Nervousness tends to set in when a team is placed at the bottom of the table at the halfway point of the season. However, Jimmy Högberg is focused on hard data that can help players perform optimally on the pitch. “Every day, every microcycle, every time a player is in rehab we look at loading/movement patterns to better evaluate how each training and microcycle or period is affecting each player” – he explains. “Then we dock this to the wellness of each player each day to get better discussions in our daily work of evaluating the last activity and planning the next. The bottom line is that thanks to Sonda we now can make better decisions”.
The game system in Sweden differs from that in most European countries as you play continuously from spring to autumn. This means that during this season you will have to deal not only with pandemics and lockdowns, which made it difficult to prepare players for the season, but also major sports events such as Euro, Copa America and the Olympics, which make some players leave for the national team. How has all this influenced your work as a coach responsible for the physical preparation of players?
We actually had a one month league break in June between two games. Which means that we could give players some 11 days off. We don’t have any players who have been part of any of the competitions you mention, hence no influence on our work in the club. Regarding the pandemic, this year has been normal for us in terms of training and games. The only thing that has affected us from the pandemic situation is that we have fewer spectators on the stands.
The pandemic situation in Sweden also went a little bit different in comparison to other countries. At the very beginning there were no such great restrictions preventing the Allsvenskan from playing. However, because of the new guidelines announced by the government the season was postponed. The games were played without an audience and travel restrictions caused some difficulties for the majority of teams. How did all of this affect the preparations for the season?
When we started pre season in January 2021 we could train and play in a normal way. So this has not affected us at all this year. The Swedish cup started in February and the league Allsvenskan started in April, just as it normally does.
How have the work and experiences you have gained in these unusual circumstances enriched you as a coach? Very often it is such difficult moments that we have to change the way we think and act, and when we have to change something, we learn something new. So how did it influence the way you work? Do you have any changes in your training programs?
Yes you are right, problems that occur on the way will develop better and smarter thinking if we are able to critically reflect before, during and after the different situations. The closest reference in some cases has been for me: how do I work with injured players who train in smaller groups and how do I construct a small pre-season again before the league starts. How can we use internal games to simulate real games, since no real games can be played.
And you are in the middle of the season now. What are your current main goals and focuses?
Right now we are ranked 14 of 16 teams. When it comes to goal setting we work mostly with “process oriented goals”. This means our daily habits and behaviors in the day to day work which give us good preconditions for the next layer of goal setting; performance goals. This means how we perform on the pitch, not result wise but how we play. This will then lead us to the best possible situation to “win the next game”.
How do you rate the team performance in the first half of the season. Is there anything you would like to improve?
When I analyze the way we play the question is – do we have the physical capacities to play like this? This is not an easy question to answer of course. But this is the way we analyze, train and prepare – holistic and integrated with our model of play as the reference. Hopefully this training methodology with high specificity will develop the needed physical capacities for our model of play.
Let’s talk about the way you measure your players’ performance. It’s hard to provide training at the highest level, relying only on observations and experience. Modern technologies such as GPS tracking allow you to precisely monitor and measure the key performance indicators. What is your vision of working with such data?
By definition, “players’ performance” means how they perform as football players. That starts with the team communication, then each player takes decisions and then has to execute the decision. By repeating this process we can then speak about football fitness. With Sonda Sports GPS we can measure the movement patterns of the executions.
Players’ movement patterns are very much based on the model of play, individual roles, the opposition, game result etc. Sure we can compare different players who have the same position and role in a game, to better understand who is doing more or less. This information is good to know about for the coaching staff when they try to develop the model of play.
Based on this I wouldn’t speak so much about “the performance” but more about the loading/movement patterns for the team and the players – and all of this is very important especially during each week when we try to optimize training days and exercises with different purposes on team level and on individual level. Though the game tracking data is very important as a load reference for each player – to be able to monitor each player’s relative load for each day of the micro cycle.
You have been using the Sonda Sports GPS tracking system already for half a year. The system allows you to monitor over 30 parameters, but it depends on the coach and his approach on how he works on the platform and what statistics to analyse. So what are the most important indicators for you?
We create reports based on the following volume parameters: Total distance, Distance 20-25km/h, Distance >25km/h, Accelerations, Decelerations, Playerload and Training load (sRPE*Duration).
And the following intensity parameters: Distance 20-25km/h/min, Distance >25km/h/min, Plyerload/min
We monitor ACWL based on the multi mechanical model described by Owen et al. and compare loads between micro cycles, corresponding sessions within micro cycles. After each session we also monitor the relationship between the external load (multi mechanical model) and the internal sRPE*Duration.
And what important conclusions have you already drawn thanks to this data?
Every day, every microcycle, every time a player is in rehab we look at loading/movement patterns to better evaluate how each training and microcycle or period is affecting each player – then we dock this to the wellness of each player each day to get better discussions in our daily work of evaluating the last activity and planning the next. The bottom line is that thanks to Sonda we now can make better decisions.
You are responsible for data reading and analysis, but the awareness building process in the training staff is very important. Do other coaches have access to these data and can read them or are you the one who explains it to them?
I am one of the assistant coaches and the main responsible for this area of work. After analysing numbers in relation to player/team behaviors on the pitch I try to present my takeaways for my colleagues. All coaches can go deep into numbers and analysis if they want, but the time is always an issue for us coaches. I want them to ask good questions so that I can try to use sonda sports GPS to help answer those questions.
And how do your players approach tracking and their performance data?
They know it’s a normal part for the modern football player and they accept to wear bibs and belts everyday. We very seldom give them any feedback on numbers. The game is the reference and if they just focus on for instance running longer distances, then it´s a risk that they focus more on that compared to our model of play.