Galway limits high-force headers in training as Lisa Fallon hatches new plan
The West is aware of the potential dangers of heading into football – and Galway United are at the forefront of new training techniques to limit player exposure to what is known as a “high strength header”.
Galway head coach Lisa Fallon was one of the first in this country to get his hands on the recent detailed football report.
A member of the League Managers’ Association since her stint across the water with the London City Lionesses, she received her copy over the summer and found professional footballers in England would be capped at 10 in -High strength heads in weekly training.
So she sat down with manager John Caulfield and the rest of his backstage staff and was given the green light to develop a new training plan that would fall within those guidelines.
It was a proactive move, given that Irish football has yet to have a formal discussion of the potential links between the head and neurological disorders, including dementia.
“I know we haven’t had a directive here yet,” Fallon said. Starsport , “but if this is happening in England and they take it seriously enough, I think that’s something we need to be aware of.”
So what is a high strength header?
“It’s basically anything that happens to you from 35 yards or more, whether it’s a goal kick, a cross or a set piece that comes from that distance,” Fallon explained.
“As a head coach, when I prepare our sessions and look at the team’s strategy and the way we play, are there ways to support this initiative, keeping in mind? mind the duty of care to the players?
“And can that be done without robbing us of the essence of the work that we have to do and of our ability to get results on a Friday night, is that what it is?”
“We have benchmarks from. In the Premier League, center-backs between 2013 and 2021 average seven high-strength heads per game.
“It rises to 9.28 in the league, nine in League One and 10 in League Two.
“So I thought it would be interesting from our own point of view to see where we are as a Premier League team compared to those numbers.
“I asked our analyst Robbie [Crosby] do some initial work, review our games and count the number of high strength heads our players have been exposed to.
“The numbers compare quite closely with what we’re seeing in England.
“The main ones who get this amount of exposure are the center-backs and maybe the center-forward, depending on the type of opposition play.
“One of our center-backs in a game had nine heads, one of our full-backs had six but the full-back on the other side had only one.
“But you could watch another game and the numbers would be a little higher.
“It can often depend on the opposing team’s strategy and whether they are targeting someone in the air.
“Even still, you don’t really see someone’s strength header count going over 10, except maybe against one or two teams.”
With those numbers in mind, Fallon – a UEFA Pro licensed holder who has previously worked with Chelsea, Cork City and senior Dublin footballers – took a look at his training plan.
“I researched where there were ways to tweak sessions, so we could stick to 10 high-force headers or less per week, and which players were most likely to be subjected to it,” she declared.
“We looked at some of the players who were probably most at risk of encroaching on that volume.
“How could we change the sessions so that they were always exposed to the training they needed, but in a more secure way?
“In theory, it’s during the Friday night games that they’re most likely to see the most volume in terms of volume.
“So you make sure that in Saturday’s cool-downs there aren’t any high-force heads, which there wouldn’t be anyway.
“Sunday is a day off, then Monday we wouldn’t have a high force heading, but we would still train at a fairly reasonable intensity with a certain heading, but well within 35 yards.
“Then on Tuesday we would add a small amount of exposure, since there is sufficient recovery time Wednesday through Thursday and then on game night.
“It’s about putting a set piece workout and any workout that exposes players to that risk or that volume, and tweaking it so that you can condense the exposure.
“We’ve been doing this for about six weeks now and I’ve found it easy to make these changes.”
She has the full support of Caulfield, a veteran former Ireland League star and former Cork City boss.
“We have seen the protocol decline depending on what is tested in England,” said the two-time winner in 2017.
“Basically six weeks ago Lisa said, because we record our practices and she designs them, that she wanted to look at the number of headers our players are going through.
“She’s doing it because it’s going to be implemented in England and it would be good governance for us to start here.
“Anything that helps improve the game or helps in scenarios around player safety needs to be looked at.
“I don’t think it’s possible to take the course out of the game altogether, but can we restrict the course to training? Absoutely.”
Fallon added, “For me as a head coach I don’t see it as a downside, I see it as part of my role. It’s up to me to be creative
“It’s the same with anything – if you had someone with a hamstring problem, you wouldn’t make them do things that would put more strain on the hamstrings. It’s the same concept.
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