Fitness, Science, Uncategorized

Why Coaches Need to Learn About Fitness Training

Coach education has always been a passion of mine.  Throughout my career, I have continually pushed and challenged myself in all areas of my education, both in fitness/sports science, as well as in soccer coaching.  In recent years, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to become an educator, lecturing at universities/colleges, national/international sports science and soccer coaching conferences, as well as to youth clubs and academies throughout the province.  In this article, I am introducing and explaining the rationale behind the creation of my Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course, the first ever soccer-specific coach education course in Canada to focus specifically on physical training and testing of soccer players and teams.

The establishment of standards-based leagues for elite youth and adult amateur players in Ontario is a huge step in the right direction for optimal player development and to strengthen our Canadian National Teams.  As a company working exclusively with soccer players, we at Soccer Fitness Inc. are primarily concerned with the fitness standards associated with these new leagues, and how they can best be implemented in order to optimize players’ physical development.  One fact that is certain is that, as the numbers of teams and players in standards-based leagues grows, the clubs with teams in these leagues will require knowledgeable and experienced fitness coaches to provide the high quality fitness testing and training which the players require.  Making sure that fitness coaches are educated about safe, science/evidence-based methods of testing and training is of critical importance in ensuring soccer players receive the high standard of training that has been mandated.  While there presently exists a wide variety of continuing education courses aimed at fitness professionals, including a few that are considered to be “sport-specific training courses” there is no course available to coaches or fitness professionals that teaches soccer-specific fitness training.

Why is it so important for coaches and fitness coaches to learn about soccer-specific fitness training?  Simply put, there is no way for any coach to maximize the development of the players they work with if they are not knowledgeable about fitness and/or are not able to incorporate fitness into their team training sessions.  The reality of youth soccer in Canada is that field time and total training time are limited – sometimes to as little as 2-3 training sessions per week.  Thus, coaches and fitness coaches working in these environments must be able to make the most efficient use of their training time, by combining the technical / tactical aspects of their training with the right physical / physiological aspects (duration, intensity, and work-to-rest ratios).  To use just one example, if players and/or teams train to improve any specific technical or tactical ability, but this training is done at an intensity which is lower than the actual intensity experienced during match play, then the resulting improvements in technical and tactical performance will not translate as effectively into match play.  Consequently, coaches and fitness coaches – whether they like it or not – must be able to plan and implement training sessions that include the right type of physical and physiological training stimulus in combination with their specific technical and tactical plan in order to maximize their players’ overall development and performance.

It was with these facts in mind that I decided to create the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course, aimed at fitness professionals and/or soccer coaches looking to increase their knowledge and practical skills in the design and implementation of soccer-specific on-field fitness training.  The first edition of the Course will be taking place on the weekend of January 8th, 9th, and 10th, 2016, at Trio Sportsplex, located at 601 Cityview Blvd. in Vaughan.  The Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course is a unique coach-education program that combines theoretical lectures in the sports sciences, with the practical and soccer-specific application of these sciences.  Fitness professionals and/or soccer coaches who enrol in the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course will learn how to plan and implement year-round soccer-specific fitness training programs for their teams.

Central to the Course is the teaching of Soccer Fitness’ 60-Minute Soccer-Specific On-Field Fitness Session.  We have used and continue to use these comprehensive 1-hour sessions in all of our On-Field Training programs, with teams ranging from U10-U18 rep./academy, the Ontario Provincial/Canadian National Teams, the Toronto FC Academy teams, and professional soccer clubs abroad.  The basic format and structure of the Soccer Fitness 60-Minute Soccer-Specific On-Field Fitness Session, which is described and taught in detail during the Course, is as follows:

  • 0-15 minutes: Soccer-Specific Warm-Up
  • 16-30 minutes: Soccer-Specific Coordination Training
  • 31-45 minutes: Soccer-Specific Energy System Training
  • 46-60 minutes: Soccer-Specific Strength Training

Other topics covered in the course include anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and motor learning specific to the sport of soccer, as well as modules on fitness assessment, periodization of training, injury prevention, and specific youth soccer training.   Fitness professionals with an interest in working with soccer players will come away from the Course with a much better understanding of how to make all aspects of their training programs more specific to the sport of soccer.  Soccer coaches who are working with players at any age or level of ability will come away from the Course with valuable knowledge and skills that will allow them to successfully plan and implement physical fitness exercises into their practices, and they will also learn how to integrate fitness work within their regular technical/tactical training sessions.

The Ontario Soccer Association’s and Canadian Soccer Association’s new standards for soccer-specific physical fitness testing and training are changes that will be extremely helpful to the long-term athletic development of our province’s soccer players.  Fitness professionals and soccer coaches working in high performance environments and wishing to meet these standards will now require some specific training and education to learn how to plan and implement optimal physical fitness testing and training programs for their athletes and teams.  It is our belief that the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course will provide participants with essential knowledge and practical skills in the fields of exercise science and on-field coaching/training.  Our Trainer’s Course will provide coaches and fitness professionals with the tools they need to optimize the physical development and performance of the players they work with.

Below is a link to our registration form for the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course (for anyone who is interested in attending).

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

Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course Registration Form – January 2016

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Uncategorized

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #12: Friday, November 27th, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome 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 monitoring the intensity of training and match play.  Included in this week’s post is a link (below the video) to the Borg 0-10 RPE scale, which is a simple, practical, and cost-effective tool to help coaches and players monitor the intensity of the training sessions and matches.

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

Borg0-10RPEScale

Uncategorized

Why Our Opinion Is Not As Relevant As We Think It Is – Part 2

2015 marks the 15th year that I have been working in soccer.  In that time, I have had thousands of conversations with coaches, parents, and players, at virtually all of the different levels of the game.  Upon reflecting on these conversations it has become apparent to me that many of us subjectively think and feel that we are experts in soccer, and that we know and understand the game better than everyone else around us.  Last week, in Part 1 of this article, I discussed how and why our subjective opinions can hamper player development.  This week, in Part 2, I will provide some insight into strategies that we as coaches and fitness coaches can use to ensure that we remain objective in our work.

To start with, I have provided below an excellent and apt quote from Yogi Berra (not a soccer player, but certainly a world class athlete, who played baseball for the New York Yankees in the 1950’s and 60’s):

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up someplace else.”

 

I really like this quote because it captures in a very brief and concise way – in my interpretation at least – just how important it is to measure performance in sports.  “knowing where you’re going”, to me, implies that a coach or fitness coach must know very clearly how the players and team has performed, in order to set specific objectives aimed at improving performance and “wind up” where they want to go.

If we accept that measuring performance in sports like soccer is important, then the next challenge is to determine simple and effective ways to eliminate subjective opinions from performance measurement.  The best way to do this is through the collection of objective data (facts, which are not subject to anyone’s opinion, about how players have performed in training and match play).  The use of technology such as GPS, and video-based software programs like Pro Zone or Game Breaker are certainly very effective tools to measure performance, however, they are expensive and time-consuming to use, and thus are not a practical option for the great majority of amateur youth soccer coaches in Canada.  A more cost-effective way to collect objective data is to use alternative methods of measurement which do not require any expensive technological equipment or computer software.  These methods must provide coaches and fitness coaches with objective data that is similar to the kind of data that can be generated from more expensive technology and software, but is also simple to understand, disseminate, and eventually present to their players and teams.  Below are three examples of simple and proven strategies coaches and fitness coaches can use to objectively measure their players’ performance in training and match play.

  1. Rating of Perceived Exertion scales (to measure training and match intensity and load)

Rating of Perceived Exertion or RPE is a scale of measurement used to determined players’ opinions about how “hard” their level of physical exertion was during a training session or match.  There are several different RPE scales that have been used in scientific literature.  I prefer to use one developed by Borg (1982), which requires players to answer the question “how hard was your workout?”  The scale is scores from 0-10 (“0” being “rest”, and “10” being “maximal”).  I have provided a link to a PDF copy of the Borg 0-10 RPE scale below.  Coaches and fitness coaches can simply show this scale to their players following every training session and match, and record their scores.  Because these scores represent measurements of intensity and loading, once the data has been collected, coaches and fitness coaches can then use it to plan and adjust the intensity/loading in their training sessions in order to achieve desired results.

Borg0-10RPEScale

  1. Standardized, technical performance assessments (to measure technical skill performance)

In high performance youth soccer environments, the development and improvement of technical skills has to be of paramount importance to coaches and fitness coaches.  Technical ability, after all, provides the foundation for players’ future potential development.  If a set of standardized, objective technical assessments is implemented by a team’s coaching staff, players’ level of ability, as well as their rate of improvement in technical ability over the course of a season, can be easily measured.  Over time, if the same standardized system is used over multiple seasons and – even better – by multiple clubs across multiple age groups and both genders, then a set of standardized normative data for technical ability can be generated.  Players and teams can then be evaluated based on comparisons to these age- and gender-specific normative standards.  Over time, youth soccer clubs can then be evaluated based on how well their players and teams improve on these standardized tests, relative to the improvement of other competing clubs.  The Ontario Soccer Association has seemingly already recognized the importance of technical assessments, having developed its own Technical benchmark Exercises for the Ontario Player Development League in 2014.  Below is a link to the OSA’s Technical Benchmark Exercises PDF document.

OPDL-Player-Technical-Benchmark-Excercises-2015

  1. Free or low-cost mobile apps (to measure tactical performance)

There presently exists an abundance of mobile applications, available for download on mobile devices including phones and tablet computers, which can be used to measure performance in training and match play.  These apps range in price and functionality from the free ones (such as iCODA, Tag&Go, and Pocketcoder), to low-cost options (such as Performa, or FootyTracker).  These apps typically require a coach to watch a training session or match with their phone or tablet in hand, and manually enter data or “code” the actions that occur.  Many different types of objective data can be collected and analysed in this way, including pass completion percentage, ball retention, ball possession, shots on target, tackles/challenges for the ball, numbers of corners or free kicks, and so on).  If coaches or fitness coaches can collect this type of standardized, objective data over multiple training sessions or matches, they can then measures and assess their players’ performance over time and. As would be the case with technical assessments, they can also evaluate their players’ improvements relative to other age- and gender-specific standards and norms.

In conclusion, the use of standardized, objective performance measurements like the ones discussed in this article does not necessarily need to completely eliminate or discredit coaches’ subjective opinions.  On the contrary, when used properly, objective performance measurements can be used to challenge and refine coaches’ own opinions and analysis.  If we as coaches and fitness coaches truly want to become better at maximizing the development of the players we work with, we need to keep an open mind and accept the use of standardized assessments and furthermore, we need to be willing to use the data taken from them to change our own approach to training and match play if needed.

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

 

Uncategorized

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #11: Friday, November 20th, 2015

Hi All,

Anyone who knows me knows that coach education has always been a passion of mine.  Throughout my career, I have always pushed and challenged myself in all areas of my education, both in fitness/sports science, as well as in soccer coaching.  In recent years, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to become an educator, lecturing at universities/colleges, national/international sports science and soccer coaching conferences, as well as to youth clubs and academies throughout the province.  In this week’s edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. I am introducing and explaining the rationale behind the creation of my Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course, the first ever soccer-specific coach education course in Canada to focus specifically on physical training and testing of soccer players and teams.

The Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course is taking place on the weekend of January 8-10, 2016, t Trio Sportsplex in Vaughan.  Below the link to this week’s Video Blog is a link to a PDF copy of our registration form for the Course.

I Hope you enjoy the Blog (always, please feel free to post thoughts/comments), and if you are interested in attending the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course, please print/fill out the form or get in touch with us for more details!

 

http://www.soccerfitness.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Soccer-Fitness-Trainers-Course-Registration-Form-January-2016.pdf

 

For Parents, Science

Why our opinion is not as relevant as we think it is – Part 1

2015 marks the 15th year that I have been working in soccer.  In that time, I have had thousands of conversations with coaches, parents, and players, at virtually all of the different levels of the game.  Upon reflecting on these conversations it has become apparent to me that many of us subjectively think and feel that we are experts in soccer, and that we know and understand the game better than everyone else around us.  In Part 1 of this article, I will discuss how and why our subjective opinions can hamper player development.  Next week, in Part 2, I will provide some insight into strategies that we as coaches and fitness coaches can use to ensure that we remain objective in our work.

In soccer, this aforementioned subjective attitude manifests itself in many different ways.  For example, parents who are certain that their child is not being played in the “right position”, or that, even though their child is being benched, he/she is clearly “a better player” than the player who is starting ahead of them.  Coaches, too, are often guilty of using subjective opinions to make decisions.  Examples of these include the opinion that, while they may not be the best at running training sessions, they are “experts” in talent identification; or that they do not need to use any sports science or performance monitoring because they “can see” how well their players are playing and how hard they are working; and finally that they have chosen to use a particular training exercise or session because “that’s the way we used to train when I was a player.”  As s sports scientist, I work almost exclusively with objective scientific data, yet I also have been guilty of this subjective attitude, at times pushing players harder than I should have, or running training sessions for a longer duration than necessary.

I find it fascinating that we in soccer are sometimes so easily manipulated by our own subjective opinions, and even worse that we often willingly ignore objective scientific data simply because we are convinced that we “know better.”  In an excellent book called “The Science of Fear”, author Daniel Garland reviews dozens of studies on the human brain which have determined that, while we often think we are being “rational” (or objective) when making decisions in our everyday lives, the great majority of the time were act in a completely “irrational” (or subjective) manner.  This is because as early humans, we needed to rely almost entirely on the irrational/subjective part of our brain in order to survive.  Today, because we are living in a world in which most of us are safe and have access to shelter, food, water and all the basic necessities of life, we should be using the rational and objective parts of our brain more; however, research has indicated that we have become “hard-wired” to rely on the irrational/subjective part of our brain.

In soccer, making decisions based on subjective opinions rather than on objective facts can have serious negative consequences where player development is concerned.  There is simply no way for coaches and fitness coaches to assess, monitor, and adjust their players’ training and match performance without the use of objective facts.  Significant advances in almost all areas of soccer-specific sports science – including skilled performance and motor learning, aerobic/anaerobic training, strength training, injury prevention and warm-up, sports psychology, and nutrition – have been made since I started working in the sport 15 years ago.  Today, coaches and fitness coaches even have access to technology that allows them to assess, monitor, and track all aspects of their players’ performance, including technical, tactical, and physical performance parameters.  If we continue to willfully ignore objective scientific data when planning and implementing soccer training, we will never be able to maximize the development of the players we work with.

The examples I provided earlier can be used to highlight the value of using objective facts instead of subjective opinions in soccer.  If coaches use standardized, objective methods to assess players’ performance in different positions on the field, then theirs – or their parents’ – subjective opinions about whether or not a player is playing in the “right position” would be irrelevant; all that would matter would be the objective facts.  If coaches use standardized, objective methods to identify and assess young talented players, then any one coach’s subjective opinion about how much of an “expert” they are in talent identification would be irrelevant; all that would matter would be the facts.  And if coaches use standardized, objective methods to assess and monitor their players’ responses and performance in training, and then objectively check and assess how these training methods impact players’ match performance, then the subjective opinion that “we used to train this way when I was a player” would be irrelevant; all that would matter would be the facts.

Ultimately, we as soccer coaches and fitness coaches should make optimizing and maximizing player development our primary concern.  If objective, scientific facts challenge our own subjective opinions, we as coaches and fitness coaches must remain open-minded and be willing to change, regardless of how strongly-held our subjective opinions might be.  If we can use a standardized, objective approach to all aspects of their soccer training and competition – including talent identification, planning of training and player development, and training/match performance monitoring – then the negative impact of subjective opinions, bias, and human error can be minimized or even eliminated.  Next week, in Part 2 of this article, I will provide simple, practical, and easy-to-use examples of how to incorporate objective scientific facts into soccer training and match play.

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

Fitness, Science, Technology

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #10: Friday, November 13th, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome 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 effectiveness of backwards running – both on the ground, as well as on a high speed / high incline treadmill – at training the hamstrings as hip extensors.

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

Fitness, Injuries, Science

The Science Behind 1 Match Per-Week

Last week in our blog, I discussed how the Canadian college and university soccer regular season and play-off schedules are hurting the development and long-term health of players by forcing them to play 2, and sometimes even 3, full 90+ minute matches per week, over a 10-12 week time period.  This post garnered a large response from readers, including some supportive as well as some critical comments.  At Soccer Fitness Gols, we truly value and appreciate all of our readers’ feedback, and since our blog topic last week was so popular, I have decided to follow up by providing a more detailed summary of one of the most recent scientific studies examining the relationship between number of matches played per week, and both physical performance as well as injury rates in soccer.  Hope you like it!

In 2007, a group of researchers from the University of Lille, led by Gerard Dupont, examined data from match results, match-related physical performance, and injuries, of 32 different soccer players competing in the 2007-2008, and 2008-2009 UEFA Champions League seasons.  Participants in the UEFA Champions League were used in this study because this competition, combined with domestic league fixtures, often forces players to participate in more than one full 90+ minute match per week.  The authors were interested in determining whether any differences existed in both physical performance, as well as injury rates, between players who played in one match per week, versus players who played in two matches per week.  Players who did play in 2 matches per week averaged between 72 and 96 hours (3-4 days) of recovery between these matches.  Here is a direct quote/summary of the results from the study by Dupont et. al. (2011):

“Physical performance, as characterized by total distance covered, high-intensity distance, sprint distance, and number of sprints, was not significantly affected by the number of matches per week (1 versus 2), whereas the injury rate was significantly higher when players played 2 matches per week versus 1 match per week (25.6 versus 4.1 injuries per 1000 hours of exposure; P < .001).”

In layman’s terms, these results indicate that while players’ physical performance did not necessarily decline with 2 matches per week, their risk of injury increased by over 600%.  Interestingly, the UEFA Champions League and domestic league schedules with a combined 2 matches per week still afforded players between 3-4 full days in between each match. Unfortunately, in Canadian college and university soccer, the matches played per week typically fall on weekends, and are thus played back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday, with only 24 hours (1 day) of rest between matches. In the college/university post season, as well as in the Canadian Club National Championships and several other amateur youth soccer tournaments in Canada, recovery time between matches can be even less, with 3-4 matches played over the course of 4-5 days, and in some cases even more than one match played in the same day.  Taking this decreased recovery time into account, it may be possible that a greater risk of injury, and even a potential decrease in physical performance, may occur in these environments.  If nothing else, in my opinion this topic should at least warrant further scientific research.

Ultimately, all competitive amateur soccer schedules in Canada, at both the youth (club/academy) and adult (college/university) levels, should be structured in the best interests of the players, with players’ physical health and recovery time being of primary importance.  The science on the subject is clear: playing more than one 90+ minute soccer match per week is simply not healthy for players.  Time will tell if our Canadian amateur soccer and sport organizations will embrace this objective, scientific fact, and adjust their competitive schedules accordingly.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  As always please feel free to post your comments below.