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To be Better, We Must be More Humble – Take-Home Message From the 5th World Conference on Science and Soccer

From May 31st to June 2nd, 2017, I and other representatives from Soccer Fitness Inc. and Sport Performance Analytics Inc. presented our research at the 5th World Conference on Science and Soccer in Rennes, France.  For me, this was the 7th time I have travelled to an international soccer science conference to present research, dating all the way back to the 6th World Congress on Science and Football in Antalya, Turkey in 2007.  Interestingly, a thought that had occurred to me at that time over 10 years ago ended up resurfacing this past week in France.

WCSF2007

The Congress in Turkey in 2007 was held in the year after the 2006 FIFA World Cup, a tournament won by Italy.  Marcello Lippi, the coach of the Italian National Team, was invited as a guest speaker at the Congress in Turkey.  In his speech, he commented that the success of the Italian team at the 2006 World Cup was the result of a combination of factors, including self-assessment, refection, and constructive criticism which led to eventual improvements in the Italian soccer system in the years leading up to the tournament.

Among the aspects of Italian soccer that were improved upon prior to their success in the World Cup were their talent identification programs, national coaching schools, national team training camps and international competitions leading into World Cup qualification, as well as training, monitoring, and recovery practices utilised within the team itself.

Upon hearing this information, I remember remarking to colleague how impressive it was to me that the Italian National Team, which prior to the 2006 World Cup had been successful but not victorious in international soccer since their last World Cup win in 1982, was so keen to be critical of their programs and systems, and to strive to make them better.

After all, I came from Canada, where our Men’s National Team had failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup for over 20 years and there seemed to be a general sense of apathy surrounding our future chances of World Cup qualification or other international success.

Fast-forward 10 years, and during a presentation by Dr. Antonio Figuerido from the Portuguese Football Association, I experienced a moment of “Déjà vu.”  Dr. Figuerido’s presentation identified that a selection bias exists amongst Portuguese professional youth academy coaches, towards players in the U13-U15 age categories who are “early developers” (bigger, stronger, and faster than their peers).  He went on to point out that if the Portuguese clubs and National Teams expect to develop top players and to compete successfully at the international level, this bias needs to be addressed and eliminated.

RichardWCSS2017

Think about that for a moment.  The top coaches in Portugal – a country that just won the 2016 UEFA European Championship and has developed, among others, one of the greatest players of this generation in Cristiano Ronaldo – are still humble enough to admit when they have a problem, and to look objectively to scientific experts in order to fix the problem.

The take-home message from this Conference, for me, was that we in the Canadian soccer community also need to be more humble in order for us to become better.  Canadian soccer players, coaches, fitness coaches and administrators need to collectively acknowledge that if and when we are to compete at the professional and international levels, we will be competing against countries – like Portugal and Italy – who have spent decades critically analysing their soccer programs, looking for problems and inefficiencies, and coming up with solutions to them.

A good place for us to start would be to become more open-minded towards the use of objective scientific research and technology to enhance the training and development of our athletes, and a great way to do this would be for more Canadian soccer coaches and fitness coaches to attend conferences such as the World Conference on Science and Soccer.

Many of the world’s leading experts in a variety of scientific fields of study, including coaching, youth development, performance training, monitoring of training load and recovery, and nutrition – all of which are directly relevant to the work that soccer coaches and fitness coaches do on a day-to-day basis in Canada – were present at this year’s Conference.

In consonance with this line of thinking, a recurring theme amongst many of the Keynote and Plenary speakers at the Conference was the need to develop better synergy between sports scientists (and the research they do / findings they produce) and coaches/fitness coaches (for the practical on-field work they do).  Even at the top levels of the game, people all over the world are recognising the important role that sports science plays in player development and high performance soccer.  Canadian soccer professionals must also acknowledge this role and look to bridge the gaps that presently exist between scientists and practitioners.

If we continue to fall into the trap of thinking that we already have all of the answers, we are likely to remain stagnant in our position relative to the rest of the world.  And if that happens, the World Conference on Science and Soccer in 10 years’ time may elicit the same feelings of Deja-vu as this year’s edition did.

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

 

 

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Beware of Charlatans (“Mindset Coaches”, “Nutritionists” etc.) Gols Video Blog #28: 2/13/2017

The internet has been an amazing invention, which has given billions of people all of the world access to information about anything they could possibly want, all with the convenient click of a button.

One problem with information available online, however, is that there are not always clear ways to determine whether or not it is useful, credible, or even true at all.

Charlatans (people who falsely represent themselves as experts in a particular field) can easily use pseudoscience (a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being derived from the scientific method) online to take advantage of consumers.

In the soccer and fitness industries, unfortunately, misinformation based on pseudoscience is prevalent, especially within businesses that write articles, disseminate information, or sell their services online.

Our Video Blog today discusses this topic in more detail, including providing some guidelines for consumers in the soccer and fitness industries, to help them differentiate the experts from the frauds.

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

 

Fitness, Uncategorized

Should Soccer Players do Power Cleans?

Olympic lifting – specifically, the power clean exercise – is widely becoming a very popular method of training for both individual and team sport athletes.

The power clean exercise is an exercise which increases power and strength and works the legs (glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calf) as well as the lower back (erector spinae) and shoulder muscles (deltoids, biceps). It is an exercise wherein the individual sets up in a squat position, lifts the weight up and uses momentum to get the bar up to shoulder level.

Some controversy exists over whether or not these lifts and movements should be incorporated into soccer players’ training routines.  Those in favor of using them will point out how the lifts can improve running speed and jump height, both of which are essential to optimal performance in soccer.

Those against using them will probably say that the lifts take too long to learn, and too much time out of a players’ training routine, which could otherwise be spent on the field, doing specific conditioning exercises which are more important and specific to the sport.

A recent study by Karsten et. Al (2016) which was published March 25th of this year assessed the effect strength training had on a variety of running tests including the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test, which mimics the sprinting/activity pattern common in soccer games. A high score in this test indicates greater aerobic capacity, which has a strong correlation to lowered fatigue levels and better athletic performance among soccer players.

The researchers divided two recreational soccer teams composed of thirteen players into two groups; one performed only soccer specific training drills while the other did the same drills in combination with a strength training regimen over a 6 week period.

The strength training group trained both upper and lower body through a variety of exercises ranging from 60-75% 1RM. The study determined that the group who trained with resistance in combination with soccer-specific training outran the no-strength group in the Yo-Yo Test and other cardiovascular performance tests. The report found a 2.9% increase in cardiovascular performance following the 6-week training program.

Researchers attributed this increase in players’ cardiovascular capacity to the strength training component of their training. Power comes from having a high level of strength, therefore improving strength will allow for faster sprint times, as well as an increase in aerobic capacity when the running is done at high intensities (such as in the Yo-Yo Test, as well as in soccer games).

It would appear that, based on the evidence, including power cleans and other resistance exercises into a soccer player’s training routine will help to optimise speed and high intensity running ability, which in turn will improve on-field performance.

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

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Soccer in Uruguay: Day 6 – The Value of Sports Science in Soccer

Today we worked our first match, providing performance analysis to the U19 Academy team in their game versus the Nacional Universidad U19 team.  Not only was the weather much nicer – sunny with a slight breeze – the match was also played on one of the best fields in all of Uruguay – Nacional’s training pitch in the city of Canelones, which neighbours Montevideo.

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The players wore Polar Team Pro heart rate and GPS units, (also equipped with accelerometers), which is a brand new system available in Canada only through Coach Farzad and his company, Sports Performance Analytics Inc.  Using this system, we were able to give live information and feedback to the coaches and players regarding their heart rate/exercise intensity level, work rate, distance covered, number of sprints, and the speed of those sprints.

Later, a full match report will be provided to the coaching staff, including statistical analysis of the data recorded, comparisons to standards and norms for age, gender, and playing position, and suggestions for feedback to be given to the players.

It was a very rewarding experience for Coach Farzad and I, especially because we got to see how appreciative the coaches and players are of the work that we do as fitness coaches and sports scientists.

One possible reason that the coaches in Uruguay are so supportive of sports science is that they are all required to study the subject in order to obtain their coaching licenses.  I touched on this topic in a previous blog earlier this week:

https://soccerfitnessgols.com/2016/07/03/soccer-in-uruguay-day-2-the-importance-of-coach-education/

Whereas in Canada, often even in some of the higher levels of soccer that Coach Farzad and I have worked, coaches sometimes do not recognise, value, or use the information provided to them through performance and match analysis, here in Uruguay the entire coaching staff could not stop asking us questions about this information, even for several hours after the match was over.

Ultimately, the aim of a fitness coach or sports scientist must be to see and analyse the game from a different perspective, and then to simplify this analysis in order to provide concise information to the coaching staff, who can then use this information to alter and adjust their strategy and tactics if needed.  When we are included as part of the coaching staff and can work as a cohesive unit (as was the case this afternoon), the end result is more efficient training, and more effective match performance.

Tomorrow there will be a light training session, which precedes a friendly match on Saturday.  Looking forward to sharing more of this experience with you in 24 hours’ time!

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.

 

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Article – “Leicester City: The Science Behind Their Success” at www.bbc.com

Leicester City are the 2016 English Premier League Champions.

Last Sunday, May 1st, after having drawn 1-1 with Manchester United the day before, they confirmed themselves as champions when Tottenham Hotspur drew 2-2 with Chelsea, mathematically eliminating their closest rivals in the league table.

Leicester’s run to the Championship this season has been described by many in the media as a “fairly-tale” for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the fact that the club has won despite having the league’s lowest annual payroll, and also because it is basically devoid of star players, having assembled their squad with players the other Premier League clubs – and even some of the 1st and 2nd Division clubs in England – didn’t want.

But was their Premier League title really just an incredible case of good fortune, or was it the result of carefully planned, meticulously executed strategies, including physical fitness and sports science strategies?

Below is a link to an excellent article written by Alistair Magowan, and posted to bbc.com on Wednesday, May 4th, titled “Leicester City: The Science Behind their Premier League Title.”  In this article, Magowan outlines the incredibly positive impact that Leicester’s sports science staff, comprising a team of experts in the fields of strength and conditioning, performance analysis, nutrition, and sports psychology, have had on both the individual players’ as well as the team’s performance.  Some of the highlights of this impact in the 2015/2016 Premier League season include:

  • Having the fewest total number of injuries this season
  • Having the least amount of time lost due to injury this season
  • Using the fewest number of players this season
  • Having the highest number of counter-attacking goals, and the highest number of counter-attacking shots on target, this season

Magowan goes on to highlight several of the strategies used by Leicester’s sports science team, including managing training volume and intensity, performance monitoring during training and match play, recovery and regeneration methods, nutrition and hydration, and psychological skills training.  This quote from Darren Burgess, former Fitness Coach for Liverpool FC who was interviewed as part of the article, neatly sums up the importance of a good sports science team in a professional club:

 “Quite often sports science is not used to its full potential but we’ve seen the results at Leicester and I would be stunned if other teams don’t jump on board…  This is one of the biggest upsets in the history of world sport and, hopefully, it will change some of the beliefs in football about the impact good sports science can have.”

Below is a link to the full article.  I hope you enjoy it and as always, welcome your comments and feedback.

http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/36189778

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Biomechanical Analysis of Throw-Ins – Soccer’s “Forgotten Technique”

Recently I made the decision to go back to school, and as part of the coursework, I was required to take an Advanced Biomechanics course, in which I am presently enrolled.  Our latest assignment for this course was to choose a sports movement that involves the upper body, and to analyse the movement from a biomechanical perspective – that is, what muscles cause the movement, what different types of movements combine to form the movement, and what can an athlete do in order for the movement to be executed efficiently.

For this assignment, I decided to examine what I believe to be the “forgotten movement” in soccer, the throw-in.

Honestly.  Think about it – when was the last time you actually thought about throw-ins?

If you’re a player, you probably fall into one of two categories with regards to your opinion about throw-ins.  You either completely ignore technique in favor of getting the ball as quickly as possible to an open player, or alternatively, you throw for maximum power, in an attempt to advance the ball as far forwards as possible.

Players who fall in the first category – i.e. those who ignore throw-in technique – may not necessarily want to continue reading.  If, however, maximum throw-in distance is your objective, then the insight I was able to gain from my recent project will definitely be of interest to you.

In my report, I summarized the findings from a recent study by Linthrone & Everett (2005), that used 2-D video to investigate which release angle (the angle formed between a horizontal line in the centre of the ball – the x-axis – and the line of trajectory of the ball, when it is in flight), allowed for maximum throw-in distance.  The diagram below (reprinted from the study) provides a visual representation of the throw-in technique, including the release speed (“v”); the release angle (“θ”); the relative release height (“h”); and the horizontal range of the throw-in (“R”).

Throw-In1

Researchers had subjects attempt throw-ins from release angles ranging from 10° to 60°, in 5-10° increments.  The results of their study indicated that a release angle of approximately 30° was most effective at maximizing the total distance of the throw-in.  This is because the relatively lower release angle (30°, as opposed to a larger angle of 45°) allowed for significantly greater release speed which, when factored into the equation, made the ball travel further.  The next figure below (also reprinted from the study) depicts the relationship between release angle, and release speed.  As you can see, higher release speeds were achieved with relatively lower release angles, and the highest release speeds were achieved with a release angle of approximately 30°.

Throw-In2

Based on the results of this study, a take-home message for soccer coaches and players is that, if they wish to achieve maximum distance in their throw-ins, they should try to shorten their release angle.  This can be done by slightly lowering the shoulders, and aiming to make the ball travel a bit more forwards and a bit less upwards.  This slight tweak in throw-in technique will allow players to maximize their release speed, thereby increasing the distance of their throw-ins.

I hope you enjoyed this article and as always, welcome your feedback.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.