Thursday, February 21, 2013

Player Development in Youth Soccer

I've been reading a lot lately about player development of our youth players across the country (Canada). Much of what has be written has keyed on Ontario because that is where those sharing their opinions are located; however, it is likely as big a deal or more in smaller places and provinces like Nova Scotia where I am. There has been a lot of opinions shared about Long Term Player Development (LTPD) plan.

The LTPD among many other things purports to eliminate keeping scores and standings for players under the  age of 12. Focusing on fostering a love of the game at the earliest of ages and teaching basic skills as opposed to concentrating on results.

I don't have the pedigree that many of those discussing the issue have; but, I have played the game since I was 8. I played in our "A" or Tier I level for years as a youth and played for a handful of years in our Senior league. Not being the most skilled or best athlete, I know the nervousness of a kid who in the face of controlling a ball and making a sound decision or lumping it as far away from me as possible under duress, and invariably choosing the latter option - generally the panic-option. Additionally, I began coaching kids when I was 18 and have continued to do so off and on over the past 20 ish years including both genders and all ages from U6 to Senior. Currently, helping to coach my 8 y/o nephews team.

All the above is to at least show where my opinion is derived and the experiences I've had to help form those.

Number 1: kids keep score, they always know the score or close to the score and they know who scored the goals. It will always be this way. Standings, they don't seem as aware of.

Number 2: if the goal is to win, then skills DO suffer. If I'm trying to win at U8 or 10 or even 12, I take the biggest and most athletic. We constantly hammer the ball towards the other teams goal and keep them penned in. To what gain? Sure, you finished high up in the standings, but what was learned? Aside from hammering a ball, what skills were gained?

The goal should be to improve. To build skills - control, dribbling, passing, shooting, spatial awareness - and to enjoy the sport. What is the typical favorite part of practice? Scrimmage in our gym or field, is for certain. So, they still love to play a game even though we don't keep score.

A few things I've noticed in coaching this group of U8's this winter and I should mention this is an "Academy" team, which gives those kids who have been identified by the club an opportunity for additional soccer in the winter or those kids who want to get some more soccer in.

  1. There is a player who when the sessions started in October showed to be a capable player. Not bad to begin with and held his own in scrimmages and games (we don't keep scores or standings, but play the other club's U8 academy teams). This player, when we would introduce a skill would typical try to do it. Would often do the skill slowly (which to me is great), where many others would be tearing around trying the skill at 100 km/hour and not actually succeeding or keeping the ball close to them. Just after the break of the holidays, this player began to click. He was now doing the skills with some speed and really taking over at times in the games. I attribute it to his taking his time to understand the skill and to working on successes at a slower pace prior to going at speed.
  2. Another player, during a practice, when encouraged to use his left foot for a shot, replied that his right was better. The conversation that was had with him was that the more he used both feet now the stronger both will be as he progresses. He still doesn't quite default to using the foot best set-up for the moment; but, I think the real point is that kids will always try to "win" whether that is using their strong foot over their weak in a scrimmage or trying to win a game. For the most part, I don't think we have to concentrate on teaching them how to win. I believe much of that is innate, but certainly shouldn't be the focus early on.
  3. This observation comes from years ago, but is relevant for this discussion. The coach that I'm helping with the U8's coached a group of boys from U12 to U15, I believe years ago with another friend of mine. They were many times being beaten at the youngest ages U12-U13. Not because they were not good players, but because they were working on skills that as they matured and the athleticism and size evened out would put them well above their competition. By, I believe, their 3rd year with this group the tables had turned and they were thrashing the opposition BECAUSE they were better players who learned the skills but also the game and didn't rely on Size to win at the early ages.
I end this post by saying that those who use the national team's result against Honduras as the reason why the LTPD plan won't work, this likely had little to do with LTPD as most of these players would not have been impacted by this plan. Frankly, the players laid an egg during that game. The result is an outlier to the other results in that round.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The end... of Insanity

So, I am done, finished, the Insanity program. I've "enjoyed" it, which means I think it has helped me especially in core strength. I didn't take pictures, weigh myself, nor measure anything prior to starting the program so I don't have measurables to say it has worked this well or whatever. But it was never about that for me, it was about trying something outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to get away from just running and this was a good stepping stone to do some more weight training.

I haven't done the last fit test yet but may try to do so this week, we shall see. Again not a goal but would be interesting to see if there was improvement over the last one I did.

The take aways for me are:

  • To keep doing some of the workouts from the program a few times a week.
  • See if I can turn the improved core strength into better running and soccer.
And on that note, I did a 45 minute run today and aside from a little soreness or stiffness in my knee and IT band my lungs felt great, not taxed and my pace was the same as 2 months ago, so it seems I didn't lose ground. Not sure I gained ground either but that's okay.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The LAST Week

It's here, the last week of Insanity and I'm happy to see it. Not that I haven't enjoyed, perhaps a strong word, it, but rather 56 days or 8 weeks of 6 times a week is a lot of work. Not too much, but with work and other things going on it can be a challenge to remain consistent and committed to it. But, with 4 sessions to go plus the last Fit Test, the end is in sight!

It sucks the last session and Fit Test will be in a Hotel, but I've before so not a huge deal just a minor inconvenience. I'm quite interested to see the results of the Fit Test since I haven't done one since the 2nd one. I find it hard to tell through the weeks the gains I'm making because every session is tough, as it should be. I still hate Floor Switch Kicks! Level 3 and Full-body workout are off the Christmas card list. I have enjoyed being this active this often combined with the other things I do, minus runs, which I'll pick up again next week.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Week 7: 12 sessions to go...

I've graduated from Days to Weeks, largely because I haven't been posting daily anymore. There are only so many times you can write that the session has kicked your butt! However, my main travel is done, although there is a possibility of a Texas swing coming up shortly, so workouts will be easier. I did lose 2 workouts while I was away last week. Mainly because 11 hours in the car didn't make for me to want to exercise. Space was limited in my room but I did mange to get one session in on Wednesday, but prefer my basement for doing Insanity.

I missed one main workout and the recovery workout. I got my Friday workout in and Saturday was to be the Core Cardio and Balance or substitute with the Max Interval Sports. Initially, I was going to do Core Cardio and was all set to go, but decided to toss in MIS. Core Cardio was 37 minutes long and MIS 53 or so and I did feel like getting a good hard session in. I figured even if it was too tough I could at least make it through 37 minutes, so away I went with MIS.

MIS is different in a few ways:
  1. No Warm-up like we are use to, although we always progress through the sets wisely with a slower set before progressing.
  2. No Stretching in the beginning. I don't think it had a negative impact, but more on that later. 
  3. Rather than the 3 sets of about 4 exercises (typically the last set has a superset added for fun) it was a sequence of sport styled cycles: Boxing, Football, Basketball, Gymnastics, and Track.
I liked the uniqueness of this session. Like all of them there is lots of fatigue and failure late in sets, but new movements and the variety was welcomed. I did feel extra stiffness/soreness yesterday and today mainly in my quads (soreness) and back (stiffness), which I attribute to Saturday's session. I did supervise my 7 y/o to be nephew's swimming party on Sat. but that was mainly treading water and walking through water. And played football Sun., but that doesn't typically bring out this soreness.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Day ??: A Change

For me, this is Day 31, I think, and if I was following the schedule this would've been my 3rd day of Cardio and Balance in the recovery week between Month 1 and Max Month 2. However, I decided to forgo this Recovery week and jump right into Month 2. I had a couple of what I think are good reasons for it neither of which are macho related.

Reason 1: I felt like I was recovering quickly from the workouts and after that first week when I had lingering muscle soreness, I was always ready for the next days workout. Further, I have been coupling all the workouts with my normal activities: Monday-Soccer; Tuesday-Curling; Wednesday-Basketball; Friday-Soccer; Sunday-Football. As well, 40-60 minute walk for the dogs each day or most.

Reason 2: And really the primary reason was I didn't want to lose momentum. Next week I will be travelling most of the week for work and will be sharing a hotel room so getting my workouts in will be much more of a challenge. I figured if I'd already been through the hard stuff once I'd be more motivated to find a way to get it done while on the road.

So, I've done Max Interval, Plyo, and Cardio Conditioning and they are all hard (er). The Floor Switch kicks in Interval are near impossible for me, at least to get the bounce rhythm they do, I'm hopeful by the end I'll be able to do a few like them. These sessions seem to put movements together, which is hard and more fun, I think. Certainly have experienced some muscle soreness again, which is telling me I'm getting at some muscles or depth of exercise I wasn't in the first month.

I found Cardio Conditioning was hard but had a "fair" flow to it. Just when you were nearing exhaustion, Shaun T would throw it a couple of exercises that gave you some cardio recovery but work some deep muscle or muscles deeply.

All in all hard but good! I'll do the 3rd Fit test Sunday.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Day 24: First Insanity on the road

The good news is I did the Plyometric session on the road. The space was quite tight and a little treacherous when my sweating was added to hardwood floor. So, my feet slide a lot in push-up type exercises but all in all a successful workout. I was also concerned with making a lot of noise as I stayed in a B&B, but apparently I wasn't overly noising or breaking plaster!

Tomorrow will be another on the road, but in two weeks it will be tougher task to get them done, but am hopeful I will get them all in.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Day 22: Fourth Week!

I've made it this far, the beginning of week 4, the mid-point in view and a set of new workouts (apparently harder) to look forward to after the recovery week. My musings for this week and that first "MAX" week are around the added difficulty of being on the road this week for 3 workouts and then in two weeks probably 4 or 5 of them.

It will make timing a bit more difficult, but should I figure it out I should be able to find away to find time for the rest of the workouts to come. I think the single greatest benefit of doing this program is that I can find the time to workout 6 days a week if I choose to. For me it is easier than many as I don't have kids, but even still most can find 45-60 minutes a day if they want to. Not always easy but possible.