A couple of months ago I got the great news that I am going to be an uncle! Of course, because I work with athletes, I immediately began planning the athletic future of my young unborn niece or nephew (that’s normal right)?
It occurred to me that, although the child will definitely be playing soccer (that will not be up for debate), he/she should probably be playing other sports in addition to soccer, in order to become more well-rounded athletically. This idea is certainly not unique (many countries’ national soccer/football federations, including the Canadian Soccer Association, advocate for young players to participate in a variety of sports and athletic activities, and to delay specializing in soccer until at least the age of 14, if not later). But what sport(s) should you choose? Are some better than others? And which ones, if any, will help the most with soccer? Below are the 2 sports I think all young soccer players should participate in, to maximize the development of their athletic ability and make the most of their free non-soccer time:
1. Gymnastics and/or Martial Arts:
I believe these sports are the best to help young athletes/soccer players to develop strength, balance, flexibility, coordination, and basic motor skills, that do not necessarily develop fully when only playing soccer. A lot of the work we do at Soccer Fitness is with young (ages 8-10) players, and I can tell you that the ones who participate in gymnastics, or a martial art like karate for example, are by far stronger, more flexible, and more coordinated than their peers. The development of good strength-to-body weight ratios (a staple of gymnastics and martial arts because of all the push-ups, squats, etc..) in conjunction with lots of flexibility training, is very useful for soccer players, for both performance enhancement, as well as to prevent future over-use injuries that are common in soccer from a lack of flexibility. Furthermore, these sports also teach unique coordination, including how to land from jumps, and how to roll/fall on the ground, which adds another, perhaps more helpful aspect to the prevention of injuries caused by landing or falling to the ground (also common in soccer players).
2. Cross-Country Running and Track & Field:
This one is a bit more personal for me, because I ran cross country and track in elementary and high school, and I know first-hand the benefits that middle distance running has for soccer. Without getting into all the specifics, the reality is that adult soccer at the higher levels (university, and professional) requires a lot of high intensity running, and if players are unable to sustain a high-enough work rate, they will not be able to play the game at these levels. The development of a strong aerobic base is essential for the ability to perform a lot of high intensity running in soccer. Of course, this aerobic base can be developed without doing middle distance running, however, it would require participating in several high-intensity soccer practices per week, which most players do not do. Even the few who do train/play soccer everyday typically do not train at the intensity that would be required to actually improve aerobic endurance. Running competitively on school teams forces players to accumulate this high-intensity running training that will directly translate to players doing more fast running during games.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.