Andy Barr lifts the lid on life with the New York Knicks and tells Ian Watson what the Premier League and its players can learn from the NBA.
Following on from part one of TEAMtalk's interview with New York Knicks performance specialist Andy Barr, the former Bolton, Southampton and Manchester City man reveals how dealing with the packed schedule of the NBA and it's highly-paid superstars contrasts with working in the political environment of the Premier League.
To read part one, click here.
Did the Knicks look to English football to bolster their sports science and medical department because the Premier League is seen around the world as a good example of how sports science can be successfully applied?
No, it's quite insular over here. Most people have no idea what is going on in the Premier League really.
I'm not sure that there are many teams inside the NBA that are looking outside of the USA for new ideas in terms of sports science. Because the US is so vast, they have their own system; it's very different to what we do in Europe.
The USA is basically the size of Europe, and there you have a lot of different influences from different countries and cultures. That doesn't happen so much over here because the USA is so vast.
In terms of the individual player, how do you compare the experience of working with an NBA star to that of dealing with a Premier League footballer?
From the start, you're dealing with a more responsible athlete.
Because of the American culture, you're working with an athlete coming into the professional game at an older age and it makes a big difference.
Most go to university for at least one or two years, so you're getting them at 20 or 21. We have a player at the Knicks that we picked in the draft at the age of 23 and he had just been to university to do his Masters.
They have a bit more experience outside of professional sport, and they haven't earned millions of dollars before the age of 19. Whereas in the Premier League, you get 16-year-olds coming into that environment, they think they've made it straight away and they lose sight and respect for certain things.
The American athletes seem to be a little more mature. These guys are really good at looking after themselves and they are happy to come in and do a lot of the injury prevention work. They appreciate that it's all part of keeping them on the court and they love it.
I found sometimes that working with some footballers, they think 'why am I doing all this crap? I just want to play'.
It was nice to come to the USA and work with these guys because they want to buy into it and a lot of the stuff we were bringing over from football was really well received.
When a manager is replaced in the Premier League - unlike the NBA - it seems to be a case of 'one out, all out'. What kind of effect can that approach have on the long-term development of a football club?
Obviously as a manager you want to be able to do what you want to do. But from a club philosophy, in my opinion, the sports science and medical team should be a separate and self-sufficient entity.
That's what I like about working in the USA; there is much less of a hierarchical structure. I work in a sports science and medical department that works alongside the coaching department within the organisation. It's a completely different structure.
Over here, the medical departments can withstand changes in the organisation, whereas often in football, when one major change occurs in the coaching department, everyone gets affected.
Because it's so high-pressure in football, the coach just wants people around him who he knows he can trust, and that creates uncertainty. There is so much brain space taken up by people worrying about their job and then they are not as effective. The lack of security can create a cut-throat environment and it's not healthy.
It comes from the people at the top not understanding the original structure or philosophy.
If a new coach is brought in he should be someone who fits the club's system and philosophy in relation to sports science and not someone who is going to change every aspect of the club, good or bad!
Compared to what you were used to in the Premier League, from a sports science point of view, what did you find when you arrived at the Knicks?
It's different here. In the Premier League, sports science has developed a lot over last 15 years and has a lot of influence over many teams' training methods.
What Dave [Hancock, former Chelsea, Leeds and England physio] and I found in the States when we arrived was that sports science doesn't hold as much influence.
But that's something we've really worked on with the Knicks and the team has benefited immensely, especially this season through the fitness of our players.
Given you had no background in basketball, were the Knicks players and staff immediately receptive to your ideas?
I've been really fortunate to work with the Knicks' coaches - they have been really receptive.
The head coach, Mike D'Antoni, played and managed in Europe, so he was already aware of the knowledge some of the sports science guys have. He's a really good guy.
I think Dave and I have been able to influence and educate the Knicks coaches on developing athletic potential and that has had a big influence in their training.
Developing the player as a whole is what will bring you success, not just skill and technical ability. That comes from what we've learnt in the Premier League, but it's not always being applied there properly either.
Dave and I have been lucky and we've worked with some of the best managers. Dave worked with Jose Mourinho and I've worked with some great managers too. But there were also others where I thought 'this is like going back to the dark ages'.
One thing I have found is that the Americans are very professional and there's less of a political environment - the Premier League can be very, very political.
Last year's NBA champions, the LA Lakers, played 102 games, while Double-winners Chelsea played 55. Premier League managers and players often complain about their workload, but the NBA schedule appears much more demanding. Is it fair to compare the two?
No. They are worlds apart really, but both sports could learn from each other.
It's funny, the football season is very long and then during the off-season, the best players usually have other commitments so they don't get any rest. The NBA season, however, is much shorter but they cram in hundreds of games!
We play four games a week and games on back-to-back nights. [42 of the Knicks' 82 regular-season games during the current campaign are on back-to-back days.]
The Knicks will play a game in one city then fly that night to another city and get in at 3 or 4am depending on the timezone. We'll play another game that night, then fly back to New York, practice at our facility, then play at Madison Square Garden the following day before flying off to off to another city. It's just non-stop.
What problems arise from a schedule as packed as that?
The biggest problem is coping with the effects of the travel and the sleep deprivation.
The game itself is very, very intense, but it is intense in short bursts and the players have time to recover within the game. Obviously, they can be substituted on and off too, and while a match lasts 48 minutes, it takes about two-and-a-half hours to complete. It's like a show, the whole thing is set up to entertain. It's unbelievable!
The hardest thing, though, is undoubtedly dealing with the amount of travelling while playing back-to-back nights, all while keeping up a consistent level of performance.
But they prepare in a very different way. It's all a bit traditional, and what we've tried to do is apply a bit more scientific thinking and ask why they do certain things: Is it because it's tradition or because it's the right thing to do?
Dave and I have changed quite a few things to help the players and the coaches have been really receptive. We've reduced the amount of shooting practices on the mornings of home games so the players can sleep in, we've looked at the intensity of training in terms ensuring the players who are playing get more rest, we've incorporated more injury-prevention sessions and educated the players on refuelling and rehydration, which has been vital.
Given that the NBA schedule is so packed, when do teams find time to train and practice?
The players get a lot less time off in comparison to footballers. They get the odd day off, but we do a lot of recovery sessions. But even then they can get on the court.
The players have to deal with a lot of information. On a game day, even if we've had a game the night before, the players will review the previous game on video before turning to that night's opposition. They'll then get more film just before the game so there is a lot of coaching time.
Because we are together on the road so much, it's easy to pull the players in to work with them collectively and individually.
Premier League managers often appear reluctant to use their best players unless it is absolutely necessary. Given the workload, is squad rotation a concept teams in the NBA are familiar with?
In football, you have to look at which games it is crucial to have your best players starting. The art of being a great manager is largely in the selection process across all the competitions.
The NBA is just one competition, so the thinking is 'well, we need to win as many games as possible', but it is easier to preserve a player.
If an NBA player is showing signs of tiring, then the coach might only put them in at the crucial times. It's easy to track whether the points are going up or down so if coach sees that they are dropping dramatically, then he can get his best players back out there extremely quickly.
That's obviously a skill in itself - knowing when to take the players off and when to put them back in.