7th June 2010
Academic’s research on target for World Cup conference
Scientific techniques to boost elite athletes’ performance on the football pitch will be unveiled by a North East academic at a global conference coinciding with the World Cup.
Paul Bradley, sport and exercise physiologist at the University of Sunderland, has been invited to present his research at the World Science and Soccer Conference in South Africa this month (June).
The prestigious event, which will be held in the days leading up to the 2010 World Cup, is aimed at international experts with an interest in the scientific study and practical performance of football from grass roots to elite level.
Paul, who collaborated on his research with one of the world’s leading research groups from the University of Copenhagen, carried out tests on more than 200 elite footballers, including some Premier League and international players. This allowed him to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in their fitness levels, to allow specific training programmes to be developed to optimise performance.
“This is a huge honour for me and an opportunity to raise the profile of the university,” said Paul.
“It’s the biggest conference in football research, so there’s incredible competition to present your work there, which is shared among the world’s leading experts.
“My general research is based on the physiology of football. I have been profiling the fitness levels of elite male and female football players using a football specific endurance test for the last couple of years, this data will be presented in South Africa for the first time.”
He added: “Relatively little work has been published on this test, therefore this data will be important for fitness coaches working with players on a day-to-day basis when monitoring and evaluating players.
“For example, we identified the average and more importantly the minimum scores for elite footballers in relation to position. This allows us to identify players’ weaknesses and thus provide additional endurance work for players below this minimum threshold of endurance.”
“We also have data over multiple seasons and this informs how players’ fitness levels change over the course of a season, and ultimately, if the fitness work carried out in training is effective.”
Another piece of research Paul will present at the three-day conference, was conducted as part of his PhD studies at the university, and focuses specifically at the effect of simulated games on the immune system of footballers to discover if they are susceptible to minor infection during a heavy schedule of matches.
“We would take blood and saliva samples from players before and after games and check if certain markers were above or below normal,” Paul explained. “The analysis was conducted using state-of- the-art techniques at the University of Sunderland and Newcastle University.”
He added that performing successive games in a short period of time such as the period of congested fixtures over Christmas, increases the presence of muscle damage markers and decreases some aspects of immunity.
This finding has implications for the way teams approach recovery during intense periods of competition and for governing bodies in soccer when constructing fixture schedules.
Paul said: “Finding high muscle damage markers in the blood reveals that footballers are not the prima donnas many think they are. It makes no difference how much money they may be earning from week to week, they still suffer aches and pains due to the high physical demands of modern football.”
Paul is now looking to adapt some of his research in the future to assess health benefits for the wider population. He plans to study recreation players, getting them involved in 16 weeks of football training, taking blood samples and looking at changes in their immune system in addition to assessing their fitness levels and body fat to monitor health benefits.
He said: “Football is the most popular sport in this country and therefore has social, environmental and economical solutions for inactivity and obesity in this country.
“By bringing this research from the elite to the masses you could see significant health benefits.”