James Donnelly is the founder of Matchfit Conditioning (https://www.matchfitconditioning.com), a football specific strength and conditioning coach, and a former semi-professional footballer. Matchfit Conditioning is the number one source of football specific strength & conditioning information available online. Following retirement from academy football through injury, James turned his disappointment into a drive to succeed both personally and professionally. He realised his experiences could help other players, from grass roots level to professional, to reach their full athletic potential and stay in the game. Here is his story
Living The Dream
I spent 9 years in the academy of a professional club in England, looking back this really shaped my identity for who I am today. It seemed like every other week my team mates were cut and new players came in on trial, only to be released a few weeks later and so the cycle went on. By the age of 17 I realised that from that first academy training session at 8 years old, I was the only player who remained.
I’d seen so many talented players come and go, week in week out I came up against players such as Theo Walcott (Arsenal FC & England), and played alongside the likes of Chris Smalling (Manchester Utd FC & England). What’s the one thing all of these guys had in common? They weren’t any more skilful than any other player… but they were all exceptional athletes without the ball.
In the Blink of an Eye it was All Gone
Having always been amongst the fittest players in the squad I progressed to being selected for England Schoolboys. When I hit 18 I suddenly found myself struggling with one injury after another. The cycle of finding form and then being hit by injury continued for some time before I became so frustrated and lost so much confidence that I decided to continue to try and play through my injuries. Guess what, this led to a chronic overuse hip injury and the doctor bluntly and firmly telling me ‘I’m afraid this is the end of your footballing career’.
Needless to say I was devastated, in the space of a few seconds I had lost my identity. If only I had listened to my body and had the knowledge I do now to put it right. I made it my mission to become an expert in football strength and conditioning and gain the knowledge to help me to one day play again, despite what the doctors said. At the time I remember thinking I would need a miracle, I could barely manage a light jog without severe pain, let alone competing again in a match.
My New Mission
From there I went to university to complete a degree in Sports Science BSc. Wherever possible I tailored my assignments to football rehabilitation to gain a deeper understanding of my own injury. I went on to specialise in football specific strength and conditioning as well as football specific nutrition.
With my knowledge I devised a training programme for myself to overcome and work with the injury and return to match fitness… 18 months later I found myself lining up against the Malaysia National team, and captaining a club in the Australian Premier League – fully fit, 100% pain free and training 4 days a week. I just can’t put into words how good that felt, finally I had my identity back.
The Birth of my new career; Matchfit Conditioning
So many players drop out of the game for reasons that can be resolved through strength and conditioning, many players never reach their potential because they don’t know how to train to gain that vital edge over their competition. Being injured was an invaluable experience for me, it gave me the key to realise what so many players are missing out on and allowed me to put the Matchfit training programmes together with more than just theory, it’s given me the passion, dedication and drive to guide my clients and work towards that end goal.