The New Generation of Elite Training Facilities

Populous’ Christopher Lee, Warrick Chalmers and Scott Radecic provide a global perspective

How long has Populous been involved in elite training facility design and is it a growing business for you?

SR: Populous has been involved in elite training facility design in the US for more than 25 years and it has developed into a very important segment of our business.

I initially got involved in the design of elite athlete training centres because it was another creative way to combine my passion for sports, as well as my background as a former professional athlete, with the design of the built environment that allows athletes to develop and excel.

WC: In Australia it definitely is a growing market .As sport here becomes increasingly professional and continues to attract more funding through television rights and sponsorship, there is an increasing demand for a new breed of elite training facilities that ensure athletes are in peak condition and provide clubs with a competitive edge. Such facilities also act as a powerful recruiting tool to attract players and coaching staff. 

Based on your experience, what advancements have the EPL, NFL and AFL made in elite training facilities?

CL: The development that the major European football clubs have made in their elite training facilities has paralleled the evolution of the footballer from a talented individual to ultra-elite athletes valued in the 10’s of millions of pounds.

When one considers that a footballer such as Wayne Rooney runs about 10-12 kilometres during a typical game, possibly twice a week, the training regime needs to not only ensure maximum and sustained fitness, strength, speed and agility but also cover psychology, nutrition, and performance recovery and injury rehabilitation.

Our current facilities are so sophisticated that the medical and sports science teams, backed by incredible amounts of analytical data, can identify potential injuries before they develop and tailor programmes to ensure injuries do not occur.

Many football club training facilities not only accommodate the elite professional players but also focus on the development of younger players (as young as 8 years old) through the academy side of the club.  These future stars have their own requirements not only in their development as football players but their onsite education, welfare and well-being.

These state-of-the-art training facilities become a complex environment dealing with up to 100 athletes, their coaches, trainers, doctors, sports scientists, performance analysts, support staff and teachers.

SR: Over the last decade, the NFL has made huge strides in developing incredible training facilities that have significantly enhanced the athlete’s ability to train and prepare at the highest level.

Major improvements include: more extensive hydrotherapy offerings for both rehabilitation and training, expanded nutritional centres that educate, as well as provide the right foods, and expanded medical facilities and outpatient medical services.

These training facilities are also doing a much better job of using technology to optimise the training experience, including integrated Wi-Fi access, new video systems, monitoring and tracking daily training routines, as well as providing high-tech, interactive spaces to review and study film.

WC: The AFL is developing a new generation of training facilities. Most AFL clubs began developing truly professional facilities about 15 years ago. Clubs are now developing new or expanded facilities to bring them up to date with the latest technology and sports science advances and accommodate growing staff levels.

As with the NFL, most advances have been in gymnasium size and diversity of use, hydrotherapy areas, nutrition spaces and medical science areas to accommodate sports science advances such as GPS tracking.

We are also seeing a larger emphasis on the analytical and communication side of things, with a greater diversity of meeting spaces, from large auditoriums to informal alcoves to enhance communication between coaches and players.

 When designing elite training centres, what difference can the architect make to athletes’ training and performance, recovery and rehabilitation? Can you give examples?

SR: We will spend a lot of time considering how each athlete, coach or trainer will use every space throughout the facility, and how different spaces can embrace the latest trends and advance to give them a competitive advantage. We work through in-season and off-season daily schedules to design a facility that works optimally and effectively 365 days a year.

WC: Most AFL commentators talk about how successful teams win the ‘1 percenters’ on the field – those small pieces of play where a player lifts by 1 percent to win a particular contest over a rival. Our role as architects for these facilities is similar- providing those small design features, the 1 perecenters, that enhance the efficiency and training output of the players and staff that over time translates to higher on-field success.

CL: As an ex-national level swimmer, personally I am very conscious of the importance of environment in which individual athletes can be melded into team.

The architecture of a space can have a genuine impact on the user’s physiological and physical well-being.  Populous’ objective when designing elite training facilities is to design a building that works perfectly technically from an operational perspective, inspires training and performance at an elite level and create a “home” for the sporting club. 

What countries are leading the way in elite training facility design?

CL: Many countries are leading specific aspects of elite training but in our experience America, the UK/Europe and Australia are investing the most in the development of elite training facilities.

WC: In Australia, we do look towards the US and UK for advancements in training facility design mainly because their markets are larger and more advanced than ours. However, most AFL clubs are very much at the forefront of sports science.

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