For Parents, Matches

UEFA Champions League Analysis – Defending Principle of “Restraint” – Gols Video Blog #31: 03/06/2017

Hi Everyone,

a few more first-leg matches from the knockout round of the UEFA Champions League were played last week, including one between Juventus of Italy and FC Porto of Portugal.  In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, we discuss this match and in particular, the plays by Porto’s left back Alex Telles, which led to two consecutive yellow cards (and of course one red card) in the 25th-27th minutes.

A key take-home message for young soccer players and coaches from this blog is the importance of the defending principle of “restraint”, and how in many cases, players applying pressure on the ball need to learn and better understand how to use this principle when they apply pressure.

I hope you like it an as always, I welcome your thoughts/comments!

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Fitness, For Parents

STOP Finding Excuses Not to Train! Gols Video Blog #29: 2/21/2017

In the past few weeks we have had some bad weather in Toronto, including freezing rain and dozens of centimetres of snow.

A consequence of this weather for soccer teams and other training programs like ours was that many people decided not to show up to their regularly scheduled training sessions.

In this week’s Video Blog, we discuss the problems with this course of action, and why soccer players who want to progress to higher levels of play should stop finding excuses not to train, including bad weather.

I hope you like it and as always, please feel free to post comments and feedback.

For Parents, Science

Beware of Charlatans (“Mindset Coaches”, “Nutritionists” etc.) Follow-Up Article

Hi everyone.  This post is a follow-up to my Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog from February 13th of this year.

I got some responses to the video – positive and negative – and as a result I thought I would elaborate on it with a short article, to try to explain this issue in a bit more detail.

Let’s start with some definitions of the key terms.

A charlatan is a person who falsely claims to have a professional knowledge or skill – in other words – a “fraud”.  And very often, charlatans attempt to sell themselves and their services by using pseudoscience, which is a collection of beliefs or practices that are mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method – in other words, “BS”.

Unfortunately, in the soccer and fitness industries, it is way too easy for a charlatan to sell their services to consumers – soccer players, parents, and coaches – regardless of their own credibility, education, or experience as a soccer coach or fitness coach.

In my video I gave the following examples of how charlatans operate in fitness and in soccer:

  • If a person wanted to work in fitness, lacked credibility but had a good body – big muscles, looks good without their shirt on etc., they could simply post a picture of themselves without a lot of clothes on, be it on the internet or in a flyer or promotional material, and there is a strong chance that they would be regarded as an expert in fitness training, bodybuilding, even nutrition – regardless of whether or not they have any actual education or experience working as a fitness coach or personal trainer.
  • If a person wanted to work in soccer, lacked credibility but was a decent player, and especially if they have a playing background as a professional or even at the college level, they could probably represent themselves as an expert soccer coach, and be seen as an expert, regardless of whether or not they have any actual education or experience working as a coach, at any level.

And there is even another level to this, where people who may have some kind of expertise in fitness, for example, yet instead of working as a fitness coach or personal trainer (a position for which they are actually qualified) they instead represent themselves as things like a “mindset coach” (a pseudoscience term for sports psychologist) or “nutritionist” (pseudoscience term for registered dietitian).

In both of these cases, the pseudoscience term can be used without any guarantee of educational credentials, work experience, or quality of service – yet the charlatan who dispenses “mindset” or “nutritionist” advice can still be paid – sometimes paid very well – for their advice and services.

Furthermore, because there are no industry standards regulating “mindset training”, “nutrition consulting” or, unfortunately, even soccer coaching, any individual who provides services under one of these titles can basically do and say whatever they want, regardless of whether or not the information they put out is factual and/or whether or not their services have any true benefit to their consumers.

The soccer and fitness industries are probably the only industries in the world in which charlatans can get away with this type of behaviour.  Think about this for a moment – there is literally NO WAY that a consumer would accept and pay for services from somebody in another profession or industry if this provider did not have any relevant education, experience or credibility in their field.

If you go to see a doctor because you are not feeling well or have some sort of problem, you would likely insist on seeing someone who is certified, licensed, and who has graduated from a reputable medical school.

You would probably never dream of taking the advice of someone claiming to be a “doctor” who never studied medicine, and you would probably see right through someone who represented and promoted themselves as a medical expert based on irrelevant information or pseudoscience (for example, the fact that they have been sick a lot or have a lot of experience being in the hospital).

Likewise, if you need the services of a lawyer, you would likely insist on hiring someone who has attended and graduated from a prestigious law school and has some relevant experience in the particular type of legal help you require.

And again, likewise, it would be highly unlikely that you would hire someone who called themselves a “lawyer”, but never went to law school and represents themselves as an expert based on irrelevant information and pseudoscience (for example, the fact that they have been tried in court many times for crimes they have committed).

It sounds ridiculous, but these same exact types of decisions are made by consumers in the soccer and fitness industries all the time.  Taking medical advice from someone who has never studied medicine, or legal advice from someone who has never studied law, is the same as taking fitness and nutrition advice from someone just because they are big and strong and look attractive, or taking coaching advice from someone just because they can kick a ball better than you can, or taking mindset advice from someone just because they claim to be good at motivating people.

The legendary Italian soccer coach Arrigo Sacchi summed it up quite nicely when he said

“I never realized that to be a good jockey you had first to be a good horse.”

This isn’t to say that it’s a problem for fitness coaches to be in good physical condition, or for soccer coaches to have a background as a professional player – it’s just that this cannot be the only thing you, a consumer, considers when choosing who you want to work with, or who you want your children to work with.

Keep in mind – it may be likely that the advice you get from someone who is representing themselves as an expert yet lacks the education, experience and credibility, may be wrong or even harmful to your health and athletic development.  At the very least, it will probably be a waste of money.

The best advice I can give to consumers (soccer players, parents, and coaches) in the soccer and fitness industries is that you should be aware of the relevant education, experience, and credibility of the professionals you are looking to work with, and you should make your decisions based on these factors.

If you want to improve physical performance, look for a professional who has education and experience in fitness training and strength and conditioning (not someone who simply has big muscles).  If you want to improve soccer performance, look for a coach who has education and experience coaching ad developing players (not someone who simply was or is a talented soccer player).  If you want diet advice, look for a registered dietitian with a background in sports nutrition (not a self-professed “nutritionist” who looks good in a bathing suit).  And if you want to improve the mental side of the game, look for a licensed sports psychologist (not a self-professed “mindset coach” who uses generic motivational jargon).

Hopefully this article helps consumers in the soccer and fitness industries to avoid being tricked and manipulated by charlatans and the pseudoscience they are selling.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.  Please feel free to share them here!

Fitness, Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References:

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

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

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

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

Fitness, For Parents, Science

What to do During the December Break – Gols Video Blog #27: 12/12/2016

It’s that time of year again!

December that is – when almost all youth soccer clubs and academies give their players “time off” from their regularly scheduled training and games.

But what exactly should soccer players be doing during this time off?  Is it meant to be a break from all forms of exercise, or just a break from soccer?

In this edition of our Video Blog, I provide my recommendations for what soccer players can do during the December break – how they can maintain and/or improve their fitness and ensure they enter the next year’s soccer season fit, healthy, and ready to perform at their best.

Below is a link to the video.  I hope you enjoy it and as always, please feel free to post your thoughts and comments!

Matches, Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fitness, Science

How Best to Improve Endurance for Soccer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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