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!

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Uncategorized

A Potential Solution to a Player Development Problem

For the past 10 years, my business has provided fitness testing, training, and coach education to soccer players, coaches and teams from countless different amateur youth soccer clubs across Ontario.  During this time, I have had many discussions and conversations with the club head coaches, members of technical staff, and even the administrators and board members from these different organizations.  During these discussions I have realized that, although virtually all amateur youth soccer clubs across Ontario have the goal of developing better soccer players, they simply do not have enough time and resources to adequately build and deliver player development programs. The reason for this lack of time and resources is that youth amateur soccer clubs are presently set up to divide their energy and their focus between both recreational “house league”, and competitive “rep” – or player development – programs.  Although clubs run these two separate soccer streams believing they have the best interests of the players in mind, the end result is that the house league and rep programs compete for resources, and the synergies between these programs are limited at best.

One main problem facing amateur youth soccer clubs in Ontario today is that they have a very high cost (in both dollars, and time spent) to administer their house league programs.  These programs can have hundreds if not thousands of registered players, and thus they require a significant amount of time, resources, and manpower to run efficiently.  All house league programs, unfortunately, present little to no benefit to any soccer club’s competitive / development stream.  This is because the great majority of the players involved in recreational or house league soccer have no ambition of playing soccer competitively and/or progressing to become a professional or National Team player (so they will never be participants in the development stream).  Thus the high costs associated with an amateur club’s house league program are simply not justified by any benefits they may provide to the same club’s competitive / player development program.

A second problem for amateur youth soccer clubs is that their competitive / player development streams need to be broader, and more inclusive.  Most clubs operate their competitive programs under a system whereby players are identified and selected out of house leagues when they are 7-8 years old.  After this age, players in the house league program have a very small chance of being identified, because the club’s house league and rep / competitive programs run in parallel to each other, and there is little to no scouting in the house league programs from the ages of 9 and up.  Even most club’s rep / competitive programs, although some have been re-structured as standards-based systems such as the Ontario Player Development League (OPDL), still comprise rosters of only 15-20 players per age group.  So the total number of rep / competitive players in any club’s developmental streams is still very small in relation to the total number of recreational / house league players.  This presents a problem for clubs because, in order for a club to deliver a standards-based developmental program, they must employ professional / paid coaches, fitness coaches, and athletic therapists (all of whom must be paid for their work), and also invest a significant amount of money and resources into indoor/outdoor field rentals, and team travel.  Thus the traditional model for most amateur clubs’ developmental programs, whereby only the players deemed “good enough” at 7-8 years of age, are selected into the competitive/player development stream, is simply not sustainable, because this very small number of players will be forced to bear the very high cost (paying coaches, fitness coaches, athletic therapists, field/gym rentals, team travel, etc..) associated with administering these player development programs.

One potential solution which may help standards-based player development programs (like the Ontario Player Development League) to become more sustainable would be for the pool of players in each age group of these programs to become larger.  This larger number of players in each age group would make the cost of administering developmental programs more manageable for any amateur youth soccer club.  This is because the larger number of players could then share in some of the fixed the costs of coaching, fitness training, therapy, and field/gym rentals, making the cost to each individual player significantly lower.  A second, potentially effective solution to this problem in Ontario would be to separate the recreational or house league stream from the competitive or player development stream.  We could have clubs focused exclusively on delivering recreational / house league soccer to the large number of players who do not have the ambition to pay competitive soccer, and entirely different clubs focused exclusively on delivering competitive/player development programs, with larger player pools.  This would allow the clubs who are experts in player development to focus all of their attention, time and resources into this stream, and leave the recreational / house league programs to the different clubs in that stream.

Imagine if a top professional club or academy in another country (Barcelona, or Bayern Munich, for example) had to divide its time, energy and resources into its competitive / developmental program (which is set up to help players progress to become professionals with the first team) and a recreational soccer program.  No foreign club or academy in any other country would ever want to saddle themselves with this unnecessary burden.  Why, then, do we expect our own amateur soccer clubs here in Ontario to be experts in both recreational soccer and player development?  It is possible that by increasing the number of players in specific clubs’ developmental soccer programs, while simultaneously separating these clubs – and their programs – from other clubs’ recreational house league programs, we may be able to provide a more sustainable model for player development in this province.

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

 

For Parents, Science, Uncategorized

Article – “Clubs Leave Lost Youth Behind as Academies Fail English Talent” at www.theguardian.com

Below is a link to an excellent article written by David Conn and posted on http://www.theguardian.com a few years ago.  I came across this article recently through a link on Facebook and, after having recently been a participant in the 2016 National Soccer Coaching Conference at the University of Toronto this past weekend, I found that the same subject discussed in this article came up in many different conversations I had with the other coaches and soccer people in attendance.

The basic premise of the article is that, in England, the institution of professional youth academies 15 years ago (12 years ago at the time the article was written) has provided a platform for mass-scale recruiting of young talented players (sometimes as young as 7 or 8 years old).   There are several problems with this early recruitment process, among them the fact that there are no coaches or scouting experts – including those employed by the professional academies themselves – who can say with any degree f certainty whether or not a talented young soccer player will end up developing into a top level professional player.

Here is a very telling part of the article:

“while parents give family life over to ferrying boys to training three nights a week and matches on Sundays against other professional clubs’ academies many hours’ travel away, the reality is that just 1% of the trainees will ultimately play football for a living.  Even the few who survive the annual cuts and make it to a “scholarship” at 16 are likely to fall away. Research tracking academy boys is itself difficult to find but it is accepted that only a minority of boys awarded “scholarships” remain in the professional game at 21. Of those who win the golden ticket of a proper, professional contract at 18, the vast majority, Green found, are also not playing professionally at 21.”

I think that many of the same points discussed in this article could easily be applied to the amateur and professional club and academy system here in Canada.  While we may not present young players with the same amount of options (or the potential financial reward) in our professional domestic leagues, there does still seem to be an emphasis on early selection and talent identification in most youth soccer clubs and academies, where players who are not selected earlier (for a variety of different reasons) end up being left behind.  Conversely, as the quote above indicates, even those who are selected and identified at a younger age are almost certainly not going to be playing professional soccer by the time they reach adulthood.  As the author implores at the end, it is “a system crying out for reform, from top to bottom.”  I think that the need for reform exists here in Canada as well.

The link to the full article is posted below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

http://www.theguardian.com/football/david-conn-inside-sport-blog/2009/sep/09/chelsea-fifa-premier-league-academies?CMP=share_btn_fb

For Parents, Uncategorized

The Canadian Academy of Futbol (CAF): An Excellent Option for Young Aspiring Soccer Players

Happy New Year Everyone!

For the first edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Blog in 2016, I have taken a look at the Canadian Academy of Futbol (CAF), a unique player development program with a very unique model for developing and maximizing the potential of aspiring young soccer players in Canada.  I hope you enjoy reading and as always, I welcome your comments and feedback!

Participating in youth soccer used to be really simple.  When I was a kid in the 1980’s, playing “rep” or competitive soccer involved 1-2 practices and 1 game per week, all of which took place a short distance – sometimes even a short walk – from my house.  There were little to no other “options” as a rep player, other than perhaps switching to another club that also trained and competed close by.

Today, in contrast, parents of aspiring young soccer players have so many different options and choices available, making the right choice can seem like a very daunting task.  Parents and players are free to choose from among hundreds of amateur non-profit clubs, private academies, independent soccer clubs and leagues, private and public school teams, and all sorts of supplemental training programs.  Added to this list of options for Canadian soccer players in recent years has been the Canadian Academy of Futbol (CAF for short).  Created in 2012, CAF has quickly grown to become one of the largest soccer development programs in North America.  This article will provide some information and clarity about CAF, including feedback from Phil Ionadi, former professional soccer player and current President of the company.

The Canadian Academy of Futbol is not a soccer club, soccer academy, or soccer league.  It is a soccer development program, which comprises several different soccer clubs and academies (as of today, over 35 different organizations), and runs soccer competitions, including regular seasons, tournaments, camps, and showcases.  CAF has grown in membership every year since its inception, and this growth has provided a platform for changes and additions to the programming and services it provides to its members.  Among the most notable of these recent additions and changes are:

  • Working in accordance with the OSA Matrix and LTPD guidelines for all age categories
  • The creation of the CAF Super Group, which comprises a free competition program for elite level players. This was launched in 2015 with the U14 Boy’s division, including the 2015 U14 Boys Ontario Cup and Canadian National Champions, Epic FC.
  • Forming a partnership with Dragon Force Toronto, an international soccer school project created by FC Porto of the Portuguese Primera Liga, and run out of Bradford, Ontario, in the spring of 2015
  • Working relationship with the North American International Cup (NAIC) and the Lika 3v3 Cup in partnership with Coervers and Disney.
  • Working relationship and partnership with Toronto FC that saw over 2000 CAF members in attendance at CAF Day.
  • Announcement of new CAF member Winstars Academy and the upcoming Showcases for 2016.

What is truly unique about CAF and what they have achieved in such a short period of time is the fact that they have created a development program that has been able to attract so many talented players, teams, and coaches.  I have had the opportunity to work with several of the different member academies of CAF, as well as having worked personally with a number of their Technical Directors and coaches.  Many of the members have very well-educated, professional, experienced and enthusiastic coaches, and CAF has provided these people with a fantastic platform to help nurture and develop their talented players.

Phil Ionadi, former professional player with the Montreal Impact and current President of CAF, had this to say to soccer players and parents who may be interested in learning more about CAF:

“The vision for the CAF development program was to provide quality training for all players as well as a pathway for our elite players who are striving to play professionally or obtain a soccer scholarship. The CAF program brings together great coaches who are former International and Canadian players that are mentors and heroes for these athletes.”

“I have been very fortunate to come through the Canadian system and obtain a soccer scholarship and play with some top class players throughout my career. The support of my coaches who became my mentors, made a difference in moulding me into the player and person I am today, and this is the same vision I have for CAF.”

“Having CAF players being coached by former professional players such as Shawn Faria, Ruben Flores, Danny Amaral, Kevin De Serpa, Josh Bill, Rick Titus and many others, will only help the development of our future stars in the game and in life.”

“The success story for CAF in 2015 was the launch of the CAF Super Group. This was intended to provide  elite players a true professional environment where they play in a stadium, with their own team change rooms, walking out of the tunnel to the field, hearing the Canadian National Anthem before kick-off, having their name called by the announcer, and have their games televised. CAF has built this environment in 2015 and look forward to expanding and growth for the 2016 season.”

The 4 Pillars that unite CAF are: “Respect, Passion, Commitment, & Discipline.” These pillars have been a constant throughout the growth of CAF, including adding members, forming partnerships, helping players attain athletic scholarships and professional trials, and seeing its members winning local as well as international leagues and tournaments.  In just a few short years, CAF has come a long way towards creating a successful player development program, which is an excellent option for young aspiring soccer players in this country.

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

For more information about CAF, visit:

http://www.cafsoccer.com/

 

Uncategorized

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #15: Saturday, December 12th, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog (and the final edition for the 2015)! In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss the use of home training programs including the Soccer Fitness Gols mobile fitness app, to stay in shape during the up-coming December / Holiday break.

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

Uncategorized

Is Synthetic Turf Really More Dangerous than Natural Grass?

The United States Women’s National Soccer Team decided to withdraw today from their scheduled friendly match versus Trinidad and Tobago in Aloha, Hawaii.  The official reason cited for the cancellation was “dangerous field conditions” and. after seeing the picture above (originally posted by ESPN reporter and former US Women’s National Team star and World Cup winner Julie Foudy on Twitter this afternoon), it’s hard to argue with that sentiment.

The controversy surrounding today’s cancelled match, however, has seemed to re-kindle complaints regarding the use of artificial turf in soccer in general and women’s soccer in particular, that were very much commonplace earlier this year at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.  In that tournament, all 53 matches were played on synthetic turf fields.  Several of the participating players and teams, including members of the Canadian and United States Women’s National Teams, were very vocal in their criticism of FIFA for sanctioning and allowing a major international women’s soccer tournament to be played on synthetic turf.  Among their valid points was that there has never been – and likely never will be – an international men’s soccer tournament played on anything but natural grass.

Much of the debate surrounding the efficacy of the use of synthetic turf fields in soccer has come about as a result of opinions that they are unsafe and place players at a higher risk of injury.  In an article published today by Julie Kliegman of http://www.theweek.com, she states that the United States Women’s players have “taken issue” with playing on synthetic turf fields because they are “considered more dangerous for players than natural grass.”  Recent scientific evidence, however, has suggested that these concerns about the safety – or lack thereof – of synthetic turf surfaces may be unfounded.

Several different independent scientific literature reviews have concluded that there are no differences in incidence and/or risk of injury in soccer between synthetic and natural grass surfaces.  Firstly, in a paper titled “The effect of playing surface on injury rate: a review of the current literature” in 2010, Dragoo & Braun concluded that “despite differences in injury type, the rate of injury on third-generation and natural grass surfaces appears to be comparable.”  More recently, a 2013 paper titled “a review of football injuries on third and fourth generation artificial turfs compared with natural turfs” conducted by Williams et. al. concluded that “studies have provided strong evidence for comparable rates of injury between new generation artificial turfs and natural turfs.”  Finally, a 2015 review by Balazs et. al. focusing specifically on knee injuries titled “Risk of anterior cruciate ligament injury in athletes on synthetic playing surfaces: a systematic review” found that “while high-quality studies support an increased rate of ACL injury on synthetic playing surfaces in American football, there is no apparent increased risk in soccer.”  Furthermore, a number of different soccer-specific research studies, including those by Aoki et. al. (2010), Bjorneboe et. al. (2010, Almutawa et. al. (2014), and Kristenson et. al. (2015) all found no significant difference in injury rates, or risk of injury, between artificial and natural soccer playing surfaces.

Poor quality fields and unsafe field playing surfaces, whether they are synthetic or natural, are certainly a valid concern for any competitive soccer player or team, male or female.  Singling out synthetic turf surfaces, however, as being “more dangerous” than natural grass surfaces, does not make sense based on present scientific evidence.  While more research is needed before any definitive conclusions about the safety of artificial playing surfaces can be made, right now it seems as though there are no differences in safety between artificial and natural playing surfaces for soccer players.

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

Fitness, Science, Uncategorized

Why Coaches Need to Learn About Fitness Training

Coach education has always been a passion of mine.  Throughout my career, I have continually pushed and challenged myself in all areas of my education, both in fitness/sports science, as well as in soccer coaching.  In recent years, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to become an educator, lecturing at universities/colleges, national/international sports science and soccer coaching conferences, as well as to youth clubs and academies throughout the province.  In this article, I am introducing and explaining the rationale behind the creation of my Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course, the first ever soccer-specific coach education course in Canada to focus specifically on physical training and testing of soccer players and teams.

The establishment of standards-based leagues for elite youth and adult amateur players in Ontario is a huge step in the right direction for optimal player development and to strengthen our Canadian National Teams.  As a company working exclusively with soccer players, we at Soccer Fitness Inc. are primarily concerned with the fitness standards associated with these new leagues, and how they can best be implemented in order to optimize players’ physical development.  One fact that is certain is that, as the numbers of teams and players in standards-based leagues grows, the clubs with teams in these leagues will require knowledgeable and experienced fitness coaches to provide the high quality fitness testing and training which the players require.  Making sure that fitness coaches are educated about safe, science/evidence-based methods of testing and training is of critical importance in ensuring soccer players receive the high standard of training that has been mandated.  While there presently exists a wide variety of continuing education courses aimed at fitness professionals, including a few that are considered to be “sport-specific training courses” there is no course available to coaches or fitness professionals that teaches soccer-specific fitness training.

Why is it so important for coaches and fitness coaches to learn about soccer-specific fitness training?  Simply put, there is no way for any coach to maximize the development of the players they work with if they are not knowledgeable about fitness and/or are not able to incorporate fitness into their team training sessions.  The reality of youth soccer in Canada is that field time and total training time are limited – sometimes to as little as 2-3 training sessions per week.  Thus, coaches and fitness coaches working in these environments must be able to make the most efficient use of their training time, by combining the technical / tactical aspects of their training with the right physical / physiological aspects (duration, intensity, and work-to-rest ratios).  To use just one example, if players and/or teams train to improve any specific technical or tactical ability, but this training is done at an intensity which is lower than the actual intensity experienced during match play, then the resulting improvements in technical and tactical performance will not translate as effectively into match play.  Consequently, coaches and fitness coaches – whether they like it or not – must be able to plan and implement training sessions that include the right type of physical and physiological training stimulus in combination with their specific technical and tactical plan in order to maximize their players’ overall development and performance.

It was with these facts in mind that I decided to create the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course, aimed at fitness professionals and/or soccer coaches looking to increase their knowledge and practical skills in the design and implementation of soccer-specific on-field fitness training.  The first edition of the Course will be taking place on the weekend of January 8th, 9th, and 10th, 2016, at Trio Sportsplex, located at 601 Cityview Blvd. in Vaughan.  The Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course is a unique coach-education program that combines theoretical lectures in the sports sciences, with the practical and soccer-specific application of these sciences.  Fitness professionals and/or soccer coaches who enrol in the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course will learn how to plan and implement year-round soccer-specific fitness training programs for their teams.

Central to the Course is the teaching of Soccer Fitness’ 60-Minute Soccer-Specific On-Field Fitness Session.  We have used and continue to use these comprehensive 1-hour sessions in all of our On-Field Training programs, with teams ranging from U10-U18 rep./academy, the Ontario Provincial/Canadian National Teams, the Toronto FC Academy teams, and professional soccer clubs abroad.  The basic format and structure of the Soccer Fitness 60-Minute Soccer-Specific On-Field Fitness Session, which is described and taught in detail during the Course, is as follows:

  • 0-15 minutes: Soccer-Specific Warm-Up
  • 16-30 minutes: Soccer-Specific Coordination Training
  • 31-45 minutes: Soccer-Specific Energy System Training
  • 46-60 minutes: Soccer-Specific Strength Training

Other topics covered in the course include anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and motor learning specific to the sport of soccer, as well as modules on fitness assessment, periodization of training, injury prevention, and specific youth soccer training.   Fitness professionals with an interest in working with soccer players will come away from the Course with a much better understanding of how to make all aspects of their training programs more specific to the sport of soccer.  Soccer coaches who are working with players at any age or level of ability will come away from the Course with valuable knowledge and skills that will allow them to successfully plan and implement physical fitness exercises into their practices, and they will also learn how to integrate fitness work within their regular technical/tactical training sessions.

The Ontario Soccer Association’s and Canadian Soccer Association’s new standards for soccer-specific physical fitness testing and training are changes that will be extremely helpful to the long-term athletic development of our province’s soccer players.  Fitness professionals and soccer coaches working in high performance environments and wishing to meet these standards will now require some specific training and education to learn how to plan and implement optimal physical fitness testing and training programs for their athletes and teams.  It is our belief that the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course will provide participants with essential knowledge and practical skills in the fields of exercise science and on-field coaching/training.  Our Trainer’s Course will provide coaches and fitness professionals with the tools they need to optimize the physical development and performance of the players they work with.

Below is a link to our registration form for the Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course (for anyone who is interested in attending).

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

Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course Registration Form – January 2016