For Coaches, Matches

3 Ways that Major League Soccer and Toronto FC can Capitalize on Their Recent Success to Improve the Performance of the United States and Canadian Men’s National Teams – Part 2

On Saturday, December 9th, in front of a packed crowd at BMO Field, Toronto FC defeated the Seattle Sounders 2-0 to win the 2017 MLS Cup.   Their win was decisive; they dominated the possession, defended well, controlled the rhythm of the game, created more scoring opportunities and capitalized on enough of them to ensure victory.

In the 20 days that have passed since this historic win, the city of Toronto has been abuzz with support for their Football Club.  It has been evident and visible in person across the city, as well as all over social media.

A question which must be asked amid all this success, however, is when – or even if – it will ever translate into improvement in the performance of the Canadian National Men’s Soccer Team.

With popularity of soccer in Toronto and Canada at an all-time high, our Men’s National Team still toils in obscurity; at the time of the writing of this article, we are ranked 94th in the world, behind countries like Gabon, Belarus and Armenia.

The United States has seen a similar surge in the popularity of soccer in the 23 years since their hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 1994 and subsequent inception of Major League soccer the following year, and yet, they too have had a recent drop in the performance of their Men’s National Team, having failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

Just what is it about Canadian and American soccer that has led to these poor results internationally?  And what – if anything – can be done to capitalize on the popularity of Major League Soccer for the Canadian and United States Men’s National Teams to perform better in the future?

In this 3-Part article, I will provide my 3 suggestions, which began with Part 1 (instituting a limit on the number of foreign players playing in MLS, and non-Canadian players playing for TFC) last week.  This week, we’ll have a look at Part 2.

Part 2: Major League Soccer must develop a 2nd and 3rd Division, and Canada must develop its own national professional league, with a promotion-relegation based system.

In other words, incentivise clubs to win.

This may seem surprising to many American or Canadian soccer fans, but Major League Soccer is one of the only professional soccer leagues in the world which functions without lower divisions and a promotion-relegation system (whereby the top teams from the lower division are promoted to the higher division, and the bottom teams from the higher division are relegated to the lower division).

Let’s start by looking at the Canadian teams in Major League Soccer.  Canada presently has three professional teams competing in MLS (TFC, as well as the Montreal Impact, and the Vancouver Whitecaps), and another two in the North American Soccer League or “NASL” (FC Edmonton, and the Ottawa Fury).

Because neither MLS nor the NASL have a tiered-division system with promotion and relegation, none of the teams competing in these leagues (including the Canadian teams) are ever going to be truly motivated to win.

Of course, if a team in MLS od the NASL wins enough games, they will have the opportunity to make the play-offs, and eventually to win the league championship (the MLS Cup in MLS or the Soccer Bowl in the NASL), and this success could in turn bring more fans, exposure, and revenue to the team.

Regardless of any potential motivation that the prospects of success from winning games might bring, however, none of our Canadian professional teams will ever have to face the threat of being punished for losing through relegation to a lower division.

In the United States, the lack of incentive to win for professional clubs in MLS and/or the NASL must also be seen as detrimental to the success of their Men’s National Team.  Provided they can continue to generate revenue by maintaining fans’ interest, attaining and maintaining a television deal, and attracting corporate sponsors, any American or Canadian professional club can survive and even thrive in MLS or the NASL without ever having to produce a winning team.

Unfortunately, it does not appear as though a promotion-relegation system will develop anytime soon in North America.  In August 2017, MLS rejected a proposed $4-billion global media rights deal, involving a proposed partnership between MLS and the NASL, from international media company MP & Silva (a company owned by the owner of the NASL’s Miami FC, Ricardo Silva).

This does not bode well for the American and Canadian players – including the great majority of the US and Canadian Men’s National Team members – who ply their trade in these two leagues.

The need for a promotion-relegation system could not be more obvious.  In any other country, anywhere else in the world, soccer teams who finish in last place in their division (or, in many cases, also in 2nd or 3rd last place) get relegated to a lower division.

This means that the teams playing in MLS and the NASL (including the Canadian teams) are the only soccer teams in the world who do not have an incentive to win to avoid being relegated to a lower division.

MLS: D.C. United at Toronto FC

Toronto FC and star player Danny Dichio (pictured here) struggled in their first seasons in MLS

Ironically, prior to their recent – and unprecedented – success in MLS, there could not have been a more perfect example of how the lack of incentive to win has affected a Canadian professional soccer team than TFC, which originally entered the league as an expansion team in 2007.  Here is a summary of TFC’s record (point total, place finished in their division, and place finished in the league) in their first 9 seasons in MLS:

SEASON POINT TOTAL STANDING (DIVISION) STANDING (OVERALL)
2007 25 7th (out of 7) 13th (out of 13)
2008 35 7th (out of 7) 12th (out of 14)
2009 39 5th (out of 7) 13th (out of 15)
2010 35 5th (out of 8) 12th (out of 16)
2011 33 8th (out of 9) 16th (out of 18)
2012 23 10th (out of 10) 19th (out of 19)
2013 29 9th (out of 10) 16th (out of 19)
2014 41 7th (out of 10) 16th (out of 19)
2015 49 6th (out of 10) 12th (out of 20)

In any other professional soccer league, in any other country in the world, TFC would have been relegated in at least two and possibly as many as five of their first nine seasons in Major League Soccer.  And it’s not just TFC; Montreal Impact, another Canadian MLS team, finished with just 39 points, 9th out of 11 in their division and 17th out of 19 overall in the 2017 MLS season.

You get the point.

It seems only logical then, that the Canadian players competing in these leagues and for these teams (many of whom end up representing Canada at the senior international level) may end up lacking some of the competitive edge needed to be successful in World Cup qualification and, ultimately someday, at the World Cup.  For the Americans, who missed out on World Cup qualification for the first time in 30 years, the same lack of competitiveness also likely holds true.

If Major League Soccer can find a way to set up and enforce incentives for its teams to win through a tiered-division system with promotion and relegation, then perhaps the United States and Canadian Men’s National Teams can be more successful at the international level in the future.

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

For Coaches, Matches

How to “Gegenpress” and Counter-Attack Effectively – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #64: 12/19/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the recent UEFA Champions League group match between Liverpool and Spartak Moscow.

In this match, Liverpool was able to dominate by pressing high up the pitch and counter-attacking at high speed once they regained possession (the style of play nicknamed “Gegenpressing” by their manager, Jurgen Klopp).

The end result? A 7-0 victory, seeing Liverpool winning their group and progressing to the Round of 16. I analyse some of Liverpool’s best pressing and counter-attacking moments in the match, and provide some useful tips and suggestions for Canadian coaches and players.

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

Fitness, For Coaches, For Parents, Science

Coaches – Don’t Make This Mistake When Teaching Kicking Technique

By: Abdullah Zafar

Picture this: your team has won a free kick on the edge of the box and your dead ball specialist lines up the perfect shot. You expect the ball in the back of the net but instead it ends up flying high over the crossbar.

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

If your answer was “they didn’t keep their body over the ball” then you’re on the right track BUT what you observed was just a side effect and not the root cause of the poor technique.

In fact, not only does leaning back not necessarily mean the ball will launch high into the air, numerous studies have also shown that maximum power is generated in this way.  Leaning back when striking the ball maximizes the range of motion and muscle recruitment of the kicking leg.

Think about it, in which scenario would you feel more powerful when striking: when you plant your foot directly under your body or slightly in front?  The fact is, planting your foot in front of your body creates a bigger distance for the kicking foot to travel and build speed, resulting in a more powerful strike.

Leaning to produce more power is definitely a plus, but a powerful shot is useless if there is no accuracy, so how does lean affect accuracy?  As a matter of fact, there are only three factors which contribute to the flight path of the ball:

  • foot orientation during ball contact
  • foot speed during ball contact
  • area of foot-to-ball contact.

Notice the common theme here? All three factors depend solely on the instant of foot-to-ball contact (not whether you lean back or not).

To explore further, foot orientation means how the foot is positioned when striking (e.g. ankle locked, toes pointed down) and determines how much energy is transferred from the foot to the ball.  Foot speed is simply how fast the foot is moving and determines the resulting speed of the ball.

Finally, and most importantly for accuracy, the area of foot-to-ball contact refers to the area on the ball that the foot strikes (e.g. dead center, above/below center, right/left side of ball).

It may seem obvious, but think about playing a ground pass straight ahead versus to the left or right. The only consideration when playing that pass is that the ball is hit dead center for it to move straight forward or hit on the left/right to pass it sideways.  The same idea would apply when talking about the ball in the vertical direction: hitting the ball below center lifts it into the air while hitting the ball dead center keeps it level.

Pirlo

So, what is the best way for coaches to take all of this information and correct their players’ kicking technique?

Instead of saying “body over the ball”, it would be more effective to say “plant your foot beside the ball”.  What then happens is that the arc of the kicking foot naturally contacts the ball closer to its center.  If the foot was planted behind the ball, the kicking foot would “reach” forward, contacting the ball below its center causing it to lift into the air.

Coincidentally, reaching forward with the leg means leaning back more with the body, which is where the concept of “body over the ball” originally came from.  While this concept was a certainly a good start, a more thorough analysis would indicate that leaning back wasn’t the main issue but misplacing the plant foot was.

Ultimately as coaches, this example should encourage us to examine the information we are giving our players and ensure it is as accurate as possible.

I hope you enjoyed this article.  Please feel free to leave your comments and feedback!

Abdullah Zafar is currently studying mathematics and physics at the University of Toronto, as well as working at Soccer Fitness Inc. as a strength & conditioning coach and research associate in biomechanics. For more from Abdullah, you can follow his soccer & physics content on Instagram @abdul.zaf, or check out his research work at: utoronto.academia.edu/AbdullahZafar.

 

For Coaches, For Parents, Science

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

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

Announcements, For Coaches

Why ALL Canadian Soccer Coaches Should Consider Joining the National Soccer Coaches Association of Canada TODAY! Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #61: 12/4/2018

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the benefits of Membership in the National Soccer Coaches Association of Canada, among which are:

  • Access to our free journal “The Journal for Soccer Coaches”
  • Free admission to our Coach Education Clinics, which will be presented every month in 2018
  • Discounted pricing on events including the up-coming Coach Education Course at the Coverciano Coaching School in Pergugia, Italy
  • Discounted joint Membership in the NSCAC and United Soccer Coaches
  • Access to exclusive content including webinars, video training sessions, articles and more Message us here or visit http://www.nscac.ca for more information!

All Canadian soccer coaches who are serious about their professional development and the impact they will have on the next generation of Canadian players should consider Membership in our organization!

Message us here or visit http://www.nscac.ca for details!

 

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, Matches

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

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

For Coaches, For Parents, Matches

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

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

For Coaches, For Parents, Matches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Coaches, For Parents, Matches

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

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

For Coaches, For Parents, Matches

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

Hi Everyone,

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

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

Fitness, For Coaches, Injuries, Matches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fitness, For Coaches, Injuries, Matches

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

Hi Everyone,

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

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

For Coaches, For Parents, Matches

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

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

For Coaches, Matches

Why Carlo Ancelotti Should NOT Have Been Fired by Bayern Munich – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #55: 10/7/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the recent firing of Bayern Munich manager Carlo Ancelotti, following the team’s 3-0 defeat at the hand of Paris Saint-Germain in a UEFA Champions League group match last week. In my opinion, the decision to sack Ancelotti – a 3-time UEFA Champions League winner with clubs from two different countries – after only 3 weeks of the season, was not a good one, as it displays a profound lack of patience from the club.

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

Fitness, For Coaches, For Parents

How NOT to Defend Leo Messi – UEFA Champions League Analysis – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #55: 9/27/2017

Hi Everyone,

It’s that time of year again – the start of the 2017/2018 UEFA Champions League!

As such, in this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss the recent group match between Barcelona and Juventus (a rematch of the 2016-17 Semi-Final), and how in this match (as opposed to the Semi-Final matches this past spring), Juventus was uncharacteristically shaky in their defence. Of particular interest was centre back Benatia, who made two crucial mistakes as the “covering” defender during dribbling runs by Leo Messi that led to Barcelona’s first and third goals.

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

For Coaches, For Parents, Science

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

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

  • Samuel Johnson (1709-1784),

Famous English writer/poet/literary critic

“Mindset Coaching.”

“Mental Resiliency Training”.

“Performance Longevity.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photoofmahsa

NEWLOGO

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

Fitness, For Coaches, For Parents

Talent can be Developed ANYWHERE – Even on a Small Tropical Island – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #54: 9/23/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss my recent trip to Maui, Hawaii, and the work I did there with the Valley Isle Soccer Academy, the largest soccer academy on the island.  Despite numbering less than 150 players and, of course, hailing from an island with a total population of only 150,000 people, Valley Isle has managed to develop top level talent, including one player who secured a place with the Portland Timbers’ MLS Academy, and another who earned a trial at training camp with the United States National Girls U15 Team.

The take-home message here?  That talent can be developed ANYWHERE – even on a small tropical island!

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

Fitness, For Coaches, For Parents

Talent can be Developed Anywhere – Even on a Small Tropical Island

Located in the heart of Maui – one of the Hawaiian Islands, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with a population of just under 150,000 people – the Valley Isle Soccer Academy is, as stated on their website, “Maui’s only professionally organized training academy for competitive youth soccer”.

Founded in 2012 by former F.K. Jagodina (Serbian professional youth academy) and West Virginia Wesleyan College player Aleksander Filipovic, along with his wife, former New Zealand Women’s U20 National Team and York University player and an old schoolmate of mine, Rebecca Filipovic, the Academy is now home to over 5 competitive teams with 150 full-time registered players.

After being hired to work with the Academy earlier this month, to provide my Soccer Fitness Trainer’s Course to their coaches, fitness assessments for their players, and a nutrition presentation – for the players and their parents, I was not really sure what to expect.

I had full confidence that the quality of coaching the Academy players were receiving under the guidance of Aleks and Rebecca would be excellent, but I could not say that I had the same confidence that the players’ technical and tactical abilities would be at the same standard.

After all, Maui is a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with no real soccer history or culture to speak of, and of course it is also part of the United States, a country in which soccer has not yet fully developed or flourished – even on the densely populated mainland.

Following my weeklong employment with the Academy, however, I can now happily say that I was wrong about the level of soccer talent on Maui – the players’ technical and tactical abilities and overall soccer talent far exceeded my expectations.

During their training sessions and inter-squad games throughout the week, the young male and female players from Hawaii showed poise and confidence on the ball, as well as a solid tactical understanding of the concepts taught to them by Aleks and the other Coaching Staff.

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If not for the weather and scenery, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a youth team from a major North American metropolitan area – like New York, Los Angeles, or even Toronto – and not a small Hawaiian island with no professional or even university Varsity soccer teams to it name.

Apparently, I am not the only one who has noticed the soccer talent on display at Valley Isle.

Notable recent Academy success stories include Caetlyn Johannes, who recently headed back to her third training camp with the United States U15 Girls National Team, and Tommy Musto, who has accepted a place in the Portland Timbers’ Youth Academy U14 Boys team in Portland, Oregon, feeder system for the Timbers’ senior professional soccer team that competes in Major League Soccer.

What is the secret to the success of the Valley Isle Soccer Academy in developing talented young soccer players?  In reality, it is no secret at all – simply the combination of knowledgeable, experienced coaches working consistently with young players who have a passion for the game and are eager to learn.

I’ve written before about the importance of coach education and the role it plays in player development – both from a physical perspective as well as a talent development perspective – and never has this importance been more evident to me than during my time on Maui.

Aleks, Rebecca and their team have proven that even players without the advantage of participating in highly competitive, densely populated youth leagues and tournaments – as is the case in Maui – can develop and progress into the elite levels of play in the continent, including youth National Teams and professional Youth Academy programs.

They have also proven that talented soccer players are not born; they are made, through a combination of hard work, qualified instruction, a love of the game and a little bit of luck along the way.

Perhaps, in Canada, where all too often it seems as though we make excuses as to why we do not develop top level soccer players, we could take a lesson from the Valley Isle Soccer Academy, that talent can be developed anywhere – even on a small tropical island.

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

Fitness, For Coaches, For Parents, Science

Coaching IS Fitness Training – Why Coaches Should Take the Soccer Fitness Trainer`s Course

I began learning how to coach around the same time I began learning about sport science, when I got a job coaching a YMCA boys’ soccer team almost 17 years ago, while I was also an undergraduate student in Toronto.  Even at that time, the synergy between what I was learning about coaching – how to plan and implement practices for my team – and kinesiology – the scientific theory behind how to exercise and play sports like soccer – seemed very obvious to me.

After all, anyone who has played the game of soccer at any level will realize almost instantaneously following kick-off that the sport demands a high level of fitness, including speed, agility, strength, power and endurance.

Equally apparent to any soccer player is the reality that the high technical and tactical demands of the game become ever-more challenging when you are not fit enough to keep up.

Thus, if you agree with these objective facts and follow the logic, any form of soccer training or soccer practice must include a well-planned physical component, to ensure that players adapt to the high physical demands of the game and are able to execute the necessary technical and tactical skills while under fatigue in competition.

Fast-forward to 2017, and it seems as though this synergy – the objective reality that in soccer, the physical part of the game is directly connected to the game, something which was always so obvious to me even as a 20-year old beginner coach and undergraduate student – is not necessarily as obvious to many other Canadian and American soccer coaches.

In North America, even some of the highest-level coach licensing courses devote very little time to educating coaches about sports science, let alone requiring them to learn and understand how to plan and periodise the physical part of their training sessions throughout a season.

Unfortunately, the by-product of the lack of emphasis placed in coach licensing programs on teaching coaches about the physical side of the game is that most North American soccer coaches are not aware of, and/or able to plan and implement appropriate physical fitness testing and training programs with their teams.

Even more unfortunately, the players who play for these coaches will often go through their amateur youth careers either under-training – where they train too little or their training is not intense enough to achieve any sustained improvements in physical fitness – or over-training – where their training load, intensity and volume is too high and they either get hurt, or burn-out and lose interest in the sport altogether.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard-Denmark Presentation

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

Fitness, For 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 Coaches, Matches

How a Real Professional Soccer Club Does Soccer Fitness Training: Paolo Pacione and the Miami FC – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #52: 8/25/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this week’s edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I summarise the week o August 7th-13th, 2017, which I spent sitting in and observing training with the Miami FC and their Fitness Coach (a long-time friend and colleague) Paolo Pacione. I also provide some recommendations for Canadian fitness coaches and soccer coaches, based on what I observed from Pacione and the Miami FC, as to how best to integrate fitness training into soccer training sessions.
Hope you like it and as always, please feel free to post 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

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

Hi Everyone,

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

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

For Coaches, For Parents, Science

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

Hi Everyone,

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

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

For Coaches, For Parents, Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fitness, For 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 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!

Fitness, For Coaches, For Parents, Matches

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

Hi Everyone,

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

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

For Coaches, Matches

Let’s Stop Using Jargon and Being Vague when Commenting on / Criticising Canadian Soccer – Gols Video Blog #40 5/7/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this week’s Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, we discuss some of the recent criticism posted online following our Canadian Men’s National U17 Team’s failure to qualify for the FIFA Men’s U17 World Cup.   Critical to this discussion is that we in the Canadian soccer community are able to avoid being vague, or using meaningless jargon, in our comments and criticism.  Being specific, providing constructive criticism, and suggesting possible solutions to problems, are the only ways to move towards improvement.

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

Fitness, For Coaches, For Parents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Parents, 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!

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

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

Hi Everyone!

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

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

For Parents, Matches

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

Hello Everyone,

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

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

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

For Parents, Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.