In the Hertha BSC football academy, the same rigorous COVID-19 measures used in facilities across sports are in place in order to allow academy operations, training and daily interaction to happen safely and effectively under one roof.
Together with Markus Hödl, Sports Scientist and U19 Assistant Coach and Athletic Trainer, we have examined how the current situation influences regular routine and what other factors play a role for young soccer players.
Hödl was brought into the Hertha setup because of his experience and expertise in training and recovery management and performance monitoring. From the beginning, he has been the direct contact between the academy and the first team, working with Henrik Kuchno (Athletic Trainer, Hertha BSC first team). The Hertha first team has been relying on support from Firstbeat Sports features for almost four years. Last year, internal load monitoring was expanded to include the academy. Coaches working with the senior and junior teams access Firstbeat’s performance monitoring data through an API integration with the SAP sports team management software.
“Almost every day there are new regulations and official requirements that we all have to comply with,” explains Hödl. “Thankfully, with our in-house hygiene concept, we are well-equipped for the current special circumstances.
“Nevertheless, the implementation of daily training schedules is definitely an organizational and logistical challenge. The most important thing, however, is that – thanks to the prudent approach of our academy management – we can maintain the training and education routine under these difficult conditions.”
Challenges to the regular routine
Working with the next generation brings its own special challenges. “In soccer, everyone would like to see special types of players and characters. These are, of course, sometimes very ‘creative’ in daily training,” says Hödl with a wink.
“Besides that, it is a unique situation overall anyay. The young players often must overcome their personal pain threshold. And even if the boys’ self-motivation to become professional players is very strong, a coach must also act as a motivator and be able to reach the players emotionally.”
Part of being an academy player is handling an extensive workload. “We train up to eight times a week, many are still going to school, some have additional specific training units and may still be on a national team course”, Hödl explains. “The players are often permanently working to their max and it is remarkable what the guys have to deliver and endure.”
On the other hand, it is also important to show sensitivity in dealing with the young people. “That sometimes means giving the freedom for individual play and movement, where then only the fun and enjoyment of the game are in the foreground,” reveals Hödl. “It goes without saying that this is part of learning and personal development. The pressure that has built up must also be released occasionally.”
Mediation of efficient and effective training
Based on these basic pillars, it is also important to teach the budding professionals how to train efficiently and effectively. Correct and well-timed recovery is essential.
“This is often a big challenge because young, hungry players in particular tend to do too much and forget about recovery,” says Hödl.
“Good recovery is a recurring theme for us. This means objective communication with every player, and a close eye on training, is essential. For me, this is where the Firstbeat Sports System is extremely important and supportive because it enables me to immediately and easily recognize, point out, and go beyond stress limits in a controlled manner – or even not to exceed them. The key phrase being ‘injury prevention’,”
The Training Effect metric is particularly useful here because the players can easily follow it themselves and it can be used to benchmark training limits in real time.
“The guys know what the target is in training and we can communicate this very easily during a session. In this regard, I am in constant contact with head coach Michael Hartmann, who can then react in a target-oriented manner based on well-founded data,” continues Hödl.
“In various forms of play, however, I look more at Firstbeat’s TRIMP/min data because I can see exactly whether we get players into the same intensity zone that they achieve in the game – that’s between 3.6 and 4.3. This is really an essential factor for us in training. My job is to prepare the players for match day in the preceding training week. In this regard, my personal driving force is the undisputed thesis ‘You can only control what you can measure’,” says the sports scientist.
What does the corona pandemic mean for the next generation?
When asked what it would look like in the event of a possible renewed complete lockdown, Hödl is relaxed regarding the design and implementation of training.
“Firstbeat Sports provides the perfect option for remote monitoring, with the Sports Sensor and Live app,” he explains. “In this way, we can seamlessly record the data and incorporate it into the individual or holistic training plan. That also helps us when players are attending DFB courses or with individual support for our top talent.
“Although we gratefully receive load data from the DFB, we can work even more efficiently with the usual data directly in the cloud and react optimally to the load from the national team courses.”
As the person responsible for rehab management for the U19s, Hödl relies on the innovative Firstbeat Sports metric Movement Intensity alongside a popular GPS monitoring solution to track external load. “Tracking Movement Intensity provides us with objective values and helps us clearly define a realistic time of returning to work. In addition, this data can be easily explained to the player and no complex and time-consuming performance diagnostic procedures have to be carried out.”
Hödl is excited to see what functions and information will come from this combination of internal and external load data from Firstbeat in the future. The first step has been taken with the introduction of Movement Load and the Movement Intensity.
Images: Hertha BSC, City-Press
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