Fitness, For Parents, Science

Why Coaches in High Performance Programs Shouldn’t Select Slow Players

I have written and published several articles highlighting the importance of coaches and fitness coaches using objective, factual methods of analysis for assessing soccer players’ performance, from both the physical, as well as the technical and tactical viewpoints.  Using standardized, objective methods of player assessment minimizes – and in some case eliminates – the influence of coaching bias which can occur as a result of subjective, opinion-based analysis.  In the book ‘The Sports Gene’ by David Epstien (which should be required reading for any fitness coach working with athletes, including soccer players) the value of objective analysis is clearly apparent.  According to Epstein, one objective fact that is of specific importance in sports including soccer, is that speed – and in particular an athlete’s percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibres, which are responsible for increased speed – is an excellent predictor of performance. Simply put, this means that players at higher levels of play (professional and National Team soccer, for example) are faster, and have better recovery abilities, than players at lower levels of play (amateur and recreational soccer).

Below is an excerpt from one of the few instances in which Epstein discusses soccer in The Sports Gene, including quotes from Danish fitness expert, and fitness coach for Copenhagen F.C. in the Danish First Division, Jesper Andersen:

 “Soccer coaches all want the fastest athletes, so Andersen wondered how it could be that many Danish pros have fewer fast-twitch fibres than an average person on the street.  “The guys that have the very fast muscles can’t really tolerate as much training as the others”, Andersen says.  “The guys with a lot of fast-twitch fibres that can contract their muscles very fast have much more risk of a hamstring injury, for instance, than the guys who cannot do the same type of explosive contraction but who never get injured.”  The less injury-prone players survived the development years, which is why the Danish elite level ended up skewed toward the slow-twitch.”

Interestingly, several studies investigating muscle fibre-type distribution amongst professional soccer players have indicated that in many other countries, the professional players have a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibres, and thus are “faster” than the players in the lower levels.  Furthermore, there have been numerous match analysis studies (comparing the total number of sprints, total amount of high intensity running, and mean sprinting speed amongst professional and amateur soccer players) which have confirmed that professional soccer players run faster, and do more fast running, than amateur soccer players.  So why are the professional players in Denmark “skewed toward the slow-twitch” as Andersen indicates?  The answer most likely lies in talented player identification and selection.

A second objective fact mentioned repeatedly in The Sports Gene is that speed and, to a lesser extent, high intensity running ability, are largely determined by genetics, and that athletes (including soccer players) who possess these abilities are far more likely to reach the higher levels of play.  If we look at the sport of soccer objectively, and we accept the (objective) fact that speed  and high intensity running ability are determined by genetics, then soccer coaches and fitness coaches in high performance environments should be identifying and selecting players based on these abilities, especially in the older youth (U14-up), and adult age categories.  This does not necessarily mean that player identification at higher levels of play should be focused exclusively on speed and high intensity running ability but rather, that coaches and fitness coaches should place a high priority on identifying and selecting players based on these abilities.  If there is a choice to be made between selection of two players with similar technical and tactical abilities, the edge should go to the player with better speed and high intensity running ability.

Soccer players’ speed characteristics should be measured early (starting at age 10-12) and consistently, using objective assessment tools such as photo-cell timing gates (to assess linear running speed), and the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test (to assess high intensity running ability).  Players who have been identified as having superior speed and high intensity running ability, especially when this identification happens at a young age, should be given priority to be placed in high performance training environments where they can maximize the technical and tactical aspects of their game.  The volume and intensity of the physical training these players receive, as per Andersen’s suggestions, should be tailored to their own specific muscle physiology, with a combination of relatively high intensity and relatively low volume, in order to maximize their speed and high intensity running ability while at the same time minimizing their risk of injury.

The use of objective facts, rather than subjective opinions, should always be of paramount importance to soccer coaches and fitness coaches when assessing, selecting, and training their players.  Because it is an objective fact that speed and high intensity running ability are both good predictors of performance in soccer, as well as determined more by genetics than by training, coaches and fitness coaches must place a high priority on selecting for these physical abilities in their talent identification and selection processes.  Becoming an elite level soccer player requires world class technical and tactical ability, but it also requires world class speed, and this fact cannot be ignored by soccer coaches in high performance environments, even in our own country.

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

For Parents, Nutrition, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #19: Friday, February 19th, 2016

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, we will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, we discuss the importance of protein consumption for soccer players, including daily protein requirements, as well as whether or not protein supplementation may be needed for soccer.

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

Uncategorized

A Potential Solution to a Player Development Problem

For the past 10 years, my business has provided fitness testing, training, and coach education to soccer players, coaches and teams from countless different amateur youth soccer clubs across Ontario.  During this time, I have had many discussions and conversations with the club head coaches, members of technical staff, and even the administrators and board members from these different organizations.  During these discussions I have realized that, although virtually all amateur youth soccer clubs across Ontario have the goal of developing better soccer players, they simply do not have enough time and resources to adequately build and deliver player development programs. The reason for this lack of time and resources is that youth amateur soccer clubs are presently set up to divide their energy and their focus between both recreational “house league”, and competitive “rep” – or player development – programs.  Although clubs run these two separate soccer streams believing they have the best interests of the players in mind, the end result is that the house league and rep programs compete for resources, and the synergies between these programs are limited at best.

One main problem facing amateur youth soccer clubs in Ontario today is that they have a very high cost (in both dollars, and time spent) to administer their house league programs.  These programs can have hundreds if not thousands of registered players, and thus they require a significant amount of time, resources, and manpower to run efficiently.  All house league programs, unfortunately, present little to no benefit to any soccer club’s competitive / development stream.  This is because the great majority of the players involved in recreational or house league soccer have no ambition of playing soccer competitively and/or progressing to become a professional or National Team player (so they will never be participants in the development stream).  Thus the high costs associated with an amateur club’s house league program are simply not justified by any benefits they may provide to the same club’s competitive / player development program.

A second problem for amateur youth soccer clubs is that their competitive / player development streams need to be broader, and more inclusive.  Most clubs operate their competitive programs under a system whereby players are identified and selected out of house leagues when they are 7-8 years old.  After this age, players in the house league program have a very small chance of being identified, because the club’s house league and rep / competitive programs run in parallel to each other, and there is little to no scouting in the house league programs from the ages of 9 and up.  Even most club’s rep / competitive programs, although some have been re-structured as standards-based systems such as the Ontario Player Development League (OPDL), still comprise rosters of only 15-20 players per age group.  So the total number of rep / competitive players in any club’s developmental streams is still very small in relation to the total number of recreational / house league players.  This presents a problem for clubs because, in order for a club to deliver a standards-based developmental program, they must employ professional / paid coaches, fitness coaches, and athletic therapists (all of whom must be paid for their work), and also invest a significant amount of money and resources into indoor/outdoor field rentals, and team travel.  Thus the traditional model for most amateur clubs’ developmental programs, whereby only the players deemed “good enough” at 7-8 years of age, are selected into the competitive/player development stream, is simply not sustainable, because this very small number of players will be forced to bear the very high cost (paying coaches, fitness coaches, athletic therapists, field/gym rentals, team travel, etc..) associated with administering these player development programs.

One potential solution which may help standards-based player development programs (like the Ontario Player Development League) to become more sustainable would be for the pool of players in each age group of these programs to become larger.  This larger number of players in each age group would make the cost of administering developmental programs more manageable for any amateur youth soccer club.  This is because the larger number of players could then share in some of the fixed the costs of coaching, fitness training, therapy, and field/gym rentals, making the cost to each individual player significantly lower.  A second, potentially effective solution to this problem in Ontario would be to separate the recreational or house league stream from the competitive or player development stream.  We could have clubs focused exclusively on delivering recreational / house league soccer to the large number of players who do not have the ambition to pay competitive soccer, and entirely different clubs focused exclusively on delivering competitive/player development programs, with larger player pools.  This would allow the clubs who are experts in player development to focus all of their attention, time and resources into this stream, and leave the recreational / house league programs to the different clubs in that stream.

Imagine if a top professional club or academy in another country (Barcelona, or Bayern Munich, for example) had to divide its time, energy and resources into its competitive / developmental program (which is set up to help players progress to become professionals with the first team) and a recreational soccer program.  No foreign club or academy in any other country would ever want to saddle themselves with this unnecessary burden.  Why, then, do we expect our own amateur soccer clubs here in Ontario to be experts in both recreational soccer and player development?  It is possible that by increasing the number of players in specific clubs’ developmental soccer programs, while simultaneously separating these clubs – and their programs – from other clubs’ recreational house league programs, we may be able to provide a more sustainable model for player development in this province.

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

 

For Parents, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #18: Friday, February 12th, 2016

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, we will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, we discuss the science behind the technique of striking the ball with the instep of the foot, including some common coaching mistakes and how to avoid them.

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

For Parents, Science

Coaches – Don’t Make This Technical Mistake With Your Players

In soccer, the technique of striking a ball with the instep of the foot has always seemed to be more of an art form than an exact science.  Players who have mastered this technique (a few modern examples include David Beckham, Andrea Pirlo, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic) have no doubt spent thousands of hours practicing it, and as a result have developed their own slightly unique ball striking style.  While this style may differ from player-to-player, a few biomechanical constants in the technique remain the same.  Because a the cross-bar on a regulation size soccer goal is only 2.44 metres high, keeping the ball low when striking it is a critical component to the technique.  Expert ball strikers – even if they strike the ball with a slightly differing technique – can strike with power and accuracy, while at the same time keeping the ball low enough to stay under the 2.44 metre cross-bar height.

Like many other soccer players who grew up in Canada, I was first introduced to ball striking technique from house league and rep coaches at a very early age.  And, like many other Canadian players, I was taught from my coaches that in order to keep the ball low when striking it, I had to “keep my body over the ball.”  On the surface, this coaching advice seems to make sense – after all, most of the time, especially with young players, if they keep their body over the ball while striking it, the ball is likely to stay lower than if they lean back while striking it.  It is also part of our natural instincts as humans and as athletes to assume that the way we were taught to execute a technique (in this case, ball striking with the instep of the foot) is the correct way, especially if we are able to achieve the desired result through this execution (in this case, keeping the ball low when striking it).

A closer look into the biomechanics of ball striking, however, reveals that keeping the body over the ball has no relevance whatsoever to the height at which the ball will travel when it is struck.  This is because the height that a ball reaches during an instep strike is related only to the point on the ball at which the foot makes contact with the ball when it is struck.  If the ball is struck on the top half (slightly above the midline of the ball) it will stay low, regardless of the body position while striking.  Similarly, if the ball is struck on the bottom half (below the midline of the ball) it will travel upwards, also regardless of the body position while striking.  Thus, a coach who wishes to teach a player how to keep the ball low when striking with the instep of the foot needs only to focus on ensuring the player makes contact with the top half of the ball.  There is no more need to tell a player to “keep your body over the ball.”

The elimination of the “body over the ball” kicking technique has other advantages as well.  In a comprehensive review of instep kicking mechanics, Ismail et. al. (2010) determined that power in the instep strike is maximized in part through maximizing the range of motion at the hip of the kicking leg.  This is because a greater range of motion at the hip allows the thigh and shin to travel – or accelerate – over a greater distance, and as a result of this greater acceleration, the power generated in the leg when contacting the ball will increase.  Thus, a body position that is open, with an upright or slightly extended torso when contacting the ball, will allow for maximal range of motion at the hip joint of the kicking leg.  Conversely, bending forwards or hunching over to keep the upper body “over the ball” has the exact opposite effect – that is, it restricts the range of motion at the hip of the kicking leg.

As mentioned previously, striking the ball with the instep of the foot is still very much an art form, so individual differences in ball striking technique may still exist between different players.  Coaches who wish to teach players how to maximize power while at the same time keeping the ball low when striking with the instep, however, should avoid instructing players to “keep their body over the ball.”  Instead, coaches should follow basic biomechanics principles, and instruct players to keep an upright, “open” body position, and make contact with the top half of the ball, in order to maximize power and keep the ball low when striking.

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

For Parents, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #17: Friday, February 5th, 2016

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog! In this Blog, we will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, we discuss skilled performance and motor learning, and how this topic can best be incorporated into the teaching of soccer and soccer fitness skills.

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

For Parents, Science, Uncategorized

Article – “Clubs Leave Lost Youth Behind as Academies Fail English Talent” at www.theguardian.com

Below is a link to an excellent article written by David Conn and posted on http://www.theguardian.com a few years ago.  I came across this article recently through a link on Facebook and, after having recently been a participant in the 2016 National Soccer Coaching Conference at the University of Toronto this past weekend, I found that the same subject discussed in this article came up in many different conversations I had with the other coaches and soccer people in attendance.

The basic premise of the article is that, in England, the institution of professional youth academies 15 years ago (12 years ago at the time the article was written) has provided a platform for mass-scale recruiting of young talented players (sometimes as young as 7 or 8 years old).   There are several problems with this early recruitment process, among them the fact that there are no coaches or scouting experts – including those employed by the professional academies themselves – who can say with any degree f certainty whether or not a talented young soccer player will end up developing into a top level professional player.

Here is a very telling part of the article:

“while parents give family life over to ferrying boys to training three nights a week and matches on Sundays against other professional clubs’ academies many hours’ travel away, the reality is that just 1% of the trainees will ultimately play football for a living.  Even the few who survive the annual cuts and make it to a “scholarship” at 16 are likely to fall away. Research tracking academy boys is itself difficult to find but it is accepted that only a minority of boys awarded “scholarships” remain in the professional game at 21. Of those who win the golden ticket of a proper, professional contract at 18, the vast majority, Green found, are also not playing professionally at 21.”

I think that many of the same points discussed in this article could easily be applied to the amateur and professional club and academy system here in Canada.  While we may not present young players with the same amount of options (or the potential financial reward) in our professional domestic leagues, there does still seem to be an emphasis on early selection and talent identification in most youth soccer clubs and academies, where players who are not selected earlier (for a variety of different reasons) end up being left behind.  Conversely, as the quote above indicates, even those who are selected and identified at a younger age are almost certainly not going to be playing professional soccer by the time they reach adulthood.  As the author implores at the end, it is “a system crying out for reform, from top to bottom.”  I think that the need for reform exists here in Canada as well.

The link to the full article is posted below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

http://www.theguardian.com/football/david-conn-inside-sport-blog/2009/sep/09/chelsea-fifa-premier-league-academies?CMP=share_btn_fb

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!

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/

 

For Parents, Science

Article – “Billy Beane Can’t Get Enough of Soccer After Revolutionizing Baseball” from theguardian.com

Below is a link to an excellent article written by Sean Ingle, and posted to http://www.theguardian.com back in October of 2014.  The article discusses Billy Beane, the revolutionary baseball coach and manager, famous for his role in transforming the Oakland Athletics baseball club into perennial contenders in Major League Baseball, despite having the league’s 3rd lowest annual payroll.  In the 2003 best-selling book “Moneyball”, author Michael Lewis made Beane a household name, and his book also brought to light and made famous Beane’s methods of team and player analysis, all of which are based on standardized, objective statistical performance analysis.  In this article, Ingle discusses Bean’e new found fascination with soccer, and how he may be looking to get involved as a “Director of Soccer” with an English Premier League club in the coming years.

I have been working as a sports scientist and fitness coach in soccer at virtually all levels of the game in this country for the past 10 years.  In that time, I have become a strong advocate of the use of standardized, objective performance analysis in the identification and selection of talented soccer players.   If coaches and teams, especially at the higher levels (Provincial, National, and Professional Academy) do not use standardized, objective measurements to assess, track, monitor and evaluate player performance, then they will never be able to ensure that their decisions regarding player identification and selection are truly accurate and unbiased.  They will also likely never be able to maximize the development of the talented players they are working with, because they will be unable to truly objectively evaluate their players’ performance, and to give valuable, constructive feedback to players to allow them to learn and improve.

It is for these reasons that the article I have re-posted below stood out to me so much.  If Beane and his methods can permeate professional European soccer, then perhaps soon after the same methods will start to take hold here in Canada.  Here is a quote from Billy Beane himself, used at the end of the article, which nicely sums up the value of objective performance analysis:

“Numbers are essentially just facts…and ultimately every sport is about numbers. How many points you get, how many wins you get – all numbers. It’s like watching a card‑counter in Vegas playing blackjack. Once you have learned how to count cards, why would you ever go back to doing it on a hunch?”

The ultimate goal of standards-based youth soccer programs, including leagues like the Ontario Player Development League (OPDL), Soccer-Academy Alliance Canada (SAAC), the Canadian Academy of Futbol (CAF), as well as the Ontario Provincial Programs, Canadian National Youth Teams, and professional academies like the Toronto FC Academy, should be to identify who the most talented players are, and then to maximize the development of soccer talent in these players.  In my opinion, the introduction of standardized, objective methods of player and team performance analysis into these leagues and programs is the only way to ensure that this goal is achieved.

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

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2014/oct/17/billy-beane-soccer-baseball-oakland

 

Uncategorized

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #15: Saturday, December 12th, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog (and the final edition for the 2015)! In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss the use of home training programs including the Soccer Fitness Gols mobile fitness app, to stay in shape during the up-coming December / Holiday break.

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

For Parents

Article “Canada’s Continuing Struggles to Develop Talented Soccer Players” by Jason Devos, posted on TSN.ca

Below is a link to an excellent article written by Jason De Vos, and posted on http://www.tsn.ca on December 1st, 2015.  As the title suggests, this article discusses some of De Vos’ opinions about why we have not been able to develop “talented” soccer players in Canada over the past several decades.

Among the reasons De Vos lists for our inability to develop talented players are:

  • “from as young as six or seven years of age, players are routinely grouped based on their ability”
  • “we do not have an assessment-based coaching qualification for coaches who are working with youth players”
  • “we have far too many players given the number of trained and experienced coaches we have”
  • “talented young players are courted and recruited from the time they take their very first steps in competitive soccer”
  • “when a season comes to its conclusion, many coaches use the off-season to upgrade their players – they discard the weaker players on their team and recruit stronger ones from other clubs”

These are all, of course, valid concerns, and problems that need to be solved if we are to develop more talented soccer players in this country.

Probably the best point De Vos makes in this article, however, is one that really resonated with me when I read it (probably because I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work at the university, professional club academy, and Canadian National Youth Team levels, which he refers to, in the past few years of my career).  He says very succinctly:

“winning championships and trophies doesn’t matter. Ask any university coach, professional club academy coach or national youth team coach to list the 10 most important factors they look for when they are trying to identify prospective players, and I guarantee you that not one of them will put trophies won on their list.”

When I think back to conversations I had with the different head coaches I worked with in these environments, I can literally recall several examples of them making this exact same point to me.  De Vos summarizes his position with a call to action; that the adults involved in youth soccer in Canada (parents and coaches) need first and foremost to be teachers of the game.  Only if we completely stop emphasizing the pursuit of championships in youth soccer, can we truly focus on the development of essential soccer skills.

I hope you enjoy the article as much as I did, and of course I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

http://www.tsn.ca/canada-s-continuing-struggles-to-develop-talented-soccer-players-1.402636

Fitness, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #14: Friday, December 11th, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss the upcoming December / Holiday break, how it should be treated as a break from soccer but not a break from exercise, and provide suggestions for youth players to help them stay active and maintain their fitness during this time.

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

Uncategorized

Is Synthetic Turf Really More Dangerous than Natural Grass?

The United States Women’s National Soccer Team decided to withdraw today from their scheduled friendly match versus Trinidad and Tobago in Aloha, Hawaii.  The official reason cited for the cancellation was “dangerous field conditions” and. after seeing the picture above (originally posted by ESPN reporter and former US Women’s National Team star and World Cup winner Julie Foudy on Twitter this afternoon), it’s hard to argue with that sentiment.

The controversy surrounding today’s cancelled match, however, has seemed to re-kindle complaints regarding the use of artificial turf in soccer in general and women’s soccer in particular, that were very much commonplace earlier this year at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.  In that tournament, all 53 matches were played on synthetic turf fields.  Several of the participating players and teams, including members of the Canadian and United States Women’s National Teams, were very vocal in their criticism of FIFA for sanctioning and allowing a major international women’s soccer tournament to be played on synthetic turf.  Among their valid points was that there has never been – and likely never will be – an international men’s soccer tournament played on anything but natural grass.

Much of the debate surrounding the efficacy of the use of synthetic turf fields in soccer has come about as a result of opinions that they are unsafe and place players at a higher risk of injury.  In an article published today by Julie Kliegman of http://www.theweek.com, she states that the United States Women’s players have “taken issue” with playing on synthetic turf fields because they are “considered more dangerous for players than natural grass.”  Recent scientific evidence, however, has suggested that these concerns about the safety – or lack thereof – of synthetic turf surfaces may be unfounded.

Several different independent scientific literature reviews have concluded that there are no differences in incidence and/or risk of injury in soccer between synthetic and natural grass surfaces.  Firstly, in a paper titled “The effect of playing surface on injury rate: a review of the current literature” in 2010, Dragoo & Braun concluded that “despite differences in injury type, the rate of injury on third-generation and natural grass surfaces appears to be comparable.”  More recently, a 2013 paper titled “a review of football injuries on third and fourth generation artificial turfs compared with natural turfs” conducted by Williams et. al. concluded that “studies have provided strong evidence for comparable rates of injury between new generation artificial turfs and natural turfs.”  Finally, a 2015 review by Balazs et. al. focusing specifically on knee injuries titled “Risk of anterior cruciate ligament injury in athletes on synthetic playing surfaces: a systematic review” found that “while high-quality studies support an increased rate of ACL injury on synthetic playing surfaces in American football, there is no apparent increased risk in soccer.”  Furthermore, a number of different soccer-specific research studies, including those by Aoki et. al. (2010), Bjorneboe et. al. (2010, Almutawa et. al. (2014), and Kristenson et. al. (2015) all found no significant difference in injury rates, or risk of injury, between artificial and natural soccer playing surfaces.

Poor quality fields and unsafe field playing surfaces, whether they are synthetic or natural, are certainly a valid concern for any competitive soccer player or team, male or female.  Singling out synthetic turf surfaces, however, as being “more dangerous” than natural grass surfaces, does not make sense based on present scientific evidence.  While more research is needed before any definitive conclusions about the safety of artificial playing surfaces can be made, right now it seems as though there are no differences in safety between artificial and natural playing surfaces for soccer players.

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

Fitness, Science, Technology

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #13: Friday, December 4th, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss how, at the Soccer Fitness Training Centre, we use our high speed running treadmills in combination with Dartfish camera-based software to do running gait analysis with our athletes.

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

Fitness, Science, Uncategorized

Why Coaches Need to Learn About Fitness Training

Coach education has always been a passion of mine.  Throughout my career, I have continually pushed and challenged myself in all areas of my education, both in fitness/sports science, as well as in soccer coaching.  In recent years, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to become an educator, lecturing at universities/colleges, national/international sports science and soccer coaching conferences, as well as to youth clubs and academies throughout the province.  In this article, I am introducing and explaining the rationale behind the creation of my Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course, the first ever soccer-specific coach education course in Canada to focus specifically on physical training and testing of soccer players and teams.

The establishment of standards-based leagues for elite youth and adult amateur players in Ontario is a huge step in the right direction for optimal player development and to strengthen our Canadian National Teams.  As a company working exclusively with soccer players, we at Soccer Fitness Inc. are primarily concerned with the fitness standards associated with these new leagues, and how they can best be implemented in order to optimize players’ physical development.  One fact that is certain is that, as the numbers of teams and players in standards-based leagues grows, the clubs with teams in these leagues will require knowledgeable and experienced fitness coaches to provide the high quality fitness testing and training which the players require.  Making sure that fitness coaches are educated about safe, science/evidence-based methods of testing and training is of critical importance in ensuring soccer players receive the high standard of training that has been mandated.  While there presently exists a wide variety of continuing education courses aimed at fitness professionals, including a few that are considered to be “sport-specific training courses” there is no course available to coaches or fitness professionals that teaches soccer-specific fitness training.

Why is it so important for coaches and fitness coaches to learn about soccer-specific fitness training?  Simply put, there is no way for any coach to maximize the development of the players they work with if they are not knowledgeable about fitness and/or are not able to incorporate fitness into their team training sessions.  The reality of youth soccer in Canada is that field time and total training time are limited – sometimes to as little as 2-3 training sessions per week.  Thus, coaches and fitness coaches working in these environments must be able to make the most efficient use of their training time, by combining the technical / tactical aspects of their training with the right physical / physiological aspects (duration, intensity, and work-to-rest ratios).  To use just one example, if players and/or teams train to improve any specific technical or tactical ability, but this training is done at an intensity which is lower than the actual intensity experienced during match play, then the resulting improvements in technical and tactical performance will not translate as effectively into match play.  Consequently, coaches and fitness coaches – whether they like it or not – must be able to plan and implement training sessions that include the right type of physical and physiological training stimulus in combination with their specific technical and tactical plan in order to maximize their players’ overall development and performance.

It was with these facts in mind that I decided to create the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course, aimed at fitness professionals and/or soccer coaches looking to increase their knowledge and practical skills in the design and implementation of soccer-specific on-field fitness training.  The first edition of the Course will be taking place on the weekend of January 8th, 9th, and 10th, 2016, at Trio Sportsplex, located at 601 Cityview Blvd. in Vaughan.  The Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course is a unique coach-education program that combines theoretical lectures in the sports sciences, with the practical and soccer-specific application of these sciences.  Fitness professionals and/or soccer coaches who enrol in the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course will learn how to plan and implement year-round soccer-specific fitness training programs for their teams.

Central to the Course is the teaching of Soccer Fitness’ 60-Minute Soccer-Specific On-Field Fitness Session.  We have used and continue to use these comprehensive 1-hour sessions in all of our On-Field Training programs, with teams ranging from U10-U18 rep./academy, the Ontario Provincial/Canadian National Teams, the Toronto FC Academy teams, and professional soccer clubs abroad.  The basic format and structure of the Soccer Fitness 60-Minute Soccer-Specific On-Field Fitness Session, which is described and taught in detail during the Course, is as follows:

  • 0-15 minutes: Soccer-Specific Warm-Up
  • 16-30 minutes: Soccer-Specific Coordination Training
  • 31-45 minutes: Soccer-Specific Energy System Training
  • 46-60 minutes: Soccer-Specific Strength Training

Other topics covered in the course include anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and motor learning specific to the sport of soccer, as well as modules on fitness assessment, periodization of training, injury prevention, and specific youth soccer training.   Fitness professionals with an interest in working with soccer players will come away from the Course with a much better understanding of how to make all aspects of their training programs more specific to the sport of soccer.  Soccer coaches who are working with players at any age or level of ability will come away from the Course with valuable knowledge and skills that will allow them to successfully plan and implement physical fitness exercises into their practices, and they will also learn how to integrate fitness work within their regular technical/tactical training sessions.

The Ontario Soccer Association’s and Canadian Soccer Association’s new standards for soccer-specific physical fitness testing and training are changes that will be extremely helpful to the long-term athletic development of our province’s soccer players.  Fitness professionals and soccer coaches working in high performance environments and wishing to meet these standards will now require some specific training and education to learn how to plan and implement optimal physical fitness testing and training programs for their athletes and teams.  It is our belief that the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course will provide participants with essential knowledge and practical skills in the fields of exercise science and on-field coaching/training.  Our Trainer’s Course will provide coaches and fitness professionals with the tools they need to optimize the physical development and performance of the players they work with.

Below is a link to our registration form for the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course (for anyone who is interested in attending).

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

Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course Registration Form – January 2016

Uncategorized

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #12: Friday, November 27th, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss the importance of monitoring the intensity of training and match play.  Included in this week’s post is a link (below the video) to the Borg 0-10 RPE scale, which is a simple, practical, and cost-effective tool to help coaches and players monitor the intensity of the training sessions and matches.

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

Borg0-10RPEScale

Uncategorized

Why Our Opinion Is Not As Relevant As We Think It Is – Part 2

2015 marks the 15th year that I have been working in soccer.  In that time, I have had thousands of conversations with coaches, parents, and players, at virtually all of the different levels of the game.  Upon reflecting on these conversations it has become apparent to me that many of us subjectively think and feel that we are experts in soccer, and that we know and understand the game better than everyone else around us.  Last week, in Part 1 of this article, I discussed how and why our subjective opinions can hamper player development.  This week, in Part 2, I will provide some insight into strategies that we as coaches and fitness coaches can use to ensure that we remain objective in our work.

To start with, I have provided below an excellent and apt quote from Yogi Berra (not a soccer player, but certainly a world class athlete, who played baseball for the New York Yankees in the 1950’s and 60’s):

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up someplace else.”

 

I really like this quote because it captures in a very brief and concise way – in my interpretation at least – just how important it is to measure performance in sports.  “knowing where you’re going”, to me, implies that a coach or fitness coach must know very clearly how the players and team has performed, in order to set specific objectives aimed at improving performance and “wind up” where they want to go.

If we accept that measuring performance in sports like soccer is important, then the next challenge is to determine simple and effective ways to eliminate subjective opinions from performance measurement.  The best way to do this is through the collection of objective data (facts, which are not subject to anyone’s opinion, about how players have performed in training and match play).  The use of technology such as GPS, and video-based software programs like Pro Zone or Game Breaker are certainly very effective tools to measure performance, however, they are expensive and time-consuming to use, and thus are not a practical option for the great majority of amateur youth soccer coaches in Canada.  A more cost-effective way to collect objective data is to use alternative methods of measurement which do not require any expensive technological equipment or computer software.  These methods must provide coaches and fitness coaches with objective data that is similar to the kind of data that can be generated from more expensive technology and software, but is also simple to understand, disseminate, and eventually present to their players and teams.  Below are three examples of simple and proven strategies coaches and fitness coaches can use to objectively measure their players’ performance in training and match play.

  1. Rating of Perceived Exertion scales (to measure training and match intensity and load)

Rating of Perceived Exertion or RPE is a scale of measurement used to determined players’ opinions about how “hard” their level of physical exertion was during a training session or match.  There are several different RPE scales that have been used in scientific literature.  I prefer to use one developed by Borg (1982), which requires players to answer the question “how hard was your workout?”  The scale is scores from 0-10 (“0” being “rest”, and “10” being “maximal”).  I have provided a link to a PDF copy of the Borg 0-10 RPE scale below.  Coaches and fitness coaches can simply show this scale to their players following every training session and match, and record their scores.  Because these scores represent measurements of intensity and loading, once the data has been collected, coaches and fitness coaches can then use it to plan and adjust the intensity/loading in their training sessions in order to achieve desired results.

Borg0-10RPEScale

  1. Standardized, technical performance assessments (to measure technical skill performance)

In high performance youth soccer environments, the development and improvement of technical skills has to be of paramount importance to coaches and fitness coaches.  Technical ability, after all, provides the foundation for players’ future potential development.  If a set of standardized, objective technical assessments is implemented by a team’s coaching staff, players’ level of ability, as well as their rate of improvement in technical ability over the course of a season, can be easily measured.  Over time, if the same standardized system is used over multiple seasons and – even better – by multiple clubs across multiple age groups and both genders, then a set of standardized normative data for technical ability can be generated.  Players and teams can then be evaluated based on comparisons to these age- and gender-specific normative standards.  Over time, youth soccer clubs can then be evaluated based on how well their players and teams improve on these standardized tests, relative to the improvement of other competing clubs.  The Ontario Soccer Association has seemingly already recognized the importance of technical assessments, having developed its own Technical benchmark Exercises for the Ontario Player Development League in 2014.  Below is a link to the OSA’s Technical Benchmark Exercises PDF document.

OPDL-Player-Technical-Benchmark-Excercises-2015

  1. Free or low-cost mobile apps (to measure tactical performance)

There presently exists an abundance of mobile applications, available for download on mobile devices including phones and tablet computers, which can be used to measure performance in training and match play.  These apps range in price and functionality from the free ones (such as iCODA, Tag&Go, and Pocketcoder), to low-cost options (such as Performa, or FootyTracker).  These apps typically require a coach to watch a training session or match with their phone or tablet in hand, and manually enter data or “code” the actions that occur.  Many different types of objective data can be collected and analysed in this way, including pass completion percentage, ball retention, ball possession, shots on target, tackles/challenges for the ball, numbers of corners or free kicks, and so on).  If coaches or fitness coaches can collect this type of standardized, objective data over multiple training sessions or matches, they can then measures and assess their players’ performance over time and. As would be the case with technical assessments, they can also evaluate their players’ improvements relative to other age- and gender-specific standards and norms.

In conclusion, the use of standardized, objective performance measurements like the ones discussed in this article does not necessarily need to completely eliminate or discredit coaches’ subjective opinions.  On the contrary, when used properly, objective performance measurements can be used to challenge and refine coaches’ own opinions and analysis.  If we as coaches and fitness coaches truly want to become better at maximizing the development of the players we work with, we need to keep an open mind and accept the use of standardized assessments and furthermore, we need to be willing to use the data taken from them to change our own approach to training and match play if needed.

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

 

Uncategorized

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #11: Friday, November 20th, 2015

Hi All,

Anyone who knows me knows that coach education has always been a passion of mine.  Throughout my career, I have always pushed and challenged myself in all areas of my education, both in fitness/sports science, as well as in soccer coaching.  In recent years, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to become an educator, lecturing at universities/colleges, national/international sports science and soccer coaching conferences, as well as to youth clubs and academies throughout the province.  In this week’s edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. I am introducing and explaining the rationale behind the creation of my Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course, the first ever soccer-specific coach education course in Canada to focus specifically on physical training and testing of soccer players and teams.

The Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course is taking place on the weekend of January 8-10, 2016, t Trio Sportsplex in Vaughan.  Below the link to this week’s Video Blog is a link to a PDF copy of our registration form for the Course.

I Hope you enjoy the Blog (always, please feel free to post thoughts/comments), and if you are interested in attending the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course, please print/fill out the form or get in touch with us for more details!

 

Click to access Soccer-Fitness-Trainers-Course-Registration-Form-January-2016.pdf

 

For Parents, Science

Why our opinion is not as relevant as we think it is – Part 1

2015 marks the 15th year that I have been working in soccer.  In that time, I have had thousands of conversations with coaches, parents, and players, at virtually all of the different levels of the game.  Upon reflecting on these conversations it has become apparent to me that many of us subjectively think and feel that we are experts in soccer, and that we know and understand the game better than everyone else around us.  In Part 1 of this article, I will discuss how and why our subjective opinions can hamper player development.  Next week, in Part 2, I will provide some insight into strategies that we as coaches and fitness coaches can use to ensure that we remain objective in our work.

In soccer, this aforementioned subjective attitude manifests itself in many different ways.  For example, parents who are certain that their child is not being played in the “right position”, or that, even though their child is being benched, he/she is clearly “a better player” than the player who is starting ahead of them.  Coaches, too, are often guilty of using subjective opinions to make decisions.  Examples of these include the opinion that, while they may not be the best at running training sessions, they are “experts” in talent identification; or that they do not need to use any sports science or performance monitoring because they “can see” how well their players are playing and how hard they are working; and finally that they have chosen to use a particular training exercise or session because “that’s the way we used to train when I was a player.”  As s sports scientist, I work almost exclusively with objective scientific data, yet I also have been guilty of this subjective attitude, at times pushing players harder than I should have, or running training sessions for a longer duration than necessary.

I find it fascinating that we in soccer are sometimes so easily manipulated by our own subjective opinions, and even worse that we often willingly ignore objective scientific data simply because we are convinced that we “know better.”  In an excellent book called “The Science of Fear”, author Daniel Garland reviews dozens of studies on the human brain which have determined that, while we often think we are being “rational” (or objective) when making decisions in our everyday lives, the great majority of the time were act in a completely “irrational” (or subjective) manner.  This is because as early humans, we needed to rely almost entirely on the irrational/subjective part of our brain in order to survive.  Today, because we are living in a world in which most of us are safe and have access to shelter, food, water and all the basic necessities of life, we should be using the rational and objective parts of our brain more; however, research has indicated that we have become “hard-wired” to rely on the irrational/subjective part of our brain.

In soccer, making decisions based on subjective opinions rather than on objective facts can have serious negative consequences where player development is concerned.  There is simply no way for coaches and fitness coaches to assess, monitor, and adjust their players’ training and match performance without the use of objective facts.  Significant advances in almost all areas of soccer-specific sports science – including skilled performance and motor learning, aerobic/anaerobic training, strength training, injury prevention and warm-up, sports psychology, and nutrition – have been made since I started working in the sport 15 years ago.  Today, coaches and fitness coaches even have access to technology that allows them to assess, monitor, and track all aspects of their players’ performance, including technical, tactical, and physical performance parameters.  If we continue to willfully ignore objective scientific data when planning and implementing soccer training, we will never be able to maximize the development of the players we work with.

The examples I provided earlier can be used to highlight the value of using objective facts instead of subjective opinions in soccer.  If coaches use standardized, objective methods to assess players’ performance in different positions on the field, then theirs – or their parents’ – subjective opinions about whether or not a player is playing in the “right position” would be irrelevant; all that would matter would be the objective facts.  If coaches use standardized, objective methods to identify and assess young talented players, then any one coach’s subjective opinion about how much of an “expert” they are in talent identification would be irrelevant; all that would matter would be the facts.  And if coaches use standardized, objective methods to assess and monitor their players’ responses and performance in training, and then objectively check and assess how these training methods impact players’ match performance, then the subjective opinion that “we used to train this way when I was a player” would be irrelevant; all that would matter would be the facts.

Ultimately, we as soccer coaches and fitness coaches should make optimizing and maximizing player development our primary concern.  If objective, scientific facts challenge our own subjective opinions, we as coaches and fitness coaches must remain open-minded and be willing to change, regardless of how strongly-held our subjective opinions might be.  If we can use a standardized, objective approach to all aspects of their soccer training and competition – including talent identification, planning of training and player development, and training/match performance monitoring – then the negative impact of subjective opinions, bias, and human error can be minimized or even eliminated.  Next week, in Part 2 of this article, I will provide simple, practical, and easy-to-use examples of how to incorporate objective scientific facts into soccer training and match play.

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

Fitness, Science, Technology

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #10: Friday, November 13th, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss the effectiveness of backwards running – both on the ground, as well as on a high speed / high incline treadmill – at training the hamstrings as hip extensors.

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

Fitness, Injuries, Science

The Science Behind 1 Match Per-Week

Last week in our blog, I discussed how the Canadian college and university soccer regular season and play-off schedules are hurting the development and long-term health of players by forcing them to play 2, and sometimes even 3, full 90+ minute matches per week, over a 10-12 week time period.  This post garnered a large response from readers, including some supportive as well as some critical comments.  At Soccer Fitness Gols, we truly value and appreciate all of our readers’ feedback, and since our blog topic last week was so popular, I have decided to follow up by providing a more detailed summary of one of the most recent scientific studies examining the relationship between number of matches played per week, and both physical performance as well as injury rates in soccer.  Hope you like it!

In 2007, a group of researchers from the University of Lille, led by Gerard Dupont, examined data from match results, match-related physical performance, and injuries, of 32 different soccer players competing in the 2007-2008, and 2008-2009 UEFA Champions League seasons.  Participants in the UEFA Champions League were used in this study because this competition, combined with domestic league fixtures, often forces players to participate in more than one full 90+ minute match per week.  The authors were interested in determining whether any differences existed in both physical performance, as well as injury rates, between players who played in one match per week, versus players who played in two matches per week.  Players who did play in 2 matches per week averaged between 72 and 96 hours (3-4 days) of recovery between these matches.  Here is a direct quote/summary of the results from the study by Dupont et. al. (2011):

“Physical performance, as characterized by total distance covered, high-intensity distance, sprint distance, and number of sprints, was not significantly affected by the number of matches per week (1 versus 2), whereas the injury rate was significantly higher when players played 2 matches per week versus 1 match per week (25.6 versus 4.1 injuries per 1000 hours of exposure; P < .001).”

In layman’s terms, these results indicate that while players’ physical performance did not necessarily decline with 2 matches per week, their risk of injury increased by over 600%.  Interestingly, the UEFA Champions League and domestic league schedules with a combined 2 matches per week still afforded players between 3-4 full days in between each match. Unfortunately, in Canadian college and university soccer, the matches played per week typically fall on weekends, and are thus played back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday, with only 24 hours (1 day) of rest between matches. In the college/university post season, as well as in the Canadian Club National Championships and several other amateur youth soccer tournaments in Canada, recovery time between matches can be even less, with 3-4 matches played over the course of 4-5 days, and in some cases even more than one match played in the same day.  Taking this decreased recovery time into account, it may be possible that a greater risk of injury, and even a potential decrease in physical performance, may occur in these environments.  If nothing else, in my opinion this topic should at least warrant further scientific research.

Ultimately, all competitive amateur soccer schedules in Canada, at both the youth (club/academy) and adult (college/university) levels, should be structured in the best interests of the players, with players’ physical health and recovery time being of primary importance.  The science on the subject is clear: playing more than one 90+ minute soccer match per week is simply not healthy for players.  Time will tell if our Canadian amateur soccer and sport organizations will embrace this objective, scientific fact, and adjust their competitive schedules accordingly.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  As always please feel free to post your comments below.

Fitness, Injuries, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #9: Friday, November 6th, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss problems associated with the North American College and University soccer schedules, including accumulation of fatigue and higher injury rates due to competitive schedules that force players to play two or even three 90+ minute matches per week.

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

Fitness, Science

How Canadian College And University Soccer Is Hurting Young Soccer Players – And What Can Be Done About It

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.

For Parents, Nutrition, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #8: Friday, October 30th, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss carbohydrate/muscle glycogen replenishment in soccer, and how to ensure that players get the right amount of carbohydrates to maintain energy levels and optimize performance.

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

Announcements, Fitness

Tell Us: What’s Your Gol?

Fall is here, and with it comes the start of another off season of fitness training (and hopefully some high speed/high incline treadmill training as well)!  Something else that has arrived this season is the new and improved Soccer Fitness Gols mobile fitness app. To help kick-start the full launch of the new Soccer Fitness Gols app, we are asking the Soccer Fitness Gols community to tell us what your fitness “gols” are, and, more importantly, why you’ve set these goals. If you’ve got a personal fitness objective, regardless if you’re a competitive athlete or a parent who last played the game several years ago, we want to hear about it. Please post a brief video describing your goal and tag us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (#whatsyourgol). In your video, please also send a shout out to 3 people you know to encourage them to do the same. As an example, I’ve posted a video on Youtube, made by one of our athletes, Evan Tanos, in the link below.

Now it’s your turn.  Make your video and tell us: What’s Your Gol? today!

Fitness, For Parents, Science

Speed Training – What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You (Part 3)

I have been working as a fitness coach with elite level soccer players for 15 years.  In that time, the one physical ability that seems to always have been of the highest importance to players, parents, and coaches alike, is running speed. Unfortunately, running speed – and how to train/improve it correctly – is probably also the most misunderstood physical ability in soccer.  This 3-part article will provide a detailed summary of running speed and how to train to improve it.  In Part 1 two weeks ago, I provided  a definition of running speed, list the phases of a sprint in sports, and discuss what the scientific literature has to say about different methods of speed training.  Last week, in Part 2, I discussed the physiology of speed training, including best practices to maximize training effect while minimizing training volume.  Finally, this week in Part 3, I will shift focus to the biomechanics and specific coordination aspects of training for running speed.

You may recall that in Part 1 I identified 4 main phases of a sprint.  They are:

  1. The start phase: the phase where the athlete begins sprinting (could be from a static start or a “flying” start)
  2. The initial acceleration phase: the first 5-10 metres of the sprint
  3. The carry-over to constant-speed phase: the period from the 15 to 30 metre point of a sprint, when the player reaches top speed
  4. The deceleration phase: where the player begins to slow down/stop

In this discussion of the biomechanics and coordination training of speed for soccer, I will present information as it applies to each of these 4 phases.

1. The Start Phase:

Recall that, in the definition of this phase above, it may begin from a static start (no movement) or from a “flying start” (athlete already moving, and then speeds up).  Typically, in soccer, players begin sprinting while already in motion (the “flying” start).  They may start from a walking or slow running start, or they may speed up into a full sprint after already having been running at a moderate or high speed.  In any event, the optimal mechanics to maximize force production during the start of a sprint do not change very much, regardless of how the athlete begins running.  In general, the following coaching points should be used when training soccer players for the start phase of a sprint:

  • stay as low as possible.  This allows for optimal range of motion of the powerful hip and thigh muscles (glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and hip flexors), so that the propulsive forces from these muscles can be maximized.  For a good visual, think of a sprinter in a track and field event, starting out of the blocks.  Of course, in soccer and other sports you must start from an upright position, but getting low at the start mimics this type of starting position.  Another useful hint to achieve a good initial low position is to tell players to think of “falling forwards”.  Right before their nose hits the ground, they should begin moving and start the sprint, thus allowing themselves to get into a low position and stay there for the first few strides.
  • widen the stance slightly and point the toes slightly outwards.  This widens the “base of support”, which allows for more balance, and thus more force production.  For a good visual, think of the initial stance a sumo wrestler takes prior to starting a wrestling match.
  • Keep the head down, and exaggerate the knee lift, and the arm swing movements.  Try to lift the knees so high that they almost contact the chin (don;t actually do this, just keep the head down and the knees up!).  At the start of a sprint, as in any other phase of a sprint, the general rule is that a longer stride will be faster than a shorter stride.  The more the knees come up at the start, the longer the stride will be.  An arm swing that is also longer will help to add range of motion in the hips.

2. The Initial Acceleration Phase:

In this phase, the optimal mechanics to maximize force production do not differ very much from those in the start phase (aside from a few exceptions).  In soccer, the average distance of a sprint often falls within this range (5-10 metres) so the way players run in this phase is critical to their match performance.  Below is a summary of the coaching points for the initial acceleration phase:

  • continue to stay as low as possible, but bend both at the hip and the knee.  A common mistake that players will make when they are told to “stay low” is to bend only at the hip, while keeping the knees relatively straight.  This forward leaning posture makes it very difficult to raise the knees, and will end up shortening the running stride.  Typically, I will ask the athletes I work with to start by running with their trunk at a 45-degree angle to the ground, and gradually increase that angle to 90-degrees (trunk perpendicular to the ground) by the 10 metre mark.
  • gradually narrow the width of the feet and “base of support”.  Recall that, in the start phase, a wider stance allows for greater initial balance and thus, power production.  In conjunction with the angle of the trunk to the ground starting at 45-degrees and progressing to 90-degrees, so too should the width of the “base of support” start wide, and progress to being much more narrow.  This is because after that start phase, the feet must contact the ground closer to underneath the centre of mass, in order to maintain stability as posture becomes more upright.
  • focus on contacting the ground on the balls of the feet, or “big toes.”  This type of foot contact is important to bring the powerful muscles of the lower leg (gastrocnemeus, soleus) into play to maximize propulsive forces.  Sprinting on a flat foot or even worse, on the heels, significantly limits the force production of these muscles.  The toes should also progress from an outward pointing stance at the start phase, to a forward pointing stance at the end of the initial acceleration phase.

The Carry-Over to Constant-Speed Phase:

In soccer, there are also several times during a match that players must make runs that progress into this phase (at distances greater than 10 metres).  This phase is also the point at which some more pronounced changes in running mechanics must occur in order to maintain optimal production of propulsive forces (and avoid slowing down).  The best way to train soccer players to perform during the carry-over to constant-speed phase is to focus on the following areas:

  • maintain an upright posture, with the trunk perpendicular to the ground.  This position maximizes hip flexion (raising the knee) and thus allows for the maximum length of the running stride.  For a good visual, imagine how hard it is to lift the knee while bending forwards, versus how easy it is to lift the knee while in an upright position.  Staying perpendicular requires the hips and pelvis to be pushed slightly forwards, with contraction of the core and abdominal muscles.
  • flex the hips (raise the knees) to the point at which they are in line with the hip.  While this happens, the ankle should be very close to directly underneath the knee.  All of these mechanical adjustments must be made in order to allow the hip to move with the greatest amount of range of motion while flexing and extending, and also so that the powerful muscles of the hip, knee and ankle can contract with extension with maximum force as the foot drives into the ground. For a visual of how this powerful hip, knee, and ankle extension should look, think of a cat, pawing at something on the ground (the hip/knee/ankle extension should look just like this powerful pawing movement, and this movement ends with the ball of the feet, or “big toe” on the ground).
  • keep the shoulder muscles relaxed, with a loose-swinging arm action.  The thumb of the front hand should move in front of the chin, and the thumb of the back hand should move behind the hip (“back pocket”).  A relaxed arm action allows for optima range of motion and power production in the hips, because the movement of each arm is directly coordinated to the movement of the opposite leg (for example, right arm and left leg, and vice versa).  To train the relaxed arm swing, I have athletes imagine they are “whipping” the hands back to the “back pocket.”  There is a natural stretch reflex that occurs in the muscles in the front of the arm, whereby when they are stretched, they contract and move forward.

The Deceleration Phase

In soccer, almost all sprints have a deceleration phase (where the player slows down), and this deceleration typically does not happen very gradually.  As a matter of fact, decelerations from sprints in soccer are a critical component to optimal performance, as many of the key movements in games (striking/shooting, dribbling or defending in 1 vs. 1 situations, landing from jumps) involve rapid decelerations followed by just as rapid accelerations.  Thus, coaching deceleration technique from sprints in soccer is vital to optimal performance of sprinting in soccer.  Below is a summary of the best advice to give players regarding the deceleration phase:

  • take small steps to slow down.  This may sound self-explanatory, however, if you don’t explain it to your players, they may not do it and the result will be a much slower deceleration and change of direction.  Small steps allow for the feet to be placed under the body’s centre of mass while running sped decreases, which increases balance and stability and thus, increases the eccentric strength of the muscles hat slow the body down (primarily the quadriceps and hamstrings).
  • Bend at the knee to slow down.  Trying to slow down or to change direction with a straight knee in soccer is asking for trouble.  bending at the knee allows for the strong muscles in the front of the leg (quadriceps) to maximize their eccentric strength, and thus the braking forces they produce.
  • stay relatively narrow and keep the toes pointing forwards while decelerating.  A narrow stance and “base of support” with the toes pointing forwards (rather than outwards) will allow decelerations to occur as quickly as possible.  The only way to maintain balance as speed decreases is for the feet to be placed under the hips, and thus a narrow stance allows for better balance and better ability to decelerate.

In conclusion, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, training for speed in soccer is a complicated process, with a variety of different factors that must be taken into consideration when planning a training program.  Coaches and fitness coaches who wish to improve their players’ speed must have a strong working knowledge of the different phases of a sprint and how to train for them, including both the physiological, as well as the biomechanical aspects of sped training.  With the right knowledge, experience, and attention to detail, coaches and fitness coaches can train their players to improve their running speed, which will likely have a direct positive impact on their overall match play.

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

Fitness, Nutrition, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #7: Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss electrolyte replenishment in soccer, and how to ensure that players get the right amount of electrolytes to prevent dehydration and optimize performance.

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

Fitness, Science

Speed Training – What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You (Part 2)

I have been working as a fitness coach with elite level soccer players for 15 years.  In that time, the one physical ability that seems to always have been of the highest importance to players, parents, and coaches alike, is running speed. Unfortunately, running speed – and how to train/improve it correctly – is probably also the most misunderstood physical ability in soccer.  This 3-part article will provide a detailed summary of running speed and how to train to improve it.  In Part 1 last week, I provided  a definition of running speed, list the phases of a sprint in sports, and discuss what the scientific literature has to say about different methods of speed training.  This week, in Part 2, I will discuss the physiology of speed training, including best practices to maximize training effect while minimizing training volume.  Finally in Part 3, I will shift focus to the biomechanics and specific coordination aspects of running speed.

Running fast and sprinting is, by definition, an anaerobic activity.  This means that the intensity of the exercise (running/sprinting) is so high that the body cannot deliver energy to the muscles through the use and metabolism of oxygen (the aerobic system) and as a result, the anaerobic energy system must produce the energy needed to perform the runs/sprints.  The primary anaerobic energy system used in sprinting in soccer is the anaerobic a-lactic system, because this system provides energy for high intensity work lasting from 0-10 seconds (basically the average duration of a sprint in soccer).  The system is termed “a-lactic” because there is enough rest between sprints/high intensity runs to avoid the production of lactic acid, which is a painful by-product of high intensity exercise and not something that soccer players want to deal with.

The actual sources of energy in the anaerobic a-lactic system are 2 different high-energy compounds, adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP) and creatine phosphate (CP) located within the exercising muscles.  Without getting into all of the details, it is important to know that as soccer players begin training or playing, they will start to perform high intensity runs and sprints, and when this happens, they will start to deplete the stores of ATP and CP in their muscles.  When muscular ATP and CP stores get too low, muscular strength and power decrease significantly, and the only way to recover this strength and power is to rest, in order to allow the body to replenish its ATP and CP stores.  Interestingly, the recovery of muscular ATP and CP is dependent not on the anaerobic system, but rather on the aerobic system.  This means that soccer players who have a high aerobic capacity (better endurance) will be able to replenish their stores of muscular ATP and CP faster, and thus they will be able to recover better between fast runs and sprints, and eventually to perform more runs and sprints throughout a training session or match.

While the information presented above may seem complicated, having a good understanding of the physiology of sprinting in soccer is essential for proper speed training to be planned and executed.  The most common mistake made by coaches and fitness coaches conducting “speed” training sessions with their players is that they do not allow the players enough rest between repetitions to facilitate the replenishment of muscular ATP and CP stores.  When this type of “speed” training (with insufficient rest periods) is used, the athletes end up running at significantly lower speeds than their maximal capacity because, as mentioned previously, when muscular ATP and CP stores get too low, muscular strength and power decrease.  Thus, the end effect of not giving players enough rest between sprints in training is that they actually end up training to be slower, not faster.

So how much rest between sprints is enough?  The easiest way to explain planning rest periods between high intensity running and sprinting is to us a “work-to-rest ratio’” which describes the ratio of time spent “working” (running) to time spent “resting.”  In general, optimal recovery of muscular ATP and CP can occur with a minimum work-to-rest-ratio of 1:6.  This means that if a sprint lasts 2 seconds, then 2 x 6 = 12 seconds of recovery is necessary before the next sprint; if a sprint lasts 5 seconds, then 5 x 6 = 30 seconds of recovery is needed, etc.  Bangsbo et. al. (2006) provided a good review of the best way to structure speed training session, including optimal work-to-rest-ratios, as part of a weekly periodization plan for a professional soccer team.

Ultimately, improving running speed in soccer can only occur if players train by running/sprinting at or very close to their maximal capacity.  Training at or near maximal capacity, in turn, can only occur if players are given enough recovery between repetitions of runs/sprints to allow for replenishment of muscular ATP and CP stores.  Coaches and fitness coaches who wish to improve their players’ running speed must have a good understanding of the physiology of speed in soccer, and plan the work-to-rest ratios in their training accordingly.

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

Fitness, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #6: Friday, October 16th, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss the difference between subjective and objective training methods, and how they can affect both the physical, as well as technical/tactical development in soccer players.

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

Fitness, Science

Speed Training – What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You (Part 1)

I have been working as a fitness coach with elite level soccer players for 15 years.  In that time, the one physical ability that seems to always have been of the highest importance to players, parents, and coaches alike, is running speed. Unfortunately, running speed – and how to train/improve it correctly – is probably also the most misunderstood physical ability in soccer.  This 3-part article will provide a detailed summary of running speed and how to train to improve it.  In Part 1, I will provide a definition of running speed, list the phases of a sprint in sports, and discuss what the scientific literature has to say about different methods of speed training.  Next week, in Part 2, I will discuss the physiology of speed training, and finally in Part 3, I will shift focus to the biomechanics and specific coordination aspects of running speed.

Running Speed: Definition:

Running speed is the product of stride length and stride frequency.  Stride length refers to how long the running stride is, whereas stride frequency refers to how quickly the legs move over a given distance.  In general, an improvement in stride length and/or stride frequency should result in an improvement in running speed.

Improving Stride Length:

Stride length can be improved by making muscles bigger/stronger (strength training) and also by making them more powerful (power training).  Strength training exercises like squats, lunges, and dead lifts, are simple and effective ways to make the muscles bigger and stronger, and numerous studies have demonstrated that resistance training programs that include these exercises can improve running speed in soccer players (Silva et. al., 2015).  Power training includes explosive lifting exercises (like power cleans or hang cleans); plyometrics (jumping and bounding exercises aimed at speeding up the time the foot is in contact with the ground); and also resisted running exercises (sled pulls, elastic loading devices, or incline running).  Combining explosive lifting with plyometric training and resisted sprinting has been shown to be effective at improving both speed and jump height in post-adolescent soccer players (Lloyd et. al., 2015).  Sled pulls have also been shown to be effective at improving short distance sprint speed in soccer players (Martinez-Valencia et. al., 2015).  At Soccer Fitness, we have used high speed/high incline treadmill running to improve stride length.  In one of our recent studies we were able to demonstrate an improvement in 10, 20, and 35 metre sprint times in elite female soccer players following a high speed/high incline running treadmill repeated sprint training protocol (Bucciarelli et. al., 2014).

Improving Stride Frequency:

Stride frequency, as opposed to stride length, is a bit more difficult to train for.  Training to improve stride frequency must involve some type of assistance provided to the runner in order to make the legs move more quickly that they can voluntarily (commonly termed “over-speed training.”).  Typical/traditional methods of over-speed training have involved downhill running (which uses the force of gravity to assist the runner) or elastic loading devices attached to a training partner (which use the force generated by the partner, as well as the stretch in the elastic loading device, to assist the runner).  Assisted sprint training using an elastic loading device has been shown to improve short-distance (5-10 metres) running speed in elite level soccer players (Upton, 2011).  At Soccer Fitness, we have used a high speed running treadmill with an un-weighting harness as a means of over-speed training, and we recently finished a study that demonstrated a significant improvement in 10 metre running speed following a training protocol with this equipment (Bucciarelli et. al., 2015).

Phases of Sprinting and Application to Training:

Thus, a combination of strength training and power training (to improve stride length), and over-speed training (to improve stride frequency) can be used to improve running speed in soccer players.  But what actual part of a sprint in soccer is affected by what specific types of training?  To answer this question, an understanding of the different phases sprinting. is required.  There are 4 phases of a sprint in soccer, as well as in any other sport:

  1. The start phase: the phase where the athlete begins sprinting (could be from a static start or a “flying” start)
  2. The initial acceleration phase: the first 5-10 metres of the sprint
  3. The carry-over to constant-speed phase: the period from the 15 to 30 metre point of a sprint, when the player reaches top speed
  4. The deceleration phase: where the player begins to slow down/stop (this phase will not be discussed in this article).

The application of different types of speed training with the goal of improving these different phases of sprinting in soccer is where most coaches and fitness coaches make errors.  This is typically because of a failure to understand which specific phase of sprinting is affected by which specific type of training.  Strength training, and some types of power training (including explosive lifting, plyometric training, and resisted sprinting with sleds) are basically only effective at improving running speed in the start and initial acceleration phases of sprinting.  In the start and initial acceleration phases, athletes are in a very low position, and the types of exercises that mimic this low position and add resistance to it (squats, power cleans, sled pulls) are the most effective at inducing improvements in the execution of movement from the position.  Incline running, on the other hand, can be effective at improving the carry-over to constant-speed phase of sprinting, because this phase requires athletes to be in an upright position, with maximal range of motion in the hips and knees.  When an athlete sprints up a hill or on an incline treadmill, they can maintain an upright posture, with the added resistance to the running movement coming from the incline itself.  Over time, this leads to athletes developing the ability to overcome resistance while running in an upright posture, which translates a lot better into the carry-over to constant-speed phase of sprinting, an improvement which is impossible to achieve when adding resistance to an athlete in a low position.  The absence of evidence linking strength training, explosive lifting, or sled pulls to improvements in longer-distance sprints (past the initial acceleration phase) supports the argument that these training methods are not likely to cause improvements in that phase of sprinting.

Summary:

Coaches and fitness coaches of elite level soccer players should always try to use a science-based approach when devising speed training workouts for their athletes.  In order to improve soccer players’ speed through all phases of a sprint. a wide range of exercises and training methods must be selected.  Each of these exercises and training methods should be undertaken with a full understanding of which particular phase(s) of sprinting they will affect and (hopefully) improve.  Failure to include exercises that focus on specific phases of a sprint will likely result in a lack of improvement in running speed during that particular phase.

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

Nutrition, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #5: Friday, October 9th, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss soccer nutrition, including optimal amount and timing of meals throughout the day.  In addition to the video this week, I have also posted the “What You Should Eat” document (which I discuss in the video).  A PDF copy of this document can be downloaded below the video link.

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

WhatYouShouldEat4MealsPerDay

Fitness, Matches, Science

Specificity – the Most Important Rule in Soccer Fitness Training (Part 2)

Last week, in Part 1 of this article, I discussed the principle of specificity as it relates to fitness training for soccer players, and also presented a brief chart with examples of how to train the main athletic qualities in soccer, in a soccer-specific way.  This week, in part 2, I will be following up with detailed explanations of these different soccer-specific exercises. Here they are:

  1. Speed Training:

SpeedCrossingAndFinishing

  • Coach starts the exercise by serving a ball in to inside forward player (grey line)
  • Outside forward player makes a curved run underneath the inside forward, and receives a short lay-off pass (black lines)
  • Wide midfield player makes a 20 metre sprint down the sideline, to receive a long pass from the outside forward, while the inside forward travels horizontally across the pitch (red lines)
  • Wide midfield player crosses the ball to both forward players, who each make a 10 metre sprint (one to the near post, the other to the far post) and try to finish on goal

This exercise requires players to perform repeated bouts of maximal sprints (in the case of the wide players, 20 metres, and in the case of the forward players, 10 metres.  If sufficient rest is given to players between each repetition (about 30 seconds between each sprint) then all of the sprints will be performed at maximum speed.  Of course, there is a lot of specificity and relevance to the sport in this exercise, because players are performing the exact type of running and movements they are required to do in an actual match.

  1. Power Training:

PowerJumpHeaders

  • Divide players into groups of 2, with 1 ball between 2 players
  • 1 player is designated as “server” and the other as “header”
  • Server serves the ball by throwing it into the air, in front of the header
  • The header must perform an explosive jump, as high as possible, and try to head the ball back to the server at the highest point
  • A hurdle can be used under the header, to encourage a higher/more powerful jump

This very simple exercise requires players to perform repeated bouts of maximal intensity jumps, in a soccer-specific way that includes the ball.  Like with speed training, power or jump training must give players sufficient rest in between repetitions.  In this case, about 5-6 seconds of rest between each jump is enough.  One player can do 5-10 headers, before switching to become a server.  3 sets for each player as both server and header work well to develop power without over-using the muscles.

  1. Strength Training:

Strength1Vs.1

  • Coach starts the exercise by serving a ball centrally, for 2 players to chase
  • The player who arrives at and secures the ball first must then try to score in one of the small goals near the start area
  • The player who arrives second becomes a defender, with the objective of winning the ball and playing it back to the coach
  • All movements, including the sprint to the ball, and 1 vs. 1 play, must be done at maximal intensity

While it may seem a bit unconventional to think of 1 versus 1 training as “strength training”, a closer look at the movements and intensities involved in this exercise presents a clearer picture for the rationale for its use to improve soccer-specific muscular strength.  Performing a short sprint to a ball requires maximal acceleration immediately followed by a quick and powerful deceleration – to slow down, either to secure and protect the ball (if the player arrives first) or to defend and prevent forward play (if the player arrives second).  These decelerations require very high eccentric strength in all of the major leg muscles, including the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps.  When performed repeatedly over the course of multiple repetitions, high speed eccentric contractions will help to strengthen these lower body muscles and prepare them for the exact movements needed in match play.  Once again, rest periods between repetitions are critical for this exercise, in order to allow for enough recovery for all players involved.  Most of the plays in this exercise should last between 5-10 seconds, so 1-2 minutes of rest between each repetition is sufficient.  Players can perform between 8-12 repetitions of this exercise.

  1. Endurance Training:

EnduranceTraining4Vs.4

  • Players are divided into small teams of 4 players
  • Play 4 versus 4, on a small field, 30 metres long x 20 metres wide
  • Balls are placed all around the field, so that if the ball goes out of play, the game can be re-started very quickly
  • Other conditions may be put on the game (for example, all players must be over the half line to score, or simply by minimizing the number of touches allowed per player)

This exercise, as well as other variations of small-sided soccer games, represents the best and most effective way to develop soccer-specific endurance.   Small-sided games are effective at improving endurance as long as they are played at a high intensity.  Coaches can ensure that the intensity is high by following the recommendations mentioned above.  Prevent breaks in play by playing a new ball in immediately after a ball in played out.  If the pace of the game starts to slow down, add a condition like minimizing touches to help speed it up.  A simple protocol to work with is to play for 4 repetitions of 4 minute games, with a 3 minute rest period between each game.

The exercises described in this article represent just a few ways to incorporate the principle of specificity into soccer fitness training.  Coaches and fitness coaches working with soccer players must strive to plan fitness exercises and training sessions that are as specific and relevant to the sport as possible, as this is the only way to ensure that improvements made during training will translate into improvements in match play.

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

Fitness, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #4: Friday, October 2nd, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss lower leg elevation as a way to enhance recovery and improve performance post-training and games.

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

Fitness

What’s Your Gol?

To mark the full launch of the Soccer Fitness Gols app on the App Store and Google Play, we are asking our community to share your fitness gols and, most importantly, why you’ve set them.

Please post a brief video describing your goal and tag us on Facebook and Twitter (#whatsyourgol).  In your video, please also send a shout out to 3 people you know to encourage them to do the same.

You can check out my personal video on our Facebook page.

app tile - Google-Play

Fitness, Matches, Science

Specificity – the Most Important Rule in Soccer Fitness Training (Part I)

This summer I took a trip to Montreal, to watch both a Women’s World Cup match, as well as a Major League Soccer match between the Montreal Impact and Orlando City FC.  During this time I also got to visit and catch up with an old friend, Palo Pacione, who is the Fitness Coach of the Impact.  We discussed our work, some of the ups and downs we have both experienced in our careers, and also how the role of a soccer fitness coach has changed and developed over the past 10-15 years, since the two of us got started in this industry.  During our discussion, one issue that continually came up was our shared opinion that the most important role a fitness coach can have in soccer is the work done with the players on the field, during training.  As we looked back on some of the experiences we have had at higher levels in the game, including the Canadian National Men’s and Women’s Teams, and both Canadian as well as international professional soccer teams and academies, we both recognized that the most important contributions we have made to players and teams at these levels came not from the work we did in the weight room, but rather from the soccer-specific work we did with them on the pitch.

As a sports scientist, I am inclined to consider the above-mentioned realization in the context of the principles of training, which provide fitness coaches with a framework from which they can develop their training strategy and tactics.  In doing so, I have come to see that the reason the most impactful and rewarding work soccer fitness coaches do occurs during training on the pitch is because of the most important of all of the principles of training – the principle of specificity.  The principle of specificity states that sports training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport for which the individual is training in order to produce a training effect.  Put another way, specificity refers to the development of any particular athletic quality, in the exact, specific manner in which it occurs in a particular sport.  In soccer, then, the principle of specificity dictates that the best way to develop the specific athletic qualities needed for soccer is to train them in the specific manner in which they occur in the sport, on the pitch.

To understand how the principle of specificity would affect training in soccer, the first step must be to identify what specific athletic qualities are central to performance in soccer, and then to determine how these athletic qualities occur in a match.  Below is a chart that lists the necessary athletic qualities in soccer, and how they are manifest in the sport:

ATHLETIC QUALITY MANIFESTS ITSELF IN SOCCER AS
Speed –          Short sprints (0-5 metres) to outrun opponents into space or to get to the ball

–          Long sprints (10-30 metres); usually recovery runs or overlapping runs

–          Multi-directional running (backwards, sideways, and diagonal)

Power –          Jumping to head the ball

–          (for goalkeepers) Jumping to catch/parry the ball

–          Shooting / ball striking

Strength –          (general) All soccer actions including running, jumping, kicking

–          (specific) Shielding, challenging for the ball on the ground or in the air

–          (specific) decelerating / slowing down from sprints and fast movements

Endurance –          Aerobic capacity (to be able to cover a specific total distance during a match)

–          High intensity running ability (to be able to perform a specific amount of high intensity – fast – running during a match)

–          Recovery (ability to recover in between bursts of high intensity running)

Flexibility –          Prevention of muscle injury when performing soccer actions such as running, jumping, kicking, and challenging for the ball

After determining the necessary athletic qualities in soccer and how they are manifest in the sport, the final step for soccer fitness coaches must be to determine what types of exercises or training will help to reproduce these athletic qualities in the same manner in which they occur in the sport.  When considering all of the specific details relating to the manifestation of each of the five athletic qualities in soccer, it is difficult – or maybe even impossible – to imagine a training program in which the execution of these athletic qualities would remain specific without having players on the pitch, actually playing soccer.  Thus, the only way for soccer fitness coaches to apply the principle of specificity to the physical training of soccer players is to come up with exercises and training sessions that are done on the pitch, with the ball, and preferably while actually playing soccer.  Below is a chart which briefly describes one practical example of how to use the principle of specificity to train for each of the 5 athletic qualities in soccer.  In Part II of this article (next week) I will provide detailed examples and descriptions of each of these 5 practical training sessions.

I hope you enjoyed this article, and would love to hear your thoughts/comments.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

ATHLETIC QUALITY PRACTICAL TRAINING EXAMPLE
Speed –          Crossing and finishing exercise, where wide players must make long sprints (10-20 metres) to receive a through ball, and then cross to forward players who must make short sprints (5-10 metres) to finish on goal
Power –          Technical exercise, involving repeated bouts of maximal jumps to head the ball
Strength –          1 vs. 1 exercise, done in a small/restricted space, to facilitate multiple decelerations and challenges for the ball
Endurance –          Small-sided soccer game, played at a high intensity for a specific amount of time, with a work-to-rest ratio of 1:1
Flexibility –          Soccer-specific warm-up exercises, following the FIFA 11+ program, that include flexibility and mobility exercises for soccer-specific muscles
Fitness, For Parents, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #3: Friday, September 25th, 2015

Hi everyone,

I’m excited to welcome you to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss the importance of keeping the airway warm while training and playing as temperatures get colder throughout the Fall season.

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

Matches

Article – ‘The Icelandic Roadmap to Success’ – on www.thesefootballtimes.co

Below is a link to a very interesting article written by Tryggvi Kristjansson, that was posted last week on http://www.thesefootballtimes.co, an international soccer specific website/blog.  The article describes the ascension of Iceland – a country which, with a population of just over 300,000 is one of the smallest European member nations in UEFA – as a soccer contender capable of consistently producing results against the traditionally stronger teams on the continent.  At week’s end, Iceland sits in 1st place in Group A of UEFA Euro 2016 Qualification, with 19 points (8 wins, 1 tie, and 1 loss) from their first 10 games.  Incredibly, they have already qualified and secured their place at Euro 2016 in France.

The success of Iceland’s National Soccer Teams has been the result of several changes instituted over the past 20 years by both the Icelandic government and municipal sport authorities, as well as the “KSI” (Knattspyrnusamband Íslands; the Icelandic FA).  Among them include investment in development and improvement of soccer facilities, better funding for National Teams programs and. perhaps most importantly, a comprehensive, nation-wide restructuring of their coach education program.

According to the author, the Icelandic FA:

“created a training programme for coaches (both UEFA A and B license training, as well as a Pro License in cooperation with the English FA) which has been made available to all coaches in the country at the lowest possible cost – KSÍ does not make a profit on the programme.”

Furthermore, he adds:

“These changes have seen a drastic increase in both the number of academic seminars (from 2-3 to 20-25) and the number of participants (from 70 to 700-800), and in this way KSÍ are able to accommodate every coach in Iceland, of which there are around 700.”

The end result is that in Iceland today, over 70% of the coaches have UEFA ‘B’ Licenses, and over 30% have UEFA ‘A’ Licenses (the highest license available to amateur coaches).  This is unprecedented not only in Canada/North America (where the overwhelming majority of coaches are volunteers who do not hold any coaching licenses at all) but also in Europe, as Iceland now have a higher percentage of UEFA ‘B’ and ‘A’ Licensed coaches than any other European nation.

Of course, there are some factors working in Iceland’s favour, including their small population (only 300,000), small total number of coaches (only 700), and small geographical landmass/area (just over 100,000 square kilometres).  The influence of the changes made to their soccer programs, however, including the emphasis placed on coach education, has produced results that are impossible to ignore.  It would be very interesting to see if these results can influence other nations, including our own, to push for the same type of changes.

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

http://thesefootballtimes.co/2015/01/15/the-icelandic-roadmap-to-success/

Fitness, For Parents, Science

Soccer Fitness Video Blog #2 – Friday, September 18th, 2015

Hi everyone,

I’m excited to welcome you to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss the importance of strengthening of the glute medius, which is a hip external rotator, and I provide some practical examples that can be done on the pitch after training.

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

For Parents, Science

Change Your Focus, Change Your Performance

It’s September, and I am now 1 full year into “back-to-school” mode.  The class I am presently enrolled in is Advanced Sport Psychology.  I first studied this subject during my undergraduate degree in Kinesiology over 10 years ago.  I was fascinated by the topic then, and I continue to be fascinated by it today.

As part of our first week of readings, I came across an excellent article written by Gabriele Wulf (2007), titled “Attentional Focus and Motor Learning: A Review of 10 Years of Research.”  As the title implies, this article reviewed and summarized 10 years’ worth or research on how attentional control used during coaching, delivered during both instruction and feedback of the execution of technical skills, can affect performance of those skills.  The overwhelming majority of studies across several different individual and team sports (including soccer of course) indicated that attention during technical execution should be focused externally, rather than internally.

If this sounds confusing, let me simplify it for you, using an example of a soccer-specific skill, ball striking.  If a coach working with a team wanted to teach his/her players how to strike a ball using internally focused instruction, the instruction might sound something like this:

“Position your foot at the midline of the ball to keep it travelling straight in the air.”

The attentional focus in this example is internal, because the instruction is for the athlete to focus on their foot, which is a part of their own body.

In contrast, the same coaching point, given with externally focused instruction, might sound like this:

“Strike the ball at its midline to keep it travelling straight in the air.”

In this example, the athlete is directed to shift their attentional focus to the ball only, which is an external stimulus.

Initially, upon reading this information, I found it surprising and unlikely that such a small – and seemingly insignificant – change in coaching instruction could actually have an impact on athletes’ performance or technical execution of the skill. As it turns out though, the same examples I just gave were taken directly from another study, examining the effects of different coaching instructional techniques on ball striking accuracy in soccer players!  This study, also done by Wolf et. al. in 2002, found that soccer players provided with externally-focused feedback had significantly better ball striking accuracy than those who were provided with internally-focused feedback.  Similar studies conducted in many other team and individual sports have shown similar results, all indicating that external instruction and feedback is more effective at improving short-term execution, as well as long-term learning and retention, of sport-specific skills.

Of course, teaching and coaching complex techniques in soccer may sometimes require the use of both external and internal attentional focus.  Based on the research, however, soccer coaches should challenge themselves to find as many ways as possible to give instruction and feedback in a way that draws their athletes’ attention away from internal cues, and towards external ones.

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

Fitness, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #1: Friday, September 11th, 2015

Hi Everyone,

I’m excited to welcome you to the very first edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog.  In this Blog, we will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness.  In this first edition, I am discussing the importance of single leg strength exercises for soccer players, and providing some practical examples that can be done on the pitch after training.  I hope you enjoy it!

Matches

Article – “U.S. Soccer Continues to Sabotage Soccer in the U.S.” by Bill Haisley

Below is a link to a very interesting article written by Bill Haisley and posted on http://www.screamer.deadspin.com last week. The article immediately caught my eye, not just because of its seemingly contradictory title, but also because I have always been a big fan of U.S. Soccer and of the work they have done growing and developing the sport in their home country.  I am very familiar with U.S. Soccer, having completed my USSF National “C”, “B”, “A”, and “Y” Licenses there, and also from my time working as Fitness Coach with the Canadian National Women’s Teams, when we frequently competed against strong U.S. teams.  During my time in the United States, I became a big proponent of the changes they made to their National Teams programs, and also of the positive impact that Major League Soccer (MLS; the nationwide professional soccer league introduced in 1994) has had on the development of the sport in their country.  Several aspects of soccer in the United States, if implemented, would be equally beneficial to the development of the sport here in Canada.  Specifically, I am an advocate of the following:

  • More funding for our National Teams programs in Canada
  • The creation of full-time, residency-based youth National Team (U17-U20, male and female) programs
  • The creation of a nation-wide Canadian professional league (similar to Major League Soccer)
  • Expansion of more Canadian teams into the U.S.-based professional leagues (MLS, as well as the North American Soccer League/NASL, and the United Soccer League/USL-Pro)
  • Awarding of athletic scholarships to interuniversity sport athletes, including Varsity soccer players

Thus, it was a bit surprising to read an article that so vehemently criticizes U.S. Soccer in general, and the relationship between U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer in particular.  The main point the author makes is that the growth and development of the other rival professional soccer league in the United States (the NASL) is hindered by U.S. Soccer’s allegiance to MLS.  Most recently, U.S. Soccer ruled in favour of a redefinition to their parameters of what defines a “Division-I” professional soccer league, a designation that affords a league significantly better chances of attracting advertisers and sponsors, and in turn of achieving long term success.  Unfortunately, some of the new requirements seem to be arbitrary, unfair, and very much favourable to the MLS.  Among them are “increasing the minimum number of teams from 12 to 16, placing 75 percent of teams in cities of at least two million people, and requiring all stadiums to have capacity for at least 15,000 people.”  Interestingly, none of these requirements has anything to do with the quality of soccer on the pitch; they are basically all requirements that can only be met by MLS at the present time.

According to the author, the hindered development of the NASL will in turn hurt both Major League Soccer, and the United States Men’s National Teams.  This is because teams in MLS, without having to worry about competition, are not necessarily going to be motivated or incentivised to achieve results, win games, or develop talented players.  A simple, if not obvious, solution proposed by the author would be to have the professional soccer system in the U.S. function in the same way as every other professional soccer system in the world – with promotion and relegation across tiered divisions.  As mentioned previously, the U.S. already has three professional soccer leagues (MLS, NASL, and USL-Pro).  Why not designate MLS as the first tier “Division-i” league, with the NASL as “Division-II”, and the USL-Pro as “Division-III”? The top 2 or 3 teams in the NASL at the end of the season would get “promoted” up to the MLS, while the bottom 2 or 3 teams from MLS would get “relegated” down to the NASL.  The system would work the same way for the NASL and USL-Pro.  This type of system would reward the teams who perform better, and incentivise them not only to win, but also to try to develop their own players in order to keep their operating costs down and ensure long term success.  In turn, this increased competitiveness and emphasis on player development would strengthen the U.S. Men’s National Teams, who must compete against countries from all over the world that already use this system in their own professional soccer leagues.

Jurgen Klinsmann, German-born Head Coach of the United States senior Men’s National Team, has repeatedly stated in the media that he believes a professional soccer league with a promotion-relegation system and tiered divisions is necessary in order for the U.S. to remain competitive with other soccer nations.  Despite the many other successes and positive achievements of U.S. Soccer in the past 20 years, I would have to agree with him on this issue.

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

http://screamer.deadspin.com/u-s-soccer-continues-to-sabotage-soccer-in-the-u-s-1728268664?utm_campaign=socialflow_deadspin_facebook&utm_source=deadspin_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

For Parents

Why Are We Still Playing Tournaments?

Last weekend I ran an on-field training session with a club team at Bill Crother’s Secondary School in Unionville, a relatively nee high school with very impressive facilities, including 3 full size soccer pitches (2 turf, 1 natural grass) plus a full 400-metre track and stadium-style bleachers.  For me this was a regular day at the “office” except for the fact that on this day, the school was also hosting a youth soccer tournament.  As I began the long walk from the parking lot down to the field where I would be working with the team, I passed by dozens of young soccer players, tournament participants who looked to be about the U13-14 age, and their parents.  I couldn’t help but notice some of the things I saw and heard as I walked by.  Among the things that stood out the most to me were:

  • Players walking to their cars with all of their gear still on (including full uniform, cleats and shin-guards)
  • Parents unpacking coolers full of food, snacks, and drinks, plus tents and lawn chairs
  • One player holding an ice pack on her face, and her mother trying to explain to some friends how she had been “kicked in the face, but no penalty was given”
  • Another parent speaking to a group of players, telling them they “had better win the next game” because he “didn’t drive all the way here to come away with nothing”

Once I got to the field, I saw a very familiar sight for someone working in soccer in Canada.  A game between two U13 girls teams, in which no passes seemed to be made by either team, yet parents from both sets of teams were cheering wildly and, on more than one occasion, coaching/instructing their children from the sidelines.  At one point during the game, the referee (who couldn’t have been older than 16) missed an offside call, and a goal was scored on the ensuing break-away. Naturally, one parent from the team which conceded the goal started yelling at the referee, questioning his eyesight and calling him names.  By this time I had to get to the other field to start my session.

As I mentioned, if you work in or are involved in youth soccer in Canada, the scenarios involving soccer tournaments described above may seem perfectly normal, and maybe even harmless.  The problem, unfortunately, is that tournaments actually do a lot of real harm to player development in this country.  First and foremost, tournaments hurt development because they force players to play in too many games, without enough recovery in between each game.  The fact that players are keeping their shoes and gear on in between games, and that their parents are packing so much food and snacks, can only mean that they are playing multiple games over the course of each day, and in many cases, over multiple days.  Basically all the scientific literature pertaining to youth soccer has indicated that players require at least 48 hours between games in order to recover, and all major youth soccer organizations (including our own Provincial and National associations) advocate that youth players play only 1 game per week.  This is because, when players play multiple games without optimal recovery, their performance suffers (speed, power, strength, and endurance all get significantly lower) and their chances of becoming injured become much greater.

A second and perhaps more significant way in which tournaments hurt development is that they encourage competition over player development, and reward winning at all costs.  Parents complaining about referees’ decisions (to the point that they become verbally and even physically abusive) and criticizing their own children/team for not winning, shows just how important winning can be in the typical tournament setting.  Unfortunately, placing undue emphasis on winning games and tournaments puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on players, who end up determining their own worth in the sport not by their skill level, tactical knowledge, or fitness, but rather by whether or not their team wins or loses.  Adding to the absurdity of the situation is the fact that winning any youth tournament or league means absolutely nothing in the long-term success of a soccer player.  I have worked in several different higher level soccer environments in this country, including college/university, the Toronto FC Academy, and the Canadian National Teams, and I can say without a doubt that the coaches at these levels do not care whether or not any of their players won tournaments or leagues as youth players.  What high level soccer coaches are concerned with when they are identifying and selecting players is only the players’ technical/tactical ability, physical fitness, and attitude.  The development of these key attributes in youth players is almost always hampered with participation in soccer tournaments.

I can’t help but wonder why, in the year 2015, we are still subjecting our players to 2+ games per-day, and 3+ games per-weekend soccer tournaments? The rest of the world has long since changed the way they structure youth competitions, so that even in most international soccer tournaments, teams do not play more than one game in a day and frequently have at least 1-2 days off in between games.  If our goal is truly to develop more talented, confident, fit, and injury-free soccer players, then I say it is time to stop playing soccer tournaments and to fully commit to long-term player development.

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

Fitness, Science

Article “Dispelling the Myths of Soccer Fitness” Posted by www.socceranywhere.com

It’s the middle of August, and for university soccer teams across the country – and also across the continent – that means the start of pre-season training.  Typically, pre-season schedules involve two, and sometimes even 3 training sessions per day, for 2-3 weeks, with other inter-squad and exhibition games mixed in, and very few if any days off.  I’ve personally been a part of about one dozen pre-seasons, first as a university player, and then as an assistant coach and fitness coach with several different college and university teams.  For university players, one of the most common themes of this very demanding time of year is invariably going to be fatigue, which can simply decrease performance or, even worse, lead to injuries.  Unfortunately, as two-/ three-a-day pre-season training schedules have become the norm in university soccer, players must basically resign themselves to the fact that they are going to be in constant pain for this time period, and that they will be lucky to get out of it without picking up an over-use injury.

With almost perfect timing, an excellent article and interview of Raymond Verheijen was posted by http://www.socceranywhere.com on Thursday of last week.  Verheijen is a professional coach and fitness coach from the Netherlands, and a world-renowned expert in periodization of fitness training in soccer, who has worked with numerous professional clubs and national teams in the past 20 years.  One of the main things he advocates regarding fitness training for soccer is for coaches to use a science-based, or objective, approach to planning their training.  In discussing the dangers of over-training, he had the following to say:

“Overtraining has to do with fatigue. To understand what is important you must understand the characteristics of football in the context of developing players. At a higher level of the game you find that there is less space and less time – you must execute the same football actions in a shorter period of time with greater speed. What this means is that football is an intensity game, it’s a speed of action game, and not an endurance game. If it was an endurance game then more would be better – we would train teams longer. As it is an intensity sport, less is more. Training smarter with a higher intensity is more effective. This is not an opinion to be debated, it is objective fact. If speed of action is your objective then your worst enemy is fatigue. If you are still tired from your last training session then you will start with a lower than 100% speed of action. You will not stretch any boundaries or reach 101%. Fatigue within a training session is normal, but fatigue as a result of the previous session is your worst enemy. Between training sessions players should get rid of all of the fatigue so that they start at 100% at the next session. Only then can you improve yourself, from the perspective of performance.”

It will be very interesting to see how long it takes (if ever) for this kind of objective approach to catch on in university soccer. I suspect that the first few coaches and schools who start to lower their training volume and focus exclusively on intensity may be seen as being “too soft” and “not fit enough for the college/university environment.”  If improved player performance is the ultimate goal, however, then a pre-season training plan based on objective facts is the only way to achieve it.  Below is a link to the full article/interview:

http://socceranywhere.com/raymond-verheijen-soccer-fitness/

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

For Parents, Nutrition, Science

Why You Should Never – EVER – Eat a Low-Carbohydrate Diet

As part of my Nutrition for Sports Performance course, I was recently assigned to create a project (anything other than a written report) about a topic of my choice related to nutrition for a sport of my choice.  Of course, there was no choice of a sport other than soccer, and the topic I decided on was carbohydrate intake for high performance players.  I decided to make a “funny” video, with some useful information that applies specifically to university varsity soccer players on game days.  Here is a link to the video which I just posted on our Youtube page:

In my career, I have had a lot of experience with this particular topic, from being a university varsity athlete myself, to taking undergraduate kinesiology courses in nutrition and post-graduate courses in fitness and weight management, and finally to the work I did later at the higher levels of the game (including the Canadian Women’s U17 National Team and the Toronto FC Academy teams) that involved very specific nutritional education and player monitoring.  Throughout all this time, I have noticed that in the field of nutrition, many trends and “fad diets” come and go, from the Atkins diet in the early 2000’s to the more recent “Paleo” and “de-tox” type fads.  Unfortunately, one central theme among a lot of these fad diets has been recommendations for low – or even no – carbohydrate intake.

I don’t really have a problem with people in the “general population” (non-athletes) reducing their carbohydrate intake, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it.  This is because people who are not competitive athletes typically consume too many calories in general, and since a significant portion of their caloric intake is likely to be carbohydrates, they will likely experience some weight loss simply by reducing and/or eliminating carbohydrates from their diet.  The problem with low/no carbohydrate diets when applied to athletes – and specifically, soccer players – is that they simply do not provide soccer players with enough energy to perform the work they need to do on the pitch.  Here is a simple breakdown of scientific facts (not my personal opinions) about carbohydrates and soccer:

  • Professional soccer players cover, on average, between 9-12 kilometres per game
  • Included in this distance covered is an average of 2-3 kilometres of high intensity running (fast running and sprinting)
  • The average heart rate of professional soccer players in games is 170-180 beats per minute, or roughly 60-80% of age-predicted maximum heart rate
  • The ONLY nutrient available in the human body to provide the energy needed to perform work at these intensities is carbohydrate, which are stored in the body (in the muscles and in the liver) as a compound called “glycogen”
  • A large body of scientific evidence exists which demonstrates the relationship between stored muscle glycogen and physical performance in soccer, including:
    •  A linear relationship between resting muscle glycogen levels pre-training/game, and time to exhaustion in soccer (thus, the more energy a soccer player has stored, the longer he/she will last in training/games)
    • An inverse relationship between muscle glycogen used, and resting muscle glycogen levels in soccer (thus, the longer a soccer player plays the game, the more of their energy gets used up)
    • A linear relationship between high carbohydrate intake post-training/games, and muscle glycogen re-synthesis (thus, the more carbohydrates a soccer player eats, the better their will be able to replenish its energy stores)
    • A linear relationship between muscle glycogen re-synthesis, and increased physical performance (including muscular strength, power, and endurance) in soccer (thus, the better job a soccer player does of restoring his/her energy levels, the better he/she will perform physically in training/games)

Adding to the overwhelmingly strong argument for soccer players to eat a high carbohydrate diet is the fact that there is not one government-regulated organization in North America (including Health Canada, the Canada Food Guide, the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services) that recommends healthy adults to get less than 45% of their total caloric intake from carbohydrates.  Most of these organizations recommend a range of 45-65% of total daily caloric intake to be from carbohydrates, and that is for the “general population” of non-athletes, not elite soccer players.

Taken together, this information presents soccer players with an easy and clear message that they should eat a lot of carbohydrates each day, to optimize both performance, and recovery.  How much carbohydrates should you eat if you are an elite level soccer player?  A great study done by Burke et. al. in 2001 determined that elite soccer players should follow the following guidelines:

  • Consume 5-7 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day on non-training/game days
  • Consume 7-10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day on training/game days

I think it’s time we take a science-based approach to carbohydrate consumption in soccer.  Unless the advocates of low/no carbohydrate diets can come up with a way to provide soccer players with the energy to run 12 kilometres, with 3 kilometres being run at high speeds, and an average heart rate of 175 beats per minute, for 90+ minutes per game, without using carbohydrates, then a diet high in carbohydrates is the only science-based solution.  I hope that any elite level soccer player (or their parents/coaches) who read this article will think twice before they consider a low carbohydrate diet in the future.

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

Fitness, Science

The “You Have to be Big and Strong to Play in This League” Myth

Yesterday afternoon I worked as a Guest Coach at the 2nd 2015 TFC II Soccer Camp, run by International FC Academy (IFC) in Vaughan.  Each 1-day edition of the Camps feature a guest player either from TFC’s senior team, or the TFC II USL-Pro team.  Yesterday the guest player was 20 year old attacking midfielder Marky Delgado, recent TFC senior team signing who is also a member of the United States Men’s National Team.  These camps have been a very rewarding and positive experience for me, and the players who attend receive access both to high level coaching and training from the IFC staff, as well as the opportunity to learn and ask questions of the star TFC players.  During today’s question/answer portion of the Camp with Marky Delgado, one great question that came from one of the younger players was “what is your best strength, and what is your biggest weakness?”

Delgado noted that his best strength, in his opinion, was distribution from midfield, and he added that it has been this ability which has helped him earn a place in the starting line-up for TFC since arriving last month.  When asked to explain his biggest weakness, he simply responded “strength”, and he added “you need to be big and strong to play in the MLS.”  I have heard this type of comment many times before, most notably during the two years I spent as Head Strength and Conditioning Coach of the TFC Academy, in 2012-2013.  At times, it seemed as if some coaches, despite all of the advances in sports science and performance training, and also despite all of the science-based work I was doing with the players, were only concerned with how “big and strong” the young academy players were.  It was almost as if there was some kind of arbitrary “big and strong” threshold that a young player needed to reach, without which he would never become a professional player or make it into the first team, no matter how talented he was.

The problem with this line of thinking when it comes to youth development and professional soccer is that it is a complete fallacy.  Of course, muscular strength and power, particularly leg strength and power, plays a role in soccer players’ performance, and numerous studies have demonstrated that higher level soccer players have greater lower body strength than lower level soccer players.  But muscular “size” and, to a lesser extent, muscular strength, is not the best measuring stick for predicting the physical performance of a professional soccer player.  In fact, it isn’t even in the top 5, as it lags behind acceleration, speed, agility, repeated sprint ability, and jump height, just to name a few.  The physical ability with the best predictive value of performance in soccer is probably also the most misunderstood physical ability in the sport: high intensity running ability.  Simply put, high intensity running ability is defined as a player’s ability to perform “high intensity” – or fast – running during a game.  As a general rule, the more high intensity running a player can do in a game, the better he will play.  Over 15 years’ worth of research has clearly identified high intensity running ability (which can easily be measured through on-field tests like the Yo-Yo Test or the 30-15 IFT Test) as the best predictor of performance in soccer.  And high intensity running ability has absolutely nothing to do with how big or strong a soccer player is.

To illustrate this point, first think about the context in which the “big and strong” comment was made – that is, when Marky Delgado said “you have to be big and strong to play in the MLS.”  Major League Soccer is a league which seems to be renowned for having players who are “big and strong”.  The size and muscularity of the players in MLS is clearly visible and is also clearly more prominent than in the players in the top European leagues.  While there has as yet not been any research quantifying the distances covered and amount of high intensity running done in MLS, several recent studies have indicated that the leagues with the highest amounts of distance covered and high intensity running are the ones with the best players in the world (for example, the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A).  Since there is no comparative data available, I can at least make a “common sense” argument that it is probable that the players in MLS cover less total distance and do less high intensity running than those in Europe’s top leagues.  Thus, MLS players may be “bigger and stronger” than players in the top European leagues, but they are likely not doing as much high intensity running, and are thus likely not playing the game at the same high physical standard.

Delgado’s comment that “you need to be big and strong to play in the MLS” can be further refuted by examining the star player on his own team.  Designated Player Sebastian Giovinco, who is listed on TFC’s roster as 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 135 pounds, is small not just by MLS standards, but by those of any senior men’s professional team, anywhere in the world.  In fact, at 135 pounds he is almost 40 pounds lighter than the team’s average weight of 173 pounds.  Yet nobody in TFC or MLS has suggested that Giovinco needs to be “bigger and stronger” to play in the league.  At week’s end, Giovinco’s 16 goals and 11 assists have kept him as both TFC’s biggest offensive threat, as well as 2nd overall in the league in goals scored and tied for 3rd in assists.  In addition to his obviously excellent technical ability and positioning, Giovinco is excelling physically in MLS not because he is “big and string”, but because he is fast, agile, and well conditioned to be able to perform high intensity runs for the duration of every 90+ minute match.  And he is TFC’s smallest and lightest player. Interestingly, the second smallest/lightest player on TFC’s roster, at 5 feet 9 inches and 146 pounds, is Marky Delgado.

None of this is meant as a knock on Delgado, or on the inspiring message he gave to the aspiring young soccer players at the TFC camp yesterday afternoon.  I am only commenting on the need for a shift in the paradigm of how we go about measuring players’ physical ability and their potential to play professional soccer.  What is needed is a science-based approach, where coaches, fitness coaches, and sports-scientists work together to determine the best. most valid, and most reliable standardized, objective measurements of players’ abilities.  If a starting player for Toronto FC and an up-and-coming talent with the U.S. Men’s National Team believes he needs to be bigger and stronger to be competitive in Major League Soccer, then he (as well as his coaches) may be adjusting his training and spending more time on training for muscular size and strength at the expense of more important physical abilities like speed and high intensity running ability.  More importantly, if the prevailing attitude of coaches and fitness coaches in Toronto specifically, as well as in Canada in general, is that players who are not “big and strong” cannot be successful at the professional level, we may be excluding young, talented and potentially impact-full players from our higher levels of play (including youth professional academy and/or National Teams) for the wrong reasons.  Based on the most recent performances of Toronto FC in MLS, as well as our Canadian Men’s and Women’s National Teams in major senior international competitions, I do not think we can afford to make these kinds of mistakes in player identification.  I say It’s time to put an end to the “you need to be big and strong to play in this league” myth once and for all.

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

For Parents, Science

Article: “A Canadian Solution by Way of Germany” by www.canadakicks.com

Below is a link to a very interesting article, written and posted by the http://www.Canadakicks.com website, which is dedicated to all things soccer and Canadian.  The article highlights some unique aspects of the German soccer model, and some ways in which Canada can learn from – and copy off of – this model in order to improve our domestic player development.

The main aspect of Canadian soccer that the author feels needs to change is our coach education system.  Specifically, the author is advocating that the Canadian Soccer Association create a Canadian National Youth License, with a curriculum centred around optimal training methods for talented players aged U8-U12.  The rationale for the implementation of a National Youth License and coaching/teaching curriculum for talented young players is that these are the ages in which our players do not receive proper technical instruction and/or are not exposed to proper learning environments in which they can develop their tactical knowledge and speed of play.  Players fall behind at these ages because there are no coaches who are adequately trained to properly optimally develop them.

I am 100% in agreement with the authors of this article.   In 2006,  when I was just getting started as a coach, I enrolled in the United States Soccer Federation’s National “Y” (Youth) License.  At the time I knew very little about the course, but because I was working with youth players (U10-U12) I thought the course content would be very helpful and applicable to my work.  Everything about the National “Y” License was impressive to me.  In each of the first 5 days, the course focused on a specific age category, starting with U6 on Monday, U8 on Tuesday, etc. all the way up to U12 on Friday.  The instructors were not just soccer coaches, but also teachers, child psychologists, and physical fitness experts.  We learned about each particular age category’s unique characteristics, based on their stage of physical, psychological, and psychosocial development, and how best to structure the learning environment to be able to maximize players’ skill development throughout each stage.  Also included in the course was video feedback, whereby we were recorded running our sessions and then watched the video while receiving feedback from the instructors and our peers.  By the time of the final exams on the weekend, I was very confident and had gained a lot of valuable knowledge and insight into how to best train young soccer players.  The experience was very rewarding for me and I am sure it has helped me tremendously in my career as a coach and fitness coach.

Based on this very positive experience, I have since been an advocate that all coaches working with youth players should take the USSF National “Y” Licence, and also that the Canadian Soccer Association should develop its own Youth coaching license.  It has always struck me as odd that in Canada, so many of the coaches who work with our elite level youth players (aged U10 to U14) have National “B” and “A” Licenses, which have a curriculum focused almost exclusively on tactical training of elite players ages U14 and up.  The knowledge and experience these coaches gained from the National “B” and “A” Licences, while certainly very valuable, is not at all applicable to the actual work they are doing if they work with youth players aged U10 to U14.  Furthermore, because there is no level of credibility to distinguish which coaches are truly experts in working with youth players, we also have no way of ensuring that our elite youth players receive the best coaching and development available to them.

Of course, there are several factors which together have contributed, and are still contributing to the lack of optimal player development in this country.  In my opinion, the creation of a Canadian National Youth Coaching License, as described in the article below, is one way in which we can improve coach education and, ultimately, player development in Canadian soccer.

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

http://www.canadakicks.com/?p=1117

For Parents, Science

Bringing Fun – and Scoring Goals – Back to the Game: International FC’s TFC II Soccer Camp

Yesterday afternoon I worked at the inaugural TFC II Soccer Camp, run by the staff of International Football Club (IFC) a soccer development company and academy located in Vaughan, Ontario.  I am very familiar with IFC, as I have been providing fitness assessments and on-field fitness training for them for over 3 years, since the Fall of 2012.  They have expert coaches and very well organized programming, including a curriculum modelled after the Federazione Italiana Gioco Calcio (FIGC; the Italian Football Federation).  Yesterday’s camp was focused on ball mastery and shooting, and the program included several different exercises in which players were required to execute different dribbling moves, fakes/feints, shots on goal, and one versus. one situations.  The participants included boys and girls, aged U6 – U14, and many of them, although young, were very talented and hard working, making them easy to coach.

For me personally, this experience was very refreshing and a lot of fun.  In the past 5 years I have been so specialized in my career and as a result I have moved away from coaching technical skills to youth players, even though doing that type of work was how I got started as a coach.  While watching these young players train, I couldn’t help but think of the recent struggles to score goals experienced by our Canadian Men’s and Women’s National Teams, both in the Gold Cup (for the Men’s team); the Women’s World Cup (for the Women’s team); and the Pan-American Games (for both teams).  Without getting into all of the details, we have been shut out in many important matches and even Women’s Head Coach John Herdman recently stated, following Canada’s 2-1 loss to Mexico in the Bronze medal match at the Pan-Am Games on Friday, that “we’re just not as clinical in front of the net as we want to be.”

In speaking with the IFC Academy Directors, Giuseppe Raso and Frank Iaizzo, I commented that I think one of the reasons we are not developing players who are clinical in front of goal, is that we are not teaching and training them to be that way. The types of exercises I was asked to run at the camp yesterday, as well as the others run by the other IFC coaches, required players to perform countless moves and shots on goal, with an equal number of repetitions done with both feet.  There were enough coaches in each station to both encourage the players, as well as to ensure they were performing exercises properly and correct them if needed.  The application of technical dribbling and shooting skills into controlled 1 versus 1 games was also very well run, with age-appropriate rules, good work-to-rest ratios, and of course plenty of repetitions from both sides and with both feet.  Above all else, the players at International FC’s TFC II camp yesterday were clearly enjoying themselves, and it was very refreshing for me to see players working hard but having fun at the same time.

I cannot comment on what type of training that other clubs and academies are doing with young players across the province (or the country), however, when the end product at our senior National Teams is a lack of players who can score goals, clearly something is not working.  Perhaps we will require more of a focus on the development of individual technical abilities, at the expense of attacking and/or defending tactics (and even at the expense of physical fitness!) in order to improve in this area.

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