Mark Onderwater is Lion City Sailors Football Academy’s newly appointed Head of Performance. He is a Human Movement Scientist with a master’s degree obtained in Amsterdam. As a Human Movement Scientist, he has gone through many research and studies on strength and conditioning as well as practical orientated courses. The 31-year-old started his career in Ajax as an intern, eventually earning an opportunity in Ado Den Haag as Performance coach. His role was to build the foundation and structure in terms of performance rating on the pitch.

Part of the system he has cultivated there was to ensure that the performance department introduced regular performance training, player testing and started gathering relevant data of the training sessions and the players to calculate player’s progression in the academy. Three years later, Mark was eventually offered a contract at the Feyenoord football academy, one of the leading academies in Netherlands for elite youth development. Mark’s job scope in Feyenoord was similar. However, his challenge came in numbers as Feyenoord had a larger number of players and staff which he had to overlook as compared to Ado. Eventually, promoted into the head of the of the department, he worked with eight other colleagues, which includes a sports nutritionist, S&C coaches, data analysts and more.

Since Mark’s overall strength is adapting fast and well, with his love to travel and learn about the different cultures that every country has to offer, he has found no major challenge since he first joined LCS Football Academy. Even though it might not be a major factor in determining his decision of coming to LCS Football Academy, part of the reason why Mark wanted to come to Singapore, was to educate himself on the football and environmental culture that the country has to offer.

Since his arrival, Mark has been warmly welcomed by the academy and has even set up a staff meeting to get in tuned with the current and future plans of LCS Football Academy. Apart from his warm welcome since he joined LCS Football Academy a month ago, he feels that the optimistic environment among staff has made it easier for him to adapt.

“I think that football culture in general plays a part in that as it is seen as the common ground that unites people easily. Football allows people to create this bond regardless of their background.”

The performance department is a new introduction here in Singapore as compared to countries like the UK which has been existing for at least fifteen to twenty years. Mark aims for people to understand that the purpose of the department’s existence is to create a high-performance environment which allows the players to have a setting where everything is created for a player to reach his or her maximum potential.

Breaking it down, he explains that this can be possible when weighing factors that go beyond just physical performance on the pitch. The other factors include social-economic background, their performance in school and the general lifestyle of players and working towards building discipline in every player when it comes to these factors.

Long-term and short-term goals for the Performance Department

Moving forward, he intends to have more structural meetings that aims to cover all these aspects so that the academy can provide the players with whatever that is needed to assist them in carving their professional football career in the future. Ideally, the academy will need to raise the bar, setting higher standards for every single player without exceptions, taking into consideration that the academy does its best to serve these players an optimal surrounding to make this possible. Mark truly believes that this focus would help the academy in its professional working environment too.

Based on scientific research and years of study, the lifestyle of a player matters in forming the foundation of a well-rounded professional football player. This stretches out to components like their day-to-day schedules, behavioral patterns in and out of the academy, recovery, and nutrition. He feels that these aspects can be targeted through creating awareness and knowledge which he can contribute towards by being here in the academy.

“I believe 100% in the principle that the players are a reflection of the coaches. It all starts with setting the right example.”

Mark has come up with a long-term plan and understands that it might be looked upon as just an illusion when it comes to changing something that has already been adapted for a significant period. Thus, knowing that change does not happen overnight, he aims work with the factors that have the biggest impact and then dealing with the details that forms the structure of his overall plan.

It is physically evident that players spend a significant number of hours on the pitch with the coaches to achieve their physical performance. However, knowledge on the other aspects can also be communicated through time in the academy between coaches and players. Players are vastly influenced by coaches through the significant number of hours that the players spend in the academy for their training sessions and Mark intends to work with the coaches to put the system in place.

Although the primary measure of performance of a football player is greatly weighed on the field, the performance department and the coaches have a bigger responsibility than to just produce players that can perform on the field. Besides just the physical aspects of a football player, player performance can also be shaped through the general principles of which a player chooses to have.

Scientifically, performance is measured through benchmarking amongst the players. This helps to define where the player is at in terms of the absolute level. Benchmarking allows the idea of a general level of performance in the academy and progression can be done though comparisons like the maximum sprinting speed of an individual. This is an example of a perfectly objectifiable measure that the academy can use to compare the data across all players and gradual progression of an individual. If the department can identify important parameters for key performance indicators in football, it can really be an advantage during play. Other parameters include jump height, agility and football endurance. By putting in place the important parameters that make up the overall KPI of a player, the performance department is able to evaluate training programs and methods created for the player. With this put in place, they may choose another path or adjust the program in order to reach the goal in maximizing the potential of a player.

Frequent testing and data collection of the players would help with the large number of players that the performance department must work with. These tests would be conducted over a planned period and to objectively tackle the aspects where the players might be lacking in. Mark believes in the “eye of the master” and feels that this evaluation can also partly be done through the coaches which he will be working closely with.

Inclusivity is important to Mark. As the Head of Performance, he feels that even though his role abides by the leadership and coordinator role, he would not exclude the players themselves. He acknowledges that the department would need to create a personal bond with players so that they would feel comfortable in sharing their concerns and needs whenever necessary.

In LCS Football Academy, we aim for an all-rounded optimal environment for the players and staff. With Mark’s presence and role in the academy, it is without a doubt that it would be an easier path to achieve.