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!

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.

 

For Coaches, For Parents, Science

KNOWLEDGE – The One and Only MOST Important Quality for Soccer Coaches – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #63: 12/10/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the importance of knowledge in coaching.

It may seem surprising to some, but there are actually people out there who think that knowledge of the subject matter – in this case, the science of coaching – is not the most important quality for a soccer coach to possess, and thus should not be the focus of coaching education courses.

In my opinion, these people are WRONG. Check out my latest video to see why, and please fee free to share your own opinions too!

For Coaches, For Parents, Matches

3 Reasons Why Italy Failed to Qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup; And What We Can Learn From Their Mistakes – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #61: 11/26/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the Italian Men’s National Team’s recent failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, following their 1-0 defeat in a 2-leg Play-Off with Sweden.

All three of the reasons I’ve provided as to why I feel Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup are centred around coaching, so I have also provided some suggestions for possible improvements which may be made to the coaching methodology of the Italian team, as well as some take-home messages that all soccer coaches – including those of us who are working here in Canada – can learn from Italy’s recent failure.

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

For Coaches, For Parents, Matches

Why Giovinco, Altidore and Co. Were WRONG – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #60: 11/19/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the recent Major League Soccer (MLS) Eastern Conference Semi-Final 2nd Leg Play-Off match between Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls, which took place on Sunday, November 5th.

While Toronto escaped with a 2-1 aggregate victory and thus progressed to the Conference Final (which will begin with the First Leg this coming Tuesday, November 21st) they did so while losing two of their star players – Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore – to suspension, primarily because they could not keep their cool when the referee’s calls did not go their way.

In the Blog this week, I discuss why these and other TFC players were wrong in losing their tempers and criticising the referee, and why other young and aspiring Canadian players should think twice before doing so themselves.

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

For Coaches, For Parents, Matches

3 Things Every National Team Needs to STOP Doing to Better Ensure Future World Cup Qualification:

In the past month, Italy (4-time FIFA World Cup champions) Chile (2016 Copa America champions) and the United States (2017 Gold Cup champions) all failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.  Each of these three National teams have had a history of regional and international success, and thus the failure of all three to qualify for next year’s tournament in Russia has been met with equal parts shock, anger, and of course criticism – of everything from the referees, the coaches, and even the so-called “entitled” millennial players.

But is all this criticism being dished out by fans, former players and everyone else in the media warranted, or could it be misguided?  Below is a short list of three things which, in my opinion, every National Team – and its administrators, coaches, players, fans and media – need to stop doing in order to better ensure future World Cup qualification.

  1. Stop Blaming the Players: As mentioned previously, even though today’s generation of soccer players – the dreaded millennials – may very-well be the most self-centred, entitled group of people on the planet, all young soccer players from all National Teams around the world – including those from the teams that qualified for the World Cup – are selected from this same generation.  Thus, other National Teams programs have found a way – perhaps through better coaching and sport psychology programs – to reach this entitled generation of players and get the most out of them in international competition. In any competitive environment, attitude reflects leadership.  Thus, if the National Teams of Italy, Chile and the United States had better leadership – that is, coaching staffs better equipped to deal with today’s generation of players – then the attitude of their players would not have been a contributing factor to their teams’ poor performances.
  1. Stop Blaming the Referees: I’ve written about this topic before, but it bears repeating here: top level soccer referees have the toughest job of any official in any competitive sport by far.  And it’s getting tougher and tougher for them with the combination of the increased speed of the modern game, and advances in technology that make scrutinising their every move and decision easier and easier to do.  Top level referees are required to do almost as much high intensity running and sprinting as top level midfielders, despite being, on average, 10-20 years older than them.  As if this weren’t bad enough, today’s referees are expected to be perfect – to go through an entire match without making even a single mistake.  Even the best players in the world – who are younger and fitter than the referees and thus, should be better equipped to prevent fatigue that can negatively affect their decision-making ability – routinely make mistakes and are not criticised as much for them.  Thus, instead of blaming the referees, it might make more sense for teams to focus on correcting, limiting and preventing the mistakes they make themselves in each and every match they play.
  1. Stop using the “too many foreign players in our domestic leagues” excuse: Admittedly, this concern has primarily been raised by Italian supporters, as the Chilean and American domestic leagues lack the resources to attract top foreign players; however, it is a popular excuse nonetheless. Unfortunately the excuse lacks merit.  If having too many foreign players in a country’s domestic league – ostensibly limiting the opportunities for its home-grown players to develop and flourish – were truly a problem, why has it not affected the National Teams of Germany and Spain (both of whose top teams are laden with international talent from all over the world)?  The answer is that Spain and Germany have produced domestic players in their current National sides with enough talent to earn starting roles alongside their foreign teammates within the top professional clubs, as was the case with the top Italian players from their most recent successful generation, the mid-2000’s.  Many of the current generation of Italian National Team players – including goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, and defenders Giorgio Chielini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli who together formed the defensive backbone of the very successful Juventus teams of the past five years – have also clearly not been held back by the large number of foreign players plying their trade in the Italian Serie “A”.  If other Italian midfielders and attackers were as good as the top players in those positions 10 years ago – such as Andrea Pirlo, Francesco Totti and Luca Toni, just to name a few – they would be starting with their club teams as well. Thus, instead of blaming poor performances on the abundance of foreign players (limiting opportunities for domestic players), in their professional leagues, Italy and other nations should focus their energy on developing players worthy of these opportunities in the first place.

Ultimately, the success or failure of any National Team in World Cup qualification must be the responsibility of its leadership – the coaches in the team itself, plus those who work in the top professional clubs, youth academies, and youth National Teams programs.

If these coaches and programs are able to produce talented, resilient, and mentally tough player with the ability to compete and excel at the international level, then the need to provide excuses for not qualifying for the Word Cup will not exist, because in all likelihood, World Cup qualification will have already been secured.

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

For Coaches, For Parents, Matches

Even the BEST Teams Have a Bad Game, So What are YOU Worried About? Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #59: 11/12/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the recent losses suffered by reigning La Liga and UEFA Champions League Champions, Real Madrid, in both their domestic league (to Girona) and Champions League (to Tottenham Hotspur).

What is the lesson that can be learned from these rather surprising losses? That even the best teams in the world can have a bad game – or two! – and, if it can happen to them, it can happen to you!

What you should be focusing on is how to learn from the mistakes made during losses or poor performances, and then how to become better and prevent those same mistakes from happening again.

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

For Coaches, For Parents, Matches

Coaches – Like to Keep Possession and Press High Up the Pitch? Make Sure You Don’t Make This Mistake! Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #58: 11/5/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the recent UEFA Champions League group match between Italy’s AS Roma and England’s Chelsea. This was an entertaining match which – in  my opinion – Roma should have won due to their ability to keep possession deep into their opponent’s half of the pitch, as well as some very good individual efforts in the 3 goals they scored. Unfortunately, Roma had to settle for draw, primarily because they were too careless in possession and frequently gave the ball away in the middle of the pitch, allowing Chelsea to generate scoring opportunities from counter-attacks by running quickly into the space behind the Roma back line – space which existed because Roma continually possessed the ball very high up the pitch in the first place!

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

For Coaches, For Parents, Matches

WHY Don’t They Talk About Soccer on Canadian TV Networks?? Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #56: 10/13/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the complete scarcity of soccer coverage on all mainstream Canadian television networks, especially TSN and Sportsnet, and why in my opinion, this lack of media attention to soccer in Canada is a problem that hampers the development of Canadian soccer players.

With all of the recent talk (and complaints) regarding the United States Men’s National Soccer Team’s failure to Qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, it’s interesting that no one in the U.S. has mentioned the lack of media attention their National Team receives as a possible contributing factor to their recent poor results.

Fortunately, this is one soccer problem for which there is a simple solution – start discussing the game and showing more highlights on TV – immediately!

I hope you like the video and as always, please feel free to share 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!

For Coaches, For Parents, Science

Why you May Want to Think Twice Before Hiring a “Mindset Coach” – Perspective from a Practising Sport Psychologist

“The composition of sermons is not very difficult.  Invent first and then embellish..set down diligently your thoughts as they rise in the first words that occur…I have begun a sermon after dinner and sent it off by the post that night.”

  • Samuel Johnson (1709-1784),

Famous English writer/poet/literary critic

“Mindset Coaching.”

“Mental Resiliency Training”.

“Performance Longevity.”

What do these terms mean to you?  Could it be that they are simply the latest reincarnations of the “sermons” that Samuel Johnson wrote about over 300 years ago, manifesting themselves in the form of unregulated, jargon-laden social-media posts, articles, and services provided by questionably qualified “professionals” looking to take advantage of vulnerable consumers?

The field of sport psychology – almost 100 years old – has very well-established standards and regulations for individuals wishing to become practitioners.  Of primary importance is the standard that someone dispensing – and charging a fee for – advice about the psychology or mental aspect of sports performance must have actually studied the subject and earned a degree from a recognized academic institution.

In fact, the Association of Applied Sport Psychology (AAPS, founded in 1985) has required that individuals practicing under the term “sport psychologist” have, at a minimum, undergraduate degrees in both psychology and sport science, and preferably, a Master’s degree and/or PhD in psychology or sport psychology from a recognized academic institution.

Thus, an unqualified individual who lacks these academic credentials yet still wishes to provide services that fall under the category of “sport psychology” must come up with jargon like “mental resiliency training” as a term for their services.

Consumers face a host of potential problems when hiring and paying someone for “mental resiliency training” or any other bastardized form of sport psychology, not the least of which is the fact that there can be no guarantee of the competence of the person providing the service, or that the person has any background, education or experience in any legitimate form of actual sport psychology.

Even more concerning for consumers hiring “mental resiliency trainers” should be the fact that they cannot be sure ofthe truthfulness, helpfulness, or even the safety of the information and services they are being sold.

How do actual sport psychologists feel about this issue?  Recently, I had the opportunity to conduct a brief interview with Mahsa S. Durbano, who happens to have a Master’s degree in Clinical psychology with a specialisation in Performance from York University, to get her thoughts on the subject.  Below is a summary of our conversation.

Q: How did you get started studying sport psychology?
A: It was a journey to say the least! I began my undergraduate studies in the field of English literature and creative writing simply because that is what I was most passionate about at that particular time in my life.  Upon completion I began working as a writer within the Ministry of TCU (Training, Colleges and Universities) under Minister John Milloy where I analysed and summarised Bills, prepared speeches, and drafted legislature.  While working there I began pursuing a night class called ‘Meeting the inner child’ with some friends at an institution called Transformational Arts College.  What began as a light-hearted night class pursued in the name of fun, quickly turned into a passion.  Shortly thereafter I enrolled in the full Psychotherapy program and dedicated my time to becoming a full-time student.  Upon the completion of my studies I had come to recognise that my endeavours would not be complete unless I had developed a thorough background in both Psychotherapy and Clinical psychology.  Shortly after I was able gain acceptance to pursue a Master in Clinical psychology at York University which eventually transitioned into a focus on sports through a specialisation in Performance, which extended my Master’s by a year.

Q: What interested / interests you most about the subject?
A: I have always been a very athletic individual.  I came to recognise that my perception of life and my views of the world had transformed while engaged in my studies on the clinical realm.  While the perspective shift was on all life levels, it was very keenly focused on personal performance within my athletic endeavours and friends/teammates around me.  At the time I lived near a golf and country club where my partner and I golfed at every day. 

Q: Tell us about the work you have been doing since you earned your degree?
A: While my background has allowed for me to operate under any sport, I have primarily focused my attention in areas that interest me the most such as Golf, hockey, soccer, and basketball.  In the short period that I have been practising I have guest lectured at colleges and universities, have written published articles, participated as a researcher in Neurofeedback training, and have worked  with professional individuals on the pro tour and at the NHL level. I have also been working with professional teams such as the Humber Hawks, the Sun Devils (Arizona State University) and Hamilton BullDogs.  During this period I also opened and now operate my own practice with multiple offices in the GTA and surrounding areas, called Limitless Performance.

Q How important is it to you that practitioners of sport psychology are held to high academic and professional standards?
A: Having standards add to the credibility and legitimacy of your profession as well as ensures a safer environment for both the clients and the organisations that use our services.  Being a certified psychologist ensures that the professional has completed adequate training, has hands-on experience and has access to the tools necessary for the maximal benefit of the client.

Q: How do you feel about “mental resiliency trainers” or “mindset performance coaches”?  Do you think they have a role to play in high performance sports environments?
A: Coaches and trainers that are not certified lack the oversight of a governing body. Therefore they may not make referrals, may not be held accountable to losing their licence, may not have proper insurance and the other benefits afforded to a certified professional. In addition there may be a lack of accurate diagnosis and experience as professionals are required to undergo placement in coop, internships, vigorous research clinics and countless hours of personal training to ensure the safety of the client.

A professor once stated that the human mind is a museum that is organised like a maze, and the opportunity to walk through this arena is a complex privilege where we apply only our knowledge and expertise while withholding our own personal projections.  It’s tough to imagine that a “mindset performance coach” is truly capable of separating themselves from their own personal experiences as the nature of their therapy is simply based on experience rather than education.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the consumer of any good or service – including services related to youth soccer – to do their homework, educate themselves and demand a high standard from the providers they hire.  Hopefully, as consumer education about sport psychologists and the work they do improves, the prevalence of charlatans peddling false and/or misleading information will concurrently decrease.  Here’s to hoping that the day will come when all practitioners working with athletes are held to the highest possible standards – sooner rather than later.

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

photoofmahsa

NEWLOGO

Mahsa S. Durbano is a Performance Psych Consultant who specialises in the mental side of performance. Her education entails of an undergrad in English literature and creative writing, a degree in Psychotherapy, and a Masters in Clinical Psychology with a specialisation in Sport and Performance. Mahsa works closely with high tier athletes of all ages and abilities in helping them perform to their full potential, while understanding the importance of supporting the dynamics between the athlete and coaches in reaching their goals and navigating the world of competitive performance. She is especially keen on assisting athletes who aspire to achieve the competitive edge required to compete at the National and the Pro-Touring professional level.

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.

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.

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 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!

For Coaches, For Parents, Science

How Playing Futsal will Make You a Better Athlete AND a Better Soccer Player – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #50: 8/7/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss and explain some of the evidence demonstrating that the technical, tactical and physical demands of Futsal are in fact higher than in 11 vs. 11 soccer. The implications of this evidence? That playing Futsal will make you a better athlete AND a better soccer player!
Hope you like it and as always, please feel free to pot your thoughts and comments!

Announcements, For Coaches, For Parents, Science

Coach Education Opportunities this Fall – Learn How to TEST, TRAIN, and MONITOR Your Players!

Hi Everyone,

With the coming of August 2017 and the end of the summer soccer season approaching, I thought this would be the perfect time to let you all know about some of Soccer Fitness’ Coach Education opportunities through our unique Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Courses, that are coming up this Fall.

Our Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Courses are aimed at soccer coaches with an interest in fitness training, and fitness coaches with an interest in soccer training.

If you have an Ontario Soccer Provincial “B” License and require Coaching Professional Development (CPD) Points towards the renewal of your License, you can earn them by attending one of our Courses.

There are 3 different options for coaches and fitness trainers available this Fall:

  1. The Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course: this is the 4th edition of our comprehensive 20-hour course, which will be held over the weekend of October 13th-15th, 2017, at Trio Sportsplex in Vaughan.  Registration for this Course is now open, via our Online Registration Form.
  2.  The Soccer Fitness Trainer Diploma Course: this is the 2nd edition of our slightly scaled-back Diploma Course delivered through Ontario Soccer, which will take place on the weekend of October 21st-22nd, 2017, at the Ontario Soccer Centre in Vaughan.  Registration for this Course is now open via the following link.
  3. The Online Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course: launched in June 2017, the Online Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course is the perfect option for any coach or fitness coach interested in attending our live Courses but unable to attend.  This Course is delivered 100% online through our unique Course Craft platform, and it can be completed at your own pace wherever you are in the world.  Check out the video below for more information about our Online Course, or to register, visit our Online Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course Registration Page.
For Coaches, For Parents, Matches

The One Thing that Needs to Change Most About Canadian Soccer – Gols Video Bog #49: 8/1/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss our Canadian Men’s National Team’s recent performances in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, and specifically how the great majority of young soccer players I spoke with in my business over the past 3 weeks were unaware even of Canada’s participation in the tournament, let alone the results of their matches. The underlying problem here is that young Canadian players are not well-informed about our own local soccer, and if we are serious about developing elite level players, this needs to change. I hope you enjoy the video and as always, please feel free to post your thoughts and comments!

For Coaches, For Parents, Science

Moving Futsal Forward in Canada – Three reasons ALL Canadian soccer players should play Futsal

On the weekend of July 21st-23rd, 2017, I was invited to attend the first-ever Futsal Canada Conference in Ottawa, Ontario, and to give a presentation about the physical demands of futsal, plus guidelines and best practices for futsal coaches in testing, training, and monitoring their players and teams.

Representatives from 6 different provinces were in attendance at the Conference, among them members of the Canadian Soccer Association and the Head and Assistant Coaches of the Canadian Men’s National Futsal Team.  All of these people came together during the weekend with a  common goal – to move build, grow and develop the sport of futsal in Canada and to move “#futsal forward” (which was the hashtag for the Conference).

For me, attending this Conference was a revelation.  I had known about futsal and had followed the Canadian Men’s National Futsal team in their road to qualification for the 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup in Colombia in 2016 (for which they narrowly missed out on qualification, having finished just 1 point shy in the Final Group B), but until this past weekend I had never realised how popular the sport really was in Canada, nor had I ever imagined that so many people across the country had such a vested interest in growing the sport.

While researching for my presentation, I was able to more clearly identify some of the scientific data that can provide insight into futsal’s popularity in Canada and across the world.  This article will briefly summarize the scientific literature specific to futsal that has allowed me to determine three reasons that Canadian soccer players should consider playing futsal.

  1. Futsal is more intense than soccer:

A recent study by Barbero-Alvarez et al. (2008) determine that elite level futsal players had higher average heart rates (90% of maximum, versus typical averages of 80% of maximum in soccer) and spent more time in high heart rate zones (an average of 83% of their total game time at a heart rate greater than 85% of their maximum, versus typical averages in soccer of 70-75%).  Thus, when examining the time that players are on the pitch, futsal is played at a higher heart rate than soccer, indicating that development of the aerobic system will be accentuated in soccer players by playing futsal.

The same study also reported that futsal players performed a greater percentage of their total distances covered, running at high intensities.  High speed running and sprinting (classified as running at speeds greater than or equal to 22 km/Hr) accounted for 22% of the total distances covered in futsal (as compared to typical averages of between 10-15% in soccer).  Thus, not only is futsal played at a higher heart rate than soccer, it also requires more fast running and sprinting in relation to the total running done than soccer does.  In layman’s terms, this means that futsal provides a short-duration, high-intensity workout with a lot of fast running and sprinting – all of which is ideal to improve physical performance in soccer.

  1. Futsal is more technically demanding than soccer

First of all, everything about the sport of futsal – including the rules, the pitch and even the ball – is specifically designed to encourage explosive, creative and attacking play.  Consider for a moment the following equipment specifications and rules:

  • The pitch is significantly smaller (40 metres long x 20 metres wide) than an 11 v 11 soccer field
  • The ball is smaller (size 4), and lighter (400-440 grams) than a conventional 11 v 11 soccer ball, making it harder to play long balls accurately
  • The ball is filled with foam, giving it 33% less bounce, so it requires more close control
  • There is a 4-second rule on re-starts, encouraging quick play
  • Goalkeepers are also limited to 4 seconds when re-starting from the hands
  • Goalkeepers must throw from the end-line, which adds even further to the speed of play
  • Goalkeepers cannot touch the ball by hand when passed back
  • Only one pass-back allowed to the goalkeeper per possession, which encourages forward play
  • There is no offside rule
  • Team have unlimited “flying” substitutions, so tired players cn be replaced without stopping play

Recent research has also identified that elite futsal players have significantly more touches on the ball during games than soccer players do.  A comprehensive study by the English FA and FIFA Research Departments indicated that individuals playing Futsal receive the ball five times more often than they would do when they are playing 11-a-side soccer (with 2.60 touches per minute in futsal versus 0.60 touches per minute in soccer), and that the percentage of time that the ball is out of play in futsal is less than 1/3rd than it is in soccer (11.5% in futsal versus 34.6% in soccer).  Ultimately, the rules and equipment of the game, combined with the small pitch size and greater amount of touches per player, mean that futsal players will have the opportunity to perform more fundamental individual skills, enabling them to maximize the development of these skills in each and every match.

  1. Futsal likely develops better tactical knowledge and game intelligence than soccer

Of course, these qualities in soccer players and/or futsal players are and always will be difficult to measure and quantify, however, we can me some reasonable assumptions based on point #2 above.  Because futsal provides more individual touches on the ball than soccer, it also provides more interactions between small groups of opposing players (1v1, 2v1, 2v2, etc.).

Ultimately, these extra interactions should lead to the development of a better overall understanding of the basic attacking and defending principles of play.  If players are exposed to these small-sided situations enough times, they should be able to predict the outcome of each situation more accurately, which in turn should lead to enhanced anticipatory ability and better positioning.  Over time, players who are better able to accurately position themselves earlier than their opponents should be able to execute any specific strategic and tactical plans more effectively, and their overall in-game performance should improve.  More research examining the effectiveness of small-sided soccer games, including futsal, on markers of players’ tactical performance, including through the use of software that can assess in-game player performance, is necessary before any definitive conclusions can be made.

Following the development of my presentation at the 2017 Futsal Canada Conference, the integral role that futsal can have in the development of young soccer players’ physical, technical, and tactical abilities, has become crystal clear to me.  All aspiring Canadian soccer players who wish to improve and maximise their development in these areas should consider paying futsal and help to “move futsal forward” in this country.

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

 

 

 

 

For Coaches, For Parents

It’s Time to STOP Cancelling Soccer Practice Because of Rain – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #48: 7/25/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this week’s edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the problem of soccer coaches and teams cancelling their scheduled training sessions – sometimes even days before they happen – simply because of rain or other bad weather. I explain why this is a problem and suggest some possible solutions to it.

Hope you enjoy the video and as always, please feel free to post your thoughts and comments!

For Coaches, For Parents, Science

The Potential Benefits of Early Specialisation in Soccer – An Argentinian Youth Development Model – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #47: 7/16/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this week’s edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss what I learned in my recent trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  There, professional youth academy players – some as young as 12 years of age – are already training 5 days per week.  In spite of the fact that one of the main tenets of Long Term Athlete Development model is a recommendation to avoid this type of “early specialisation” in youth soccer, in Argentina the players seem to be thriving in this environment.  They are not burning out, they are not experiencing over-use injuries, and their on-field performance is second to none in the world of soccer.  Here, I suggest that the higher standard of coach education in Argentina may be one of the reasons why early specialisation works so well there, and discuss what we as Canadians may be able to learn and apply from the Argentinian model.

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

For Coaches, For Parents, Science

The Potential Benefits of Early Specialisation in Soccer – An Argentinian Youth Development Model

In late June of 2017, I visited my friend, colleague and mentor, Rafael Carbajal, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he is in the final process of completing his Argentinian “A” License and validating his other “A” coaching licenses from Canada, the United States and UEFA.

During the trip I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to observe youth academy training sessions by Huracan FC, a professional club in the Argentinian First Division and the club regarded as the best player developer in the country.

While watching an Under-13 (2005) training session, it was not hard for me to see why the club has garnered this reputation.

The players were skillful, intelligent, crafty, coordinated and fit.  They were able to connect passes in small spaces with two or even one touch, in a manner in which few Canadian teams of any age category would be able to keep up with.

As I watched them train I could not help but think to myself that whatever type of training these boys were doing – including the amount of time they spent training each day and week, and the specific training mythologies used in their training sessions – it was clearly working.

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When I spoke with Coach Carbajal and some of the other coaches and instructors from the “A” License course, I learned and interesting – albeit not surprising – fact about Huracan and other Argentinian professional youth academies: even at the younger Under-13 age categories, teams train 5 days per week.

What this means is that aspiring Argentinian soccer players, as young as 12 years of age, have a practice every day, Monday-to-Friday, plus a game on Saturday or Sunday, every week of the year.

Interestingly, the time commitment required of Argentinian professional youth academies ensures that Argentinian boys who want to become professional soccer players must commit to or “specialise” in soccer at a very young age.  They really have no choice or option to participate in any other sports, as their training and game schedule simply does not allow time for any sport other than soccer.

In Canada, this type of early specialisation in soccer or other sports is discouraged.  The Canadian Soccer Association has for the past 10 years followed the “Long Term Athlete Development” or “LTAD” model, one of the tenets of which is a recommendation that athletes to not exclusively play one sport (in this case, soccer) until the age of 16.

Proponents of LTAD typically argue that late specialisation leads to less over-use injuries, less burn-out or drop-out from sports, and better overall athletic development, as compared to early specialisation.  The professional coaches and fitness coaches I spoke with in Argentina, however, all believed that these objectives could be achieved in combination with early specialisation in soccer.

Their rationale was that, provided youth coaches and fitness coaches are trained and educated in evidence-based best practices for working with young, growing and developing soccer players, these coaches should be able to put together a curriculum and training program that allows for early specialisation in soccer without experiencing some of the proposed negative effects.

The basic level youth coaching licences in Argentina, a minimum requirement for all coaches working with young players in professional Argentinian academies, comprises a 2-year, 1400-hour course with written and practical examinations.  Principal among the scientific subjects included in the course, in which coaches must prove and demonstrate their competence, are:

  • Physiology (to understand the loading placed on players during training and games, and allow for a well-rounded physical training program)
  • Motor learning (to develop and implement training sessions that maximise players’ ability to learn to execute simple and complex soccer skills)
  • Sport psychology (to discern how the physical and psychological demands of training and games are affecting players’ minds, and how to help them reach their full mental potential); and
  • Periodisation of training (to allow for the development of a comprehensive annual training plan, with the right amount of intensity and volume of training throughout the year)

Of course, if the aforementioned potential negative effects can be avoided, young soccer players do stand to benefit greatly from some of the advantages of early specialisation in soccer – most importantly, better technical skill development and a better understanding of the tactical side of the game.

Whether or not you agree with LTAD and the late specialisation it recommends, there can be no disputing the fact that in Argentina, young soccer players are developing the required technical skills and tactical understanding of the game to perform and succeed at the highest level.   Thus, it may be possible that the Argentinian model of early specialisation in soccer, combined with knowledgeable, educated and experienced youth soccer coaches and fitness coaches, warrants consideration in Canada as well.

Ultimately, the best way of assessing the effectiveness of any type of soccer training program – physical, technical, tactical or psychological – is to watch how the players actually play the game.  In this case, the evidence in support of the effectiveness of the Argentinian model of youth development is overwhelming.  It is possible that, with the right combination of enthusiastic and passionate players with well-educated coaches and fitness coaches, early specialisation in soccer may not be such a bad thing after all.

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

Fitness, For Parents, Science

How to Prevent ACL Injuries AND Improve Soccer Performance – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #46: 7/3/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I provide a summary of some of our recent research that was prevented at the 5th World Conference on Science and Soccer in Rennes, France (May 31-June 2, 2017). The study discussed in this video compared an ACL prevention program with a speed endurance program, and highlighted the effectiveness of these programs in female soccer players.  The results show that with a properly designed combined running and strengthening program, you can improve performance and prevent injuries at the same time.

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

Fitness, For Coaches, For Parents, Matches

Youth Soccer Players – Start Doing These 2 Things Weekly to Make Yourself a Better Player TODAY! Gols Video Blog #43: 5/28/2017

Hi Everyone,

With the UEFA Champions League Final approaching, this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog discusses 2 things all young soccer players can start doing every week (starting with the week of the Final match) that will help them become a better player immediately.

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

Fitness, For Coaches, For Parents

Three Ways to Objectively Assess Talent and Player Performance in Canadian Youth Soccer

On the first day of my FIFA 11+ Instructor Training Certification course in 2016, Matias Eiles, a FIFA Instructor and Coach Educator with the German Football Federation, told us that in his country, they have 1 National Team, but 80 million “National Team Coaches”.  While he seemed to be hinting that this problem – whereby literally everyone in the country considers themselves to be a “soccer expert” – was unique to Germany, upon hearing it I instantly felt that the same sentiment could easily be expressed here in Canada.

Everywhere you go in this country, you will find soccer coaches, parents, players and fans expressing their dissatisfaction with the lack of success of our Canadian Men’s National Team, as well as providing their opinions about what needs to change if we are to improve and become more competitive with the rest of the world.

Youth soccer coaches working in our amateur clubs and academies, in particular, will shoulder much of this burden, because they are the ones responsible for providing young soccer players with the foundation of technical skill, tactical knowledge, fitness, and mental toughness that will be required of them if and when they progress on to the international level.  While it may be fairly easy to point out what is wrong with the Canadian soccer system, developing strategies which individual soccer coaches can use in their day-to-day work that may be able to solve these problems is inherently more difficult.

How can our youth soccer coaches do a better job of preparing players for higher levels of play?  In my opinion, we must start with the development of objective standards, to which all coaches can be held accountable, and by which their players’ and team’s performance can be measured and compared to that of their peers.

Developing objective standards for player and team performance must be preceded by the development of objective assessments of different measures of performance.  After enough data has been collected, standards and norms for different levels of play can be determined.  This is the way we at Soccer Fitness have approached fitness assessment data, and over the past 10 years we have developed valid, reliable standards and norms for elite levels of play in male and female youth soccer that include the Ontario Provincial Boys and Girls Teams, the Canadian National U17 Teams, and the Toronto FC Academy teams.

So how can coaches objectively measure and assess player and team performance?  At higher levels of play, equipment and technology such as global positioning satellite (GPS), as well as advanced video analysis software programs, are used to assess performance, but these methods may not be practical or affordable to amateur soccer clubs and academies.

Our Canadian amateur soccer environment requires quick, simple, and efficient assessment methods. Below are three of my suggestions.

  1. Have coaches assess the performance of each of their own players, as well as that of their opponents, during every competitive league game.

This requires nothing more than a simple spread sheet (similar to the game sheets already distributed by game officials to both teams prior to the start of every game) including a list of rows with players’ names/jersey numbers on them, and a column beside each name in which their assessment score can be written.  For simplicity, I would suggest using a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 representing the lowest score and 5 representing the highest score.  Admittedly, this would be a subjective performance rating open to bias towards the subjective opinion of the reporting coach, however, having coaches assess the performance of their opposition as well as their own players will help to eliminate any subjective bias that may occur in these assessments.  Individual players’ performances can then be assessed and tracked over the course of the season, and any trends that may emerge from this data can then be dealt with accordingly.

  1. Have assistant coaches or team managers collect standardised statistics during competitive league game play.

Among the most relevant and easy to capture statistics to collect during each game are:

  • Successful / unsuccessful pass attempts
  • Performance/execution of set pays (goal kicks, throw-ins, corner kicks and free kicks)
  • Successful / unsuccessful build-up play and attacking attempts

Standardising the methods for this data collection would certainly take some work, but if we expect coaches to be able to accurately measure and track their team’s performance during and between games without collecting any data, then we are working under the assumption that coaches can assess performance purely by memory and by their own subjective opinions of what took place in each game.  The reality is that this is a skill not possessed even by the best coaches working in professional and international soccer, let alone the average Canadian amateur club or academy coach.  Collecting data in this way will also serve to get all teams’ assistant coaches and/or managers much more involved in the game, a notable secondary benefit.

  1. Have all competitive leagues store and share the data taken from these assessments, in order to track player and team performance.

Once again, this is something that will take a concentrated effort from coaches and league administrators alike if it is to work.  But competitive leagues already have systems in place to account for game scores, goal scorers, referee decisions like yellow and red cards, etc.  These same systems would simply need to be adapted and updated to include the data taken from team coaches’ subjective (player ratings) and objective (game statistics) reports.

Ultimately, if we expect the performance of Canadian amateur club and academy soccer players and teams to improve, then we need to know what “improved performance” actually looks like.  We need systems in place that will allow us to objectively measure players’ and teams’ performance, to track this performance over time and develop age- and gender-specific standards and norms, and to compare subsequent players’ and teams’ performance against these objective standards.

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

For Parents, Matches

How Great Goalkeeping Wins Games: UEFA Champions League Analysis – Gols Video Blog #38: 4/24/2017

Hi Everyone,

Over the past two weeks, the first and second legs of the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final matches were contested.  In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, we discuss some of the top class goalkeeping on display in some of the first leg games, between Juventus and Barcelona, as well as Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. Hope you enjoy it and as always, please feel free to post thoughts and comments!

For Parents, Science

Coaches: Are You Taking Your Athletes’ Developmental Age Into Account? Gols Video Blog #37: 4/17/2017

Hi Everyone,

In the past few years there has been a lot of talk amongst soccer coaches and fitness coaches about the need to prevent late developers from being ignored or “left behind” by high performance soccer teams and programs.  In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, we discuss how to identify players’ age of peak height velocity (PHV) which provides an estimate of their developmental age (as opposed to their chronological age), and how this information can be used in talent identification and selection.

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

Fitness, For Parents, Science

Why Soccer Players Should NEVER, EVER do CrossFit – Gols Video Blog #36: 4/10/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, we discuss CrossFit, a training program that has become popular amongst adolescents and young adults in the past 10 years, and whether or not soccer players should consider incorporating it into their training routines.

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

 

For Parents, Science

How We Learn – and How We Should Teach – Soccer Skills

Coaching can be a tough job.  Long hours, time away from friends and family on evenings and weekends, travel, and the ever-present stress of the dreaded “soccer parent.”

In spite of all of these challenges, the coaching profession can also be very rewarding – and among the most regarding aspects of the job has to be the experience of watching athletes develop and learn new skills and abilities.

Helping players to learn new motor skills – and specifically, facilitating the change that occurs in the period of time between the initial introduction of these skills to a player, and the same player’s improved ability to execute these skills in a competitive setting – is probably the most exciting and gratifying aspect of the job.

Determining how best to coach players in order to achieve the largest motor learning effect, then, is the greatest challenge for youth soccer coached in Canada.

Among the misconceptions in the educational field are the myths that individuals are either “left-brained” (rational and objective) or “right brained” (intuitive and creative), and they will perform better or worse at certain tasks based on this categorization; and that there are specific “learning styles” (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic) and individuals will learn better and faster if their teaching is done in their preferred learning style.

Unfortunately, as has been pointed out by Psychologist Bradley Busch in his article titled ‘Four Neuromyths That are Still Prevalent in Schools – Debunked’ neither of the above-mentioned myths are backed up by any scientific evidence.

A recent comprehensive literature review by Pashler et al. (2008) concluded that – despite “enormous popularity” of the learning styles approach in the educational systems of various different countries around the world – there is a lack of credible evidence to support the myth that applying different teaching styles to individuals with different learning styles leads to better actual learning.

In fact, the study found that the teaching methods shown to be the most effective for eliciting learning effects were those that involved a combination of teaching styles in a small-to-large group setting.

Thus, based on the evidence, there is no reason to think that teaching needs to be individualised to each learner.  On the contrary, a balanced teaching protocol, including a combination of auditory, visual, and kinesthetic lessons, is the optimal teaching style.

So what does this have to do with soccer and the acquisition of soccer skills?

Ostensibly, the same theory that applies to learning in general, should also apply to the learning of soccer skills.  Soccer coaches, who are the teachers of soccer skills, should do their best to learn and apply the concepts gleaned from scientific research in the field of learning and motor learning, rather than relying on myths, pseudoscience, or out-dated coaching methodology.

As a coach and teacher of the game, the best way to teach is and will always be to use proven, objective, science-based teaching methods.  Just because a proposed methodology – such as the “learning styles” method – seems like it makes sense and would work, does not mean it should be accepted and followed unquestionably.

All teaching methodologies – old or new – should be scrutinized by scientists, teachers, coaches, and anyone else involved in any form of education.  The decision to adopt and follow a specific methodology should only be made after carefully reviewing the evidence about it, as well as its applicability to the specific population it is to be applied to.

The “learning styles” neuromyth should not be considered by educators – including soccer coaches – until it has been proven to be an effective way to teach students and/or athletes.  Youth soccer coaches and fitness coaches should try to incorporate a balanced teaching style, including auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning strategies, in order to suit the varied needs of every individual and maximize motor learning within their team.

Below is a link to the article referenced above, written by Bradley Busch and published on The Guardian website last week:

https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2016/feb/24/four-neuromyths-still-prevalent-in-schools-debunked

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 Low-Carb Diets DON’T WORK – Gols Video Blog #35: 4/3/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the importance of carbohydrate intake for optimal performance and recovery in soccer, and why low-carbohydrate diets are not a good choice for soccer players or any other athletes.

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

For Parents

Why You Should Think Twice About Chasing a Scholarship – Gols Video Blog #34: 3/28/2017

Hi Everyone!

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, we discuss the trend of Canadian soccer players pursuing athletic scholarships at American colleges and universities, and whether or not this is the best option for their careers (as soccer players and/or beyond soccer).

As always please feel free to post your thoughts and comments.

For Parents, Matches

UEFA Champions League Analysis – How NOT to Defend Corners! Gols Video Blog #33: 3/20/2017

Hello Everyone,

I hope you are as glad as I am that March Break is finally over!

With that out of the way, in this next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, we analyse the recent UEFA Champions League matches between Real Madrid and Napoli, as well as Borussia Dortmund and Benica, which were the second legs of the first knockout round. Specifically, we look at how Napoli’s and Benfica’s inability to defend corner kicks resulted in goals which sealed the games for Madrid and Dortmund.

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

For Parents, Science

A 40 Year-Old Solution to a Long-Term Athlete Development Problem?

Last week, I had the pleasure to meet and speak with John Vanderkolk, who is something of a pioneer in Canadian Soccer.  The former Governor and co-founder of the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame and member of the Heritage Committee of the Ontario Soccer Association has worked for over 40 years in the sport as a manager, reporter, marketer and ambassador in a variety of roles, including with the Robbie International Soccer Tournament, the Toronto Blizzard of the North American Soccer League, the North York Rockets of the Canadian Soccer League, and our Canadian National Teams programs.

Almost 40 years ago, he also used some astute observations to spearhead tremendous growth and development of the game in North America.

In the 1970’s, our nation was captivated ice hockey’s 1972 Summit Series, an 8-game tournament between the Canadian and Soviet National Hockey Teams, generally regarded as the two best teams in the world.

While our Canadian team eventually prevailed in the Series, Vanderkolk, an immigrant from the Netherlands, could not help but notice certain aspects about the way his fellow Europeans, the Soviets, moved and coordinated their bodies on the ice, aspects he was convinced could only have come from one source – a history and background playing soccer.

Having been involved in media and public relations here in Canada, he got in contact with his colleagues at the Toronto Star, Rex MacLeod and Jim Kernaghan, each of whom wrote separate articles in 1979 that included interviews with Vanderkolk, espousing a similar message – that young athletes, regardless of what sport they want to specialize in or what level they intend to reach, would all benefit from participation in soccer.

In an interview conducted by Kernaghan and published in the Toronto Star on February 11th, 1979, Vanderkolk is quoted as saying:

“Soccer is the ideal game for youngsters to gain conditioning in.  I don’t care what happens to the professionals, but they could really benefit from the game.”

And later, in another interview – this time with McLeod, Vanderkolk elaborated:

“We should push our kids into soccer.  It is great for the legs.   It develops coordination, agility, ball control, and it’s a way to sharpen the skills you need for hockey.  You pass, you score, you have 2 two-on-ones, you stop, start, accelerate, fake – just like hockey.”

Amazingly, now – almost 40 years since those articles were published, Vanderkolk remains just as adamant about the benefits of playing soccer on overall athletic development.  He told me:

“When you first learn to walk, at the age of 1 or 1 ½ years, you cannot hold a hockey stick, baseball bat, or even catch or shoot a basketball.  But, you can kick a soccer ball.  It is the first sport that develops foot-eye coordination, which I believe translates directly into hand-eye coordination as those motor skills become available to kids in later years.  Ultimately, the agility, footwork, and even the decision-making skills you pick up from playing soccer will make you a better athlete in any sport you go on to play later.”

Both then and now, he lists dozens of elite athletes from a wide range of sports, including hockey, basketball, tennis, skiing etc. all of whom had a background playing soccer as youth athletes prior to specialising in their other sports later in life.

Amazingly, the repercussions of his observations about the important role that soccer can play in the development of elite hockey players in Canada – a country that is and has always been crazy about hockey – is that they were the catalyst for parents of thousands of young Canadian athletes to get their children to participate in soccer, which led to unprecedented growth of the sport across the country in the 1970’s and 1980’s, growth that still continues to this day.

As a fitness coach and sports scientist who has spent the last 15 years of my life working with youth soccer players at every level, from house league to the elite youth National Teams and professional academy players, it was very refreshing to meet John and hear him tell his story, and especially to hear what he had to say about the role soccer can play in the development of athletic skills in young children.

Interestingly, Canadian soccer has adopted the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model, one of the tenets of which is that young children should participate in a variety of different sports – not specialising in any one sport until the age of 14-16 – in order to facilitate the development of well-rounded athletic skills.  A relatively newer addition to the LTAD model that I was exposed to and trained in was the development of Sport for Life’s Physical Literacy and Movement Preparation program (for which I became a certified instructor in the spring of 2016), which includes progressions of many different types of movements, including several which fall into the category of those which are performed regularly in soccer (including accelerations, plyometrics, cutting/turning, and multi-directional movements).

If – as per the guidelines of LTAD – we want our young children to participate in sports that develop a wide variety of athletic skills, and also – as per the new Sport for Life programming guidelines – we want to teach and develop athletic skills to young children and athletes to help them perform better and prevent injury in the long run, then it may be possible that John Vanderkolk came up with a strategy that solves both of these problems almost 40 years ago – just play soccer!

I, for one, would not be opposed to this strategy.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback on this article.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started!

For Parents, Matches

UEFA Champions League Analysis – Defending Principle of “Restraint” – Gols Video Blog #31: 03/06/2017

Hi Everyone,

a few more first-leg matches from the knockout round of the UEFA Champions League were played last week, including one between Juventus of Italy and FC Porto of Portugal.  In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, we discuss this match and in particular, the plays by Porto’s left back Alex Telles, which led to two consecutive yellow cards (and of course one red card) in the 25th-27th minutes.

A key take-home message for young soccer players and coaches from this blog is the importance of the defending principle of “restraint”, and how in many cases, players applying pressure on the ball need to learn and better understand how to use this principle when they apply pressure.

I hope you like it an as always, I welcome your thoughts/comments!

Fitness, For Parents

STOP Finding Excuses Not to Train! Gols Video Blog #29: 2/21/2017

In the past few weeks we have had some bad weather in Toronto, including freezing rain and dozens of centimetres of snow.

A consequence of this weather for soccer teams and other training programs like ours was that many people decided not to show up to their regularly scheduled training sessions.

In this week’s Video Blog, we discuss the problems with this course of action, and why soccer players who want to progress to higher levels of play should stop finding excuses not to train, including bad weather.

I hope you like it and as always, please feel free to post comments and feedback.

For Parents, Science

Beware of Charlatans (“Mindset Coaches”, “Nutritionists” etc.) Follow-Up Article

Hi everyone.  This post is a follow-up to my Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog from February 13th of this year.

I got some responses to the video – positive and negative – and as a result I thought I would elaborate on it with a short article, to try to explain this issue in a bit more detail.

Let’s start with some definitions of the key terms.

A charlatan is a person who falsely claims to have a professional knowledge or skill – in other words – a “fraud”.  And very often, charlatans attempt to sell themselves and their services by using pseudoscience, which is a collection of beliefs or practices that are mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method – in other words, “BS”.

Unfortunately, in the soccer and fitness industries, it is way too easy for a charlatan to sell their services to consumers – soccer players, parents, and coaches – regardless of their own credibility, education, or experience as a soccer coach or fitness coach.

In my video I gave the following examples of how charlatans operate in fitness and in soccer:

  • If a person wanted to work in fitness, lacked credibility but had a good body – big muscles, looks good without their shirt on etc., they could simply post a picture of themselves without a lot of clothes on, be it on the internet or in a flyer or promotional material, and there is a strong chance that they would be regarded as an expert in fitness training, bodybuilding, even nutrition – regardless of whether or not they have any actual education or experience working as a fitness coach or personal trainer.
  • If a person wanted to work in soccer, lacked credibility but was a decent player, and especially if they have a playing background as a professional or even at the college level, they could probably represent themselves as an expert soccer coach, and be seen as an expert, regardless of whether or not they have any actual education or experience working as a coach, at any level.

And there is even another level to this, where people who may have some kind of expertise in fitness, for example, yet instead of working as a fitness coach or personal trainer (a position for which they are actually qualified) they instead represent themselves as things like a “mindset coach” (a pseudoscience term for sports psychologist) or “nutritionist” (pseudoscience term for registered dietitian).

In both of these cases, the pseudoscience term can be used without any guarantee of educational credentials, work experience, or quality of service – yet the charlatan who dispenses “mindset” or “nutritionist” advice can still be paid – sometimes paid very well – for their advice and services.

Furthermore, because there are no industry standards regulating “mindset training”, “nutrition consulting” or, unfortunately, even soccer coaching, any individual who provides services under one of these titles can basically do and say whatever they want, regardless of whether or not the information they put out is factual and/or whether or not their services have any true benefit to their consumers.

The soccer and fitness industries are probably the only industries in the world in which charlatans can get away with this type of behaviour.  Think about this for a moment – there is literally NO WAY that a consumer would accept and pay for services from somebody in another profession or industry if this provider did not have any relevant education, experience or credibility in their field.

If you go to see a doctor because you are not feeling well or have some sort of problem, you would likely insist on seeing someone who is certified, licensed, and who has graduated from a reputable medical school.

You would probably never dream of taking the advice of someone claiming to be a “doctor” who never studied medicine, and you would probably see right through someone who represented and promoted themselves as a medical expert based on irrelevant information or pseudoscience (for example, the fact that they have been sick a lot or have a lot of experience being in the hospital).

Likewise, if you need the services of a lawyer, you would likely insist on hiring someone who has attended and graduated from a prestigious law school and has some relevant experience in the particular type of legal help you require.

And again, likewise, it would be highly unlikely that you would hire someone who called themselves a “lawyer”, but never went to law school and represents themselves as an expert based on irrelevant information and pseudoscience (for example, the fact that they have been tried in court many times for crimes they have committed).

It sounds ridiculous, but these same exact types of decisions are made by consumers in the soccer and fitness industries all the time.  Taking medical advice from someone who has never studied medicine, or legal advice from someone who has never studied law, is the same as taking fitness and nutrition advice from someone just because they are big and strong and look attractive, or taking coaching advice from someone just because they can kick a ball better than you can, or taking mindset advice from someone just because they claim to be good at motivating people.

The legendary Italian soccer coach Arrigo Sacchi summed it up quite nicely when he said

“I never realized that to be a good jockey you had first to be a good horse.”

This isn’t to say that it’s a problem for fitness coaches to be in good physical condition, or for soccer coaches to have a background as a professional player – it’s just that this cannot be the only thing you, a consumer, considers when choosing who you want to work with, or who you want your children to work with.

Keep in mind – it may be likely that the advice you get from someone who is representing themselves as an expert yet lacks the education, experience and credibility, may be wrong or even harmful to your health and athletic development.  At the very least, it will probably be a waste of money.

The best advice I can give to consumers (soccer players, parents, and coaches) in the soccer and fitness industries is that you should be aware of the relevant education, experience, and credibility of the professionals you are looking to work with, and you should make your decisions based on these factors.

If you want to improve physical performance, look for a professional who has education and experience in fitness training and strength and conditioning (not someone who simply has big muscles).  If you want to improve soccer performance, look for a coach who has education and experience coaching ad developing players (not someone who simply was or is a talented soccer player).  If you want diet advice, look for a registered dietitian with a background in sports nutrition (not a self-professed “nutritionist” who looks good in a bathing suit).  And if you want to improve the mental side of the game, look for a licensed sports psychologist (not a self-professed “mindset coach” who uses generic motivational jargon).

Hopefully this article helps consumers in the soccer and fitness industries to avoid being tricked and manipulated by charlatans and the pseudoscience they are selling.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.  Please feel free to share them here!

Fitness, For Parents, Science

What to do During the December Break – Gols Video Blog #27: 12/12/2016

It’s that time of year again!

December that is – when almost all youth soccer clubs and academies give their players “time off” from their regularly scheduled training and games.

But what exactly should soccer players be doing during this time off?  Is it meant to be a break from all forms of exercise, or just a break from soccer?

In this edition of our Video Blog, I provide my recommendations for what soccer players can do during the December break – how they can maintain and/or improve their fitness and ensure they enter the next year’s soccer season fit, healthy, and ready to perform at their best.

Below is a link to the video.  I hope you enjoy it and as always, please feel free to post your thoughts and comments!

For Parents, Matches

Canadian and American Soccer – We’re More Similar Than You Think

Last week, I gave a presentation about periodization for youth soccer to the West Windsor Plainsboro Soccer Association (WWPSA for short) located in Princeton, New Jersey.  This experience was unique for me because I was in the United States on the evening of Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, when Donald Trump became the 45th U.S. President.

While I certainly do not intend to discuss politics in this article, there was something about the experience of being in a foreign country at the exact moment when a controversial figure was elected President, which left a lasting impression in my mind.  And that something was the realisation that we Canadians are not very different from our American neighbours, both with regards to our politics, as well as our soccer.

Again, this article is not about politics, but it is worth noting that – based on the conversations with Americans I had following the election last week – almost all of them said they did not really care much for either of the presidential candidates, nor about identifying themselves as “democrat” or “republican”, but rather that they were concerned only with things that affect the long term health, welfare, and security of themselves, their families, and their country.  In this regard, it seems to me that Americans and Canadians are, for the most part, very similar.

Back to soccer now.  After working directly with soccer coaches and administrators from the WWPSA, and speaking to some other coaches and players in the area, I came away with the sense that Americans and Canadians also share some similarities in the sport – specifically, with regards to coaching and coach education – and that these similarities have resulted in similar challenges in the development of the game and the success of each country at the international level.

The primary similarity between American and Canadian soccer which has ultimately led to coaching challenges is that in both countries, the sport has huge numbers of participants, but lags behind several other sports in terms of popularity and history.

The Canadian Soccer Association’s website http://www.canadasoccer.com states that Canada has over 850,000 registered soccer players (almost 3% of its total population), and that an amazing 44% of children in the country participate in the sport.   This makes soccer the largest participation sport in the country.

In the United States, http://www.wikipedia.org states that there are over 13 million registered soccer players (over 4% of their total population), making soccer the third-largest participation sport there, behind only basketball and baseball/softball.

In Canada, hockey is clearly our most popular sport, and based on the amount of media attention devoted to different sports; both baseball and basketball are more popular than soccer.  In the United States, baseball, football, basketball and in many cases hockey could all be considered more popular than soccer based on the media attention they receive.

A common coaching problem that has emerged in both the United States and Canada as a result of the large numbers of participants in youth soccer is the lack of qualified, knowledgeable, and experienced coaches available to work with all of these players.

I have been through the coach licensing programs in both Canada (up to and including the CSA National “B” License) and the United States (up to an including the USSF National “A” License) and, while they are both certainly very challenging courses, they require significantly less time to complete as do similar coach licensing programs in other countries.  In Uruguay, for example, elite level youth coaches must complete a 2-year coach licensing program comprising 1400 hours of in-class and on-field instruction, plus multiple exams; I wrote a previous blog article about this topic which can be viewed here: https://soccerfitnessgols.com/2016/09/26/3-things-canadians-can-learn-from-uruguayan-youth-soccer/.

Most countries that have been more successful in developing talent, as well as in winning games and tournaments at the international levels, have been able to ensure that the more talented youth players they have – the “best” players – are placed in programs where they get coaching and training from the most knowledgeable and experienced coaches – the “best” coaches.   This concept is known as “best with best”, and there is considerable evidence to suggest that putting the best players with the best coaches will lead to optimal player development, which in turn will lead to optimal performance at the senior international level.

While it is certainly possible for America and/or Canada to develop a “best with best” model, the systems present in both countries at the moment – in which huge numbers of players are participating without enough knowledgeable and experienced coaches – may not be sufficient to develop it.  Some potential solutions to this shared American/Canadian soccer problem might be:

  • Decrease and/or set limits on the total number of “competitive” players registered in the country, provinces, and states:

This would require the great majority of registered in youth soccer players to compete in “recreational” programs rather than in “competitive” programs.  If recreational players want to participate in a competitive program, they should be given fair and equal opportunities to try-out, but the standards by which players are selected must be stricter as the total number of “competitive” payers accepted into the programs would be significantly lower.  This could also help to streamline the process of identifying who the “best” players are in specific age and gender categories for the higher level programs (state/province, and National Teams).

  • Hold more frequent coach licensing courses and make requirements stricter for coaches who wish to work with these “competitive” players:

If the ultimate goal of “best with best” is to provide good players with access to better coaching, then the number of “better” coaches needs to increase.  This can only be done if the North American state/provincial and national organisations hold their licensing courses more frequently so that more coaches can attend them and reach higher levels of coach education.  Furthermore, if the total number of “competitive” players in a certain region or city is lower, then the licensing requirements for coaches working with those players can be made stricter, thus demanding a higher standard of coaches to work with the better players.

  • Raise the standards of state/provincial, and national coach licensing courses:

As mentioned previously, it I not uncommon for coaches working with top level players in other countries to be required to spend several years (and more than 1000 hours) on coach education and licensing courses in order to meet the licensing requirements.  Although the American and Canadian coach licensing courses are challenging, well organised and very educational, it is possible that increasing the length of the courses and adding more content – including more content around sports science related topics such as periodization, energy system training, and sports psychology, for example – could help to raise the overall standard of the courses and of the coaches who participate in them.

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

For Parents

Soccer in Uruguay: Day 5 – Improvisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fitness, For Parents

Soccer in Uruguay: Day 4 -Soccer For Life

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

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

He is also 55 years old.

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.facebook.com/carmonayalbion

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

For Parents

Soccer in Uruguay: Day 3 -Rain Delay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

For Parents, Science, Uncategorized

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

Hi everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fitness, For Parents, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #24: Friday, March 25th, 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 problems with traditional March Break soccer camps, and provide some suggested alternatives for players, parents, and coaches.

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

For Parents, Science

Why Are March Break Soccer Camps Still a Thing?

Today is Monday, March 21st, and included amongst the upcoming milestones this week is not just the first day of spring, but also the end of the March Break (which in 2016 ran from Monday, March 14th until Sunday, March 20th).  In Canada, the March Break is a time during which students between the ages of 5-18 have the privilege of a week-long break from school and oftentimes, a planned family vacation.  For many youth soccer players in Ontario and Canada, however, March Break is not really a break at all.  Instead, it is a time when they end up participating in an abnormally high volume of soccer training and match play.

Typically, Canadian youth players are not required to attend their regular weekday evening training sessions during the March Break, either because they have been cancelled altogether, or because attendance cannot be made mandatory due to the holiday.  Inserted into this void in players’ schedules are March Break soccer camps, comprising upwards of 6-8 hours per day (30-40 hours per week) of soccer training.

Objectively speaking, there is simply nothing productive that can come from participation in a week-long soccer camp.  Any skill that may be taught or trained in a March break camp, whether it is technical (dribbling, passing, shooting), tactical (game awareness, position-specific skill), or physical (speed, strength, endurance), cannot be rushed.  Basically all relevant scientific evidence in the fields of skilled performance and motor learning, as well as physical fitness training, has indicated that it takes several weeks, months and, in some cases, even years, of dedicated practice to improve these skills and physical abilities.  Adaptations to the body’s neurological, physical, and physiological systems which govern these abilities occur gradually, so the amount of practice hours required to improve them must also accumulate gradually in order for improvements to take place.  Thus, the idea that training for several hours per day over a one-week period will somehow accelerate the development of technical, tactical, or physical skills in youth soccer players is contrary to factual evidence – it doesn’t work.

A larger problem with week-long March Break soccer camps is the high volume of training that players are subjected to, which typically comprises up to 3-4 times the amount of physical activity that they are accustomed to getting during their regular weekly schedule.  For example, most high-level, standards-based soccer programs in Ontario will require players to participate in three to five 1½ to 2 hour training sessions per week, and possibly an additional 60-90-minute match per week.  Even at the highest level, this would represent a total volume of 12 hours of soccer per week.  In a March Break soccer camp, where training typically takes place from 9:00am to 4:00 or even 5:00pm, players will have accumulated their regular weekly volume of soccer training by the middle of the second day.  By the fifth day, they will have accumulated somewhere between 30-40 hours, which represents a 3-4x increase in the volume of training they are accustomed to.  Unfortunately, there is no way for players to make this kind of an increase in training volume without at the very least suffering decreases in physical, physiological, and psychological performance.  In the worst cases, increasing volume will lead to overtraining, burnout, and eventually, to injury.

 

Armed with these objective facts, youth soccer clubs and academies in Ontario should consider the following alternatives to the typical week-long March Break soccer camp:

  • If possible, continue with the regularly scheduled weekday evening soccer training and game schedule during the March Break week
  • If maintaining the weekday evening schedule is not an option, run a March Break program that includes no more than 2-3 hours per day of soccer training, with the remainder of the time spent on other activities (for example, class-room sessions, watching soccer highlight videos, etc.)
  • Cancel all training for the week, but provide players with “soccer homework” that must be completed (for example, a certain number of touches on the ball or repetitions of technical skills, fitness exercises, or an assignment to watch a professional game on TV and write a report about it)

The development and improvement of soccer skills is a process that requires several months’ and years’ worth of dedicated practice hours.  These practice hours must be accumulated gradually, through the use of a training volume that is reasonable and sustainable based on players’ typical weekly training schedules.  A large increase in soccer training volume, as is typically seen in week-long March Break camps, is counter-productive to optimal player development.  Soccer clubs and academies in Ontario and Canada should consider more healthy alternatives to the traditional week-long March Break soccer camp, which will allow young players to fill the void left by the break in school without putting them at increased risk of overtraining or injury.

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

For Parents, Matches

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #23: Friday, March 18th, 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 watching high level soccer (such as the UEFA Champions League) for aspiring young soccer players.

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

Fitness, For Parents

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #22: Friday, March 11th, 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 provide advice for soccer parents and players about which factors they should consider when deciding what soccer program they would like to participate in.

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

For Parents

Article – “The Armpit of Youth Sports”at www.changingthegameproject.com

Below is a link to a very interesting and well-written article, by John O’Sulivan of http://www.changingthegameproject.com.  The article reviews a recent reality TV show called ‘Friday Night Tykes’ which profiles and follows the coaches, parents and players from several different “rookie” (ages 8-9) American football teams from the Texas Youth Football Association, or “TYFA” for short.  I stumbled upon this TV series on Netflix two weeks ago, and I have just finished watching the 10 episodes which make up the show’s first season.  I must say that, although the show is centred around a different sport than the sport in which I work, the parallels between the youth football system portrayed on ‘Friday Night Tykes’ and the youth soccer system I have worked in for the past 10 years are astounding.

First and foremost, the biggest problem which becomes apparent almost immediately at the start of the show is the youth football coaches.  These grown men are so hell-bent on winning (even though they are working with children in the “rookie” or 8-9 year old age category) that they are constantly losing their tempers, are routinely verbally and physically abusive to their players, and show an almost criminal lack of regard for basic first aid and treatment of injuries.  The parents of the children participating in the TYFA rookie league do not come across much better in the show.  There are frequent examples of parents pushing their kids too hard, placing enormous pressure on them to win and getting into verbal and physical altercations with each other, their coaches, game officials, and even opposing parents and coaches during games.   Unfortunately, at the centre of all of these problems are the players, 8-9 year-old kids who seem to want to have fun and enjoy the sport of football, and who really do deserve better coaching and in some cases, better parenting than what they appear to be receiving over the course of the show.

The author describes the win-at-all-costs mentality of the American youth football system in general, and of TYFA in particular, as the “armpit of America”,  meaning that although Americans know it exists, “no one wants to see it or acknowledge it, and (they) would rather cover it up and move on”.  O’Sullivan goes on to write about the show:

“It is a stomach-churning display of ignorant and misguided parents, coaches and administrators applying adult values, tactics, and training to children in 2nd through 4th grade, some of it bordering upon child abuse.”

As I mentioned previously, the similarities between the American youth football system as it is portrayed on ‘Friday Night Tykes’ and the Canadian youth soccer system are abundant.  Unfortunately, there are still far too many environments in Canadian youth soccer in which uneducated clubs, teams and coaches are only concerned with winning, and far too many parents who are pushing their children into these environments at the expense of their own development.  While there have been several positive changes made to promote player development in Ontario and Canada in recent years, including the formation of standards-based organizations like Soccer Academy Alliance Canada (SAAC), the Canadian Academy of Football (CAF) and the Ontario Player Development League (OPDL), the implementation of age-appropriate competitions and rules, the elimination of standings from youth league competitions, and changes made to the formatting of many youth soccer tournaments, there is still a lot more work that needs to be done.

The message of player development needs to be delivered to the people involved in the youngest, grass roots levels of Canadian youth soccer, to the recreational and house league clubs, coaches and parents who provide young children (sometimes as young as 4 or 5 years old) with their first experiences of the sport.  If we truly want to develop more, better soccer players, then need to acknowledge and deal with the “armpit” of our own youth soccer system.  It’s time to take youth soccer away from, as O’Sullivan calls them, the “misguided adults” in the present system.

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://changingthegameproject.com/friday-night-tykes-the-armpit-of-american-youth-sports/

 

For Parents, Science

The Problem with Age Groups in Youth Soccer

There are over 1 million registered soccer players in Canada.  Of those, over 80% are youth soccer players (between the ages of 5-17).  These numbers are a great example of how much the game as grown in this country over the past few decades, especially at the grass roots level.   One of the challenges that have accompanied this growth, however, is that the increased numbers of players have been organized and grouped according only to their chronological age (typically in Canada, this grouping is done based on the year in which the players are born).  On the surface, grouping players according to their chronological age or birth year seems fair – after all, this is the same way that the Canadian educational system groups its students.     Unfortunately, in both the youth sports / youth soccer systems, as well as in the educational system, grouping children based simply on the year and month in which they were born will not lead to optimal development, and many of these children will end up getting left behind.

There are two different “ages”, or methods, by which a child’s development can be determined.  The first, as mentioned above, is their chronological age (determined by their birth year); the second, and perhaps more important one, is their developmental age.   Developmental age can be determined by taking into account a variety of factors, including chronological age, gender, standing height, sitting height, and body mass.  A specific formula is then used, taking all of these factors into account, to determine the child’s age of Peak Height Velocity (or “PHV” for short).  A child’s age of Peak Height Velocity is defined as the age at which they will reach, or have reached, their maximum rate of growth.  On average, girls will reach their age of Peak Height Velocity between the ages 10-13, and boys will reach it between the ages of 12-15.     Reaching age of Peak Height Velocity typically occurs during the “growth spurt” that accompanies puberty, and thus, it coincides with increases in height but also in several other developmental characteristics, including increased production of anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone, and accelerated development of the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord.  Thus, children who reach age of Peak Height Velocity earlier in their life will be at a significant advantage in sports including soccer, due to advanced physical, physiological, and cognitive development.

Simple examination of the average range in age in which boys and girls reach Peak Height Velocity (and thus the range of their actual developmental age) provides clear evidence of the problem with grouping young children together simply based on their chronological age.  For example, if the average age range for girls to reach Peak Height Velocity is 10-13, then there is a chance that any girls’ soccer team in any specific age category (U12, for instance) will be comprised of girls who have an actual developmental age of 10 and are playing, training and competing with girls who have an actual developmental age of 14.  This disparity in developmental age can present a significant problem to youth soccer coaches as well as their Club/Academy directors, one of whose main jobs is to identify talented players and place them in appropriate high performance programs.  There is likely no soccer coach in Canada who would accept forcing a 10 year-old girl to play for a team and compete in a league against 14 year-old girls, yet, if coaches in Canada do not know the actual developmental age of their players, this might actually already be occurring without their knowledge.

The best way for youth soccer coaches and Club/Academy directors to ensure parity between the developmental ages of their players is to simply assess and determine all of their players’ age of Peak Height Velocity.  Once all players in a given team or age category have had their age of Peak Height Velocity determined, specific decisions regarding specific players can be made based on their developmental age versus their chronological age.  For example, in the aforementioned girls’ U12 team, perhaps some players who are determined to be 2-3 years developmentally behind the average for their team could be moved to a younger aged team.  Conversely, if there are a few players who are 2-3 years developmentally ahead of the team average, they could be moved up to an older aged team.  Of course, there are several other factors for coaches to consider besides developmental age when making decisions about player identification and selection, including players’ technical ability, tactical awareness and knowledge of the game, and their psychological traits and personality.  If developmental age of players is ignored, especially in high performance environments, then there is a good chance that some talented players will be left behind simply because they reached their age or Peak Height Velocity later than the average for their team.

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

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!