By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
When you are lucky enough to teach so many courses in the summer months and in doing so, meet hundreds of coaches, lots of great things happen. You see candidates share ideas and form lifelong friendships, you see candidates work hard to help each through and, of course, you see gaps in knowledge that lead you to understand issues that are obvious within the youth game.
Rather than write this article with words that can be misunderstood or go for a science award, I am going to do my best to be simple and straightforward. I will attempt to relate many adult experiences to what we are doing to our youth players.
Many adults know someone or have themselves been through the stage where they felt unfit or an old friend said they looked out of shape or they couldn’t fit into the favorite pair of jeans. Fueled by the moment and forgetting best common sense, they make a pledge to go to the gym for the next 40 days. Day one they go and jump into the elliptical or treadmill and set it at “get fit, quick pace." They work until the sweat produced drowns all around them and then they pledge to be back tomorrow. When the next day arrives, they force their under rested bodies to go again and the process begins again. We all know where this ends – yes in injury, illness or fatigue...that means you can’t move. The simple truth is that the body needs a chance to rest, super compensate or plainly recharge before we ask it to go again. The science of this process is taught under the banner of Periodization on courses and is included in all US Soccer courses from the F course on up.
Youth coaches are taught to consider both the frequency and intensity of practices during a season, the number of games they play and even the sequencing and intensity of activities they use within set practices. It is a part of each course that is typically very well received with one ENORMOUS BUT…..
The BUT is simple and undeniably true, the coaches quickly point out that there is little point in them planning sensible periodization schedules based upon each players soccer diet, the reason they give is also true. They cannot plan a sensible sports diet which ensures peak physical performance in one sport when often their players play four sports at the same time. I understand their pain, to try and plan a meaningful periodization plan for my youth players entails me having a detail edunderstanding of how all their other teams practice and the periodization plans they are following. It seems that most parents cannot relate the rest their bodies need after intense physical activity to the rest that their child’s developing bodies will need.
In an attempt to bring the periodization or level of rest needed to survive debate to the surface, I explain to too many coaches I teach that we are going to “kill one." I paint the following scenario, all too true scenario…. Walk along with me…
Some 13-year-old boy or girl is going to start their week one Monday with a JV Soccer practice, after hours of that they will rush to get to their club practice, this will last for 90 minutes and they will just have time to get a Snickers in the car and a sports drink before doing a 60-minute basketball practice. Tuesday will be JV soccer, lax and basketbal. Wednesday back to soccer and one baseball, before Thursday and Friday, repeat Monday and Tuesday.
The final straw will be the Saturday game schedule.
Up at 8am to play away on a big turf field in 95 degree heat and humidity. Just finish in time to rush to the lax tournament, two games in 3 hours, so no time for lunch, before rushing to the basketball game at 6pm. These scenarios are real. Not enough coaches’ educators or parents are speaking up enough about the brutal physical regime we are putting our youth players through and the eventual result will be catastrophic.
So what is the sensible solution? That is plain and a three step process that is easy to see:
Step 1-Each and every parent spends some time learning about Periodization and what amounts to a sensible and healthy sports diet.
Step 2-Each parent creates a sports diet which keeps your child fit and healthy.
Step 3-All coaches plan their sessions, and if possible, game schedule based around the physical activity diet that their players have to survive each season.
I strongly urge we all act before it’s too late.