Des Ryan, Head of Sport Medicine and Athletic Development, Arsenal FC Academy, speaking at the 2020 GAA Games Development Conference, in partnership with Sky Sports.
Des Ryan, Head of Sport Medicine and Athletic Development, Arsenal FC Academy, speaking at the 2020 GAA Games Development Conference, in partnership with Sky Sports.

Ryan's high hopes for 'Be Ready to Play' programme


By John Harrington

When Des Ryan tells you that the recently launched ‘Be Ready to Play’ sports science and coaching programme is the most multi-disciplined resource of its kind anywhere in the world, you sit up and take notice.

Ryan, after all, is a man who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to coaching in general and the speciality of athletic development in particular.

Head of Sports Medicine and Athletic Development at Arsenal FC for the past eight years, he’s played a key role in the career progression of rising young stars like Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Eddie Nketiah, and Reiss Nelson who have recently graduated from the Arsenal FC Academy where they worked with Ryan, to Mike Arteta’s first-team squad.

Before he joined Arsenal, Ryan was Head of Strength and Conditioning for Connacht Rugby for eight years and was also the Fitness Education Manager for eight years in the IRFU, so he has worked at the cutting edge of sports science in professional sport for a considerable period of time.

Gaelic Games are now benefitting from his insight thanks to Ryan’s role as Lead of Athletic Development with the recently established Gaelic Games Sports Science Working Group.

He’s one of a number of members of that group who have helped develop the ‘Be Ready to Play’ programme which is designed to help players at all levels return to training post Covid and plan their season in a way that will hopefully increase enjoyment, performance, and participation, while simultaneously reducing the risk of injury.

The programme has been put together by some of the most renowned leaders in the field of coaching and performance, and Ryan is very enthusiastic about how it will be delivered and what it can accomplish.

“We'll make it enjoyable, challenging, progressive and very user friendly,” Ryan told GAA.ie

“It will be an evidence informed plan of returning to training and returning to play that will help you avoid injury, maximise enjoyment and reach peak performance when required.

“This will include a top-class athletic development programme and I don’t say that lightly. There is nothing being done on the scale of this anywhere else in the world that is so multi-disciplined.

“Many topics will be covered including injury prevention, game-based skills development, psychology and wellbeing, skill acquisition and biomechanics, performance analysis, rehabilitation, nutrition and athletic development.

“I can categorically say that the club players in Ireland that takes part in our ‘Be Ready to Play’ programme will have the best management team in Gaelic Games available on line.

“It would be great to have the majority of club players on the island of Ireland registering and, at the very least, seeing what this programme has to offer because I guarantee you there'll be something for everyone in it.”

Des Ryan believes the 'Get Ready to Play' programme can help club players avoid injury. 
Des Ryan believes the 'Get Ready to Play' programme can help club players avoid injury. 

There is no doubt that a return to Gaelic games training and playing last year after period of relative inactivity during the Covid-19 lockdown led to a lot of injuries.

Even though there were breaks in action between March and July and again after October, the number of injuries over the course of 2020 logged by the GAA was almost as much as the figures for 2019 and led to injury claims amounting to €7.8M.

The hope would be that one of the positive benefits of taking part in the ‘Be Ready to Play’ programme would be a reduction in the number injuries sustained by club players.

“It has been noticed all around the globe in all different sports that it is extremely challenging coming back from a period of low activity to a period of games,” says Ryan.

“We're hopefully going to help and we'll use best practice. The big thing we'd like to help with is education. We would love to show people an ideal plan that's evidence informed of returning to training and returning to play. 

“Because one of the big dangers is you step back onto the training pitch and you go 100%. You go as fast and intense as you can because the natural inclination is to want to catch up but that can probably be the worst thing you can do.

“You've got to gradually ease back into training. The temptation is to do too much. We'll show programs that will be appropriate, gradual and evidence-informed, and which will reduce the risk greatly for injuries. 

“The other group of people we want to educate are those who, with good intent, end up doing far too advanced types of Athletic Development exercises too early in terms of their training age or too early in terms of the return to play. And, again, that can cause problems.

“It's not dramatic, what has to be implemented. It's not interfering. Training can be planned and periodised well. There could be some preventative work at the start of the session.

“With those little tweaks, it's amazing the amount of injuries that can be reduced.”

'Be Ready to Play' is a season-long Gaelic Games Coaching and Sports Science programme suited to players of all ages and levels. 
'Be Ready to Play' is a season-long Gaelic Games Coaching and Sports Science programme suited to players of all ages and levels. 

Ryan has spent most of his career working in professional rugby and soccer, but he has always retained a deep interest in Gaelic Games and is enthusiastic about what he and his colleagues on the Gaelic Games Sports Science Working Group can do together in the coming years.

“I've been around a long time, I've worked in professional sport since the ‘90s, and when you get a group of people like this together there's so much to be gained, there's so much to learn,” he says.

“The calibre of the people involved is extremely high and everyone has the same passion to help people in Gaelic games, primarily in the club, but we will give help and advice and suggestions to the intercounty level as well.

“We're continually meeting and talking and developing the framework. All these different disciplines working together, it doesn't always happen as smoothly as that, but because everyone has the same passion and purpose it's working very well.

“And this 'Be Ready to Play' initiative is one of the outputs of it, but there will be more to come, particularly in the areas of education. We want to make clubs self-sufficient in all the areas of sports science.

“We want to combine sports science and the game itself so it's natural and they work closely together, they support each other.

“We want everything to be in simple language so it's understood by everyone from the child player to the adult coach.”