Feature: A week in the life of Wigan’s Mark Bitcon

This article, written by Neil Barraclough, originally appeared in issue 398 of Rugby League World magazine. Issue 399 is currently in production and will be on sale from June 6. Click here to find out more about the magazine and to browse back issues click this link

Rugby League World spends a week with Mark Bitcon, director of performance at Wigan Warriors, as he copes with the demands of Easter…

“Easter Monday is game day, so I get in fairly early. We train the non-selected or injured players at 9am. We’ll do a couple of hours with them, and then the first-team come in for a pre-game swim.
“We approached Easter differently to some other clubs and gave the guys quite a heavy weekend of work. The players were constantly in with us; we cooked for them twice a day and they did a lot of recovery work. It’s very long days for the staff, and even the players were in from 9am until 2pm on both the Saturday and the Sunday over Easter weekend.
“We’ve done the Easter Monday swim since 2010, and ever since then we’ve won the four games around the Easter period each year. We’re very proud of the fact we’ve got such a good record, but there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes – for example, because of some work some others did late at night on Good Friday, Shaun (Wane) was able to do a full video review on the St Helens game at 9am on the Saturday.
“After the swim, I’ll get to the stadium two hours before kick off. We have the players’ supplements and all that kind of thing to set up, then the pre-match routine, and we’ll work with some players on their individual routines. There’s a fair bit of setting up to do – for example, every player now wears GPS systems in both training and games, and we’ve now got data from the last four or five years built up. Then there’s the warm-up, and then during the game I’m on the headphones getting messages from Shaun. It’s a busy day.”

“Tuesday was a review and recovery day. We had 15 masseurs in from the local college, so the players did some swimming, had their ice baths and stretches, and then they all had massages as well.
“Anybody who’s injured or didn’t play yesterday, but is in contention for the Hunslet game on Sunday, has also worked very hard. If I’m in a good mood it might not be as tough, but if we lose then they know they’re in for a difficult session.
“My role at Wigan as performance director is to take all the information we have available to us, and then use that to help us decide when we lift weights, when we’re meeting, how long and intense the field sessions should be, and anything else like that. We look at the data and decide how the week will plan out.
“We’ve already got a year template in place, but then there are specifics to look at; for example, high-scoring games like ours against Bradford, generally have a lot of running and so therefore running might be tailed back during this week’s training, whereas in other games the collision data might be higher and you might pull that back.
“We also use Tuesday to check in with the medics, so we’ll talk with the doctors and physios to see which players are fit and not fit, and which are touch and go for the weekend ahead.”

“Wednesday was a day off because of what we’ve been through over the weekend. Sometimes it’s not a day off – it might be weights or a light field session – but this week there were just a few players to meet and that was it from the players’ point of view.
“Generally the support staff are in every day, and certainly Shaun and his coaching team are in even when the players aren’t. It’s all about preparation for the next game, while guys like Paul Deacon are constantly looking ahead to our opponents five matches down the track. There’s a lot of planning and preparation going on all the time that goes unseen by people outside the club.”

“We finished at about 2pm today, which is a short day for us. Normally we’re in 9am to 5pm, and the players come in, have breakfast, see a physio and box off any individual stuff they are working on.
“Every player also gets a one-to-one meeting with a member of the coaching staff, so it’s normally a very busy first day back in. We’ll have lunch at midday, then meet for an hour, then train from 2pm until about 3.30pm, but today it was all done a bit earlier than that.
“My brother works at Manchester City and their players seem to be home very early, but ever since Michael Maguire, Shaun and myself get together in 2010, it was a shared belief from our past experiences that hard work would get our best results. We all agreed heavily on that, and a lot of the principles we build on are based on a very strong work ethic.”

Liam Farrell hasn't missed a single sprint sessionFriday
“It’s a bit of an unusual week. We’ve given the players more time off than usual because we had them in every day last week and then again over the Easter weekend.
“Today we’ve got an optional speed session. We’re working on speed and acceleration, and Liam Farrell has never missed one of these sessions in five years.
“We’ve been doing speed-specific sessions since 2010, because it’s a very hard thing to train in isolation. A lot of our sessions at Wigan are very intense, so the only time to get some sharp sprinting into the guys is when they’ve got a day off.
“A lot of props attend these sessions as well, working on their 10-metre acceleration. Some players will come in spikes and it’s a great routine for the mind as well; they all leaving feeling very fresh afterwards.”

“My staff come in at about 8am and train the guys who aren’t selected for Sunday’s game. It’s a full-on weights and fitness session, and then we’ll go into the captain’s run at 10am.
“We’ll watch video for an hour, do a speed warm up, the captain’s run, and then have a meal and recovery afterwards. That all finishes around 12.15pm, having been in from about 9.30am going through the game-plan.”

Wigan-Bowen-Burgess-CharnleySunday“This week we’re at home (against Hunslet), so it’s a pretty normal routine for us. For an away game we will generally go to a hotel about three hours before kick off, eat the same meal that we always eat and have a pre-match swim together.
“Our culture, work ethic and environment has been constant since 2010. The standards driven by Michael (Maguire) and Shaun (Wane) have been very high, and we’ve got to maintain those standards.
“They’re both very interested in sports science, and it’s a privilege to work in a team where everyone’s working hard, using all the information we have available and bouncing ideas off each other.
“Our approach is always evolving, and you always look over your shoulder even when you’re successful. The challenge is there every week to win the next game, and the next one, and the one after that.”

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