Player tournament management

So, how did you spend your Easter weekend…maybe running around hunting Easter eggs, over indulging in chocolate, or like me did you spend it in Rotterdam with 15 other teams at the annual Rotterdam Football Cup? I was part of a team of 6 who attended the competition representing Northern Ireland with the Club NI Elite youth program, the team of consisted of the Elite Performance Director (head coach), 1 coach, 2 coaches/kit managers, an embedded videographer, and myself: the physiotherapist. The tournament itself is for U-15 teams, ran from the 15th-19th April, and was held in Rotterdam at the Stadion Woudestein; home of S.B.V. Excelsior. The tournament had been on our calendar for quite some time this year as we were runners up in the inaugural tournament last year, and our U-15 team had been putting in the work with our football coaches and the S&C staff from the Sports Institute for Northern Ireland (SINI); based at Ulster University.

The team congregated at Belfast International Airport on the 15th April eager for the opportunity that lay ahead of them. We arrived at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, before transferring to our accommodation in Rotterdam; arriving about 1230. We had a couple of hours to check in, grab lunch, and have a staff meeting whilst the kids relaxed in their rooms before our first training session. At the meeting we discussed the plan for the tournament, and the layout for our games. We had 3 pool games: 1 game on Saturday at 11am, and 2 games on Sunday at 10am and 12pm, which would then decided how the remainder tournament shaped up.

Player management started at lunch, making sure that the players had enough nutrients to fuel todays training session; and to start good habits for the rest of the tournament. The pitches at S.B.V Excelsior were a short walk from the tournament hotel, which gave us the chance each day to walk off the travel/sleep and to take in that fresh air to prepare us for the upcoming session. The first session on the Friday was predominantly to shake off the travel, although it was inevitable that the shake off session would turn into a proper session. The session lasted an hour and became quite intense towards the end, and all I could think of was impending injuries, and the need for a recovery session that evening. As predicted there was 1 player who pulled up with his hamstring, we immediately implemented the POLICE protocol whilst training concluded prior to returning to the hotel.

Upon returning to the hotel the players were told to rest up in their rooms prior to dinner with an emphasis on taking a quick 30 minute nap to help with recovery. After dinner and the team meeting we conducted a quick recovery session, consisting of foam rolling, stretching, and addressing any niggles or complaints from the team. The players were then free for 15 minutes before they were required to hand their phones, and lights out; the reason for taking in the phones is to emphasise and help facilitate good sleep. Once the players were in their rooms I could then begin my kit prep for the next day, and the start of the competition.

Following a hearty breakfast, for both management and players, the team helped kick off the tournament at 11:00 against Brondby. I left the hotel early with the 2 coaches/kit managers to set up the changing room and pitch for my physio treatments and warm up. The warm up followed the RAMP method: with the initial part incorporating the FIFA 11+, and the final stages finishing with the coaches. The team drew 3-3 after coming back from 2-0 down, (turned around by a 7-minute hat-trick)which gave the boys a bit of a high; anecdotally I have found that where there is a sense of euphoria or accomplishment there are very few injuries reported. As players were substituted and after the game there was a period of time to cool down before heading back to the hotel: this consisted of a period of stretching, predominantly focussed of the lower limbs. Post match the players were provided with some bananas, small electrolyte drinks, and cereal-type bars. The players had small pieces of each as they were returning for lunch.

Later that afternoon, after lunch, we took a trip into Rotterdam city for a little bit of sightseeing and to break up the monotony of football and the hotel. We returned for a spot of dinner and a quick meeting prior to heading back to the stadium to watch S.B.V Excelsior take on Vitesse in that evenings local professional game. After the game we conducted a quick recover session before the kids handed in their phones before lights out, and I prepared my kit for tomorrow. At least 2 games tomorrow, our last 2 group games, which would determine the remainder of our championship.

Sunday morning followed the same routine, although a much earlier start, our first game was against PSV Eindhoven at 10:00. We were the second game that day and as such couldn’t get onto the pitch to conduct our warm up, so being adaptable I found a patch of grass near by and conducted the warm up in a smaller area. This warm up was not as intense and our second game that day was at 12:00, approximately 1 hour after our first; so as players were substituted I placed a great emphasis on their personal cool downs, followed by a team cool down after the game. This was followed by a period in the changing rooms whereby the players could mentally and physically rest whilst preparing for the next game, they took on board a little food and some electrolyte drinks.

Approximately 25 minutes before kick of I took the players back out on the small piece of grass to begin the next warm up, this had a slower build up and focussed more on slower dynamic stretches as opposed to faster dynamic sport specific drills. Once the previous game finished we were on pitch for the coaches to take them through a final couple of set piece manoeuvres. We lost 1-0 against PSV, and drew 1-1 with Club Brugge (The eventual winners, whom beat us in the final last year).

With the scores, we didn’t make it into the top 8 to compete for the trophy, so we started vying for as high a place as possible. Up next were FC Honka at 16:30, this gave us some time to go back to the hotel for lunch and rest up prior to the next game, which meant the warm up was able to be completed in full; albeit on the small piece of grass. Again during the game a greater emphasis was placed of individual cool downs as players were substituted prior to a period for a team cool down. We won the game 2-0 to set up a 09:00 kick off against The Vancouver Whitecaps. That evening the meeting after dinner was more a quick chat before their recovery session, handing in phones and lights out.

Our morning routine, had in fact, become routine. The players knew what they had to do that morning, and how we would start prior to the game; although there were some players and staff that did not like the earlier start. We were the first game this morning allowing us to be on pitch early to conduct a proper warm-up to set the tempo for the day ahead. Again the emphasis was placed on individual cool downs as players were substituted, prior to a team cool down.  We won 1-0 to set up our final game against Sparta Rotterdam for a 9th/10th place play off at 12:00. For the final warm up I kept it short and focussed on keeping the players loose, this then gave the coaches extra time to run through the final pieces of tactical information. We won the game after a thrilling penalty shootout, to finish the tournament 9th overall.

After the tournament the players were reminded of self management for any niggles or injuries prior to the next training session. As for me, when I got home: I typed up my notes, wrote my report for the coaches, took stock of my medical kit, and started to prepare my bags for the next trip where I get to do it all again in Berlin; and like most in the profession…I cannot wait!