Interview to Albert Altarriba
Do you think that the work of the Strength and Conditioning coach is determinant in the performance of the team?
Well, I think that the work that a fitness trainer has to do with a team it is not less important or more important than the job of the other members of the staff. All of them are very important to enhance performance with the team and players. One without the others it is not useful. You can have a player in a good physical condition but then if he doesn’t understand the game model or he doesn’t understand what the teammates or opponents are doing is not worth. You have to achieve a good level and do good work. Then you have to know and realize that only the fitness coach or the other members of the staff work, by their own, they can not achieve performance.
How much influence do you think physical state has on the performance of a professional football team?
As I said before, I think that physical state of a player is an important thing for the team performance in a professional team and professional world but it is not the only one. Physical can not go alone and it has to join with other structures like the cognitive, the coordinative, social-affective,… Because you can have a player that understands the game very well, but if he is not in shape he won’t succeed. In the opposite way, you can have one player in a really good moment physically, but if he doesn’t understand what is happening during the game or if he had a bad moment in his personal life it won’t work. So, it must be one with the other and it has to work like a net not like dots. You have to connect all the dots and when all the dots are optimized then you can have a good performance.
What are in your opinion the biggest differences between European and American football?
You can find some differences between the European football and the American one. However, what it shocked me more when I arrive there is that I thought that they train more tactically, because they have the American Football coaches, and in this sport everything is about tactics,. All is planned, you have a plan for every single play in the game, you train a lot in defense, in attack… You have one coach for each phase of the game: defensive coaches and offensive coaches. This is the reason why I thought that they could use this strategy in soccer but it is not like that. So, this is one of the main differences, because in Europe we are working more tactically and less physically. In the Us, they prioritize the physical part. You can talk with a lot of coaches in the US and they always say: this player is so fast, this player jumps a lot, this player can run the 100m in 10 seconds,… They take into account all these aspects and not the tactical ones. I haven’t found a coach that says: these player understands the game well, he knows what to do… So, they prioritize other things and it shocks me at the beginning.
How do you link the work of the S&C coach and the main coach? Do you think you have to adapt the work of the S&C coach depending on the demands of the main coach?
It is the most difficult part. A lot of teams are working in these way, trying to cooperate and work together (the coach and the fitness coach), but in some teams and specially in the US they see you as a fitness coach like another member of the staff. They give you for example some parts of the training (warm up, prevention part…). They make differences between parts. In my opinion, it is not the proper way to work, because as I said before, you need to work all together. I need to know as a S&C coach what the main coach want to achieve and how he wants to play, in order to try to follow him and to respect what he wants to do. After knowing that, I will prepare a work or another. So, it is so important to know each other. The best thing you can do is meet each other, spend 3 hours in the preseason, explain to the coach what you can do for the team and let him to explain how he wants to work and how he wants to play. After that, you can start working together and plan the microcycle and season objectives. On the contrary, if you don’t know each other you don’t know how he can improve the team performance or how you can help him to improve it. The most important thing is, knowing that the main responsible is the coach, know how he wants to play, what is his game model about, and then start to plan the season.
Which systems and tools are used in the professional teams to control loads? Do you think that it is important to control loads?
There are a lot of tools and systems to control loads. In my opinion is very important to control it. But don’t forget that you must try to control everything but don’t drive crazy. Not because you are controlling everything you will succeed. And also, not because you are not controlling anything you will fail. You have to put it in a balance and decide which tools, systems or what do you want to use or what will help you during the season and what is more useful for you. For example, nowadays a lot of profesional teams are using GPS, other ones use Heard Rate Monitors, other ones use many other different tools… In my opinion all of them are useful if you know how to use it. What I want to say is that sometimes it appears on the press or on TV that they are using these tool, and some people decides to copy it, and often this is not the best option. It is like when you watch a training session, you can not go to your team and say: “Okay, I have seen this drill in Barcelona training session, we will try to apply it”. The main reason why it is not a good option is because you don’t know the purpose of it. Maybe they are using it for something that you don’t need. In terms of controlling the loads, it is important to do it, but in a way that it can be useful and helps your team. I am sure that you can do it, even if you are not in a professional team, you can control loads. For me, nowadays people and fitness coaches start to try to control cognitive loads, because it was something that nobody did it before. They start to control the internal load with Heard Rate Monitor and external load with GPS, taking into account distances, sprints, accelerations desacelerations…But not the cognitive load and it is so important. I think that as a fitness coach you have to define how you want to control it and, knowing the coach and the game model, try to put all together.
What do you think should be the characteristics of a preseason?
Everyone has his own ideas, but in my opinion the preseason is the period that you have to use to readapt the players after the break. Sometimes you take them, and it depends on the team, you will have the players usually between 6-8 weeks, and your orders to put them in a good shape. You have to know that it won’t be the best shape that they will achieve during the season, and it has not to be your main goal to achieve the best shape for the first game. You have to put them fit, to make them able to compete without risk to soufer an injury, and to have a good performance for the first game of the league. So, the main strategy is to work with intensity and volume in a proper way and try to do it progressively. If you want to put them fit in 6 weeks and then, keep them fit for all the season it will not be possible. We have to know that what we achieve during the preseason it won’t last for the whole season. It is impossible make in 6-8 weeks all the work to keep in shape for 8-9 months. In conclusion, the preseason for me it is a period that you have to readapt the player to the competition level.
What kind of stretching do you believe that can give benefits to the footall players? In which part of the training session does the soccer players need to stretch?
Well, it is a good question. Last years they have changed a lot our concept of stretching and how to perform good stretching exercises, before and after the game. What scientist says and what recent scientific papers try to explain to us is that: if you are carrying out a heavy training session or after a game, don’t use stretching after that. The reason why they said it is because what will you achieve are not benefits it is a worth thing for your body. You did a lot of work, and you create stress in your body muscles, and if you perform stretching exercises after that, then is even worse. So what they recommend you is to use ballistic and active tension stretching exercises before the game to prepare your body to what will you find during the game. During the game you will have to run, to kick the ball, to jump,… So, they suggest do ballistic exercises because are more similar to the demands of the game. Then, use the passive stretching exercises if you are training, to recover a little bit. But don’t use passive exercises or any kind of stretching exercises after the game. Your muscles are sore and what you can achieve during the stretching is not good for your body.
Who is your S&C coach referent? Which of his qualities do you like?
Well, when I was a kid I never had a player like an idol, I never had a singer, I didn’t had an actor… I tried to find different capacities or abilities to learn from everyone. In this way, I would say the same. But if you are asking me for someone who I like to follow or I believe in his ideas I would say “Paco” Seirul·lo. I started knowing about him when I was 16-17 years old. Then at University I read a lot about him, and I think that what he wrote and what he gave and he is still giving to us is so important. He is a mind-changer, he started to say things that nobody realize before and he is the main responsible of the way that we are training nowadays. So I would say him. What I appreciate more from him, is that I am lucky to know him personally. He is the most humble person I have ever met. He never tried to publish anything, he never tried to write a book, he never took a PHD… and it is not because he is not capable to do it, it is because it is his way of live. He thinks that he doesn’t need to do these things to be a top guy, and it is really true. In my opinion, he is the best one. You can have a PHD you can have a Master Degree and you never will have the knowledge that he has. Also, he helps us to apply everything in the field, that is the most important thing.
Which parameters do you think are the most important to get the players in an optimal state of form? And to maintain it for the longest possible time?
That is a good question and also difficult to answer. It is so difficult to say: “doing this you will keep your fitness level for a long time”. It is related with everything that I said before. You have to take into account that you are dealing with human beings. We are not machines, which you say: “I will take this and I will achieve that or I will use this key and I will achieve something”. You are treating with humans and you know that first of all, you have to understand them as human beings. You have to know that there are many things which affects the performance. In my opinion, is a mix of everything. Of course is a mix of fitness part, but also the cognitive part, the way he understands the game, the way that he feels emotionally, the way that he feels physically, the way that he slept, the way that he eats,… Everything is connected and one thing gives you the other. So, when you optimize a player is very difficult. You have to try to understand them as a complex system and then doing the things as well as you can, knowing and understanding that it won’t depends on you 100%.
What advice you can give to someone who wants to become a professional S&C coach?
Difficult one too… I am not anyone to give advices to anyone. The only thing that I would say is fight for your dreams and try to push hard. Do whatever you can to achieve where you want to be and what you want to do and… WORK HARD, WORKD HARD and WORK HARD. The other advice that I can give is: be prepared for your moment. The moment arrives to everyone and if you are prepared you can take it. If you are not prepared you cannot take it. That is the only advices that I can give.