Aug 20 2008 by Colin Paterson, Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser
TIME spent in the company of Ian Coll is akin to taking a trip down the memory lane of football, analysing the game at present and glimpsing into its future.
Airdrie United’s sports scientist knows only too well how the beautiful game used to be...and the direction it is now heading in.
Football training, for example, was once a very simple affair.
Players would turn up at the back of ten in the morning, do a bit of running and head off for an afternoon of snooker after tucking a few shots past the keeper.
Those days are now long gone. Pints have been replaced with performance analysis and strength and conditioning now consists of gym work rather than aiming for a big break on the green baize.
Ian, who was released by Ayr United as a youngster, is one of a growing number of sports scientists attempting to give footballers that extra edge on a Saturday afternoon.
The 28-year-old studied sports coaching and science, gaining a degree with honours, after he left Somerset Park and joined the Diamonds towards the end of last season.
“After my football career didn’t go anywhere, I progressed into studying,” he told the Advertiser.
“The move here came about through Ian Ferguson, the former Rangers midfielder. He trained in a gym where I used to run my own personal training company.
“We were watching the Champions League football one night and I told him I was sending lots of e-mails as I wanted into professional football.
“He said he would phone Kenny Black and that call led to me coming here. I enjoyed my three-and-a-half months and obviously the manager thought I did a good job and invited me back full-time.”
It wasn’t easy trying to convince the Airdrie players to buy into the new methods - but Ian reckons his approach of patiently explaining exactly what was happening paid off.
“The techniques I used were completely different to what they were used to,” he said. “I wouldn’t say there was a backlash from them but I think they did feel uncomfortable at first.
“But my way of coaching people is to explain the reasons why I am doing it and how it will benefit them in a training capacity.
“Eventually they came on-board and asked more questions and were willing to stay behind and do more work.
“I think the players’ feedback helped me get the job here full-time.
“The more they did it, the more they enjoyed it. I worked with Allan Russell (now at Kilmarnock) quite a bit and he was one who liked to stay back.
“That was good as the younger players would see that. When the senior players want to be involved, the younger players always want to be involved. They see them as role models.”
Ian - whose grandfather William Brady Coll combined playing for Airdrieonians while working down the pits in the pre-war days - focuses on five particular areas on a daily basis at New Broomfield: Performance analysis, strengthening and conditioning, supplementation which deals with nutrition, speed, agility and sports psychology.
He added: “When I was a player I never had access to all of this. It was run, run, run - and more running. It was old school.
“We got a little bit of the ball but it always involved some sort of fitness aspect.
“I always use Aiden McGeady at Celtic as a perfect example of sports science working. He was inconsistent and not the fittest or fastest lad despite being good on the ball.
“But a French sports scientist came in and worked with him and you can see his game has changed over the past two years - he is fitter, stronger, faster and in the team every week.
“A lot of it is about educating players. I say to the boys that they are athletes and that is how they need to treat themselves.
“It doesn’t stop on a Saturday at six o’clock - there is a recovery process when they need to have the right amount of carbohydrates, water and sleep. These things are important.”
Ian, who has played for Ayrshire junior football clubs Annbank United, Maybole and Troon, has a selection of stats and facts that make the players sit up and take notice.
“Around 96 to 97 per cent of the game is off the ball and when you say that to players they look at you and think that can’t be,” he said.
“But the statistics have shown and research proved that this is the case.
“I am trying to guide them and show that sports science can take them further and improve Airdrie as a team, improve them as a player which may help them get a bigger move.”
Every top club north and south of the border now boasts a huge backroom team that analyses every aspect of the game to the very last detail.
“At Celtic, there are three sports scientists, a strength and conditioning coach, a nutrition coach and a performance analysis coach - they have six people doing my job,” says Ian.
“It is all about trying to break the mould of the old footballer and breeding the new footballer. It is the way the game is going.”
Airdrie have signed a deal with the Elite Sports Agency which sees all games recorded and used in conjunction with computer software.
Ian spends his Sunday mornings and evenings breaking down the previous day’s game so that mistakes and aspects of play can be closely scrutinised.
He continued: “It probably takes me two-and-a-half hours to go through a match so it is a long process. Down south, they have people who do this full-time.
“We have already highlighted areas we are very strong and also found areas where there is room for improvement.
“For the players, it is completely invaluable.”
One feature introduced to the modern day game thanks to sports science are the dreaded ice baths.
Pictures of players gasping frantically for air as they slide their bodies into a pool of freezing water and ice have graced these sports pages.
And while it is still a far from popular method, Ian revealed the players now treat them as just another training session.
“Ice baths are part of the regeneration process. It is one of the vital ways of stopping muscle fatigue which can happen if you don’t go through a proper cool down after exercise,” he says.
“I remember there was screwed up faces when they first tried them - most of the players just sit with their legs covered but they are great with it now.”