Rochdale AFC U19s taken to next level with local gym

Date published: 14 December 2021

Rochdale AFC under 19’s team are being taken to the next level after they signed up for strength and conditioning sessions with a local gym.

The team, who are all studying on the sport and football scholarship programme at the football club’s Crown Oil Arena sports college, are being put through their paces by Next Level Strength and Fitness head performance coach Damien Ghafoor.

Every Friday the players do a one-hour session at the gym on Bury Road to improve their strength and fitness for match days.

Michael Bardsley, youth team coach at Rochdale AFC, said the team have so far completed three sessions and you can already see a huge improvement in strength, speed and agility.

He added: “They have found the sessions really tough.

“Damien really puts them through it but their fitness has improved massively and it is so noticeable on the pitch.

“All our other training is tactical but the players know this is really hard graft.”

All the students are enrolled on the Rochdale AFC Sport and Football scholarship programme which combines learning and football. 

It is open to 16-18 year-olds and they play football as well as studying for a BTEC level 3 sports diploma.

They drafted in Next Level to improve the fitness of the students and second-year Leah Jackson, 17, said it is paying off.

She said: “The sessions are really fun but intense. They are making us all stronger and improving our endurance.”

First-year student and team captain Logan Cain, 16, added: “Damien really pushes us and makes us work hard.

“He is helping us get fitter which is crucial and you can really see the improvements already.”


Next Level Strength and Fitness head performance coach Damien Ghafoor putting the team through their paces
Next Level Strength and Fitness head performance coach Damien Ghafoor putting the team through their paces


The sessions combine weights and cardio training through a HIIT style circuit which helps the team focus on things such as explosive power, stamina, coordination and safe lifting techniques. 

Damien said: “It has been a huge honour training the team. Our gym has always been about giving back to the community so when we were approached by the local club we jumped at the chance to help.

“The sessions have helped to improve their core and upper body strength, their stamina and their confidence.

“Some of the players have taken to them from day one and you can see them giving it their all whilst others have really progressed and are now trying new exercises as well as asking me what is coming up the following week.

“We really have loved every minute of it.”

Next Level runs similar sessions for members on weekdays and Saturday mornings.

Rochdale AFC Sports College is recruiting male and female players for next year's programme – more information can be found here:

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