Fitness, For Coaches, Injuries, Matches

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

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

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

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

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

It’s also hard to believe, but we are now approaching the first week of November, 2017.  For college and university soccer players, if you’re lucky enough to still be playing by this time of year, it means you have progressed deep into the play-offs and are very close to qualifying for the National Championships, which are typically finished by November 15th.

In college and university soccer, the play-offs and National Championships are microcosms of the competitive season, with multiple 90+ minute matches scheduled over a very short period of time, including several instances of back-to-back matches, as well as periods of time with 3 games played over just 4 days.  As an example, take a look at this year’s CCAA (Canadian Collegiate Athletics Association) and U-Sports (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) men’s National Championship tournament schedules:

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

Of course, in order to get to the National Championships, teams need to have qualified from the play-offs, which are scheduled in a very similar way.  Typically, the first play-off matches in college and university soccer begin between 3-6 days after the conclusion of the regular season.  In Ontario, the play-offs finish with the OCAA (Ontario Collegiate Athletic Association) Championships, and the OUA (Ontario University Athletics) Final Four, both of which comprise multiple 90+ minute matches played over a 2-3 day timespan.  Below is a summary of these schedules for men’s soccer in 2017:

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

Working backwards even further, it is critical to note that, in order to qualify for the play-offs in Ontario college and university soccer, teams must endure the OCAA and OUA competitive seasons, both of which pack two and sometimes even three 90 minute matches per week, every week, from the beginning of September until the end of October.  Here is what the 2017 OCAA and OUA competitive schedules looked like:

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

I cannot help but wonder why, in the year 2017, we are still subjecting young student-athletes to this type of competitive schedule.  Virtually all of the scientific research done on the intensity and loading in soccer has indicated that a minimum of 24-48 hours is needed in order for players to optimally recover from a 90 minute match.

Furthermore, most if not all of the world’s leading authorities in soccer-specific sports science have recommended that players do not play more than one match per week in their competitive seasons.  This is because when players do play more than one 90+ minute match per week, they will experience both a significant decrease in muscular strength, speed, power, and endurance, as well as a significantly increased risk of over-training and injury due to inadequate repair and recovery from muscle damage caused during the match.

Compounding the problem for college and university soccer is that the great majority of the players are in school between the ages of 18-22, and their bodies are not fully physically and physiologically developed and thus are at an even greater risk of injury.

Several of the world’s most prominent soccer coaches and fitness coaches, including Jens Bangsbo of the University of Copenhagen, Raymond Verheijen of the World Football Academy, and Jurgen Klinsmann, former Head Coach of the United States Men’s National Soccer Team, have been critical of college and professional competitive leagues that require players to play more than one 90+ minute match per week.

In fact, Klinsmann was one of the harshest critics of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) soccer schedule (which also comprises an average of 2 matches per week), criticism which eventually led to a proposed change to a full academic year schedule (September to May) that took effect in 2016-2017 season.

If the rest of the world (including the Americans, who are traditionally resistant to change) has been able to structure their competitive soccer seasons so that they average a maximum of 1 match per week, there is no reason for Canada not to follow suit.

Competing in college and university soccer in Canada is a unique and rewarding experience.  For the great majority of young players who do not advance into the Canadian National Teams and/or into professional soccer, competing at the college and/or university level represents the highest competitive level they will reach in their careers.

If the CCAA and U-Sports are truly concerned with the long-term development and overall health of the young soccer players competing in their leagues, they should seriously consider revising their competitive schedules, to lengthen the season and/or to decrease the total number of matches played to a maximum of 1 match per week.

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

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Fitness, For Coaches, Injuries, Matches

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

Hi Everyone,

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

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

Fitness, For Coaches, Injuries, Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Injuries, Science

How To Deal With Osgoode Schlatter’s Disease in Soccer – SFG Video Blog #25: 4/8/2016

Today in our Video Blog, we discuss some strategies to help soccer players manage (and strengthen muscles to reduce the pain associated with Osgoode Schlatter’s disease, one of the most common injuries that affects youth soccer players.

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

Fitness, Injuries, Science

The Science Behind 1 Match Per-Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fitness, Injuries, Science

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

Hi everyone,

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

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