Matches

2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Portugal – The Team with the Fittest Player in the World

Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at Portugal, a talented European team that has been drawn in Group G, largely considered the “group of death”. Group G includes Germany, Ghana, and the United States, and Portugal will they play their first match against Germany on June 16th.

Portugal struggled somewhat in qualification, relying a 2-game play-off against Sweden, which they won by an aggregate score of 4-2. The star of the Potuguese team, and also one of the best and most talented players in the world, is Cristiano Ronaldo, and he proved his worth by scoring all 4 of Portugal’s goals in the 2-game series against Sweden. Ronaldo is a unique player, in that he possesses world class abilities both on the ball, as well as physically. He has a combination of speed, strength, agility, jumping power, and aerobic endurance, that makes him almost impossible to stop over a 90-minute game, on the ground or in the air. As he proved in the play-off against Sweden, he is capable at times of almost single-handedly lifting the Portuguese team to a victory.

The video in the link here was made by Castrol ‘Edge’, in conjunction with a sports science lab in England. In it, Ronaldo’s physical abilities (running speed, agility, leg power, strength, and balance) are tested using state-of-the-art equipment. He is also assessed in comparison to elite level track and field athletes (some of whom have better running/jumping form and technique than he does). Differences in technique aside, Ronaldo performs surprisingly well, even when compared to elite athletes in sports where running and jumping is the only necessary physical ability.

In my opinion, Ronaldo is the fittest player in the world. His performances in this video, as well as on the pitch, provide strong evidence in support of this. As mentioned previously, he is a player who is capable of taking control of a game, and can win games almost himself. In order for the Portuguese to get out of the group of death, they may need him to do just that. We will have to wait and see what happens in 3 weeks’ time.

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

Matches

2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Nigeria – How to Defend Lionel Messi

Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at Nigeria, the current African champions, who have drawn a tough group that includes Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Iran. The Nigerian team will play their first match against Iran on June 15th.

If Nigeria are to get out of their group, they will likely have to win at least one of the 2 games against Iran (June 15th) or Bosnia-Herzegovina (June 21st). Their hopes of advancing, however, may all hinge on how they perform in their final group match, against Argentina on June 25th. That performance, in turn, will likely depend on how well they are able to defend one of the world’s best players, Argentina’s Lionel Messi.

Kenneth Omeruo, Nigeria’s 21 year old central defender and one of the team’s rising stars, had this to say to fifa.com about defending Messi:

“I watch him a lot on TV. It’s going to be a team effort to try and stop him. Everyone will have to be positive and 100 per cent focused on the game.”

Perhaps Omeruo can learn a bit about how to defend against Messi from the player featured in this video, former Italy and AC Milan star Alessandro Nesta. A few defensive principles in particular to watch for in this video are:

– How quickly Nesta closes the space against Messi in the 1v1 situation (speed of approach)
– The close distance he keeps while defending inside the box (stopping distance)
– Nesta does not go to ground to tackle until he is absolutely sure he will win the ball (restraint)
– In the aerial challenge, Nesta moves diagonally backwards while facing forwards, keeping himself “goal-side” and “ball-side” (“see the man, see the ball”)

Can Omeruo and the Nigerian team get the result they need against Argentina and the other tough teams from Group F? We will have to wait and see what happens in 1 month’s time.

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

Matches

2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Argentina – Maradona vs. Messi and the 10,000 Hour Rule in Action

Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at Argentina, 2-time World Cup champions, who finished first in their CONMEBOL (South American) qualification tournament. Argentina have drawn in a group that includes Nigeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Iran, and they play their first match against Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 15th.

Much of the media coverage of the Argentinian National team in the past 8 years has centred around Leo Messi, the star of the team and generally considered one of the best and most talented players in the world. Messi is frequently compared to another Argentinian star from 30 years ago, Diego Maradona, who some soccer fans and critics still consider to be the greatest player of all time (the attached video shows a great comparison of the two players’ best highlights). Messi and Maradona have much more in common than just being star players for the Argentinian team; they are physically similar (short in stature but exceptionally fast and agile); they have the same unique skill set (including world class dribbling, passing and ball striking ability); and they even play in the same position (striker/attacking midfielder) and wear the same number (10) on the pitch.

One other attribute shared by both Messi and Maradona (and the main reason they developed into the players they are) is the amount of time they spent practicing and training as youth players. In Maradona’s autobiography (“Maradona”) he discusses spending “5-6 hours per day playing on the streets with los cebolitos” (his youth team). Similarly, Messi has spoken in several different interviews about how he practiced (and still practices) every day, for hours at a time. All of these hours have, over time, accumulated to over 10,000 total practice hours, which several leading authors and sports science researchers have suggested is the threshold number of practice hours required to become an expert in a given field, including sports.

The one accolade that has eluded Messi thus far in his career has been the title of World Cup Champion (his counterpart, Maradona, was the key player in Argentina’s last World Cup triumph in 1986). This year, with the team playing close to home on South American soil, could be the year that Messi’s 10,000 hours of dedicated practice finally pay off at the World Cup. We will have to wait and see what happens in 1 month’s time.

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

For Parents

Kevin Durant’s 2014 NBA MVP Speech

This is a video of the acceptance speech that Kevin Durant made yesterday after receiving the NBA’s 2014 Most Valuable Player award. Of course, Durant is not a soccer player, but the message in his speech is powerful and should resonate with any athlete, coach or fan of any sport. He takes over 10 minutes to address each of his teammates individually, speaking specifically about how each one of them helped him to become the best player in the league. He then finishes his speech with a special message to his mother who was also in attendance.

This video would be a great tool to use as an example to young athletes about the rewards that can come from selflessness and teamwork in sports, even at the highest level. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Uncategorized

2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Italy – Andrea Pirlo and the Penetrating Pass

Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at Italy, 4-time World Cup champions (1934, 1938, 1982, and most recently in 2006), who have drawn a tough group that includes Uruguay, England, and Costa Rica. Italy play their first match against England on June 14th.

There are only two players remaining in the Italian squad from their 2006 World-Cup winning team. One is goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who at 36 years of age is still considered one of the best keepers in the world. The other is central midfielder Andrea Pirlo. Both of these players have been key contributors to the successes of the Italian National team for the past 15 years, but Pirlo in particular is poised to have a big impact on Italy’s chances in this year’s tournament. At 34 years of age, Pirlo is still widely considered one of the world’s best holding midfielders, and his play with both Italy and club team Juventus, who captured their record 30th Italian Serie A championship this year, confirms this claim.

Among Pirlo’s talents is one key ability that allows him to give his team an edge in every match: the ability to play a “penetrating” pass that splits two of the opponent’s defenders during open play. Recent research into predictors of success in the World Cup by Saito and Yoshimura (2011) has identified that, of all goals scored during open play, over 50 percent of them occur after a penetrating pass has been played to a forward player. Furthermore, other goals (for example, goals scored from crosses) and also other scoring opportunities (shots on target, or plays that lead to set pieces like free kicks and corner kicks) comprise a passing sequence that contains a penetrating pass over 80 percent of the time.

A player like Pirlo, who has the unique ability to see the gaps in opposing defenses and play accurate passes through them to his teammates, is thus an extremely valuable asset, creating several scoring opportunities for his team each game. Add to this the fact that Pirlo is also exceptional at scoring from free kicks (many of which may arise from a forward player receiving a penetrating pass from him and then being fouled by the opponent) and he becomes even more valuable to his team (and even more dangerous to his opponents). The video shown here contains a stunning highlight reel of Pirlo’s greatest plays, including several penetrating passes, as well as goals from free kicks and open play. Can he repeat these types of performances and help the Italians win a 5th World Cup title? We will have to wait and see what happens in 2 months’ time.

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

For Parents

An Amazing Video that Truly Proves: Nothing is Impossible

This is an amazing video that is based on the TRUE story of a group of kids that lived on a small island in Thailand called “Koh Panyee”, in 1986. It’s a floating village in the sea that has not an inch of soil. The kids there were obsessed with soccer, but literally had no space on the island in which to practice. But they didn’t let that stop them. They challenged the norm and have become a great inspiration for new generations.

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

Fitness

Stability Ball Dumbbell Bulgarian Lunge

A more difficult variation on the Dumbbell Bulgarian Lunge. Adding the stability ball makes this exercise a lot more challenging by incorporating proprioceptive muscles that help with balance and stability in the hip and knee. To perform this exercise, grab 2 dumbbells, and stand with the stability ball a few feet behind. Slowly extend one leg backwards until the toes are touching the ball in the middle of the ball. Maintain an upright posture, with shoulders pulled back and head up. Keep the knee and toe of the standing foot, as well as both hips, pointing forwards. Slowly lower the body towards the floor by bending at the hip and knee, maintaining the upright posture and forward facing hips, knee and toe. Bend until the thigh is close to parallel with the floor, then push through the heel of the front foot to straighten the hip and knee and return to the starting position.
Perform 2-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions with each leg.

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

Fitness, Matches

2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Cameroon – Speed Kills

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Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at Cameroon, an African side with a German coach, who have a history of pulling off upsets in the World Cup and have drawn a tough group that includes hosts Brazil, Croatia, and Mexico.

Cameroon’s best player is 32 year old striker Samuel Eto’o, who is widely considered one of the fastest soccer players in the world. In my business, we spend a lot of time working with athletes to develop speed using a variety of training techniques, including high speed/high incline treadmill running, plyometrics, strength training, and running mechanics training. Without getting into all the details, what I can tell you is that Samuel Eto’o exhibits all of the athletic qualities that good speed training seeks to develop. Among these are:

– Powerful legs and a low starting position that elicit explosive starting speed
– Foot contact on the balls of the feet to maximize propulsive forces
– Strong hamstrings that produce a very long running stride
– Quick and strong hip flexors that snap the knees up quickly for a fast stride frequency
– A strong and stable core that keeps the hips square and neutral during upright running
– A relaxed arm swing to maximize total body range of motion

Of course, developing these skills and abilities takes years of hard training, however, soccer players aspiring to get faster should watch this video of Eto’o in action and try to copy the way he runs. At the World Cup Brazilian, Croatian, and Mexican defenders will certainly have their hands (and feet) full trying to stop him. We will have to wait and see what happens in 3 months’ time.

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

Fitness

1-Leg Bosu-Ball Alternate Arm Dumbbell Bicep Curl/Shoulder Press

A great exercise that combines single-leg balance and stability with upper body strengthening.
To perform this exercise, stand on the middle of the Bosu Ball with your knee and toe pointing forwards. Hold dumbbells with arms at sides. Maintaining balance on the ball, slowly curl the dumbbells upwards by bending at the elbows. Position the dumbbells for a shoulder press by facing the palms outwards and fists towards the ceiling. Slowly press one arm upwards by straightening the elbow and bringing the dumbbell up and inwards towards the mid-line of the body. Keep balanced and slowly lower the arm back down, then repeat with the other arm.
Perform 2 sets of 5-10 repetitions with each arm. Do the first set on the right leg, and the 2nd set on the left leg.

Fitness

Single-Leg Side Plank Dips

Another great single-leg strength exercise. This one is very useful because it strengthens the core muscles as well as the muscles on the outside of the thigh.
To perform the single-leg side plank dip, start by going into a side plank position. Lay on one side, with hips square, and one leg on top of the other. Contract the core muscles and move the hips off the ground, forming a straight line from the feet to the shoulders. Slowly lift one leg off the ground, while at the same time pushing into the ground with the outside of the bottom foot. Holding this position, slowly lower the hips towards the floor (“dipping” them down) until they almost touch the floor. Slowly raise the hips to the starting position before repeating the movement for the next repetition.
This exercise can be done on the field, and may be more effective if done prior to the start of training because it helps to engage some of the core muscles that are involved in running, jumping and kicking. Perform 2 sets of 5-10 repetitions on each side.

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

Fitness

Medicine Ball Alternate Side Squat

Another in our series of single-leg strengthening exercises. This one is very useful to strengthen the quads, hamstrings, adductors/groin muscles, and glutes, while at the same time improving hip mobility and flexibility.
To perform this exercise, stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart, and toes pointing forwards, holding a medicine ball (or soccer ball) with both hands. Slowly lower the body to one side by bending one leg at the hip and knee, keeping the foot planted on the floor and toe pointing forwards, while at the same time moving the weight of the other foot onto the heel, pointing the toe upwards and straightening the knee. Stop when the thigh of the bent leg is parallel to the ground, before slowly raising the body to the starting position, and repeating to the other side with the other leg.
Perform 2 sets of 10 side squats to each side, with 1 minute of rest between sets.

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

Fitness

Bulgarian Lunge

Another great single-leg strengthening exercise that can be done anywhere, including on the pitch – all you need is a bench. The Bulgarian lunge helps to stabilize the hip and knee, while at the same time strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps, one leg at a time. To perform the Bulgarian lunge, stand on one leg, a few feet in front of a bench or step. Place the other leg behind the standing leg, with the toes contacting the bench. Make sure to stand far enough forward that the foot and knee of the standing leg are in front of the hip, keeping both toes pointing forwards. Maintaining an upright posture and flat back, slowly lower the body towards the floor by bending the front hip and knee, keeping the knee in line with, or slightly behind, the toes. Lower the body until the knee is bent to a 90-degree angle, then push through the heel of the foot to straighten the hip and knee and return to the starting position.

Perform 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions with each leg for optimal results.

I’d love to hear your thoughts – drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Fitness

Single Leg Romanian Dead Lift – Holding Stick

This is another example of an excellent single-leg strengthening exercise. This one is focused on the hamstring muscles. Hold a stick (broom sticks work best) behind your back, with one arm held over the head and the other arm behind the back. Stand on the leg opposite to the hand that is over the head (for example, left hand over the head – stand on the right leg). Keeping the back held straight, slowly lower the torso towards the floor by bending at the hip, maintaining only a slight bend in the knee. Once the torso is lowered to a horizontal position (parallel to the floor), slowly raise it back up by pushing through the heel of the standing leg, using the hamstring muscles to extend the hip and get back to the starting position.

Perform 2 sets of 10 repetitions per leg, with 1 minute of rest between sets.

I’d love to hear what you think. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Fitness

Dumbbell Touch-Downs

As promised, here is one great example of a single-leg strength training exercise that works very well for soccer players. It targets the knee and hip extensors (glutes, hamstrings, quads) and also the external rotators of the hip, which play a role in stabilizing the hip and knee while running, cutting, jumping and kicking.

To perform this exercise, stand in front of a step 12-24 inches high, holding a dumbbell in one hand, with the other hand held behind the back, then shift the weight of the body onto one foot (use the opposite leg of the hand holding the dumbbell (for example, if the dumbbell is held in the left hand, stand on the right leg). Slowly lower the dumbbell towards the step in front by bending the hip and knee of the standing leg, and leaning the trunk slightly forwards. Keeping the head up and chest out, continue to lower the dumbbell until it touches the step (“touch-down”). The knee of the standing leg may rotate slightly inwards; limit this movement by contracting the external rotators on the outside of the hip. Push through the heel of the standing foot, straightening the hip and knee, and returning to the starting position, before repeating the movement again. Use a weight that is comfortable for 10 repetitions, and perform 2 sets of 10 repetitions with each leg.

I hope you enjoyed learning abut this exercise, and that you find it helpful as part of your single-leg strength routine. I’d love to hear your thoughts – drop me a line here to get the conversation started.