Fitness, For Coaches, Science

How Canadian Professional Soccer Academies Can Be Better – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #45: 6/26/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the results of some my our recent research that was presented at the 5th World Conference on Science and Soccer, comparing fitness assessment results from a Canadian and Uruguayan professional youth academy. Some potential explanations for the results, plus recommendations for coaches and academy directors, are also provided. \

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

Fitness, For Coaches, Science

Explaining Our Research – Part 1 – Comparing Canadian and Uruguayan Professional Academy Fitness Scores:

One of the best things about attending the 5th World Conference on Science and Soccer was the opportunity to share and discuss my research with other academics, sports scientists and fitness coaches.  In this series of short articles, I will summarise and discuss each of the three different research projects that our team from Soccer Fitness Inc. and Sport Performance Analytics Inc. presented at the Conference.

The first study we will review is titled “A Comparison of Speed and High Intensity Running Abilities Between Canadian and Uruguayan Professional Academy Players”, which sought to examine any differences that may exist in physical ability, between players from two different professional academies (one being the Toronto FC Academy, and the other being the academy from Canadian SC Uruguay, a professional club in the Uruguayan 2nd Division).

We analysed fitness assessment scores from linear running speed tests (time taken to run 0-10, 0-20, n 0-35 metres) as well as the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Tests, among academy teams in age groups ranging from Under-14 to Under-21.  Comparisons were made within each age category for Canadian and Uruguayan players, and between Canadian and Uruguayan players for each age category.

After performing a statistical analysis of the data, we found some surprising information.

Canadian professional academy players were faster and had better endurance than their Uruguayan counterparts, in all of the following age categories: U14, U15, U16, U17, and U19 but NOT in the U21 age category.  In that particular category, the Uruguayans had both faster sprint times (indicating better speed), and a higher distance covered in the Yo-Yo test (indicating better endurance).

Even more surprising was that Canadian academy players in the U21 age category had slower speed times and a lower Yo-Yo score than Canadian U19 players.

The root causes of these difference s in speed and high intensity running ability between Canadian and Uruguayan professional academy players are not clear, but based on the discussion and conclusions from our research, we have identified some proposed explanations.  They are listed below.

Why are Canadian players faster and fitter than Uruguayan players from U14-U19?

There are two potential explanations for this.  Firstly, that there may be a greater focus on speed and high intensity running training in North American professional soccer teams (including Canadian clubs like Toronto FC) than there is in South American teams.  I have personally only had minimal experience in South America, having worked in Uruguay on two separate occasions, but I did get the feeling there that their focus among youth training was on the development of technical skill and tactical knowledge and understanding of the game, rather than on physical training.

This may be representative of a broader cultural difference between North and South America and their sports training philosophies, and it is a topic that warrants further research.

Second, it may be possible that a selection bias exists in Canada, towards players who are bigger, stronger and faster.  Determining whether or not a selection bias actually exists would be difficult, because coaching and scouting talent is a largely subjective process and it is difficult to make direct comparisons between youth soccer players.

If, however, all players in a particular professional youth academy or high performance environment (such as the Toronto FC Academy) had their relative or developmental age determined, then more accurate comparisons between youth players could be made.  If a bias id exists, this would be the best way to identify it and of course to try to eliminate it.

It stands to reason that all high performance youth soccer programs in Canada, including the youth Provincial and National Teams programs, as well as MLS academies, should look to perform regular assessments of the growth and development of their players, try to identify early or late physical developers, and adjust their selection an identification processes accordingly.

Why are Uruguayan players faster and fitter than Canadian players in the U21 category?  And why are Canadian U19 players faster and fitter than Canadian U21 players?

I have grouped these two questions together because, in my opinion, the possible answer is the same for both of them.  First of all it must be noted that there I no physiological reason why an elite male U19 payer should have better speed or endurance than an elite male U21 player – on the contrary, males in  professional training environment should develop their peak running speed and endurance between the ages of 20-25, when testosterone levels are highest.

With that being said, the potential explanation for the drop-off in speed and high intensity running ability seen in Canadian U21 payers may be explained as follows:  it may be possible that Canadian players in elite youth programs like the Toronto FC Academy lose their motivation to stay in shape and continue to train hard once they realise that they are not going to progress immediately into professional soccer through the first team of their Major League Soccer (MLS) or other professional club.

Because, at present, there are no domestic professional options available to Canadian players outside of the three MLS clubs in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, (as well as FC Edmonton of the NASL and Ottawa Fury of the USL) talented young players from professional academies who do not progress into their clubs’ senior teams will likely end up attending an American or Canadian college or university (and playing on the Varsity soccer team for their school) or competing in one of the local domestic semi-professional leagues, such as Ontario League One or the Canadian Soccer League (CSL).

Unfortunately, neither the American or Canadian collegiate soccer systems, nor Ontario League One or the CSL, are sufficiently competitive to prepare players for the physical demands of professional soccer, and the end result is that players in these environments are simply not fit enough to meet the standards of professional training and match play.  Furthermore, the lack of more options for domestic professional soccer in Canada is likely causing many young players to lose their motivation to stay in shape and train as hard as they can, even within their amateur university or semi-professional environment.

In Uruguay, on the other hand, players in the U21 age category who have not yet progressed directly into a professional club are still likely to be highly motivated, due to the numerous professional options available to them.  Uruguay’s capital city of Montevideo, with a population of just over 1.5 million people, is home to a staggering 34 professional soccer clubs in their three divisions of their national professional league.  If a player is not successful in one club, he can simply seek out a trial with another one, sometimes just a few kilometres away.

The discrepancy in physical ability between Canadian and Uruguayan U21 players and the drop-off in physical ability between Canadian U19 and U21 players both highlight the need for Canada to have its own domestic professional soccer league, which would provide young talented players with more options to continue to train and play at a high level across the country.  The new Canadian Premier League, set to kick-off with a shortened inaugural season in the fall of 2018, may be the perfect solution to this problem.

Data such as that presented in our study highlights the need for some reform to our Canadian professional soccer structure and systems.  Firstly, elite or professional Canadian youth programs need to include assessments of growth and development of their players in order to prevent potential selection biases to occur.  Second, and perhaps more importantly, we need to form our own, domestic, Canadian professional soccer league, to ensure that talented young players who do not progress directly into the MLS, NASL or USL are still afforded opportunities to play professional soccer, and maintain the motivation required to train hard and stay in shape throughout early adulthood.

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


Fitness, For Coaches, Science

Canadian Soccer Coaches: To Be Better We MUST Be More Humble! Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #44: 6/18/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss my recent experience attending and presenting research at the 5th World Conference on Science and Soccer in Rennes, France (May 31-June 2, 2017).  More specifically, I explain my thoughts about how the lack of Canadian soccer coaches and fitness coaches at this and other conferences highlights a problem within Canadian soccer that needs to be addressed.

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


To be Better, We Must be More Humble – Take-Home Message From the 5th World Conference on Science and Soccer

From May 31st to June 2nd, 2017, I and other representatives from Soccer Fitness Inc. and Sport Performance Analytics Inc. presented our research at the 5th World Conference on Science and Soccer in Rennes, France.  For me, this was the 7th time I have travelled to an international soccer science conference to present research, dating all the way back to the 6th World Congress on Science and Football in Antalya, Turkey in 2007.  Interestingly, a thought that had occurred to me at that time over 10 years ago ended up resurfacing this past week in France.


The Congress in Turkey in 2007 was held in the year after the 2006 FIFA World Cup, a tournament won by Italy.  Marcello Lippi, the coach of the Italian National Team, was invited as a guest speaker at the Congress in Turkey.  In his speech, he commented that the success of the Italian team at the 2006 World Cup was the result of a combination of factors, including self-assessment, refection, and constructive criticism which led to eventual improvements in the Italian soccer system in the years leading up to the tournament.

Among the aspects of Italian soccer that were improved upon prior to their success in the World Cup were their talent identification programs, national coaching schools, national team training camps and international competitions leading into World Cup qualification, as well as training, monitoring, and recovery practices utilised within the team itself.

Upon hearing this information, I remember remarking to colleague how impressive it was to me that the Italian National Team, which prior to the 2006 World Cup had been successful but not victorious in international soccer since their last World Cup win in 1982, was so keen to be critical of their programs and systems, and to strive to make them better.

After all, I came from Canada, where our Men’s National Team had failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup for over 20 years and there seemed to be a general sense of apathy surrounding our future chances of World Cup qualification or other international success.

Fast-forward 10 years, and during a presentation by Dr. Antonio Figuerido from the Portuguese Football Association, I experienced a moment of “Déjà vu.”  Dr. Figuerido’s presentation identified that a selection bias exists amongst Portuguese professional youth academy coaches, towards players in the U13-U15 age categories who are “early developers” (bigger, stronger, and faster than their peers).  He went on to point out that if the Portuguese clubs and National Teams expect to develop top players and to compete successfully at the international level, this bias needs to be addressed and eliminated.


Think about that for a moment.  The top coaches in Portugal – a country that just won the 2016 UEFA European Championship and has developed, among others, one of the greatest players of this generation in Cristiano Ronaldo – are still humble enough to admit when they have a problem, and to look objectively to scientific experts in order to fix the problem.

The take-home message from this Conference, for me, was that we in the Canadian soccer community also need to be more humble in order for us to become better.  Canadian soccer players, coaches, fitness coaches and administrators need to collectively acknowledge that if and when we are to compete at the professional and international levels, we will be competing against countries – like Portugal and Italy – who have spent decades critically analysing their soccer programs, looking for problems and inefficiencies, and coming up with solutions to them.

A good place for us to start would be to become more open-minded towards the use of objective scientific research and technology to enhance the training and development of our athletes, and a great way to do this would be for more Canadian soccer coaches and fitness coaches to attend conferences such as the World Conference on Science and Soccer.

Many of the world’s leading experts in a variety of scientific fields of study, including coaching, youth development, performance training, monitoring of training load and recovery, and nutrition – all of which are directly relevant to the work that soccer coaches and fitness coaches do on a day-to-day basis in Canada – were present at this year’s Conference.

In consonance with this line of thinking, a recurring theme amongst many of the Keynote and Plenary speakers at the Conference was the need to develop better synergy between sports scientists (and the research they do / findings they produce) and coaches/fitness coaches (for the practical on-field work they do).  Even at the top levels of the game, people all over the world are recognising the important role that sports science plays in player development and high performance soccer.  Canadian soccer professionals must also acknowledge this role and look to bridge the gaps that presently exist between scientists and practitioners.

If we continue to fall into the trap of thinking that we already have all of the answers, we are likely to remain stagnant in our position relative to the rest of the world.  And if that happens, the World Conference on Science and Soccer in 10 years’ time may elicit the same feelings of Deja-vu as this year’s edition did.

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