Southampton Football Club hosted their inaugural Sports Science Undergraduate Summit last week at their Staplewood Campus. Hosted by Jonathan Woodhouse (Academy Data Scientist) alongside the entire sports science department, the primary aim of the day was to provide current University undergraduates with an insight into the practicalities of delivering applied sports science within professional football.
Employment in Football
Alek Gross (Head of Sports Science) kicked the day off by providing current students with an insight into what it is really like in the industry by discussing, “How to Get Ahead”. Alek explained, “It is very difficult for students to break into the industry, especially as sports science related degrees are heavily oversubscribed, therefore, the hints and tips will hopefully help them to get their foot in the door”.
As a club we place great emphasis on our work placement scheme, as we supervise seven sports science/strength and conditioning students each year. Everyone within the department completed an internship during the early stages of their careers, so we understand how important they can be when attaining the skills and knowledge required to gain full-time employment. Throughout Alek’s presentation, he made it clear how crucial it is to be a good person, take every opportunity and stressed the importance of standing out from the crowd.
The second presentation of the morning was introduced by Laura Bowen (First Team Data Scientist) and Jonathan Woodhouse as they discussed monitoring strategies employed within the club and how the data collected is translated into practice. It would have been outside the time limits of the workshop to discuss each data point collected, therefore it was decided to place GPS at the forefront of the presentation as we believe it is now a fundamental area of monitoring within football that not all students would have gained exposure to.
The acute:chronic workload ratio (ACWR) was described and Laura cited her published research investigating the ACWR with regards to accumulated workloads and injury risk amongst elite youth football players [you can also read more on the ACWR on Sports Discovery here]. Students were challenged to be critical when analysing data and to be aware of the need to consolidate other methods of monitoring fitness, load and fatigue - including speaking with players - and not solely rely on GPS metrics. Furthermore, the need to appropriately interpret, contextualise and apply data was re-enforced. Data should affect practice.
To finish off the first round of presentations, Bill Styles (First Team Sports Scientist) gave an overview of the return-to-play process at Southampton. Again this is an extensive topic with many layers, however the focus was on the fundamental processes and skills that the delegates would need to understand prior to full time employment. Bill described the holistic process as “being an opportunity for the individual athlete but not forgetting that the progressions need to be objectively driven, involving shared decisions across a multi-disciplinary team”.
Growth and Maturation
The second round of presentations described the journey a player would undertake from joining the academy at 8 years of age to graduating through to the first team. Sam Scott (Academy Lead U9-U16 S&C Coach) discussed growth & maturation and the motives for analysing this from a talent identification and development viewpoint. For many students graduating from University, it is uncommon to walk straight into a first-team role, for that reason, it is necessary for them to be familiar with the terms and knowledge regarding athletic development for the youth population. Sam answered the question, “Should we even assess growth and maturation?” and then described how the data derived though these assessments can affect the development of youth athletes. In addition to this, he rationalised the process through which the sports science department are attempting to maximise the development of both early and late maturers as they go through our system.
Youth Athletic Development
Matt Depledge (Academy S&C Coach) followed this by presenting on how growth and maturation data is implemented to individualise training programmes and daily practice. Matt went into further detail about how the timing and tempo of maturation varies alongside the advantages and disadvantages of early and late maturing athletes. One of the key take home messages (alongside his terrible jokes) was how fundamental physical fitness qualities are trained throughout childhood, and this was a popular topic during the Q&A afterwards.
Professional Athletic Development
Tom Henson (Lead Academy S&C Coach) and Matt Sayce (Academy S&C Coach) chatted about athletic development within the professional development phase (PDP). The audience were made aware that this is a unique group as the age range is from U17-U23. Discussing the roles and responsibilities within the PDP, Tom said “Ultimately, our role as sports scientists and strength & conditioning coaches is to fully understand the environment required to maximise performance”. I think that many relevant staff would agree with this statement and the environment encompasses coaches, players, support staff, the surroundings and many more factors. Matt noted how it is imperative that the communication pathway needs to be functioning on a daily basis, especially as players move between squads regularly. In conjunction with this, he went into detail regarding the differences in physical demands between squads and ensuring that players are prepared if they transfer through the age groups.
Tour & Practical Sessions
The students were given a tour of the Staplewood Campus before regrouping to complete practical sessions introduced by Matt Depledge, Matt Sayce and Sam Beaglehole (Academy S&C Coach). This allowed the application and practical examples of some of the theoretical content delivered earlier in the day.
Getting into the Industry
The final session of the day was a panel chat with Chris Searle (Research & Data Scientist at Chelsea FC), Dominic Blossom (Lead Academy S&C Coach at MK Dons) and Jonathan Woodhouse, hosted by Tom Henson. This session was designed for the delegates to ask questions to individuals that have recently completed a work placement at Southampton FC, and have progressed into full-time roles in football. Tom asked the group to raise their hand if they had learnt something new throughout the day and suggested placements are potentially essential after the 100% show of hands.
The day was enjoyed by the Southampton Staff and this was reflected by the delegates on the day as reflected in some of the post conference feedback below.
“Everything was really useful, and it was interesting to hear how people in our shoes got to where they are”
“Staff incredibly good, would 100% recommend”
“Thank you so much for an invaluable event, I hope you hold it again and the Q&A was fantastic”
As a department we will review the day once the busy pre-season period is complete and we will make plans for a similar event next year. In the meantime, you can view photos of the event here on the official Southampton FC website.