Soccer in Uruguay – Day 10 -Reinforcing My Opinion

Today the Academy teams who played matches yesterday had a recovery session, while the teams who played on Saturday had an off day. I got a chance to get (slightly) caught up with all the other work from my business, while at the same time preparing for two long days of fitness assessments, which start tomorrow at 2:00pm.

A friend who I met in the old city a few nights ago forwarded me a link to an excellent recently written article by Nick Rider, posted on The Independent’s website, titled Exploring Uruguay, the world’s most successful footballing nation.

The author – although he visited Uruguay solely to watch professional matches and tour the country’s many famous soccer stadiums and museums –  seems to have coma away with a very similar impression of the country’s soccer culture as I have from my travels here.

If the title of the article isn’t enough of a giveaway, Rider goes on to say in no uncertain terms:

“And it’s true: Uruguay is without any challengers the most successful footballing country in the world, per capita. No other country this size has come even close.”

Rider also wonders aloud how some of the most humble Uruguayan professional clubs, like Montevideo’s Danubio, defy the odds by continually producing top quality players such as Edinson Cavani, Jose Maria Giminez, and Christhian Stuani – their youth academy has even earned itself the nickname “the University of Uruguayan Football.”

He visits the very largest and most popular clubs (Penarol and Ncional) and also some of the smaller, poorer, “barrio” clubs (unfortunately he did not visit the training grounds or home stadium of Canadian SC – maybe next time)!

And of course, no soccer fan’s visit to Montevideo would be complete without spending some time at the National Uruguayan Football Museum, located inside the Estadio Centenario, itself one of the most famous soccer stadiums in the world and home to the first-ever FIFA World Cup, which Uruguay won by defeating Argentina in the final match in front of 100,000 people.

This interesting and very well-written article made for a good read on my final day off in Montevideo.  Below is a link.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and as always, please feel free to post your comments or feedback.


Soccer in Uruguay: Day 8/9 – Player Development

This weekend we worked at 5 different games for the Academy, with teams ranging in age from U14-U19.   We got to see some other stadiums and facilities from professional clubs in the city, and of course got to meet and speak with the coaches and fitness coaches from all of the different teams.  Interestingly, there is one fitness coach who works exclusively with each Academy team.  And not just in our club – all of the clubs in Uruguay with academies have one fitness coach working exclusively with one of their teams/age categories.  Imagine that!

Among the topics I discussed with the coaching staff this weekend was the subject of player development.  More specifically, I was questioned by several coaches about the system we have in Canada, and the methods – if any – we use to develop our players.

In Uruguay, the development – and eventual sale – of players is an integral part of the livelihood of all professional soccer clubs, including Canadian SC, the club that I am working with.

While Uruguayan clubs do earn a small amount of revenue from the rights to television broadcasts of their matches, and an even smaller amount from live attendance at the matches themselves, the money earned from selling players developed through their own academies to other – typically larger and wealthier – clubs, is literally the only way for a Uruguayan professional soccer club to survive in the long term.

Prospective revenue from the sale of homegrown players is thus a primary incentive for all professional soccer clubs in Uruguay, to do the best possible job they can to develop their own players.  Furthermore, players developed through a club’s own academy can also play professionally for the club’s first team, thereby saving the club from the expense of having to purchase other players developed in other clubs.

This isn’t rocket science, and Uruguay is just one of literally dozens of counties around the world whose youth soccer systems function in this way.

Yet, when attempting to explain to my Uruguayan colleagues how our own Canadian system of player development functions, I found myself at a loss as to why – even in our own domestic professional academies in Major League Soccer – there is no financial incentive for youth clubs to develop and sell their own homegrown players.

I have written about this topic in the past, in an article which also questioned why our domestic professional clubs are not incentivised to win via a promotion/relegation system.  Below is a link to that article:

Among the different Uruguayan coaches and fitness coaches I spoke with over the weekend, the consensus regarding player development was clear: without a strong financial incentive to develop and sell players, youth soccer clubs and academies in Canada – even those which are connected to domestic professional clubs – will never truly be motivated to become experts at developing professional players.

Simply being able to say “I used to coach that kid when he was younger” does not constitute adequate motivation for any coach or club in Canada to really invest all of their time, energy and resources into proper, professional player development.

Until all Canadian clubs and academies have very clear financial incentives,  we will likely never reach our full potential when it comes to the development of professional soccer players.

After watching 3 straight Academy matches today, we capped off the day by catching the Euro 2016 Final between France and Portugal, which means I have basically spent the past 10 hours of the day watching soccer – and I’m still not tired of it!  Tomorrow is an off day before we get the last round of fitness assessments done with the Academy on Tuesday and Wednesday.

I am looking forward to seeing what comes next!


Fitness, Matches

Soccer in Uruguay: Day 7 – Underdogs

Today the Academy team had a light day of training, because it is a day sandwiched between 2 matches (yesterday and tomorrow).  We got a chance to walk around the “ciudad viejo” which stands for “old city.”  When it rains, it seems as though everyone in Uruguay stays inside their homes, but on a day like today where the sun was shining, the streets in the ciudad viejo were buzzing with people.  This part of Montevideo looks similar to other older European cities I have been to (like Barcelona, for example) but with a distinctive style which is uniquely Uruguayan.

In one of my conversations with the Academy’ Fitness Coach, I mentioned to him something I had noticed both during this trip, as well as the one I made here three years ago – that the players here appear to be more aggressive than the players in Canada, and that they seem to train and play with more intensity.

This aggression and intensity is visible amongst players not only in the youth categories and smaller professional clubs like Canadian SC, but also at the highest levels of Uruguayan soccer (remember Luis Suarez during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil)?

When I asked the Fitness Coach, he told me that in his opinion, aggressiveness is a trait which is inherently part of Uruguayan soccer, and that it is one of the factors that has allowed the country to punch well above its weight at the international level for over 100 years.

Uruguay might be the greatest underdog in the history of international sports – not just in soccer.  Based on its size (a population of just over 3 million people) and location (in South America, possibly the most competitive soccer continent in the world), Uruguay would seem to have no business even qualifying regularly for international tournaments like the FIFA World Cup, let alone achieving success in them.

To illustrate this point, consider that in CONMEBOL (the South American football federation in which Uruguay is a member) there are only 4.5 slots for qualification to every FIFA World Cup (and this number is greater than the 4 slots they had up to and including the 1998 World Cup).  This means that only the top 4 teams from South American qualification automatically advance to the World Cup, while the 5th place team must compete in an “inter-confederation play-off” with one of the lower-placing teams from Asia, North America, or Oceania.  The perennial qualifiers and giants of South America have traditionally been Brazil and Argentina, whose populations (200,000,000 and 42,000,000, respectively) both dwarf Uruguay’s.  Neither of those nations has missed out on qualification for a FIFA World Cup since 1970 (Brazil has never missed one) and between them they have won the tournament a total of 7 times (5 to Brazil, and 2 to Argentina).

Even the traditionally less-successful South American countries like Colombia (48,000,000); Chile (17,000,000) ; Peru (30,000,000); Bolivia (10,000,000), Ecuador (16,000,000); and Paraguay (6,000,000) are all between 2-15 times the size of Uruguay.  Yet still, somehow, Uruguay (with a population of only 3,000,000 people) has been much more successful at the World Cup than any of these aforementioned countries, and in the past was on par if not more successful than even Brazil and Argentina.

Uruguay won the first three official “world championships” of soccer (the 1924 and 1928 Olympics soccer tournaments, which were considered the world championship of soccer befre the creation of the FIFA World Cup in 1930, and, of course, the first-ever FIFA World Cup on their home soil that year).  Against all odds, they won the tournament again 20 years later when they defeated heavily favoured Brazil, in Brazil, in front of 200,000 people at Maracana stadium in Rio De Janeiro.  They refused to participate in the FIFA World Cups in Italy (1934) and France (1938), mainly for political reasons but if they had, they may well have won one or both of those tournaments as well.

Since 1950, Uruguay have not won another World Cup, but they have qualified for 11 of the past 16 World Cups, and have reached the semi-finals on more than one occasion (placing 4th in Mexico in 1970, and then again in South Africa in 2010).  They have also put together a run of success in international soccer which rivals even that of the most successful nations in the world, having won the Copa America (the championship tournament for South America) an incredible 15 times.

So what is the secret to the success of soccer’s greatest underdogs?  I have already written about the role that coach education, professional leagues and opportunities, and even poverty, has played in their success.  But perhaps it is the fact that Uruguay are underdogs in the first place, which has played the biggest role and had the greatest impact.

Canadian SC’s Academy Fitness Coach put it to me in this way:

“When you are smaller than everybody else, you have to fight.  We have always been smaller than everybody else, so we have always had to fight.”

Maybe Uruguay has felt that its back has been against the wall in soccer for over 100 years, and this has led to the development of aggressiveness and intensity which is now a common trait of every homegrown soccer player.  After having spent one week here observing the professional academy system, I would have to agree with this sentiment.



Soccer in Uruguay: Day 6 – The Value of Sports Science in Soccer

Today we worked our first match, providing performance analysis to the U19 Academy team in their game versus the Nacional Universidad U19 team.  Not only was the weather much nicer – sunny with a slight breeze – the match was also played on one of the best fields in all of Uruguay – Nacional’s training pitch in the city of Canelones, which neighbours Montevideo.


The players wore Polar Team Pro heart rate and GPS units, (also equipped with accelerometers), which is a brand new system available in Canada only through Coach Farzad and his company, Sports Performance Analytics Inc.  Using this system, we were able to give live information and feedback to the coaches and players regarding their heart rate/exercise intensity level, work rate, distance covered, number of sprints, and the speed of those sprints.

Later, a full match report will be provided to the coaching staff, including statistical analysis of the data recorded, comparisons to standards and norms for age, gender, and playing position, and suggestions for feedback to be given to the players.

It was a very rewarding experience for Coach Farzad and I, especially because we got to see how appreciative the coaches and players are of the work that we do as fitness coaches and sports scientists.

One possible reason that the coaches in Uruguay are so supportive of sports science is that they are all required to study the subject in order to obtain their coaching licenses.  I touched on this topic in a previous blog earlier this week:

Whereas in Canada, often even in some of the higher levels of soccer that Coach Farzad and I have worked, coaches sometimes do not recognise, value, or use the information provided to them through performance and match analysis, here in Uruguay the entire coaching staff could not stop asking us questions about this information, even for several hours after the match was over.

Ultimately, the aim of a fitness coach or sports scientist must be to see and analyse the game from a different perspective, and then to simplify this analysis in order to provide concise information to the coaching staff, who can then use this information to alter and adjust their strategy and tactics if needed.  When we are included as part of the coaching staff and can work as a cohesive unit (as was the case this afternoon), the end result is more efficient training, and more effective match performance.

Tomorrow there will be a light training session, which precedes a friendly match on Saturday.  Looking forward to sharing more of this experience with you in 24 hours’ time!

For Parents

Soccer in Uruguay: Day 5 – Improvisation

Today the Academy teams had their first training session of the week.  The rain has finally stopped, but the training grounds are still overflowing with rainwater, so the coaches had to rent a small indoor soccer facility that is normally used as a Futsal court.

Because this club – like basically all of the clubs in Uruguay – has a very tight budget, the coaches were not actually able to confirm the location of the field until around 1:00 in the afternoon (3 hours prior to the start of training) and, since they had never been to the facility before, they did not know the exact dimensions or any other specifications of the field either.

Interestingly, the coaching staff was still able to plan and execute a very well-organised and professional training session, despite these potential setbacks.  On a field measuring just 23 metres long by 12 metres wide, they went through a full dynamic warm-up, technical passing combinations, a 4v4v4 group defending exercise, and a small-sided counter-attacking game.  The players were motivated and trained with intensity, and it was a very productive session for them.

Travelling to a country like this and experiencing its soccer culture really makes you realise how much is taken for granted in Canada.  In Uruguay, there are any number of reasons for the coaches to cancel or halfheartedly run their training sessions, and an equal number of reasons for players to do the same.

But they show up, they improvise, and they get their job done.

Tomorrow, Farzad and I will work our first match providing performance monitoring and analysis to the Academy U19 Team when they take on Nacional University of Montevideo.  I can’t wait to get started!


Fitness, For Parents

Soccer in Uruguay: Day 4 -Soccer For Life

Today we had a meeting with staff from the first team, to begin planning the pre-season which will start in exactly 20 days.  It was a very productive meeting, and for me personally it was great to finally see first-hand how a professional coach and a professional organisation functions.  I am very excited for the start of pre-season.

I also got to meet a very unique person today.  His name is Robert Carmona, and he is the Guiness World Record holder as the oldest professional soccer player in the world.  He has played professional soccer in many different countries and even in different continents, including in the United States, Europe and of course South America.

He is also 55 years old.

At an age when most people are nearing retirement from their sedentary jobs, Robert Carmona is still employed in one of the jobs that requires the highest amount of physical activity in the world.  A job from which even the fittest players typically retire around the age of 35 (my current age – and 20 years younger than his current age).

He lives the life of a professional soccer player too – including no drinking or smoking, no sugary foods or soda of any kind, and a daily exercise routine that would probably be a challenge for athletes half his age.

We discussed some aspects of his training and diet, and I gave him some suggestions – not that he necessarily needed any.  He also showed me some of the initiatives he has undertaken in Uruguay, including charitable programs for children’s soccer, as well as motivational programs to help adults improve their health and wellness through exercise (and through soccer).

Meeting Robert Carmona was a revelation for me.  So often as coaches we talk about how we want the athletes we work with, even if they are not successful at the professional or international levels, to remain involved in the sport for the rest of their lives.  Robert is someone who has been involved and remained involved in soccer for his entire life, and his involvement has remained at the highest level possible.  Best of all, in spite of all of his success, he is one of the most humble, down-to-earth people I have ever met.

If you’re interested in learning more about Robert Carmona and his Guiness Records, you can visit his Facebook page via the following link:

Weather permitting, we will begin fitness testing with the Academy teams tomorrow afternoon.  Fingers crossed!

For Parents

Soccer in Uruguay: Day 3 -Rain Delay

It has not stopped raining here for what seems like the past 48 hours!

Unfortunately, because of the persistent rain and poor field conditions, Academy training needs to be suspended here until Wednesday afternoon.

Today I did get to have a staff meeting with the Academy coaches, and it was great to see how experienced, hard-working, and dedicated they are, despite somewhat difficult working conditions.

In Canada, most youth clubs and academies (especially professional academies) have unlimited access to indoor facilities and/or turf fields, where inclement weather is hardly ever an issue.  Failing that, there is usually a patch of grass behind one of the training fields that can be used as a last resort.

In Uruguay, what few quality fields exist are strictly reserved for adult professional matches, leaving youth academies to train on poorly maintained grass that does not hold up well following heavy rainfall – hence the cancellations today.

It struck me that we Canadians should be a bit more thankful for what we have – that we can almost always find a place to have a soccer practice if and when we need to.  And that, for the most part, we get to train and play on good quality turf or grass fields, basically year-round.

Soccer survives in Uruguay and in many other countries whose players and coaches can only dream of training and playing on the kinds of fields that we have in abundance in Canada.  We all should think about that the next time we have to train on turf instead of grass, a school gym instead of an indoor field, or a different, lesser-quality field because the one we regularly train on needs maintenance.  Perhaps, changing our perception of our training environment can lead to an actual change not only in our attitude, but also in our performance.

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


Matches, Science

Soccer in Uruguay: Day 2 – The Importance of Coach Education

Today was an off-day, because the Academy matches were cancelled due to thunderstorms which continued basically all day long.  I did get to meet up with my friend and colleague who will also be working with Canadian SC, sports scientist Farzad Yousefian of Sports Performance Analytics Inc.  We watched the UEFA Euro quarter-final match between France and Iceland, a game dominated by France, who ended up winning 5-2 and will now face Germany in the semi-final on Thursday.

Much has been made of the success of Iceland, a nation with a population of just over 300,000 people, in this year’s tournament.  Not only did they qualify out of a European group at the expense of the Netherlands, they proved their worth in the tournament itself by drawing Portugal and Hungary, then beating Austria in group play to advance to the knockout rounds, where they subsequently beat England to reach today’s quarter-final match.

Following Iceland’s shocking defeat of England, many members of the media (including our Canadian/TSN broadcast team of Jason DeVos and Kristian Jack), in their attempt to search for answers as to how the tiny nation could have pulled of such an upset, pointed to the country’s strong emphasis on coach education.

I have blogged about Iceland and the secrets to their success in soccer before, in November of 2015, when I posted and commented on a article written by Icelandic journalist Tryggvi Kristjansson, published after the team had secured qualification for the final stage of France 2016.  In case you missed that blog/article, it can be viewed here:

Kristjansson, like TSN’s DeVos and Jack, also highlighted the important role that coach education has played in Iceland’s “football revolution.”  Among the statistics presented in the article which stood out the most are that 70% of all of the registered coaches in Iceland now have a UEFA “B” License, and 30% of them have a UEFA “A” License.  These staggering numbers mean that Iceland has a higher percentage of its total coaches with UEFA “B” and “A” Licensed coaches than any other European nation, including perennial contenders Germany, Italy, Spain and France.

Interestingly, there are several comparisons that can be made between soccer’s newest underdog, Iceland, and Uruguay, which is perhaps the greatest underdog in the history of the sport. Among their many similarities (a relatively small population, a struggling professional league with few profitable clubs, etc..) one of the primary ones is that Uruguay, like Iceland, is also renowned around the world for its coaching education programs.

Coaches in Uruguay, even the ones who work with lower level youth/amateur players, must pass a rigorous licensing program provided through the Association Uruguaya de Futbol (“AUF” for short), which requires a minimum of 4 years to complete, and includes courses (and exams) in physiology, biomechanics, periodization, and sports psychology, in addition to the requisite technical and tactical training education.

According to the people I have met and spoken with thus far, Uruguay is one of the largest exporters of professional coaches in the world, a fact which speaks volumes to the credibility of their coach education programs.

DeVos in particular was adamant following Iceland’s victory over England, that it was the nation’s emphasis on coach education that had paved the way for this historic result.  He added that a similar emphasis on coach education would be required in Canada if we expect to become competitive at the international level.  After my experiences thus far in Uruguay, it is hard to argue with this sentiment.

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


For Parents, Science, Uncategorized

Soccer in Uruguay: Day 1 -It’s Not About the Facilities

Hi everyone,

I’ve begun my stay in Montevideo, Uruguay, where I am working as Fitness Coach with Canadian SC Uruguay, a professional soccer club in the Uruguayan ‘Segunda’ (second division).  While here, I will be blogging daily about my experiences, and some of things which stand out to me the most.

As soon as I got out of the airport yesterday, I could see that the sport of soccer is like a religion in Uruguay, and that is not an understatement.  Star players’ images, team logos and sponsors’ advertisements dominate both the physical landscape, as well as all other forms of media here.

Of course, every religion needs a place of worship or ‘church’, and in Uruguay, ‘church’ is ‘la cancha’ – the soccer field.

Today I got to see for the first time in my life, a training match between two U19 professional Youth Academy teams from Uruguay (Canadian SC versus Central).  The match was played at the official stadium of Basanez, a local ‘Primera’ (first division) club from Montevideo.


Situated in the middle of one of the poorer neighbourhoods in the city, the Basanez stadium plays host to several of the U19 Segunda matches every week.  It is a spartan facility, with barbed wire fences, old stone walls, two small change rooms with no running water, a small dirt pitch in the back for warm-ups, and a grandstand with seating for about 100 people.

The field itself has probably seen better days, with poorly maintained grass, giant patches of dirt and mud inside both penalty areas, and basically no drainage.  On this particular day there was heavy rainfall starting about 1 hour before kick-off, which left several areas of the pitch almost unplayable due to the huge puddles of water that had accumulated there.

I spoke briefly with the Head Coach of the Canadian SC U19 Academy team prior to the match, and he asked me “what do you think about the facilities here?”  My only response was to shrug my shoulders.

When the match started I sat and talked with the club’s sports psychologist, and during our discussion it occurred to me that the poor state of the training and playing facilities in Uruguay may not be such a bad thing for the players – especially for their technical development.  Having to train and play on uneven, abnormally hard or wet surfaces forces players to sharpen all aspects of their technical performance.  Ultimately, this should lead to the development of better technical ability and a faster speed of play.  As he put it to me, “when players receive a pass here, it is not a ball coming towards them – it is a rabbit.”  If you can control a “rabbit,” then controlling a ball  – on a well-maintained grass pitch – will eventually become very easy.  Ultimately, it is very likely that Uruguayan players who grow up training to catch “rabbits” in youth soccer will end up far better prepared for the higher technical demands of the professional and international game.


Perhaps Canadian soccer coaches and players – especially the great majority of us who work primarily in amateur youth soccer – need to stop worrying so much about the quality of the fields and facilities in which we train and play.  So long as major safety hazards like potholes and sprinkler heads can be avoided or mitigated, we may be able to improve the technical abilities of our young players simply by exposing them to different types of playing surfaces as part of their yearly training and competition schedules.  If I could take one lesson away from watching the match played at Basanez this afternoon, it is that player development is not about the facilities.  If it were, then Uruguay would never have earned its reputation as one of the world’s leaders in exporting professional players.

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