A colleague alerted me to an article by Raymond Verheijen called Dispelling The Myths of Soccer Fitness. I'll be surprised if you've not heard of him because he's always one of the first people to chirp up in the popular press (the tabloids love him and he's prolific on twitter!) about pretty much anything related to football fitness.
The article is actually pretty interesting and worth a read in full. Without doubt Raymond splits opinion, he's a bit like Marmite but I think he makes some good points regarding physical preparation for team sports, but more often than not they can get lost behind sensational attention grabbing headlines.
I've been delivering a range of workshops looking at the physical preparation of youth athletes so there were two comments in the article that grabbed my attention.
'We see coaches who are dedicating parts or all of their session to specific â€œfitnessâ€ training without a ball. Is there ever a place for that in youth soccer?
They should totally stop it. What these people do is isolate fitness from football. If you think it is an integral part, you develop it during football training. Tactics is in an integral part of the game, trained by coaches. Technique is the same. Then fitness is trained outside of practice by specialist coaches, which is very strange. One of our missions is to bring football home to the football world, make it an integral part of training. Fitness is not something you need to play football, it is something you develop by playing football.'
I was with him pretty much until the last comment 'Fitness is not something you need to play football, it is something you develop by playing football.' I'm not convinced, early specialisation could be a contributing to factor to a lack of physical literacy in youth athletes and whilst this statement may have held water 10-20 years ago when children were fittter and stronger, it's probably not the case in 2015 where we have seen secular trends throughout the world that show children are weaker and lack fundamental motor skills. In fact, Avery Faigenbaum recommends that if your child has <5 hours a week of physical actitivy there's an increased likelihood of injury and children should first spend at least 8-weeks working on general fintess before taking part in a particular sport.
I agree that physical conditioning should be part of a normal training session where possible and linked with technical and tactical skills to create not only a physically robust athlete but an intelligent athlete, able to make decisions, but sometimes this is not appropriate and we need to spend time teaching fundamental movement skills before throwing a ball into the mix.
'We see the professional teams playing two or more games per week in some leagues (England over the Christmas/New Year). Maybe they are emulating that model?
Treating youth football like it is first team football is a mistake. Youth football is about improving, not winning. When the kids are on the pitch they want to win - that is the meaning of the game and we shouldn't touch on that. But for the coaches and administrators it should be about improving and developing the players. When that is the priority decisions should be made for what is good for development, and that means one game per weekend.'
On this point, I'm in 100% behind Raymond. Too many youth team coaches are fixated on outcome goals, Win/Loss. It is important to recognise that at youth level the scoreboard is probably the least important factor. Now, don't think for a minute I'm against competition. I accept that we need to experience the highs of a win and lows of a defeat but it is a mistake to focus on getting the win. As Raymond Verheijen says 'youth sport is about improving, not winning', we need to forget about peaking for Saturday.
Raymond Verheijen is certainly an interesting coach and he has some valid opinions on the physical preparation of team sport athletes. I don't agree with everything he say but life would be dull if we all had the same opinion.