Why Southampton use an ex-SAS soldier to help their players be elite
Written by Simon Austin — May 31, 2022
SOUTHAMPTON Head of Technical Development Iain Brunnschweiler has revealed that the club use a former SAS solider to help train their young players to become elite.
Floyd Woodrow joined the SAS at the age of just 22, making him one of their youngest ever soldiers. He went on to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded both the Distinguished Conduct Medal and an MBE.
Now he works as a performance consultant and speaker, with the Premier League side among his clients.
Brunnschweiler, who has been with Southampton since November 2017, first became aware of Woodrow's work during his time as an England Development Programme Coach with the ECB.
“Part of my role (with the ECB) was to go round and find out what other top-performing organisations were doing and then try and learn from them,” Brunnschweiler told the TGG Podcast.
“I spent time with Saracens Rugby, with Google and with some top people from the SAS. Floyd Woodrow was a top-level SAS soldier who became their Head of Selection.
“We've been on tour multiple times and we utilised him as a culture coach within the England development programme. The role he performed outstandingly - and he’s involved at Southampton now - was to say, ‘This is how you train people to be elite, these are the standards that need to be set, these are the non-negotiables in an environment'.
“We used to say to the cricket lads, and we’re saying it to the football lads as well, 'International sport is not for everyone,' in the same way that being an SAS soldier is not for everyone. It comes with a choice and it comes at a cost, so our training programmes and modalities need to reflect the fact it’s really really hard.
“If we haven’t exposed players to the relevant experiences that are required to be a Premier League footballer during their development journey then we’ve let them down.
“In the same way that back in the day if we want a young lad to have the skills and capabilities to walk out at the Sydney Cricket Ground in front of 40,000 people and face fast bowlers bowling at 90mph at their head, we have to make training really really hard.
“And that was one of the SAS principles, around the level of training and creating consequences within training. Floyd is an incredible human being, I’ve never met anyone like him. It’s just so inspiring and also reassuring when you speak to someone like him.
“The consequence of poor performance in his world or former world is loss of life. The consequence of poor performance in our world is loss of a game of football. However, it’s still really important to us.
“We had a big win for the Under-18s recently, who won the Premier League South title. Every player knew that if they won that game (against Reading on May 4th, which they won 3-0) that they would win the league. For those boys and that coaching team at that time, that is the biggest thing in their lives, that is everything.
“That is the way our brains and bodies deal with this stuff, in the same way that Floyd and his teams would have gone into their missions, knowing that’s everything to them. I think it has helped us consider how do we train to make sure they are ready for these moments.”
Brunnschweiler, who was promoted to Head of Technical Development in February 2022, explained that Southampton had used Woodrow on two particular programmes. The first was a pilot programme with the club’s scholars that ran last season.
“Floyd has created a kind of personal development programme called Compass for Life, which is an outstanding programme,” Brunnschweiler said.
“I got together with our Head of Psychology, Malcolm Friend, and we looked at this and our Head of Life Skills, Ian Herding, and we thought, ‘Ah this looks really good.’
“So Floyd has come in and run a programme and it’s about being really aspirational both on and off the pitch, because the statistics aren’t great in terms of the number of these lads who, even at scholar age, are going to become Premier League footballers or even have a lengthy professional career.
"So we have to ensure they are well set up for their future. This programme creates a really nice user-friendly model about being aspirational in every aspect of your life.”
The second programme Woodrow has worked on is with Southampton’s performance staff and is called ‘Optimise.’
“We had two days with Floyd about a couple of weeks ago,” Brunnschweiler revealed. “Floyd opened up with a two-day hit to the cohort which involved, let’s say, some high stress to find out how they respond to stress, how they work as a team, how they work as individuals, and that’s both cognitively and there was some physical stuff in.
“Myself and Mark Jarvis, who’s our Director of Performance Support here run the programme and we co-designed it with Floyd. I’m laughing as I think about it, because I knew Floyd wanted to do something physical with the group, and from my previous experience I knew he likes the leaders to be role-modelled in this as well, so I made sure I had my tracksuit on.
“There are some quite funny photos of myself and (Under-18s Individual Coach) Mikey Harris just like flat out on the floor, sparked out with a giant former SAS man peering over us laughing at us!
“We did a physical challenge which is designed to take each person to their limit.”