There has been a clear reduction in Alphonso Davies’ playing time this year in comparison to last year with Bayern Munich. While some of the reduction can be attributed to the cornucopia of top-level talent along Bayern’s back line, the primary reason likely lies elsewhere.
Fortunately, enough clues have been dropped by team leaders Hansi Flick, Thomas Muller, and even Nico Kovac that we can combine their comments with some sport science to arrive at the conclusion that Phonzie is just experiencing age-appropriate load management.
The first piece of the puzzle is Flick’s public statement that everyone’s favorite Canadian’s “form has dropped.”
“For a young player like Alphonso Davies, it’s not easy due to the sheer number of games last season and the short preseason,” said Flick. “We’ve deliberately given him the time to recharge — mentally and physically — and that’s what he’s been doing.”
We know from Thomas Muller’s comments that the team’s testing has revealed that, overall, the team is not physically fatigued and also that the intense and precise physical testing system that was enhanced under Nico Kovac has continued under the new regime. Kovac talked at length about the importance of testing for injury prevention, maximal performance etc. The Bayern system is cutting edge, including blood testing and a multitude of other metrics that are utilized to determine exactly how an athlete’s body is responding to the training/competition regime.
The second key factor is Davies’ age. He is a young athlete who has not yet turned twenty. Despite his elite abilities and performances, he is still a young man as athletics go. The sport science tells us that, for many athletes his age, load management is crucial both to maximize performance and to avoid injuries and developmental difficulties that can permanently hamper his physical development. Simply put, the workload on his body, particularly his legs, needs to be carefully managed to promote a long and successful career. The sport science in this area is fairly settled.
A number of years ago I had the privilege of helping coach a young athlete who was preparing to compete in the World Cycling Championship that was being held in Canada that year. At that time, I was exposed to much of the sport science around the development of a young cyclist’s legs. A number of studies had been conducted and the conclusion was reached that if a young person worked their legs too hard in training and competition, it could cause problems with tendons, ligaments, muscle fibers, and joints, potentially permanently harming the athlete. Now in cycling, specialists have a huge advantage in that it is very easy to measure the workload that the athlete’s legs are undergoing in both training and competition.
In fact, the conclusion and correlation were so strong that virtually every cycling organization in the world put limits on the load to which a young athlete’s legs could be exposed in various age groups. While there are some debates on the exact optimal loads and at what age the loads should no longer be controlled, the UCI and most national governing bodies produce charts, like this one, that effectively limit the size of gears a young cyclist is allowed to push in competition:
- Year 7 & 8: Max of 6.00 meters
- Under 14,15,16,17: Max of 6.610 meters roll out
- Under 20: Max of 7.930 meters roll out
So, each age group (up to a point) faces restrictions on how much load the legs can be forced to bear until they realize their full development.
Now these rules are developed for an environment in which not every athlete has access to the sophisticated testing and measurement that Phonzie does. Bayern doesn’t need to use the loads that would optimize the training for an average X-year-old, but instead can use the precise information they have available on the state of Phonzie’s body to set an optimal workload for him to maximize his potential.
Coach Flick has demonstrated that he has an eye for, and cares passionately about, the positive development of young athletes, and he is likely doing precisely that for Bayern’s Road Runner. Putting up with these load restrictions now should reap great rewards for both Bayern and Davies over the long haul.
We can relax knowing that coach Flick is doing his utmost to balance the needs of the team with the needs of the young athlete to produce a decade of success for both.