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Lincoln City Use Data For On-Field Success

Mon 20th Feb 2017 | Football Club Management

Lincoln City FC made history on Saturday becoming the first non-league club to qualify for the quarter-finals of The FA Cup in over 103 years and are flying high in the Vanarama National League. But what’s been the secret of their success?

Mark Carruthers of fcbusiness spoke to manager Danny Cowley at the beginning what is turning out to be a remarkable season or the Imps to find out more about how he’s using data to improve on-pitch performance.

As he makes his first steps into professional management Lincoln City boss Danny Cowley is leaving no stone unturned ahead of his maiden campaign with the Imps. Cowley, along with his brother and assistant manager Nicky Cowley, has forged quite the reputation for himself with some impressive work at his former clubs.

A promising start to life in the dugout with Concord Rangers included three promotions and an Essex Senior Cup win, as well as the club reaching the FA Cup First Round proper for the first time in their history.

His work with Rangers led to a move to Braintree Town and the two brothers produced a spectacular first season at Cressing Road. The Iron belied their part-time status in the Vanarama National League, finishing third in the division behind champions Cheltenham Town and Forest Green Rovers. That was enough to secure a play-off spot, although their unlikely promotion dreams were ended with an agonising 2-1 semi-final defeat against eventual play-off winners Grimsby Town.

Cowley’s work at Braintree captured the attention of several clubs, including two in the Football League, but it was Lincoln City that persuaded him to take a chance in the professional game. And now, having quit his job as a teacher to take up his full-time post with the Imps, Cowley has turned to science to ensure that the Sincil Bank club have the best possible chance of returning to the Football League for the first time since 2011.

The players have been met by a wide range of testing as they returned after their summer break and Cowley revealed just how in-depth he is looking to get the best out of his new recruits.

“We have always worked with a part-time model so now we are trying to transfer that into the full-time game,” he explained. “We have much more time with the players; all of our energy goes into working with them, which can only be good for everyone.

“We are spending a lot of time monitoring the players. So when they come into the training ground in the morning we do some wellness data with them, finding out how much sleep they’ve had, what the quality of the sleep was, their mood, fatigue and stress levels.

“We take hydration tests everyday and when they train we look at how they feel about the session. They give us a mark out of ten as to how hard they have felt training was. We compare that with the duration of the session so that we can work out what their work load should be.

“We get a lot of information and by doing that we can make incremental progressions each week during pre-season so their fitness develops and improves without it being dangerous and causing injuries because that is the last thing you want in pre-season.”

There can be no doubt that Cowley’s approach to a season has produced great results in the past and firmly believes that the methods he’s put in place will give the Imps’ players a chance to get ahead of the competition over the coming season.

“We do focus on detail to maximise player performance and get the very best out of them all, that means we get maximum value for money from them.

“We try to put a lot of focus and we are pretty relentless, we don’t shy away from that. Some players love it and enjoy it, some players don’t like it at all, that is the nature of the way we work.

“The players that want to be the best they can be and reach their potential, they are the ones that buy into it and the boys at Lincoln City have done that.

“Their attitude has been brilliant and they have been through a lot of changes. Natural instinct of human beings is to shy away from change, but we only make a change to get a significant gain.

“We feel we can gain an extra yard, an extra inch or an extra percent out of each player and they will add up. If you look after all of those marginal gains they add up and you improve as a squad throughout the season.”

Not so long ago the Imps were an established Football League club. That was until a heartbreaking relegation on the final day of the 2010/11 season. A 3-0 defeat against Aldershot Town, coupled with relegation rivals Barnet win against Port Vale, sent the club into non-league football for the first time since 1988.

Now, tasked with the challenge of returning the club to the Football League, Cowley is looking to emulate the way Premier League clubs function on a day-to-day basis.

“It is attention to detail, we thrive on that,” he added. “We are at a full-time club now and although we may not have the bricks and the mortar, the facilities or the resources of a Premier League club, we have the same time as they have with their players.

“We are trying to create our own version of what is there at the top end of the game so that we can create the right environment where our players can perform to their maximum week-in, week-out.”

And Cowley will need his players to be at the maximum throughout the campaign as they compete in one of the most competitive National League divisions for a long time. Newly-relegated Dagenham and Redbridge and York City have added their weight to an already strong league. The likes of beaten play-off finalists Forest Green Rovers, Eastleigh, Tranmere Rovers and Dover Athletic will be looking to build on their achievements last season.

Then, of course, there is Cowley’s old club Braintree Town, a club he believes have shown that it is possible to be successful without having the resources many other clubs can boast.

“It is a tough division and it is an unforgiving division as well. There are so many top clubs in there now, so many big clubs, and so many good clubs. We know how tough it is going to be but nobody, no matter how big or small they are, has a divine right to success, you have to earn that. The nature of the league is that there is very little between every team in the division.

“You look at what we did with Braintree last season; we weren’t expected to do what we did so we know what can happen. I think you will need around eighty-five to ninety points to be in the play-offs and that is a big ask.”

With the new season now underway, Cowley has added to the Imps squad, although he did contend that he would only bring in new faces if he felt they were “the right ones” to fit into what he is trying to build with the club.

“We spoke about gains, marginal gains but the biggest gains to be made are in the transfer market, so it is very important that we take our time to get the right player.

“We are putting a lot of energy into recruitment because bringing in the right player can make all of the difference come the end of the season.”

Whether it is a scientific approach, or bringing in the right players, Danny Cowley is looking to gain an extra yard on the opposition in the Vanarama National League this season.

Original sotry was written by Mark Carruthers, editor of nonleaguedaily.com and published in fcbusiness issue 95

Image: Reuters / Phil Noble Livepic 

Posted by: Aaron Gourley 

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