Gerhard Struber’s squad have been away from Oakwell for three weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak but, with the season officially due to re-start this month, they are still trying to keep fit in unusual ways. Luke Dopson, the club’s head sports scientist, said: “It’s difficult but we are managing. The players have programmes based around achieving everything they need to achieve from home. That includes morning activation and mobility sessions to keep their joints and muscles mobile and supple.
"Then in the afternoon they do running sessions. All of it is position specific so defenders do shuffling movements to replicate one-v-one situations, strikers have little sprints and bursts of speed to replicate running in behind. That was really important to Gerhard who didn’t just want them going out and doing a steady long plod, it had to relate to football so they are ready for when we start playing again. None of the players can hide because they all have heart monitors and GPS watches to show what work they have done, but this is a good group who want to work hard anyway. I don’t have to chase them, they are always asking me questions.”
Dopson and the squad are having to ‘get creative’ with their exercise routines. He said: “Some players don’t have access to a football pitch or park so it is difficult to do their agility work and changes of direction on the street. We have tried to adjust it to what they have available. Some of them are just sprinting between lampposts on their street, and changing direction to go back to another lamppost. Most have access to a pitch or some form of green space.
"You have people like Alex Mowatt and Cauley Woodrow running across football pitches by themselves and probably getting strange looks from anyone who is walking their dog around there. Bambo Diaby and Dani Pinillos are just confined to their houses because the rules in Spain are a lot more strict than here or most other countries. They are probably driving everyone they live with mad by jumping around the house.”
The players would normally spend a large portion of their week in the Oakwell gym. Dopson said: “Gymwork is a really large part of what we do, because the game is so physical now. We are always looking to work on strength and power. Some of the lads have gym equipment at home and they have sent me pictures of what they’ve got and we’ve adapted programmes for them.
“Others don’t have any gym equipment at all so it is just a case of making do with what they have got in the house and being creative – some of them are lifting other heavy things in their house or just doing squats and other exercises to keep their muscles working. “It’s strange not being able to watch the players or being able to correct them if they need to change their technique. But they have been sending me videos and asked for feedback, which has been a good tool.
“Gerhard has a good understanding of the physical preparation side of things, after coming through the Red Bull Salzburg coaching system where it is a very important aspect. “We work seamlessly together.”
Dopson has set up a group for the first team squad on the exercise app Strava. He said: “The players record and report their sessions to me every day. I put all the data into a league table, which was the manager’s idea. It’s created a good bit of competition amongst the group. Last week, Patrick Schmidt was the runaway winner. He has access to a lot of green spaces in Austria so he is getting the miles in. It’s important to keep the competitive element, because that is what the lads are used to in training.
“With us not having a start and end point, it’s difficult to keep the motivation so that’s why we have tried to make things as fun and engaging as we can. It’s just a game at the end of the day so we have to respect the rules and maybe lose a bit of fitness to help save lives.”
As well as the physical preparation, Dopson and the other staff are trying to make sure the players stay mentally well during the isolation. He said: “We have tried to be in contact with as many players as we can. I am texting ten to 15 of them every day to have a chat and see if everything is okay. I know the other coaches are doing the same thing. “It’s as much for our own mental health as staff as it is for the players.”
Dopson, 28, spent a year as an intern with Newcastle Falcons rugby union club then was appointed Barnsley under 18s’ sport scientist in 2014 before being promoted to the first team in 2018 after Nathan Winder moved to Leeds with Paul Heckingbottom. He works closely with physiotherapists Craig Sedgwick and Vikki Stevens who are treating injured players remotely. The likes of Sami Radlinger and Callum Styles have been recovering from injury.
“Craig and Vikki have been in close contact with those players, with daily telephone calls to make sure the programme is right and checking symptoms over the phone which is not easy. We have just had to rely on the players knowing their bodies well and being really honest with the physios. We have been able to set exercise and running programmes and, so far, they are responding really well. It is good that there is no real pressure to get the players fit really quickly. We have been able to give the injuries longer to settle down than we normally would.”