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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

United Experience for Award Winners

A feature of the UK Sport Fast-track Practitioner Programme (FPP), a one-year scheme designed to accelerate the professional development of sports science and sports medicine practitioners, is the opportunity it gives young practitioners to learn from some of the worlds leading experts.

And for three English Institute of Sport (EIS) practitioners amongst last year’s graduates that certainly proved to be the case when they took up the opportunity to visit the training ground of newly crowned World Club Champions Manchester United earlier this season.

Alistair Patterson, a Performance Analyst, along with Kathryn Brown and Bronwen Lundy - both Nutritionists - formed part of a group which visited the Carrington complex after winning a UK Sport Innovation Award.

“Throughout our internship year we attended a number of workshops and at the first of these we were given a task” Patterson explains.

“We were split into four groups and given a brief to explore ways to improve the ease with which endurance athletes can maintain hydration” he adds. “We then worked on this project throughout the year before presenting our ideas in a ‘Dragons Den’ style to a three man panel, with the Manchester United trip the prize for the winning group.”

Joined by Barry Mason (GB Wheelchair Basketball) and Rebecca Edington (GB Trampolining), Brown, Lundy and Patterson’s group won the contest after coming up with an idea for a hydration gel complete with the catchy marketing slogan ‘see it, grip it, rip it’.

Unfortunately a clash with exams prevented Lundy, who attended the workshops as part of a separate support programme, from taking up her prize, but Brown and Patterson joined the rest of the group and EIS Psychologist Simon Middlemas – awarded a place for the best interview and CV in the FPP process - in making their way to Carrington for a unique look behind the scenes last October.

“It was a very interesting experience and well worth seeing” says Patterson, who along with Brown and Middlemass took up a full time position with the EIS following their graduation from the programme.

“They (Manchester United) have all the resources they could possibly want as you would expect from such as big club, but it was interesting to hear how the amount of matches they play limits how much use they can get from them” he says.

And Patterson, who works predominantly with Rowing but also with Women’s Rugby, Synchronised Swimming and Hockey, was intrigued to compare his work with elite athletes at the EIS with that of the support staff at the Premiership club.

“With Rowing the emphasis of the training is mainly focused on meeting the physiological demands of the sport whereas with football it appeared to be much more skill related” he explained. “A lot of the players fitness comes from playing the matches, whilst there is little time to make significant gains in the gym as once the season starts they get into a cycle of prepare-play-recover” he adds.

The tour of the training complex included the opportunity to observe the first team train before meeting the clubs backroom staff including a podiatrist, a nutritionist, strength and conditioning coaches, physiologists and physiotherapists, whilst Patterson was particularly intrigued to meet the clubs three Performance Analysts.

“It was interesting to discover that they actually do very little analysis of their own teams performances” he says. “Their main focus appeared to be on the analysis of future opponents or assessing players the manager was interested in signing” he explains.

Sadly Sir Alex himself was not available; however his influence on the squad was evident from the discussions with his staff.

“It was interesting to pick up from the practitioners we spoke to how much the manager’s attitude towards sports science and sports medicine influences the players” he says. And despite the abundant resources at their disposal, Patterson was encouraged by the comparisons he was able to draw between how elite athletes at the EIS are supported in relation to Premiership footballers.

“The staff we met was all experts in their field so it was good to meet them and realise that the EIS is doing well in relation to them” Patterson says.

“Whilst Manchester United have great resources the club calendar perhaps gives them less time to use them whereas the type of international calendar we work to at the EIS gives us more time to work with our athletes, whilst we are probably more effective in the way we use our resources because we have to be” he adds.

“At United they have the money to spend on equipment which they might not use all that often whereas the EIS has to be more prudent in how it uses its resources” he adds.

“However it was a fantastic opportunity to learn how a top club such as United goes about its sports science and sports medicine support and reassuring to see how favourably our approach at the EIS compares with theirs” he says.

The EIS practitioners who attended would like to thank Manchester United and especially Physiotherapist Rob Swire for the arrangements he made on the day and Glenn Hunter at UK Sport who liaised with the club to make the trip possible.