Ajax Cape Town: Interview With Conditioning Coach, Craig Von Wielligh

Football-Analysis.com sat down with Ajax Cape Town’s 25 year old Fitness and Conditioning Trainer, Craig Von Wielligh to discuss his role in club’s set-up and his general methodology on the Conditioning world.


Could you explain your role/job within the Ajax set up?

I am the PSL (Premier Soccer League) Strength and Conditioning Trainer at Ajax Cape Town Football Club. My roles are:


– Team and Individual Strength sessions

– Team/ Positional/ Player-Specific Conditioning sessions such as:

Core and Stability, Injury Prevention, Functional Strength, Power, SAQ (Speed, Agility & Quickness) sessions, ESD sessions (Energy System Development).

Warm Ups:                          

– Training session-specific warm ups (prepare for drills from 2v2’s/shooting)

– Warm up games (using different multi skills – Frisbee, rugby, etc)

– All match warm ups (Home and Away)


– Training players post-injury (Final Phase Rehab) focusing on building up their fitness while testing their injury recovery in training- and game-specific sessions ensuring players are at the required level to be re-entered into competitive training situations. Their training load is then monitored to ensure smooth integration while minimizing chances of recurrence.

– Possibly taking players through match-fitness tests to decide whether players are able to play in a match, in situations where players are returning to training just before the following game.


– Managing all training recovery protocols of the players such as post-training cool down, stretch and ice bucket recovery.

– Managing Post-match flush sessions (spinning, stretch and pool recovery).

– Administering post-match Heart Rate Recovery tests to track the recovery trend of players. By keeping a close eye on this we are able to pick up when players have not recovered completely and therefore should be given extra recovery time to prevent break down (injury or health).


– Planning the Periodisation of the team with the Head Coach. The training content is determined weeks in advance (where possible) to ensure the progress and maintenance of the conditioning of the players. The Periodisation has many branches as well, which is important to monitor. (I.e. if the teams plan is to do 5v5 drills in the week, then certain players complete only a specific percentage of those drills – Older, younger and post-injury players would not complete the same amount of repetitions of the 5v5 drills.)

– Tracking the Training Volume and Match times of each squad player.  This is important data for the medical department and coaching staff to have at their disposal. It gives us a detailed overview of the amount of time each player spends training and conditioning as well match exposure per day/week/month/season. This data allows us to monitor the time differences between those in the starting line up and those who haven’t played as much (but would be training more).

– Scheduling and supervising the Conditioning, Testing and Multiskill sessions of the Youth Academy.

– Developing information and research based relationships with universities and industry experts for the improvement of not only our systems, but also of the industry in general.


– Suggesting and monitoring meal plans to our canteen, team hotels, and for players.

– Ensuring all nutrition protocols are followed (pre- and post-match meals and snacks).  

Programme Design:

– Developing programmes for Special Need players (i.e. Muscle gain, fitness etc).

– Developing programmes for players entering the PSL setup.

– Implementing and constantly modifying and improving the Youth Academy’s conditioning plan (youth players’ progress from doing gymnastics and capoeira at u12 to doing a similar conditioning programme as the PSL at u19 level).


– High performance testing of the PSL team.

– Testing of Youth Teams.


What relevant qualifications do you hold, and where did you study?

I hold a National Diploma in Coaching Science from ETA (Exercise Teachers Academy), XLR8 Bronze, FIFA F-Marc, Athletes’ Performance Mentorship Program, as well as a World Football Academy Advanced Periodisation certificate.


Other than recovery sessions, what other injury prevention steps are undertaken by yourself and the technical staff?

The Periodisation model allows us to plan ahead which players would have certain training loads, and the training volume data assists in monitoring if players have had a high training load in a short space of time.

Our preseason conditioning would begin with providing the players with a solid core and strength base onto which the other training could be built upon – this is then maintained throughout the season, and injury prevention techniques (core and proprioception training as well as ankle and knee stabilization) are used throughout the season.

We also prioritize the 48 hour post-match recovery window of those who played the majority of the game. Based on this, we will have an ice bath immediately after the match, then have a full flush session the day after the game (a light spinning session, followed by a pool session with lots of aqua running, stretches and movements).

This works well when we travel because we arrive back in Cape Town the day after the match and the players would have a flush after we land, and then have next day off. Our training can then begin again on the 3rd day post-match with fresh players. We would also do a Heart rate based test on this day to ensure the players have fully recovered – not all players recover at the same rate.


How would you describe the typical warm-up you use for football?

Most of our training and match warm ups have the same principles, but the training warm-up setup is constantly changed to keep it fresh and interesting. The guys would begin with a light jog to get the heart rate up and allow blood flow to the necessary muscles. I would include plenty of dynamic movements that are specific to those done in the upcoming training/match situation. It’s always best to have the session in mind when the warm up is planned. For example if the players would go into small sided games then my warm up would have a lot more short, sharp movements.

Some rhythmical movements are good because it gets the guys going before the session. The exercises will increase in range of movement as well as tempo as the warm up progresses. It will end with a variety of quick movements, from lateral steps, to change of direction, to jump and sprint and so forth, and may also use speed ladders and agility pole drills as well.

If the 1st drill of the session is a light passing drill, then I may just have some warm ups games such as ultimate Frisbee, touch rugby, head tennis, netball, etc.


What did you make of England’s players recently saying that they take Caffeine Tablets before a game, and then sleeping tablets after games to sleep? Is this common?

I don’t know of it being common in the PSL but it isn’t quite frowned upon. Caffeine does have its benefits in the short term, but it’s not suggested for long term usage or routine. High dosage of caffeine supplements is seen as an ergogenic aid and therefore banned by SAIDS. I also understand the need for sleeping tablets post-match as most players struggle to sleep after matches due to the adrenalin rush of the game, and also the use of caffeine would only increase this adrenalin affect.

I read 2 interesting articles on this after the England game:




What would you describe as an ideal pre-match meal, and do players use protein shakes and supplements?

Skinless Chicken Breast Fillets with light sauce, good portion or pasta, and mixed vegetables would be the pre-match meal around 3 hours before kickoff. Then a snack 1 hour before kickoff such gummy sweets and an energy bar.

The post-match recovery snack is a low fat milkshake and a banana within an hour after the game, with a meal later.

In the ideal situation we would give the players a quick absorbing Whey protein drink directly after the game and a Casein protein drink before they sleep (which is slow releasing).

We do have certain players on recovery supplements for post training and matches, and certain players on protein supplements who are a part of the special needs program.



Von Wielligh uses a laptop to monitor players’ heart rates on the training ground.

Do you use Heart Rate Monitors? If yes, why?

Yes I do use Heart Rate Monitors for the team. We do not use them for every training session, but we utilize it in important training scenarios where we would get good quality data. These scenarios would be small sided games (2v2/5v5 etc), friendly matches, ESD sessions (interval spinning, repeated sprints, interval runs)

Most importantly we use it for recovery tests. Basically, after a certain period of time within the test, players get to 90% of their maximum Heart Rate, and we see their recovery (how much their Heart Rate drops) within 1 minute of rest. If this recovery is outside their normal recovery trend, then we know there are other issues affecting the player which require attention (i.e. sleeping problems, illness, insufficient recovery, etc)


Do you use Amisco Physical Data? Why or why not?

Not right now, I see it as a nice-to-have rather than essential for us at this point in time. If you look at all the protocols that we currently follow, it would be difficult to still implement the physical data in to our training. There are definite advantages to having the systems at your disposal; how exactly the Coach and Medical Department interpret any physical data is crucial. Typically our focus in terms of using Amisco analysis for matches has been more tactical rather than physical, using their excellent video capabilities.


The three worst injury records in the English Premier League last season belonged to Manchester United, Everton and Arsenal. They also happen to have the 3 longest-serving managers. What could the reasons be for this?

It’s difficult to point out the root of these injury crises, but it’s an interesting debate as to why it has occurred with the longer serving managers at the helm. It may be due to them not wanting to change their training and sports science approach after being successful with their initial approach, but then I am just speculating. Sport science is constantly progressing and those who implement the correct systems are clearly reaping the benefits, but it is such a fine balance between priorities in professional football. All coaches’ jobs are performance based, and when it comes down to it – the coach is responsible for the decisions he makes. If too much emphasis is placed on sport science, and you have a very low rate of injuries but are not getting the results then the Coach/Manager has to answer. The balance between the 2 is so important. For us in the Medical Department, we want to develop well conditioned fit players who are kept on the field by reducing the chance of breakdown injuries, which will allow the coaching staff to have training exposure with these players for more sessions, which would improve their technical and tactical abilities and therefore perform when it counts.


Often we see a key player among the subs after picking up a knock in the week before. Fans often use the “if he’s fit enough for the bench, he’s fit enough to start” argument. Any thoughts on this?

It’s always a challenge to keep key players fit (injury free and fresh) for each game and we have had our fair share of these situations over the last few seasons with key players being rushed back, due to their importance to the squad.  The decision always depends on various factors – the importance of the game (derby or crunch match vs. “easier” game), the severity of the injury (slight muscle strain has a higher chance of worsening than a bone bruise), upcoming period for recovery (if there’s a break after the game then the player may be more likely to play rather than if there are 3 games in quick succession), and also the player themselves – some players will play with an injury, and others don’t want to play unless 100% fit.

It varies from coach to coach: Some won’t pick a player who’s not 100% fit, there are some who will push the player, and then the majority who would put him on the bench and use him depending on match situation. Usually, we would give the coaching staff an indication of the amount of minutes we feel he would be able to play and also if needed do a fitness test by exaggerating some of the actions that could aggravate the injury within a match. The ideal situation then would be that he be on the bench and if the team are doing well then he may not be risked, or he could come on later in the game when the opposition are fatigued.

Also possible is the psychological effect of bring key player on during 2nd half (boost team morale /affect opposition).


How important is it for a Pro Conditioner to understand football from a tactical and technical perspective?

It is very important. In my case, I am the link between the Coaching Staff and the Medical Department. I am involved with many decisions in relation to training, scheduling, players, etc. It makes a substantial difference if the decisions I make are seen more from a football perspective then a sport science view. I am also part of the technical staff in the dugout on match days.

It also benefits my training when I use technical and tactical aspects of upcoming drills within my sessions.


During preseason, how much “old school” running do you do these days? 

We follow the Periodisation model of a gradual build up and have benefitted immensely from it. This is very different from the old school model of a hard running, heavy preseason. I have been a part of both types in the past and have seen the difference it makes with using our current plan.

Old School – Players come from period of lowest activity into period of hard running without ball, heavy gym work, double training sessions, high breakdown injury-rate, they begin sessions fatigued and with DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Stiffness) and therefore not fresh for matches. They may start season off having completed a greater training load then other teams and will even feel fitter but with such quick loading on the players they will have drops in the season from not being able to maintain it.

Periodisation Model – Gradual build up of training volume and intensity while building a solid conditioning base and progressing the training level over time ensuring sufficient recovery. Players go into friendly matches fit and fresh which is the priority in the preseason because the coach needs to find his best team, the players need to fight for their place and chemistry and understanding needs to be built (this can not be done with players missing through injury). The buildup is then maintained during the season with no need for drops and no signs of reaching a plateau.


Thanks very much, Craig, and good luck for the rest of the season.


About Grant James

Grant James is a professional football analyst and coach who holds a UEFA B Licence, FA Youth Module 2, CAF B License, the Prozone Level 3 in Performance Analysis and has a one-year diploma in Sports Coaching Science from ETA. All views are his own.

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7 Responses to Ajax Cape Town: Interview With Conditioning Coach, Craig Von Wielligh

  1. Sheldon October 31, 2012 at 6:44 PM #

    no questions on personality of the squad? does everyone warm up the same?
    is it visible in their play?

    basically, not being involved in any professional sport ever, is it completely different to school sports? (where people feign cramps in their calves and lean against the fence stretching them to catch their breathes)

    you often hear manages saying he trains harder than everyone else… quick run down on the levels of training. ie. he trains hard – he trains very badly.

    • Craig Von Wielligh November 2, 2012 at 1:59 PM #

      The squad is very diverse in terms of personality and background, as with all teams, but there is a very good team spirit. I always allow time for guys to do their own warm up rituals and this is also applied in other areas – to support creativity and individualism within the team.

      It is COMPLETELY different to school sports, and there are massive differences between amatuer and proffessional. Players all have goals set out in terms of what they want to achieve within the season, but all the ground work happens in training. They are monitored very closely to see their workload in sessions, and there are consequences if expectations are not met. All of our training sessions are based on high intensity workloads and specific to match situations.

  2. Chris December 18, 2012 at 11:29 PM #


    Excellent article and some very intersting information. i was wondering if you could share more on the exercises and training methods you and the team carry out. i coach and teach and would like to add more dynamic exercises to the program and increase the enjoyment factor both in PE and soccer. I am also starting a rugby program as wel at schooll. Plus, in the process of starting to get my S&C certification this winter and would love to be able to use you as a resource if possible, know your busy???

  3. James June 23, 2015 at 11:31 PM #

    Hi Craig,

    My name is James and I have my B.A Sports Psychology degree (UJ) and am currently completing my Sports Conditioning course through Trifocus Fitness Academy.

    I would love to do what you do, is there anyway I could get into Ajax? Even as an intern. I am a hard worker who is passionate about soccer and conditioning.

    Please respond back to me.

    • Grant James June 24, 2015 at 1:39 PM #

      Hi James, let me pass your message onto Craig for you.


  4. James June 24, 2015 at 1:57 PM #

    Hi Grant. Thanks a lot !! Will really appreciate it.

    • Craig VW June 29, 2015 at 5:12 PM #

      Hi James

      Direct message me on twitter @craig_vw