Children of sports science: The impact of the evolution on the player

At the heart of the evolution of sports science in football is the player. As new practices come into the fold it is the footballers that experience them first hand. AFC Bournemouth prospect Joe Quigley has developed all the way to the senior level with sports science all around him and we spoke to him about the part it has played in his game.

Coming through the youth ranks at AFC Bournemouth as a striker is a path trodden by several names that have made fine careers in the english game. Brett Pitman established cult status at the club, whilst Danny Ings is looking to overcome injury problems at Liverpool. For Quigley these role models came even closer to home with both Josh McQuoid who currently plays for Luton and Sam Vokes who is leading the line for Sean Dyche’s Burnley. Both were raised in the New Forest town of Lymington and went to the same school as Quigley.

Earmarked as one to watch from his early teens, Quigley rose through the ranks and after impressing on loan at non-league Poole in early 2015 whilst still part of Bournemouth Under 18’s squad, he was awarded his first pro-contract. Further loan spells the following season at Torquay, Wrexham and Woking continued to mark his development. Last summer should have proved to be a big one for the striker after penning a loan move to League One side Gillingham initially until this January. We caught up with him in a chance meeting on the eve of the season and he was both excited and determined to prove himself in the Football League.

Two months on and we spoke to him again, although what took place in-between had not gone to plan. Having featured as a late substitute on the opening day of the season, he got his first start in the EFL Cup just three days later. After playing 60 minutes he featured once more as a sub in the second league game of the season. Despite only being on the pitch for a matter of minutes, Quigley suffered what was first believed to be a serious injury to his anterior cruciate ligament. The nightmare injury for the modern player.

However, as Quigley explained there was some confusion over his diagnosis: “When I first had a scan at Gillingham they said I had done my ACL which I found as a bit of shock because they say you can feel when you have done it and I didn’t have anything like that. I managed to get over it quickly, it is what it is. The best thing to do is try and stay positive.”

On further assessment it was revealed that Quigley’s inclinations were well placed. The ligament was not ruptured and whilst he still faced some time on the sidelines, he could target a return before the end of the season. Two months into his rehabilitation after an operation Quigley was pushing himself to get back as soon as possible. The target given by the medical department was mid-February to be back into full training. Since talking to Quigley his progress appears to be going very well. (Article continues below)

Having spent recent months with the medical team, sports science has played a different role to normal for Quigley. Nevertheless, reflecting on the role sports science had on his development in the academy at Bournemouth, Quigley delivered a positive assessment as the club’s journey up through the leagues has run in tandem with his own rise through the youth ranks: “Personally as a big striker I think all the work we do in the gym helps massively. I started out when we were still in League Two and didn’t really have a gym and I’ve come up through and seen the changes. It’s a massive help to have all the staff and all the equipment.”

But it isn’t just the investment in strength and conditioning that Quigley has experienced: “The club is massive on analysis. There’s a room at the training ground where you can watch your games back. I can be filmed doing my rehab work in the gym and then people can offer me feedback. You can get a lot of opinions and put them together to try and help yourself get better.”

With the generation that Quigley has grown up in, technology has taken hold both in football and our day to day lives. When asked if this could go too far and steer club’s attention away from the playing of the game, Quigley delivers a clear view overall: “It’s a tough one because it has come on massively in such a short space of time, but I think because every team does do it, you have to do it. If you don’t do it then I think you get found out in terms of match tactics, preparation for games. If you have one team that is using it and the other isn’t, more often than not it will be the one that is using technology that comes out on top.”

From the coaches we have spoken to, an area that needs improvement and awareness is remembering that players are humans and treating them like humans rather than as numbers or statistics on a page. At Bournemouth, Quigley feels they do a good job of this: “Everyone’s got individual programmes. Some people need to get a bit bigger physically, some people need to improve their balance. The coaches sit down at the start of the season and get plans together and then those plans are adapted throughout the season to help you along the way.”

As the Beautiful Science is investigating, VR is on the cusp of changing the way football clubs train their players and when asked for his view on use of such technology Quigley said: “I think anything that gives you the upperhand on your opponents is definitely going to help. Anything that you’re doing that who you’re playing against doesn’t have is going to give you an advantage. That extra one of two per cent and then when you add them all up you are a few per cent up on your opponents.”

Whilst Quigley feels this marginal gains approach can have a positive impact, coaches in the game are dubious over whether football is at the level of cycling and running to need the fine advantages.

Concluding on the demands of professional football now making sports science a necessity to make it at the very top, Quigley gave an honest assessment: “I don’t think you’re going to get many Paul Merson or Paul Gascoigne types anymore. I think sports science is just going to get bigger and bigger and have much more of an impact over the next few years especially in the higher leagues where there is more money.”

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