Clubs Return to Training Ahead of The National League Play-Offs

By Oliver Osborn

The play-offs are fast coming into focus so there is no better time to check in with Vanarama National League clubs as they get ready to go to battle.

A place in the League Two is the prize for one of six participating teams in the division hoping to join champions Barrow in achieving promotion.

Sixth-tier clubs will be battling it out in the North and South divisions for two promotion spots into the National League.

As part of their return, each club is required to follow Government guidelines on return to Elite Sport.

Clubs across the three divisions will need to complete a week of Stage One training as part of the Return to Training protocol; which consists of sessions in small groups adhering to social distancing. Stage Two allows contact training to take place.

All key staff and players were required to undertake Covid-19 testing before returning to training. This will continue throughout the play-off period on a weekly basis.

Notts County Chief Executive Jason Turner has been appointed as a Covid-19 Officer during the club’s play-off campaign.

The role includes responsibility of compliance with all Government, FA and National League guidelines as well as the safety of the players and staff in relation to the pandemic.

On the procedures the club followed ahead of a safe return to training, Turner said: “I compiled an extensive Operational Policy and Return to First-Team Training Protocol in anticipation of the play-offs being given the go-ahead.

“The document outlines the measures we’re actively taking to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 and how we are adapting Meadow Lane stadium and our training ground to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

“These measures include a one-way system for all players and staff to ensure individual groups do not cross paths and the installation of hand sanitiser units in several areas.

“All players and key staff are given a strict testing time and must use our one-way system to safely enter and access our medical room.

“Our medical team have received one-to-one training from a registered nurse and will be carrying out all our testing moving forward”.

When the lockdown period began, Harrogate Town’s Strength and Conditioning Coach gave the players a strict training programme via Zoom.

As the period without football lengthened the Yorkshire outfit moved towards an “off-season” strategy.

Head Physiotherapist, Rachael Davies, highlighted the key changes to the usual medical routines: “The current Government guidelines state that we can only provide ‘essential’ treatment to our players.

“We cannot give soft tissue massage like so many of them are used to each day. They have had to become a lot more reliant on their foam rollers, massage guns and stretching.

“Medical staff also have to wear PPE when providing the necessary treatment.

“The physio room is usually the ‘social hub’ of the ground, yet at the moment it is a ghost town as only one member of staff and one player is allowed in at any one time. So the social element of our day is missed greatly”.

FC Halifax Town boss Pete Wild (pictured below) is one of six of the Vanarama National League managers vying for a place in the EFL next season.

“Each team in the play-off places will be itching to finish off what they started,” he said.

“On the initial return we tested the fitness levels of the players to get an understanding of where they’re at physically, but there has been plenty of ball work.

“The key is going to be raising fitness levels to the highest level we can, while ensuring the players are ready to play football in testing conditions.

“Because of the work they have done during the lockdown period, I’m confident we can be in the right physical shape to compete.”

“It has felt like we’re returning for pre-season,” Barnet goalkeeper Scott Loach (above) commented.

“As a goalkeeper I’m used to working in the smaller groups, which will make the Stage One of training quite straightforward.

“I feel I have kept myself fit over the lockdown period. It’s going to be a case of making sure I’m prepared mentally and in my hand-eye coordination.

“You can’t replicate goalkeeping unless you’re out on the pitch. I challenged myself with running targets to keep fit, but I also bought exercise bands to do some strength work using body weight.

“We all felt, had the season gone on with the momentum we’d created, we would have had a great chance of a play-off finish. Now we’re in it, we’ll give it our all”.

*The play-offs schedule is currently TBC*

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