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March 26, 2020


With the whole sporting world stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Agilons are facing up to an unprecedented situation that the whole of the technical staff are adapting to. From Cagnes-sur-Mer where he is locked down with his family, Matt Cook talked to us about this enforced break. The assistant coach responsible for conditioning laid out the players' training programme and the difficulties that need to be overcome.

Training in lockdown: Part I

Matt, can a break like this undo all the hard work that’s been done and fitness foundations that have been laid since the start of the season? Or on the contrary, does the program you give them keep them in top form physically?
If you don't do the right things, it could undo all the foundations of fitness that you built up through the season so far. It's very difficult for the players just going out running because while we're allowed to go out and exercise, it is not sufficient to maintain 'football' fitness. You can keep a base of fitness, but a lot of the physical qualities, changing direction and accelerating, sprinting, jumping, landing, turning are not going to be maintained by just going out for endurance-based running.

So you have to be quite creative with your your programming. We send the players videos daily to try and maintain these physical qualities that they built., mixing endurance-based running with exercises they can do in a confined area. The most difficult thing to maintain is the strength levels that they built up. Because a lot of that requires gym equipment and while some have some gym equipment in their house, they won't have the variety or the types of gym equipment that you need. So even though you can be quite creative, it's very difficult to maintain all the physical qualities you need for the game.

If you're in the off-season, it's normal to go for a run to just keep your fitness ticking over, because then you have a six-week pre-season to plan to prepare yourself for matches. But this is different. We may have several weeks without training sessions, and then only have a very short period of time to prepare to play matches again. Maybe with a really congested fixture list to finish the season. So the players need to be really good during this period to be ready to face up to an unprecedented situation.

What does the players' fitness program consist of?
We do some high intensity aerobic conditioning. We do some agility, some longer sprints, and some kind of strength-based circuits that you can do in your house with your body weight or some very light weights, such as bottles of water or whatever you can get a hold of. That's all sent to the players via a document or via video or video clips of me doing stuff.




Are their several stages in this programme?
Yeah, but it's not easy, because we're kind of trying to guess when we might be back playing. So you have to progress up to an end point. Normally when you're programming pre-season, you start with the endpoint and go backwards based on how much time you've got. This is an open-ended period of time where we're sort of guessing where the endpoint is, maybe a four to 10-week window, perhaps even more!

This uncertainty means we're creating a rotating cycle of exercises so the players benefit from a multitude of sessions which vary in type and intensity sufficiently for them to maintain their fitness without overloading them with sorts of effort they're not used to.

Are they just working physically during this period?
No, the players are also getting tactical analysis videos so that they take advantage of this time to develop other aspects of their game.

What are the potential pitfalls to be avoided by the players in terms of their fitness?
One of the risks is that they treat this like a usual off-season and satisfy themselves with going jogging every day and thinking that'll be enough. We have to hope the plan we've given them will enable us to avoid that.

Even if they are following the fitness program the best they can, there will always be limits. We're not striking balls. So no-one's ever striking a ball as hard as they can or knocking a 50-yard pass. There's all the little movements that you do in football, holding a player off, going into challenges, reacting when the ball ricochets.…As it's not possible to recreate those moments, those muscles aren't being used. And then there are all the things to do with perception: the players will never find themselves in a small space with three or four opponents around them, forcing them to take quick decisions. There are a lot of aspects that are impossible to reproduce.

Read the second part of the interview with Matt Cook on OGCNICE.com on Friday.