For Parents

DEVOS: DEVELOPMENT OBSTACLES ABOUND IN CANADIAN YOUTH SOCCER

With the FIFA Women’s U20 World Cup (hosted here in Canada) less than 1 week away, many here in Canada are becoming interested in ‘player development’  – that is, what exactly is the best pathway for talented young Canadian girls (and boys) to reach the highest levels of the game?

Here is an interesting article written by Jason De Vos, former Canadian National team player and Oakville Soccer Club Technical Director, and present CBC soccer analyst.

http://www.tsn.ca/blogs/jason_de_vos/?id=450505

Let me know your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

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Science

3 Reasons Why You Should Train to Improve Recovery, Not Speed

In my career, I have spent a lot of time and done a lot of research trying to determine the optimal energy system training variables for soccer players.  Soccer is a sport that involves intermittent high/maximal intensity runs, with varied amount of recovery between each run.  While the performance of the high intensity running is anaerobic (it relies on muscular strength and power), the recovery between the running is aerobically driven (it relies on an efficient heart, lungs and muscular system, to replenish the energy used during each high speed run).  Of course, in a professional environment, training must be planned and periodized, so an athlete will never do the same workout over an extended period of time, however, some types of energy system training are more important in soccer, and thus need more time devoted to them. 

It has been my experience that the best way to actually improve players’ performance on the field (that is, the total amount, and average maximal speed, of the high intensity running they can do) is to give a priority to training that improves recovery (the aerobic component).  Below are the 3 reasons why I believe recovery training is the best type of training for soccer.

  1. Recovery is more important than speed.  Because a soccer game is 90 minutes in duration, and elite level players must perform 25-50 sprints, plus an additional 200-300 high intensity runs over the course of a game, recovery (the aerobic component) must be given more importance than speed and power (the anaerobic component).  The reason is that, if players have good speed but poor recovery, they may perform well in the beginning of a match, but their lack of recovery will hinder them as the match progresses and total amount of high intensity running increases.  Eventually, a player with poor recovery must be substituted if they are not able to keep up with the high intensity running demands of the game.   Over time, soccer players will develop a more efficient aerobic system, and be able to recover better in between the high intensity runs they do in games.
  2. Recovery is more “trainable” than speed.  Trust me.  In my facility, the Soccer Fitness Training Centre, we have spent years developing and perfecting the best ways to improve running speed (using state-of-the-art high speed, high incline running treadmills), and I have even done – and continue to do – my own research testing my training methods to see which ones work best.  Even with all of our advanced equipment, programming, and research, we will be lucky if we can improve a player’s running speed by more than 0.10 seconds over a distance of 35 metres (equivalent to an improvement of 1-2% for most high level soccer players).  In contrast, it is not uncommon for us to see improvements in players’ recovery and total high intensity running ability (as measured by the gold standard “Yo-Yo” tests) of up to 30% in total distance covered, over the course of an 8-10 week training program.  Simply put, it is easier to make improvements in recovery with proper training than it is to make improvements in speed with proper training.    
  3. With better recovery, players’ average speed of high intensity running increases.  At the end of the day, faster soccer players are always going to be faster than slower soccer players, regardless of how much speed training the slower players do.  The key for all soccer players is to try to maximize the average speed of the high intensity running they do in a game.  The higher the average running speed, the better their overall performance will be.  If players train to improve their recovery, they will offset fatigue, and still be able to run close to their maximal running speed (whatever it is) in the later stages of a match.  Over time, slower players who do the right amount of recovery training can improve their average match running speed to the point that they are able to keep up with, and often over-take, faster players who do not have good recovery.

I am not advocating that soccer players ignore speed and power training (on the contrary, a small but significant portion of the training time at the Soccer Fitness Training Centre is always devoted to plyometric and speed training).  I am simply stating that the primary focus of energy system training for soccer players must be aerobic training, and it should be specifically designed to improve players’ recovery between high intensity running, which is the most important physical ability an elite level soccer player can have.

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

 

Matches

College Soccer Looks To Full-Year Schedule To Bolster Its Relevance

Below is a link to a great article written by The Soccer Observer.  It discusses a proposed change from a ‘part-time; (Fall only) season, to a ‘full-time’ (Fall/Spring) season in college soccer, including the rationale for the change, and proposed benefits.  I’ve been involved in university soccer here in Canada for the past 15 years as a player, coach and fitness coach, and I think several of the issues discussed here are relevant to Canadian university and college soccer as well.  Let me know your thoughts – drop me a line here to get the conversation started. 

College Soccer Looks To Full-Year Schedule To Bolster Its Relevance

Science

Has Soccer Gotten “Faster”?

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup over, now is the time to begin analysis of the tournament.  As a sport scientist, I am inclined to try to look at the games to see if there were any new or unique events or trends than can affect the way players must be prepared physically.  While some areas of the technical/physical side of the game may be debated (for example, is it better to play like Germany, with lots of ball possession, and a high pressing defense, or like Argentina, defending deep and relying on quick and efficient counter-attacks?), one aspect that has remained very consistent at this World Cup, as well as in the game in general over the past 5-10 years, is that the game seems to be getting “faster”.  

Considering how much of my time I have devoted to speed training for athletes (mostly using my preferred method of high speed/high incline treadmill training) this is a very interesting trend.  Of course, simply commenting that the game looks “faster” based on visual assessment is not good enough to stand up to scientific scrutiny.  I needed more information, so I decided to look through my notes from the recent 4th World Conference on Science and Soccer that I attended and presented at, which was held in Portland, OR, on June 5th-7th of this year.  One of the keynote speakers at the Conference, Paul Bradley, who has worked extensively with several different Premier League clubs over the past decade, gave a presentation titled “The Evolution of Physical and Technical Performance Parameters in the English Premier League”.  Of course, he did not present data from the World Cup, but because the English Premier League is one of the best professional leagues in the world, and because some of the best players at the World Cup (including Argentina’s Sergio Aguero, Holland’s Robin Van Persie, and World Cup Champion Germany’s Mesut Ozil) play in the league, data taken from it can be seen as valid in explaining trends both from the World Cup tournament, as well as the sport of soccer as a whole. 

The rationale behind Mr. Bradley’s presentation was that, although there certainly is a commonly held belief that soccer is becoming “faster”, there is presently a lack of evidence to support this belief.  He presented a longitudinal summary of a series of studies done in the Premier League, conducted using Pro-Zone software over the last 7 years, that examined a number of different factors influencing physical and technical performance of players and teams, and organized the findings according to players’ positions, league table differences, and compared UK vs. non-UK based players.  Here is a summary of some of the data:

  • while there has been no change in the average total distance covered over the past 7 years (10.7km per match in 2007 to 10.9km per match in 2013), there have been significant increases in both the amount of high intensity running (fast running) as well as the number of sprints performed per match
  • of the total number of sprints done per match, the average distance per sprint was shorter, but the total number of sprints was higher, and also the average speed of the sprints was significantly higher
  • technically, Premier League players completed more passes per match (25.3 to 35.4 per match) from 2007 to 2013
  • players’ pass success rate (measured by looking at total number of successful passes divided by total number of attempted passes) has also increased
  • by 2013, only 9% of English Premier League players completed less than 70% of their passes per match (as compared to 26% in 2007)

Overall, Mr. Bradley’s presentation definitely supports the idea that the sport of soccer has become faster, as both the physical and technical demands of the game have steadily increased over the past 7 years.  The challenge now lies with coaches and fitness coaches, to develop newer and more efficient ways to train their players in order for them to meet and exceed these increased demands.

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

Fitness

Workout # 3 – Fitting In

Screenshot_2014-07-19-23-43-14

 

It’s a little late, but Thursday this week I squeezed in a quick workout after work.  While this may not seem like much, for me, it was the first time in over a year I’ve done a workout on a week night.   This is a start, a good start.  Tomorrow, Workout # 4 and a chance to see if I’ve made any improvements so far …

Matches

Time to Give the Referees a Break

The FIFA World Cup is the world’s biggest and most popular sports competition. Held only every four years, the tournament is a showcase for all the world’s best and most talented players, and the knock-out format ensures lots of excitement and drama. This year’s World Cup, held in Brazil from June 12th – July 14th, was no exception. Unfortunately, some of the drama has occurred as a direct result of controversy surrounding calls made (or not made) by referees at the World Cup. This year, refereeing decisions seem to have been a bit of a ‘hot-button’ issue with fans and the media, partly because of our endless access to picture and video replays of incidents, and partly because of the number of controversial calls made in the tournament.

Referees at the World Cup – and in soccer in general – have a very challenging job. Physically, they are being placed under enormous stress, and are still expected to perform almost flawlessly if they are to avoid criticism. I attended a match at this year’s World Cup (Match #58, the quarter final between France and Germany) and after taking an up-close look at the referee at this game, I can attest to just how difficult the job really is. This article will examine some of the difficulties of refereeing soccer at the highest level, and suggest some possible alternatives that could be incorporated in the future.

Physical Demands of Refereeing in Soccer:
Several studies using time motion analysis on top level referees, including some recent ones done in Denmark by Bangsbo et. Al (2001) and in Brazil by Da Silva et. Al. (2008) have determined that the amount of running, done by top level referees, as well as their running speed, is not very different from the amount and speed of running done by outfield players. Bangsbo’s studies for example, found that referees from Denmark’s first division covered an average distance of 10.07 kilometres per match, of which 1.97 kilometres was of a high intensity (fast running or sprinting). Similarly, Da Silva’s studies found that top level Brazilian referees covered an average of 9.5 kilometres in a match, and that their high intensity running was 1.80 kilometres per match. These numbers are slightly lower than the average amounts of running and high intensity running done by outfield players in top level leagues, but not by much. A number of studies done using time motion analysis of outfield players in various top level leagues including England, Italy, and Spain, have found that players run, on average, a minimum of 9 and maximum of 15 kilometres per game, and the amount of high intensity running can vary from 1-4 kilometres (depending on playing position, and several other in-game factors). Thus an argument can be made that the physical demands of top-level soccer refereeing are similar, yet slightly less, than those of top level outfield players. During the quarter-final in Rio De Janeiro that I attended, I observed the referee make several dozen fast runs/sprints to keep up with the ball and play as it moved, so I would definitely agree that from my own personal experience, referees do a lot of high intensity running.

The Problem with the Physical Demands of Refereeing:
Unfortunately for referees, their advanced age puts them at a significant disadvantage with regards to the ability to perform high intensity running. In the two studies mentioned, the average age of top-level referees was 42 (Denmark) and 39 (Brazil). This means that on average, referees are 10-20 years older than the average outfield player. Most players do not continue to play into their 30’s, and almost no outfield player continues to play until the age of 42, yet somehow top level referees are expected to cover almost as much distance, and to do almost as much high intensity running, at this advanced age. Compounding the problem for referees is that they are expected to be literally perfect (to always make the correct decision on the pitch), regardless of how much running they have done. There is a very clear relationship between amount of running done in a match and fatigue, and consequently, a very strong relationship between fatigue and mistakes made in soccer (as well as in other sports). Thus referees are not only expected to be perfect, they are somehow expected to be perfect while performing under extreme fatigue. It is difficult to impossible to imagine a team of outfield players in their early 40’s, competing against and running almost as much as top level players 10-20 years younger, and playing for 90 minutes without making a single mistake, yet that is exactly what most fans and the media expect from top level referees.

Soccer is the only major sport that puts this much pressure on its officials. In contrast, think for a moment about Canada’s most popular professional sport, ice hockey. The playing area is about one 3rd the size of a soccer field, yet in NHL hockey there are a total of six officials; two on-ice officials, two linesman (responsible for calling ‘off-side’), and two goal judges (responsible for determining whether or not the puck has crossed the goal-line). Furthermore, in hockey the action is much more intermittent than in soccer, so that while the two on-ice referees do have to perform a significant amount of skating, they are given frequent breaks from play in which they can recover. An analysis of the other popular North American sports (football, basketball, and baseball) shows that these sports also have more on-field officials than soccer, and these officials do significantly less running and physical work (in the case of baseball, almost no physical work) than do soccer referees.

The Possible Solution(s):
In my opinion, the governing bodies in soccer (namely FIFA and UEFA) should try to tackle the refereeing problem from two angles:

  1. Add video replay to assist in decision-making by allowing each coach to challenge 1 on-field call per half (4 challenges in total per game). This is already done in American football, and in soccer I believe that giving a tired referee the ability to watch one or two quick replays of a specific incident before possibly changing his or her mind on the call would be simple, easy and most importantly quick to do. It should not take an experienced referee more than about 30-60 seconds of watching a video replay to either stand by, or reverse, their decision.
  2. Add a second referee on the field of play, and assign each referee to only one half of the field. This change would significantly decrease the total amount of running done by referees, and therefore also significantly decrease referee fatigue. Since fatigue plays such an important role in ability to perform both physically and mentally, adding a second referee should also significantly decrease the amount of mistakes referees make in each game.

At the end of the day, soccer fans and media will always be critical of referees and their decisions. In some ways this criticism also adds to the spectacle and overall interest of the sport as a whole. In my opinion, however, the physical burden placed on top level referees makes meeting fans’ and the media’s expectations impossible to achieve. FIFA has already taken a huge step in the right direction by introducing goal line technology at the World Cup for the first time this year. Hopefully they will also consider making the changes recommended above to help improve the quality of the beautiful game, and give all referees a needed break.

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