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 Costa Rica, one of the strongest nations to qualify out of CONCACAF (North/Central America and the Caribbean). The Costa Ricans have been drawn in a group that includes Italy, Uruguay, and England, and they play their first match against Uruguay on June 14th.
As any Canadian soccer fan will know, qualifying out of CONCACAF is not easy. The final phase of qualification pits the top six teams in the “Hex” (short for “Hexagonal”), where they each play one another in 1 home game, and 1 away game. The top 4 teams out of the Hex qualify for the World Cup. In the final round of qualification for the 2014 World Cup, the Hex consisted of Costa Rica along with USA, Mexico, Honduras, Jamaica, and Panama. Of the 10 Hex games played by Costa Rica, their results were as follows:
- Home Games: 5 wins, 0 draws, 0 losses, 10 goals for, 2 goals against
- Away Games: 0 wins, 3 draws, 2 losses, 3 goals for, 5 goals against
These statistics paint a picture of dominance at home and struggles on the road for the Costa Rican team. While it is normal for teams to be more successful at home, for Costa Rica the trend of poor results away from home almost cost them their place at Brazil 2014. One possible reason for the Costa Rican’s lack of success on the road is that they may not be paying enough attention to recovery and regeneration during travel. Long flights and bus rides, time zone differences, new/unfamiliar foods and accommodations are just some of the things that can have a negative impact on physical performance when traveling. When I worked as Fitness Coach with the Canadian National Women’s U17 Team in 2011/2012, we had several international trips leading up to World Cup qualification, including to California, Florida, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, and the qualification tournament in Guatemala. To prevent some of the aforementioned factors from taking their toll on the players, myself and the Medical staff took several preventative measures. Below is a summary of the recovery and regeneration strategies we used:
- Players were required to wear compression pants during all international flights, as well as during bus rides and after training in hotels; compression helps to promote venous return (bringing blood that has pooled in the legs back to the heart for recirculation). This helps with recovery by decreasing pain and inflammation caused by training/games, as well as decreasing muscle stiffness and cramping that can occur during long flights.
- During flights to countries with different time zones, we had players stay awake until the “proper” sleep/bed time for the new time zone, and also encouraged all players to sleep during the flight if it was “proper” sleep/bed time. In addition, the team Physician brought melatonin, a synthetic version of the hormone that acts as a natural sleeping aid. Helping players get accustomed to the time difference during international competitions as quickly as possible pays huge dividends because there are typically only 6-8 days between arrival and the first game, and this time must be spent on training (which requires players to be well rested).
- We scheduled mandatory “walk and stretches” 4-5 hours before every game; this activity comprised a brief 15-20 minute walk, followed by stretching and mobility exercises. The purpose of the walk-and-stretch was two-fold: firstly, it helped to decrease muscle stiffness, soreness and inflammation; second, it helped the payers to mentally relax and focus more on the upcoming game.
If Costa Rica is to be successful in Brazil (a country with a 3-hour time difference but over 2,500 miles away), perhaps some of the aforementioned recovery and regeneration strategies may prove helpful for them. They have a tough group that includes 3 former World Cup winners, so they will need all the help they can get. 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.