Tony's Hectic Holiday

 CHRISTMAS is certainly no holiday in the football calendar, as West Ham United prepare to face four matches in eight days over the festive season.


With such a hectic schedule, the task of keeping all the players fit and fresh becomes even more vital. That job falls to Sports Scientist Tony Strudwick and his staff, who are responsible for the fitness and performance programmes at Chadwell Heath.


"We are going into a very hectic period in the football calendar. Christmas does not mean a break for footballers. We are preparing for four games in eight days next week, which puts even more emphasis on keeping the players healthy and fresh.


"We will have a full training schedule this week, leading up to the game against Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day. Then we have another game against Rotherham just two days later followed by the New Year's Day match at Ipswich. In this period most of the work we do will revolve around recovery. Muscles take time to recover after matches, but with such a hectic schedule we will have to work on speeding up this process, mainly with the use of ice baths and specific recovery based training.


"Hopefully, the players will then go into these very important matches fresh to perform to the top of their ability.

Tony faces a season-long battle to keep the Hammers players at the peak of their footballing powers, admitting that the season is a war of attrition against injuries.


"Footballers must maintain their peak form, and therefore peak fitness, throughout a ten-month season," explained Tony. "The emphasis is on building and then maintaining a level of fitness that enables a player to perform at his best each week.


"If a player is not in top condition that will ultimately reflect in his performances out on the pitch, which means the fans are not getting what they have come to see - top-class footballers playing top-level football.


Sports Science is no longer a new phenomena in football. It began to be introduced at the start of the 1990s, but has taken on new significance now that it can provide insights into methods of prolonging players' careers. This is one aim Tony is keen to stress to the Hammers players.


"Sports Science is a product that we have to sell to the players," admitted Tony. "It's definitely easier to sell it to some of the older players who are looking at ways to prolong their careers at the top level.


"But for it to be effective in that way players do need to pick up the good habits from a young age, and that is something we try and impress on them.


"On average players are staying in the game longer these days, and part of that is definitely due to the advances in training, as well as medical care, nutrition and lifestyle.


"At West Ham we aim to cater training towards individual needs as much as possible. Older players take longer to recover after games, so we tailor their training accordingly. Maybe they will sit out a day or do some more specific, but less intensive, work.


"We have to be aware of individual needs, however the overall aim of West Ham United is to establish a strong team ethic."