How different is socially distanced pre-season training?

Over the last few weeks sides around the county have started their pre-season training, or pre-pre-season if you will, and under the current guidelines passed on by the FA and the Government these sessions are held under social distancing guidelines, but how different is it?

With the suspension of grassroots football in March, there was a sense of disappointment throughout the footballing world and no more so than for sides in steps 3-7 of the non-league pyramid.

Question marks about a possible resumption were dismissed and ultimately the main questions were points-per-game or null and void? And when will we be able to start the new season?

Well in the last week it was been confirmed that grassroots football has been told to start preparing for the new season and whilst the National League will need to resume first, a September start doesn’t appear to be beyond the realms of possibility.

So sides are now training and the sessions are being run with the current social distancing guidelines in place, meaning managers and coaches need to be mindful on drills, numbers and the overall preparation going into each session.

“In terms of doing warm ups and fitness drills the need for social distancing hasn’t been an issue,” said Newent Town Assistant Manager and U18s Manager Mark Cook.

Obviously saying to younger players not to touch the equipment etc is a bit difficult, so we are ensuring that all the equipment is cleaned thoroughly after each session.

But it has been a challenge to keep players apart especially during the game situations, however we have asked the players to take some responsibility and be sensible, so no tackling or holding players just keep your distance and jockey the player instead. Things like that are important anyway as in games you will need to stand a player up and not just lunge in so we are encouraging that side of there game,” Cook added.

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The current guidelines in place limit the number of players training to groups of 6, meaning that sides who are looking to train a squad of 16 players will not only need to split the sessions into three, but clubs will also need the coaches in place to oversee the drills.

Viney St Swithins manager Jamie Henderson admits that ensuring the measures are kept to in the early sessions has been difficult.

“Quite frankly it’s been challenging,” said Henderson. “Me and our coaches are following all FA guidelines with regard to training in small groups of 6, which includes the coach, whilst all equipment and kit is sanitised regularly throughout the session.

Additionally, we are designing non-contact sessions, however, after 4 months of no football, it can be hard at times to restrain players from going full throttle. Although on the whole, the lads have been superb at following the guidelines in place,” added Henderson.

At the time of writing Hellenic Premier side Brimscombe & Thrupp are still in the early stages of their sessions with only 3 or 4 sessions under their belt, however manager Sam Prior is one of many who has used the socially distancing measures as a positive and to try new things in his sessions.

“It’s actually made for some really positive sessions to be honest. Structured and small sided, the groups have worked hard and got a lot out of each one,” said Prior.

Obviously we’re crying out to open it up and let them go, but we’ve still been able to get good detail into the bits we’ve done and whether you’re a new or existing player, you can already see what’s trying to be achieved.

We had a meeting before we started and the common theme that came out of it was that the responsibility really does fall with each individual. We can set guidelines and put things in place, but they’re only as good as the person/people that are attending,” Prior added.

Newent Town U18s are a new side who are currently holding a series of open trials and Mark Cook admits it has been a tough balancing act to adhere to the guidelines whilst trying to see what the aspiring players have to offer and already the sessions are proving their worth.

“It is different from normal trials in some aspects because as coaches we are conscious of the whole situation probably more so than the lads are.

So we just keep trying to reiterate the social distancing and the need for using the hand sanitizer supplied. That said we still need to see what the players are capable of, so have tried to play as much football as we can just in smaller groups.

On the whole the sessions have gone really well and all players that have attended have behaved in a good manner regarding the rules and regulations. Like all teams we are watching the news coming from the government and FA and look forward to being able to get back to more normality in terms of training and arranging friendlies in preparation for the coming season,” Cook said.

Whilst the clubs are slowly getting back into training ahead of the 2020/21 season, there have been a number of instances on social media of sides being criticised for lack of social distancing in place.

Some sides, like Barnwood United of the Gloucestershire Northern Senior League, have used their social media accounts to upload photos of the sessions to show how efficient sessions can be whilst the measures are being followed.

“Social distancing was a challenge at the start,” admitted Barnwood United Assistant Manager Craig Salter.

“It was mainly due to having to plan our sessions to make sure we would all be within the guidelines, but credit to the lads they have been very respectful and understanding.

I know there are split opinions on social media about posting images of training, but we use it as a way of letting people know training is continuing despite the guidelines needing to be followed and we use our social media for new and old players to be updated on the clubs progress and it’s what we have done in previous seasons,” Salter added.

Training sessions will continue over the next few weeks as we march towards the beginning of the 2020/21 season and will continue to adhere to social distancing measures in place.

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