Keep'er Fit

Gary Wallace

You still have to work hard at Arsenal

Gary recently made a visit to the Arsenal Youth Academy.

Last weekend I was on a Strength and Conditioning course in London and I had the opportunity to visit Arsenal Youth Academy the following day – and I was not disappointed.

Firstly the size of the complex, the gym not only had all the equipment and squat racks you need but all the space you could want.

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Everything from 10+ squat racks, a sand pit, indoor running track and even a basketball net which was only installed the previous day. It grabbed the interest of Per Mertesacker the club’s captain who came and shot a few hoops with the Academy players.

In addition to the gym there was room after room for the players and staff to help monitor their progress and do whatever they can to develop these players. They even had their own nutrition room which was designed by Gatorade.

Step outside and you have 11 grass pitches, some of which have different types of surfaces to help players coming back from injury. In another building beside the pitches is a recovery room which has pools, ice baths, Jacuzzi – it’s really just a mini spa!

After watching the conditioning coaches at work and enjoying the  tour we headed for lunch. There was a variety of clean healthy food.

As I sat down to my lunch a few of the first team players were at the table opposite me tucking into  their post training meal.

In all this was an unbelievable set up for any young man to develop in, but there was still one underlying ethos – you must be willing to put in the work.

Arsenal player Per Mertesacker playing basketball with some of the club’s youth players.

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There is no doubting some of these guy’s ability as footballers and they have natural genes which make them such great physical specimens at a young age but that isn’t enough. Talent alone will not guarantee you success you have to be willing to work hard on all areas of your development.

All these guys want to do is be footballers so the idea of going to the gym isn’t high on some of their priority lists. I heard a player ask the S&C coach how does he get faster, the coach said “I have asked you to do all the extra work you need to get fast, but instead you spend 15 minutes taking free kicks every day when you don’t even take them for the team”. The young player enjoyed hitting the free kicks everyday but was that going to make him faster?

Yes, he would have gotten better at hitting free kicks but would that help him in securing a contract with the club?

In a way this can relate to your health and fitness goals, find out the areas you are weak at and build on them. For example if you like to run but keep breaking down, don’t do extra running sessions. Instead drop a running session and hit the gym, build the strength you need to run longer miles, once you have done that then you are reducing the risk of injury. We all want to improve on our weakness but aren’t willing to put in the time to do so.

The next big factor these players have to deal with is the amount of money some of them get. A 16-year-old would sign a scholarship and get £750 a month. At the end of year one or two some of them may be offered a pro contact, one player at Arsenal was on £30,000 a week, that’s a hell of a lot of money at 17/18 years old. I had a talk with the coaches about the money and they thought it was ridiculous and harder to manager players on big contracts, but they did say if they didn’t sign them then someone else would.

The players on scholarships had to work hard to try and get a pro contract or be released by the club, the players on pro contracts arguably had to work harder to justify their wages, break into the first team and renew their contract.

You would be surprised at the amount of players who take this opportunity for granted. It all comes down to how bad you wanted it and if  you are willing to let other people and things distract you.

For these players they still have to breath, eat and sleep football. They have the added influence of family and friends telling them they are great, the prestige of being at a big club and for some, so much money they don’t know what they can do with it.

With all these added pressures in place they still have to focus on one goal, being a professional footballer, which is harder than it sounds.

The same can be applied to your own health and fitness goals, apart from getting the huge amounts of money each week, we too have pressures and influences that can stop us from reaching our goal. This is why you need to focus on what you really want to achieve. Improve your weakness, build on your strength and go smash it.

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