Taking a break from the championship to work his magic at the Euros
Barry Solan is part of the Polish backroom set-up for their Euro 2012 bid, writes Marie Crowe
Last Sunday, Barry Solan sat in his hotel room in Austria, listening to Midwest Radio's commentary of the Mayo football championship. His team, Ballaghaderreen, were in first-round action against Tourmakeady but Solan's duties as strength and conditioning coach to the Poland national side forced him to miss out.
Not many people are aware of Solan's role with the co-hosts of Euro 2012; he's an unassuming character who simply focuses on doing his job well. For the most part he's associated with the Laois senior footballers, Clontarf's AIL rugby team and, as of a few months ago, Olympic medal hopeful Katie Taylor.
Although the 31-year-old Solan seems to have gone straight to the top of his profession, he has worked hard to get there. During his school days he knew he wanted to work in sport but he wasn't sure how to make that happen. Professional sport in Ireland was limited at the time so PE teaching seemed like the only option and it was with that in mind he enrolled in a Sports Science degree course at St Mary's University in Twickenham.
His location gave him a chance to observe different international set-ups whenever the England rugby team were playing at home and he soon realised how many opportunities there were to work with top-level teams.
Solan completed his post graduate course in PE and applied for an internship at Athletes Performance in Arizona, a world-class training, nutrition and physical therapy facility which boasts among its clients the German national soccer team, Bayern Munich, Everton, Monaco, several of the top AFL, NBA and ice hockey players, golfers, tennis professionals and many more. While there, Solan worked with a variety of sports disciplines and learned from some of the best coaches in the industry.
"I got lucky. At the start of my career I was working with people who forgot more about strength and conditioning than I ever knew," explains Solan.
"If I wanted information about something I'd ask these experts and they'd tell me what book to read, what podcast to listen to or who I needed to go hear speak. I was learning from the best and it led me down a good track."
When Solan finished his internship he returned to Ireland and in the summer of 2010 Clontarf RFC, who at that time were managed by former Leinster and Ireland rugby star Bernard Jackman, came calling.
The following year, Justin McNulty got him to look after the Laois senior footballers. Solan was working with two very different sports but in Arizona he'd worked with several so diversifying wasn't an issue.
"There are a lot of similar elements in strength and conditioning, everyone has two arms and two legs. The basics are pretty much the same and you need to get them right before you do anything," says Solan.
"The time you have with the professional players is probably the biggest difference between the teams I work with. In terms of attitude and application, Laois, Clontarf and Poland are pretty much the same. Each team works very hard, you have guys who love training and some who need a bit of pushing."
Since Solan returned to Ireland, he's received offers from teams abroad but until the Poland job none of them fitted in with his existing commitments. Solan is an agent for Athletes Performance, and when the role came up they recommended him to the Polish FA. Last January, he met with the manager Franciszek Smuda and his coaching team, they did some testing with the players and the job was his.
Initially, he worked with the team on and off, attending their matches and carrying out some recovery and technical sessions. Then last month he joined up with them in Turkey for a regeneration and recovery camp before moving onto Austria to prepare for the European Championships.
It's been a busy time and his new job is not without its challenges. Last week at training there were four different languages spoken on the field and while Solan doesn't have a Giovanni Trapattoni-style interpreter, he does have a Polish assistant with excellent English who helps him out when the need arises.
"Training is okay, it's easy to get people to do stuff because I can demonstrate and use my fingers to indicate how many reps I want. I believe good coaches are good with people so that's when I find the language barrier difficult. Trying to mix in with the group, have the fun and have something to relate to the players with. There are a couple of lads who play in England; they have good English and the same kind of humour so they are easy enough to get on with , with others I just have to try a bit harder."
Preventing injuries is a big part of Solan's job and when looking at the cruciate injury epidemic in the GAA, Solan feels that the number of occurrences could be reduced.
"It's important to do lower body strength work as well as getting players to move right and making sure they are screened before they start so you can pick up any existing problems.
"If you have someone who doesn't look good in a screen there is no point loading them with weights because they can't move properly. That is like putting three roofs on top of a bad house, it will just come crumbling down around you, the foundations have to go in before the walls and roof are added."
"It's also important to teach people how to speed up and slow down properly. Studies have shown that between 60 and 70 per cent of ACL injuries are non-contact. Michael Owen tearing his is the classic example. If you look at the clip on YouTube, there is no one near him and he just falls over, these are the type that you'd hope to prevent.
"The problem in the GAA is that there isn't enough time with the players. In training, you might have 15 or 20 minutes with them for a warm-up and you're trying to incorporate the ball into that, make sure they speed up and slow down properly and that they are stretched properly."
Solan played inter-county football with London for two years and believes that a lot of the problem comes from the fact that no one really knows the exact demands of Gaelic games and the appropriate way to train for them.
"The GAA have coach education packages for skills coaches but I don't think they have any coach education package for sports science or fitness; if they had, that would get rid of some of the horrible things you hear county teams doing in training. Then they'd know what is good and what is bad and hopefully they'd do the good things."
Solan was told early in his career that no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. He firmly believes that in his profession you have to be good with people to be good at your job. Solan's career is only starting to take flight and he's already both. He's definitely doing something right.
Sunday Indo Sport