Fitness, For Coaches, For Parents

It’s Time to STOP “Holiday” Soccer Camps! Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #67: 12/31/2017

Hi Everyone,

I hope you all had a safe and enjoyable Holiday season!

In keeping with the Holiday theme, this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog discusses the prevalence of “Holiday” soccer camps that run throughout the December/January Christmas break, and whether or not it is worthwhile for young soccer players to participate in these camps during their time off from school and their regular soccer schedules.

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

Advertisements
Fitness, For Coaches, For Parents, Science

Coaches – Don’t Make This Mistake When Teaching Kicking Technique

By: Abdullah Zafar

Picture this: your team has won a free kick on the edge of the box and your dead ball specialist lines up the perfect shot. You expect the ball in the back of the net but instead it ends up flying high over the crossbar.

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

If your answer was “they didn’t keep their body over the ball” then you’re on the right track BUT what you observed was just a side effect and not the root cause of the poor technique.

In fact, not only does leaning back not necessarily mean the ball will launch high into the air, numerous studies have also shown that maximum power is generated in this way.  Leaning back when striking the ball maximizes the range of motion and muscle recruitment of the kicking leg.

Think about it, in which scenario would you feel more powerful when striking: when you plant your foot directly under your body or slightly in front?  The fact is, planting your foot in front of your body creates a bigger distance for the kicking foot to travel and build speed, resulting in a more powerful strike.

Leaning to produce more power is definitely a plus, but a powerful shot is useless if there is no accuracy, so how does lean affect accuracy?  As a matter of fact, there are only three factors which contribute to the flight path of the ball:

  • foot orientation during ball contact
  • foot speed during ball contact
  • area of foot-to-ball contact.

Notice the common theme here? All three factors depend solely on the instant of foot-to-ball contact (not whether you lean back or not).

To explore further, foot orientation means how the foot is positioned when striking (e.g. ankle locked, toes pointed down) and determines how much energy is transferred from the foot to the ball.  Foot speed is simply how fast the foot is moving and determines the resulting speed of the ball.

Finally, and most importantly for accuracy, the area of foot-to-ball contact refers to the area on the ball that the foot strikes (e.g. dead center, above/below center, right/left side of ball).

It may seem obvious, but think about playing a ground pass straight ahead versus to the left or right. The only consideration when playing that pass is that the ball is hit dead center for it to move straight forward or hit on the left/right to pass it sideways.  The same idea would apply when talking about the ball in the vertical direction: hitting the ball below center lifts it into the air while hitting the ball dead center keeps it level.

Pirlo

So, what is the best way for coaches to take all of this information and correct their players’ kicking technique?

Instead of saying “body over the ball”, it would be more effective to say “plant your foot beside the ball”.  What then happens is that the arc of the kicking foot naturally contacts the ball closer to its center.  If the foot was planted behind the ball, the kicking foot would “reach” forward, contacting the ball below its center causing it to lift into the air.

Coincidentally, reaching forward with the leg means leaning back more with the body, which is where the concept of “body over the ball” originally came from.  While this concept was a certainly a good start, a more thorough analysis would indicate that leaning back wasn’t the main issue but misplacing the plant foot was.

Ultimately as coaches, this example should encourage us to examine the information we are giving our players and ensure it is as accurate as possible.

I hope you enjoyed this article.  Please feel free to leave your comments and feedback!

Abdullah Zafar is currently studying mathematics and physics at the University of Toronto, as well as working at Soccer Fitness Inc. as a strength & conditioning coach and research associate in biomechanics. For more from Abdullah, you can follow his soccer & physics content on Instagram @abdul.zaf, or check out his research work at: utoronto.academia.edu/AbdullahZafar.

 

Fitness, For Coaches, Science

Coaching Courses Didn’t Kill Coaching. Lack of Knowledge Killed Coaching

The trouble with the internet is that it allows anyone to say anything, about anything, regardless of their credibility or expertise.

To make matters worse, if somebody says something on the internet that is popular, they are bound to generate a reaction in which others agree with what has been said, regardless of whether what was said is factually true or not.

Lack of objectivity in the dissemination of information online can lead to the rise in popularity of ideas and opinions which have no factual basis in science or objective truth, and unfortunately, this was the case with a recent article written and published on the blog, www.newsportfuture.com, titled “How Coaching Courses Killed Coaching.”

Here is a link to the full article:

http://newsportfuture.com/coaching-courses/

Its main points can be summarised as follows:

  • 90% of the material presented in coaching courses is available on the internet, and most of it is available for free (so there is no need for coaches to pay for or attend courses in which present information that can be attained for free elsewhere).
  • When coaches at a National high performance coaching workshop were asked the question “what are the key qualities a successful coach must have?” they responded with: ““commitment,” “dedication,” “vision,” “passion,” “empathy,” “creativity,” “compassion,” “connection” (the point being, they did not list knowledge of any particular coaching or sports science topic among the key qualities coaches must possess).
  • Prior to the advent of the internet, coaching courses were full of sports science because this information was difficult to access; now, with the relative ease of access of information relating to sports science, presenting this information in coaching courses is a waste of time and is “killing coaching”
  • Coaching courses must instead focus on teaching coaches how to “create positive, enjoyable, interesting and engaging sports experiences for them – based on their, i.e. the kids’ and the parents’ specific needs”

Once again, it must be stated that these opinions, while they may be popular, are simply not rooted in objective, scientific facts.

Below are three reasons why coaching courses – including and especially those which present and teach  sports science – did not kill coaching, and how to objectively argue with those who ascribe to this popular – albeit incorrect – theory.

  1. Just because coaches listed “commitment, dedication, vision, passion etc..” as the most important qualities for a coach to possess, doesn’t mean that these qualities are truly the most important.

In any profession, including coaching, the most important quality that coaches MUST strive for is knowledge of the subject matter they are teaching.  Without knowledge, a coach could be highly committed, but he or she would still be presenting incorrect information to his or her players; without knowledge, a coach could be the most passionate person in the world, but he or she would still be presenting information that may be misleading or harmful to the development of his or her players.

You get the point.

Imagine, for instance, that medical schools, rather than prioritizing that aspiring doctors demonstrate their knowledge and competence in biology, physiology, etc. instead prioritized personality traits and the ability to communicate effectively with patients.  Of course, such abilities are important – and they ought to be taught in medical school – but to think that anyone in the medical profession would dismiss the teaching of scientific information in medical school is a “waste of time” simply because this information is available for free on the internet, is ludicrous.

And it isn’t any less ludicrous if it happens in coaching courses.

This isn’t to say that commitment, passion etc. aren’t important qualities for a coach to possess – they most certainly are.  The key point is that coaches must use their commitment and passion to drive their acquisition of knowledge, which is the only way for a coach to truly maximize the development of athletes under their charge.

  1. Just because sports science information is available for free online, doesn’t mean that coaches will use this information. 

And, furthermore, it doesn’t mean that this freely available information will lead to coaches actually improving their knowledge of the subject matter.

Think about this logically for one second.  If we accept the idea that, simply because information about a topic is available for free online, there is no need to present or teach this information in educational courses or schools, then why, since the advent of the internet, have we not seen the development of hundreds of millions of “experts” in all areas of scientific study?

The answer: most people do not learn or acquire knowledge simply by reading articles on the internet.  People – coaches included – learn in a variety of ways, including by listening to knowledgeable teachers and instructors, by writing and taking notes, by communicating and interacting with others, and by participating in activities related to the subject matter they are learning about.

Knowledge of the relevant subject matter – which is the most important quality a coach must have for them to effectively teach this subject matter to players – is thus best acquired in an environment in which these different forms of learning are made available.

Any of you who attended a college, university or any other type of technical school to gain knowledge or learn a particular skill or trade, ask yourself the following question:

“Would I really have learned this material and developed my expertise in this subject matter in the same way and to the same degree, had I not attended school and simply read about these topics on the internet?”

I think you will likely find that the answer to this question is “no.”

  1. Just because knowledge – the “technical” side of coaching – and passion – the “personal/ psychological” side of coaching – are both important, doesn’t mean that coaching courses cannot instill and develop both attributes – and others – simultaneously.

In fact, the best coaching courses do!

I would venture to say that, if coaches who attend coaching courses which present sports science are coming away from these courses disappointed or disinterested in the content that was presented – or, as the author of the article seems to suggest, disinterested in coaching altogether – the problem is not that this subject matter is not interesting or relevant to them; the problem is much more likely to be that the instructors of these courses lacked passion, dedication, creativity, empathy – the “personal/psychological” qualities that would have made them better teachers of the subject matter in the first place.

A good teacher or course instructor should be able to get coaches to become passionate about all aspects of their sport – including sports science – and to teach coaches how best to transfer this passion about the subject matter to their athletes.

Furthermore, a good coaching course should be able to combine the technical and scientific content of the course with content related to the “personal/psychological” side of coaching – in other words, to teach coaches how to be knowledgeable AND passionate at the same time.

The reality is that soccer, like all other sports, is first and foremost a sport.  Moreover, as a sport, soccer is also a form of exercise.  Thus, coaches who plan training for soccer – or any other sport – are in fact planning exercise, and planning any form of exercise requires a strong knowledge of exercise science; knowledge which is best attained by enrolling in coaching courses.

Ultimately, they way to objectively assess the success or failure of any sports coaching methodology – and thus, any coaching course curriculum – is whether or not the countries or sports programs utilizing them have found that they have actually lead to improved sports performance; that is, when we look at countries or National teams who succeed at the highest level in soccer, are their coaches the most knowledgeable, the most passionate, or both?

I’d like to leave you to decide.  Please feel free to leave your comments and feedback below!

Fitness, For Coaches, Injuries, Matches

How Canadian College and University Soccer Is STILL Hurting Young Soccer Players – And What Can Be Done to Change It

It’s hard to believe, but I originally wrote a very similar article to the one you are about to read, exactly 2 years ago (in early November, 2015).  Much to my disappointment, since that time nothing has changed in the Ontario and Canadian inter-university soccer competitive schedules.

The original article, which was published here on our Blog as well as in Inside Soccer Magazine and on the Red Nation Online website, discussed some of the problems associated with the current university soccer schedules here in Ontario and Canada – primarily the fact that too many games were being played without sufficient time off in between games.

Unfortunately, as noted above – and as you will see from continuing to read below – nothing has changed.  Despite overwhelming evidence demonstrating the significantly increased risks of injury for players who play 2 or more 90+ minute soccer matches per week and/or have less than 2 full days off in between matches, Canadian College and University Soccer is still hurting young soccer players with the same antiquated, congested schedule of 1.5-2 matches per week.

Below is a revised version of my original article, updated to include all OCAA, CCAA, OUA, and U-Sports competitive regular season and post-season schedules for the 2017 men’s soccer seasons.  I hope you enjoy reading it and I also hope it might motivate those of you in the soccer community to seek out ways in which changes can be made for the safety and protection of young soccer players nation-wide.

It’s also hard to believe, but we are now approaching the first week of November, 2017.  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 U-Sports (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) men’s National Championship tournament schedules:

  • CCAA Men’s Soccer:
    • Match 1: Wednesday, November 8th
    • Match 2 (Semi-Finals): Friday, November 10th
    • Match 3 (Bronze and Gold Medal Matches): Saturday, November 11th
  • U-Sports Men’s Soccer:
    • Match 1: Thursday, November 9th
    • Match 2 (Semi-Finals): Saturday, November 11th
    • Match 3: (Bronze and Gold Medal Matches): Sunday, November 12th

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 2017:

  • OCAA Men’s Soccer Championships:
    • Match 1 (Quarter-Finals): Thursday, October 26th
    • Match 2 (Semi-Finals): Friday, October 27th
    • Match 3 (Bronze and Gold Medal Matches): Saturday, October 28th
  • OUA Men’s Soccer Final Four:
    • Match 1 (Semi-Finals): Saturday, November 3rd
    • Match 2 (Bronze and Gold Medal Matches): Sunday, November 4th

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 2017 OCAA and OUA competitive schedules looked like:

  • OCAA Men’s Soccer competitive season:
    • 10 matches played from Saturday, September 6th to Wednesday, October 16th
    • Total of 10 matches in 6 weeks = 1.6 matches per week
  • OUA Men’s Soccer competitive season:
    • 16 matches played from Saturday, August 26th to Saturday, October 21st
    • Total of 16 matches in 8 weeks = 2.0 matches per week

I cannot help but wonder why, in the year 2017, 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, former 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 took effect in 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 U-Sports 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.

Fitness, For Coaches, Injuries, Matches

How Canadian University Soccer is STILL Hurting Young Soccer Players – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Bog #57: 10/28/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the congested schedule of the regular season and play-offs in Ontario and Canadian university soccer, and the inherent problems associated with making adult players consistently play more than 1 competitive, 90+ minute match per week.

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

Fitness, For Coaches, For Parents

How NOT to Defend Leo Messi – UEFA Champions League Analysis – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #55: 9/27/2017

Hi Everyone,

It’s that time of year again – the start of the 2017/2018 UEFA Champions League!

As such, in this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the recent group match between Barcelona and Juventus (a rematch of the 2016-17 Semi-Final), and how in this match (as opposed to the Semi-Final matches this past spring), Juventus was uncharacteristically shaky in their defence. Of particular interest was centre back Benatia, who made two crucial mistakes as the “covering” defender during dribbling runs by Leo Messi that led to Barcelona’s first and third goals.

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

Fitness, For Coaches, For Parents

Talent can be Developed ANYWHERE – Even on a Small Tropical Island – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #54: 9/23/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss my recent trip to Maui, Hawaii, and the work I did there with the Valley Isle Soccer Academy, the largest soccer academy on the island.  Despite numbering less than 150 players and, of course, hailing from an island with a total population of only 150,000 people, Valley Isle has managed to develop top level talent, including one player who secured a place with the Portland Timbers’ MLS Academy, and another who earned a trial at training camp with the United States National Girls U15 Team.

The take-home message here?  That talent can be developed ANYWHERE – even on a small tropical island!

I hope you enjoy the video and as always, please feel free to post your thoughts and comments.