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Biomechanical Analysis of Throw-Ins – Soccer’s “Forgotten Technique”

Recently I made the decision to go back to school, and as part of the coursework, I was required to take an Advanced Biomechanics course, in which I am presently enrolled.  Our latest assignment for this course was to choose a sports movement that involves the upper body, and to analyse the movement from a biomechanical perspective – that is, what muscles cause the movement, what different types of movements combine to form the movement, and what can an athlete do in order for the movement to be executed efficiently.

For this assignment, I decided to examine what I believe to be the “forgotten movement” in soccer, the throw-in.

Honestly.  Think about it – when was the last time you actually thought about throw-ins?

If you’re a player, you probably fall into one of two categories with regards to your opinion about throw-ins.  You either completely ignore technique in favor of getting the ball as quickly as possible to an open player, or alternatively, you throw for maximum power, in an attempt to advance the ball as far forwards as possible.

Players who fall in the first category – i.e. those who ignore throw-in technique – may not necessarily want to continue reading.  If, however, maximum throw-in distance is your objective, then the insight I was able to gain from my recent project will definitely be of interest to you.

In my report, I summarized the findings from a recent study by Linthrone & Everett (2005), that used 2-D video to investigate which release angle (the angle formed between a horizontal line in the centre of the ball – the x-axis – and the line of trajectory of the ball, when it is in flight), allowed for maximum throw-in distance.  The diagram below (reprinted from the study) provides a visual representation of the throw-in technique, including the release speed (“v”); the release angle (“θ”); the relative release height (“h”); and the horizontal range of the throw-in (“R”).

Throw-In1

Researchers had subjects attempt throw-ins from release angles ranging from 10° to 60°, in 5-10° increments.  The results of their study indicated that a release angle of approximately 30° was most effective at maximizing the total distance of the throw-in.  This is because the relatively lower release angle (30°, as opposed to a larger angle of 45°) allowed for significantly greater release speed which, when factored into the equation, made the ball travel further.  The next figure below (also reprinted from the study) depicts the relationship between release angle, and release speed.  As you can see, higher release speeds were achieved with relatively lower release angles, and the highest release speeds were achieved with a release angle of approximately 30°.

Throw-In2

Based on the results of this study, a take-home message for soccer coaches and players is that, if they wish to achieve maximum distance in their throw-ins, they should try to shorten their release angle.  This can be done by slightly lowering the shoulders, and aiming to make the ball travel a bit more forwards and a bit less upwards.  This slight tweak in throw-in technique will allow players to maximize their release speed, thereby increasing the distance of their throw-ins.

I hope you enjoyed this article and as always, welcome your feedback.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

 

 

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Fitness, Science

3 Simple Strategies to Train for Speed (On the Field, With the Ball) This Pre-Season

It’s the middle of April, and if you’re a youth soccer coach here in Canada that means you’ve probably started your pre-season in preparation for the outdoor competitive season, which typically starts sometime in May.

One of the most important areas of physical fitness that must be trained during the pre-season is speed.  If you have done a good job preparing your players with aerobic training during the past few months, then a transition into anaerobic – or speed – training during pre-season can be a very effective way to ensure that they are as fit as possible in time for the first regular season match.

Speed training, in its simplest form, requires athletes to perform multiple sets and repetitions of sprints at maximal or near-maximal intensity, while allowing for enough recovery between these sets and repetitions so that the intensity can be maintained throughout the entire workout.  In soccer, the best way to train for speed is on the field.  Below are 3 simple strategies that can help you to design appropriate exercises for your players that can be incorporated into your training sessions, on the field, and with the ball.

  1. Make the sprints soccer-specific:

The principle of specificity dictates that the adaptations which occur from a training stimulus are specific to the type of training stimulus used.  Thus, if you want your players to become better at running in a straight line, then linear running training in which they run in a straight line would be appropriate.  If, however, you want your players to become better at the types of running they must do in soccer (straight and diagonal runs, backwards and lateral runs, frequent decelerations and changes of direction, etc.) then these types of runs must be performed in speed training sessions.  In order to make speed training soccer-specific, coaches must design exercises where players must run and move at high intensities using the exact same movements – both with and without the ball – that are used in the game.

 

  1. Incorporate reaction time – and make the reactions soccer-specific:

Reaction time involves the time interval between the presentation of a stimulus, and the movement that occurs as a result of this stimulus.  In track and field, for example, athletes must react to an auditory stimulus – the sound of a gun after an “on your marks..get set..” countdown.  In soccer, on the other hand, almost all of the sprints and high intensity movements involve reactions to visual – not auditory – stimuli.   Thus, incorporating exercises that present players with visual stimuli (different color cones, hand gestures, movements of players, etc.) will make the reaction time training more relevant – and specific – to the sport.

 

  1. Make players compete – and punish the “losers”:

One of the greatest challenges you will face when implementing speed training on the field is trying to ensure that your players run as fast as they possibly can during each repetition or sprint.  If they do not – a problem which typically occurs because they are not pushing themselves – then there is little chance that the training will elicit any actual improvements in running speed.  An effective way to get players to push themselves during speed training is to make the exercises into a competition.  Have them compete directly, 1 versus 1 or in small groups, and keep score.  Incorporate some kind of reward for the “winners” of these competitions, and also a punishment for the “losers” (push-ups are an excellent means of punishment).

Below are some examples of speed training exercises, which have been pulled directly from our own Soccer Fitness On-Field Training protocols, and which (of course) also incorporate the three suggestions listed above.  I hope you enjoy them and as always, welcome your feedback!

  1. Linear Speed / Agility Competition:

Set-Up / Organization:

article 1

  • Players in groups of 4
  • ½ of the players on one side of the start cone, with a pinney tucked into the back of their shorts like a “tail”; the other ½ of the players on the other side
  • Coach uses a specific color cone to start the exercise (example: green cone); when the coach raises the green cone, players compete by running a 2×5 metre agility sprint, followed by a 15 metre linear sprint
  • Player without the tail is trying to pull the tail of their opponent; player with the tail is trying to get through the gate without their tail being pulled
  • Each player performs 4 repetitions with the tail, and 4 repetitions without the tail

2. Foot / Head Tag Game:

Set-Up / Organization:

article2

  • Players in groups of 2, both players inside the square; 1 player has a ball in hands
  • Players play a game of “tag”, where the player with the ball must “tag” the other by throwing the ball and hitting the opponent’s feet; only hits to the feet count as points, and if the throw is missed, the player who threw it must get the ball, go back into the square and continue playing
  • Perform 6 repetitions, for 15 seconds each (3 repetitions for each player as “tagger”, with 15 seconds of rest in between repetitions); the player with the least amount of points after the 4 repetitions must do push-ups as “punishment”
  • Perform another 6 repetitions (3 for each player as “tagger”), but change the rule so that the “tagger” must try to “tag” the other player with a self-header (throwing the ball towards the head and hitting it forwards)

3. 1 V 1 Game:

Set-Up / Organization:

article3

  • Players in groups of 8
  • 4 players on one starting cone (with a ball), 4 players on the other (without a ball)
  • Player with ball plays a pass to player without ball, then closes down into a defensive position
  • Player with ball must play 1v1, using fakes/feints and change of speed (over 5 metres) to beat the defender and dribble through the gate on either side
  • Next set of 2 players starts once the first 2 are finished
  • Each player performs 8 repetitions with the ball, and 8 repetitions without the ball

 

 

 

Matches

Article – “What if Women’s Team Argued ‘Fair’ Rather than ‘Equal’?” at Sportsnet.ca

Below is a link to a very interesting article written by Donnovan Bennett and posted earlier today at http://www.sportsnet.ca.  The article presents a different viewpoint on – and potential solution to – the recent controversy surrounding the United States Women’s National Soccer Team’s dispute with U.S. Soccer over wage discrepancies between their team and the U.S. Men’s Team, which eventually led to several members of the Women’s Team filing a wage discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Bennett’s argument in this article is that the members of the U.S. Women’s National Team – as well as other prominent female athletes in other sports – should approach the issue of wage discrimination not from a philosophical viewpoint, but rather from a commercial one.  As he puts it:

  “What if we reframed the conversation from “equal” to “fair”? Make it less of an arbitrary decision, remove any altruistic reasoning for why women’s pay should increase and make this solely a business conversation. We could look at the amount of revenue that both the men’s and women’s sides bring in for the federation—whether through gate revenue or jersey sales or TV ratings—versus the amount of investment made by the federation in the respective teams and then agree on a set percentage of soccer-related revenue after expenses that the teas should be entitled to. That might be a start.”

Personally, I think this viewpoint makes a lot of sense.  I attended two FIFA Women’s World Cup matches last year.  One of them – a group match in Winnipeg’s Investor’s Group Stadium between the U.S. Women’s Team and Sweden – attracted a live attendance of over 30,000 people.

I also got to work with our own Canadian Women’s National Team during the 2015 Pan-American Games in Toronto, where Hamilton’s Tim Horton’s Stadium sold out to its 12,000-seat capacity for some of the Women’s Football (soccer) matches, including Canada’s final group match versus Brazil on July 19th, 2015.

Of course, as Bennett points out, live attendance or gate revenue in only part of the total revenue that women’s soccer can generate (the other components being TV ratings, and sales of merchandise such as team jerseys), however, the sport is clearly gaining in popularity, both in North America as well as around the world.  He goes on to note that the Final match of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, between the U.S. and Japan, drew a U.S. TV audience of 25.4 million viewers (more than any game in the 2015 NBA Finals, or Sunday Night Football, or any of the coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi).

I say that, if the United States Women’s National Team can prove that they are able to generate as much – if not more – revenue than their male counterparts, then a strong argument can be made for their wages and compensation to reflect this ability.

Below is the link to the full article.  As always, please feel free to post your thoughts and comments.

http://www.sportsnet.ca/soccer/us-womens-soccer-teams-pay-equity-hope-solo-carli-loyd-alex-morgan/

 

Injuries, Science

How To Deal With Osgoode Schlatter’s Disease in Soccer – SFG Video Blog #25: 4/8/2016

Today in our Video Blog, we discuss some strategies to help soccer players manage (and strengthen muscles to reduce the pain associated with Osgoode Schlatter’s disease, one of the most common injuries that affects youth soccer players.

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

Matches

The 2 Missing Ingredients for Success in Canadian Soccer

Our Canadian Men’s National Soccer Team recently concluded the second of two FIFA World Cup qualification matches versus Mexico, in the 2nd stage of CONCACAF qualification, last week.  Unfortunately, we lost both of those matches, by a score of 3-0 in the first match and 2-0 in the second.

Canada’s hopes of progression to the “Hex” (the group of six teams which represents the final stage of CONCACAF competition) and ultimately of qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia now rest on our final two matches, versus Honduras on September 2nd, and then El Salvador on September 6th of this year.

Defensively, aside from the most recent games against the much stronger Mexicans, Canada has been solid.  We secured a 1-0 win versus Honduras back in November of 2015 at BC Place in Vancouver, before earning 1 point in a tough 0-0 draw away to El Salvador later the same month.

It has been on the offensive side of the ball, however, where we have looked deficient, having only managed to score the one – albeit game-winning – goal against Honduras six months ago.  This deficiency will need to be addressed soon, as the only possible scenario that would see Canada advance through to the final round of World Cup qualification would be to secure at least 3 points (at least one more win) out of the next 2 matches.

Why are we having such a problem scoring goals at the senior international level?  And by extension, why are we also seemingly having a problem developing soccer players who possess the attacking talent, skills, and insight necessary to create and score goals?  There are likely many reasons, including a need for better player development programs and coach education at the youth levels, more and better domestic professional opportunities for our best players, as well as better funding and programming for our National Teams programs.

The following two reasons, however, can most accurately account for our inability to develop creative and talented attacking players, who can in turn create and score goals for our National Team:

  1. Youth soccer clubs in Canada are not incentivised to develop players.

Why would they want to?

Canadian youth clubs and academies are not financially rewarded for producing players who become professionals (either locally or abroad) nor, in many cases, are they even recognized or acknowledged for the role they have played in the development of talented players who have progressed to these higher levels.

In most countries with successful national teams programs – especially in Europe where most professional clubs have youth academies – player development is treated as a business.  Professional youth academies, most notably those without investors or large budgets, are able to sustain their expenses partially through revenue earned when a player they developed – their “product” – is “purchased” by another club – the “consumer” – and signs a professional contract.

Unfortunately, in Canada, our own youth clubs and academies are disconnected from this “business” model, and thus there are no tangible, financial incentives for them to develop players.  This lack of incentive in turn means that the player development system in our country is fragmented, and we are not able to help our young players reach their maximum potential.

Furthermore, until very recently, the great majority of the youth soccer leagues and tournaments in Canada have only rewarded clubs for winning, irrespective of the quality of their play and/or the quality of the players they produce.  Thus, the primary aim of all Canadian youth soccer clubs has been, for decades, to win league titles and trophies at tournaments, not to develop players.  If these clubs are not incentivised to develop players, then players will not develop.

  1. Professional soccer clubs in Canada are not incentivised to win.

Once again, why would they want to?

Canada presently has three professional teams competing in Major League Soccer or “MLS” (Toronto FC, Montreal Impact, and the Vancouver Whitecaps), and another two in the North American Soccer League or “NASL” (FC Edmonton, and the Ottawa Fury).  Because neither MLS nor the NASL have a tiered-division system with promotion and relegation (whereby the top teams from the lower division are promoted to the higher division, and the bottom teams from the higher division are relegated to the lower division), none of the teams competing in these leagues (including the Canadian teams) are ever going to be truly motivated to win.

Of course, if a team in MLS od the NASL wins enough games, they will have the opportunity to make the play-offs, and eventually to win the league championship (the MLS Cup in MLS or the Soccer Bowl in the NASL), and this success could in turn bring more fans, exposure, and revenue to the team.  Regardless of any potential motivation that the prospects of success from winning games might bring, however, none of our Canadian professional teams will ever have to face the threat of being punished for losing through relegation to a lower division.  As long as they can continue to generate revenue by maintaining fans’ interest, attaining and maintaining a television deal, and attracting corporate sponsors, any of our professional clubs can survive and even thrive in MLS or the NASL without ever having to produce a winning team.

Interestingly, MLS and the NASL are the only professional soccer leagues in the world which function without tiered divisions and a promotion-relegation system.  In any other country, anywhere else in the world, soccer teams who finish in last place in their division (or, in many cases, also in 2nd or 3rd last place) get relegated to a lower division.  This means that the teams playing in MLS and the NASL (including the Canadian teams) are the only soccer teams in the world who do not have an incentive to win in order to avoid being relegated to a lower division.

There could not be a more perfect example of how the lack of incentive to win has affected a Canadian professional soccer team than Toronto FC, which entered MLS as an expansion team in 2007.  Here is a summary of Toronto FC’s record (point total, place finished in their division, and place finished in the league) sine their inaugural MLS season:

SEASON POINT TOTAL STANDING (DIVISION) STANDING (OVERALL)
2007 25 7th (out of 7) 13th (out of 13)
2008 35 7th (out of 7) 12th (out of 14)
2009 39 5th (out of 7) 13th (out of 15)
2010 35 5th (out of 8) 12th (out of 16)
2011 33 8th (out of 9) 16th (out of 18)
2012 23 10th (out of 10) 19th (out of 19)
2013 29 9th (out of 10) 16th (out of 19)
2014 41 7th (out of 10) 16th (out of 19)
2015 49 6th (out of 10) 12th (out of 20)

 

In any other professional soccer league, in any other country in the world, Toronto FC would have been relegated in at least two and possibly as many as five of their previous nine seasons in Major League Soccer.  And it’s not just Toronto FC; Montreal Impact, another Canadian MLS team, finished with just 28 points, 10th out of 10 in their division and 19th out of 19 overall in the 2014 MLS season.  You get the point.  It seems only logical then, that the Canadian players competing in these leagues and for these teams (many of whom end up representing Canada at the senior international level) may end up lacking some of the competitive edge needed to be successful in World Cup qualification and, ultimately someday, at the World Cup.

In conclusion, if we expect to develop better soccer players in Canada, then we need to make some changes to the paradigms which exist in our present youth and professional soccer systems.  What we need in order to be successful is to incentivise our soccer clubs.  Canadian youth soccer clubs and academies need to be incentivised to develop and produce talented players.  Canadian professional soccer clubs need to be incentivised to win.   If we can find a way to set up and enforce these incentives, then maybe we can be more successful at the international level.

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