Director of Performance Darcy Norman explains club's pre-season fitness approach

With fitness such an important part of the pre-season for all the players, we asked the club’s Director of Performance Darcy Norman for an insight into how the process works.

Pre-season is always a crucial part of the year for any club, a time when the staff can work intensively with the squad to instil the tactical concepts that will form the cornerstone of the campaign ahead.

But it is also about fitness, about ensuring the players safely but effectively build up their strength, stamina and flexibility so they can perform at their best once competitive matches get underway.

The 2016 pre-season presents some unique challenges – after a late finish to last season and then involvement in the European Championship for many Roma players, planning for the new campaign is further complicated by the fact two of the club's most important games arrive immediately - the Champions League play-off.

With all those things to consider, sat down with director of performance Darcy Norman, to learn more about the analytical approach a modern fitness staff has to take to ensure the players are ready for the new campaign.

“This week we are just trying to introduce guys back to the group – to get a snapshot of where everybody is at physically from the off-season,” Norman says. “Then we start to build a base [of fitness], a good foundation for a long season.

“If we can continue to build and build on that, we can build all through the season and maintain and stay strong all season, all the while trying to reduce the number of injuries. Those are the main goals.”

The groundwork was laid last week, when the players first returned to Rome for the new campaign. Thursday’s visit to Villa Stuart saw the players assessed from a medical perspective, while on Friday they hit the gym at Trigoria so Luciano Spalletti and his staff could learn more about their current physical condition.

“We do a lot of preliminary tests at the beginning of the season to anticipate any problems,” Norman reveals. “Blood work, eye tests, dental checks. Nutrition, weight, orthopedics … we study all of those and use that information to help us.

“For example, last season we had three or four guys who had dental issues - we had those cleaned up as that can lead to low-grade infections, illness and absence. We want to make sure we catch that ahead of time so it doesn’t become a problem in the middle of the season, for example when you are in the middle of a Champions League tie.”

On Saturday the guys made the trip to Pinzolo for a nine-day training camp. Initially at least, it is about slowly building up all aspects of the players’ health and fitness so they are ready for the more strenuous work that is soon to come.

“It will be a progression, it’s step-by-step,” Norman notes. “Your work has to be in incremental gains, to push the player.

“If you make too big a jump you run into problems. If you don’t prepare enough you run into problems. So you have to be consistent.”

He adds: “You can think of these guys like a Formula 1 car. You have tyre considerations, chassis considerations, gearbox considerations, engine considerations, then you have the shell of the car as well as the mindset of the driver. And each of those have to be addressed to get a complete package.

"And it’s the same with the players - you have to address every component to get a complete player that can perform day-in and day-out.”

“If you make too big a jump you run into problems. If you don’t prepare enough you run into problems. So you have to be consistent.” Darcy Norman

The car metaphor is particularly applicable, Norman believes, as a way of explaining in simple terms the concepts the staff are focusing on. Different players have different natural tendencies, with the early season testing helping the staff work out what sort of models they are working with and what tuning is required to get each of them running smoothly.

“You inspect the car before you go drive it,” he points out. “It’s like if you have two brand new cars – but they are different models, with different characteristics. They are both brand new but if I try and drive them in the same way one of them is likely to break down.

“So you have to pay attention. One thing Roma is trying to put in place is a structure so we are building the best possible car from the beginning, being proactive from the earliest stages.”

Norman is not concerned about the late arrival of some of the players involved at the Euros – “you have to follow the same process as the others” – as they too will have a specialised programme prepared for them.

“With the first-team you have different models of cars, different ages, and you have all of them on the racetrack,” he says. “And so you have to pay attention, as each car has a different quality that you want and so you have to treat them and repair them all a little differently.”

Do that and, if the players commit to the plan, the squad should be prepared as much as possible to offer everything they have out on the pitch.

As Norman notes: “Work hard, recover well, then take the next step up another level, recover and repeat. It takes a strong mindset from the players to dedicate themselves to this process. That's the basic formula."