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.

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For Coaches, For Parents, Science

How Playing Futsal will Make You a Better Athlete AND a Better Soccer Player – Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #50: 8/7/2017

Hi Everyone,

In this edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog, I discuss and explain some of the evidence demonstrating that the technical, tactical and physical demands of Futsal are in fact higher than in 11 vs. 11 soccer. The implications of this evidence? That playing Futsal will make you a better athlete AND a better soccer player!
Hope you like it and as always, please feel free to pot your thoughts and comments!

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.