Notes From Dr Darren Burgess and Dr Craig Duncan: Performance Monitoring in Football

Dr Craig Duncan and Dr Darren Burgess both presented at the UK Sports Exercise Medicine Conference in 2011 on performance monitoring in football so I thought I would put my notes from both presentations in to one article.

Craig Duncan was until very recently Head of Human Performance at Sydney FC. For a full bio click here and you can also follow him on Twitter. I managed to speak to Craig after his presentation regarding some of the devices and methods he was using and he was extremely open and helpful.

Darren Burgess was Head of Fitness and Conditioning at Liverpool FC at the time of the Conference and has subsequently moved back to his native Australia to take up the role of High Performance Manager at Port Adelaide FC in the AFL. He is on Twitter so give him a follow too.

Dr Craig Duncan – Player Monitoring in Football

Dr Craig Duncan

Dr Craig Duncan

  • Sydney FC play in the A-League in Australia which has some challenges:
    • Salary Cap
    • Lots of travel
    • Small squad
    • Summer Competitions
  • As a result it is very important to closely monitor the players to keep them playing
  • However, don’t become obsessed by injury – are you mitigating risk or maximising performance?
  • Performance staff are in the service industry – serving the players
  • Pre-training the following are measured on waking:
    • Sleep – length and quality
    • Psychological wellbeing
    • Fatigue
    • Muscle soreness
    • Heart Rate Variability and Resting Heart Rate
  • Pre-training the following are measured at the club:
    • Hydration
    • Weight
    • Flexibility
    • Vertical Jump – as a measure of neuromuscular fatigue – this has subsequently been removed
    • Cortisol/Testosterone and IgA tests were also done but removed as the results took too long to receive to make a difference to programming
  • In Training the following are measured:
    • Total Distance – GPS
    • Body Load – GPS
    • Accelerations and decelerations – GPS
    • Heart Rate
    • Hydration
    • Video – how well are they moving?
  • Post Training the following are measured:
    • Rate of Perceived Exertion
    • IgA
    • Hormone status
    • Recovery – using a points system
    • Hydration
  • When implementing these methods it is important to start slow and get each one right so that they actually make a difference to the training and so that the effectiveness of each can be measured
  • Educate the players and coaches – they have to see the value as it can be intrusive and time consuming
  • Communicate the results to players and coaches
  • Have an effective management system
  • Use players’ personal technology (such as smartphone apps) if team systems are too expensive. Craig used the ithlete app to measure HRV for example. Once the players saw the benefit they were happy to buy the app themselves

Dr Darren Burgess – Performance Monitoring in Premiership Football

Dr Darren Burgess

Dr Darren Burgess

  • Application of the data is of utmost importance – don’t just gather data for the sake of it
  • Used to be 5.5 training days per game in pre-season and 2.4 training days per game in season
  • Now its 4.2 training days per game in pre-season and 3.8 training days per game in season
  • Measures:
    • Total Load/Exertion from matches/gym/travel/International fixtures/perceptual load
    • Recovery – Hormonal/neural/structural/biochemical
  • If players don’t believe in a modality it won’t work – e.g. ice baths work on some but not others
  • Measure game time as minutes played – if they are low then bring them up and if they are high then use recovery
  • Daily ratings – sleep, muscle soreness, Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
  • Just as with ice baths the importance of belief is a big factor for RPE
  • Do they understand RPE? 13 nationalities speaking 7 languages
  • Have the tools you use been validated? In your team environment?
  • RPE and Heart Rate loads correlated well for Liverpool
  • Use data retrospectively if you get an injury – there were several instances where undertraining caused as many injuries as overtraining
  • Quantify all your drills/games so that you know the effects and can tell the coach which to use depending on the effect you want to elicit – power, capacity, aerobic, anaerobic
  • Polar HR monitors have a 9% error rate and GPS has a 7% error rate yet everyone questions GPS but not HRM
  • GPS – use a trundle wheel to check accuracy so that you know the smallest worthwhile change
    • If a player is 4% off their target but the error rate is 5% then it is insignificant and no action is needed
  • Look at the match data and check the loads for a loss vs a win
  • Higer loads seen in losses as they didn’t have the ball and therefore had to work harder
  • Consider the training following a loss – is extra work likely to drive further fatigue and increase the likelihood of another loss?
  • High Heart Rates don’t necessarily mean the player is working hard – they could just be unfit – you need to compare it to GPS
  • There are lots of errors associated with neuromuscular fatigue measured through Counter Movement Jumps etc.
  • Timing post game? 2 days post game but are those 2 days off? Reaction time? Are they motivated? What if the results are poor? What are your strategies to improve?
  • Blood and saliva testing was used but collection errors (variations in time of day, temperature, baselines, personal variability) together with length of time taken to obtain results meant it was dropped
  • Testosterone and Cortisol tests were stopped when they found the same results could be obtained just by asking the players how tired they were

Both presentations were an excellent insight in to the level of detail the professional clubs go to in order to maximise the performances of their players.

Two key messages I took from both presentations were:

  1. Monitoring is a valuable tool given the increasing physical and psychological demands on players but it must serve a measurable purpose in programming the training and selection of players for its continued use
  2. Communication with the players and coaching staff in a language they understand as to what you are measuring, why you are doing it and the impact of the results is imperative


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