It’s hard to believe, but we are now in the first week of November, 2015. For college and university soccer players, if you’re lucky enough to still be playing by this time of year, it means you have progressed deep into the play-offs and are very close to qualifying for the National Championships, which are typically finished by November 15th. In college and university soccer, the play-offs and National Championships are microcosms of the competitive season, with multiple 90+ minute matches scheduled over a very short period of time, including several instances of back-to-back matches, as well as periods of time with 3 games played over just 4 days. As an example, take a look at this year’s CCAA (Canadian Collegiate Athletics Association) and CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) men’s National Championship tournament schedules:
- CCAA Men’s Soccer:
- Match 1: Wednesday, November 11th
- Match 2 (Semi-Finals): Friday, November 13th
- Match 3 (Bronze and Gold Medal Matches): Saturday, November 14th
- CIS Men’s Soccer:
- Match 1: Thursday, November 12th
- Match 2 (Semi-Finals): Saturday, November 14th
- Match 3: (Bronze and Gold Medal Matches): Sunday, November 15th
Of course, in order to get to the National Championships, teams need to have qualified from the play-offs, which are scheduled in a very similar way. Typically, the first play-off matches in college and university soccer begin between 3-6 days after the conclusion of the regular season. In Ontario, the play-offs finish with the OCAA (Ontario Collegiate Athletic Association) Championships, and the OUA (Ontario University Athletics) Final Four, both of which comprise multiple 90+ minute matches played over a 2-3 day timespan. Below is a summary of these schedules for men’s soccer in 2015:
- OCAA Men’s Soccer Championships:
- Match 1 (Quarter-Finals): Thursday, October 29th
- Match 2 (Semi-Finals): Friday, October 30th
- Match 3 (Bronze and Gold Medal Matches): Saturday, October 31st
- OUA Men’s Soccer Final Four:
- Match 1 (Semi-Finals): Saturday, November 7th
- Match 2 (Bronze and Gold Medal Matches): Sunday, November 8th
Working backwards even further, it is critical to note that, in order to qualify for the play-offs in Ontario college and university soccer, teams must endure the OCAA and OUA competitive seasons, both of which pack two and sometimes even three 90 minute matches per week, every week, from the beginning of September until the end of October. Here is what the 2015 OCAA and OUA competitive schedules looked like:
- OCAA Men’s Soccer competitive season:
- 10 matches played from Saturday, September 12th to Saturday, October 24th
- Total of 10 matches in 6 weeks = 1.6 matches per week
- OUA Men’s Soccer competitive season:
- 16 matches played from Saturday, August 29th to Saturday, October 24th
- Total of 16 matches in 8 weeks = 2.0 matches per week
I cannot help but wonder why, in the year 2015, we are still subjecting young student-athletes to this type of competitive schedule. Virtually all of the scientific research done on the intensity and loading in soccer has indicated that a minimum of 24-48 hours is needed in order for players to optimally recover from a 90 minute match. Furthermore, most if not all of the world’s leading authorities in soccer-specific sports science have recommended that players do not play more than one match per week in their competitive seasons. This is because when players do play more than one 90+ minute match per week, they will experience both a significant decrease in muscular strength, speed, power, and endurance, as well as a significantly increased risk of over-training and injury due to inadequate repair and recovery from muscle damage caused during the match. Compounding the problem for college and university soccer is that the great majority of the players are in school between the ages of 18-22, and their bodies are not fully physically and physiologically developed and thus are at an even greater risk of injury.
Several of the world’s most prominent soccer coaches and fitness coaches, including Jens Bangsbo of the University of Copenhagen, Raymond Verheijen of the World Football Academy, and Jurgen Klinsmann, current Head Coach of the United States Men’s National Soccer Team, have been critical of college and professional competitive leagues that require players to play more than one 90+ minute match per week. In fact, Klinsmann was one of the harshest critics of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) soccer schedule (which also comprises an average of 2 matches per week), criticism which eventually led to a proposed change to a full academic year schedule (September to May) that will likely take effect as early as the 2016-2017 season. If the rest of the world (including the Americans, who are traditionally resistant to change) has been able to structure their competitive soccer seasons so that they average a maximum of 1 match per week, there is no reason for Canada not to follow suit.
Competing in college and university soccer in Canada is a unique and rewarding experience. For the great majority of young players who do not advance into the Canadian National Teams and/or into professional soccer, competing at the college and/or university level represents the highest competitive level they will reach in their careers. If the CCAA and CIS are truly concerned with the long-term development and overall health of the young soccer players competing in their leagues, they should seriously consider revising their competitive schedules, to lengthen the season and/or to decrease the total number of matches played to a maximum of 1 match per week.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.