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Periodization: Science or Just Plain Common Sense

 
 

By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association

It’s very strange to me that as adults we all understand that the body can only do so much. We get it, that if you over work, over train and ignore the rest that the body needs it simply breaks down. We are careful to get enough rest, to plan and think intelligently about what our bodies can do and what makes them breakdown. Professional athletes, guided by an army of sports scientists with a complete understanding of the adult body prescribe to a well-planned diet of training and games. They listen to their bodies, they listen to the experts and of course they rest! After all the body can only take so much before it breaks down.

As I have written about over the last three years, US Soccer and its education department have gone through a drastic and complete overhaul. We have new licenses and teaching methods from the F to the A and above. One of the biggest changes that continues throughout the courses is the concept and science of periodization. A complicated word that simply means understanding cycles of work/rest – we are so concerned that we don’t get it that we have made it a science. The core of this science we all understand adults and kids need to recuperate or we break down. The clinical definition is:

Periodization is the systematic planning of athletic or physical training. The aim is to reach the best possible performance in the most important competition of the year. It involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period.

There are so many aspects to the conundrum that understanding periodization issue brings to the foreground that this article could turn into a novel – I will try to be brief and to the point. The following all affect the periodization debate:

1. Desire of trainers and teams to play more and more games so they can charge more money.

2. Parent demands to play in more and more tournaments to collect Got Soccer points.

3. Lack of understanding by all that players get more touches and develop more in well-designed training sessions than they do playing games.

4. High school seasons and coaches that completely ignore the concept of rest work ratios and play and train far too many times in a brief time span.

5. Parents and adults who forget that the body needs rest.

6. Complete ignorance to sensible training/playing game ratios and the training hours needed to achieve ones maximum potential.

7. Tournaments – enormous money-making events that make no physical sense at all.

 

Before I address each point in turn, we need to acknowledge a few basic truths:

•  Sports science is the most active space in youth sports and very few if any comprehensive studies exist of what happens to the overstressed U12 body.

•  We have a growing number of pre-pubescent injuries in player’s U12 that seemingly are caused by overuse.

•  The multi-sport culture that is being promoted by all pays no attention at all to the basic message of rest and recovery.

•  At 14, a youth player who has played a 90-minute game needs 72 hours planned recovery time

 

If we can remember the truths above let's plow through the reasons why are kids are playing way to many games. So in order presented above:

1. Desire of trainers and teams to play more and more games so they can charge more money.

Whether they are driven by greed or by the fear of losing players too many “professional trainers” allow their players and teams to enter and play in simply too many leagues.  By definition, professionals put the interests of their customers as their number one concern. Our customers are the youth players we teach not the parents writing the check. We must always put their well-being at the center of all the decisions we make. This means avoiding two games a day, tournaments and any situation where we simply cannot give our players the rest they need.

2. Parent demands to play in more and more tournaments to collect Got Soccer points.

 The more we educate the parents the better for all our players and programs. What we can simply not allow or bow down to is those parents that demand game after game and tournament after tournament. If all professional trainers agree to a common sense game/training ratio and have the courage and moral conviction to stand by the decision these helicopter parents will have nowhere to go. Even without the support of your local community do the right thing and be prepared to let the parents go!

3. Lack of understanding by all that players get more touches and develop more in well-designed training sessions than they do playing games.

The statics and figures are easily available from many sources. Our youth players get more touches in training than they do in games. They get to make more decisions and perform skills under pressure more frequently in training than they do in games. This increased performance time has profound affects upon player development. Imagine if an Olympic swimmer was only allowed in the water two a month as opposed to two a week. We are robbing our players of vital developmental play. Look at some of the drastic numbers illustrated by the quotes below

“In a study of 1500 ODP level female players, the average number of games reported played over the previous twelve months was 116. With an average game duration of 80 minutes and a maximum roster of 18, and with the ball out of play for an average 33%, the typical player would experience 1.5 minutes of active play per game for a total of 174 minutes per year. Less than 3 hours of ball contact!" (Turner, 2003)

Turner continues, "Under FIFA 3-substitution rules, a young soccer player competing in 100 games per year will only come into contact with the ball for a maximum of 300 minutes, or 5 hours. The recommended ratio of training sessions to games for 9-12 year-old players is 70% training and 30% games.”

Dr. Thomas W. Turner, U.S. Youth Soccer Total Player Development, On behalf of Region II Coaching Committee, fall 2006.

If further illustration and evidence is needed how about this from a former ENYYSA Director of Coaching, Alfonso Mondelo:

“The first thing we realized was the 4,000 prospects we consider our elite were playing way too many games.  A survey revealed the average under-15 player took to the field over 100 times a year, suiting up for high school, club, district, regional and national teams."

As Mondelo evaluated the American system, he noticed that our kids play way too many games too. He recommends a schedule that is 4:1 training to games: four training sessions for every one game. Based on four sessions per week during certain months (10 months), the math adds up to 350 hours.  By contrast, Ajax youth academy averages 576, Barcelona’s 768.

4. High school seasons and coaches that completely ignore the concept of rest work ratios and play and train FAR TOO MANY TIMES in a brief time span.

It seems very un-American to attack high school sports, a bit like attacking apple pie, everything to lose and nothing to gain. It seems to be one of those topics that is instantly taboo.

WHY? – We or they have it wrong. The science here is proven and unquestioned at the age of 14 a player needs 72 hours recovery time before going at full pace again. If you play three games a week you can only do very light sessions at a maximum workload of around 20% for any session’s in-between the three games. The number of training sessions and games that are ultimately involved in high school soccer defy all common sense. We simply put our athlete’s at risk and despite all the sensitivity and hype around high school sports it has to stop- simply calling it High school sports does not mean it is beyond  either reproach or commonsense. Either cut back on the number of games or the ridiculous two training sessions every night in-between the games – the greatest travesty of all is that this happens in institutes of education – how can that be?

5. Parents and adults who forget that the body needs rest.

Do we forget or simply get carried away with bumper sticker mentality?  The kid is … syndrome. I suspect it is a mixture of the two. We can all see the alarming amount of pre-pubescent injuries that are starting to plague today’s youth players. We surely understand the body needs rest and therefore the disconnect here is incredible. As a purely social experiment, I would like all the soccer parents reading this article to, during the next seven days, play three 90 minute games and train at 75% on all the days in-between. I suspect that those of you that do may never demand more games and tournaments again.

6. Complete ignorance to sensible training /playing game ratios and the training hours needed to achieve ones maximum potential

And so we are back where the discussion began. With all the research and interest in youth sports and educational offerings on the meaning of periodization there can be no excuse for continuing down a path that ultimately hurts our athletes. Even if are not concerned with placing them in environments that allow them to fulfil their athletic potential and flourish we simply cannot be a nation that turns a blind eye to environments that cause  our players harm

Nelson Mandela said it best, “There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

7. Tournaments – enormous money-making events that make no physical sense at all.

20 or 30 years ago these events may have made some type of common sense as the only way to play other high level teams may have been to travel and compete. This is no longer true there are enough high level leagues when top teams travel and play 1 game a week that there is no longer a real need for these events. College coaches now spend more time and effort on their own combined or internal training id clinics so the college showcase argument also carries little weight.

To be a physically viable event tournaments would need to be a 3 game max spread over a weeklong event. No one does this. We must all stop pretending that tournaments are anything more than a tremendous money generating event that is a good social opportunity for parents.

Having highlighted the issues I wish to present a table that suggests a sensible one year soccer diet – I will use the example of a high level u14 team

TABLE 1 – assumes no high or middle school soccer and each session is 90 minutes long and that these players are single sport players

Table_1_for_Web

 

Some notes  -  total sessions  - 114 – total hours training is 171 hours.

                        Total games - outdoor 36 at 90 minutes 54 hours plus 6 hours of futsal.

                        Total pure soccer hours is 231 hours per year.

Cross training sports suggestions would be beach volleyball (summer) and basketball recreational in the winter.

 

TABLE 2 – assumes they play high or middle school soccer and each session is 90 minutes long and that these players are single sport players

Table_2_for_Web

 

Some notes -  total sessions  - 74 – total hours training is  hours.

                        Total games - outdoor 24 at 90 minutes 36 hours plus 6 hours of futsal.

                        Total pure soccer hours is 116 hours per year plus school

Cross training sports suggestions would be beach volleyball (summer) and basketball recreational in the winter.

Whether you agree with the suggestions above or not I would ask that all spend serious time considering the idea of rest and a sensible sports diet.

 

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