Fitness, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #16: Friday, January 29th, 2016

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog (and the first edition for 2016)! In this Blog, we will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, we discuss the squat exercise, how to choose the right variation for soccer, and how best to incorporate it into soccer strength routines.

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

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For Parents, Science

Why are We Still Competing For Results?

In the last 10 years, the structure of youth soccer competitions in Ontario and Canada has undergone some significant changes.  The advent of Soccer Academy Alliance Canada (SAAC) in 2006, the Ontario Player Development League (OPDL) in 2013, as well as changes to the competition structures of various leagues from Under-8 to Under-18 across Ontario, have all provided a platform for the implementation of Long Term Player Development (LTPD), which is the strategic plan of the Ontario and Canadian Soccer Associations.  One basic tenet of Long Term Player Development, which has been embraced by SAAC, the OPDL, and other competitive soccer leagues across Ontario, is the use of age-appropriate competitions.  Several rule changes have been instituted in the various different competitive leagues in this province to make them more age-appropriate, including:

  • Switching to smaller-sided games, ranging from 3 vs. 3 to 9 vs. 9, for ages ranging from Under-8 to Under-12
  • Smaller-sized playing fields (used in accordance with the number of players on the field)
  • Elimination of promotion / relegation, league standings and, in some cases, even scores from games and tournaments

Of course, there are very legitimate science-/evidence-based reasons that the Long Term Player Development plan has recommended these changes.   For example, Scott and Norman (1978) were some of the first people to conduct research into skilled performance and motor learning, and their findings indicated that children learn best through variability of practice and competition.  Scanlan and Lewthwaite (1986) found that children who participate in sporting environments where they are pressured to win by a parent or coach are far less likely to enjoy their sport, and are subsequently far more likely to want to quit their sport during high school.  More recently, Ann-Cyr et. al. (2014) determined that children and adults learn best when they are allowed to make mistakes and come to an answer on their own, rather than being directed by a coach or teacher.

From a coaching perspective, it is very easy to see the practical applications of this evidence.  In youth soccer, the pressure to win games works completely against player development, as there is simply no way for a coach to allow players to make mistakes during competitions when they will be punished (either through dropping points and position in league standings and/or through relegation to a lower-level league) for losing those competitions.  Thus, the rationale for instituting age-appropriate competitions which include elimination of promotion/relegation, standings, and scores is that, by shifting emphasis away from results, coaches and players can focus on what really matters – the development, improvement, and maximizing of individual technical soccer skills, and tactical knowledge of the game.

Over the course of my career, I have worked with coaches and parents at all competitive levels in the game, including the higher levels (Ontario Provincial teams, Canadian National teams, and Toronto FC Academy teams) as well as the lower amateur club and academy levels.  During this time, I have found that, out of all of the aforementioned changes to competition structure in youth soccer, it is the elimination of league standings and scoring from games that has seemed to be the least popular amongst many coaches and players in Ontario.  Many times, when I ask players, parents, or coaches competing in the new leagues which have eliminated standings (and in some cases scores) like SAAC or the OPDL how their last game went, the first answer I hear is “we won” or “we lost.” Often, these same people will comment on the quality of another club’s or academy’s developmental program by saying things like “their program is no good, we beat them 5-0 last time we played them.”

I cannot help but wonder why, even in environments like SAAC and the OPDL (which have clearly indicated that player development is their primary focus – the words “player development” are literally part of the acronym “OPDL”) so many people are still competing for results and measuring the success or failure of their programs based on these results.  Unfortunately, what these people fail to realize is that the results of any youth soccer competition really do not matter, because they will have no impact on the technical, tactical, physical, or psychological development of the players who are competing.  Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, I can say from my own experience that the coaches in the various different higher-level adult soccer environments in which most aspiring youth soccer players wish to play (Canadian and U.S. college/university teams, Canadian and international professional clubs, and the Canadian National teams) do not care about the results of youth soccer competitions either.  What these coaches do care about is technical skill, tactical knowledge, physical fitness, attitude and work ethic, all of which are qualities that are best developed without pressure to get results and win games.

Ultimately, the solution to the problem of the unpopularity of age-appropriate competitions with reduced emphasis on scores and standings in youth soccer lies in coach, parent, and player education.  Coaches should ensure that they follow the guidelines of Long Term Player Development and, in addition, should do their own research into how their approach and attitude towards competition affects the development of their players.  It would be great if parents, too, were able to take part in basic coach education programs and courses which emphasize the positive impact that age-appropriate competitions can have on their children’s soccer development.   Finally, players should be encouraged both by their coaches and their parents to find other ways to measure their performance in competitions, rather than simply by looking at the score line.  If we truly want to improve and maximize player development in Canadian soccer, then we need to stop competing for results.

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

For Parents, Science

Cause and Effect – A Common Mistake Made By Coaches Every Day

Last weekend, January 8th, 9th, and 10th, 2016, I hosted the inaugural Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course, the first-ever coach education course in Canada focusing on soccer-specific fitness training for individuals and teams.  For me, the best part of the course was not the lectures or on-field presentations themselves, but rather the group discussions that occurred frequently before, after, and many times during these presentations!  One topic in particular which came up several times over the weekend was how best to determine cause and effect during soccer training.

In the context of soccer coaching, determining “cause and effect” means looking at a particular effect (for example,  a team creating more shots on target in a match) and then determining what has caused that effect (for example, 2 weeks of “phase of play” training on patterns of play in the attacking 3rd of the field).  During the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course, our group discussions often centred on determining what types of training (“causes”) would be best to develop and improve specific physical, technical, or tactical abilities (“effects”) in players and teams.    Some of my experience in exercise science has led me to question myself and other coaches when we make assertions about cause and effect in our training sessions.

In order for any coach or fitness coach working with soccer players to accurately determine whether or not their training methods have led to a specific improvement in their players’ or team’s performance, then the specific areas of performance that they are interested in improving through training need to be measured.  Based on scientific method, any aspect of performance that is to be measured would be considered a “dependent variable”, which is to say that this aspect of performance may or may not improve, depending on the training or treatment applied to it.  Training methods, in this case, would be considered “independent variables” – that is, they are independent because they can be manipulated by the coach or fitness coach in order to try to achieve the greatest improvement to the dependent variable.  Measuring changes in a dependent variable which may or may not have occurred as a result of different independent variables applied to it must be done using some kind of standardized, objective, reliable, and valid method of measurement.  If there is no objective measurement of a dependent variable, then it is impossible to determine whether or not a change or improvement has actually occurred, and thus it would be impossible to assert cause and effect.

How does all of this relate to soccer coaches and fitness coaches?  Recall that in the example provided above, a coach is interested in improving/increasing his or her team’s number of shots on target.  This number would be considered a “dependent variable” (improving it is dependent upon the types of training applied to it).  The number of shots on target should be measured using some kind of objective method of measurement.   The “phase of play” training that the coach uses to try to create a change in the number of shots on target is the “independent variable” (it is independent because the coach is under control as to exactly what type of training is used).   “Measurement” of the dependent variable would be fairly simple in this case, as it would require simply counting the number of shots on target the team created in its matches before and after the introduction of the “phase of play” training sessions.  If, through several weeks of “phase of play” training, a coach was able to measure an improvement in his/her team’s number of shots on target created, then it would be possible for that coach to assert that their training (“cause”) led to the improvement (“effect”) of creating more shots on target.

The more I think about coaching and fitness training in soccer, the more I realize how important the application of scientific method is to optimizing player and team development.  If coaches and fitness coaches do not measure the specific areas of performance they wish to improve through training, then their assertions that their training caused an effect on their teams’ performance cannot be considered valid.  Furthermore, if measurement of performance does not occur or is left to a coach’s own subjective opinion, then planning of training with the aim of optimizing performance becomes impossible.  As soccer coaches and fitness coaches, we should all be willing to invest time and effort into objectively measuring performance, as this is the only way for us to truly say that our players or teams have performed better as a result of the training we have given them.

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

For Parents, Uncategorized

The Canadian Academy of Futbol (CAF): An Excellent Option for Young Aspiring Soccer Players

Happy New Year Everyone!

For the first edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Blog in 2016, I have taken a look at the Canadian Academy of Futbol (CAF), a unique player development program with a very unique model for developing and maximizing the potential of aspiring young soccer players in Canada.  I hope you enjoy reading and as always, I welcome your comments and feedback!

Participating in youth soccer used to be really simple.  When I was a kid in the 1980’s, playing “rep” or competitive soccer involved 1-2 practices and 1 game per week, all of which took place a short distance – sometimes even a short walk – from my house.  There were little to no other “options” as a rep player, other than perhaps switching to another club that also trained and competed close by.

Today, in contrast, parents of aspiring young soccer players have so many different options and choices available, making the right choice can seem like a very daunting task.  Parents and players are free to choose from among hundreds of amateur non-profit clubs, private academies, independent soccer clubs and leagues, private and public school teams, and all sorts of supplemental training programs.  Added to this list of options for Canadian soccer players in recent years has been the Canadian Academy of Futbol (CAF for short).  Created in 2012, CAF has quickly grown to become one of the largest soccer development programs in North America.  This article will provide some information and clarity about CAF, including feedback from Phil Ionadi, former professional soccer player and current President of the company.

The Canadian Academy of Futbol is not a soccer club, soccer academy, or soccer league.  It is a soccer development program, which comprises several different soccer clubs and academies (as of today, over 35 different organizations), and runs soccer competitions, including regular seasons, tournaments, camps, and showcases.  CAF has grown in membership every year since its inception, and this growth has provided a platform for changes and additions to the programming and services it provides to its members.  Among the most notable of these recent additions and changes are:

  • Working in accordance with the OSA Matrix and LTPD guidelines for all age categories
  • The creation of the CAF Super Group, which comprises a free competition program for elite level players. This was launched in 2015 with the U14 Boy’s division, including the 2015 U14 Boys Ontario Cup and Canadian National Champions, Epic FC.
  • Forming a partnership with Dragon Force Toronto, an international soccer school project created by FC Porto of the Portuguese Primera Liga, and run out of Bradford, Ontario, in the spring of 2015
  • Working relationship with the North American International Cup (NAIC) and the Lika 3v3 Cup in partnership with Coervers and Disney.
  • Working relationship and partnership with Toronto FC that saw over 2000 CAF members in attendance at CAF Day.
  • Announcement of new CAF member Winstars Academy and the upcoming Showcases for 2016.

What is truly unique about CAF and what they have achieved in such a short period of time is the fact that they have created a development program that has been able to attract so many talented players, teams, and coaches.  I have had the opportunity to work with several of the different member academies of CAF, as well as having worked personally with a number of their Technical Directors and coaches.  Many of the members have very well-educated, professional, experienced and enthusiastic coaches, and CAF has provided these people with a fantastic platform to help nurture and develop their talented players.

Phil Ionadi, former professional player with the Montreal Impact and current President of CAF, had this to say to soccer players and parents who may be interested in learning more about CAF:

“The vision for the CAF development program was to provide quality training for all players as well as a pathway for our elite players who are striving to play professionally or obtain a soccer scholarship. The CAF program brings together great coaches who are former International and Canadian players that are mentors and heroes for these athletes.”

“I have been very fortunate to come through the Canadian system and obtain a soccer scholarship and play with some top class players throughout my career. The support of my coaches who became my mentors, made a difference in moulding me into the player and person I am today, and this is the same vision I have for CAF.”

“Having CAF players being coached by former professional players such as Shawn Faria, Ruben Flores, Danny Amaral, Kevin De Serpa, Josh Bill, Rick Titus and many others, will only help the development of our future stars in the game and in life.”

“The success story for CAF in 2015 was the launch of the CAF Super Group. This was intended to provide  elite players a true professional environment where they play in a stadium, with their own team change rooms, walking out of the tunnel to the field, hearing the Canadian National Anthem before kick-off, having their name called by the announcer, and have their games televised. CAF has built this environment in 2015 and look forward to expanding and growth for the 2016 season.”

The 4 Pillars that unite CAF are: “Respect, Passion, Commitment, & Discipline.” These pillars have been a constant throughout the growth of CAF, including adding members, forming partnerships, helping players attain athletic scholarships and professional trials, and seeing its members winning local as well as international leagues and tournaments.  In just a few short years, CAF has come a long way towards creating a successful player development program, which is an excellent option for young aspiring soccer players in this country.

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

For more information about CAF, visit:

http://www.cafsoccer.com/