BLOG: Former Blade and England youth international on non league’s switch from fags and booze to scientific fitness approach
The former Sheffield United, Hinckley, Alfreton and Harrogate full-back, once an England youth international, has seen a dramatic shift in attitude from the days when players would light up cigarettes before games or down pints at half-time.
In the latest in our series of player blogs, he writes...
There seems to be lots of talk nowadays around how the professional game has changed in terms of sports science, players becoming fitter, faster, stronger.
But is this just limited to the professional game? How has the non league game changed?
Over my time in the Blue Sqaure North, Conference North and Vanarama North I’ve seen a big change not just in terms of how the clubs do things but in terms of how players look after themselves away from the clubs.
One story that will always stick in my mind was when I was on loan in the Conference and I remember being sat before the game with my Lucozade, water and banana and the club captain walked into the changing room finishing his fag.
As a young pro I was shocked to say the least but he went out and got man of the match so I couldn’t complain really.
There was a story of the same player coming in one game before my loan and asking for a pint at half-time from the bar because he was feeling ropey.
Again I heard he got man of the match in that game too.
When I first left Sheffield United and signed for Hinckley, lads looked after themselves to a certain extent and did the right thing every now and then but there was no real emphasis on eating correctly before a game or even what to eat before a game.
You’d get the younger lads looking after themselves away from the club in the gym, but this was mainly from an egotistical perspective.
The older didn’t really take an interest in this, and some of the them had really good professional careers.
But these days, younger players are being brought up with the right attitude towards diet, strength and conditioning which they take into the non league game.
Those that don’t and addapt a ‘non league’ mentality fall by the way side.
The older lads now take a more scientific approach to games to extend their playing careers and to help prevent injuries.
From a personal point of view I like to think the work I do has enabled me to miss only seven games through injury in the last five years.
I might not have performed in all those games but I’ve been fit and available for selection.
Over the years an influx of ex Football League players into non league and managers becoming more aware of how diet, strength and conditioning affects performance has seen a big shift towards trying to get the edge over rivals.
Now you’ll see some clubs, including ours, using glute activation bands, performing mobility in warm ups and trying to take on board the correct nutrition after games to enable players to recover properly in order to perform to optimum levels on a Tuesday night.
This in turn has seen lads doing the correct gym work away from the clubs as this can enable you to earn a living or supplement your income for as long as you can.
Universities are getting involved, with some clubs sending sports science interns there to get valuable experience and pass on knowledge to players and managers.
So this comes back to the original question, has non league changed and taken on a more scientific approach to how they do things? Definitely.
It’s a results business and clubs are taking a more holistic approach to trying to find those fine margins.