us any more than a simple questionnaire or existing data sources? Secondly how intrusive is it to the player and coach? Will we be able to take the blood samples to analyse lactate levels mid-training? Almost certainly not with any regularity. Thirdly is it quick to analyse and report? We inhabit a fast paced environment, playing on average every 3.5 days last season; can we process, analyse and report the data in time to make meaningful changes? With our GPS system we have our data live on the pitch through the real time functionality plus we distribute our coaches report within 2 hours after the end of the training session with all session and drill data broken down accordingly. Lastly will key staff (coaches, doctors, physiotherapists) understand the application of the data and use it to make changes. This last point largely comes down to our ability as sports scientists to educate others as we have seen it can fundamentally change working practices and staff have to be willing to change and adapt.
Sport Science is an extremely competitive industry to get into – do you have any advice for young practitioners just starting out on a similar path trying to break into the industry?
The number of graduates now with a sports science degree is huge so differentiating yourself from the crowd is key. Experience will go a long way to helping you; it is unfortunate that so often this means unpaid work, but if you are offered opportunities I would take them. Don’t just look to professional sport for this experience though. Distinguishing yourself by working with local clubs and university teams may be just as valuable and show you are proactive and willing to learn. It may also get you closer to the action and decision-making, skills that an intern just making drinks and entering data in a premiership club won’t get.
Qualifications are good and having at least an MSc is pretty much a pre-requisite now, and being well read and keeping abreast of the latest developments in the field will be very important. However it doesn’t show you can survive in the environment. A large part of the job is dealing with players, coaches, medical staff, and other non-sporting staff within the club. People skills are massively important, it is a lot more than sitting behind an excel screen. Look for experiences that will develop and improve these skills, they may not necessarily be in sport.
Lastly you need patience, understand that not everyone will reply to speculative letters, there will be a very large number of people applying for any openings that become available and opportunities may be few and far between.
If you are passionate and can effectively display that passion and your skills then it will stand you in good stead.
Sports Discovery is a UK based organisation working with sports professionals from around the world. The intention of this website is to explore and advance cutting-edge sports science thinking, particularly the ideas of Nick Broad. More about Nick can be found here.