Dr Andrew Foskett was appointed last month as Head of Sport Science for New Zealand Football. We sat down with the Massey University lecturer to find out more.
What will your role and responsibilities for New Zealand Football entail?
My position is a consultancy role (I have a full-time position at Massey University) with the directive to develop and oversee the implementation of sport science strategies across the high performance and development pathways.
You’ve worked with New Zealand Football before in this area, can you briefly describe this previous involvement?
I was first involved with the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and have been involved with male age group teams in four FIFA World Cup campaigns since, three of which progressed into the knockout stages, including the first NZ U-17 team (in Nigeria 2009) and the first NZ U-20 team (in NZ 2015) to do so.
How is New Zealand Football currently placed in regards to sport science?
New Zealand Football currently has excellent sport science staff aligned with the high performance men’s (Aidan Wivell) and women’s (Harriet Steele) programmes, however, until now there has been limited resourcing in place for other programmes and the development pathways. As Head of the School of Sport and Exercise at Massey University, I am able to bring the resources and support of the university into the role. This will include access to specialised equipment (for such things as testing and monitoring), as well as human resources in the form of academic expertise and student internships.
Are there significant improvements that need to be made or does it just require a more aligned approach across all teams and programmes?
There is a need for a more aligned approach across teams and between the men’s and women’s games to ensure that there is best practice throughout, as well as ensuring that information is centralised and players can move seamlessly up through the high performance pathway. Part of my role is to support and drive the development pathways. The biggest potential for change that I feel needs addressing however is in the development pathways. The talented young players have multiple demands placed on them (club, school, federation, academy, national level) with no cohesive monitoring of training load. The research informs us that inappropriate loading can lead to burnout, injury and performance impairment – all of which are harmful to development. There is also limited consideration given to players’ maturational status and the application of appropriate training stimuli aligned with maturation.
New Zealand Football has a world-class coach education system and I’ll be looking to enhance the ongoing long-term development of our emerging talent by introducing some of the excellent work occurring in the English Premier League. There are many great coaches across the country and it’s important that New Zealand Football educates and resources these coaches to enable them to develop the players in consideration of these factors. There is some excellent work occurring in the Premier League around long-term athlete development (for example bio-banding – grouping players according to maturational state and not age) and I see potential for similar strategies through New Zealand Football.
How much of an advantage can a high-class sport science programme give a team or organisation?
I think teams like Southampton exemplify the importance and benefits of a scientifically structured and monitored development pathway. They have a production line of exceptionally talented youth progressing through their academy into their first team and beyond. And a player like Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy – a late developer who was released by Sheffield Wednesday to play non-league football and work in a factory because he was too small – illustrates why there is a need for detailed consideration of the maturational status of our talented young players. At the high performance end, I think one of the major contributing factors to Leicester’s unprecedented season was their ability to keep their key players injury free. A well-structured and monitored sport science programme aligned with an excellent medical programme contributes hugely to this. In a country like New Zealand, with a limited player pool, it is imperative that we can develop our young talent to their potential whilst avoiding burnout and injury.
You are experienced in football and passionate about the game, how does it feel to work in an area in which you are so passionate?
I’ve always been involved in football and love the environment. Like many, I had dreams of playing professionally but never realised these dreams, however, as a sport scientist I have been able to experience an Olympics and four World Cup campaigns. I’ve been able to work with great players and coaches and to contribute in some way to their development. In this role, I hope to also be able to give these development opportunities to other budding sport scientists, as well as facilitate the young players to achieve their footballing dreams.