A moaner moans

29 12 2010

Football matches were played yesterday. Ipso facto some managers did what they do best, they moaned. Step forward Steve Bruce;

Sunderland boss Steve Bruce has called for an end to the “ludicrous” festive fixture list after seeing three players suffer muscle injuries on Tuesday.

Nedum Onuoha, Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan were all injured in the Black Cats’ 2-0 home defeat by Blackpool. Bruce says it is “nonsense” that his players should face five games in eight days and he now wants a winter break. “Every country in Europe does it,” he said. “We should be taking a break too, there should be a break here.”

Bruce’s sentiments were echoed on Tuesday by West Ham manager Avram Grant following his side’s 1-1 draw against Everton. The Hammers were playing for the second time in three days, whereas wintry weather problems meant that Everton had been out of action for eight days. Grant said: “It’s not easy to play two games in 48 hours; this is the only country that plays two games in 48 hours. “It’s okay if both teams have equal chances but if one team needs to play and the other comes fresh, it’s a big disadvantage.”

Most teams in England face up to four fixtures during the 10-day festive period. The call for a winter break such as that employed in Italy, France and Spain has been backed by Premier League managers. Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is a long-time supporter of such a rest, while Manchester City manager Robert Mancini and West Bromwich Albion head coach Roberto di Matteo have also spoken in favour of the idea. Wolves manager Mick McCarthy has gone on record as saying he has never wanted a winter break.

Now, having had three of his players injured in the match with Blackpool – two days after his side lost 2-0 to Manchester United – Bruce has added his voice to the argument. He said: “That’s the biggest concern for me – if we don’t speak up, all of us, especially as Premier League managers. “A footballer can play every day of the week if you want him to, but to ask him to go and play at Manchester United and then play 48 hours later, this is the result. “Welbeck has got a strain, Gyan came off with a hamstring, Onuoha came off with a hamstring – and those are the consequences of playing two games in 48 hours at this level.

“We have got five games in 13 days starting from last week. It’s ludicrous considering that was our 20th game today. “It’s nonsense, it really is nonsense. I just really can’t get to grips with why.” Sunderland attracted their biggest crowd of the season – 42,892 – for the visit of Premier League new boys Blackpool three days after Christmas. Blackburn are next up for Sunderland on Saturday, but Bruce believes that it is time for a change.

He added: “We have got to forget about tradition.Why not play it later on in the season? We should be breaking like every other country. Forget the tradition.”

Sunderland lost but disregard that fact. Also disregard the fact that this sort of schedule only happened this season because of the extra bank holidays. You must also disregard the fact they once played on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, just like Chelsea did in 1957……

1957-58 Sat 21 Dec 1957 DIV1 Tottenham Hotspur Home Lost 2-4
1957-58 Wed 25 Dec 1957 DIV1 Portsmouth Home Won 7-4
1957-58 Thu 26 Dec 1957 DIV1 Portsmouth Away Lost 0-3
1957-58 Sat 28 Dec 1957 DIV1 Birmingham City Away Drew 3-3

…….. as did Man United…….

21 December 1957 Leicester City H 4 – 0 Viollet (2), Charlton, Scanlon 41,631
25 December 1957 Luton Town H 3 – 0 Charlton, Edwards, T. Taylor 39,444
26 December 1957 Luton Town A 2 – 2 Scanlon, T. Taylor 26,458
28 December 1957 Manchester City A 2 – 2 Charlton, Viollet 70,483

 …..and Liverpool too, and they were in the second division!

21/12/1957  Bristol City Home  4-3  Rowley 2 (2, 57), McNamara (9), A’Court (86)  38051 
25/12/1957  Grimsby Town Away  1-3  Rowley (27)  17705 
26/12/1957  Grimsby Town Home  3-2  Liddell 2 (6, pen 24), McNamara (75)  47766 
28/12/1957  Cardiff City Away  1-6  Wheeler (88)  32000 

Flipping heck this happened in the days before science, psychology and progress, when football was really tough. A time when the balls were heavy and the pitches even heavier, when the use of anything more than Brylcreem and carbolic soap was considered a threat to civilisation. Mind you Steve Bruce moaning is not a new thing as even Bruce once opined that;

“I could have another moan but I’m sick to death of my own whingeing”

Did we say that Steve Bruce’s team had lost yesterday?

In the modern world of football everything is covered  so teams can gain that all-important 1% advantage. Scientific technocrats like Aidy Boothroyd tell us that a 1% advantage  is the crucial difference between defeat and victory. Incidents like hitting the post and missing chances used to cost a team matches nowadays it’s that missing 1%. 

To ensure that clubs  don’t carelessly lose this 1% dieticians, performance analysts and stats technicians are used to perform vital roles, as well as your usual luddites; physios, and kitmen. Sports Psychologists also play a part. Not only must a team think they can win they must visualise victory as well. When one club uses innovations other follow the Pied Piper otherwise the missing 1% might rise to 3%. Look at a squad photo nowadays, there are almost as many backroom staff as players;

Even though football may have become more scientific some managers are not utilising the tools as effectively as they could be. Take Steve Bruce banging on about tiredness, if he was using the expertise of a sports psychologist correctly he might realise the following; finely tuned footballers, and Lee Cattermole, need confidence. Confidence….

“………can be achieved by continual success and by working though goal setting, target setting, and performance profiling. Goal setting and performance profiling is another technique used for athletes and for people who want to achieve their desired results.”

Psychologists can help set these goals and finely tuned footballers can go out and do the best they can. Unfortunately it’s not that easy, there are thousand and one variables that can deprive you of that all-important 1%. Take “pain” for example. Pain is….

“…..ever-present in sport.  An athlete’s ability to tolerate pain is essential to success. Pain provides valuable information about your body and how it is performing.  To maximize its usefulness it is important to understand what kind of pain should be listened to and what type is helpful or safe to work through.”

You would think that any manager worth their salt in the glorious technocratic premier league would know this. Why doesn’t Steve Bruce know this, Sunderland have used sports psychologists after all. A Sports Psychologist would be able to tell him that there are steps a finely tuned footballer can take to deal with pain;

“First, we must define the different types of pain you can experience:

  • Fatigue and discomfort.  This is an unpleasant feeling produced by effort, but not strong enough to be labeled “pain.”  Athletes learn to be “comfortable being uncomfortable,” as such efforts are a regular and necessary part of most sports.  With continued effort, discomfort can turn into …
  • Positive training pain.  This pain often occurs with endurance exercise, and includes muscle fatigue and sensations in the lungs and heart that can range from unpleasant to what is typically thought of as pain.  It is neither threatening nor a sign of injury. Because athletes know the cause, are in control of their effort, and recognize that these feelings are beneficial and can enhance performance.  In short, positive training pain is a good sign of effort and improvement.
  • Negative training pain is still not indicative of an injury, but goes beyond positive signs of training benefit.  An example may be extreme soreness that lasts for days.  There may be an overtraining risk.
  • Negative warning pain is similar to negative training pain, with the added element of threat.  It may be a new experience of pain and a sign of injury occurring.  It typically occurs gradually, and allows the athlete to evaluate potential training causes and respond appropriately.
  • Negative acute pain is an intense and specific pain that occurs suddenly, often a result of injury.  It is often localized to a specific body part and is labeled as threatening.
  • Numbness is rare but of very serious concern.  It is when the athlete feels nothing when soreness, fatigue or pain should be felt.  Instead, limbs are numb.  This may be a sign of serious injury or pushing one’s body past its physical limits.

We will focus on positive and negative training pain and save negative injury pains for another article. 

How you react to your pain is important. 

  • If you interpret your pain as threatening, or if you focus on the pain rather than concentrate on your sport, the pain will increase and interfere with your performance. 
  • On the other hand, if you view pain as something that is natural and necessary and interpret it as a sign that you are working hard and achieving your goals then your pain can be an ally. 
  • Many athletes find that recognizing that they are not alone in their pain is helpful.  The athletes playing with them also hurt, and the challenge of tolerating your pain may add to the competition.  In addition, athletes often report great satisfaction after persevering through a painful training session or competition.

Accepting the reality that pain is a part of training and competition may be most helpful.  You cannot perform at a high level and not experience pain.  Comfort and performance excellence are mutually exclusive.  You cannot have them both.  Prior to exercise, decide how much pain you are willing to experience to achieve your goals.  When pain shows up, be willing to feel it fully as part of your experience.  Let your pain be in service of your greater goal.  You may be surprised to find your pain suffering will be lessened when you allow pain to be a part of sport.

More on injury and rehabilitation pain at a later date (you are not advised to push through injury pain) … but until then, “Be willing.”

Reading between the lines playing football can cause you more pain than walking down the street so players had better get ready for it. In fact only an idiot would doubt that less strain is put on your body by playing sport.  Maybe Bruce has a point, you can’t  expect finely tuned athletes to give their all blah blah blah.

However if you look at the line in red it’s not so simple. Has Bruce led to the problem of tiredness arising in his players’ minds by mentioning it in a certain way? Bruce will have known about these fixtures since they were announced at the end of July but he moans now. Oh, did we tell you he lost?

Maybe he should embrace the brave new world a bit more, it would certainly save the rest of us from listening to his crap.

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