Ward reaping benefits of American stay

113462_LEEDS_PFC_01/10/11''Joel Ward and (white) Adam Clayton. ''Leeds United V Portsmouth FC from Elland Road, Leeds. . ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (113462-951)
113462_LEEDS_PFC_01/10/11''Joel Ward and (white) Adam Clayton. ''Leeds United V Portsmouth FC from Elland Road, Leeds. . ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (113462-951)
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Bigger, fitter, faster, stronger.

Rebuilt and reconstructed in America, Joel Ward is not the same player he was last year.

Admittedly, his early performances have certainly paled in comparison.

But there have been encouraging signs in recent matches that the 21-year-old is back to his old ways.

Except these days, he believes he possesses far more in his armoury.

The new-look Ward is set to keep his right-back spot for tomorrow’s visit of Barnsley.

The build-up to the fixture has rightly been dominated by talk of Steve Cotterill’s future at the club.

Yet there remains a televised Fratton Park clash to focus on for the players.

For Ward, it is the opportunity for a fifth successive start in a season which has seen him in and out of the side.

The youngster was one of the Blues’ star performers of the 2010-11 campaign after he was thrown in at the deep end and took the chance to shine in his debut season in the first-team.

It’s been more of a slow start this time around, prompting questions among some as to whether it was an American hangover from his time across the Atlantic.

The Emsworth man spent two weeks of strength and conditioning in Los Angeles during the summer, with Cotterill keen to get him more prepared for the rigours of the Championship.

But Ward believes it has transformed his game.

And he is convinced he is now a better player.

Ward said: ‘It was a great experience going to America.

‘I’ve learned a lot of new things and it was great to be around other athletes striving to be the best they can be.

‘It was an all-round work-out, strengthening the legs as well as my size and my weight.

‘I feel stronger, I feel fitter in myself and feel in better condition, so it can only be good going away and working hard.

‘It’s certainly not something I regret doing.

‘I haven’t felt tired after going there. I feel fine.

‘I feel better than I have ever have done, so it’s just a case of getting the results we need.

‘As a player, I have been taught a lot about my strength and speed and what have you.

‘It has put me in good stead in the season.’

Ward was based at the Athlete Performance Centre in the USA back in May.

Situated at the Home Depot Centre, the home of LA Galaxy, a host of other professional athletes were also present.

They included Newcastle Falcons rugby union player Chris Pilgrim and Forest striker Dexter Blackstock.

Also on the training programme were several golfers and American footballers.

Certainly an eclectic mix striving to improve their strength and conditioning.

Meanwhile, David Beckham was also around, albeit on LA Galaxy duty.

And Ward is convinced all the hard work has been worth it.

He added: ‘I trained with Chris Pilgrim from Newcastle Falcons, a good lad to be working with.

‘There were other people out there, golfers and players from the NFL.

‘It was a good mix of people but I was working solely with Chris.

‘It was great experience and I am just grateful I was able to be involved in such a fantastic opportunity.

‘I definitely needed it.

‘As a player you want to do everything you can to improve and get the best out of you.

‘You want to raise the bar and that’s what I try to do.’