Peter Mann takes you behind the scenes with Forest Women Performance Coach, Marcus Ward in this exclusive interview for Nottingham Sport.
As the Physical Performance Coach with Nottingham Forest Women, Marcus Ward has both an interesting, exciting, and somewhat pivotal insight into the scientific aspect of the football club.
Initially starting out as a Cricket Coach with Activate Sports for three years between 2015 and 2018, Marcus has always harboured a passion, an interest, not only for sports, but the scientific aspect of the athlete themselves.
And that is where his journey began.
Upon leaving Henley College in 2014, and after a gap year, Marcus would find himself at Nottingham Trent University where he’d enjoy a four-year long, BSc Hons in Sport & Exercise Science degree, luckily going on to gain work experience as an intern, with the Nottingham Forest first team during the 2017-18 campaign.
It would be a season that saw three managerial changes in Mark Warburton, Gary Brazil, and Aitor Karanka, the club en-route to a meagre, seventeenth place finish in the EFL Championship.
“I’ve always been quite sporty and never thought about doing anything else when I went to university,” began Marcus.
“The mechanisms, the science of the body, it’s something that has always been of interest to me.
“Then, next thing you know, I’m at Forest and working with the first team on a year-long placement assisting their strength and conditioning team which was fantastic; they’ve got some really great staff there.
“I learnt so much as well that year, a lot more that you’d learn at uni and, with being a football fan myself, going there that was something else.
“That first day, with the players, being welcomed by Chris Cohen, was incredible, and to be able to just experience what I did, at such a high level, following their sports scientists, it was amazing.”
After his year at the City Ground, Marcus’ contacts, and in essence the reputation he’d forged, remained intact, so much that he was lucky to return to the club, this time with their Women’s team, in 2019, whilst attending Loughborough University where he was doing a Masters in Exercise Physiology.
Just sixteen miles south of Nottingham, the studies, and his work at the football club, weren’t hampered by the distance, Marcus being able to overcome that with some ease.
His working with the Women’s team though has seen him progress, both personally and professionally, the experience he had with the men’s side paying dividends and Marcus now finds himself sharing between his role with NFWFC with the recent addition of Strength and Conditioning Coach at Nottingham Forest Girls RTC.
“I’ve got so much from what I do and to get as much from what I did with the men’s team has certainly helped me with the women,” continued Marcus.
“There was never a time though that I had a clash between working with the women, and studying at Loughborough.
“I was fortunate that I was able to continue and developed a good balance between the two which has been exciting to make that transition over time.”
Although 2020 turned out to be a tough year all round due to the occurrence of an ongoing, global pandemic, you make the most of what you can, and that’s just what Marcus found himself doing.
Readjusting his workload with Forest Women, taking the opportunity to both learn, and read more, whilst also self-developing; he also had to re-plan his Masters dissertation to accommodate what was happening around him – not easy to do at the best of times.
Now though, it’s about what it’s always been, progression, for himself, and for the Women’s team.
“This year has most certainly been a challenge,” explained Marcus.
“In utilizing zoom, WhatsApp, emails, and text messages a lot more, I’ve found them to be great tools and we’ve just done what we had to, and could, do.
“When last season was cut short, we knew in advance what was happening so it was a case of putting together and implementing both training, and nutritional programmes.
“We then had near five months between last, and this season, but it’s afforded me the opportunity to develop things within the team set-up – I’ve also been fortunate in that my Masters wasn’t affected too much because of it.”
That Masters degree, and the subsequent, lengthy dissertation that comes with, would eventually see Marcus produce work on the ‘Perceived effects of the Menstrual Cycle on Performance by footballers,’ whilst also focussing on the afore mentioned personal and professional development, watching webinars, and reading topic specific materials.
“With my dissertation I wanted to do something, one-on-one, with the women here, heart-rate related, but that became impossible to do, added Marcus.
“After speaking with my supervisor, and explaining to her, insisting really, that I had to do something with the players, she suggested the menstrual cycle and athlete performance.
“It’s something that not much is known about, unheard of really, and is something that is very much individualised and self-managed so, from that, not only is everyone different, but it effects everyone differently as well.”
Now, with the realisation that the need for sport psychologists, sports scientists, strength and conditioning coaches, being less a taboo subject than it was say fifteen/twenty years ago, Marcus is more than ready to push things on.
“My immediate aim is to gain the strength and conditioning certificate as well as a hope that the women are promoted this season,” no pressure there ladies, “that and to be able to continue working with them.
“Being with them, helping with and watching their development over the past eighteen months or so, it’s certainly been a pleasure to be a part of.”
*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).
*Main image @Josh Dixon Marcus Ward is enjoying his role at Forest Women.