What’s Your Gol?

To mark the full launch of the Soccer Fitness Gols app on the App Store and Google Play, we are asking our community to share your fitness gols and, most importantly, why you’ve set them.

Please post a brief video describing your goal and tag us on Facebook and Twitter (#whatsyourgol).  In your video, please also send a shout out to 3 people you know to encourage them to do the same.

You can check out my personal video on our Facebook page.

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Fitness, Matches, Science

Specificity – the Most Important Rule in Soccer Fitness Training (Part I)

This summer I took a trip to Montreal, to watch both a Women’s World Cup match, as well as a Major League Soccer match between the Montreal Impact and Orlando City FC.  During this time I also got to visit and catch up with an old friend, Palo Pacione, who is the Fitness Coach of the Impact.  We discussed our work, some of the ups and downs we have both experienced in our careers, and also how the role of a soccer fitness coach has changed and developed over the past 10-15 years, since the two of us got started in this industry.  During our discussion, one issue that continually came up was our shared opinion that the most important role a fitness coach can have in soccer is the work done with the players on the field, during training.  As we looked back on some of the experiences we have had at higher levels in the game, including the Canadian National Men’s and Women’s Teams, and both Canadian as well as international professional soccer teams and academies, we both recognized that the most important contributions we have made to players and teams at these levels came not from the work we did in the weight room, but rather from the soccer-specific work we did with them on the pitch.

As a sports scientist, I am inclined to consider the above-mentioned realization in the context of the principles of training, which provide fitness coaches with a framework from which they can develop their training strategy and tactics.  In doing so, I have come to see that the reason the most impactful and rewarding work soccer fitness coaches do occurs during training on the pitch is because of the most important of all of the principles of training – the principle of specificity.  The principle of specificity states that sports training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport for which the individual is training in order to produce a training effect.  Put another way, specificity refers to the development of any particular athletic quality, in the exact, specific manner in which it occurs in a particular sport.  In soccer, then, the principle of specificity dictates that the best way to develop the specific athletic qualities needed for soccer is to train them in the specific manner in which they occur in the sport, on the pitch.

To understand how the principle of specificity would affect training in soccer, the first step must be to identify what specific athletic qualities are central to performance in soccer, and then to determine how these athletic qualities occur in a match.  Below is a chart that lists the necessary athletic qualities in soccer, and how they are manifest in the sport:

Speed –          Short sprints (0-5 metres) to outrun opponents into space or to get to the ball

–          Long sprints (10-30 metres); usually recovery runs or overlapping runs

–          Multi-directional running (backwards, sideways, and diagonal)

Power –          Jumping to head the ball

–          (for goalkeepers) Jumping to catch/parry the ball

–          Shooting / ball striking

Strength –          (general) All soccer actions including running, jumping, kicking

–          (specific) Shielding, challenging for the ball on the ground or in the air

–          (specific) decelerating / slowing down from sprints and fast movements

Endurance –          Aerobic capacity (to be able to cover a specific total distance during a match)

–          High intensity running ability (to be able to perform a specific amount of high intensity – fast – running during a match)

–          Recovery (ability to recover in between bursts of high intensity running)

Flexibility –          Prevention of muscle injury when performing soccer actions such as running, jumping, kicking, and challenging for the ball

After determining the necessary athletic qualities in soccer and how they are manifest in the sport, the final step for soccer fitness coaches must be to determine what types of exercises or training will help to reproduce these athletic qualities in the same manner in which they occur in the sport.  When considering all of the specific details relating to the manifestation of each of the five athletic qualities in soccer, it is difficult – or maybe even impossible – to imagine a training program in which the execution of these athletic qualities would remain specific without having players on the pitch, actually playing soccer.  Thus, the only way for soccer fitness coaches to apply the principle of specificity to the physical training of soccer players is to come up with exercises and training sessions that are done on the pitch, with the ball, and preferably while actually playing soccer.  Below is a chart which briefly describes one practical example of how to use the principle of specificity to train for each of the 5 athletic qualities in soccer.  In Part II of this article (next week) I will provide detailed examples and descriptions of each of these 5 practical training sessions.

I hope you enjoyed this article, and would love to hear your thoughts/comments.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Speed –          Crossing and finishing exercise, where wide players must make long sprints (10-20 metres) to receive a through ball, and then cross to forward players who must make short sprints (5-10 metres) to finish on goal
Power –          Technical exercise, involving repeated bouts of maximal jumps to head the ball
Strength –          1 vs. 1 exercise, done in a small/restricted space, to facilitate multiple decelerations and challenges for the ball
Endurance –          Small-sided soccer game, played at a high intensity for a specific amount of time, with a work-to-rest ratio of 1:1
Flexibility –          Soccer-specific warm-up exercises, following the FIFA 11+ program, that include flexibility and mobility exercises for soccer-specific muscles
Fitness, For Parents, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #3: Friday, September 25th, 2015

Hi everyone,

I’m excited to welcome you to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss the importance of keeping the airway warm while training and playing as temperatures get colder throughout the Fall season.

I Hope you enjoy it, and as always, please feel free to post thoughts/comments!


Article – ‘The Icelandic Roadmap to Success’ – on

Below is a link to a very interesting article written by Tryggvi Kristjansson, that was posted last week on, an international soccer specific website/blog.  The article describes the ascension of Iceland – a country which, with a population of just over 300,000 is one of the smallest European member nations in UEFA – as a soccer contender capable of consistently producing results against the traditionally stronger teams on the continent.  At week’s end, Iceland sits in 1st place in Group A of UEFA Euro 2016 Qualification, with 19 points (8 wins, 1 tie, and 1 loss) from their first 10 games.  Incredibly, they have already qualified and secured their place at Euro 2016 in France.

The success of Iceland’s National Soccer Teams has been the result of several changes instituted over the past 20 years by both the Icelandic government and municipal sport authorities, as well as the “KSI” (Knattspyrnusamband Íslands; the Icelandic FA).  Among them include investment in development and improvement of soccer facilities, better funding for National Teams programs and. perhaps most importantly, a comprehensive, nation-wide restructuring of their coach education program.

According to the author, the Icelandic FA:

“created a training programme for coaches (both UEFA A and B license training, as well as a Pro License in cooperation with the English FA) which has been made available to all coaches in the country at the lowest possible cost – KSÍ does not make a profit on the programme.”

Furthermore, he adds:

“These changes have seen a drastic increase in both the number of academic seminars (from 2-3 to 20-25) and the number of participants (from 70 to 700-800), and in this way KSÍ are able to accommodate every coach in Iceland, of which there are around 700.”

The end result is that in Iceland today, over 70% of the coaches have UEFA ‘B’ Licenses, and over 30% have UEFA ‘A’ Licenses (the highest license available to amateur coaches).  This is unprecedented not only in Canada/North America (where the overwhelming majority of coaches are volunteers who do not hold any coaching licenses at all) but also in Europe, as Iceland now have a higher percentage of UEFA ‘B’ and ‘A’ Licensed coaches than any other European nation.

Of course, there are some factors working in Iceland’s favour, including their small population (only 300,000), small total number of coaches (only 700), and small geographical landmass/area (just over 100,000 square kilometres).  The influence of the changes made to their soccer programs, however, including the emphasis placed on coach education, has produced results that are impossible to ignore.  It would be very interesting to see if these results can influence other nations, including our own, to push for the same type of changes.

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

Fitness, For Parents, Science

Soccer Fitness Video Blog #2 – Friday, September 18th, 2015

Hi everyone,

I’m excited to welcome you to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss the importance of strengthening of the glute medius, which is a hip external rotator, and I provide some practical examples that can be done on the pitch after training.

I Hope you enjoy it, and as always, please post thoughts/comments!

For Parents, Science

Change Your Focus, Change Your Performance

It’s September, and I am now 1 full year into “back-to-school” mode.  The class I am presently enrolled in is Advanced Sport Psychology.  I first studied this subject during my undergraduate degree in Kinesiology over 10 years ago.  I was fascinated by the topic then, and I continue to be fascinated by it today.

As part of our first week of readings, I came across an excellent article written by Gabriele Wulf (2007), titled “Attentional Focus and Motor Learning: A Review of 10 Years of Research.”  As the title implies, this article reviewed and summarized 10 years’ worth or research on how attentional control used during coaching, delivered during both instruction and feedback of the execution of technical skills, can affect performance of those skills.  The overwhelming majority of studies across several different individual and team sports (including soccer of course) indicated that attention during technical execution should be focused externally, rather than internally.

If this sounds confusing, let me simplify it for you, using an example of a soccer-specific skill, ball striking.  If a coach working with a team wanted to teach his/her players how to strike a ball using internally focused instruction, the instruction might sound something like this:

“Position your foot at the midline of the ball to keep it travelling straight in the air.”

The attentional focus in this example is internal, because the instruction is for the athlete to focus on their foot, which is a part of their own body.

In contrast, the same coaching point, given with externally focused instruction, might sound like this:

“Strike the ball at its midline to keep it travelling straight in the air.”

In this example, the athlete is directed to shift their attentional focus to the ball only, which is an external stimulus.

Initially, upon reading this information, I found it surprising and unlikely that such a small – and seemingly insignificant – change in coaching instruction could actually have an impact on athletes’ performance or technical execution of the skill. As it turns out though, the same examples I just gave were taken directly from another study, examining the effects of different coaching instructional techniques on ball striking accuracy in soccer players!  This study, also done by Wolf et. al. in 2002, found that soccer players provided with externally-focused feedback had significantly better ball striking accuracy than those who were provided with internally-focused feedback.  Similar studies conducted in many other team and individual sports have shown similar results, all indicating that external instruction and feedback is more effective at improving short-term execution, as well as long-term learning and retention, of sport-specific skills.

Of course, teaching and coaching complex techniques in soccer may sometimes require the use of both external and internal attentional focus.  Based on the research, however, soccer coaches should challenge themselves to find as many ways as possible to give instruction and feedback in a way that draws their athletes’ attention away from internal cues, and towards external ones.

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

Fitness, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #1: Friday, September 11th, 2015

Hi Everyone,

I’m excited to welcome you to the very first edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog.  In this Blog, we will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness.  In this first edition, I am discussing the importance of single leg strength exercises for soccer players, and providing some practical examples that can be done on the pitch after training.  I hope you enjoy it!


Article – “U.S. Soccer Continues to Sabotage Soccer in the U.S.” by Bill Haisley

Below is a link to a very interesting article written by Bill Haisley and posted on last week. The article immediately caught my eye, not just because of its seemingly contradictory title, but also because I have always been a big fan of U.S. Soccer and of the work they have done growing and developing the sport in their home country.  I am very familiar with U.S. Soccer, having completed my USSF National “C”, “B”, “A”, and “Y” Licenses there, and also from my time working as Fitness Coach with the Canadian National Women’s Teams, when we frequently competed against strong U.S. teams.  During my time in the United States, I became a big proponent of the changes they made to their National Teams programs, and also of the positive impact that Major League Soccer (MLS; the nationwide professional soccer league introduced in 1994) has had on the development of the sport in their country.  Several aspects of soccer in the United States, if implemented, would be equally beneficial to the development of the sport here in Canada.  Specifically, I am an advocate of the following:

  • More funding for our National Teams programs in Canada
  • The creation of full-time, residency-based youth National Team (U17-U20, male and female) programs
  • The creation of a nation-wide Canadian professional league (similar to Major League Soccer)
  • Expansion of more Canadian teams into the U.S.-based professional leagues (MLS, as well as the North American Soccer League/NASL, and the United Soccer League/USL-Pro)
  • Awarding of athletic scholarships to interuniversity sport athletes, including Varsity soccer players

Thus, it was a bit surprising to read an article that so vehemently criticizes U.S. Soccer in general, and the relationship between U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer in particular.  The main point the author makes is that the growth and development of the other rival professional soccer league in the United States (the NASL) is hindered by U.S. Soccer’s allegiance to MLS.  Most recently, U.S. Soccer ruled in favour of a redefinition to their parameters of what defines a “Division-I” professional soccer league, a designation that affords a league significantly better chances of attracting advertisers and sponsors, and in turn of achieving long term success.  Unfortunately, some of the new requirements seem to be arbitrary, unfair, and very much favourable to the MLS.  Among them are “increasing the minimum number of teams from 12 to 16, placing 75 percent of teams in cities of at least two million people, and requiring all stadiums to have capacity for at least 15,000 people.”  Interestingly, none of these requirements has anything to do with the quality of soccer on the pitch; they are basically all requirements that can only be met by MLS at the present time.

According to the author, the hindered development of the NASL will in turn hurt both Major League Soccer, and the United States Men’s National Teams.  This is because teams in MLS, without having to worry about competition, are not necessarily going to be motivated or incentivised to achieve results, win games, or develop talented players.  A simple, if not obvious, solution proposed by the author would be to have the professional soccer system in the U.S. function in the same way as every other professional soccer system in the world – with promotion and relegation across tiered divisions.  As mentioned previously, the U.S. already has three professional soccer leagues (MLS, NASL, and USL-Pro).  Why not designate MLS as the first tier “Division-i” league, with the NASL as “Division-II”, and the USL-Pro as “Division-III”? The top 2 or 3 teams in the NASL at the end of the season would get “promoted” up to the MLS, while the bottom 2 or 3 teams from MLS would get “relegated” down to the NASL.  The system would work the same way for the NASL and USL-Pro.  This type of system would reward the teams who perform better, and incentivise them not only to win, but also to try to develop their own players in order to keep their operating costs down and ensure long term success.  In turn, this increased competitiveness and emphasis on player development would strengthen the U.S. Men’s National Teams, who must compete against countries from all over the world that already use this system in their own professional soccer leagues.

Jurgen Klinsmann, German-born Head Coach of the United States senior Men’s National Team, has repeatedly stated in the media that he believes a professional soccer league with a promotion-relegation system and tiered divisions is necessary in order for the U.S. to remain competitive with other soccer nations.  Despite the many other successes and positive achievements of U.S. Soccer in the past 20 years, I would have to agree with him on this issue.

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

For Parents

Why Are We Still Playing Tournaments?

Last weekend I ran an on-field training session with a club team at Bill Crother’s Secondary School in Unionville, a relatively nee high school with very impressive facilities, including 3 full size soccer pitches (2 turf, 1 natural grass) plus a full 400-metre track and stadium-style bleachers.  For me this was a regular day at the “office” except for the fact that on this day, the school was also hosting a youth soccer tournament.  As I began the long walk from the parking lot down to the field where I would be working with the team, I passed by dozens of young soccer players, tournament participants who looked to be about the U13-14 age, and their parents.  I couldn’t help but notice some of the things I saw and heard as I walked by.  Among the things that stood out the most to me were:

  • Players walking to their cars with all of their gear still on (including full uniform, cleats and shin-guards)
  • Parents unpacking coolers full of food, snacks, and drinks, plus tents and lawn chairs
  • One player holding an ice pack on her face, and her mother trying to explain to some friends how she had been “kicked in the face, but no penalty was given”
  • Another parent speaking to a group of players, telling them they “had better win the next game” because he “didn’t drive all the way here to come away with nothing”

Once I got to the field, I saw a very familiar sight for someone working in soccer in Canada.  A game between two U13 girls teams, in which no passes seemed to be made by either team, yet parents from both sets of teams were cheering wildly and, on more than one occasion, coaching/instructing their children from the sidelines.  At one point during the game, the referee (who couldn’t have been older than 16) missed an offside call, and a goal was scored on the ensuing break-away. Naturally, one parent from the team which conceded the goal started yelling at the referee, questioning his eyesight and calling him names.  By this time I had to get to the other field to start my session.

As I mentioned, if you work in or are involved in youth soccer in Canada, the scenarios involving soccer tournaments described above may seem perfectly normal, and maybe even harmless.  The problem, unfortunately, is that tournaments actually do a lot of real harm to player development in this country.  First and foremost, tournaments hurt development because they force players to play in too many games, without enough recovery in between each game.  The fact that players are keeping their shoes and gear on in between games, and that their parents are packing so much food and snacks, can only mean that they are playing multiple games over the course of each day, and in many cases, over multiple days.  Basically all the scientific literature pertaining to youth soccer has indicated that players require at least 48 hours between games in order to recover, and all major youth soccer organizations (including our own Provincial and National associations) advocate that youth players play only 1 game per week.  This is because, when players play multiple games without optimal recovery, their performance suffers (speed, power, strength, and endurance all get significantly lower) and their chances of becoming injured become much greater.

A second and perhaps more significant way in which tournaments hurt development is that they encourage competition over player development, and reward winning at all costs.  Parents complaining about referees’ decisions (to the point that they become verbally and even physically abusive) and criticizing their own children/team for not winning, shows just how important winning can be in the typical tournament setting.  Unfortunately, placing undue emphasis on winning games and tournaments puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on players, who end up determining their own worth in the sport not by their skill level, tactical knowledge, or fitness, but rather by whether or not their team wins or loses.  Adding to the absurdity of the situation is the fact that winning any youth tournament or league means absolutely nothing in the long-term success of a soccer player.  I have worked in several different higher level soccer environments in this country, including college/university, the Toronto FC Academy, and the Canadian National Teams, and I can say without a doubt that the coaches at these levels do not care whether or not any of their players won tournaments or leagues as youth players.  What high level soccer coaches are concerned with when they are identifying and selecting players is only the players’ technical/tactical ability, physical fitness, and attitude.  The development of these key attributes in youth players is almost always hampered with participation in soccer tournaments.

I can’t help but wonder why, in the year 2015, we are still subjecting our players to 2+ games per-day, and 3+ games per-weekend soccer tournaments? The rest of the world has long since changed the way they structure youth competitions, so that even in most international soccer tournaments, teams do not play more than one game in a day and frequently have at least 1-2 days off in between games.  If our goal is truly to develop more talented, confident, fit, and injury-free soccer players, then I say it is time to stop playing soccer tournaments and to fully commit to long-term player development.

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