ONE thing is certain when it comes to examining England’s bad showing at the World Cup — they can’t blame their training facilities!
A few weeks back I had the honour of being asked to represent an Irish women’s media team to take part in the prestigious Continental Tyres Conti Media Cup soccer tournament at St George’s Park.
I’ll admit I had never heard of the venue until the invite, but it’s the FA’s top-class training facility for all its national teams, male and female — surprisingly deep in the Burton upon Trent countryside, on a 330-acre site, cows and all!
The facility opened in 2012 and boasts 11 world-class training pitches, with both grass and artificial surfaces, and a full-sized indoor pitch.
It also has state-of-the-art hydrotherapy suites, biomechanics and training gyms, video analysis amenities, educational and coaching suites, and medical and sport science facilities.
Not only that, but it has its very own Hilton Hotel onsite for when teams stay — one wing for the ‘riff-raff teams’, while the second wing boasts a number of suites for international players to cosy it up in comfort between training sessions.
There’s also a 60-metre indoor track which World Cup sponsor Continental has played its part in sponsoring, and former Olympic champion Michael Johnson not only uses it to test the speed and pace of turn for soccer stars, but he also brings his own athletes there to train all season round.
On the tour, we got to see one of the 11 pitches on-site, with the groundsman explaining that the grass is cut to the exact length, and design, as it is in Wembley so that everything is replicated as much as possible for the players.
In fairness, the facility is designed for elite athletes but it’s also accessible to the public, including corporate groups, schools and sports teams.
The full-sized indoor pitch costs £300 to rent an hour, but if you’ve 30 lads or lassies looking to play ball, then it’s reasonable enough at £10 a head.
The other facilities it boasts include the following:
HUMAN PERFORMANCE LAB
The lab incorporates an anti-gravity treadmill, with NASA technology. The Alter G treadmill optimises performance by customising body weight to aid rehabilitation after-injury or surgery.
An altitude centre – a simulated high altitude environment which allows athletes train at different altitudes, temperatures and humidity to enhance athletic performance. The altitude chamber can be used to help improve recovery times, for injury rehabilitation and prepare for trips at high altitude. (Obviously England didn’t use this prior to Brazil!)
With the use of the latest aquatic therapy equipment, athletes can also improve rehabilitation and recovery rates.
It has a Hydroworx underwater treadmill with video analysis, which allows for ‘early acute rehabilitation’.
There is also a Variopool with adjustable height flooring and a ColdSpa hot/cold contrast bathing.
The water supports the weight of the user, allowing them to have a greater range of movement and can be supported to make those movements out of water to support their return to their individual optimum physical ability.
This overlooks the full-sized indoor pitch and includes a range of testing and strengthening equipment to support the screening of athletes, and diagnosis and early treatment of injuries. Professional athletes can also be treated individually or as partof a group, and Pilates classes are also a service provided.
STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING GYM
The gym is strategically built with large windows facing onto one of the training pitches as an incentive for those in full rehabilitation mode to work that little bit harder in coming back from injury, as do the sports quotes from the likes of Muhammad Ali on the walls. The gym features state-of-the-art Technogym equipment.
60-METRE SPRINT TRACK
This uses the latest in video movement analysis and foot pressure sensor technology. The assessment uses a wide range of tools such as force platforms, telemetry systems, 2D video analysis, speed guns, high-speed cameras and pressure distribution systems.
We didn’t win the tournament in the end, BBC Sport did, but still, we’d even have given England a run!
None-the-less, to get the opportunity to see such top facilities was brilliant, and if you get the chance, you should do the same.