John Davies is a football consultant, with a revolutionary approach to human performance. He is one of the most renowned people in his field and he is known not only in footballing circles, but across a wide range of sports: from NFL to Rugby, from MMA to Skateboarding, and many more. Not only is he the founder of Renegade Training International but he is also an esteemed author of almost 20 books. I can’t give him a big enough introduction.
To learn more about the man himself and all his projects then I recommend you take a look at his website which explains more about John and his work: www.renegadetraining.com/renegade/.
Cleon Hobson: How did you first get involved with the fitness, health, strength and conditioning industry? What made you want to pursuit a career in this area?
John Davies: The ‘fitness and strength’ element of my training theory happened as a by-product of my technical skill specific efforts once I recognised the greatest weakness of performance development. This lay at the foundation of why I have been referred to as the ‘father of functional training’ given that the objective of my tactical training plan was ‘purposeful’ with players and countries under my direction achieving great success. For those unaccustomed to my work on a first-hand basis this can be confusing as my work is a very careful blend of technical, tactical and generalised work and unlike what they expect of ‘general training’. In truth it isn’t ‘generalised training’ and is better referred to as a purposeful approach to performance development.
The ‘health and fitness’ industry captured this notion very quickly as it is a conduit to satisfying client needs. The exercise community has continued to adopt my theories as they realise my approach is an enjoyable route to satisfying both sport and health concerns and of course improve their business.
CH: You are an established author with almost 20 books covering a range of sports. How do you think conditioning, strength and fitness training in general changes between the different sports? Is it vastly different or do they all share some kind of link?
JD: The difference in sports preparation is vast with some areas highly advanced and others failing to embrace a ‘purposeful approach’. This is a peculiar aspect because not all training approaches require a ‘new development’ but in fact appreciation of physical training long before sport and exercise became a business. Ironically, many of the more ‘advanced training’ approaches that I have developed and utilised are outside of English speaking regions. I will attempt to elaborate in a longer discussion if you wish but this is an enormous topic that is heavily influenced by regional differences.
CH: I read on your website that you ‘broke the ground with training approaches that came from his unique vantages as a competitive Surfer, Skateboarding and Snowboarder. Defying acceptance at the time when ‘boarders rarely considered off-board physical training, he not only established the approach for board sport athletes but led the surge towards acceptance’. Have you had these kind of issues and breakthrough with other sports and if so, what or how?
JD: The focus of my training has always been to ‘coach coaches’ as opposed to individual athletes and effectively lay the foundation for development for many decades to come. Hence each ‘seed I sow’ will take time to mature but additionally grows across the community spawning generations of athletes who I may never know my name but have been raised under my training system. This is part of the reason why I can look out to countries I developed a plan say twenty-five years ago, watch a club practice today or say the country in international competition and take great pride with the nurturing process of players in their youth.
Please excuse what can appear to be braggart but I have been blessed with a wonderful career and accorded many accolades for my work across the world. My theories are considered revolutionary in a number of sports quarters including football (‘soccer’), rugby, North American football, the aforementioned board sport community, baseball, (ice) hockey and basketball in addition to arenas few consider.
Certainly the limitation is teaching a highly complex plan and ensuring the highest of quality standards are maintained of which I make no compromises. As an example, I created my ‘DMC™’ system in 1983 and only began teaching it to a select group of coaches in 2007 with the intent of providing eighteen years of studying before releasing to the public in 2025. There are very few situations where coaching education spans a decade but I am blessed to have tutored a number of coaches for twenty-five years and expect to do so for fifty and further lay the foundation for long after my days.
With that said, allow me to quote Augustus at this time, ‘sat celeriter fieri quidquid fiat satis bene‘ [‘that which has been done well has been done quickly enough’] and further emphasise a fine wine takes time to mature but I am equally hopefully I can help many in the balance of my career.
CH: How does football rate in terms of conditioning? Is it outdated in its approach?
JD: Though any generalised answer is prone to error, it is very easy to say that conditioning approaches, which includes injury prevention, in football is likely the least advanced of all major sports. From every capacity, which I might add it is easy for readers not to be aware of my tactical development efforts, football is missing the mark and not showing signs of advancing at a reasonable pace due to very questionable business marketing efforts.
Quite naturally this should signal ‘opportunity’ for truly results-driven regulatory bodies.
CH: Considering most top Football players now have 50 plus games a season, does football need to adapt in fitness/pre-season? How and what are the benefits long term?
JD: Quite obviously football needs to address this issue and the long-term benefits are improved productivity and performance, the reduction of injuries and longer careers with athletes enjoying healthier lives long after their playing days are over. I repeat: methods of preparation and recovery measures in much of football, including the upper echelon of the sport, are antiquated. This past World Cup, as I noted approximately a year ago, was greatly decided on fatigue and recovery measures and it was very obvious which countries went to Brazil for a ‘holiday’ as opposed to win.
CH: So would having a great pre-season be beneficial later in the season when the fixtures are piling up and the weather is perhaps colder than normal?
JD: The solution comes via a long-term approach to preparation that recognises the needs of the pitch on a variety of fronts and further emphasises recovery measures through a player’s career. Despite the vast fortunes involved in the sport it is rare to find a club that invests sufficiently with its professional medical personnel and further assists coaching with education and the tools to succeed. It is rare to find clubs that have sufficient support coaches on staff who are compensated accordingly. If clubs want greater professionalism in coaches and improved performances from players, the coaching staff needs to be compensated as professionals.
This entire area needs to be addressed with broad funding needing that trickle downs from elite level to lower division and of course academies.
CH: When working with some of the top named clubs and players like the ones you have through your career, do you ever change style of preparation with playing style? For example, in preparation of teams pressing high or sitting deep, how would you train players/teams for this?
JD: Training, both general and specialised, will change frequently as it must adapt to the player traits that are further influenced by the region and cultural concerns. The approaches will vary considerably but each serves of a ‘purposeful’ approach of improving performance on the pitch and reducing the rate of injury.
I would say that is a given as clubs and players embrace my sporting personality. Razors edge discipline, no blade of grass left unchallenged, the highest of work rate, efficient, every shred of tactical matters considered, intellectually ‘one step ahead of our competition’ and poised to attack at all times. Be relentless, attack, attack, attack.
Rule 1 of the foundation of my system on the pitch:
Control the setting and control the rules that control you and dictate the play.
CH: How do the physical attributes of a football player develop compared to the mental and technical side of the game? Is there any kind of order to training? For example, is it easier to work on physicals before a certain age?
JD: To train the body without the mind is without merit and equally signals the great problem of many sport development plans whereby they consider a specific physical exercise as the solution without realising it is only one piece of a very large puzzle. Naturally without recognising the balance between generalised and specialised concerns, the former does not serve the latter and thus explains why most are ‘training to train’. Simply stated, most of the training approaches online are marketing ventures that will promote a product or service but be of little true consequence in the field of competition. I wish I could use the phrase, ‘it’s a joke’ but there is nothing funny about young athletes pursuing their dreams and finding their career end short because they were not prepared correctly. You may want to repeat that sentence a few times because there is nothing enjoyable of a teen athlete failing to reach their goals simply because their training left them ill prepared despite following all the clever advertisements.
With respect to the training of the individual and certain ages, please understand I believe our society is securing a difficult future for many with the habit of ‘ribbons for last’. I challenge athletes intellectually as well as physically daily and do not shield the fact that I am extremely demanding. From an early age, my players are taught chess, fencing, are involved in dance, art, music and music appreciation class, given literary assignments well beyond sport, as well as language development. Leadership class starts ‘day one’ when my boots hit the ground.
CH: What I find astonishing is over a 30 year career you still seem happy with your work and are always giving back to sports. How do you stay so motivated and find new ways of keeping yourself interested?
JD: It has been a remarkable thirty year career, very trying at times but ultimately the great motivation comes not from the trophy case but helping improve communities. That certainly is served with passion for the game, the sheer love of the round ball and understanding that it can teach many great lessons. Sport is a microcosm of society and though certain quarters of the professional level often fail to uphold important character lessons, there is a new frontier where coaches band together to be positive influences. Sport is a conduit to lessons far beyond the game but I’ll save that for another time.
CH: I’ve spoke to some professional coaches and seen a few at some of the Premier League’s top clubs over the past few years and they don’t seem like they enjoy what they do. How can this affect a player’s learning curve when he thinks his coach isn’t bothered? Surely someone more engaging would be able to offer more to the player that someone who doesn’t really care and sees it as a pay cheque only?
JD: There are many coaches and players at the elite level that do not enjoy the game and consider it merely a ‘cheque’ but those are certainly not the lot I am involved with in any manner. Player development, both general and specialised, will slow – if not grind – to a stop if said player notices their coach lacks true passion for the game.
My passion for the sport spills over the moment you notice me. I play daily, not merely coaching and my players know when it is time to demonstrate proper technique in all aspects of the game I never hesitate. This is particularly the case where I teach different methods of delivery, often not taught in this part of the world or defending efforts where I can win a ball quickly on that little timeless skill known as ‘want and desire’. As part of my effort and echoed by my elite band of coaches under my tutelage, I maintain a fitness and strength routine that would have me test out in the highest bracket of young professional athletes.
CH: How do you deal with players who are injured – how do you train them to get back to match fitness? How does the recovery process differ from what is classed as normal?
JD: Recovery from injury is a radically different proposal, one that I am consulted with extensively but begin under the services of medical personnel. I place particular emphasis upon that concern as coaches must not try their hand at physiotherapy and wait for clearance from the medical team of professionals. I have sat in on many operating rooms at the request of surgeons but that does not make me capable of performing surgery.
CH: If someone was lacking in all aspects of fitness in general at a football club, would any recommended training be treated as an extra on top of his work load or would it come at the expense of the time he currently spends working on other aspects of his game?
This goes into a very broad topic that your readers might not be exposed to but the majority are ‘training to train’, whereby both generalised and specialised work many not truly serve their interests of improving performance on the pitch.
A well designed generalised training plan works in synergy with specialised work as well as efforts to enhance recovery. Unfortunately most generalised efforts are lacking in knowledge of the game and as much as they are intended to be ‘general’ they are of little consequence to sporting performance if not detrimental. This likely starts with many generalised training plans being designed by someone will little or no experience on the pitch and whilst it is categorised as ‘general’ there needs to be a relationship that is ‘purposeful’ or it can significantly harm player development. Part of understanding this elixir of ‘generalised and specialised’ training recognises all work must be purposeful and cover a broad swathe of needs.
You can follow John Davies on Twitter @renegadestyle