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On September 10th, Teesside University and Middlebrough FC hosted a football medicine and science conference entitled:

‘Using and Creating Scientific Knowledge to Improve Physical Performance in Football’.

Middlesbrough FC Sport Scientist, Jonathan Madden, has kindly written a summary for Sports Discovery on what was clearly an interesting and insightful day.


The fundamental aim of the conference was to demonstrate the mutual relationship that a professional football club and academic institute can have to in order to promote best practices in the applied environment. Those of you reading this who currently work within professional sport will understand the restraints that practitioners face on a daily basis when working with athletes to implement the findings of academic research. However, when producing research for publication, academics and researchers are not always aware of such problems that can arise in the training of elite athletes and therefore research does not always compliment working practices.

There have been previous conferences between universities and football clubs, however the current event was the first, to the organising committee’s knowledge, to have equal contributions from a club and university representative in each presentation around a central theme. The format of each presentation was also unique in consisting of; a formal 20 minute presentation, delegate tasks provided by the presenters and then feedback into the conference session. This format was chosen to enhance the sharing of practices and experiences around each presentation.

The programme for the day was as follows:

9.10am Welcome
Iain Spears and Bryan English

9.15am What’s in it for the business? The benefits of a university-club collaboration
Mark Simpson and Robin Bloom

9.45am Individual responses during group training programmes
Greg Atkinson and Alan Batterham
Chairs: Matthew Weston and Jonathan Madden

10.30am Refreshments

10.45am Time to train, when to do what and the influence of time scheduling on performance and training responses
Barry Drust and Greg Atkinson
Chairs: Matt Portas and Jonathan Madden

11.30am Making sense of training data
Matthew Weston and Jonathan Madden
Chairs: Alan Batterham and Chris Rusling

12.15pm Lunch
Poster sessions and sponsors’ exhibitions

1.15pm Make your own cloud-based app: simple remote monitoring of athletes
Iain Spears and Adam Kerr
Chairs: Greg Atkinson and Jonathan Madden

2.00pm Hamstrings - a thing of the past - due to the manager, the medic or the magician?
Bryan English and Paul Chesterton
Chairs: Iain Spears and Chris Moseley

2.45pm Refreshment

3.45pm Q&A: What’s in it for us? Players’ and managers’ perspectives on good and bad sport science and medicine
Jonathan Woodgate, Chris Moseley, Alan Batterham, Ruben Jonkind and Barry Drust
Chairs: Bryan English and Matt Portas

4.30pm Final discussion and closing remarks

The following paragraphs provide a brief synopsis of each presentation and provide further links to key reading material where appropriate:

Session 1

The day started with an introduction from Robin Bloom (Middlesbrough Football Club Lawyer) and Mark Simpson (Dean of School of Social Sciences, Business and Law, Teesside University) to highlight the importance of a university-club collaboration. Key points raised from the talk included; training of staff, providing ‘work experience’ placements for students, promotion of club community reputation and access to facilities and athletes for research purposes.

Session 2

The first presentation of the day was hosted by Greg Atkinson and Alan Batterham of Teesside University and used the results or the YYIRT2 test obtained from an elite group of female footballers to highlight the individual responses to training programmes. The group session demonstrated the steps that should be used to highlight ‘responders’ and ‘non-responders’:

  1. Identify typical error and variability (CV) of test being used
  2. Calculate the smallest worthwhile change (SWC) needed to see an improvement
  3. Case-by case, examine the probability of whether a change is positive or negative

Through discussions with the audience, the presenters highlighted the varying methods that currently exist in order to achieve the steps above and directed them towards the resources of Will Hopkins, a leader in the field of statistics (

Session 3

Barry Drust, Liverpool FC and Liverpool John Moores University, presented the problems that applied practitioners face when programming meso -, macro- and micro-cycles to optimise physical and technical performance. Practitioners must consider the influence of ‘pure science’ theories such as the daily circadian rhythms of physiological variables (e.g. hormone responses, body temperature etc.) and ‘logistical issues’ such as fixture scheduling and travel. The group discussion consensus was that there is no ‘perfect’ solution and practitioners need to be flexible in their approach to training.

Session 4

Matt Weston, Reader in Exercise Science from Teesside University, discussed the importance of being clear and concise when collecting data from players on a daily basis to reduce data volume and data noise. Specific examples used the development of RPE ratings, to the CR-100 method to the differentiated RPE (d-RPE) as a method to truly quantify the true demands of your match and training activities.

During my own section of the presentation, I discussed how we at Middlesbrough Football Club interpret daily GPS data to periodise and maximise first team player performance during training in relation to benchmark data reflecting the managements training philosophy. Also I provided an insight into the short and long term monitoring of rehabilitation in relation to return to train (RTT) and return to performance criteria (RTP) that reflect the typical responses of the individual and the positional demands of training respectively.

Session 5

Iain Spears, Professor in Biomechanics from Teesside University and Adam Kerr, Head of Fitness at Middlesbrough FC, discussed the practical application of providing feedback to players using cloud-based apps on topics such as body fat measurements, appropriate recovery strategies post-match/training and daily GPS responses to training. Iain provided an overview of the data processing steps needed to create such an app using Unity 3D software ( The key message from the presentation was that practitioners need to be concise on the information that they distribute to the players in order to have the greatest impact.

Session 6

Paul Chesterton (Senior Lecturer and ex- Sunderland AFC physiotherapist) and Bryan English (Head of Medical, Derby County) delivered a presentation regarding the prevalence of hamstring injuries. Paul provided a systematic review of hamstring eccentric loading whilst Bryan discussed the practical applications of loading during hamstring rehabilitation. Increasing overall ‘athleticism’ of the player using both a variety of exercises and surface types (sand, gymnastic sprung floors, water) should be the focus of the rehabilitation process, not just increasing localised eccentric strength.

Session 7

The final session of the day was a question and answer discussion with a selection of presenters and current Middlesbrough and ex-England international Jonathan Woodgate. ‘Woody’ shared his experiences with sports science at the clubs he has previously played for, whilst answering questions from the audience including; the key qualities that support staff need to possess to be successful and his perceptions of a coaches interpretation of sports science. The discussion highlighted the need for staff to be trustworthy, flexible in their approaches and be willing to provide open lines of communication with players and other members of support staff.


On behalf of the conference organising committee, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the sponsors of the day, Catapult and Perform Better, and also the staff of Teesside University’s Darlington Campus in providing the facilities that helped to make the day successful. Also, we would like to thank Shaun McLaren, Tom Macpherson, Mike Graham and Dann Cooley for their technical assistance on the day.  We hope that the event hosted between the club and university will become an annual event.

For even more on this event Shaun McLaren, one of the University PhD students, has also put together a storyboard of the day which you can view further below. Also you will find everyone involved on Twitter using the handles below.

Key links to follow 

#TUMFC15 on twitter



Matt Portas – @mdportas

Greg Atkinson - @Greg_at_TeesUni

Alan Batterham - @Alan_Batterham

Matt Weston - @MWeston73

Jonathan Madden – @jonnymadden24

Barry Drust - @BARRYD22

Adam Kerr - @AdzKerr

Paul Chesterton - @paul_chesterton


Jonathan Madden