With our current coach Kenny unavailable following surgery, Willie (Assistant Academy Manager) took us for training and the week started with the agonising Bleep Test!
To make matters worse we were doing it indoors which I find tougher than on normal grass. I’m not sure whether it’s the turning being easier outside but it’s a constant battle to make sure that you pace yourself correctly.
As you can imagine the Bleep Test is not liked by any footballer but it is a good test to gauge fitness levels. Basically it involves running continuously between two points that are 20m or so apart, which when you’re at level one, is a walk in the park but as the levels increase so the times between bleeps decrease and it obviously becomes harder.
I got up to level 20 which I was really pleased with and then we went straight into a session outside on the grass. It was quite a mixed bag because we worked on passing in to space followed by possession and finishing off with a shooting drill.
The afternoon session was tailored to what we had done in the morning and after some light gym work and stretching we were plunged into ice baths which are now becoming a feature after training and matches! It’s fair to say that I’m not a fan, it’s just so cold but the benefits are there to be seen for all.
In simple terms the ice baths help muscles, tendons, bones, nerves and all the different tissues used recover after training or matches. This happens by the ice cold water causing your blood vessels to tighten and drain out of your legs, so then when you get out your legs fill up with ‘new’ blood that stimulates your muscles with oxygen to help the cells function better.
At the same time, through this process, any lactic acid that has built up is removed. A number of top athletes use this within their training now and I know it was part of Kelly Holmes’ training regime when she won her two Olympic medals but it’s an advancement in football I don’t enjoy.
Tuesday was another physical day – we started the morning off with a 40 minute gym session, then we were straight out training with I think a few of the lads keen to have a short breather!
The session we did was around putting our opponent under pressure, whilst keeping a good team shape. So if you think players flying out to close down space when people receive the ball, trying to get an attackers head down and force them back or across the pitch – what fun but a necessary part of the game as has been shown by many of the great teams down the years. You can’t just win football matches by playing silky smooth football you have to be able to earn your right to play at times.
We were out again in the afternoon playing a 4v4 game, which was a bit of a lung buster and heavy on the legs given the size of the area we used – it was enormous! The aim of the game was to break out quick on the counter after retrieving possession but the speed with which these breaks occurred probably slowed towards the end of the session with fatigue creeping in – so it was another jaunt in the ice baths for us all!
We started Thursday morning with another gym session before heading out to work with Alf our technical coach. He has worked with players like Zinedine Zidane and Jurgen Klinsmann so you can’t but help listen and take on his tips of how top pro’s like that operate. I think in general all the lads are pleased with the coaches we have at the Club and Alf is just one of many who have vast experience that can only help us to develop as players.
In preparation for last weekend’s fixture against Leeds United we played our Reserve team who absolutely battered us! We were outplayed on every part of the pitch by a stronger quicker and more determined eleven and it was a reality check that has shown some of us just how far away we actually are from making it as professional footballers.
With the Leeds fixture eventually being cancelled due to the snowy conditions we ended up playing a training match against the younger players who are due to start at the Club in the summer. We needed the game really because we’ve got West Ham United away on Wednesday in the FA Youth Cup and it’s a game that everyone here is really itching to be involved in now.
West Ham are currently mid placed in the Academy League but they’ve got a fantastic tradition of producing players in recent years with the likes of Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole and Jack Collinson all coming through and they have a good record in the Youth Cup so I think we’re all wary about what they are capable of given the chance.