Improving Performance and Gaining a Competitive Advantage When It Counts
Bayern Munich were recently crowned the champions of Europe for the sixth time. Bayern have also claimed the Bundesliga and the DFB Cup in an historic treble with five of the squad from Sunday claiming their second treble and repeating the triumph from 2013.
Subsequently this week has seen several tweets and posts about Bayern Munich and pictures of the players this season and especially post COVID Lockdown. The record throughout the season and especially post lock down speaks for itself, Bayern simply did not lose.
It would be easy to look at the pictures of the players and say what a training programme they must have had during lockdown however the bigger picture statistics are even more impressive.
Out of a 52-game season, Bayern lost five matches in total and were not beaten by the same team twice. In 15 games post lock down, they were unbeaten including a league decider against Borussia Dortmund, The Champions League Final against Paris St-Germain and the DFB Cup Final against Bayer Leverkusen. The starting line up from Sunday’s final against PSG have played an average of 84% of the 52 fixtures this season, with the likes of Neuer and Kimmick playing 51 games, Muller playing 50 games and Lewandowski playing 47 games.
There is no doubt that lockdown gave a unique opportunity for additional training that is rarely seen in a professional football season. However, with these levels of availability of the squads most important players and results on the pitch it will be interesting to see if there are more stories of changing training programmes over the coming seasons. This should be the norm, not the exception for training individuals and teams.
The story resonated with us at Athletic Thinking and reminded us of a time, several years ago, when we were mocked at the sight of the team we were working with doing match day activation with us. Thankfully times appear to have changed. We have spent the last 20+ years delivering expert performance support and driving innovation within the organisations that we have worked with to make sure athletes are ready when it counts.
It has been interesting taking a look at some of the methods we have used to take teams from relegation to Premiership Playoffs (within two seasons) and European Finals (within three seasons) including:-
Playing Surface: It is important to factor in the impact of the surface you will be competing on. Whether it is the difference between grass pitches or between grass and artificial surfaces, training on the same surface in the build up to a fixture will allow players to understand how the surface will react.
Pitch or Court Area: It is important to work with your grounds staff and coaching team to make sure the area or pitch you are training on matches the dimensions of where you will compete. Pitch widths and dead ball areas will often be adapted within regulations to suit the strengths of the opposition.
Post-Match Recovery: When the stakes are high and competitive turn arounds are short the immediate recovery period post competition must be utilised. The opportunity for specific nutrition must not be missed and post-match food delivery services as well as prepared inhouse food options offer an important opportunity to recover straight after a game and on return travel from away fixtures. Active and passive recovery options should be available and additional recovery methods such as portable cryotherapy chambers and hot baths can be brought on site at home or away competitions.
Recovery Kit: Whether it is in the middle of an important pre-season training block or in the build up to play off semi-finals and finals we must maximise any opportunity for recovery. Home recovery packs provided to players can help them make the most of the time they spend away from the club.
Nutrition Support: Nutrition and eating is a family affair and if you really want to make a difference it is worth spending time with the whole family. Having the club nutritionist work with a player’s partner or support network can really help make a difference to what they are eating when away from training.
Nutrition Bags and Meus using the ‘Fuel to Perform, Fuel to Recover Approach’: Taking things a step further, in the build up to an important block of competition, home nutrition bags and menus with all the required ingredients can ensure that the players are getting the required nutrition.
Team Run Day: If your club or team has a team run day in the schedule this is a great opportunity to train at the same time as the fixture. Coaches must be adaptable to changing training times to help a player’s biological clock adapt to early or late start times.
Match Day Activation: Often the days before a big game or competition will be low in intensity and volume. A match day activation utilising appropriate warm up prescription and loads can help to prime the nervous system. It can also give the opportunity for an athlete to mentally switch on to competition and becomes part of regular competition preparation. Bayern Munich were shown preparing for the champions league final with an activation and light training session (https://fcbayern.com/en/news/2020/08/champions-league-2020/bayern-loosen-up-for-psg-game-with-light-training-at-hotel). We have utilised the benefits of match day activation for many years and continue to do so.
Mental Wellness and Psychological Support: The lives of the individuals we work with and what is going on outside of training will often have a significant impact on performance. It can be necessary to bring in external specialist staff to give individuals a person they feel safe to talk with that will not impact selection.
Sleep Environment: The importance of sleep pre and post competition should not be underestimated. The balance of a player sleeping in their normal environment or travelling the night before a fixture should be reviewed. If the team are staying away players can be supplied with their own bedding and pillows to make the new environment as familiar as possible. When sharing a room, players so should also be paired with individuals who have similar chronotypes.
Training Load: All key stake holders must be involved in the periodisation of the week and in the planning and decision-making process. The short, medium, and long-term competition demands must be factored into all decisions. The workload for both athletes and staff must be considered to avoid underperformance in all areas.
There are many other areas to be considered including environmental conditions, staff wellbeing, seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D), and personal and professional development. For any of the above to be successful the education process with those involved is vital to ensure objectives are achieved.
High Performance is all about attention to detail. By first building the foundations for 98-99% effectiveness for maximal/minimal gains, we can then begin to add in the marginal gains (0.1% gains) to create a sustainable competitive advantage. This allows individuals, teams, and organisations to get ‘ahead of the curve’ which in turn leads to success on and off the field.
Within the current financial climate, Athletic Thinking aim to offer external, impartial, affordable performance support and education to keep your assets on the field, court or track. This will be a crucial factor in achieving a successful outcome for any organisation.
Look out over the coming weeks for our Athletic Teams Packages and further content from the coaches at Athletic Thinking to see how we could support your Club and Academy. Alternatively, register your interest now on our website or email firstname.lastname@example.org with the word TEAMS to be the first to get access to these packages prior to general release.