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Game Changers How a team of underdogs & scientists discovered what it takes to win By Joao Medeiros

Release date: 30th August, 2018
Publisher: Little, Brown

List Price: £18.99
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They first appeared on television a few seasons ago – a tiny, on-screen graphic detailing how far a footballer had run during a match before being substituted, but the data was originally assembled by a small team of sports scientists working for Everton in the early 1970s. They discovered that, on average, players covered a distance of 8,680 metres every game, a quarter of which was walked.

Thanks to the efforts of Vaughn Lancaster-Thomas, a physiologist at Liverpool Polytechnic, his assistant Thomas Reilly and researcher Frank Sanderson, as early as July 1972, Everton’s playing staff were regularly subjected to a variety of tests which generated scientific-based conclusions. Perhaps the most startling was that only one third of a typical training session replicated real match conditions. Reilly even discovered a correlation between the flexibility of the ankle joint and intelligence.

Joao Medeiros has written a truly fascinating book tracing the roots of sports science, from its rudimentary origins to today’s position of professional prominence.

Essentially, the story is one of scientists trying to persuade sceptics that ageing training methods or established tactical application were not just out of date, but could be improved upon. Yet despite being armed with reams of evidence and excepting a handful of enlightened clubs, football would, initially at least, shun any form of scientific involvement.

Nonetheless, the scientists persisted. Sanderson would input data to an IBM mainframe computer having first typed it line by line on punch cards; a Centre for Performance Analysis opened in Cardiff, while a handful of football coaches, Steve McLaren and Sam Allardyce most prominently, recognised the benefit of analysing matches from a scientific perspective.

The book is peppered with pioneers such as Charles Reep, who believed that three passes, a long ball, knockdown and strike, were key to football success. His work was developed by Charles Hughes, long ball advocate and, eventually, FA coaching director.

We learn of the development of Prozone which added significant momentum to the scientific cause and discover how objective analysis was ultimately applied to most sports as coaches searched for those elusive ‘marginal gains’. Getting to that stage required a unique fusion of computer nous, creative thinking, persistence and an ability to work within shoestring budgets. Sports science has become an indispensable part of modern sport as this engaging tale of its pioneers and subsequent development reminds us.


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