Jared Roberts-Smith returned to the club this summer to become head of Sports Science, and he sat down with www.lutontown.co.uk to discuss pre-season and the new campaign, as well as much more…
Is it good to be back at Luton?
To say it’s good to be back would be an understatement. Although I’ve learnt a lot over the last two and half years I’ve been away and the fact it’s made me a much better practitioner, nothing has matched my time at Luton.
I have been in regular contact with the manager who has always been a strong influence on my career, and as soon as we discussed the opportunity to come back, I jumped at it.
Alongside the gaffer, the board, Gary Sweet and Paul Watson have been great with me and it’s people like this who are a huge draw in coming back due to the way they operate and lead the club.
I am so grateful to have the opportunity to pick up where we left off. As a whole, the people, the environment, the culture of hard work and ambitious nature of everyone behind the scenes is all second to none and the club is special - something Luton fans should be really proud of.
There are a lot of friendly faces who are the life and soul of the club like Kempy, Dicky, Chris Clark and Stuart Hammonds to name a few, who it’s been great to catch up with and some new people who have been welcoming which I really appreciate.
Being back at the Kenny for two pre-season games was great and I turned round to Daz during the warmup against Portsmouth and said it’s so good to be back!
To see that many fans turn out for a pre-season game and create the atmosphere they did, was great and it has put a little bounce in to your step going into the final few days before the season starts.
How has the work over pre-season gone?
Pre-season has been excellent. The gaffer and the recruitment team got their work done early which is great across a number of aspects as it allows us to get eyes on the new recruits and get hands on with players from the off.
It also allows them to begin to integrate with the group, add to the environment and get a feel for the hard-working culture we implement on a day-to-day basis. There is a good blend of young, hungry players and experienced professionals which has helped establish a top group, that have really put their heads down and done some hard, but rewarding work over the last few weeks. We had a great week away at Queen Ethelburgas college in York which for me was one of the best pre-season trips I have been on.
The facilities were excellent with a first-class gym, sports hall, swimming pool, sports science labs and physio facilities. The pitches were second to none and the performance nutrition was brilliant.
These are key aspects to a training week and when facilities are this good it really gives you the ability to complete work to the highest standards which we always aim to do. The hard work has continued at the Brache and the lads have been challenged in the heat but have stood up to everything we have asked of them.
On top of the hard training, we have had some really good games which provide good opportunities to lay down the foundations in match situations with regards to fitness but also technically and tactically.
Furthermore, it provides scope to review what we have done well and what we need to keep working on. Hopefully all the hard work will culminate in a good performance against Brighton on the weekend which leads us nicely in to the first game of the season a week later.
Is the group shaping up well?
The group is looking really good. As showcased in our pre-season matches, I think we have a really strong, quick, fit and athletic squad this season who handle the ball well which suits our style of play and allows us to go after teams in the manor we wish to impose.
All our work across pre-season has been tailored to this and the feedback from the group is that although it’s been hard, they have enjoyed the last few weeks and feel in a good place, knowing we still have a few days to sharpen and fine tune every aspect of our play.
We have had a few meetings to set the expectations and lay down our standards, so everyone is on the same page, so all this bodes well. From a sports science aspect, we have done some really good conditioning work on the pitches pushing the lads to their limits, and some top work in the gym to maximise every players’ physical capacity.
We still have a couple to come back in with returning injuries so we will only get stronger as we move forward, and this is really pleasing.
What are the advancements since you were last here?
It has been great to come back in and see that the club has continued the trend of looking to improve every aspect of the infrastructure, even despite the constraints and challenges Covid-19 has presented.
Obviously, I look at the sports science aspects more closely than any other and to see such improvements really shows the club is pushing in the right direction. New areas of improvement include some really important monitoring systems that have been put into place which allow us to track where the players are both on the pitches with regards to monitoring fitness adaptations, but also in the gym focused around the players’ strength and power competencies.
This provides scope and structure for our work and allows us to highlight both collective areas for improvement as well as more individualised approaches. Other areas include in the kitchen where the club have put a new team of chefs (Alex, Shaun and Martin) in place led by Cristiano which has taken the food on a day to day basis to another level.
This is so important to help optimally fuel and recover the players so they can do what we ask of them on the training pitches and to help avoid injury. To supplement this, we have also introduced Ted Munson, our new performance nutritionist, who has been working closely with both the nutrition team and playing squad to improve every aspect of our players prep and recovery.
Since my return we have had some really positive discussions targeting further improvements, so I look forward to helping shape these alongside the gaffer and wider coaching staff to help push towards our targets.
The staff seem like a close-knit unit - how do things work on a day-to-day basis?
Again, this was a massive draw of coming back to the football club. I know how the gaffer works and the expectations he puts on you as part of his team, which ultimately makes you better at your job under his guidance.
With these demands in place it helps formulate a coaching staff that are hungry, driven and all pushing in the same direction which is so important for high performance. He also gives you autonomy in your job role so everyone has a say and you are trusted in your role to deliver the work that is required and it’s really fulfilling.
On top of all this we enjoy our work - we work hard but smart and have a good blend of having a good laugh whilst we go about our business, so it all creates for a good environment.
There is a great dynamic to the staff with some real experienced characters like Mick and Paul who I’ve been fortunate enough to work with before and bring a touch of class to the staff, with their vast experience and whom provide really good insight.
It has been really enjoyable working with Chris Cohen who is a top coach and loves putting real detail into his work which creates really in-depth sessions for the players with every aspect catered for the purpose of maximising what we do collectively and individually.
On a day-to-day basis, we have an early medical meeting with the medical department, myself and Chris Cohen. We review where the squad is and put in place the foundations for the day.
We then have a wider staff meeting led by the gaffer and flesh out exactly what the training day has in store.
Every aspect is meticulously put together and blends the physical, technical and tactical work because we are always working on making our players better across all key aspects.
The squad are arriving by this point and completing their pre training checks with the medical and sports science staff prior to breakfast. Pre activation always takes place before training in which we ensure players are ‘switching on the engine’ with work tailored towards the expectations of the particular training day ahead.
The boys then head into the physical development window - we call it this because we no longer ‘warm players up’ on these training days, we use this as a micro dose of physical stimulus targeted at different physical attributes across the training week such as speed, ballistic power and plyometric actions. This then leads into the ball work led by Mick, Paul, Chris and the gaffer.
There are different focuses across the training week and our main working days on the grass are normally Tuesday and Thursday with a rest day in-between.
The work is tapered across the week to ensure we lead into a matchday on the weekend sharp and fresh. Post-session, the players typically then head into the gym and complete their strength work.
Work is then focused around optimal recovery with treatment and maintenance from the physios and recovery work from the sports science team before heading in for lunch. The job doesn’t stop on the grass or in the gym and there is a big focus around the analysis of training and games led by Pete Booker and Dan Bond.
Another exciting aspect of returning back to the club was the opportunity to work within a top sports science department.
We have a staff that I believe delivers high quality coaching across all aspects of sports science that I really enjoy working within, and to lead and drive the work we complete has been really pleasing during pre-season. Alongside James Redden, Elliott Plant and Luke Sanders, we are responsible for ensuring the players are maximising their physical potential, monitoring and analysing every aspect of the players work load.
We create structure for the team’s strength and conditioning work both on the pitches and in the gym and have a key focus on other important areas such as recovery, lifestyle and nutrition.
With a strong four-man department, it allows us to really drill into the finer details of analysis and methodical planning and has been a really pleasing step forward with the support we can deliver to our players.
Are you looking forward to the home game at Kenilworth Road on August 7th?
The Portsmouth and Brighton games really gave you that extra buzz and that's what we have been missing for the last 18 months due to the pandemic.
Come August 7th, we know our preparations will be done and we can go into the game against Peterborough in a good place with a packed Kenilworth Road behind us on the day.
Everyone has missed the fans - it’s cliche but it’s really not the same game without them, and we know how much they have missed supporting the team so I think it will be a special day and one everyone is really looking forward to.
What are you most looking forward to this season?
I think just the rollercoaster the Championship provides. It’s a great league to work in given the quality of teams and the challenges it presents over the 10-month period. Sitting here now, you know you are 46 games away from the best league in the world and we really have a belief we are ready to push for that challenge.
We have faith in our work, our players and we will work hard for the people who back us, both within the club and fans who give us such great support, week in, week out.
It’s going to be a good season and I look forward to making more special memories with this great club and the team who are proud to represent it.