Q/ David, you have a degree in Sports Science and an Advanced Certificate in Science and Football, briefly what does the latter entail ?

A/ The Advanced Certificate in Science and Football was a postgraduate qualification which basically involved studying many areas of the game. These included subjects such as coaching, psychology, match analysis, physiology, skill acquisition as well as others. The main emphasis was on how to apply knowledge of these scientific areas to football in order to improve individual and team performance.

Q/ What is your opinion on the general "relevance" of science to football ?

A/ I feel that especially at the higher levels, there is a very fine line between winning and losing. Therefore, anything that can help a coach to improve his team's performance is vital. I feel that if a coach gains knowledge of a particular scientific area (for example, physiology) and learns how to use and apply this knowledge to improve his team it can make the difference between winning and losing. If a coach can do this with many or all of the scientific areas associated with football, I think it would help to create a very successful team.

Q/ Can you give a couple of examples of how sports science has or can improve football ?

A/ I think that the current England team is a fine example of how sports science can improve football. I have heard that Sven Goran Erikkson (manager) is a strong advocator of science and football and has recently employed a sport psychologist as one of his backroom staff. I think that it is no coincidence that the England team seems to be playing with increased confidence since Svenn took charge and giving David Beckham the captaincy may well have been a psychological stroke of genius given some of his performances since then and the effect he has had on the team. On a personal level, I recently did some research for the English FA into the physiological differences between 3v3 and 5v5 small-sided games in youth soccer. My findings allowed me to advise the FA on which game would be most beneficial to youngsters in terms of improving technique while avoiding high levels of physical strain.

Q/ Have you noticed a change in attitudes of football coaches towards sport science in recent years ?

A/ Yes, I feel that at the top levels coaches are now realising the benefits of sports science support and are beginning to employ people who can help in these areas. However, I feel that there are also many coaches out there, especially at the lower levels, who are perhaps a bit set in their own ways and do not want to listen to people who try to advise them about the benefits of sports science. I feel that one of the main reasons for the positive change in attitude at the higher levels of the English game may have been the large influx of foreigners who have brought knowledge of the benefits of sports science with them.

Q/ For amateur coaches, how they can use a bit of science in their everyday coaching methods ?

A/ Here is an example. Feedback can be any information given by the coach to the player concerning their performance. For example, when taking a session on shooting a coach’s feedback to a player could be 'keep your head over the ball next time' or 'shoot across the goalkeeper'. Research on the feedback given to players during coaching sessions has shown that when players are learning a new skill, feedback should be given frequently to improve the performance of the skill. Once the player is performing the skill efficiently and has a good idea of what the coach requires him to do, the coach should reduce the amount of feedback he is giving. This forces the player to think about his own performance and correct his own mistakes and therefore is beneficial to learning. So, to cut a long story short, give lots of feedback to the players when you are introducing them to a new skill and once they are performing to an adequate level, reduce the amount of information you are giving them so that they can learn and retain the skill.

Q/ Do you also think players should sit up and take notice of scientific methods ?

A/ Yes, definitely. I feel that through scientific methods a player can learn how to become mentally strong. Things such as confidence, concentration, goal-setting and many other psychological areas can be worked on to make the player the best he can be. Also, knowledge of physiology and nutrition can allow the player to know how to fuel his body correctly and how to get the very best out of his fitness training.

David Platt is currently studying part-time for an MPhil in Sports Science at South Bank University (UK) having previously obtained a BSc degree in Sports Science and an Advanced Certificate in Science and Football. He has coached for seven years and played semi-professional football. He is currently looking to gain employment in football as he is very keen to further his career in this area. If you are interested in contacting David about the possibility of soccer-related work or this article, please do not hesitate to e-mail him on davidplatt@hotmail.com.

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