“Competitive games are irreplaceable!”

Last Sunday (20.09.20), Hertha U17’s season finally got underway – 197 days after the final game of last season. An unusual and seemingly never-ending pre-season came to a close with a successful start to the new campaign: a 4-1 victory over Holstein Kiel. Not only was the long break in football  a new experience for the players, but also the coaching team – especially in terms of managing workloads in order to reduce the injury risk of the young players. U17 fitness coach Marc Ritter explained the process behind planning for the unfamiliar pre-season.

Hi Marc, a seemingly never-ending, nine-week pre-season is behind you. As fitness coach, what do you think are the differences between this and a four or five-week pre-season? Did you focus on different areas?

Because of the coronavirus break, the intensity levels on the players were reduced significantly, therefore causing their injury risk to increase. So a main difference was that the first few weeks were all about getting the players to the right level again and protecting them from injuries. For this reason, we split our pre-season into two cycles, which is the biggest difference to a standard pre-season. In the first cycle, the main priority was to increase the players’ ability to handle the workload little by little and get the players acclimatised to training again. For this we trained at a level lower than the maximum load. The amount we trained was dictated by the increase in intensity. We also introduced measures to influence the players’ ability to handle the workload, such as diet and nutrition guidelines, muscle tissue care, targeted control of individual muscles and muscle groups, mobilisation and stabilisation exercises and targeted strength training. The players’ regeneration was also checked at regular intervals. In the second cycle, we increasingly trained at the upper intensity range. This phase was quite similar to a usual pre-season.

Nine weeks of pre-season and a coronavirus break – the time off between competitive games was unusually long. How did you manage to keep the players in good spirits?

During the coronavirus break we tried to do that by carrying out live workouts over Zoom or Instagram, in addition to targeted training plans. Also, the daily Academy Challenge on our Instagram channel @herthabubis was a big help. In general, both in the coronavirus break and in the long pre-season, we have constantly tried to make the players aware of the importance of individual actions, so that they understand why certain elements of training are very important. In doing so, we can carry them out with conviction, motivation, and pride.

The competitive games are back now. Are you expecting an increased injury risk after such a long break?

Of course we have to keep the coronavirus break in mind after the successful start of the season last weekend, because there will very likely be one or two players who aren’t currently at the same level as they were before the break. Obviously, that can be reflected in a player’s injury susceptibility too. Currently we only have one player unavailable – due to a back injury. However, he can train normally but is accompanied during training. Apart from that, everyone is fit, which is great for us as we have no selection issues. Obviously we will try and keep it that way through targeted individual programmes and regenerative training. We are always in discussion about that among ourselves as the coaching team and have a lengthy meeting about individual players every week.

To what extent will your work as a fitness coach change during the season in comparison to pre-season?

A big difference is in the different workload during the week. Individual training sessions are all geared towards getting the players in the best possible condition for matchday. Optimal regeneration management plays a really big role in that.

What are the areas of focus for fitness coaching during the season?

We always try to increase the players’ ability to handle workload and their performance levels, because the players are continuously developing and we have to continue pushing that during the season. However, you can never forget about making sure they are in the best condition for matchday. Only then can they fulfil their potential on the pitch, because you can’t replicate the competition itself and matches at the highest level – they offer the best opportunity for the development of any player.