Burnley quick off Mark thanks to Howard's science
SPORTS scientists were once a luxury item among a manager’s backroom team, nowadays they are pre-requisite.
Sam Allardyce was among those who set the trend a decade or so ago, delving beyond the medical and into meal times and mindset, making sure his players were not just training correctly but eating the right things and promoting positivity on and off the pitch.
Mark Howard was brought in to spearhead the shift in the early 2000s at the Reebok Stadium.
Now Burnley are benefiting from the former Blackpool trainee’s years of experience in his specialist field.
With a career in football cruelly cut short by injury before it had the chance to begin, it is perhaps poignant that the St Martin’s graduate has since made a career out of helping others reach the peak of their powers.
While the lethal attacking combination of Sam Vokes and new England Under 21 cap Danny Ings have hit the headlines in the Clarets hitting the Championship summit, Howard has played a key part in keeping Sean Dyche’s side fit and firing.
It is no mean feat with a squad as small as Burnley’s.
“It’s certainly important,” said the 36-year-old.
“If we were riddled with injuries the squad would really struggle.
“We’ve got a small squad and we need to keep them fit, so there is that pressure, but that said it is my job.
“I’m kind of judged on fitness and health and injury prevention statistics. So far so good.”
Communication with the manager and coaching staff is important.
“The manager’s great because he lets me do my job,” he explained. “With the gaffer and the coaches we’ll sit down every morning.
“We all come from a different perspective – myself with the fitness priorities and those objectives – and we always manage to agree on the outcome.
“There’s a bit of flexibility from all of us, and we can have a chat about what we think’s appropriate for that day.
“It’s science meets coaching meets common sense sometimes.
“If you don’t have that flexible approach it’s sometimes difficult but because we’re all on the same page and going in the right direction together it bodes well for the future.”
Developing trust and an understanding with the players is just as imperative too.
“You’ve got to have relationships with the players to help them get where you want them to be,” Howard continued.
“I think the key is getting players genuinely to want to do what we want them to do.
“That’s through communication and education. You can’t just tell players ‘you have to do this’ without really telling them what it is and why they’re doing it. That’s the key really.
“Behind that is the supporting mechanism of the coaches and the medical team and myself within sports science to get the best out of them, and that’s what we’re employed to do. But relationships are huge, the psychology and behaviour that glue everything together is really key to everything.”
Howard has been credited for bringing the best out in Keith Treacy this season, his third at Turf Moor.
After the winger came off the bench to score one and make one in a 2-0 win over Yeovil in August, ending his most recent spell in the wilderness, the Dubliner thanked Howard – his confidante at previous club Blackburn Rovers – for his patience and persistence in helping him get back in shape.
“I’ve worked with Keith before, he’s a good lad and he’s applying himself at the moment,” said Howard.
“He’s had conversations with the manager and that’s where most of the credit’s due really, and I support that with what we do.
“Keith’s really trying hard and from his first day of pre-season to today he’s been making steady progress and I’ve always been supporting, so it’s good to see that.”
Arriving at Gawthorpe with an impressive CV in February this year, Howard has also been at the forefront of helping Ings recover from the devastation of two serious knee injuries to become one of the most feared strikers in the Championship.
Strength and conditioning work centred on the striker’s legs, to help protect his knees, geared the striker up for a stunning start to the season. But for Ings and the rest of the Clarets, building mental toughness has been as important as improving physique and fitness.
“Danny’s had problems with some injuries before as we know,” said Howard, who left Bolton for a brief spell with Newcastle United in 2007, before returning to East Lancashire.
“He came back in pre-season and said himself that he was a little bit shocked he was slightly off the pace at the start.
“Out in Ireland we did some sessions which tested them mentally and physically.
“We complimented that with a strength programme off the pitch and also on the pitch, and it’s stood him in good stead so far.”
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