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!

Fitness, For Coaches, Science

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

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

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

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

Here is a link to the full article:

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

Its main points can be summarised as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

You get the point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In fact, the best coaching courses do!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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, 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.

DSC_0881 (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard-Denmark Presentation

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

Fitness, For Coaches, Science

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

Hi Everyone,

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

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

Fitness, For 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, 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, 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 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.

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, Science

How Canadian Professional Soccer Academies Can Be Better – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #45: 6/26/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the results of some my our recent research that was presented at the 5th World Conference on Science and Soccer, comparing fitness assessment results from a Canadian and Uruguayan professional youth academy. Some potential explanations for the results, plus recommendations for coaches and academy directors, are also provided. \

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

Fitness, For Coaches, Science

Explaining Our Research – Part 1 – Comparing Canadian and Uruguayan Professional Academy Fitness Scores:

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. and Sport Performance Analytics Inc. presented at the Conference.

The first study we will review is titled “A Comparison of Speed and High Intensity Running Abilities Between Canadian and Uruguayan Professional Academy Players”, which sought to examine any differences that may exist in physical ability, between players from two different professional academies (one being the Toronto FC Academy, and the other being the academy from Canadian SC Uruguay, a professional club in the Uruguayan 2nd Division).

We analysed fitness assessment scores from linear running speed tests (time taken to run 0-10, 0-20, n 0-35 metres) as well as the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Tests, among academy teams in age groups ranging from Under-14 to Under-21.  Comparisons were made within each age category for Canadian and Uruguayan players, and between Canadian and Uruguayan players for each age category.

After performing a statistical analysis of the data, we found some surprising information.

Canadian professional academy players were faster and had better endurance than their Uruguayan counterparts, in all of the following age categories: U14, U15, U16, U17, and U19 but NOT in the U21 age category.  In that particular category, the Uruguayans had both faster sprint times (indicating better speed), and a higher distance covered in the Yo-Yo test (indicating better endurance).

Even more surprising was that Canadian academy players in the U21 age category had slower speed times and a lower Yo-Yo score than Canadian U19 players.

The root causes of these difference s in speed and high intensity running ability between Canadian and Uruguayan professional academy players are not clear, but based on the discussion and conclusions from our research, we have identified some proposed explanations.  They are listed below.

Why are Canadian players faster and fitter than Uruguayan players from U14-U19?

There are two potential explanations for this.  Firstly, that there may be a greater focus on speed and high intensity running training in North American professional soccer teams (including Canadian clubs like Toronto FC) than there is in South American teams.  I have personally only had minimal experience in South America, having worked in Uruguay on two separate occasions, but I did get the feeling there that their focus among youth training was on the development of technical skill and tactical knowledge and understanding of the game, rather than on physical training.

This may be representative of a broader cultural difference between North and South America and their sports training philosophies, and it is a topic that warrants further research.

Second, it may be possible that a selection bias exists in Canada, towards players who are bigger, stronger and faster.  Determining whether or not a selection bias actually exists would be difficult, because coaching and scouting talent is a largely subjective process and it is difficult to make direct comparisons between youth soccer players.

If, however, all players in a particular professional youth academy or high performance environment (such as the Toronto FC Academy) had their relative or developmental age determined, then more accurate comparisons between youth players could be made.  If a bias id exists, this would be the best way to identify it and of course to try to eliminate it.

It stands to reason that all high performance youth soccer programs in Canada, including the youth Provincial and National Teams programs, as well as MLS academies, should look to perform regular assessments of the growth and development of their players, try to identify early or late physical developers, and adjust their selection an identification processes accordingly.

Why are Uruguayan players faster and fitter than Canadian players in the U21 category?  And why are Canadian U19 players faster and fitter than Canadian U21 players?

I have grouped these two questions together because, in my opinion, the possible answer is the same for both of them.  First of all it must be noted that there I no physiological reason why an elite male U19 payer should have better speed or endurance than an elite male U21 player – on the contrary, males in  professional training environment should develop their peak running speed and endurance between the ages of 20-25, when testosterone levels are highest.

With that being said, the potential explanation for the drop-off in speed and high intensity running ability seen in Canadian U21 payers may be explained as follows:  it may be possible that Canadian players in elite youth programs like the Toronto FC Academy lose their motivation to stay in shape and continue to train hard once they realise that they are not going to progress immediately into professional soccer through the first team of their Major League Soccer (MLS) or other professional club.

Because, at present, there are no domestic professional options available to Canadian players outside of the three MLS clubs in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, (as well as FC Edmonton of the NASL and Ottawa Fury of the USL) talented young players from professional academies who do not progress into their clubs’ senior teams will likely end up attending an American or Canadian college or university (and playing on the Varsity soccer team for their school) or competing in one of the local domestic semi-professional leagues, such as Ontario League One or the Canadian Soccer League (CSL).

Unfortunately, neither the American or Canadian collegiate soccer systems, nor Ontario League One or the CSL, are sufficiently competitive to prepare players for the physical demands of professional soccer, and the end result is that players in these environments are simply not fit enough to meet the standards of professional training and match play.  Furthermore, the lack of more options for domestic professional soccer in Canada is likely causing many young players to lose their motivation to stay in shape and train as hard as they can, even within their amateur university or semi-professional environment.

In Uruguay, on the other hand, players in the U21 age category who have not yet progressed directly into a professional club are still likely to be highly motivated, due to the numerous professional options available to them.  Uruguay’s capital city of Montevideo, with a population of just over 1.5 million people, is home to a staggering 34 professional soccer clubs in their three divisions of their national professional league.  If a player is not successful in one club, he can simply seek out a trial with another one, sometimes just a few kilometres away.

The discrepancy in physical ability between Canadian and Uruguayan U21 players and the drop-off in physical ability between Canadian U19 and U21 players both highlight the need for Canada to have its own domestic professional soccer league, which would provide young talented players with more options to continue to train and play at a high level across the country.  The new Canadian Premier League, set to kick-off with a shortened inaugural season in the fall of 2018, may be the perfect solution to this problem.

Data such as that presented in our study highlights the need for some reform to our Canadian professional soccer structure and systems.  Firstly, elite or professional Canadian youth programs need to include assessments of growth and development of their players in order to prevent potential selection biases to occur.  Second, and perhaps more importantly, we need to form our own, domestic, Canadian professional soccer league, to ensure that talented young players who do not progress directly into the MLS, NASL or USL are still afforded opportunities to play professional soccer, and maintain the motivation required to train hard and stay in shape throughout early adulthood.

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

 

Fitness, For Coaches, Science

Canadian Soccer Coaches: To Be Better We MUST Be More Humble! Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #44: 6/18/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss my recent experience attending and presenting research at the 5th World Conference on Science and Soccer in Rennes, France (May 31-June 2, 2017).  More specifically, I explain my thoughts about how the lack of Canadian soccer coaches and fitness coaches at this and other conferences highlights a problem within Canadian soccer that needs to be addressed.

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

Matches, Science, Technology

It’s Time For Instant Replay in Soccer! UEFA Champions League Analysis – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #39: 5/1/2017

Hi Everyone,

last week, the second-leg matches of the UEFA Champions League quarter final were played, and one match in particular – that between Spain’s Real Madrid and Germany’s Bayern Munich – ended in controversy thanks to two consecutive, late, off-side goals scored by Cristiano Ronaldo, goals which sealed the outcome for Madrid.

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, we discuss how the addition of instant reply in soccer could have alleviated and even eliminated the controversy surrounding the outcome of this match.

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

Fitness, Science, Technology

Coaches – Why You NEED to Start Monitoring Training Load/Intensity NOW – Gols Video Blog #32: 3/14/2017

Hi Everyone,

this week in the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I am discussing the importance of coaches and fitness coaches monitoring the training load and intensity of their training sessions and games.  I also discuss the use of a simple tool, the Borg 0-10 Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale (provided below) which is a cost-effective way for any coach at any level to keep track of these metrics.  Simply put, if you do not monitor how hard your athletes are working and their physical responses to the stress of training and games, then you are simply guessing when planning future training sessions – and to me, this is not acceptable for high performance sports!

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

Borg0-10RPEScale

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, 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, Science

Speed Endurance Training – The BEST Way to Train for Soccer-Specific Fitness

Soccer is a sport which requires a unique combination of anaerobic and aerobic fitness.

That is, elite level soccer players must possess speed and jumping power, as well as aerobic endurance and recovery, similar to elite track and field athletes.

The sport also requires a significant amount of very specific movements, including accelerating/decelerating, cutting and turning, backwards and lateral movements, plus of course  all of the technical movements involving the ball.

With all of these unique physical requirements, designing physical training programs for soccer players can be a difficult task.  After all, focusing too much training time on speed and power training can negate improvements in aerobic fitness, and too much time spent on improving aerobic fitness can cause a decrease in speed and power.

One unique way to target the two different energy systems (anaerobic and aerobic) used in the sport simultaneously, while also providing a specific and relevant stimulus to the muscular system through soccer-specific movements, is to use on-field speed endurance training.

The aim of speed endurance training involves prolong the amount of time an athlete can maintain a very high level of exercise intensity.  In soccer, this would mean prolonging the time a player can run, sprint, and change directions at high speeds, while maintaining control of movement and executing a tactical objective.

Training for speed endurance presents a challenge to the anaerobic energy system (which must provide energy to the body to allow it to maintain the high level of exercise intensity over this time-frame) and the aerobic energy system, which is responsible for helping the body recover between bouts of high intensity exercise.

In general, the total time of the work periods for speed endurance training can vary from as little as 10 seconds, to as much as 60 seconds (the longer the time of the work period, the greater the challenge to the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems, and the more recovery time needed between repetitions).

Speed endurance can be further divided into “speed endurance production training” – using a 15-30 second work periods and a work-to-rest ratio of between 1:4-1:6 – and “speed endurance maintenance training” – using a similar 15-30 second work period but a significantly smaller rest period, often with a work-to-rest ratio of 1:2-1:3.

Perhaps the most beneficial feature of speed endurance training is that the total number of repetitions of its high intensity work periods can range from as little as three, to as many as eight repetitions, meaning that the total training volume (total amount of time running/training) is very low – as little as two-three minutes.  This low training volume is especially valuable to elite level soccer players, as it should significantly decrease the risks of training-related overuse injuries.

Several recent research studies, including Iaia & Bangsbo (2010), Iaia et. al. (2009), Skovgaard et. al. (2016), and Iaia et. al. (2015) have demonstrated that speed endurance training can elicit significant improvements in markers of anaerobic and aerobic fitness in running athletes and soccer players.

While some of the studies cited in this article used running workouts, others have achieved similar results with soccer-specific speed endurance training, comprising drills or small-sided soccer games.  A key advantage of using soccer drills or small-sided games as a means of speed endurance training is that the work done by the payers – including shorter sprints, movements in multiple directions, decelerations and changes of direction, and of course the use of the ball – is as specific to the actual sport of soccer as possible.  Theoretically, this increased specificity should lead to better improvements in overall performance on the pitch.

Some examples of soccer-specific speed endurance training sessions, utilising a 15-30 second high intensity work period with the ball, are:

  • Repeated 2 x 20-30 metre shuttle run with a deceleration and one-touch pass at the end of each run
  • 1 versus 1 game played over a long (30-40 metre) and narrow (10 metre) field
  • 2 versus 2 game played over a short field (20 metres x 30 metres)
  • “pressing exercise” involving groups of 4, 5 or 6 players applying high pressure to the team in possession of the ball, on ½ of a full size field

In order to ensure that the intensity of the work periods is high enough, specific goals/targets, as well as “punishments” can be included in these exercises and games.  For example, in the first example (the shuttle run) a specific number of passes can be used as a target for the players who are performing the shuttle run.  This number can get progressively higher in subsequent training sessions.  In the small-sided games (1 versus 1 and 2 versus 2) the teams who fail to win or fail to generate shots on target can be “punished” with a small amount of push-ups during rest periods.

Soccer coaches and fitness coaches should strongly consider adding speed endurance training into their routines, both in pre-season, as well as during the competitive season.  The combination of stimuli to both the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems, plus the ability to maximise specificity by using soccer-specific exercises and games, in combination with a low training volume, make speed endurance training an excellent tool or coaches at all levels.

Of course, the examples given above are just some of literally hundreds of different ways in which soccer coaches and fitness coaches can utilise speed endurance training with their players and teams.  If delivered properly, speed endurance training can maximise improvements in players’ speed and endurance, while at the same time minimising their training volume, affording coaches more time to plan and execute the rest of their technical and tactical training.

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

 

References:

Iaia, F.M. & Bangsbo, J. (2010).  Speed endurance training is a powerful stimulus for physiological adaptations and performance improvements of athletes.  Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Sports Science, 2: 11-23.

Iaia, F.M., Fiorenza, M., Perri, E., Alberti, G., Millett, G.P., Bangsbo, J. (2015).  The effect of two speed endurance training regimes on performance of soccer players.  PLOS ONE, September 2015, 1-16.

Iaia, F.M., Hellsten, Y., Nielsen, J.J., Fernstrom, M., Sahlin, K., Bangsbo, J. (2009).  Four weeks of speed endurance training reduces energy expenditure during exercise and maintains muscle oxidative capacity despite a reduction in training volume.  Journal of Applied Physiology, 106(1): 73-80.

Skovgaard, C., Almquist, N.M., Bangsbo, J. (2016).  Effect of increased and maintained frequency of speed endurance training on performance and muscle adaptations in runners.  Journal of Applied Physiology, 160(1): 36-42.

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!

Matches, Science

How to Win Without a Shot on Target – Analysis of the 2016 MLS Cup Final

On Saturday, December 10th, in -4 degrees Celsius weather at Toronto’s packed BMO Field, the Seattle Sounders defeated Toronto FC in the 2016 MLS Cup final, 4-3 via a penalty shoot-out, after a scoreless draw over 120 minutes.

How did they do it?  By all accounts, TFC appeared to have dominated the game.  They held an 8.4% edge in ball possession, a 9% advantage in passing accuracy, and they created significantly more chances, with 19 total shots – to Seattle’s 3 – and 7 shots on target – to Seattle’s 0.

Sometimes in soccer, however, a more in-depth analysis of closely-contested matches is required, and often when this happens, a completely different story can unfold.

While TFC certainly did have greater ball possession, a better pass completion percentage, and created many more scoring chances than Seattle in the match, it was clear from the outset that Seattle’s plan to defend deep, frustrate Toronto’s attacking players and prevent any sort of offensive rhythm from developing was working to their advantage.

The resolute Sounders defense, led by centre back Romeo Torres, left back Joevin Jones, and former TFC goalkeeper Stefan Frei, frustrated Toronto’s star attacking players, including 2016 MLS Player of the Year Sebastian Giovinco, and striker Jozy Altidore.  Giovinco in particular was neutralized by the Sounders defense, who kept him playing with his back to goal and brought him down the few times he managed to turn and break free.

In the middle of the pitch, Toronto’s central midfielder and captain, Michael Bradley, was defended well and contained by the Sounders’ defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, who limited Bradley to a 50% completion percentage on passes made in the attacking half of the pitch.

Offensively, despite the fact that they did not create many scoring chances, the Sounders were dangerous on the counter and central striker Nelson Valdez in particular – until he came off with an injury in the 78th minute – was a constant threat in transition.

Any time a team elects to defend deep and tries to counter-attack, they are bound to concede ball possession and a greater number of shots on target.  What the numbers don’t demonstrate, however, is that the great majority of the shots Toronto created were not clear-cut scoring chances, but rather efforts from long distance or from bad angles that were well defended.

The one true clear-cut scoring opportunity that TFC had, which came from a lofted cross and a near-post header by Altidore, produced a spectacular save from Frei, who was the deserving man-of-the-match with 12 total saves, including 5 from shots taken inside the 18-yard box.

One telling statistic that could get overlooked is that although Seattle conceded nineteen total shots, ten of them – over 50% – were blocked, with an additional two that were forced off target coming from good defending and goalkeeping.

Another is the number of corner kicks conceded by Seattle – 10 – to only 5 conceded by Toronto.  While it might appear that generating more attacks leading to corner kicks is a positive outcome for TFC, the fact is that the majority of those corners were earned after attempted penetrating passes or crosses were intercepted by the well-organized Seattle defense.

Unfortunately, Toronto was not able to alter the course of the game through changes in tactics or personnel.  In spite of the above-mentioned trends, which were fairly obvious by half-time, TFC elected to stay with the same tactics and the same line-up, not making their first substitution until the 77th minute, when Will Josnson came on in place of Jonathan Osorio.

TFC’s second substitution, bringing on Benoit Cheyrou in place of Armando Cooper in the 88th minute, also came without a tactical change and also failed to make an impact on the match.

Most important – and perhaps controversial – of all, however, was the delay in brining on Tosaint Ricketts, who had been an impactful substitute in previous TFC regular season and play-off games (most recently in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Montreal Impact on November 30th).

Ricketts did not see action on Saturday until the 103rd minute – nearly half of the way through the 30-minute extra time period, affording him minimal time to influence the match.  He was also brought on in place of Giovinco, Toronto’s leader, top regular-season goal scorer, and overall most dangerous attacking threat.

Ironically, among Giovinco’s specialities is taking penalty kicks – he has been successful in five of six attempts in Major League Soccer – and he was substituted just 15 minutes prior to the shoot-out that cost his team the title.

Admittedly, Giovinco was not having a great night and seemed to be hampered by an injury that may well have been the reason for his being taken off, but he was visibly upset at the moment he was replaced, and he certainly would have been a valuable addition to the side during the ensuing shoot-out.

Furthermore, throughout the extra time period the Sounders seemed to have resigned themselves to the inevitability of a shoot-out – as evidenced by Toronto’s 67% edge in possession over the course of the 30-minute period – so leaving an injured Giovinco on the pitch for an additional 15 minutes probably would not have been a problem.

Ultimately, Seattle’s strategy in the MLS Cup Final was not pretty, but it was effective.  They used a deep, tight defense, pressuring TFC’s attackers in their defensive 3rd quickly and preventing them from settling on the ball, and using “tactical fouls” to disrupt attacks that were started in the middle 3rd.

They also demonstrated how – with the right tactics – it is possible to win a cup final without taking a shot on target.

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

Fitness, Science

How Best to Improve Endurance for Soccer

I have been obsessed with trying to find the perfect way to train for soccer since I was in high school, and I haven’t been in high school since 1999.

Over the almost 20 years which have passed since then, my obsession has provided me with the opportunity to start my own business; to work with some of the best soccer players in Canada as well as professional players/teams in other countries; to conduct and publish research; and, most recently, to create courses designed to teach other coaches and fitness coaches how to train their players and teams.

In the midst of the work mentioned above, I have also spent a considerable amount of time developing and administering fitness training programs, both on the field, in the weight room, and in my own facility, the Soccer Fitness Training Centre.  One key commonality that has been an integral part of all of the different training programs I have developed and used has remained the same: that the training methodology, as well as the exercises used, must be scientifically proven and evidence-based.

It is with this thought in mind that I have decided to share some evidence in support of what is probably the best and most efficient way for soccer players to train – high intensity aerobic interval training.

High intensity aerobic interval training involves the use of short-duration (between 5-10 seconds, up to 2-3 minutes), high-intensity exercise (usually higher than 80% of maximum heart rate or maximal oxygen consumption), with variable rest periods in between (work-to-rest ratios ranging from 3:1 to 1:5).

Recent research has indicated that high intensity aerobic interval training can improve aerobic and anaerobic endurance, reduce body fat, and induce other improvements in overall health.  Among the proven positive benefits of aerobic high intensity interval training is:

  • Reduction in cardiovascular risk factors (Tjona et. Al, 2009)
  • Improved insulin activity (Barbraj et. Al, 2009)
  • Reduction in body fat percentage (Trapp et. Al, 2008)
  • Improved maximal oxygen uptake and peak power output (Gibala & MeGee, 2008)
  • Greater improvements in cardiovascular performance as compared to longer, continuous training (Bacon et. Al, 2013)

Key to the effectiveness of this type of training is the fact that the higher heart rate which can be achieved through short, high intensity bursts of exercise raises the number of calories burned per-minute and per-workout, and also increases post-exercise oxygen consumption, causing even more calories to be burned when workouts are finished.

As a matter of fact, one important finding of the study by Bacon et. Al (2013) mentioned above was that even people considered “non-responders” to lower intensity cardiovascular were training (meaning that they did not improve their cardiovascular fitness following low/moderate intensity aerobic exercise) were only able to “respond” – to show improvements in their aerobic fitness – with high intensity aerobic interval training.

Soccer players, because they participate in a sport that requires a similar activity pattern of short-duration, high intensity running and sprinting, can stand to benefit greatly from this high intensity aerobic interval training.

In addition to improvements in aerobic and anaerobic endurance, peak power output, and body composition, however, the most valuable aspect of high intensity aerobic interval training is perhaps that it can be completed in a very small amount of time (many of the studies cited above have used or examined the effects of training protocols ranging from a minimum of 5 minutes to just over 20 minutes).

This means that soccer coaches can improve their team’s aerobic performance with as little as 5 minutes of total training time, 2 days per week.  Of course, any extra training time that is saved can then be devoted to team technical and tactical training, which can further improve both individual and team performance in the long run.

Evidence in support of the effectiveness of high intensity aerobic interval training, both for athletes as well as for the general population, is very clear.  Soccer coaches and fitness coaches working with soccer players should consider adding this type of training into their routines, in order to get the greatest possible results in the least amount of time.

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

Fitness, Science

3 Things Canadians Can Learn From Uruguayan Youth Soccer

I enjoyed my first opportunity to work in professional soccer this year, when I was hired as Fitness Coach for Canadian SC Uruguay, a professional soccer club in the Uruguayan Segunda (2nd Division).  I was fortunate to have been given this opportunity by Canadians SC’s head coach, Rafael Carbajal, an Uruguayan Canadian who had previously been working with the Canadian Men’s National Team.

Canadian SC is just one of over 30 professional soccer clubs from Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital city and a hotbed for talent development in the country.  As a matter of fact, the nation of Uruguay as a whole, with a population of just over 3 million people, has been excelling at player development for over 100 years, and can perhaps be considered the most successful soccer nation in the world, per-capita.

Ask any Uruguayan to back up this claim, and they will be happy to oblige.  They might start by pointing out that their nation has won 4 – not 2, but 4 World Championships – the first two being the 1924 and 1928 Olympic titles which are generally regarded to have been the top soccer competition in the world prior to the first-ever FIFA World Cup in 1930 (which they also hosted and won), as well as the 1950 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, where they upset the hosts in the final in Rio De Janeiro in one of the most famous soccer matches ever to be played.

Uruguay also has the distinction of being the most successful nation ever in the Copa America, the South American Championship tournament held every four years.  With 15 Copa America titles – the most recent of which came in 2011 – Uruguay has eclipsed even the continent’s giants Argentina (14 titles) and Brazil (8 titles).

All of this success has been achieved despite a tiny population and relatively small domestic professional league.  In fact, there is no other country in the world, per capita, that has come even close to achieving the international success that Uruguay has, and the Uruguayans seem to relish their role as soccer “underdogs”, a topic which I have written about in my blog before:

https://soccerfitnessgols.com/2016/07/08/soccer-in-uruguay-day-7-underdogs/

As a Canadian fitness coach, the experience of working in top level soccer in a country like Uruguay was invaluable for me.  During my time there, I couldn’t help but think about the stark contrasts that exist between Uruguayan and Canadian soccer.  Although I worked exclusively with the first team (adults) at Canadian SC, I also got to spend a lot of time working with and learning from the club’s youth academy coaches and fitness coaches – who work with teams from the U14-U19 age groups – and it is in these age groups where the main differences between Uruguayan and Canadian soccer are most prominent.

While there have been improvements in the Canadian youth soccer system over the past 15-20 years, we have not been able to keep pace with other nations – not just the more successful European and South American nations but even those in our own CONCACAF region – and as a result, we have not been successful in developing top class adult players to feed our national teams.

Three main aspects of Uruguayan youth soccer in particular stuck out the most as being very different from what we presently have in Canada, and they are a big reason why this was such a great learning experience for me.  Below is a summary of the three things Canadians can learn from Uruguayan youth soccer.

  1. We need to develop a soccer culture where babies, toddlers and young children are better exposed to the game.

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In Uruguay, as in almost any other country in the world, all the little kids want to be professional soccer players when they grow up.

Why do they want this?  Because from the moment they are able to see, they see soccer.  From the moment they are able to hear, they hear soccer.  From the moment they can walk – and many times much earlier than that – someone has put a ball in front of them for them to play with.  You get the idea.

The underlying reason for Uruguay’s obsession with soccer is that all of the most famous and successful Uruguayan professional and National Team players grow up plying their trade close to the homes – sometimes even literally in the backyards – of the young players aspiring to take their place in the future.  Young aspiring soccer players in Uruguay can watch games on TV, on the internet, or attend live matches close to home at a very low price, and see their heroes up close and personal, on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis.

The small geographical landmass of Uruguay combined with the centralisation of most of the soccer talent in Montevideo, means that there is great proximity between youth players and professional players.  Youth players have a very clear idea of what is required to become a professional player because they live and train very close to professional players.

All of this results in a “culture of soccer” in Uruguay, which ensures that when these youth players reach their formative years, their technical development and tactical knowledge of the game will be at the highest level possible, because they will have seen and been able to emulate the top players in the country far more often than their Canadian peers.

It is possible that, through better development and promotion of our own, Canadian domestic professional leagues (like Ontario’s League One) we may be able to develop a similar “culture of soccer” in Canada, which could then help to encourage and advance the development of young Canadian talented soccer players.

  1. We need to make our youth soccer programs, specifically from the ages of 7-13, accessible to everyone.

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Believe it or not, there is a Uruguayan version of “house league” soccer.  It’s called “Baby Futbol”, and it comes complete with all of the things you might expect to see in an amateur recreational youth soccer league.

Teams play 11v11, on a field not much smaller than a full size adult pitch, with goals of equal proportions.  There are young and relatively inexperienced coaches, and the parents on the sidelines can be heard screaming encouragement – and sometimes instructions – from miles away.

Baby Futbol is the only youth soccer program available to Uruguayan children between the ages of 7 and 13, and it is free.

That’s right – it costs parents nothing to have their children participate in Baby Futbol.

From this large pool of youth soccer players, academy coaches and scouts from all of the professional clubs in Uruguay will select the best and most talented players to participate in their academy teams programs, starting in the U14 age category.

This means that one, centralised, free youth soccer system houses all of the potential future professional players in Uruguay.  No young Uruguayan soccer player, regardless of his family’s financial resources, is denied the opportunity to play in Baby Futbol, and thus the opportunity to be identified as a potential professional soccer player is accessible to all Uruguayans.

Furthermore, identification and selection of talented players from Baby Futbol (“recreational soccer”) to professional academy teams (“competitive soccer”) in Uruguay occurs at U13, as opposed to at U8 in Canada.  Thus, talented Uruguayan players are not excluded from competitive soccer or the pathway into professional soccer at a young age.

Accessibility of all young soccer players to the professional soccer system, by way of Baby Futbol, is a key contributor to the overall success of Uruguayan soccer, because it means that there are literally no potential professional and/or National Team players who are excluded from the system.

There is potential that in Canada, better accessibility to competitive or “rep” soccer at the youth levels (ages 7-13) could lead to less exclusion of potentially talented players, and in turn strengthen our own professional and National Teams programs.

  1. We need to ensure that beyond the age of 13, coaches who work with talented young soccer players have a high standard of coach education.

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As mentioned previously, the best and most talented Uruguayan Baby Futbol players are identified by professional coaches and scouts, and placed into professional academy teams, beginning in the U14 age category.  From there, most professional clubs will have academy teams who compete in U14, U15, U16, U17 and U19 leagues, with the best U17 and U19 players eventually being called up to the clubs’ senior “First Teams.”

Coaches working in professional clubs’ academy teams are required, through the Asssociacion Uruguaya de Futbol (the Uruguayan Football Association – “AUF” for short) to obtain a Uruguayan youth coaching license, which is a 2-year diploma course comprising over 1400 hours of technical instruction, including both written and practical exams.

The content of the course has been developed by local and foreign coaches, as well as sports scientists and teachers, with background and experience at the highest levels of professional and international soccer.  Included in the curriculum are modules covering physiology, biomechanics, sport psychology, and periodization of training – and all the coaches working in professional academies in Uruguay must complete these modules and prove their knowledge and competence in these areas.

Once they reach the professional academy level – a level at which a high standard of coaching is required – talented young Uruguayan soccer players are placed in programs where they receive this high standard of coaching.

The comparative standard of coach education for coaches of competitive soccer players in Canada would be the Ontario Provincial and Canadian National “B” Licenses, each of which comprise 1 week of instruction and testing.  In Uruguay, coaches at the same relative level of competition must take a 2-year licensing course, with multiple written and practical examinations.

Perhaps, if we want to improve our ability to coach and develop our talented young soccer players beyond the age of 13 in Canada, we may need to raise the standard of our Canadian coach education programs for coaches working in these age groups.

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

Matches, Science

Soccer in Uruguay: Day 2 – The Importance of Coach Education

Today was an off-day, because the Academy matches were cancelled due to thunderstorms which continued basically all day long.  I did get to meet up with my friend and colleague who will also be working with Canadian SC, sports scientist Farzad Yousefian of Sports Performance Analytics Inc.  We watched the UEFA Euro quarter-final match between France and Iceland, a game dominated by France, who ended up winning 5-2 and will now face Germany in the semi-final on Thursday.

Much has been made of the success of Iceland, a nation with a population of just over 300,000 people, in this year’s tournament.  Not only did they qualify out of a European group at the expense of the Netherlands, they proved their worth in the tournament itself by drawing Portugal and Hungary, then beating Austria in group play to advance to the knockout rounds, where they subsequently beat England to reach today’s quarter-final match.

Following Iceland’s shocking defeat of England, many members of the media (including our Canadian/TSN broadcast team of Jason DeVos and Kristian Jack), in their attempt to search for answers as to how the tiny nation could have pulled of such an upset, pointed to the country’s strong emphasis on coach education.

I have blogged about Iceland and the secrets to their success in soccer before, in November of 2015, when I posted and commented on a article written by Icelandic journalist Tryggvi Kristjansson, published after the team had secured qualification for the final stage of France 2016.  In case you missed that blog/article, it can be viewed here:

https://soccerfitnessgols.com/2015/09/21/article-the-icelandic-roadmap-to-success-on-www-thesefootballtimes-co/

Kristjansson, like TSN’s DeVos and Jack, also highlighted the important role that coach education has played in Iceland’s “football revolution.”  Among the statistics presented in the article which stood out the most are that 70% of all of the registered coaches in Iceland now have a UEFA “B” License, and 30% of them have a UEFA “A” License.  These staggering numbers mean that Iceland has a higher percentage of its total coaches with UEFA “B” and “A” Licensed coaches than any other European nation, including perennial contenders Germany, Italy, Spain and France.

Interestingly, there are several comparisons that can be made between soccer’s newest underdog, Iceland, and Uruguay, which is perhaps the greatest underdog in the history of the sport. Among their many similarities (a relatively small population, a struggling professional league with few profitable clubs, etc..) one of the primary ones is that Uruguay, like Iceland, is also renowned around the world for its coaching education programs.

Coaches in Uruguay, even the ones who work with lower level youth/amateur players, must pass a rigorous licensing program provided through the Association Uruguaya de Futbol (“AUF” for short), which requires a minimum of 4 years to complete, and includes courses (and exams) in physiology, biomechanics, periodization, and sports psychology, in addition to the requisite technical and tactical training education.

According to the people I have met and spoken with thus far, Uruguay is one of the largest exporters of professional coaches in the world, a fact which speaks volumes to the credibility of their coach education programs.

DeVos in particular was adamant following Iceland’s victory over England, that it was the nation’s emphasis on coach education that had paved the way for this historic result.  He added that a similar emphasis on coach education would be required in Canada if we expect to become competitive at the international level.  After my experiences thus far in Uruguay, it is hard to argue with this sentiment.

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, Science

The Deadlift – Execution, Benefits, and How to Incorporate it Into a Soccer Player’s Training Program

Written by Soccer Fitness Strength and Conditioning Coach Jacob Ceccanese, edited by Richard Bucciarelli.

The deadlift is an essential compound exercise within a strength and conditioning program. In general, the deadlift offers many positive contributions to an athlete’s training and functional abilities.  Because it is a closed chain exercise, the deadlift is  often used for preventative and rehabilitation purposes. The deadlift is often debated as being a high risk for reward exercise, however, leading researcher Dr. Stuart McGill clarifies the significance of the exercise for us in strength and conditioning programs for athletes.  Dr. McGill refers to the deadlift as a posterior shift exercise maximising the potential to activate the gluteus maximus, a prime mover with respect to hip extension (McGill, 2006).

Increasing the effectiveness of the deadlift is primarily based on achieving correct posture while performing the exercise.  A key postural cue for athletes in keeping a neutral spine, this position is transferred to all different variations of the deadlifts (Eg: sumo, stiff leg, dumbbell or bar). A neutral spine position pulls the spinal column in a normal curvature keeping tension on the muscles instead of ligaments.  Adams and Dolan (1995) provided insight to avoiding injury during an anterior loaded exercise such as the deadlift (Adams & Dolan, 1995). Muscles commonly used in a deadlift such as the erector spinea and latissimus dorsi are primary postural muscles which eliminate flexion of the spine. The research suggests that keeping a neutral spine will eliminate the possibility of shifting the muscle function to the ligaments which are not meant to resist high loads. Adams and Dolan suggest avoiding full lumbar flexion which may allow for decreased risk and increased effectiveness (Adams & Dolan, 1995).

For simplicity, the most common deadlift motion is powerful hip and knee extension through loaded posterior chain musculature. The muscles which perform these movements play a critical role in soccer-specific movements such as vertical jump in a header and explosive acceleration to chase a ball down or close down the space between opposing players while defending.  Including deadlifting into a soccer player’s periodization program would allow them to achieve great performance benefits, as it would allow them to improve the effectiveness of these movements.

Many top strength and conditioning coaches incorporate the deadlift into a soccer player’s regimen for several different reasons, but the main reason it is used is to build general strength to allow an athlete to generate power more efficiently. Strength and power are two terms commonly mistaken as being the same, however, many differences exist between the two.  The force-velocity curve (see below) is a graph that represents the hyperbolic curve relationship between force (y-axis) and velocity (x-axis). Zatsiorsky and Kraemer (2006) explain the specificity in periodization programs to allow athletes to attain the adaptions gained in training to transfer to their sport (Zatsiorsky & Kraemer, 2006). The training specific to one end of the spectrum sometimes allows adaptions at the other end. While trying to increase strength, one must lift heavy loads which can only be done at slow speeds, but when trying to increase power or speed, one must lift lighter loads in explosive style lifts.

Force-Velocity Curve

When taking a closer look at the force-velocity curve, it is critical that athletes train to shift that curve to the right, which means that as time gets closer to the season, players have increased their strength to a level which helps optimise their speed and power. A challenge with this type of training is that athletes cannot optimally train strength while at the same time doing power or speed work, and conversely, power cannot be optimally trained while continuing with strength training.  Vladimir Issurin (2008) found that using a “block” periodization for sports such as soccer that depend on key characteristics like speed and power, to be critical for players playing at high levels.  The “block” periodization model is based on training residuals and how long the training adaptions can be maintained without de-training (Issurin, V., 2008).  Physiological adaptions such as improving aerobic endurance, anaerobic ability, as well as maximal strength, all take longer to de-train opposed to motor skill adaptions such as maximal speed (Issurin, V. 2008). Therefore, those characteristics are trained earlier and as the athlete approaches their season, maximal speed and strength endurance work specific to the sport are added in. 

Moving through a block periodization program for a soccer player would begin in the offseason; accumulation phase is step one. A deadlift exercise would be incorporated into the accumulation phase as training focus is to build basic strength and hypertrophy to set up for greater training intensity in future mesocycles. The accumulation phase –  as the name suggests – is a high volume and low intensity phase. During this phase, the deadlift exercise would be done using low loads and more sets and reps. Variation throughout the first phase can be done using different types of deadlifting techniques throughout the microcycles (weekly) to add variation.  Athletes then move from the accumulation phase to the transmutation phase which incorporates more maximal strength and power work. During the transmutation phase, medium load and medium to high intensity is used. The reason for the transmutation phase is to focus the training stimulus to adaptions more specific for performance.  The last stage would be realisation phase; the focus during this phase is power and speed.  The training volume is to remain low and training intensity is to be high.  Lowering the training volume during this phase allows for the accumulated fatigue to dissipate and specific training adaptions to be realised (NCSA).

Through the use of a block periodization, with a progression from phases starting with accumulation, to transmutation, to realisation, soccer players can incorporate the deadlift exercise into their routines and achieve improvements in performance. A specific goal of the use of deadlifts in a block periodization is to move the force-velocity curve towards the right side of the graph. This will allow athletes to increase the amount of force they can produce, at any given velocity or speed, and ultimately will allow them the opportunity to achieve peak levels of strength, speed and power simultaneously through a residual training effect (Hoffman,J. 2012).

 

 

Fitness, Science

Hamstring Injuries in Soccer – Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation

Written by Soccer Fitness Internship Student Dante Blair, edited by Richard Bucciarelli.

Hamstring injuries are very common in the world of sports, and especially in the sport of soccer. Injuries to the hamstring muscles can have a drastic effect on an athlete’s career and quality of life.  Audits were done on English Professional teams over two seasons and found that about 12 percent of all soccer related injuries were hamstring related. A hamstring injury can effectively sideline a player for up to 90 days. (Woods, Hawkins, Maltby, Thomas, & Hodson, 2004). It is clear that hamstring injuries pose a problem to athletes so it is important, as with any other injury, for players to participate in preventive measure to reduce the risk of injury. If/when a hamstring injury occurs, players should also follow proper rehabilitation practices and techniques in order to return to play as soon as possible and to prevent re-injury.

The hamstrings consists of three muscles on the back of the leg. The semitendinosus, semimembranosus and the bicep femoris insert at the ischial tuberosity in the pelvis spanning across the knee joint and then inserting on the medial tibia. The hamstrings function to extend the hip and bend the knee.  Hamstring injuries usually occur when there is a quick change in direction during a sprint or a jump. Often the injury occurs during the swing phase of running, prior to the foot touching the ground (Goldman & Jones, 2011). Many risk factors for hamstring injury have been described, being classified as intrinsic and extrinsic risk factors. Intrinsic risk factors include muscle weakness, imbalances, fatigue, poor flexibility and poor technique. Extrinsic factors include insufficient warm up, training parameters and playing surfaces (Goldman & Jones, 2011). Factors like age, sex and ethnicity play a role but are unmodifiable in nature. (Bahr & Holme, 2003).

Preventative measures can be taken to reduce the risk of hamstring injuries by increasing eccentric strength on the hamstrings. Studies have shown a 13 percent reduction in in hamstring injuries by implement a protocol which includes strength training to increase eccentric hamstring strength combined with warm up and stretching. This conclusion makes sense based on the fact that most hamstring injuries involved poor flexibility and muscle weakness. However, it was made clear that to effectively reduce hamstring strains, one must implement both a strength and flexibility component in their training regimen (Arnason, Anderdsen, Holme, Engebretesen, & Bahr, 2008,). An effective exercise that have proven to increase eccentric strength of the hamstring is the Nordic hamstring curl. Furthermore, athletes have to take into consideration the muscle imbalances they may have. Another study concluded that players with strength imbalances where 4-5 times more likely to receive a hamstring injury (Croisier, Ganteaume, Binet, Genty, & Ferret, 2008,). Unfortunately, this type of strength imbalance is common in soccer, because of the fact that many players develop a dominant or stronger leg. It is important to recognise any potential imbalances and implement corrective training measures to solve this issue (for example, participating in uni-lateral strength and flexibility exercises).

In the occurrence of a hamstring injury it is important to take the proper rehab precautions in order to heal as quickly as possible and reduce the risk of re-injury. A hamstring rehabilitation program usually consist of three stages; the acute, subacute and functional stages. In the acute phase of rehabilitation the goal is to protect the injury and minimise motion and strength loss. A common protective mechanism used to reduce inflammation is ice, but ultra sound and laser are used as well. At this time isometric strengthening should be done, with the use of knee flexion exercise at various angles. Once knee flexion strength is greater than 50 percent of uninjured length, the athlete may proceed to the next phase.

The second phase of rehabilitation (subacute phase) consists of concentric and eccentric training to regain strength and neuromuscular control of the hips and pelvis. Exercise done at this stage includes straight leg deadlifts, single leg windmills and the aforementioned Nordic hamstring curls. At this point the athlete should be within 20 percent of full strength and have the ability to jog forward and backward at a moderate speed.

In the final (functional) stage the focus of the rehab is on functional movement and eccentric strengthening and lengthening.  At completion of this stage athletes should have full strength and rage of motion. Bands are used to test the lengthening capabilities of the hamstrings. While using bands, the hips must be in a flexed position as the knee extends to ensure that the hamstrings are functioning properly. Tests that are commonly used to assess if an athlete is eligible to return to play are the H-test and the lengthening state manual hamstring test. Both test are designed to demonstrate full strength and range of motion of the hamstrings. (Schmitt, Tim, & McHugh, 2012)

In summary, injuries, including hamstring injuries, are an unfortunate part of participation in sports including soccer. It is important for all athletes, including soccer players, to take preventative action to reduce the likelihood of any type of injury. In the case of hamstring strains, strengthening the muscle as well as increased flexibility goes along way for injury prevention. If a hamstring injury ever occurs, following a rehabilitation protocol can be beneficial for a healthy recovery and the reduction risk of of re-injury.

Nutrition, Science

Everything You Need to Know About Carbohydrates for Soccer

JessicaDeeth

Written by Soccer Fitness Internship Student Jessica Deeth.  Edited by Richard Bucciarelli.

The word “carbohydrate” is synonymous with sports nutrition. The immediate impact of carbohydrate intake, or conversely its absence, on daily training and competition performance has been widely researched. Recent trends in society have suggested that low carbohydrate diets are beneficial for weight loss and other health benefits. In addition, different tactics based on fuelling for sports performance have become a popular discussion among scientists and researchers recently as well. Carbohydrates are a major fuel source for exercise, especially during prolonged continuous or high-intensity exercise.

Carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen within the muscles and liver, however this storage capacity is limited. When these carbohydrate stores inadequately meet the fuel needs of an athlete’s training program, this can negatively impact their performance. Resulting in: reduced ability to train intensely, diminish competition performance, and reduced immune function. For these reasons, athletes are encouraged to ensure adequate carbohydrate intake according to their requirements based on training regime.

Dietary carbohydrate requirements are dependent on the fuel needs of the athlete’s training and/or competition program. Exactly how many grams are required is ultimately dependant on the frequency, duration and intensity of the activity. The chart below outlines some general requirements, based on activity level, that are recommended by the Australian Sports Institute (ASI):

CHOsChart

Much like activity levels change from day to day, carbohydrate intake should vary based on these changes in training as well. On high activity days, carbohydrate intake should be increased to account for the increase in activity ultimately increasing energy expenditure. This will help to maximise performance from the training sessions and also promote recovery between exercise sessions. Alternatively, on low-activity training days and/or rest days, carbohydrate intake should be reduced to reflect the decreased training load.(“Carbohydrate – The Facts : AIS : Australian Sports Commission”, 2016).

An athlete’s carbohydrate requirements before, during and after training or competition will depend on a number of factors including: type, intensity, duration of exercise, frequency of exercise, body composition goals, training background and performance goals for the session. While ensuring an athlete is consuming a sufficient amount of carbohydrates it is also important to consider the timing of carbohydrate, specifically approaching competition. Carbohydrate ingestion before exercise should assist in topping up blood glucose levels and glycogen stores in the muscle and liver. This is especially important if the competition or training is taking place first thing in the morning or if the event will continue beyond 90 minutes in duration. Replenishment of carbohydrates during prolonged exercise can benefit the athlete’s performance in various ways. Carbohydrate replenishment will ultimately affect the muscle by delaying the onset of lactic acid build-up and fatigue. This will also directly affect the brain and central nervous system by delaying the decline in mental concentration, pacing strategies etc. Carbohydrate intake following exercise is essential for optimal recovery of glycogen stores. Often times, athletic performance is dependent upon the ability to recover from one session and perform it again and more efficiently in the next session. Incomplete or reduced replenishment of muscle glycogen stores between training sessions can lead to a reduced ability to train effectively, feeling fatigued physically and mentally and potentially leading to over-training. During competition, inadequate carbohydrate replenishment may also reduce subsequent performances where exercise sessions are repeated within or across days like tournaments, meets etc.

The rate of ATP synthesis is directly linked to the exercise intensity, which determines the substrate demands of skeletal muscle to generate ATP. During exercise, skeletal muscles use primarily Fat and Carbohydrates for energy, and at low exercise intensities, fat is the preferred substrate although there is always some glucose utilisation. At higher exercise intensities, ATP synthesis demand increases and fat is unable to meet the rate of ATP synthesis quickly enough therefore, glucose oxidation increases. Although the utilisation of fat for energy yields a much higher amount of ATP, glucose oxidation is much faster. This is why carbohydrates play a major role during exercise performed at high intensities. Fat cannot provide the required energy for ATP synthesis. Even at low exercise intensities carbohydrates are always being used. Therefore, for prolonged exercise lasting longer than 1:45-2 hours, proper carbohydrate and glycogen intake are crucial.

A potential benefit to a low carb diet is that it may help to reduce inflammation in the body. Sore muscles can sometimes hinder future workouts, and high levels of fat consumption can help to minimise post-workout soreness otherwise known as “DOMS” or “delayed-onset muscle soreness”. When carbohydrate intake is decreased below 50 grams per day, the response of the body is to produce ketones, which combat oxidative stress and have anti-inflammatory properties. This benefit can be important for high endurance athletes, because the intense training schedule pushes the athlete to their physical limits. As a result, oxidative stress builds up a tolerance in the body, and can lead to aging. But, with a low carb diet, the effects of oxidative stress can be reduced (“Can Endurance Athletes Thrive on Low Carb/High Fat Diet?”, 2016).

Multiple studies, however, have shown that fatigue and decrease in performance is often associated with low carbohydrate diets that result in glycogen depletion. When glycogen levels are low or there is glycogen depletion, the muscles then increase the utilization of protein and amino acids to produce glucose to use as energy. Since protein and amino acids are the building blocks of muscle, the muscle may become catabolic and break itself down. Essentially, the muscle starts to breakdown by increasing the amount of amino acids available to be used for energy. This situation can be harmful over time and may lead to muscle damage. It can further lead to chronic over-training, and after a prolonged period of time muscle damage can interfere with glycogen stores and synthesis.

 

 

 

 

 

Fitness, Science

Choosing the Right Aerobic Fitness Test for Soccer

Written by Soccer Fitness Internship Student Celia Palombella.  Edited by Richard Bucciarelli

Celia

Every athlete knows the importance of training specifically to the type of sport they play. The question is, which forms of training are optimal towards each sport, and why? Soccer is a sport that relies heavily on a combination of various energy systems, due to the nature of the sport. These components include: speed, agility, aerobic/anaerobic endurance, strength, power, and skill; utilizing all three energy systems (ATP-PC, Glycolitic/Lactic acid and Aerobic) (Baker, 2013). Aerobic fitness is a very important aspect to focus on when training for soccer players, with anaerobic fitness and agility trailing closely behind. Aerobic fitness is geared towards soccer players in the sense that they need to be able to sustain high intensities throughout the total 90 minutes of the game. Many different types of aerobic fitness training tests have been used towards prescribing intensities for soccer players during their training sessions. Some of these tests include the Yo-Yo test, the 30-15 intermittent fitness test, VO2max test, and various types of shuttle tests.

Sport-specific tests are tests that are used to mimic the nature of the sport. These field tests are often used to evaluate the effects that training has on their athletes, along with methods based on heart rate and rate of perceived exertion to establish the specific internal load needed when training. Modes of aerobic training have been proven to be an important component of physical training for soccer athletes. Studies have verified this showing correlation between athletes’ aerobic power (VO2max) and where they rank on a competitive level, as well as between their quality of play and how much distance they cover during a game. Aerobic training can enhance soccer performances including distance covered, time spent at high intensities and number of sprints and ball possessions during a match (Helgerud, Engen, Wisloff &Hoff, 2001). Training at high aerobic intensities has also shown to improve recovery during high intensity exercise, which is the typical type of performance and training a soccer player would undergo.

In terms of laboratory assessments, VO2max tests and blood lactate levels can be used to assess the condition of a soccer player when prescribing intensities for training. VO2max and lactate thresholds are considered accurate measures of aerobic power and capacity. Assessing these variables with the appropriate protocols when training, could provide coaches with useful information about the effect on the athlete’s central and peripheral factors (Impellizzeri, Rampinini, & Marcora, 2005). However, since most laboratory assessments, such as VO2max are difficult to administer due to equipment cost and time taken to perform them, field tests have grown more popular for coaches to be used towards their soccer training protocols specific to aerobic training. The 20-m shuttle run test can be used to correlate the maximal running speed reached at the end of the test with athletes VO2max (Impellizzeri, Rampinini, & Marcora, 2005). Equations have been made for field tests like this one to estimate one’s VO2max as an alternative to performing a full on VO2max laboratory test.

The 30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test was invented by Martin Buchheit. It measures the maximal running speed that can be used towards prescribing training prescriptions for athletes. This test consists of 30-second shuttle runs with 15-second passive recovery periods. When the test ends, the running velocity from the last stage completed is used as the maximal running speed or velocity. A calculation is done with the results to determine the player’s individual maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) (Footballscience.net, 2015). These results can be utilized when prescribing training intensities for athletes since each value is individualized to the athlete performing the test.

The Yo-Yo test is another form of an aerobic fitness test that is used by many soccer /strength and conditioning coaches for their athletes. It evaluates each player’s ability to repeatedly perform intense exercise. The results of the Yo-Yo test correlate with the high-intensity running distance that occurs in soccer games (Haugen & Seiler, 2015). The results can also be considered more valuable than measures done for maximal aerobic power. The Yo-Yo aerobic field test is set up as a 20-m long run with a 5-m 5-10 second recovery break in between. Each run is signalled to start from a beep, with beeps increasing times per each level. If the player does not make it to the opposite side before the second beep, the test is completed (Footballscience.net, 2015). Again, calculations for VO2max are done with a specific equation created for the Yo-Yo test.

Having an athlete’s VO2max results is very beneficial for coaches or trainers to know how to properly prescribe loads for athlete’s on an individual basis. For example, knowing the VO2max of one athlete can be incorporated into a training program using 75% of the athletes VO2max for a specific exercise intensity or load for a workout. Aerobic endurance levels of athletes can be tested in both laboratory and field settings. For players to be successful, aerobic and anaerobic capabilities must be at a certain level. Performance in soccer relies heavily on an athlete’s aerobic endurance. A study showed that individuals function at about an average of 70% of their VO2max, 80-90% of their HRmax, and blood lactate levels of 2-10 mmol/l, while covering a distance of 8-12km during a professional match (Footballscience.net, 2015). These results can be obtained through sport specific laboratory and field tests, such as the ones previously mentioned, to prescribe proper training intensities for athletes. The importance of an athlete’s aerobic system can also be seen when viewing the rankings for competitive teams. We now can form a conclusion around the importance of aerobic tests for soccer athletes specific to training.

Nutrition, Science

Electrolytes in Soccer – Everything You Need to Know

Written by Soccer Fitness Internship Student Kayleigh Mines, edited by Richard Bucciarelli.

Kayleigh

Electrolyte replenishment is very important during high intensity and/or long duration activities such as soccer. It is important to maintain hydration during these activities to sustain electrolytes levels. Sustaining electrolyte levels will allow optimal performance and ideal health for the athlete.

Before understanding how to replenish electrolytes we have to first understand what electrolytes are. An electrolyte is a substance in the body that produces an electrically conducting solution when dissolved in water, or H2O. Electrolytes carry an electrical charge and are essential for everyday life. They are found in your blood, urine and bodily fluids. Maintaining the optimal electrolyte balance aids in your body’s blood chemistry, muscle activity, and other metabolic processes. All higher forms of life need electrolytes to survive (Christian Nordqvist, 2016). In our bodies we carry electrolytes. These electrolytes comprise of minerals that include; sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), calcium (Ca2), magnesium (Mg2+), chloride (C1), hydrogen phosphate (HPO42-), bicarbonate (HCO3), and hydrogen carbonate (HCO3).

We need electrolytes in our bodies for many reasons. These reason include; regulating our nerve, organ, cell, and muscle functions, temperature control, hydration/fluid levels, glucose metabolism, ion and fluid transportation, pH levels, blood pressure, and aid in rebuild any damaged tissues. If we experience imbalanced electrolytes it is because the amount of water in the body has changed, either it is dehydrated or overhydrated. We usually experience this through exercising where we tend to sweat more frequently and heavily. If low or imbalanced electrolyte concentration occurs you could experience symptoms such as; muscle weakness or spasms, irregular heartbeat, blood pressure change, confusion, fatigue, nausea and more severe symptoms like chest pain, seizures or lethargy convulsions. Reasons for imbalanced electrolytes can be caused by kidney disease, vomiting over a prolonged period of time, severe dehydration, congestive heart failure, acid/base pH imbalance, eating disorders, and some drugs such as diuretics or ACE inhibitors (Christian Nordqvist, 2016). Treatment for imbalanced electrolytes include either increasing or decreasing fluids and mineral supplements may also be given by mouth or intravenously if the body is heavily depleted.

Electrolytes come from the foods and liquids we consume. These foods and liquids contain sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, phosphorous, and bicarbonate, all the key components that make up electrolytes. All of these components have a certain role as an electrolyte that is beneficial to the body. Sodium helps to control fluid in the body that is necessary for optimal muscle and nerve function along with impacting blood pressure. Calcium is important for the movement of nerve impulses and muscle. Potassium helps in regulating the heart and blood pressure along with aiding in transmitting nerve impulse to allow for necessary muscle contractions. Magnesium is essential in helping to maintain heart rhythm, regulating blood glucose (blood sugar) levels, and enhancing the immune system. Chloride is vital for providing equilibrium to the acidity and alkalinity, which helps to maintain optimal pH levels along with helping in digestion. Phosphorous is essential in aiding in the production of tissue growth and repair by providing energy to the cells. Lastly, bicarbonate’s role is to correspondingly aid in the body maintaining healthy pH levels along with regulating heart function (Cotter, Thornton, Lee & Laursen, 2014). Each of these components aid in the health of each individual and maintaining them will only prove their worth.

To maintain or restore electrolytes back to their optimal levels there are a few things we can do. Paramount among these is maintaining your body’s fluids by drinking plenty of water. It is advised that athletes drink 8 ounces of water 20 to 30 minutes before starting their exercise, drink 8 to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise, and drink 8 ounces of water no more than 30 minutes after exercise (WebMD, 2016). You can also maintain electrolytes through your diet. Replacing electrolyte loss through eating foods high in the minerals that make up electrolytes such as; bananas high in potassium, salty snacks like nuts containing sodium, phosphorus, and chloride, milk products high in calcium, and leafy greens high in magnesium (Isabel Smith, 2014). Athletes can also replenish their electrolytes though drinking sports drinks such as Gatorade or PowerAde that contain carbohydrates (CHO) and electrolytes. These drinks replace sweat that has been loss during exercise along with aiding to retain fluid in the body/blood. You should only drink sport drinks when an exercise exceeds past 30 minutes since you need to replace CHO that have been used for energy and electrolytes that have been depleted through high sweat volumes. However there are “pro’s” and “cons” of consuming sport drinks. Pro’s include; replacing fluids lost during high intense exercise, replacing CHO used for energy aiding in bring blood glucose back up to normal levels, replacing protein, and the fact that in general the drinks are easy to digest, taste good, and replenish vitamins and minerals. The cons include; the acidity in sports drinks can dissolve teeth, they are expensive, they are often used to replace water when unessential, they are high in sugar, they may contain caffeine, and some also have unproven claims such as; improving one’s speed, endurance, concentration, agility, and overall athletic performance.  Companies who market and sell sports drinks do not have factual proof to back up these performance-enhancing claims (Lifescript, 2016).

With these alternatives it proves that there are different possibilities in maintaining or replenishing electrolytes loss during high intense, low intense, or long duration exercises. Keeping electrolytes in mind when exercising. Making it a priority to maintain electrolytes at optimal levels, so as an athlete you can perform the best you can in any activity you may be performing in.

Fitness, Science, Technology

The Soccer Fitness Drop Jump Test – An Efficient and Effective Way to Measure Agility in Athletes

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Written by Soccer Fitness Staff member Alexandra Giannone, edited by Richard Bucciarelli.

The drop-jump test is a vertical plyometric exercise that is used to evaluate an individuals
explosive power (Ebben & Petushek, 2010) as well as a measurement of their eccentric leg
strength and agility.

To perform a drop-jump one must stand on box, with one foot hanging off the edge and their hands on their hips. The individual will then step down, hitting the ground with both feet, once contact with the ground is made they must then rapidly explode and jump up
as high as possible.

For a more explosive jump it is crucial for them to utilize their stretch shortening cycle (SSC) to its full capacity. When the eccentric/concentric phases of a movement are coupled, a more powerful contraction is produced. During the eccentric phase, active muscles are pre-stretched and absorb energy. Part of this energy is temporarily stored and then reused during the concentric contraction phase of the SSC. A short transition between the eccentric and the concentric phase is necessary for this elastic energy to be used optimally (Flanagan & Comyns, 2008).

The ground contact time in these plyometric exercises are an important variable for strength and conditioning. Athletes that wish to increase maximum jump height can benefit from longer ground contact times, allowing them to generate maximum force and maximum jump height. However, an athlete that needs to improve their maximum velocity sprinting speed would require the plyometric exercise to have shorter contact times.

Examining the ground contact times of an athlete during these plyometric exercises will give a coach/trainer an excellent indication of whether the exercise being performed is beneficial to the athletes’ specific sport. In a recent study examining the use of the drop jump, male athletes were found to have had shorter contact times, and produced the highest maximum and and mean mechanical power, as compared to female athletes (Walsh, Arampatzis, Schade, & Brüggemann, 2004).
To evaluate an individual’s drop jump performance and explosive strength, their reactive
strength index (RSI) must be measured (Ebben & Petushek, 2010). RSI is equal is jump height (JH) divided by contact time (CT) (RSI = JH/CT). CT is defined as the time between the first foot contact with the force platform and when the subject’s feet left the platform. JH is characterized as the time between the subjects feet leaving the force platform and when they contacted it again (Stephenson, Ebben, Flanagan, & Jensen, 2011).

Drop jump and reactive strength index can be assessed using a variety of methods. At Soccer Fitness, athletes have the opportunity to be assessed using OptoJump, an
innovative system analysis and measurement, consisting of a transmitting and receiving bar. The system detects any interruptions in communication between the bars and calculates duration (ex. jump height and contact time) A system like this allows for assessment and optimization of performance to the world of competitive sport (Microgate, 2014).

Agility is a term that is very controversial due to the result of multiple factors and various
disciplines in sports science. A biomechanist, a motor learning scientist and a strength and conditioning coach can all have different perspectives as to what influences agility performance.  A comprehensive definition of agility would recognize the physical demands (strength and conditioning, cognitive processes (motor learning) and technical skills (biomechanics) (Sheppard & Young, 2006).

In order to assess agility the movement/exercise must feature an element of
reaction and/or decision-making in addition to the particular change of direction. There are multiple tests that determine an individuals change in direction ability, some include, the Illinois test, 5-0-5 test, and the Zigzag run test. However, these tests do not show a significant relationship with one another. This means that an athletes scoring on different change of direction tests depends on the movement demands of the test protocol. In addition, change of direction may also differ depending on whether the athletes cutting movements are executed with their dominant or non-dominant leg (Gamble, 2012). The drop-jump was also compared to a 20 metre sprint exercise that contained three- directional changes and was found that there was no significant correlation between the two. It was suggested that reactive strength, due to the SSC involvement, is a better predictor and has a stronger relationship with change of direction speed (Young, James, & Montgomery, 2002).
Overall, strength and power measures have an influence on change of direction speed
(CODS), but this relationship is only observed when comparing tasks involving CODS over
short distances. Sports that involve these short distances, such as badminton and soccer, strength and power have a stronger relationship with CODS than athletes who perform higher speeds over longer distances with directional changes (Negrete & Brophy, 2000).

Fitness, Science

The Problem With “Reaction Time” Training in Soccer – And What to do About It

There is girl in the United States that can strike out any Major League Baseball player.  Easily.  This is not a joke.

In The Sports Gene, a 2013 book written by David Epstein which should be required reading for any sports scientist or fitness coach working with athletes, the author discusses sport-specific anticipatory and reaction abilities, and how they apply to the learning of sports skills.

Epstein describes a famous United States National Women’s Softball pitcher named Jennie Finch.  She played some exhibition games in the early 2000’s where she pitched against top men’s baseball players like Albert Pujols, Mike Piazza, and Barry Bonds.  Although all of these players are expert hitters, who presumably possess exceptional “reaction” skills that allow them to routinely hit 100+ mph overhand fastballs in their own sport, none of them were able to hit Jennie Finch’s 50-60 Mph, underhand, softball pitches.

How can it be that the professional athletes considered to have the world’s best “reaction time” cannot hit an underhand pitch travailing at 1/3rd the speed they are accustomed to?  The reason Finch’s pitches are un-hittable for Major League Baseball players is not because she is possesses any super-human strength or power.   It is because men’s baseball players – even the elite ones – have no experience in softball or in facing underhanded softball pitches.

Over time and through the accumulation of repetitive practice, Major League ballplayers have been exposed to hundreds of thousands of overhand fastball pitches, and as a result they have developed the ability to accurately predict where the ball will end up – to “anticipate” – at about the time the pitcher cocks his arm backwards.  If the same players were to wait until they could actually see where the ball from a fastball pitch would travel, and then try to “react” to it, the ball would already be in the catcher’s glove by the time they would have started their swing.

As a function of their training and experience, elite professional baseball players are able decide where and how they are going to swing at fastball pitches – again, to “anticipate” rather than to “react” – with enough time to actually hit the ball.  This unique anticipatory ability, which has been studied extensively in sports science research, has been proven to be much faster and more developed in professional versus amateur ballplayers, meaning that elite players are able to “see into the future” far sooner than sub-elite players, and the extra time gained from this ability allows them to have a much higher success rate in hitting the ball.

Unfortunately, because these same players have never been exposed to underhand softball pitches, they have not accumulated enough experience to develop the ability to accurately predict where Finch’s underhand pitches will go quickly enough to react to them.  Their anticipatory skills are very specific to the type of movements and plays they have been exposed to in their particular sport, and are not effective in softball.  So they strike out.  Every time.

The Sports Gene cites several different research studies that have examined elite athletes in several different sports (including soccer) and the results are always the same.  Elite professional athletes are able to predict – accurately – what is going to happen in their own sport before it actually happens.  And they are able to do it quicker than their opponents.

There are a few caveats, however.  Firstly, elite athletes’ anticipatory skills in their own sport are not transferable to other sports.  In all the studies cited in The Sports Gene, when elite athletes (with exceptional anticipatory ability from their own sport) were asked to predict the outcomes of plays from other sports, they showed no significant differences in predictive ability as compared to average, sub-elite performers (and in many cases they were worse than sub-elite performers).  Furthermore and perhaps more importantly, elite athletes from every sport who were tested, including soccer, were not shown to have any significant differences in actual “reaction time” – the time taken from the perception of stimulus to the initiation of movement reacting to the stimulus – than either sub-elite athletes, or even from non-athletic members of the general population.

Thus, anticipation, and not reaction time, is the ability which separates elite from sub-elite athletes (and it is also the reason than no Major League ballplayer will ever hit Jennie Finch’s underhand pitch).

Armed with this information, how can soccer coaches and fitness coaches train their athletes to improve sport-specific anticipatory skills?  The good news is that the answer is very simple.  Research and science in skilled performance and motor learning has indicated that the best way to improve these abilities in athletes is not to use fancy “reaction time” or “agility” drills.  Instead, players need to play soccer, or conditioned small-sided versions of the soccer, as much as possible.

Through repetitive exposure to hundreds of thousands of instances where soccer-specific anticipation is required (for example, determining where a pass from a teammate or opponent will end up), players can develop and improve their ability to accurately predict what will happen, position themselves accordingly, and increase their chances of success.

When designing training sessions and exercises, coaches and fitness coaches should determine which anticipatory skills they would like to develop, and then select an appropriate small-sided game with the appropriate conditions (for example, field size, number of players, rules of the game, etc.) in order to help them to bring these skills out in their players.  If the goal of training is to the ability to dribble and beat an opponent forwards, use a 1 vs. 1 game with players attacking defenders head-on.  If the goal is to improve players’ ability to ability to connect passes and make combinations such as wall-passes, use a small-sided game like 3 vs. 3 or 4 vs. 4, and perhaps add one extra attacker to help teams in possession outnumber defenders around the ball. If the goal is to improve a goalkeeper’s ability to stop shots from medium-range, use a small-sided game with large goals and a relatively short field length that will encourage players to shoot.  You get the picture.

Eventually, through the accumulation of enough repetition and experience, players will improve their ability to accurately predict what will happen (“anticipate”), and take the action (“react”) that will give them the highest chances of success.  They will decrease the mistakes they make by improving their positioning and decision making.  And the team will play better as a result.

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

Fitness, Science

3 Simple Strategies to Train for Speed (On the Field, With the Ball) This Pre-Season

It’s the middle of April, and if you’re a youth soccer coach here in Canada that means you’ve probably started your pre-season in preparation for the outdoor competitive season, which typically starts sometime in May.

One of the most important areas of physical fitness that must be trained during the pre-season is speed.  If you have done a good job preparing your players with aerobic training during the past few months, then a transition into anaerobic – or speed – training during pre-season can be a very effective way to ensure that they are as fit as possible in time for the first regular season match.

Speed training, in its simplest form, requires athletes to perform multiple sets and repetitions of sprints at maximal or near-maximal intensity, while allowing for enough recovery between these sets and repetitions so that the intensity can be maintained throughout the entire workout.  In soccer, the best way to train for speed is on the field.  Below are 3 simple strategies that can help you to design appropriate exercises for your players that can be incorporated into your training sessions, on the field, and with the ball.

  1. Make the sprints soccer-specific:

The principle of specificity dictates that the adaptations which occur from a training stimulus are specific to the type of training stimulus used.  Thus, if you want your players to become better at running in a straight line, then linear running training in which they run in a straight line would be appropriate.  If, however, you want your players to become better at the types of running they must do in soccer (straight and diagonal runs, backwards and lateral runs, frequent decelerations and changes of direction, etc.) then these types of runs must be performed in speed training sessions.  In order to make speed training soccer-specific, coaches must design exercises where players must run and move at high intensities using the exact same movements – both with and without the ball – that are used in the game.

 

  1. Incorporate reaction time – and make the reactions soccer-specific:

Reaction time involves the time interval between the presentation of a stimulus, and the movement that occurs as a result of this stimulus.  In track and field, for example, athletes must react to an auditory stimulus – the sound of a gun after an “on your marks..get set..” countdown.  In soccer, on the other hand, almost all of the sprints and high intensity movements involve reactions to visual – not auditory – stimuli.   Thus, incorporating exercises that present players with visual stimuli (different color cones, hand gestures, movements of players, etc.) will make the reaction time training more relevant – and specific – to the sport.

 

  1. Make players compete – and punish the “losers”:

One of the greatest challenges you will face when implementing speed training on the field is trying to ensure that your players run as fast as they possibly can during each repetition or sprint.  If they do not – a problem which typically occurs because they are not pushing themselves – then there is little chance that the training will elicit any actual improvements in running speed.  An effective way to get players to push themselves during speed training is to make the exercises into a competition.  Have them compete directly, 1 versus 1 or in small groups, and keep score.  Incorporate some kind of reward for the “winners” of these competitions, and also a punishment for the “losers” (push-ups are an excellent means of punishment).

Below are some examples of speed training exercises, which have been pulled directly from our own Soccer Fitness On-Field Training protocols, and which (of course) also incorporate the three suggestions listed above.  I hope you enjoy them and as always, welcome your feedback!

  1. Linear Speed / Agility Competition:

Set-Up / Organization:

article 1

  • Players in groups of 4
  • ½ of the players on one side of the start cone, with a pinney tucked into the back of their shorts like a “tail”; the other ½ of the players on the other side
  • Coach uses a specific color cone to start the exercise (example: green cone); when the coach raises the green cone, players compete by running a 2×5 metre agility sprint, followed by a 15 metre linear sprint
  • Player without the tail is trying to pull the tail of their opponent; player with the tail is trying to get through the gate without their tail being pulled
  • Each player performs 4 repetitions with the tail, and 4 repetitions without the tail

2. Foot / Head Tag Game:

Set-Up / Organization:

article2

  • Players in groups of 2, both players inside the square; 1 player has a ball in hands
  • Players play a game of “tag”, where the player with the ball must “tag” the other by throwing the ball and hitting the opponent’s feet; only hits to the feet count as points, and if the throw is missed, the player who threw it must get the ball, go back into the square and continue playing
  • Perform 6 repetitions, for 15 seconds each (3 repetitions for each player as “tagger”, with 15 seconds of rest in between repetitions); the player with the least amount of points after the 4 repetitions must do push-ups as “punishment”
  • Perform another 6 repetitions (3 for each player as “tagger”), but change the rule so that the “tagger” must try to “tag” the other player with a self-header (throwing the ball towards the head and hitting it forwards)

3. 1 V 1 Game:

Set-Up / Organization:

article3

  • Players in groups of 8
  • 4 players on one starting cone (with a ball), 4 players on the other (without a ball)
  • Player with ball plays a pass to player without ball, then closes down into a defensive position
  • Player with ball must play 1v1, using fakes/feints and change of speed (over 5 metres) to beat the defender and dribble through the gate on either side
  • Next set of 2 players starts once the first 2 are finished
  • Each player performs 8 repetitions with the ball, and 8 repetitions without the ball

 

 

 

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!

Matches, Science

How Ball Possession Influences Match Performance in Soccer

In its simplest form, ball possession in soccer is typically approached in one of two ways. A team will either look to maintain possession of the ball often with the intent of unbalancing the opposing defence through passing and movement, until a space is created through which to penetrate, or a team will look to willingly concede possession, with the aim of exploiting space created through quick transitional play.  There are hundreds if not thousands of different strategies – including variations of team and group tactics as well as line-ups and formations – with which teams can achieve these objectives, however, almost all of these strategies can ultimately be grouped into two sub-categories:

  • High Percentage Ball Possession
  • Low Percentage Ball Possession

Despite the differences in game strategy, a recent study by Soccer Research Group at the University of Sunderland (Bradley et al., 2013) found that there is no significant difference in the total amount of running or high intensity running between teams using high and low percentage of ball possession. The study examined over 20 teams and over 800 players from the English FA Premier League. The players were grouped into these two sub-categories, with “high percentage ball possession teams” or “HGBPT” (teams that had 55+/- 4% ball possession in matches) and “low percentage ball possession teams” or “LPBPT” (teams that had 46 +/- 4% ball percentage in matches).  Researchers analysed the teams based on several different physical and technical performance indicators. Among the performance indicators measured were (from the physical side) total amount of running, and total distance covered at different running speeds, and (from the technical side) passes, shots, dribbles, tackles, and possessions won and lost.  In addition, this particular study also compared performance in these metrics amongst different playing positions, including fullbacks, central defenders, wide midfielders, central midfielders and strikers.

Their findings also yielded some other interesting results. It found a significant difference in the amount of high intensity running done when in possession of the ball, compared to the amount of high intensity running done when not in possession of the ball, between the two sub-categories.  HPBPT did 31% more high intensity running when in possession than did LPBPT. Conversely, HPBPT did 22% less high intensity running when not in possession of the ball than did LPBPT. This suggests that despite using high intensity running at different times in a team’s game strategy, both sub-categories of teams engage in similar total amounts of high intensity running .

There were also positional differences in physical performance. Central defenders in LPBPT did 33% less high intensity running when in possession than did central defenders in HPBPT. Meanwhile fullbacks, strikers, and central/wide midfielders in LPBPT all did significantly more high intensity running without ball possession than did their counterparts in HPBPT.

The two sub-categories of teams differed in their technical performance as well. Players in HPBPT performed 44% more passes, and also had a significantly higher percentage of successful passes, received passes, touches per possession, shots, dribbles and final-third entries, than did players in LPBPT.  Total passes, passes received, and pass completion percentage, were all higher in HPBPT than in LPBPT, across all playing positions

So what does all of this information mean to soccer coaches and fitness coaches?  First of all, it is imperative for any coach and/or fitness coach to take note of what type of team (HPBPT or LPBPT) they are working with, and also what their particular strategy for an upcoming match will be (do they intend to have more or less ball possession in their upcoming match?).  Once this critical piece of information has been identified, then some specific training strategies may be implemented based on the findings of the study.

HPBPT are required to do more high intensity running while in possession of the ball, so coaches and fitness coaches should design training exercises, such as conditioned small-sided games, that require a lot of running off the ball to be done by players who are supporting the ball-carrier, in order to maintain possession. In contrast, since LPBPT do more high intensity running when not in possession of the ball, coaches or fitness coaches working with these teams should spend more time on defending sessions (functional exercises, or small-sided games), which elicit a similar type of movement and game play.  Position-specific training might also be an important addition to teams’ training routines, based on their percentage of ball possession. Central defenders in HPBPT, for example, may need to perform some functional sessions with a lot of high intensity running, as they will be required to do a high amount of high intensity running during game play. Players in the other outfield positions in HPBPT will also need to do more high intensity running in training, in addition to training with a high number of passes in their sessions while maintaining possession of the ball.

Ultimately, the planning and implementation of strategies and tactics prior to match play in soccer is a complicated process. When planning training and preparing for an opponent, coaches and fitness coaches must account for a variety of factors including the strengths and weaknesses of the individual players in the team, as well as those of the opponent, and they must consider the results and evidence gleaned from recent studies like the one done by the Soccer Research Group.  If their strategy involves maintaining possession of the ball, their players will be required to perform large amounts of high intensity running, while at the same time managing a high number of passes, all while they are attacking and in possession.  Thus, the physical and technical training for a team striving to maintain a high percentage of ball possession must include exercises which mimic these actions on the pitch. On the other hand, teams aiming to play with low percentage of ball possession must do most of their high intensity running when they do not have the ball.  In this case, coaches and fitness coaches must plan exercises that force players to do the majority of their high intensity running when defending, rather than when attacking.  If and when these teams do win possession and transition into attack, they must also train and prepare to maximize the efficiency of their movements, limiting the amount and speed of their running and trying to get to goal as quickly as possible.

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

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.

Fitness, Science

Like it or Not – There IS a Link Between Speed and Level of Play in Soccer

As human beings, we suffer from an unfortunate tendency to ignore factual evidence in favour of our own beliefs and opinions.  Sometimes, the rational areas of our brains allow us to “over-ride” this tendency and accept objective evidence as truth.  Other times, as seems to be the case for some youth soccer coaches with regards to player identification, it doesn’t.  Three weeks ago I wrote and posted an article titled “Why Coaches in High Performance Programs Shouldn’t Select Slow Players.”  This article presented evidence-based suggestions for youth soccer coaches in high performance environments.   The main point of the article was to explain that speed (and other speed characteristics like agility, power, and high intensity running ability) is a good predictor of performance in soccer, and also that speed is primarily genetically determined, so if coaches want to select players who have a good chance of achieving success in soccer, they should include assessment of speed and speed characteristics in their identification and selection processes.

I received a lot of feedback, both positive and negative, from this article.  One common theme among the responses, however, served to highlight the fact that there are still many youth coaches out there who are unwilling or unable to accept the use of objective facts in player identification and selection.  Many people who responded to my article were critical of the idea of including speed and high intensity running ability among the selection criteria for high performance soccer environments, mainly because they felt that this approach would lead to the selection of players who are “good athletes” as opposed to “good soccer players.”  Unfortunately, this is the point at which opinion starts to take over from reality, and in order to restore objectivity, I have decided to present a short review of the evidence linking speed and high intensity running ability to level of play in soccer.

Firstly, it should be noted that there is no reason to think that being a “good athlete” and being a “good soccer player” are mutually exclusive.  The reality is that for every Andrea Pirlo or Xavi Hernandez (“good payers” who are not necessarily “good athletes”) there is a Lionel Messi or Zlatan Ibrahimovic (“good players” who are most certainly “good athletes.”).  Of course, coaches who reference Pirlo, Xavi or any other “good player” who is not a “good athlete” are either unintentionally or willfully ignoring the fact that these players are so exceptionally gifted technically and tactically, that they can get away with not being a “good athlete” and still perform at a high level.  Objectively speaking, 99% of the world’s professional soccer players do not have the technical or tactical skills of Pirlo or Xavi, but they do have above-average speed and high intensity running abilities.  Below is a brief summary of the findings from several recent studies which have all demonstrated a link between speed, high intensity running ability, and level of play in soccer:

  • From “Physiological Characteristics of Elite Soccer Players” by Douglas Tumilty (1993): “A comparison of top teams and players with less able participants indicates that the components of anaerobic fitness – speed, power, strength, and the capacity of the lactic acid system – may differentiate better between the two groups.”

  • From “A Multidisciplinary Approach to Talent Identification in Soccer” by Reilly et. al. (2000), which compared elite to sub-elite soccer players on a variety of physical, technical, and psychological tests: “The most discriminating of the measures were agility, sprint time, ego orientation and anticipation skill. The elite players were also significantly leaner, possessed more aerobic power, and were more tolerant of fatigue.”

  • From “Match Performance of High-Standard Soccer Players with Special Reference to Development of Fatigue” by Mohr et. al. (2003), which compared first-division and second division professional soccer players in specific performance tests: “The results show that top-class soccer players performed more high-intensity running during a game and were better at the Yo-Yo test than moderate professional players.”

  • From “Strength and Speed Characteristics of Elite, Subelite, and Recreational Young Soccer Players” by Gissis et. al. (2006), which compared a range of fitness tests between three different levels of play in youth soccer: “The findings of the present study suggest that the elite young soccer players can be distinguished from subelite and recreational young soccer players in strength and speed characteristics.”

  • From “The Evaluation of the Running Speed and Agility Performance in Professional and Amateur Soccer Players” by Kaplan et. al. (2009), which compared professional and amateur soccer players in a variety of speed and agility tests: “In conclusion, professional soccer players’ running speed and agility performances are higher than amateur soccer players.”

  • From “Speed and High Intensity Running Ability of Female Soccer Players of Different Standards of Play” by Rupf et. al. (2010; a research project I worked on and co-authored, presented at the 2nd World Conference of Science and Soccer in Port Elizabeth, South Africa): “High level players are faster, possess greater speed endurance, and have a greater capacity for high intensity work than club players.”

You get the point.

The identification and selection of talented youth soccer players is a challenging process.  Most, if not all, of the studies I have cited above have advocated (as have I) that a multifactorial approach, giving consideration to players’ technical and tactical skill, stage of growth and development, and physical/physiological characteristics (including speed characteristics), is the most appropriate way to identify and select talented players for high performance programs.  Because speed and speed characteristics are one (of many) factors that differentiate between levels of play in soccer, youth soccer coaches in high performance environments should include assessments of these characteristics as part of their identification and selection processes.  It’s time for all of us in Canadian soccer to ignore our predisposition to trust our own opinions, and accept the fact that there is a link between speed and level of play in our sport.

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

 

Fitness, Science, Uncategorized

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #21: Friday, March 4th, 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 push-up exercise, how it can be incorporated into a player/team’s training routine, as well as specific exampled and variations of the exercise to target muscular power, strength, coordination, and core stability.

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

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, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #20: Friday, February 26th, 2016

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, we will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, we discuss skilled performance and motor learning, and how best to teach individual technical skills in soccer practice.

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

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!