Other sports to follow PL lead on bio-banding

By Pete Lansley 18 Apr 2016
How young players should train depends on their physical maturation

Sean Cumming tells Pete Lansley how rugby or dance can learn from innovations in academies

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Sean Cumming believes the Premier League is helping show the way for other sports to build a more level playing field for developing young talent.

Having worked extensively in football, leading a panel of worldwide experts for the Premier League’s bio-banding research, Cumming and his research team are examining the potential benefits for sports like rugby, tennis and even dance, especially in terms of talent identification, training and injury prevention.

"We’ve been working with Bath Rugby Club," Cumming, a senior lecturer in sports and exercise sciences at the University of Bath, said. "They’re aware of the work we’ve been doing with the Lawn Tennis Association and the Premier League.

"In rugby, there’s a case where they’re selecting early-maturing boys and from quite an early age.

“In fact, you won’t find anything but early-maturing boys at most professional academies because a lot of the late maturing boys are taken out of the system by that point.

"At Bath we have been working closely with the sports scientists and Academy director Danny Grewcock to establish a system that can better assess and monitor growth and maturity, and take individual differences into account when assessing player development, and designing strength and conditioning programmes.

"You can have two 14-year-old boys, and one who might be 12 physically up will be against another kid who is 16 physically. How you would train these players is very different as the effectiveness of different training models vary with maturity.

Coaches from the Rugby Football Union observe the bio-banding tournament at Lilleshall
Coaches from the Rugby Football Union observe the bio-banding tournament at Lilleshall

"There are also periods of development, such as the growth spurt, where children are more susceptible to growth-related injuries such as Sever's and Osgood-Schlatter's disease.

"During these phases, academies need to monitor growth, maturation and training load, amongst other risk factors, much more closely.

"Rugby have shown quite a lot of interest in this. At Bath, they’ve really taken to it and we are continuing work together to fine-tune the processes.

"We've also had interest from the Rugby Football Union. I’m not sure they’re quite ready to jump into it just yet, and in rugby what we might do in terms of bio-banding might be very different from what we do in football because they are very different sports.

"Obviously it would take a proper sit-down with the practitioners, coaches and scientists to design and evaluate solutions that might be more appropriate to rugby. But certainly with this pressure on banning tackling and concerns about mismatches in size, it’s definitely on the radar right now."

Peter Lansley (@PeteLansley), a freelance football reporter for the Sunday Times and the Guardian, is a Level 2/Youth Module 3 coach working with Derby County Community Trust.

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