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Insight

Ready, steady, go

Pre-season training is the bedrock upon which a football club’s endeavours are built. But what does it actually involve and what does it achieve? We head to Newcastle to find out

WORDS Dan Poole | PHOTOGRAPHY Serena Taylor

What do we, mere lay people, know about pre-season training? We know it’s hard work. We have an inkling that there’s a lot of running involved. And we’re pretty sure that footballers don’t like it that much. According to Dan Hodges, head of performance at Newcastle United, we’re not a million miles away with that summation – but there’s a healthy amount of enthusiasm thrown in as well. “The players want to learn, they want to run, they want to be the best they can be,” he says. “There is no motivation needed from my side. I am working with top, top professionals.” 

Sure, but come on: they want to run? “You’re building that mental resilience: ‘Oh, I’ve got to run. Oh, I’ve got to do it again and again and again.’ We don’t completely blitz them, but there’s a certain mental toughness that comes with it and players need to understand that. That’s still a key part of football and a key part of how we play.”

“The players want to learn, they want to run, they want to be the best they can be” 

Manager Eddie Howe has a big input in how pre-season is run, based on the kind of football he wants his team to perfect. As such, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to pre-season. “The manager has the final say,” explains Hodges. “It’s about having an understanding with him, to ensure that the physical complements the technical, the tactical and everything else alongside that. Having worked with this manager for a long period of time, I have that relationship with him.”

When Howe started at Newcastle, he snapped up Hodges from Bournemouth, where the two had worked together for eight years. Hodges actually predated Howe at Bournemouth, but then he worked his way through the ranks to become head of sports science. Howe clearly values Hodges’ work, not least for his personal gain. “I tend to work out quite early in the morning,” said Howe earlier this year. “Dan Hodges comes in with me, our sports scientist, and he puts the sessions on for me – and I just do what he says.”

Prior to working at Bournemouth, Hodges spent a year at Rochdale; before that, he had two years at Manchester City, where he went from intern to sport science assistant. But what about his education: how much do his degree from Brunel University and master’s from Manchester Metropolitan inform his work now? “There is a scientific understanding that underpins all the principles and everything we do,” he says. “But now it’s about understanding how we play and getting everything in line to make sure we are where we need to be come the end of pre-season.”

What do we, mere lay people, know about pre-season training? We know it’s hard work. We have an inkling that there’s a lot of running involved. And we’re pretty sure that footballers don’t like it that much. According to Dan Hodges, head of performance at Newcastle United, we’re not a million miles away with that summation – but there’s a healthy amount of enthusiasm thrown in as well. “The players want to learn, they want to run, they want to be the best they can be,” he says. “There is no motivation needed from my side. I am working with top, top professionals.” 

Sure, but come on: they want to run? “You’re building that mental resilience: ‘Oh, I’ve got to run. Oh, I’ve got to do it again and again and again.’ We don’t completely blitz them, but there’s a certain mental toughness that comes with it and players need to understand that. That’s still a key part of football and a key part of how we play.”

“The players want to learn, they want to run, they want to be the best they can be” 

Manager Eddie Howe has a big input in how pre-season is run, based on the kind of football he wants his team to perfect. As such, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to pre-season. “The manager has the final say,” explains Hodges. “It’s about having an understanding with him, to ensure that the physical complements the technical, the tactical and everything else alongside that. Having worked with this manager for a long period of time, I have that relationship with him.”

When Howe started at Newcastle, he snapped up Hodges from Bournemouth, where the two had worked together for eight years. Hodges actually predated Howe at Bournemouth, but then he worked his way through the ranks to become head of sports science. Howe clearly values Hodges’ work, not least for his personal gain. “I tend to work out quite early in the morning,” said Howe earlier this year. “Dan Hodges comes in with me, our sports scientist, and he puts the sessions on for me – and I just do what he says.”

Prior to working at Bournemouth, Hodges spent a year at Rochdale; before that, he had two years at Manchester City, where he went from intern to sport science assistant. But what about his education: how much do his degree from Brunel University and master’s from Manchester Metropolitan inform his work now? “There is a scientific understanding that underpins all the principles and everything we do,” he says. “But now it’s about understanding how we play and getting everything in line to make sure we are where we need to be come the end of pre-season.”

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Newcastle will have more games to cope with in 2023/24 after qualifying for the Champions League. How has that affected Hodges’ planning? “It’s just making sure the players are ready to perform in multiple games. The pre-season that we’ve designed has taken that into account. We know that there are certain phases of the season where we’re going to be pushed with different games, and all the players need to be ready to play.” And what each player requires can vary significantly. “Players are different ages with different injury histories, so you’d run into problems if you prescribed the same things for everyone. It has to be as individual as you can possibly make it to ensure that everyone’s getting what they need.” 

Pre-season at Newcastle lasted five weeks, but preparation began a lot earlier. “It kind of starts around January or February,” says Hodges, outlining the key planning questions. “How many games will there be? How are we going to divide the minutes up to make sure every player is competitive come the first game of the season? How are we going to get all the training sessions and all the tactical information that the manager wants? Is there going to be a sufficient window for that before the games start? Pre-season is about getting the groundwork in – building the foundation.”

I ask about the bleep test: an exercise whereby participants have to run between two points before a beep sounds. The time between the beeps gets progressively shorter as the exercise goes on. Cue exhausted players collapsed on the training pitch. Does that still happen? “Yes, there is a version of that but slightly more football-specific,” says Hodges. “The players are tested when they come back. Yes, we feed back scores and then design conditioning off the back of it. We can see where players are at and where they’re expected to be, and we intervene based on that.”

Unsurprisingly, the players are always interested in their scores. “It’s important that the players are educated – that they know we’re not just doing things for the sake of doing things,” Hodges adds. “They know how it links to the game. From certain drills you can understand work rates and how hard players are working, which you can then relate to periods of a game. Things like, how does this test, where they’ve run at their maximum, relate to them actually running at their maximum in a match?”

One final pre-season preconception: the coach stood on the side of the training pitch, barking instructions before having a sit-down while the players do all the work. Does Hodges get involved? “No, I don’t. The danger is that all of a sudden you start to taper the runs around you based on how you’re feeling. The reality is that these guys are super, super fit. A lot fitter than I’ll ever be. So it’s a dangerous concept to consider. That’s my excuse, anyway.”

What do we, mere lay people, know about pre-season training? We know it’s hard work. We have an inkling that there’s a lot of running involved. And we’re pretty sure that footballers don’t like it that much. According to Dan Hodges, head of performance at Newcastle United, we’re not a million miles away with that summation – but there’s a healthy amount of enthusiasm thrown in as well. “The players want to learn, they want to run, they want to be the best they can be,” he says. “There is no motivation needed from my side. I am working with top, top professionals.” 

Sure, but come on: they want to run? “You’re building that mental resilience: ‘Oh, I’ve got to run. Oh, I’ve got to do it again and again and again.’ We don’t completely blitz them, but there’s a certain mental toughness that comes with it and players need to understand that. That’s still a key part of football and a key part of how we play.”

“The players want to learn, they want to run, they want to be the best they can be” 

Manager Eddie Howe has a big input in how pre-season is run, based on the kind of football he wants his team to perfect. As such, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to pre-season. “The manager has the final say,” explains Hodges. “It’s about having an understanding with him, to ensure that the physical complements the technical, the tactical and everything else alongside that. Having worked with this manager for a long period of time, I have that relationship with him.”

When Howe started at Newcastle, he snapped up Hodges from Bournemouth, where the two had worked together for eight years. Hodges actually predated Howe at Bournemouth, but then he worked his way through the ranks to become head of sports science. Howe clearly values Hodges’ work, not least for his personal gain. “I tend to work out quite early in the morning,” said Howe earlier this year. “Dan Hodges comes in with me, our sports scientist, and he puts the sessions on for me – and I just do what he says.”

Prior to working at Bournemouth, Hodges spent a year at Rochdale; before that, he had two years at Manchester City, where he went from intern to sport science assistant. But what about his education: how much do his degree from Brunel University and master’s from Manchester Metropolitan inform his work now? “There is a scientific understanding that underpins all the principles and everything we do,” he says. “But now it’s about understanding how we play and getting everything in line to make sure we are where we need to be come the end of pre-season.”

Ready, steady, go
Insight

Ready, steady, go

Pre-season training is the bedrock upon which a football club’s endeavours are built. But what does it actually involve and what does it achieve? We head to Newcastle to find out

WORDS Dan Poole | PHOTOGRAPHY Serena Taylor

What do we, mere lay people, know about pre-season training? We know it’s hard work. We have an inkling that there’s a lot of running involved. And we’re pretty sure that footballers don’t like it that much. According to Dan Hodges, head of performance at Newcastle United, we’re not a million miles away with that summation – but there’s a healthy amount of enthusiasm thrown in as well. “The players want to learn, they want to run, they want to be the best they can be,” he says. “There is no motivation needed from my side. I am working with top, top professionals.” 

Sure, but come on: they want to run? “You’re building that mental resilience: ‘Oh, I’ve got to run. Oh, I’ve got to do it again and again and again.’ We don’t completely blitz them, but there’s a certain mental toughness that comes with it and players need to understand that. That’s still a key part of football and a key part of how we play.”

“The players want to learn, they want to run, they want to be the best they can be” 

Manager Eddie Howe has a big input in how pre-season is run, based on the kind of football he wants his team to perfect. As such, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to pre-season. “The manager has the final say,” explains Hodges. “It’s about having an understanding with him, to ensure that the physical complements the technical, the tactical and everything else alongside that. Having worked with this manager for a long period of time, I have that relationship with him.”

When Howe started at Newcastle, he snapped up Hodges from Bournemouth, where the two had worked together for eight years. Hodges actually predated Howe at Bournemouth, but then he worked his way through the ranks to become head of sports science. Howe clearly values Hodges’ work, not least for his personal gain. “I tend to work out quite early in the morning,” said Howe earlier this year. “Dan Hodges comes in with me, our sports scientist, and he puts the sessions on for me – and I just do what he says.”

Prior to working at Bournemouth, Hodges spent a year at Rochdale; before that, he had two years at Manchester City, where he went from intern to sport science assistant. But what about his education: how much do his degree from Brunel University and master’s from Manchester Metropolitan inform his work now? “There is a scientific understanding that underpins all the principles and everything we do,” he says. “But now it’s about understanding how we play and getting everything in line to make sure we are where we need to be come the end of pre-season.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

What do we, mere lay people, know about pre-season training? We know it’s hard work. We have an inkling that there’s a lot of running involved. And we’re pretty sure that footballers don’t like it that much. According to Dan Hodges, head of performance at Newcastle United, we’re not a million miles away with that summation – but there’s a healthy amount of enthusiasm thrown in as well. “The players want to learn, they want to run, they want to be the best they can be,” he says. “There is no motivation needed from my side. I am working with top, top professionals.” 

Sure, but come on: they want to run? “You’re building that mental resilience: ‘Oh, I’ve got to run. Oh, I’ve got to do it again and again and again.’ We don’t completely blitz them, but there’s a certain mental toughness that comes with it and players need to understand that. That’s still a key part of football and a key part of how we play.”

“The players want to learn, they want to run, they want to be the best they can be” 

Manager Eddie Howe has a big input in how pre-season is run, based on the kind of football he wants his team to perfect. As such, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to pre-season. “The manager has the final say,” explains Hodges. “It’s about having an understanding with him, to ensure that the physical complements the technical, the tactical and everything else alongside that. Having worked with this manager for a long period of time, I have that relationship with him.”

When Howe started at Newcastle, he snapped up Hodges from Bournemouth, where the two had worked together for eight years. Hodges actually predated Howe at Bournemouth, but then he worked his way through the ranks to become head of sports science. Howe clearly values Hodges’ work, not least for his personal gain. “I tend to work out quite early in the morning,” said Howe earlier this year. “Dan Hodges comes in with me, our sports scientist, and he puts the sessions on for me – and I just do what he says.”

Prior to working at Bournemouth, Hodges spent a year at Rochdale; before that, he had two years at Manchester City, where he went from intern to sport science assistant. But what about his education: how much do his degree from Brunel University and master’s from Manchester Metropolitan inform his work now? “There is a scientific understanding that underpins all the principles and everything we do,” he says. “But now it’s about understanding how we play and getting everything in line to make sure we are where we need to be come the end of pre-season.”

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

Newcastle will have more games to cope with in 2023/24 after qualifying for the Champions League. How has that affected Hodges’ planning? “It’s just making sure the players are ready to perform in multiple games. The pre-season that we’ve designed has taken that into account. We know that there are certain phases of the season where we’re going to be pushed with different games, and all the players need to be ready to play.” And what each player requires can vary significantly. “Players are different ages with different injury histories, so you’d run into problems if you prescribed the same things for everyone. It has to be as individual as you can possibly make it to ensure that everyone’s getting what they need.” 

Pre-season at Newcastle lasted five weeks, but preparation began a lot earlier. “It kind of starts around January or February,” says Hodges, outlining the key planning questions. “How many games will there be? How are we going to divide the minutes up to make sure every player is competitive come the first game of the season? How are we going to get all the training sessions and all the tactical information that the manager wants? Is there going to be a sufficient window for that before the games start? Pre-season is about getting the groundwork in – building the foundation.”

I ask about the bleep test: an exercise whereby participants have to run between two points before a beep sounds. The time between the beeps gets progressively shorter as the exercise goes on. Cue exhausted players collapsed on the training pitch. Does that still happen? “Yes, there is a version of that but slightly more football-specific,” says Hodges. “The players are tested when they come back. Yes, we feed back scores and then design conditioning off the back of it. We can see where players are at and where they’re expected to be, and we intervene based on that.”

Unsurprisingly, the players are always interested in their scores. “It’s important that the players are educated – that they know we’re not just doing things for the sake of doing things,” Hodges adds. “They know how it links to the game. From certain drills you can understand work rates and how hard players are working, which you can then relate to periods of a game. Things like, how does this test, where they’ve run at their maximum, relate to them actually running at their maximum in a match?”

One final pre-season preconception: the coach stood on the side of the training pitch, barking instructions before having a sit-down while the players do all the work. Does Hodges get involved? “No, I don’t. The danger is that all of a sudden you start to taper the runs around you based on how you’re feeling. The reality is that these guys are super, super fit. A lot fitter than I’ll ever be. So it’s a dangerous concept to consider. That’s my excuse, anyway.”

What do we, mere lay people, know about pre-season training? We know it’s hard work. We have an inkling that there’s a lot of running involved. And we’re pretty sure that footballers don’t like it that much. According to Dan Hodges, head of performance at Newcastle United, we’re not a million miles away with that summation – but there’s a healthy amount of enthusiasm thrown in as well. “The players want to learn, they want to run, they want to be the best they can be,” he says. “There is no motivation needed from my side. I am working with top, top professionals.” 

Sure, but come on: they want to run? “You’re building that mental resilience: ‘Oh, I’ve got to run. Oh, I’ve got to do it again and again and again.’ We don’t completely blitz them, but there’s a certain mental toughness that comes with it and players need to understand that. That’s still a key part of football and a key part of how we play.”

“The players want to learn, they want to run, they want to be the best they can be” 

Manager Eddie Howe has a big input in how pre-season is run, based on the kind of football he wants his team to perfect. As such, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to pre-season. “The manager has the final say,” explains Hodges. “It’s about having an understanding with him, to ensure that the physical complements the technical, the tactical and everything else alongside that. Having worked with this manager for a long period of time, I have that relationship with him.”

When Howe started at Newcastle, he snapped up Hodges from Bournemouth, where the two had worked together for eight years. Hodges actually predated Howe at Bournemouth, but then he worked his way through the ranks to become head of sports science. Howe clearly values Hodges’ work, not least for his personal gain. “I tend to work out quite early in the morning,” said Howe earlier this year. “Dan Hodges comes in with me, our sports scientist, and he puts the sessions on for me – and I just do what he says.”

Prior to working at Bournemouth, Hodges spent a year at Rochdale; before that, he had two years at Manchester City, where he went from intern to sport science assistant. But what about his education: how much do his degree from Brunel University and master’s from Manchester Metropolitan inform his work now? “There is a scientific understanding that underpins all the principles and everything we do,” he says. “But now it’s about understanding how we play and getting everything in line to make sure we are where we need to be come the end of pre-season.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

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