Breaking from routine, not work

Hard as it may be to believe another international break has come and, about as quickly as it arrived, gone.

As was the case a few weeks ago a number of Reading players were called abroad on representative duties which meant fewer faces than usual at our Hogwood training base.
Youngster Ryan Edwards, who came through Reading’s Academy, captained the Australia U23 side for the first time in their 1-0 win over Korea.

Closer to home the Welsh trio of Chris Gunter, Hai Robson-Kanu and Jake Taylor were involved in a well-earned draw with Belgium at the Stade Roi Baudouin in Brussels.

Oliver Norwood was in action for Northern Ireland in Romania while Alex Pearce was named as a substitute for the Republic of Ireland’s pulsating game against Scotland. 

Pearce didn’t make it onto the pitch for the Republic’s defeat to Scotland but then played all 90 minutes in their 4-1 win over the USA.

For those not called away we used the time to mix up training by combining senior first team players with some of our Under 21 squad and others invited to the club ‘on trial’. (This is where they come and train with us for a period of time while we assess their skills and temperament and decide whether to offer them a contract or not). 

There was also the welcome sight of seeing a couple of players, now recovered from long term injuries, participating in competitive practice matches, notably Gareth McCleary and Shaun Cummings. 

Away from training a group of us - assistant manager, Andy Crosby, first team coach, Dean Wilkins and Nick Harvey, our strength and conditioning coach - managed two fascinating days at the ‘Leaders Performance Summit 2014’ which took place at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal’s home ground.

Not surprisingly first up was manager Arsene Wenger talking about the ingredients needed to deliver results including creating a winning environment and how to lead the top sportsmen of today.

As delegates we could choose from an impressive line-up of speakers including Technical Director of Coaching at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), Andy Flower, who spoke about developing talent and preparing athletes to compete at the highest level. 

Then there was sleep doctor, Christopher Winter, who had travelled from America to speak on a subject we all need to learn more about, and Rett Larson, Consultant to the Chinese Diving Team, on the secrets behind China’s dominance of Olympic diving over the past two decades.
Larson gave a gripping insight into how elite divers are trained and what happens when West meets East in terms of culture and coaching. The attention to detail Larson talked about is something I try to drill into our players every day.

Without a Championship game to focus on I made the most of a rare opportunity to take my son, a keen rugby player and now strength and conditioning coach, to Twickenham to watch England play South Africa in the Rugby.

We studied the England on-pitch warm-up with interest and intrigue and sang the National Anthem and ‘Swing Low’ with gusto. I’m so often on the touchline, removed from the thick of the crowd, it was fantastic to be among so many fans united in supporting the hard work of the England players below. 

I managed to capture this superb view of and England try which began with a well-worked line out and then saw the team driving together to gain the momentum needed to score in a game of this intensity and class.

After another few days of training I decided, after a suggestion from Crosby, my assistant manager, on an experiment. We usually train in the early morning, partly out of habit and also because short winter days make afternoon sessions impractical.

But, to see what might happen and also to avoid spending too long in the hotel in Wales where we were heading later in the day, I changed training to mirror the traditional 3pm kick off time.  
What a difference a few hours made in terms of the way players were able to focus with intensity and commitment. Who knows, maybe I’ll do it more often?

Then it was onboard the coach to Cardiff for a Friday night fixture against our hosts.
Originally we were to play on Saturday but this was changed to accommodate the Wales versus New Zealand rugby international.