Brookes Sport coach at the U20 World Cup
Wednesday, 19 June 2019
Brookes Perform S&C Coach, Luke Taylor, accompanied the New Zealand U20s football team to the World Cup
It’s not every day you get a phone call asking if you’d like to go to a world cup, on a cold February Sunday evening exactly that happened. I received a call from the New Zealand Football Federation asking if I’d be able to support them in their upcoming FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland. A question very difficult to say no to, and with the full support from Keith Kelly (Sport) and Peter Wright (HLS), preparations began for what would be my second world cup with a second nation (I was an Strength and Conditioning coach for England in the FIFA U-17s World Cup, Jordan, 2016).
The 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup was be the 22nd edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the biennial international men's youth football championship contested by the under-20 national teams of the member associations of FIFA, since its inception in 1977 as the FIFA World Youth Championship. The tournament was hosted by Poland between 23 May and 15 June 2019, all games were televised worldwide.
I was a member of support staff with the New Zealand U20 national team as the Strength and Conditioning coach, and without England qualifying for tournament, I was one of only a handful of Englishman attending the tournament, including head coach of New Zealand Des Buckingham.
The meticulous planning began from there with regular meetings online, ensuring we left no stone un-turned with our preparations for second largest biennial international men's football event in the world - only with 11,000 miles and a 12 hour time difference to contend with. We made it work and the plans were set for our prep camp to take place in northern Poland three weeks prior to our opening fixture against Honduras on 24th May. This was where my role began, ensuring that we prepared the players physically, physiologically and psychologically for the almost 36 hours of travel to arrive ready to perform in Poland, with tailored travel plans for each player.
On camp my role was focused on all aspect of physical conditioning of the players; leading gym based session, delivering on-field preparation and conditioning work as well as individual rehabilitation. I was also part of the technical team tasked with planning each football training session daily in reference to the demands of the tournament schedule, with the use of extensive GPS metrics, heart rate data as well as subjective data collected each day. Through a strong multi-disciplinary approach to this, we were able to manage load effectively, limit soft tissue injuries and maximize on-field performance.
Alongside the daily training, gym sessions, recovery and technical meetings a large emphasis was placed on developing the cultural identity of the team and ditching the traditional “underdog” mentality of New Zealand Football. This is vastly different to any team I have worked with previously, something I found hugely powerful in integrating all staff and players into a common goal, willing to fight for each other
During our prep-camp we played one of the finalists, Korea, holding them to a 1-1 draw as well as beating Mexico 3-1, creating a great buzz in the squad leading into our first fixture in Lublin. This was the first time the team made history in this tournament, beating Honduras 5-0, the highest winning margin any New Zealand team had won by at any level.
History was made again in a new city of Lodz, where we beat Norway (who knocked England out of qualification) 2-0, the first time a New Zealand side had beaten European opposition as well as the first time a team from New Zealand had won two games at a World Cup to secure qualification to the knock-out rounds. Nine changes were made for our final group game where we lost 2-0 to Uruguay with qualification already guaranteed. A last 16 game against Columbia awaited, it what was an incredible match, 1-1 after extra-time eventually losing out on a dreaded penalty shoot-out. And just like that the dream was over, but what an incredible experience for players and staff, history makers.
From a personal perspective it was amazing to spend time with a national squad different to England making connections and friends for life, learning how they do things and having an impact on performance using my prior experiences. I plan to use these experiences in developing my practice as an academic and coach at Oxford Brookes and sharing this experiences with the students/ athletes I work with.