We’re back with another Industry Insider! Our latest guest is Owen Jackson, Head of Physical Performance at Wrexham AFC!
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
Hello, I’m Owen Jackson and I’m currently Head of Physical Performance at Wrexham AFC after joining just a few months ago in March 2021. Prior to joining Wrexham, I was with Salford City FC with their U18s as Academy Sport Scientist / Strength & Conditioning Coach.
My first experience of working in Football was with Stockport County and Altrincham, where I interned for a few months helping out with the GPS technology and assisting with warm-ups. The experience at Stockport County was great as I was thrown right in the deep end by being asked to lead the pre-training warm-up with the 1st team on just my second day.
After that I stepped out of my comfort zone and swapped football for Rugby League after being offered a brilliant opportunity to intern at reigning Super League champions St. Helens R.F.C whilst completing my Masters degree at the University of Chester, I was there for 4 months before COVID-19 put a halt to things. Working away from football really opened my eyes as it made me realise there is no “one size fits all” method for getting the most out of the athletes you are working with, it’s about adapting your process to fit the particular athlete, not the other way round.
After graduating from my MSc, I jumped on LinkedIn and Twitter and messaged (more like annoyed) about a hundred different sport scientists from teams within about a 60-mile radius of where I lived, asking if there was any sort of paid/unpaid/shadow work available. Fortunately, Dave Rhodes, Head of Performance at Salford City reached out to me and gave me another fantastic opportunity to intern at Salford City with their u18s for the season. The little knowledge bombs and experience I gained from the S&C + Medical staff at Salford was priceless. I spent 8 months there before moving to my current role at Wrexham AFC.
What do you do in your current role?
My role focuses on the physical preparation and performance of the players; leading warm-ups and cool-downs, gym and field-based conditioning sessions, monitoring training load via GPS technology, along with assisting our physio with the on-field rehab of injured players. My overall aim in my role is to ensure the players are physically and mentally in the best position to go and win.
What does a normal week look like for you?
Since joining Wrexham, I don’t think we’ve had 2 weeks that have been the same due to the intense fixture congestion off the back of COVID. There was one week with just 48 hours between matches with that 48 hours consisting of 7 hours of travelling and an overnight stay. The typical week starts with a second day recovery on Monday for the lads who started the previous Saturday and a little blast for the lads who weren’t involved in the game to keep them ticking over, usually in the form of small-sided games.
Tuesdays have varied between matchdays or a double session in the gym with the lads. Unless the Tuesday match isn’t far away, and the lads aren’t getting home dead late then Wednesday will be a cool-down day for the starters and again non-starters will get a top-up session. However, Wednesday is usually an extensive day where we train across big areas and increase the high-speed running distances in the lads. Thursday is the players’ day off to recover physically and mentally, then Friday is based around matchday prep for the next day. Saturday, matchday, and the day that the whole week is built around. I arrive 3 and a half hours before kick-off and prepare the energy gels, caffeine shots, hydration tablets and GPS pods in the changing room. An hour before KO, I’ll give the lads who aren’t involved in the squad a quick blast out on the pitch to again keep them ticking over, before starting the warm-up around 35-40 minutes before the madness ensues.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
I joined Wrexham through a mutual friend of the manager, the previous sport scientist was changing careers, so the position became available. The mutual friend put my name forward to the gaffer, he gave me a call and we had a sort of very relaxed interview over the phone, and he asked if I wanted to get involved.
I’ve been involved in football since I was about 5 playing with my local grassroots club. When I started University, I wasn’t really aware that the role of a sport scientist / S&C coach in football existed, I just knew that I loved all things sport and wanted to be involved in it in some way. In school I wanted to be a PE teacher like a lot of teenage lads probably did until I realised it wasn’t just playing football, dodgeball and kwik cricket 5 days a week. I’d say it wasn’t till I started my Masters degree that I truly knew the path I wanted to go down to be honest.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
I’ve heard that The Racecourse Ground (Wrexham’s stadium) had an unreal atmosphere when fans were allowed in, what seems like so long ago. I can’t wait to experience that for the first time.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work? What is something you feel most people don’t talk about or focus on enough?
I read Tom Williams’ Industry Insider and I resonate with what Tom said, whereby it is about the person in front of you. I’m keen to develop and learn about the person, not just the athlete. Yeah, I want to know how fast they can run or what weight they can lift, but I also want to know about how things are at home, what they did on their day off etc.
I’ve gained a lot more asking the players questions than nearly all of the webinars I attended over lockdown. I think players appreciate that as well, if you take the time to just listen to what they’re saying, how they feel and have a laugh with them you’ll develop tons of ‘buy-in’ to what you’re trying to achieve.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
I’d say control the controllables. What I mean by that is, there are specific things in your life you can control, your discipline, your attitude, your effort etc. Make sure these are bob on and the rest will come with it.
How to connect with Owen Jackson…
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