For Parents, Science

Bringing Fun – and Scoring Goals – Back to the Game: International FC’s TFC II Soccer Camp

Yesterday afternoon I worked at the inaugural TFC II Soccer Camp, run by the staff of International Football Club (IFC) a soccer development company and academy located in Vaughan, Ontario.  I am very familiar with IFC, as I have been providing fitness assessments and on-field fitness training for them for over 3 years, since the Fall of 2012.  They have expert coaches and very well organized programming, including a curriculum modelled after the Federazione Italiana Gioco Calcio (FIGC; the Italian Football Federation).  Yesterday’s camp was focused on ball mastery and shooting, and the program included several different exercises in which players were required to execute different dribbling moves, fakes/feints, shots on goal, and one versus. one situations.  The participants included boys and girls, aged U6 – U14, and many of them, although young, were very talented and hard working, making them easy to coach.

For me personally, this experience was very refreshing and a lot of fun.  In the past 5 years I have been so specialized in my career and as a result I have moved away from coaching technical skills to youth players, even though doing that type of work was how I got started as a coach.  While watching these young players train, I couldn’t help but think of the recent struggles to score goals experienced by our Canadian Men’s and Women’s National Teams, both in the Gold Cup (for the Men’s team); the Women’s World Cup (for the Women’s team); and the Pan-American Games (for both teams).  Without getting into all of the details, we have been shut out in many important matches and even Women’s Head Coach John Herdman recently stated, following Canada’s 2-1 loss to Mexico in the Bronze medal match at the Pan-Am Games on Friday, that “we’re just not as clinical in front of the net as we want to be.”

In speaking with the IFC Academy Directors, Giuseppe Raso and Frank Iaizzo, I commented that I think one of the reasons we are not developing players who are clinical in front of goal, is that we are not teaching and training them to be that way. The types of exercises I was asked to run at the camp yesterday, as well as the others run by the other IFC coaches, required players to perform countless moves and shots on goal, with an equal number of repetitions done with both feet.  There were enough coaches in each station to both encourage the players, as well as to ensure they were performing exercises properly and correct them if needed.  The application of technical dribbling and shooting skills into controlled 1 versus 1 games was also very well run, with age-appropriate rules, good work-to-rest ratios, and of course plenty of repetitions from both sides and with both feet.  Above all else, the players at International FC’s TFC II camp yesterday were clearly enjoying themselves, and it was very refreshing for me to see players working hard but having fun at the same time.

I cannot comment on what type of training that other clubs and academies are doing with young players across the province (or the country), however, when the end product at our senior National Teams is a lack of players who can score goals, clearly something is not working.  Perhaps we will require more of a focus on the development of individual technical abilities, at the expense of attacking and/or defending tactics (and even at the expense of physical fitness!) in order to improve in this area.

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

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One Thing Canadian Soccer Fans Can Do Better

Last night I attended the Pan-American Games Women’s Soccer match between our Canadian Women’s National Team, and Brazil, at a packed Tim Horton’s Stadium in Hamilton, Ontario.  The match was exciting, and although Canada lost 2-0, there were some positives to take away from the contest for the home team.  After having worked directly with this Canadian team and coaching staff in the week prior to their opening match against Ecuador, as well as in the match itself, I was very keen on watching them play live.  One thing struck me as the second half was winding down, however, and ironically it had nothing to do with the way either team was playing.  What stood out to me last night was the number of Canadian fans leaving the game early – many of them around the 75th minute!

I live and work in Vaughan, which at best is an hour drive to and from Hamilton, so I can appreciate that many of these people were leaving the match early simply to get a head start on the traffic leaving the city and to try to get to bed at a reasonable time.  But in doing so they missed out on a unique opportunity as Canadian soccer fans.  Although Canada lost the match to Brazil (its second straight 2-0 defeat in this tournament) their strong showing and 5-2 victory over Ecuador in their opening match was enough to actually put the team through to the semi-finals, which will take place this Wednesday evening against Colombia.

As any soccer fan knows, one of the best experiences of attending a live match in which your team is playing is at the end of a successful game (even if it is a loss), when the players come around to the section of the stadium where you are seated and you get to cheer them on and applaud their performance.  For the players, too, this moment can be very rewarding, especially in the case of our Canadian team at this year’s tournament, who despite being a collection of mostly U23 and U23 players, have held their own competing against 3 full senior World Cup women’s teams.  Although a good majority of the fans in attendance did stay to send off the Canadian team, the visual of so many fans heading for the exits did not look good from where I was sitting, and I can imagine it did not look very good from down on the pitch either.

Canada has again successfully fielded a Women’s National Team, which is only one win in two games away from winning a medal in a major international tournament.  I think last night was a missed opportunity for many Canadian soccer fans, who could have shown more support for the accomplishments of this team.   Hopefully this Wednesday, in the semi-final against Colombia, all of our Canadian fans will stay to cheer on the team until the final whistle blows, and maybe even longer than that!

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

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The Future Really is Bright for the Canadian National Women’s Soccer Team

Last night I experienced a “first” in my career.  I got to work my first ever senior international soccer game as a fitness coach, with the Canadian National Women’s Team at their first match of the 2015 Pan-American Games tournament, versus Ecuador, which Canada won by a score of 5 to 2.  The experience was amazing, and having the opportunity and privilege of working with a young and talented group of players in front of a home crowd of over 10,000 people is something I will remember forever.

The best part about my experience, however, was getting a sideline view of the quality of play of our young Canadian team.  In the Pan-American Games, all of the other participating female National Teams have shown up with their full rosters, excluding a few star player exceptions like Marta from Brazil.  All the CONCACAF (North, Central America and the Caribean) and CONMEBOL (South America) federation teams who participated in the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup earlier this year sent teams with rosters virtually identical to their World Cup rosters.  The Canadian Pan-Am Games team, in contrast, is a much younger team with several recent U20 and even some U17 National Team members.  In fact, aside from goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, the only other players from this year’s Pan-Am Games roster who also participated in the World Cup are all 20 years old or younger (20 year-old Ashley Lawrence, 19 year-old Kadeisha Buchanan, and 17 year-old Jessie Flemming).

With so many younger players in the squad, some fans and those in the media may have been concerned that Canada would have a difficult time competing with the best players from North, Central, and South America.  If last night’s performance was any indication, however, those concerns are completely unfounded.  Canada’s young team produced an excellent display of soccer, on both sides of the ball.  They were able to dominate possession, create and capitalize on numerous scoring opportunities, and defend well both individually and as a group.

As a fitness coach, two things stood out in particular to me about the team’s performance yesterday evening.  Firstly, since we know that Canada have more young players than their opposition, and we also know that younger players recover better following training and competition, we can expect to see the Canadian players look more fit and fresh throughout each 90-minute game than their opponents.   This was, in my opinion, clearly evident in the match versus Ecuador, and the three second half goals Canada scored – plus numerous other scoring chances created in the second half – stand as strong evidence.   Second, recent research (including a study done by myself, Paolo Pacione of the Montreal Impact, and Robert Rupf of the Canadian Sport Centre Ontario) has also indicated that speed and high intensity running abilities in elite female soccer players tend to peak at earlier ages (sometimes as early as 15 or 16), so we can expect to see our younger players run faster – and run more – in matches than their older opponents.  At yesterday’s game, this was also very evident, especially in the play of Canada’s attacking wide players, Emma Fletcher and Janine Beckie, and also from fullbacks Shelina Zadorsky, Kinley McNicoll, and Victoria Pickett.

Of course, there are several other factors that contributed to the Canadian team’s strong performance in yesterday’s game, the most important of which is their technical and tactical preparation.  The enhanced physical abilities of our talented younger players, however, including a better ability to recover and better speed and high intensity running ability, cannot be denied.  If we can continue to develop and improve upon the technical and tactical abilities of our young female players, then the future really is bright for the Canadian National Women’s Soccer Team.

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

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Article = ‘Inside Double Pass: The Best Kept Secret in Youth Development is Coming to America’

Below is a link to a fantastic article written by Brian Bickerstaff and posed on vicesports.com last week.  This article discusses a company called Double Pass, which is a football consulting firm based out of Brussels, Belgium.  I was very impressed after reading about what this company does.  Here is a quote from the article:

“(Double Pass) regularly audits and evaluates the youth academies in both nations and presides over a system of incentives and rewards that drives investment into the academy systems.”

The history of the company’s involvement in German soccer is telling and I’m sure Canadian soccer enthusiasts will be interested in learning about it.  Following a disappointing performance at Euro 200, in which the German team finished 16th out of 16 teams, Double Pass was brought into the German FA as an unbiased third-party, to evaluate the performance of the country’s professional clubs and youth academies.  In just over 15 year’s time, the changes initiated by Double Pass have been instrumental in Germany becoming not only one of the best – if not the best – soccer nation in the world, but also a country with one of the best reputations and track records for youth development in the world.  Now the company has greatly expanded into several different countries ad professional leagues around the world, including Major League Soccer in the United States.  Can they achieve similar success in that league?

I hope you enjoy the article as much as I did.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/inside-double-pass-the-best-kept-secret-in-youth-development-is-coming-to-america