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.