Matches

2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Greece – Strength in Numbers (And Numbers Behind the Ball)

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Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at Greece, who are drawn in the wide-open Group C, which also contains Colombia, Ivory Coast, and Japan. Greece play their first match against Colombia on June 14th.

The Greeks had a tough but successful qualifying campaign, winning 8 of 10 games, with the other 2 games being a 0-0 draw and 3-1 loss to eventual group winners Bosnia-Herzegovina.  After a 2nd place finish in their qualification group, they won a 2-game play-off with Romania via a 3-1 home win and 1-1 draw in Bucharest.  Greece have shown themselves to have one of the toughest and most resilient defenses in the world.  Among their 8 victories, 5 of them were by a score of 1-0.  Furthermore, Greece also has a history of winning by close scorelines, as shown by their triumph 10 years ago at Euro 2004, where they beat favored and more talented teams Portugal (twice), France, and the Czech Republic, all by the same 1-0 scorelines.

From a physical fitness standpoint, the tactics employed by the Greek team, which involve defending deep, getting several numbers around the opponent/behind the ball, and counter-attacking very quickly upon regaining possession, requires extremely high aerobic endurance, as well as quick reaction time and running speed.  The Greeks typically have far less possession of the ball than their opponents, so in addition to their world class fitness, they must also possess formidable concentration and work ethic to remain disciplined in defense, and patient to wait for the right moment to counter.  Dating back to their 2004 Euro victory, the team has also made a seamless transition from former coach Otto Rehhagel (in charge from 2003 to 2010) to new coach Fernando Santos (who took over following the 2010 World Cup in South Africa).  Santos, as Rehhagel did, lists attitude, fitness, and work rate as his team’s strongest qualities.  Will these attributes be enough to see the Greeks through from the aforementioned wide-open Group C?  We will have to wait and see what happens in 2 months’ time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Matches

2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Colombia – The Importance of ACL Prevention and Rehabilitation

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Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at Colombia, slight favorites in wide open Group C, which also contains Greece, Ivory Coast, and Japan.  Colombia play their first match against Greece on June 14th.

The Colombians had a strong qualifying campaign, finishing a close 2nd in South America, only 2 points behind Argentina.  Much of their success was due to the impressive play of their star forward, Radamel Falcao, who scored 9 goals in 16 qualification matches.  Unfortunately, Falcao suffered a tear in his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) on January 22nd while playing with club team Monaco in the Coupe De France, and his recovery in time for the World Cup in June is doubtful.  He did have a successful surgery in late January, however, and has been training hard for the past 3 months in the hopes of recovering in time for his nation’s first match on June 14th.

Injury to the ACL is a very common occurrence among soccer players.  The valgus forces (forces that rotate the knee inwards) generated on the knee during tackling/challenging for the ball, as well as in various cutting/pivoting movements, combined with high speeds, make the ACL (the ligament that prevents excessive inward rotation of the knee) particularly susceptible to injury in soccer.  While completing my 4-year undergraduate degree, I worked as a chiropractor’s assistant to Dr. Robert Gringmuth at the Sports Injury and Rehabilitation Centre, health care providers to the Ontario Provincial and National Training Centre male and female teams.  Over that 4-year time span I saw and worked with, on average, between 10-20 youth soccer players (aged of 12-18) with ACL injuries and tears per year.  While tearing of knee ligaments during forceful tackles and/or challenges for the ball in soccer may not always be avoidable, there are many other simple measures soccer players can take to prevent ACL injuries.  Among them are:

  • performing proper warm-ups, including multi-directional movements, dynamic stretches, strength exercises, and plyometrics, prior to training and playing
  • strengthening of the hamstring muscles (muscles on the back of the thigh) that prevent excess loading on the quadriceps (front of the thigh) during running and jumping
  • strengthening of the hip external rotators, which help to prevent excess inwards rotation of the knee during cutting and pivoting movements

Recovering from an ACL tear – and subsequent surgical repair – is a long process that requires a lot of mobility/flexibility and strength training, and in the later stages of rehabilitation, speed, power, and aerobic endurance training to regain match fitness.  Athletes recovering from ACL surgery must be both patient so that they avoid over-training and re-injury, as well as aggressive in their push to regain mobility and strength in the knee.  They must also learn to “trust” their surgically repaired knee, so that they can go back into the sport and perform all the required movements with confidence and without unnecessary fear.  On average, elite level soccer players will require 5-6 months of rehabilitation following ACL surgery before they can return to play.  Some players, however, have made full recoveries in as little as 4 1/2 months post-operation.

Falcao is a professional athlete who trains with top level club Monaco in the French Ligue Un.  He has access to the best physicians, sports scientists, fitness coaches and athletic therapists money can buy.  Hopefully for him, and for Colombia, he will be able to recover in time to help his team.  We will have to wait and see what happens in 2 months’ time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

 

Matches

2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Australia – “Old Soccer, New Football”

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Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at Australia, underdogs in Group B, which contains Spain, Holland, and Chile.  Australia play their first match against Chile on June 13th.

The “Socceroos”, as the Australian National Team have been nicknamed, have a unique and controversial history. In 2003, following Australia’s failure to qualify for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the Australian FA, at the time called “Soccer Australia”, faced allegations of fraud and mismanagement.  Soccer Australia commissioned an independent inquiry known as the Crawford Report as a result of the Australian Government’s threat to withdraw funding to the sport.  Among the key consequences of the Crawford Report were:

  • The Australian FA was renamed, from “Soccer Australia” to  “Football Federation Australia” (FFA)
  • The phrase “old soccer, new football” was coined to emphasize this change
  • The FFA underwent a reconstitution, appointing new leadership and focusing their efforts on developing the game from the grass-roots to the elite levels
  • The Australian Government provided approximately $15 million to the newly formed FFA in 2004
  • In 2006, Football Federation Australia moved from the “Oceanic Football Confederation” (OFC) to the “Asian Football Confederation” (AFC)

This last change, in particular, has had a huge influence on the success of the Australian National Soccer Team in recent years.  As a result of the move, the Socceroos were able to compete in World Cup qualifying matches against much stronger National Team competition from across Asia, including Japan, Korea, Iran, and China, to name a few.  Furthermore, the move also allowed Australian A-League (Australia’s national soccer league) clubs to compete in the Asian Champion’s League club competition, thereby strengthening the skills and fitness of many of their top domestic-based players.

The results of the changes instituted following the Crawford Report speak for themselves: Australia has qualified (out of the AFC) for each one of the 3 FIFA World Cups sine 2003 (Germany 2006, South Africa 2010, and Brazil 2014) and even earned a place in the knockout round in 2006, losing in extra time to eventual World Cup winners Italy.  Australia’s teams have been competitive in all major tournaments since 2006, and have clearly benefited from the huge step up in competition at the club and National levels.  At Brazil 2014, the Socceroos will need all of the competitiveness they have to get out of a group that includes the 2010 World Cup winners Spain, their 2010 final opponent Holland, and strong South American side Chile.  We will have to wait see what happens in 2 months’ time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

 

For Parents

An Amazing Video that Truly Proves: Nothing is Impossible

This is an amazing video that is based on the TRUE story of a group of kids that lived on a small island in Thailand called “Koh Panyee”, in 1986. It’s a floating village in the sea that has not an inch of soil. The kids there were obsessed with soccer, but literally had no space on the island in which to practice. But they didn’t let that stop them. They challenged the norm and have become a great inspiration for new generations.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Matches

2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Chile – Individual Preparation the Key to Success

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Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at Chile, a strong team that finished 3rd in South American qualification, behind only Argentina and Colombia. Chile are drawn in a tough group that includes Spain, Holland, and Australia, and they play their first match against Australia on June 13th.

Jorge Sampaoli, Chile’s Argentinian coach, was recently interviewed by fifa.com. Among the questions raised to him was what specific preparation concerned him most for the tournament. Here was his answer:

“I think that our World Cup preparations are going to have to be tailored, basically because the players will join up with us in different states of fitness – some will have played a lot of games, others not many. So we’re going to have to use individualized training methods, so that we can see how to handle those who’ve played 80 games and those who’ve played very few competitive matches.”

This response provides unique insight into the importance of individual preparation, including individual physical preparation, before big international tournaments like the World Cup. Almost all National teams are made up of players coming in from different clubs, often times from various different countries and even continents. Because they join their national teams at various different stages of physical development, having all the players do the same fitness training leading into the World Cup makes little sense. Individualized fitness training programs, catered to the individual needs of each player based on comprehensive physical fitness testing, are thus the only solution. Chile’s coach seems to have the correct mindset heading into the last few months of preparation for the World Cup.  We will have to wait and see what happens in 3 months’ time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Fitness

Elevate Your Legs, and Your Game

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Soccer is a sport that places a high demand on the musculoskeletal system.  Soreness and eventual injury to muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments are all inevitable consequences of playing the sport.  The “R.I.C.E.” method – an acronym which reads “Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation” – is an efficient and effective means of dealing with soreness and injury.  In my work as a soccer fitness coach, I have recommended this protocol to several hundred athletes.  Of the four letters, I have found that it is typically the “E” – “Elevation” that confuses athletes the most.  Exactly what is elevation?  And why is it so important for optimal recovery from soreness and injury?

Elevation refers to the act of elevating the legs above the heart.  This is best accomplished by lying on a couch or bed that is located near a wall.  Straighten the legs and place the feet on the wall, with the heels of the feet in contact with the wall.  The knees should be slightly bent but relatively straight.  Keep the legs elevated for 20-30 minutes, keeping the head and upper body in a relaxed and comfortable position.

The rationale for elevating the legs above the heart is that it will promote venous return.  In the hours (and days) after strenuous exercise, de-oxygenated blood can remain pooled in the lower extremities.  This can increase inflammation and thus prolong muscle soreness and pain/swelling from muscle, tendon, or ligament injuries.  It is the venous system – veins – that are responsible for carrying de-oxygenated blood back to the heart, where it is then transported into the lungs to receive oxygen taken in from the air.  The problem with this system is that, when the body is held upright (and to a lesser extent, when it is held in a horizontal position) the veins must constantly work against gravity to move the blood upwards (or sideways) to get it back to the heart.  Elevating the legs above the heart allows the forces of gravity to work with the venous system, rather than against it.  Blood is much more easily transported downwards to the heart where it can receive the oxygen it needs, and at the same time remove inflammatory byproducts of exercise that cause pain and soreness.

The R.I.C.E. protocol is a useful tool for any soccer player, regardless of age or level of ability.  Elevation of the lower extremities as described above, is particularly effective both to recover from injuries, as well as in the preemptive prevention of over-use injuries that can be caused by increased inflammation and blood pooling in the legs following training and games.  We used a protocol of 20-30 minutes of lower limb elevation following every training session and game when I worked with the Canadian National Women’s U17’s in 2011/2012, and with the Toronto FC Academy teams in 2013, and it worked very well for us in both instances. Try this Elevation strategy out after your next training session or game to see the results for yourself.  Good luck!

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.