Building The High Performance System: GNK Dinamo Zagreb Approach

Today it is my pleasure to host another brilliant guest blogger. I met Marko a few years ago while he was Head fitness coach of the Football Club Rudeš (Croatia). He is an exceptional young S&C coach and an even better person, who certainly has a lot to offer to the football public. Today, Marko works at the GNK Dinamo Zagreb Academy, which is known around the world for its incredible production of players who play in the strongest European leagues and bring great success to the Croatian National Team.

CIES Football Observatory, Geneva, Swizerland (2020): TOP 10 Most Productive training clubs

The latest research (2020) of the CIES Football Observatory from Geneva shows how great influence the clubs from the former Yugoslavia have on the European football scene. In the Top 10 most productive European football Academies, as many as 5 are from Serbia or Croatia (Partizan Belgrade, Dinamo Zagreb, Red Star Belgrade, Hajduk Split and Vojvodina Novi Sad). This information, as well as the incredible results that Dinamo Zagreb achieves in the football and business sense, are more than enough reason to hear the story of one of the most attractive football academies in Europe. Without further delay, we present Marko’s article in its entirety.

Organization and the philosophy behind it

Before I start I would like to thank Sasa for the invitation to write for his Blog. In this article, I will try to explain the Performance model of one football team, in this case, the GNK DINAMO Zagreb. Few days ago we witnessed a great performance from our First team against Premier League Goliath Tottenham. What a story. Our manager was sacked and we lost first match 2:0. Everything was against us. But, in the rematch, we went to extra time and won 3:0 and qualified for the next round. This is why I love this job!

First, it is important to introduce myself a bit more. My name is Marko Matusinskij and my role is Head of Academy Performance at GNK Dinamo Zagreb. For the last seven years, I work with professional athletes. At the beginning something like Jack of all trades. I started in 2014. as a volunteer and rehabilitation coach at NK Lokomotiva Zagreb. Later on, I worked as a Performance specialist at youth teams and seniors until 2020. In 2020. I decided to participate in the UEFA B license protocol to understand the game better and to understand the demands of the coaches, so to better serve my players. When I came to GNK DINAMO a lot of great things have already been established. I gave myself some goals that I thought are necessary. I wanted to improve the things that were good to be great and to put some extra pieces in the puzzle. So, today, we are doing our best to build a high-performance environment for our athletes and to give them 24/7 care of their needs.

Considering that, we divided our system into several Sectors:

  1. Football Performance – Coaching
  2. Mental Performance – Sport psychology
  3. Health Performance – Sport medicine
  4. Physical Performance – Strength and Conditioning and Return to sport
  5. Video Analysis Sector
  6. Sport Science Support – GPS, Dinamo HUB, Research and Development

Every person in this system needs to be maximally motivated, professional, responsible, innovative. That’s why I like to say: “put the right people on the bus”. As a responsible person, you need to believe in your colleagues that the job will be done. You don’t want to lose time on bad communication. That’s why we take seriously our selection process. Our athletes must have the best possible experts around them. The next important thing that I like to have on my mind is the WHY question from Simon Sinek book. If you don’t know how to explain simply why are you doing something maybe you are doing it wrong or even you should not do it at all.

At GNK DINAMO we are very proud of our coaching methodology. We like to say that we have a mix of different methodologies from “out there” and that from them we build our own.  Some of them come from Mladen Jovanovic, Mike Boyle, Raymond Verheien, Martin Buchheit and Joel Jameson, Victor Frades’ Tactical periodization model, Charlie Francis’ sprint ideas and periodization principles, Christian Thibaudeau’s physiology, and resistance training philosophy, Brookbush institute, Idos portal, and many more.

High-Performance structure

To build a High Performance structure, we needed to know individualized players’ needs, and they need to be identified multidimensionally, but in an integrated way (Jukic et al., 2021). In the recent paper, Jukic and colleagues highlighted individual player characteristics that describe the player’s personalized profile.

Figure 1. Individual player profile (Jukic et al., 2021)

This was the starting point for us on how to build training methodology and philosophy around it. If we know the needs of our athletes and the goal of the Academy, we can build surrounding pillars of protection to keep the system strong.

Performance pillars

On the way to building our structure, we like to use Performance pillars as the synonym for the most important aspects of strength and conditioning. This idea comes from the EXOS system, but we introduce our own. In the figure below, you can find pieces of the performance puzzle at GNK DINAMO, and we are using them to model qualitative and quantitative factors that contribute to player’s performance, or Key performance indicators (KPI).

Figure 2. Key Performance Indicators

Programing and methodology

To know where to start we define our game model and game demands for each category and comparing it with the first team demands as we are going throughout categories. As a GNK DINAMO club, we strive for high press, repositioning, and possession style of play, so our players need to be ready for these demands. We have done this for every category and position in the club, at the beginning studying literature and taking game demands from different leagues, but now, we have 6 full Catapult S7 systems and we can be more precise in determinating those demands. As strength and conditioning experts we want to be support to our club and answer the most common questions such as, What are the game demands for our players? Are we ready for those demands?

Constructing the microcycle

In the weekly and horizontal approach, we want to hit all the important pillars and aspects of play during one week. Our ordinary horizontal weekly organization is structured with introduction day, tension or load day, recovery – correctives day, tactical-speed day and reaction or preparatory day, and game day with compensation. We try to predict all possible scenarios for our players, because a lot of our players are playing for national teams, playing for several teams in the system, and have their school obligations. That’s why we prepare microcycle with one game, the first week of the preseason, how to organize weekly structure when the player is coming back from the national team, and so on. As you can see, monitoring our players performance is one of the key aspects of control.

Sports science and monitoring

I will be quick about this pillar. I do now want to go into deep with each of the aspects and pillars in our system. I can talk and write about it until the cows go home. So, I will just introduce the four-segment parts of sports science.

I already talk a little bit about Performance methodology. When it comes to monitoring I think that we are doing a good job. I will try to explain it as a story. So, once upon a time, there has been one training session. We plan the session with all the parameters that we think are important (we even build the channel and way of communication document, the idea behind it is that we all understand what each category means and where we can put the drills in) for session designs, MD-1234, session goal, tactical idea, number of players, intensity, muscle contraction, rest periods, density, size of the pitch, physical goal, recovery, speed of action, control of the player movements. After the session, we check external and internal load parameters, GPS, and sRPE. On the next day, we then check how athletes are coping with the load throughout the wellness questionnaire. The next step is to check their readiness for the next training session, is there someone that needs to have extra pre-formance, post-formance, recovery, nutrition, and supplementation advice by using monotony, strain, day to day change, week to week change, CMJ score difference. Knowing this, we can answer our coach’s questions during the week about the athlete’s state, not to mention that we can program progression during players’ long-term careers.

Weekly structure and the most common questions

Assessment

When it comes to assessment, we divide it into indoor and outdoor assessments. You can ques why. One part takes place on the pitch and the other one in the medical room. We decided for it because of its precision, validity, reliability, and simplicity. Using it, we can create players’ profiles. We recognize postural profile, endurance profile, strength profile, power profile, speed profile, morphological profile. Like that, we can discover what are strong and weak links in our categories and with our players. We function similarly as a factory. We diagnose, program, work on it, monitor, and check again. I will give you an example from the postural assessment. Let’s say that we noticed that the athlete has a low score at dorsiflexion, feet flatten and feet turned out patter, a low MAS, and acceleration. Firstly we will attack the biggest problem, ankle mobility, and aerobic capacity.

This player needs to release and stretch his evertors and activate the posterior and anterior tibialis as a long and under-active muscle. We try to find every possible moment when to work on this deficit, before, during, after, or at the special session (something that we use with our athletes 1 or 2 times per week). He will also have an aerobic top-up session when the periodization lets it. This is where micro-dosing comes as a part of our methodology. Like Sasa mentioned in his blog, this strategy is very useful and important for us as a professional, that we recognize when is the right moment. Every day we are answering unpredictable and hard questions. That’s why we need to have some kind of a system to support us. When we test again the player, if he improves, we can attack the second problem. During this process, we can not forget the strong attributes of the athlete.

Research and Development

Dinamo HUB is the latest project for us. The idea behind it is to use Dinamo HUB for our own research and to study new insight in the field of strength and conditioning. Maybe you know, before two months we launched the first Dinamo Internationl Conference. We want Dinamo HUB to be a constant support for staff and club members but also to share knowledge and experience with other clubs and leagues. We will continue with conferences but you can expect much more from Dinamo Development HUB.  The research and development sector has also prepared manuals for every pillar in our system (monitoring, compensation training, warm-up, goalkeeper manual, endurance, strength, periodization manual, etc.) with a description of each pillar, methodology of development, principles, and methods used in the system. In this way, every person who joins our team can easily be introduced to the principles and with a bit of experience and practice, he can continue to develop the GNK Dinamo goal.

Player development path

In GNK Dinamo Academy we have more than 400 children that are training at our training ground. Every category has a strength and conditioning coach that is taking care of their health and wellbeing. If we go from the youngest ones, we have open school,  three categories U9, two categories U10, two categories U12, two categories of pioneers, cadets, and juniors.

As I mentioned before, the main goal of the strength and conditioning sector is to have happy and healthy individuals, but also physically educated and physically robust athletes. For this reason, we develop a system for how to accomplish these goals. For instance, each category has the main goal at each pillar what he needs to know and what he needs to accomplish. During the age of 14 to 15, the player needs to have a balanced postural profile, he needs to be familiar with continues and discontinues aerobic method and be introduced with the tempo training method in the endurance pillar. Later on, he needs to know basic bodyweight strength exercises, he needs to demonstrate with a proper technique countermovement jump, squat jump, pogo jump, bilateral and unilateral landing, and frontal and lateral acceleration and deceleration technique. In that way, we can track the progress of every athlete, and what is more important coach’s ability to teach them and to develop them during the stages.

Preparing athletes for the first team is the final stage of our development. At this training age, we want to have a balanced force-velocity profile, have high levels of strength, satisfied muscle mass, and depending on the position, 19-22 vIFT or MAS over 16.

On the example of the U14 player, we are assessing the player’s physical literacy, and at U19 physical performance. Each category has a goal for every pillar that we prepare. But also, every athlete can be graded from one to four score (as a level one athlete or level four athlete). Level one athlete needs to know how to demonstrate back squat, front squat, deadlift, unilateral squat, have proper NASM squat, split squat, pull technique, CMJ, SJ, and level four athlete need to know all the demands of level one to three. He is introduced to more advanced training methods such as contrast training, French-contrast training method, Shock method and so on.

Example U19

Trap Bar Deadlift  1.2-1.5x BW
Split squat/Bulgarian squat 18+18kg / 15+15kg
Floor press/Bench press/DB press/Push ups 20+20kg / 1.1x BW / 20+20kg / more than 25
Chin up/Reverse pull up 12RM / 15RM

Before I finish I would like to mention our volunteers. We have collaboration with the University of Kinesiology where we are giving the students experiences from the field and the university is sending us some of the best students to join our academy. We prefer that they have a football background, but we encourage them if they are from different sports. We have coaches who have a history in boxing, judo, swimming, weightlifters and we use their knowledge and incorporate it into our system. They are going from category to category and teach our athletes the basic principles and movements of a different sport. Especially in U9 and U10.

Conclusion

Having physically educated and robust athletes are one of the goals of the strength and conditioning sector at our club, but also the important part is to make them happy and healthy. We want to give them everything at our facility, from individual work, teamwork, video analysis, medical care, recovery, education. We want to give them a friendly environment. To accomplish these goals we need to be objective as possible in determining our progress and progress of the player during the ages, so we can say, in every moment, where is that athlete now and what he needs to work on.

I hope that I have brought you closer to the GNK Dinamo High-Performance Structure and how we function. I would be glad to talk and text about every pillar and idea behind the system, so feel free to contact me at m.matusinskij@gmail.com. Once again, huge thanks to Sasa for this opportunity. Until the next time, best wishes!

Marko Matušinskij
Head of Academy Performance
GNK Dinamo Zagreb

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