Frankie Hunter: Relishing return to first team football
Written by Simon Austin — September 29, 2019
MIDDLESBROUGH’S Frankie Hunter has relished her return to first-team football this season - which has made her the only female lead sports scientist in the top two divisions.
Hunter joined Boro last season as Academy Head of Sports Science and Strength and Conditioning, having previously worked with the first teams for both Southampton and Everton.
Her elevation came after Jonathan Woodgate took over from Tony Pulis as Boro manager in the summer.
“The manager saw me working last year and asked me to step up because he believes in what I do,” Hunter told The Gazette. "Last year, my involvement with the first team was limited because Tony Pulis had a backroom staff."
Hunter described her job as, “helping prepare training sessions to maximise the fitness of the first-team players and making sure they are ready to perform in the way the manager wants, which obviously is a different way from how they played last year".
She added: “I have a say in how training is structured. The utopia for sports scientists is that they (the players) find the games easy physically. We want the training to be hard during the week so that when they come to a match day they find the physicality easy.
“We want them better equipped to express their technical and tactical ability. That is something I try to instil into players - we train hard to make the game easy."
She emphasised the togetherness of the staff, despite the fact the team is currently languishing at the wrong end of the Championship table.
”The staff here are all great," Hunter said. "They are all open, honest, very organised and we are all allowed to speak our minds. We say what we think. If it is not acted on then there is always a reason.
"We all have an equal input - coaching staff and medical and everyone’s opinion and expertise is valued. I love it here. There is a great atmosphere in training and in the building. Everything is open and everyone intermingles.
“In the canteen, everyone mixes - Academy staff, first team, younger players, the manager, you just sit wherever there is a spare seat. We are all part of the same club and the same group."
Hunter told The Gazette's Anthony Vickers: “Every morning, at seven o’clock, I sit down with the manager and we go through the schedule. Under Jonathan, the training framework is planned well in advance, so the skeleton is there. But we tweak it as and when needed.
“Depending on the responses of the players from the day before, if there are any modifications needed we will make them. I might recommend a few things, look at where we need to fine-tune things, maybe put a bit more emphasis on one or another aspect of the group session and increase or decrease training time on another.
“Then you look at individuals - those who might need a little bit more work, or players returning from injury or from international duty, or players who we feel we can get a bit more from.
“You need to look at ways that maybe they can have tailored individual work inside the session. The most important days for me are the Tuesdays and Wednesdays, because they are the conditioning days when we work really hard to get it right."
Hunter said matchday is "the day with probably the least involvement from me, it kind of runs itself".
“I’ll be there early, setting up the changing room with the GPS, making sure all the hydration and nutrition is right," she explained. "I help in the warm-up, but my biggest involvement around a match is probably after the game.
“Then the boys who don’t play will all have some work to do. Anyone who plays less than 60 minutes, I will put them through a routine. That may change depending on if it is a night game and what we are doing in terms of training the next day.”
Hunter grew up in Hull and did a sports science degree and Masters at the city’s University. Her first full-time job was with Southampton following an internship there.
"I left home, went down south and started in the Academy, working predominantly with the Under-18s and U23s for a year then stepped up to the first team for two years," she said.
“The manager when I first went up to the first team was Mauricio Pochettino. After that it was Ronald Koeman. Both of those managers were massive influences on me in how I approached the job. It was very interesting.
“They both had totally different ways of working and I learned a lot very quickly."
Next, she was Head of Academy Sports Science and Medicine in her home town with Hull City. Then came a call from her former boss Koeman at Everton.
“It was a bit of a surprise move to Everton if I’m honest," she said. "I was enjoying myself at Hull, but probably felt I was ready for another challenge when I got a call. Ronald Koeman wanted me.
“Obviously with my experiences with him at Southampton, I was keen to go in and support him in whichever way I could. My role was Head of Sport Science at the club with the focus on the first team and working with senior players again. So it was a no-brainer really.
“It was great experience working with senior players, international players, in a very demanding environment with high expectations. I also had a little bit more involvement outside in the day-to-day running of training than I had previously, which was great and I enjoyed.
“It didn’t last as long as I would have liked though. Ronald Koeman didn’t stay long. He left in the October (of 2017). I stayed on under David Unsworth but that only lasted about six weeks and then obviously Sam Allardyce came in.
“The club wanted me to stay on take a step back from the first team role as Allardyce had brought in his own staff. That is commonplace at the top end of the game. A lot of senior managers have a their backroom people they are used to working with.
“Everton wanted me to take a step back from the practical element and manage staff but I didn’t feel that was right for me. So I left.”
Hunter holds the Uefa B licence and now aims to take her A Licence, which should hold her in good stead because of the amalgamation of coaching and performance roles in the modern game.
“On a personal note, I’d like to continue developing my role, take my UEFA A licence - I’m a B at the minute - and keep on learning," she said.
“My ambition is to help this club progress as far as we can in the league. It is a good challenge this season. We are working with a smallish squad but that brings positive challenges for the players and the staff.
“I’d love to get back into the Premier League. To go up with this club, this team, this group of staff would be an incredible achievement.”
You can read Hunter's full interview withThe Gazette HERE.