With the Covid-19 crisis creating a unique set of circumstances to prepare the squad for 2020/21, we caught up with two of our staff members at the heart of meeting these challenges.
As part of putting plans in place to ensure the safest training environment for players, our physio Stuart Douglas joked that he and Sports Scientist Chris McConnell had been fulfilling plenty of tasks not necessarily in their job descriptions!
Stuart said: “In the morning we are removal men, then we do our jobs, and then after training we are removal men again! I’m a bin man now actually as well! All the rubbish will go back in my car and we take it away. Everyone chips in and you do what you have to do.”
Despite no access to the clubhouse at the training ground due to observing Covid-19 guidelines, our staff have made the best of the situation with gazebos and outside gyms set-up at our New Malden base.
“Before we started pre-season we were extremely diligent in our preparation to come back and try to navigate through the Covid-19 crisis. It’s been easier because we’ve been prepared and I’d like to make a special mention to Bob Sherwood. He’s our Covid-19 officer and he has done an amazing job. He’s made our jobs easier and we’ve followed his lead. He liaised with the EFL and it has come together. Setting up gazebos and working remotely at the training ground has ended up being a lot better than we expected. The players are much closer, we have a really tight-knit group, and for me this is probably the tightest we've been since we got promoted in 2016. Hopefully, that bodes well for us.
“We had to have Covid-19 tests and make sure that players adhered to social distancing, initially in groups of five. When we did our planning this was the best way to ensure that we ticked those boxes. On the back of that, we’ve been more together, people haven’t been on their phones. It’s worked really well. The culmination of the planning, having our own training camp set-up here, it has created a very good feeling. Compliance is the most important thing. We see players maybe three hours a day, but there’s still another 21 hours in the day. Whatever information we pass onto them we expect them to take that on board and they do that. We have a great group here. They say, ‘Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail’. I’m very optimistic about the season.”
Starting pre-season early has helped the backroom staff to ensure peak fitness at the start of the campaign, according to Stuart.
“The boys followed our programmes very well,” added Stuart. “We came back early for pre-season, which was over a period of seven to eight weeks. We didn’t want to cram a lot of work into a congested space. If you’ve got time to transition and periodise training perfectly you reduce the risk of injuries. If you have a look at the stats we’ve had 92 per cent availability for training and matches this season, which is great, but I think that’s because we planned pre-season meticulously. We extended that pre-season time so that we could gradually get the boys to where they needed to be for the first game of the season. If you’ve been watching the games, I’m sure you can see that the boys are fit, they are raring to go, and they are athletic. The signs are good.”
Chris McConnell joined us in January after leaving Millwall and his work has been highly praised by Glyn Hodges, particularly the thorough plans he has implemented at such a challenging time.
“When lockdown happened everyone’s primary concern was the health of players and their families,” said our Sports Scientist. “At times, it was important to get the group together (using online platforms) to do certain sessions, which we did, and the application of our players during that time was second to none. I think some of the work they put in then has been shown in pre-season. Some of them have come back as different athletes and improved in certain areas. We stuck to the government guidelines and when the go-ahead was given for pre-season we started planning for that. It was a nice collaborative process involving Dougy and the management staff. We made a plan, stuck to it, and hopefully we are seeing the results of it now.
“It wasn’t what I envisaged when I started in January, but that period is also what you make of it. I know a lot of people have lost their jobs and I’m fortunate that I didn’t. It gave me a chance to analyse my philosophy and what the practice was before I came here. It gave me a good chance to look at what I wanted to suggest or recommend for when we came back in. It was a challenging period, but we don’t make excuses at this football club. We’ve looked to put into place the best plans that we can. The manager has been terrific with me, he’s taken on all my recommendations, and Dougy has been a dream – we’ve both been singing off the same hymn sheet. I think that’s the most important thing. We’ve been a really good team up until now, and long may that continue. Obviously, the situation isn’t great in terms of Covid-19, but I think from their mentality they’ve realised how much they miss football. They’ve come back and really enjoyed it.
“The manager has sung the praises of all the staff, but Glyn, Dawsy, and Robbo also deserve enormous credit because they’ve been brilliant during this process. They’ve been diligent in sticking to a plan that has been set by everybody. The boys are looking in really good shape and the application of the players, through lockdown and pre-season, has been brilliant. I think ‘Pigs’ said that I don’t always show that I’m happy, but they have been absolutely outstanding, in fairness. They have really hit the ground running and they have the bit between their teeth at the moment.”
Rob Cornell’s extensive interview with Chris and Stuart also includes the approach to managing the fitness of Ollie Palmer and Will Nightingale, as they recuperate from long-term injuries. Take a look below at the 16-minute interview.