Footyplace Fitness: Raymond Verheijen Q&A
Editor | On 21, Feb 2012
Raymond Verheijen stresses the importance of using the right language as a fitness coach and criticises the over-reliance on sports science.
As a youth player, Raymond Verheijen was part of the famous Dutch Academy structure until a knee injury forced him to retire at the age of just 17. Rather than let it ruin him, Verheijen trained to become a coach whilst also studying Exercise Physiology and Sport Psychology at the Vrije University Amsterdam. He completed his Masters Degrees in 1995 and also studied at the Liverpool John Moores University between 1993 and 1995.
In 1995 Verheijen developed his university thesis into the book ‘Conditioning for Soccer’ which became the coach education book of the Dutch FA (KNVB) in 1997. Verheijen became a pro-licence instructor at the Dutch FA in 1998. His first course as instructor was with coaches Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, Ronald Koeman and Johan Neeskens.
In 1998 Holland manager Frank Rijkaard appointed Verheijen as one of his assistants in preparation for Euro 2000 in which the Oranje reached the semi final. Verheijen went on to take similar roles with South Korea, Russia and most recently Wales, while he has worked as a football conditioning consultant for Glasgow Rangers, Barcelona, Zenit St. Petersburg, Chelsea and Manchester City. Verheijen remains a consultant to the Russian, Turkish and Australian FAs.
Verheijen’s second book, Periodisation in Football, was published in Holland in 2008 and is expected to be launched in the UK this year. Periodisation is the method of organising training into different phases which all have specific aims for the player’s development. Originally a sceptic of Verheijen’s methods, Craig Bellamy was so impressed by the 49-year-old when at Manchester City that the two still work together on an individual basis.
Verheijen is also behind the UK Football Academy, an institute dedicated to coach education through bringing the world’s best coaches and professionals to the doorstep of UK football people at all levels of the game.
Verheijen and Guus Hiddink launched the Dutch Football Academy in December 2009 and the UK version had been due to launch at Emirates Stadium earlier this month, with Gary Speed a guest speaker. The symposium was renamed the Gary Speed Football Congress following the death of the former Wales manager and will now take place later this year.
Footyplace: Raymond, tell us a little bit about your background as a fitness coach.
Raymond Verheijen: I had to stop playing because of an injury when I was playing for the Dutch Under-17 national team. After I finished playing I immediately started to do my coaching licences so I developed myself as a coach, and at the same time I went to university to study exercise physiology and sports psychology. Basically I’m a footballer who specialised as a football coach, especially in football conditioning. I am not a fitness coach who is interested in football, I am a football coach who is interested in fitness.
FP: So, aside from your experience as a footballer, what sets you apart from other ‘fitness coaches’?
RV: I have specialised in football fitness but I am ultimately a football coach that understands and uses football language. When I host seminars abroad I always use a language metaphor. For example when I do a presentation in the UK for the first 30 seconds I always speak Dutch so the audience doesn’t understand what I’m talking about. With this metaphor I try to let people experience how strange it is for someone from another world to step into your world but continue to speak his language.
In this setting the audience will have no problem telling me to speak in English, but when a fitness coach from the fitness world steps into the football world he keeps speaking in his language and no-one stops him. Football coaches are intimidated by academic words so fitness coaches keep speaking their own language and develop their own little world within the football world.
FP: You have been critical in the past of certain coaching methods used by Premier League clubs – what are the problems?
RV: I think that a lot of coaches, not only in the UK but all over the world, lack the knowledge how to condition football players and this is because football fitness is being defined in non-football language. For instance if you want to monitor aerobic capacity, which is a non-football term, then there will be non-football training such as running long distances, or cycling on a bike, or swimming.
If you put football players on a bike, they will shorten their hamstrings. If you look at a cyclist, when he steps off a bike his knees are always bent because in cycling you shorten your hamstrings while in football when you sprint and you shoot, so stretch your hamstrings. A lot of players who are on the bike regularly they will get hamstring problems. If football language was being used by fitness coaches, in other words the ability to maintain playing football for 90 minutes, then automatically you will use football exercises. The language you use determines the exercise that you use.
The problem is all to do with coaching education. Fitness forms part of every FA coaching course and you could expect a football specialist to cover this area, but the FA hire someone from outside football to deliver presentations about fitness. For the football coach the presentation sounds like Chinese because they are taking a football course yet this person is talking in fitness language. Even worse, these football coaches have to do an examination, also in Chinese, and if they fail this examination they don’t get their coaching licence. That is a very strange situation all over the world.
FP: You have advised a number of clubs on periodisation, which aims to stop over-training and help prevent injuries. Just how important is it to tailor training schedules to each individual?
RV: Football is a team sport so players train as a team but within those team training sessions you have to tailor the workload to each and every player. With an explosive player like Craig Bellamy I explain to him that he is the Jaguar waiting at the traffic lights and waiting next to him is this little car with a small engine. When the traffic lights turn green he will accelerate quickly and the little car next to him will accelerate slowly. I ask him which of those two cars has to go to the gas station sooner and obviously he will say the Jaguar because when you accelerate quickly you take more fuel out of your tank.
So if he thinks of himself as the Jaguar, every football action, every explosive football action Craig Bellamy makes, he uses more energy than the average football player. The result is that his energy expenditure is higher so therefore in training you have to reduce his workload because if he has to do the same amount of training as the rest of the team with his higher energy expenditure you will exhaust him and he will pick up lots of injuries.
FP: A relatively new phenomenon in football is sports science – how important do you think it is?
RV: Sports science can definitely help in football but the problem again is that sports scientists don’t use football language so it is very difficult for football coaches to control what sports scientists are doing because they don’t understand the language being used. As a result, you get sports scientists using GPS to monitor training even though it is extremely inaccurate. The error of measurement is unbelievable really but it is expressed in non-football language so many football coaches don’t understand just how inaccurate GPS really is.
Sports scientists are also using heart rate zones to measure the intensity of training, but heart rate zones don’t say anything about football. They say something about endurance sports when you are exercising at a steady rate but football is intermittent. Imagine that you are a very fit player and I’m not a very fit player and we both make a very explosive football action to take our heart rate to 180 for example. Within 10, 20, 30 seconds your heart rate goes from 180 to 140 to 130 to 120 because you recover very quickly, but my heart rate goes from 180 to 176 to 172 to 170 because I am not as fit and don’t recover as quickly. So my heart rate stays high compared to yours and as a result I stay in a higher heart rate zone for a longer period of time because I’m not as fit.
These sports scientists say well done to me because for 18% of the training session I stayed in the red zone whereas you are very fit and only stay in the red zone for 10%. It’s an absolute joke but who is controlling these guys? No-one.
A third example is Prozone. Prozone works with velocity so between 0-2metres a second you are walking and between 2-4metres per second you are jogging, between 4-6metres per second you are running and from 6-10metres per second you are sprinting. But football sprints are very short, only five or 10 yards, so imagine how many sprints are missed by Prozone because players haven’t sprinted far enough to reach their maximum velocity. Only the longer sprints where velocity is higher than 6metres per second are counted and registered as a sprint so as a result Prozone says Craig Bellamy makes 80 sprints a game when in reality he makes 150 sprints per game. They miss 70 sprints in which his maximum velocity is lower than 6metres per second. These sports scientists are creating an illusion of data.
FP: Raymond, you’ve opened our eyes. Speak again soon!
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