Fitness, For Parents

What Soccer Players Can Learn From Babies

I have a little nephew.  He is just over 5 months old.  I try to visit and see him as much as I can, but it can be hard to make time during the winter season, which is typically very busy for me.  Because of the time off that the Christmas break has afforded me, I have had a lot more time to spend with my nephew over the past few days.  Watching and playing with him over this time has given me a unique insight into the topic of physical activity for children.  Below is a brief summary of the two main things I have learned from my nephew, and how they can be applied to Long Term Athlete Development (LTPD) in soccer in this country.

  1. Young children want to move – as much as possible.  My little nephew wakes up early in the morning, and after he has had something to eat and done his business in his diaper, he is ready to play for several hours.  The most noticeable thing about the way he plays is that he is never comfortable being still or in one position for extended periods of time (typically longer than a few minutes).  He enjoys being picked up/held, laying on his back and/or rolling onto his stomach, crawling, being carried or “pretend walking”, and also paying in his “jumparoo” (a harnessed bungee-jumping device for infants).  If he wakes up from sleep or a nap and is forced to remain still in bed or inside a car seat for more than a few minutes, he will start to cry and will not stop until he does some kind of physical activity (crying will stop almost instantly when this happens).  The take away message from my nephew’s play habits is that young infants and children just want to move.  The more they move, the happier they are.  The fact that they are getting exercise, building strength, endurance, flexibility and coordination are all secondary positive side-effects.  Coaches working with young children should take these natural instincts and habits into account.  Come up with exercises and training sessions that allow children to move as much as they possibly can, while simultaneously limiting rests and periods of inactivity as much as possible.
  2. Young children are excellent at self-regulating their play time.  What I mean by this is, they decide when they want to start/stop a particular activity, as well as the duration, speed, intensity, and overall workload associated with any particular activity.  When my little nephew needs a break from rolling around on the floor, he cries, indicating that he needs a change in position.  Same thing happens when he is tired of “pretend walking” or being in the “jumparoo”.  If he were to be pushed into doing a particular activity longer than he wanted to, he would become so fussy that there would be no choice but to have him stop and do something else, something that he wanted to do.  I can see in his play habits a remarkable parallel to the training of young soccer players.  In an environment that is too structured, with too much of an emphasis on coach-led activities, young soccer players will get frustrated and bored.  If, in contrast, coaches allow young players to self-regulate their physical activity more (primarily through an unstructured “free play” environment) then athletes will be more engaged, both physically and mentally, and they will likely get better results from their training.

I think many, if not all, infants and young children have a natural inclination to move as much as possible, and also to self-regulate their movement and physical activity.  Coaches working with young children should try to keep these natural inclinations in mind when planning and implementing their training plans.  The result will be happier, healthier, and more well-rounded young soccer players.

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

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Fitness, Nutrition

Soccer Players – Go Ahead and Eat Some Unhealthy Food This Holiday Season!

The Holiday Season is here, and if you are a youth soccer player, this means a few weeks off school, and probably off of soccer as well.  In my previous post, I commented that the winter /  Holiday break should be treated only as a break from soccer (and not from all forms of exercise) and gave some exercise reconsiderations for players to maintain their aerobic fitness during the time off.

In this post, I will be discussing the Holiday “diet.”  For professionals in the health and fitness industry, a common practice during Christmas time is to bombard the public with information and tips about how to eat healthy during the Holidays, to avoid the dreaded weight gain that typically accompanies a 2-3 week period of over-eating foods that re high in fat and sugar.  While I can see the rationale for advising the general population (non-athletes) to avoid eating unhealthy foods over the Holidays, I just don’t see the point in expecting the same of trained athletes.

Any competitive soccer season (whether it is in a club/academy, college/university, or professional environment) presents a significant amount of physical and mental stress on a player.  The Holiday break is the perfect time for well trained soccer players to recover both physically and mentally from this stress. In my opinion, one of the best ways to achieve optimal off-season recovery is to eat food that tastes good, even if it may be high in fat and/or sugar.  When I worked with the Canadian Women’s U17 National teams, we always ended stressful 10-14 day training camps with one “unhealthy” but popular meal (hamburgers and fries, pizza, cheesecake, etc..).  The players loved it and they would always return home happy and motivated to work harder in between camps.  Of course, eating a balanced diet, high in fibre, fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates, and lean protein over the course of the year is advisable for any competitive athlete.  But the pleasure that comes from rewarding yourself for a hard season of training by indulging in some “comfort food” is undeniable.

If athletes are trained properly, they will likely finish the season is excellent aerobic shape, and have relatively low body fat percentages.  As mentioned above, an athlete can and should use the time off over the Holiday season to perform at least 3 days per week of some form of aerobic exercise, combined with some form of resistance or strength training.  So long as this maintenance training is done consistently, the positive outcomes of eating a few days’ worth of high fat/sugar foods outweigh any potential (and minimal) weight gain and increases in body fat percentage that may occur.  In the long run, soccer players who train hard and eat right throughout the season, but treat themselves over the Holiday break, will lead happier and healthier careers.

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

Fitness, For Parents

The ‘December Break’ Means a Break From Soccer, NOT From Exercise

At the Soccer Fitness Training Centre, the month of December is typically one of our busiest months of the year.  Part of the reason we are so busy this month is that many of the young athletes we work with are part of academies or clubs that schedule a break from training in December, and they have more free time to train with us.  This ‘December break’ is used partly to allow players to rest ad recover and also partly because of the Holiday season.  Personally, I am in favour of allowing players small breaks from soccer training (and specifically from competition), and there is plenty of scientific literature that supports the rationale for young athletes not training and competing hard year-round. The problems with the typical December break here is Canada, however, are:

  1. The total amount of time off can be too high (sometimes as much as 6 weeks)
  2. Some players (and their parents) interpret this break to mean that they should do no exercise at all

In general, a small break of 2-3 weeks is more than enough time for players to rest and recover both physically, and mentally (many adults who have taken only a week-long vacation from work would understand this point).  Extended periods of time spent being inactive (more than 2 weeks in duration) in young athletes will lead to significant decreases in their aerobic endurance and. eventually, muscle strength as well.  This loss of aerobic fitness gets compounded when training and competition resume in the new year because, although aerobic fitness can be lost in as little as 10 days, making sustained improvements typically takes a minimum of 4-6 weeks.  Thus, a soccer player who is completely inactive over the month of December will not likely return to their pre-inactivity fitness level until the middle of February, at the earliest. Players in this situation will also be more at risk for over-use and soft tissue injuries, because of the aforementioned loss of muscle strength and also resulting form having to train and play while tired.

The simple solution to the problem of the December break is to use it only as a break from soccer, not as a break from exercise.  There are several safe, convenient and fun ways for young athletes to stay active and maintain their aerobic fitness for 4-6 weeks without playing soccer.  Among them are:

  • running
  • bike riding
  • swimming
  • skating
  • weight training/circuit training
  • other sports such as tennis, volleyball, basketball, etc..

A young soccer player should find that participating in a low volume (2-3 days per week) of any of the above activities (or other sports/activities of interest) during the December break will result in adequate maintenance of aerobic endurance and muscular strength, and a more successful and injury-free return to play in the new year.

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

Fitness, Science

The Optimal Order of Exercise – And How it Applies to Soccer

The recent issue of the American Council on Exercise (ACE) “Idea” Fitness Journal summarized a very interesting research study, done by a group of researchers at Western State Colorado University earlier this year.  The team recruited 20 adult volunteers, who participated in all possible sequences (24 in total) of cardiorespiratory, resistance, flexibility, and neuromotor exercises, to see which order of exercise would deliver optimal results.

The study demonstrated a clear and significant effect of exercise order on the acute physiological and psychological responses to an exercise session.  The most important effect of training was seen with cardiorespiratory exercise.  When it was performed first, the heart rate response equated to 56% of of heart rate reserve (or “moderate-light intensity exercise”).  Conversely, when cardiorespiratory exercise was performed last, the heart rate response was much higher, at 68% of heart rate reserve (“moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise”).

What this means in layman’s terms is that, if cardiorespiratory exercise is not performed first in an exercise session, the same “relative” intensity of the exercise (workload, speed, number of repetitions, etc..) will be much harder to complete, leading to higher exercising heart rate and more difficulty in completing the exercises.  Thus, cardiorespiratory exercise must come first in any exercise session.  Strength training is recommended to be ordered after cardiorespiratory exercise, followed by flexibility and neuromotor exercise.

These findings have implications for athletes and soccer players as well.  If the goal of any training session is to improve aerobic endurance or high intensity running ability, then the “cardiovascular” component of the training session (whether it is a running workout, or a workout with the ball) must be done at the beginning of the training session.  In general, soccer coaches and fitness coaches should have athletes complete their cardiorespiratory training immediately after the warm-up, in order to achieve optimal improvements in aerobic fitness and high intensity running ability.

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

Fitness

Interview of Roy Hodgson from FIFA.com

Below is link to a recent interview of Roy Hodgson, England’s National Team Manager, from FIFA.com.  There is a lot of interesting material to be taken from this interview, but one part specifically stood out to me as a Fitness Coach.  When Hodgson was asked directly, “What challenges do England face to reach Germany’s level?” he replied:

“I think the first thing you’ve got to do is make certain that you’ve got to emulate their pace, mobility and athleticism because there’s no doubt that’s the way the game is going. At the very top level if you don’t have those qualities, it’s getting harder and harder to be the stopper, centre-half or the very slow, immobile, good-passing centre midfielder. So, first we have to emulate that and we are on the way to doing that.”

This is an interesting point, which highlights the importance of athletic ability in the development of elite soccer players.  One of the key differences in the development of youth players in Germany versus in England, is that in Germany, there is later specialization in soccer, so young athletes follow more of a ‘long-term’ developmental model, whereas in England, early specialization is more common.  It may be that these differences are one of the causes of the disparity in athletic ability of the National team players that Hodgson is commenting on.

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

http://www.fifa.com/world-match-centre/news/newsid/248/063/9/index.html