BSc (Hons) Science and Football students were given a once in a lifetime opportunity to go on a field trip to Everton Football Club’s training ground, Finch Farm. Being first year students and only eight weeks into the course, it felt surreal being in an environment where top-class players train on a regular basis; whether they be current, former or future stars, such as Jordan Pickford (Everton and England), Ross Barkley (Chelsea and England), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United and Belgium) or Tom Davies (Everton and England U21s).
Finch Farm is a relatively new facility which opened in 2007 and cost approximately £17 million to build. The aim of the trip was to get a close look at world-class facilities and a taste of what working in the field of football science is like outside of the classroom. This opportunity made me realise how privileged I am to be on LJMU’s Science and Football course, given its strong and long-lasting relationship with Everton Football Club.
Getting warmed up
We visited Finch Farm during the November international break. The morning began with a briefing in the press room, which is where the First Team Manager Marco Silva regularly holds his weekly press conferences for the media. Dr Martin Littlewood, Reader in Performance Psychology and Head of the Football Exchange at LJMU gave us an introduction to the visit and then we went outside to get a glimpse of the U18s training. We joined towards the end of the warm-up when they were doing a two-touch ‘rondo’ which lasted roughly 10 minutes. Each player was fitted with a GPS vest, which can be used to track data such as maximum speed, distance travelled and maximum heart rate.
They then split into three teams where one was in the middle acting as a midfield, whilst the two teams either side would have to make a pass through the team in the middle without intercepting. To increase relevance to a real match, two players could press the ball. After 10-15 minutes, the team moved to the main match pitch and split in half. One side used a rebound net by passing into it, taking one touch and shooting at goal. The final minute of this practice required players to use their weak foot only, to enhance bilateral transfer of skills (transfer of skill from one side to another). Concurrent feedback was key throughout the session as the head coach continually stopped training to explain situations and see if the players could identify their own solutions. As for the type of training variability, blocked practice was on show with different skills being trained for similar periods of time.
The other half of the pitch were involved in a more open skill. Players were competing against each other to score, whereas with the rebound net there was only the external influence of the bounce against the net to adapt to. The ball was played from the goal line to the edge of the penalty area, with two teams lined up behind each goal post and both would try to score; this evolved into a 2v2 and 3v3 later. Throughout the session Joe Brookman, Level 6 BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science student at LJMU and current General Sports Science Support Assistant, was assisting the strength and conditioning coach and making notes on the session.
Gym facility and indoor pitch
Unfortunately, access to the gym was limited since a few Academy players and Everton Ladies were using it. However, we had a look at the immaculate indoor pitch, which is predominantly used for younger Academy age group training sessions and small sided game-related tournaments. In the case of severe weather, the First Team do use this pitch as well.
On the way to the facilities, we passed the outdoor 4G pitch, which separates the First Team from the Academy. The First Team rarely use the 4G pitch, since it is believed to have a different impact on bones and joints compared to regular grass pitches. In fact, the pitch the First Team do train on has the exact same characteristics as the pitch at Goodison Park. We also learned that sand is integrated within the construction of the grass pitches as this makes the pitch harder when it’s watered prior to games and at half time. Before the trip I’d assumed that this makes the pitch more slippery. The advantage of training on an almost identical pitch is to reduce the variability in kinaesthetic feedback, so players feel they don’t have to make slight adjustments to technique.
To round off the trip we went back to the press room and were given two presentations on the work that goes on behind the scenes from a scientific perspective. James Coneboy, current Level 6 BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science student at LJMU, is currently working as a General Sports Science Intern at Everton Football Club. He spoke about the incredible opportunities he has experienced so far on the internship, such as visiting Cobham and the Etihad Campus – training grounds of both Chelsea and Manchester City Football Clubs respectively. As a result of Everton being in the Europa League, he said European opportunities also emerge as players start to compete in Europe when they reach the U18s team.
Andrew Cowley, Academy Performance Analyst and former BSc (Hons) Science and Football student at LJMU, gave us an insight into some of the software that they would typically use to analyse a full match, which could take between 2-4 hours. We will be taught how to use similar software on the Science and Football degree at LJMU which I’m looking forward to. Similarly, he suggested that the use of technology can provide a type of augmented feedback, such as using iPads during training to show goalkeepers the distribution and therefore being able to make comparisons to the First Team keeper Jordan Pickford.
Despite only being there for two hours, the experience and knowledge I gained for my future studies was priceless. I got a valuable insight into the intricate details of how a Premier League Club runs from a football science perspective, in particular the techniques, methods and styles used by the coaching staff and interns. As a collective, we were all hugely impressed and look forward to further opportunities like this in the future. Seeing current and former LJMU Science and Football students working at the club on a daily basis was very motivating and gives everyone studying the Science and Football degree hope they will one day be the people speaking to future students.
Feeling inspired by Farhan's experiences? Why not find out what you could study at the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences?