We are yet to see the effects of one of the biggest challenges of the Premier League’s lockdown: the isolation and lack of group training in the past three months.
When the COVID-19 enforced break was announced and clubs sent into lockdown, squads were instructed to work alone. Fitness had to be kept up, diets followed and there was a distinct lack of footballers playing football. So, how could coaches, sports scientists and club staff possibly assist multi-million pound footballers through a period of strict isolation - while also keeping track of their wellness, mental health and whether they had contracted coronavirus or not?
There’s an app for that - such is the modern era. Most offices have conducted their meetings via Zoom during lockdown. For elite football clubs, many have opted for the FIFA-backed TrainMyAthlete service, set up in November 2019 by sports physiotherapist Liam Hayes.
FourFourTwo: What does TrainMyAthlete actually do that helps clubs in lockdown?
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Liam Hayes, CEO of TrainMyAthlete: Essentially what it does is it collects data from athletes in three components. So you’ve got GPS, which is what players wear during a match, which tells us how fast they’ve run, the distance they’ve covered, how many sprints they’ve done in a match. The second silo is how much volume and intensity they’re doing during training - so how hard they’re finding it, how many sessions they’re doing. And then the third silo is how the players are feeling - so how well they’re sleeping, how are their stress levels, how are their mood levels. And all three of these components are really important for sports scientists and medical teams to know if a player is ready to perform, if they’re at risk of injury and something needs to be done to action them.
FFT: How did the platform come about?
LH: I was a physio and I was sick of creating Excel spreadsheets for what plans players should be doing, and what they should be eating, when they were going away for the off-season and going on holiday. I’d spend 15 hours on it and they’d just leave it in the changing room afterwards. You’d be following up on Whatsapp and emails, asking “What’s your weight?” So we initially designed an app that could handle a squad’s nutrition data, what they should be doing when they’re not at training in terms of workouts and being able to log that. And then from that, it exploded and we had everyone from the Premier League down to the National League and clubs across Europe using it.
FFT: So TrainMyAthlete must be good at monitoring how players are doing during lockdown, right?
LH: Yes. What’s been really great since COVID-19, is that there are other systems like this that are in place, but they’ve never been able to do anything remotely. So normally what would happen is that players would turn up at the training ground, and sports scientists would meet them and physically ask, “How well did you sleep last night? What are your energy levels? What are your mood levels?” But they were never able to do that from afar - now they have to. We’ve seen a big increase in clubs coming over to us now during the pandemic because the app can screen everything remotely.
FFT: What does the app do to try and keep a player fit and healthy during the coronavirus pandemic?
LH: Questionnaires get sent to the players’ apps and they’ll be able to screen for things like coronavirus, which clubs have been doing.
Within the app, they’re able to set up an alert system. So if you were to answer, for example, that you’d had a high temperature and you’d had a cough, the club doctor would get an email and phone notification, telling them that the player could potentially have coronavirus. And from there, they could action, do testing, whatever that might be.
It’s the same with checking on their sleep, checking on their mood levels, doing that all remotely, and most importantly, sending them all their nutrition and diet plans all remotely while they’re away from the training ground.
FFT: What have you found during lockdown? Are players staying fit enough?
LH: In terms of COVID-19, we’ve had some really interesting data. One of the big ones is that players have only got limited equipment outside the training ground - obviously some players will have their own gyms - but what we’re finding is that the players are doing a lot of cardiovascular training. They’re going out for long runs and they’re going training twice a day. That’s great for your basic training.
FFT: What happens if a Premier League player contracts COVID-19?
LH: The medical teams get an alert if someone’s temperature is too high or they’ve got a cough. What a lot of the teams are doing if they have private testing facilities is that they will organise a trip to the individuals’ house, they’ll send them a test kit for them to test. We’ve had three coronavirus alerts from the teams that are using it. Fortunately after testing, they’ve been OK so it hasn’t turned out to be coronavirus. But it’s turned out to be that powerful tool to make sure that the players are well and safe.
FFT: So physios and coaches use the app in order to stay in very close contact with players during lockdown?
LH: One of the key things is that the physio is able to communicate with them all the time. They’ll be able to send them videos of what to do; they can send them workouts and rehab plans. But even just keeping them up to date: one of the cool things is that as a player, you can go onto videos on the app and upload the video. So if you have a swollen knee, if you’ve hurt yourself, you can upload a video that the physio can see remotely straight from here. So that will allow them to say, “Right, you’re not doing any training today”, and they’ll be able to send a plan which might involve applying ice or doing particular exercises to rehabilitate.
FFT: Theoretically, could physios still treat players during lockdown for serious injuries?
LH: In extreme cases, the guidelines are that if someone’s sustained a nasty injury in a training season back, one of the physios can use PPE and treat them acutely, but then after that, their rehabilitation is able to be done remotely. Once they’ve done that, there’ll be a questionnaire and all those analytics come together and it gives them an indication of whether that player’s ready to train or ready to play. So what would normally be done face to face, hands-on - the new normal is a remote conversation.
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