BEHIND THE SCENES | Tom Sherriff
There is a vision statement at Saracens that reads ‘seek to promote from within’. As far as Tom Sherriff is concerned, along with many other ‘boot room’ staff, that policy has suited him perfectly.
The former ‘gobby little schoolboy scrum half’ has been able to grow within the Saracens rugby fold and develop from an S&C intern into the club’s head of sports science and now head of athletic development. He will celebrate a decade at the club in July, and what a decade it has been!
“I’m just one of a number of people who have benefited from the club’s policy of encouraging, supporting and promoting from within their own ranks. It will have been a very successful and happy 10 years spent at the club when I reach that milestone later this year,” said Sherriff.
“There are two former interns working full-time in the S&C department and given the success we’ve enjoyed at the club, and the opportunities we have been given, why would you want to work elsewhere.”
By his own admission, Sherriff dreamed of working in rugby from when he was at Watford Grammar School. More particularly, he also ways wanted to work at Saracens, which he describes as being ‘my club’ from his youngest days.
“I can remember Saracens players coming into my junior school. Sport was always a passion of mine and I always wanted to build a career in that area,” said Sherriff.
“I got a sports science A level, earned a BSc in sports science at Leeds University and then went to Loughborough University for a year to gain a masters degree in sports science. I applied to Saracens while I was still at Leeds, but I was told the club had more applicants with more experience and qualifications.
“That’s when I decided to go to Loughborough and do a masters degree. While I was there I spent 13 months as an S&C intern at Leicester Tigers and followed that up with nine months as a sports science intern at Tottenham Hotspur.
“Then I re-applied to Saracens. They offered me a post as an S&C intern in July, 2011, and then gave me a full-time job 13 months later.
“Since then they have helped me to develop my skills and promoted me to head of sports science and now I’m head of athletic development.”
While there has been so much to celebrate during his time at the club, with so many trophies won and so many Saracens players stepping up onto the international stage, Sheriff’s focus is very much on the future and on how to link up all the departments at the club to give the team the best possible of performing to its peak.
“I’ve enjoyed getting the chance to look a bit further down our depth chart and being able to better understand the physical demands on our junior academy player,” he added. “The academy has served the club really well over the years and that needs to continue.
“While Phil Morrow, as our performance director, provides the big picture for all our training, my role is to ensure all the departments work together to produce the best results and performances. While the S&C coaches and nutritionists are very much team facing, I look at the medium and long-term picture.
“Phil gives us the freedom to trial things and here is so much trust within the department. The players also trust the systems and that makes the job of all of us on the performance team so much easier.
“We don’t have to do any salesmanship on our plans, or try to bamboozle the players with science, just to get things done. That does happen at some clubs, I hear.
“There is a lot of information sharing between the departments to ensure everyone has the most up to date knowledge. We gather a lot of data, but we aren’t slaves to it, as used to be the case with GPS numbers and weights.
“There is more of a focus on the rugby data, incidents in matches and KPIs. By becoming more collaborative and cohesive we are much happier with the data that is being handed to the coaches and how they are using it.
“What I love most is the experience of being on the training ground and the interaction between the coaches, S&C experts and the players.”
But best of all is when a cunning plan works out for the best, as it did in 2019. By then Saracens were used to capturing the biggest trophies and so the backroom staff tried to find ways to prepare them for every eventuality in the Premiership final against Exeter Chiefs.
With the Heineken Champions Cup already in the bag, the next big hurdle to clear after Leinster in Newcastle was Rob Baxter’s men in a repeat of the 2016 and 2018 Premiership finals at Twickenham.
“We were charged with coming up with a strategy that might help the players on the big day. The final was in June and there was every likelihood that the temperature would be high,” explained Sheriff.
“We got them on Watt bikes in the training area and pumped up the temperature to 30 degrees. We made them wear wet weather gear and we made them sweat with a 30-minute ride. We were down at half-time but ended up pulling away with three tries in the final quarter to win the game 37-34.
“The temperature that day went as high as 27 degrees and the stamina and staying power of the players shone through in the end. Perhaps the build-up helped a little!
“There is no magic or secret weapon, the success of the club is built on the hard work of the players. Marginal gains can make a difference and we are always on the look-out for something, anything, that can give our players an advantage.”