Fitness, For Coaches, For Parents

Talent can be Developed Anywhere – Even on a Small Tropical Island

Located in the heart of Maui – one of the Hawaiian Islands, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with a population of just under 150,000 people – the Valley Isle Soccer Academy is, as stated on their website, “Maui’s only professionally organized training academy for competitive youth soccer”.

Founded in 2012 by former F.K. Jagodina (Serbian professional youth academy) and West Virginia Wesleyan College player Aleksander Filipovic, along with his wife, former New Zealand Women’s U20 National Team and York University player and an old schoolmate of mine, Rebecca Filipovic, the Academy is now home to over 5 competitive teams with 150 full-time registered players.

After being hired to work with the Academy earlier this month, to provide my Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course to their coaches, fitness assessments for their players, and a nutrition presentation – for the players and their parents, I was not really sure what to expect.

I had full confidence that the quality of coaching the Academy players were receiving under the guidance of Aleks and Rebecca would be excellent, but I could not say that I had the same confidence that the players’ technical and tactical abilities would be at the same standard.

After all, Maui is a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with no real soccer history or culture to speak of, and of course it is also part of the United States, a country in which soccer has not yet fully developed or flourished – even on the densely populated mainland.

Following my weeklong employment with the Academy, however, I can now happily say that I was wrong about the level of soccer talent on Maui – the players’ technical and tactical abilities and overall soccer talent far exceeded my expectations.

During their training sessions and inter-squad games throughout the week, the young male and female players from Hawaii showed poise and confidence on the ball, as well as a solid tactical understanding of the concepts taught to them by Aleks and the other Coaching Staff.

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If not for the weather and scenery, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a youth team from a major North American metropolitan area – like New York, Los Angeles, or even Toronto – and not a small Hawaiian island with no professional or even university Varsity soccer teams to it name.

Apparently, I am not the only one who has noticed the soccer talent on display at Valley Isle.

Notable recent Academy success stories include Caetlyn Johannes, who recently headed back to her third training camp with the United States U15 Girls National Team, and Tommy Musto, who has accepted a place in the Portland Timbers’ Youth Academy U14 Boys team in Portland, Oregon, feeder system for the Timbers’ senior professional soccer team that competes in Major League Soccer.

What is the secret to the success of the Valley Isle Soccer Academy in developing talented young soccer players?  In reality, it is no secret at all – simply the combination of knowledgeable, experienced coaches working consistently with young players who have a passion for the game and are eager to learn.

I’ve written before about the importance of coach education and the role it plays in player development – both from a physical perspective as well as a talent development perspective – and never has this importance been more evident to me than during my time on Maui.

Aleks, Rebecca and their team have proven that even players without the advantage of participating in highly competitive, densely populated youth leagues and tournaments – as is the case in Maui – can develop and progress into the elite levels of play in the continent, including youth National Teams and professional Youth Academy programs.

They have also proven that talented soccer players are not born; they are made, through a combination of hard work, qualified instruction, a love of the game and a little bit of luck along the way.

Perhaps, in Canada, where all too often it seems as though we make excuses as to why we do not develop top level soccer players, we could take a lesson from the Valley Isle Soccer Academy, that talent can be developed anywhere – even on a small tropical island.

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

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Fitness, For Coaches, For Parents, Science

Coaching IS Fitness Training – Why Coaches Should Take the Soccer Fitness Trainer`s Course

I began learning how to coach around the same time I began learning about sport science, when I got a job coaching a YMCA boys’ soccer team almost 17 years ago, while I was also an undergraduate student in Toronto.  Even at that time, the synergy between what I was learning about coaching – how to plan and implement practices for my team – and kinesiology – the scientific theory behind how to exercise and play sports like soccer – seemed very obvious to me.

After all, anyone who has played the game of soccer at any level will realize almost instantaneously following kick-off that the sport demands a high level of fitness, including speed, agility, strength, power and endurance.

Equally apparent to any soccer player is the reality that the high technical and tactical demands of the game become ever-more challenging when you are not fit enough to keep up.

Thus, if you agree with these objective facts and follow the logic, any form of soccer training or soccer practice must include a well-planned physical component, to ensure that players adapt to the high physical demands of the game and are able to execute the necessary technical and tactical skills while under fatigue in competition.

Fast-forward to 2017, and it seems as though this synergy – the objective reality that in soccer, the physical part of the game is directly connected to the game, something which was always so obvious to me even as a 20-year old beginner coach and undergraduate student – is not necessarily as obvious to many other Canadian and American soccer coaches.

In North America, even some of the highest-level coach licensing courses devote very little time to educating coaches about sports science, let alone requiring them to learn and understand how to plan and periodise the physical part of their training sessions throughout a season.

Unfortunately, the by-product of the lack of emphasis placed in coach licensing programs on teaching coaches about the physical side of the game is that most North American soccer coaches are not aware of, and/or able to plan and implement appropriate physical fitness testing and training programs with their teams.

Even more unfortunately, the players who play for these coaches will often go through their amateur youth careers either under-training – where they train too little or their training is not intense enough to achieve any sustained improvements in physical fitness – or over-training – where their training load, intensity and volume is too high and they either get hurt, or burn-out and lose interest in the sport altogether.

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It was with all of this information in mind that I decided to develop the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course.  This truly one-of-a-kind Course, which has now been accredited for continuing education credits by Ontario Soccer, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and CanFitPro, is aimed at soccer coaches with an interest in fitness training, as well as fitness coaches with an interest in soccer.

More importantly, it also fills the aforementioned gap that presently exists in the North American coach licensing system, regarding the physical component of soccer and how to train for it.

Comprising 20 hours of both on-field and in-class instruction from industry leaders in sports science and performance training, our Course  teaches the latest, evidence-based theory and methodology of soccer-specific fitness testing, training and monitoring, and provides dozens of exclusive practical examples of training sessions I have used personally in my time working at the highest levels of the game, including the Canadian Women’s National Teams, the Toronto FC Academy Teams, and Canadian SC, a professional soccer club in Uruguay.

Participants in the Course will come away with a clear picture of exactly how to plan and implement a year-round fitness program that is guaranteed to improve players’ performance and reduce their chances of getting injured.

We are now hosting live Courses run through Soccer Fitness at Trio Sportsplex (October 13th-15th, 2017), and through Ontario Soccer at the Ontario Soccer Centre (October 21st-22nd, 2017), as well as a new 100% Online Course, available now through our unique Course Craft online education platform.   If you’re interested, we encourage you to visit our website, www.soccerfitness.ca, for more information and registration details.

Ultimately, if Canadian and American coaches are to maximise the development and performance of their players, they must start with the realisation that coaching IS fitness, and fitness is and must be an essential component of each and every training session.

As one recent coach who attended earlier this year explained:   “Any coach who is dedicated to their own professional development and who cares about their athletes needs to take the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course.”

Richard-Denmark Presentation

I`d love to hear your thoughts about this article.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started!

Fitness, For Coaches, Science

Don’t be THIS Kind of Strength and Conditioning Coach! Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #53: 9/4/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the need for fitness and strength / conditioning coaches who work in soccer, to be more than just “repetition counters” in their day-to-day work. If you do work in soccer, you need to build upon the “conditioning” piece of “strength and conditioning”, and integrate the work you do into the planning of all soccer training.

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

Fitness, For Coaches, Matches

How a Real Professional Soccer Club Does Soccer Fitness Training: Paolo Pacione and the Miami FC – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #52: 8/25/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this week’s edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I summarise the week o August 7th-13th, 2017, which I spent sitting in and observing training with the Miami FC and their Fitness Coach (a long-time friend and colleague) Paolo Pacione. I also provide some recommendations for Canadian fitness coaches and soccer coaches, based on what I observed from Pacione and the Miami FC, as to how best to integrate fitness training into soccer training sessions.
Hope you like it and as always, please feel free to post thoughts and comments!

Credit: The Miami FC
Fitness, For Coaches, Matches

How The Pro’s Incorporate Fitness into Soccer Training – Paolo Pacione and the Miami FC

(Photo credit: The Miami FC).

On the week of August 7th-13th, 2017, I visited my old friend and colleague Paolo Pacione, who has been the Head of Fitness and Performance at the Miami FC of the North American Soccer League for the past 2 years.

Pacione has had an extensive background working at the highest levels of the game in North America – including the Toronto Lynx of the A-League, various clubs in the Canadian Professional Soccer League, the Canadian Men’s and Women’s National Teams, and the Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer – and internationally, having worked with Faenza Calcio, a professional club in Italy.

He and the staff at the Miami FC, including Head Coach Alessandro Nesta, were gracious enough to allow me to sit in on an entire week of their training, leading up to their home game versus the Indy Eleven on Saturday, August 12th.

One thing I saw during training that week which was very interesting to me – primarily because it is so rare in Canada, even in the higher levels of the game in which I have worked over the past few years – was that at the Miami FC, the Fitness Coach was integrated into, and had a hand in planning, all aspects of the team’s training – not just the “physical” part of the sessions.

This means that Pacione works as part of the Coaching Staff – through a collaborative process in which Head Coach Nesta – who met Pacione in his final season of professional soccer, when Paolo was the Fitness Coach of Montreal Impact – draws upon the knowledge and experience of all of his supporting staff in order to optimise the planning of training, from the first minute of the warm-up to the final minute of the small- or large-sided games.

Why is the integration of the Fitness Coach into the planning of all training so important?  Simply put, it is the only way to ensure the optimal training environment for players, and thus the only way to ensure optimal performance of players in training and game play.

I’ve written about this topic before, including as a means of explaining the rationale behind the creation of my Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Courses, which teach Canadian amateur club/academy soccer coaches how to plan and implement physical fitness training into their sessions in the absence of a professional fitness coach (a reality for the majority of amateur clubs and academies in Canada).

 

In the elite Canadian soccer environments, including university Varsity teams, Provincial and National Teams, and professional Academies and First Teams, coaches should not be expected to plan and implement fitness training on their own, nor should this work be passed off onto Athletic Therapists or other staff, as is unfortunately too often the case.

Professional Fitness Coaches must be an integral part of the Coaching Staff in these environments if we truly wish to optimise player development at the youth level, and player performance at the adult level.

How can we be sure that this model is effective?  In professional soccer, results are what matter most.  And in the case of the Miami FC, the results speak for themselves.  The club, in only their second full season in the North American Soccer League, finished the 2017 Spring Season in first place, with 36 points from 16 matches – a full 10 points ahead of their closest rivals the San Francisco Deltas – and securing a play-off spot for this coming November.

After a slow start to the 2017 Fall Season, to date the teams sits tied with Puerto Rico FC for first place in the league, with 9 points from 5 matches.

The Miami FC also had a successful run all the way to the Quarterfinals of the 2017 U.S. Open Cup – the oldest national soccer competition in the United States open to all professional clubs in the country – During which they secured victories over Major League Soccer clubs Orlando City SC in the Fourth Round, and Atlanta United in the Round of 16.

In addition to the results on the pitch, the professional, positive, “winning” environment created by the Coaching Staff was clearly evident to me as I observed the team’s training all week.  The players were respectful, hard-working, eager to learn and very responsive to the instruction and training they received, all of which was of the highest quality.  Team morale could not have been higher than it was during the final training session prior to their match on the 12th – always a good sign.

They ended up winning convincingly, by a score of 3 to 1.

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Credit for the team’s success must be given at least in part to the synergy that exists between the Coaching Staff, at the centre of which is Fitness Coach Pacione.  He has developed an efficient working relationship with the rest of the Coaching Staff at the Miami FC, built on trust and mutual respect of each person’s unique knowledge, experience and abilities.

Many Canadian coaches and fitness coaches presently working in high performance environments could stand to learn a thing or two from the example set by Pacione and the Miami FC.  If we are truly serious about optimising player development and player performance in these environments, we need to find, train, and empower Fitness Coaches, and fully integrate them into their respective team’s Coaching Staff.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments about this article.  Please drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Fitness, For Parents, Nutrition, Science

Soccer Players – 3 Reasons You DON’T NEED Nutritional Supplements! Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #51: 8/17/2017

Hi Everyone,

Do you use nutritional supplements?  Have you considered using them?  In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss some of the science behind nutritional supplements, and provide 3 reasons why soccer players should NOT use them as part of their diet and daily routine.

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

Fitness, For Coaches, Injuries, Science

Explaining Our Research – Part 2 – Preventing Knee Injuries and Improving Performance in Female Soccer Players

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

The second study I am reviewing is titled “A comparison of hip neuromuscular strengthening and high intensity interval training on knee abduction angle in elite youth female soccer players”, which sought to compare the effectiveness of two different types of training – an ACL prevention program and a speed endurance / running program – on markers of physical performance and injury risk in female soccer players.

Something very unique about this research is that our proposal for this study was submitted through the University of Guelph, in part so that the school could purchase and use a state-of-the-art 3D motion capture system that includes 3D cameras, software, and a treadmill with force plates.  The pre- and post-training assessments performed in this study (to examine changes in knee injury risk in the players) included the use of this new equipment.

We recruited players from 3 different elite female youth soccer teams (Under-15 age category) to participate in this study, and randomly assigned all players into 3 groups:

  1. ACL-prevention training group (“Knee Training” or “KT” group)
  2. Speed endurance training group (“Treadmill Training” or “TT” group)
  3. Control group (“CT” group)

Prior to the training programs, all players underwent physical fitness testing including the following assessments:

  • Linear running speed (10, 20, and 35 metres)
  • Vertical jump
  • Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test (a test of endurance and high intensity running ability)
  • Assessment of knee abduction angle using the Qualysis 3D motion capture system, during running, and single-/double-leg drop jump movements

The two training-based groups performed 6-week, 2 training sessions per-week programs at the Soccer Fitness Training Centre.  Following these 6-week training regimes, players underwent the same fitness assessments, and differences/comparisons between the pre- and post-training test results were examined.

Results of this study provided some interesting and useful information for youth soccer coaches and fitness coaches.  The KT group (which performed a 6-week ACL prevention program that included plyometrics, strength training, and balance training) experienced a significant reduction in knee abduction angle of 8% in the single-leg squat test, and 10% in the drop jump test.  This represents a significantly reduced risk of ACL injury for Under-15 aged female soccer players, who happen to be in the highest risk category for such injuries.

The TT group experienced a significant improvement in their Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test scores, with an average increased distance covered of over 320 metres.  Since the average distance of a sprint or high intensity run in soccer is only 10 metres, this means that the players in our study improved their capacity to perform an extra 30-35 sprints or fast runs per game.  Thus, the use of a treadmill-based speed endurance training program with Under-15 aged female players was shown to be effective at improving high intensity running ability – which has been shown in the past to be a key predictor of performance in female soccer players in this and older age categories.

So what does this all mean for coaches and fitness coaches working with young female soccer players? The ideal fitness training program for female players should include exercises designed to reduce the risk of ACL injury (the most prevalent type of injury in female soccer players) and other to improve high intensity running ability (the best predictor of performance in female soccer players).

In our study, we identified two separate 6-week training programs, each of which was effective in achieving one of these two training objectives.  Thus, it may be possible that a combination of the two training programs used in our study – that is, an ACL prevention program including plyometrics, strength training, and balance training, plus a speed endurance training program performed using a high speed/high incline running treadmill – would be the ideal choice to use with Under-15 aged female soccer players.

More research, examining the effectiveness’s of combined injury prevention and performance enhancement training programs like the ones used in our study, is warranted in order to determine what exactly the best practices are for elite female players.  At Soccer Fitness Inc., we are looking forward to conducting some such research and attempting to answer this question.

I hope you enjoyed this article.  As always, please feel free to post your thoughts or comments below.