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Benefits of Barefoot Training for Soccer Players

8 Nov '2018

This blog is the second guest blog from Erica Suter. Erica discusses why she is an advocate of barefoot training and where she got the idea from.

 

“Why are you wearing those?” a Brazilian kid asked me before we played pick-up soccer in the streets. “Soccer shoes,” I replied with conviction. The look he gave me was similar to someone being attacked by a herd of zombies: flabbergasted. Shocked. Confused. It was one of those ‘what-the-heck’ moments on his end. Looking back, I’m sure he thought I was some entitled, spoiled American who was too good for barefoot shenanigans.

Alas, what I was wearing around my feet was foreign to him. In his town, Rio de Janeiro, they grew up playing soccer one way: barefoot. So after seeing his lack of footwear, I removed my soccer shoes and assimilated myself into the Brazilian culture. Even though I felt naked and vulnerable, I also felt liberated and free. For the year I lived in Brazil and coached kids, I immersed myself in their barefoot soccer ways. At first it was uncomfortable and totally out of my norm, but eventually, I fell in love with it.  

To that end, my curiosity about barefoot soccer was piqued from the Brazilian people. Beyond it just being a cultural norm, I asked myself, ‘what are its benefits?’ After all, there had to be some physiological gain from removing my soccer boots and allowing my feet room to breathe. Of course, as a soccer performance coach and nerd, I’m always asking myself if there’s a functional benefit to anything I do. Without further ado, here are the benefits of barefoot training after extensive research in Brazil as well as practical experience with my athletes for seven years: 1. Strengthens the foot. This much I know: the foot is complex. Made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, the foot needs to activation to continue to function and grow. And sometimes, wearing shoes or insoles that support the foot too much can hinder the strengthening process, and put our feet to sleep. As an example, try deadlifting heavy with shoes, then barefoot. You might find that deadlifting barefoot will provide you with more balance, stability, and ability to push your heels into the ground with confidence. Additionally, you know how we always say, “activate the glutes” to people who sit at a desk all day? The same applies to the foot. Activate the muscles in the foot by walking around without shoes, and the results will be nothing short of amazing. 2. Improves adaptability. Last I looked, soccer is a game that requires a tremendous amount of adaptability. With different surfaces, styles of play, weather conditions, and opponent capabilities, soccer athletes must be able to adapt to any scenario. This is when barefoot training becomes so powerful: it forces athletes to develop their touch, think quicker in high pressure scenarios, and feel the sensory input from different playing surfaces. With that said, being exposed to a variety of training environments evades athletes from being crippled by the law of diminishing returns. Athletes, therefore, must be exposed to adaptation in order to grow. 3. Increases training enjoyment Now, I don’t have a plethora of peer-reviewed studies to back this up, but with the hundreds of youth athletes I’ve worked with, not one has protested barefoot training. Rather, all my youth athletes look forward to it, and ask, “coach Erica, can we take off our shoes for training today?” Do you really think I’m going to say, no? HAHAHA. There’s something magical about being shoeless that turns training into a fun, carefree experience for youth athletes. I’d also argue that adult athletes would enjoy the same. If you don’t believe me, give barefoot training a whirl and just watch everyone’s faces light up with excitement and joy. Before I conclude, some things to keep in mind with barefoot training: - Gradually ease into it when it comes to playing barefoot soccer. I would say once a week is a great start to see how everyone does, and feel that out for a few months. Get feedback, especially in terms of how athletes are feeling. - Barefoot soccer in a small-sided game setting is more about inspiring athletes to play quick one and two touch soccer, with a ton of movement off the ball for a better conditioning effect. It is not meant for going all out into tackles and hurting one another, so let your players know this before you start a barefoot game. - Initially, avoid plyometric exercises barefoot, especially if the muscles in the foot aren’t strong enough to absorb force. - Start with strength and balance movements barefoot first for at least 10-12 weeks, then incorporate jump progressions gradually. Here are a few strength and balance drills to try:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7CTaIanLFA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X64zagVuapQ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbdQrrm3W18 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hd7u7HXE5nU&t=8s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ib2R4DgmFrI   Erica Suter is a certified strength and conditioning coach, soccer trainer, and soccer performance blogger who has worked with soccer athletes for over six years in the realms of technical training and physical fitness. She is currently a strength coach at JDyer Strength and Conditioning, and also runs her own soccer performance training business in Baltimore, MD. Her wheelhouse is youth soccer players ages 10-18, and has worked with over 1,000 players across the state of Maryland in-person as well as worldwide through online consulting.  
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Factors of in-season strength training:

5 Nov '2018

This weeks blog is written by Lew Coldham, Academy Strength & Conditioning coach at West Ham. Lew has written about 4 factors to consider when planning strength training in-season.

 

Here I present four factors which I believe are key to the successful planning and delivery of in-season strength training for youth players to maximise physical performance within the football environment.

 

1. Understand the environment

The first factor to consider is that we must fully understand and even embrace the environment that we work in as practitioners. The football environment is one of constant fluctuations in training and match load, heavily influenced by decision-making processes such as players playing up and down age groups, tournament match play opportunities, as well as alterations in match and training schedules.

The strength programme must be adjustable in accordance with the varied wellbeing of the players, as well as the evolving schedule, in order to bring about physical improvement while allowing players to focus on their primary sporting practice. Embracing the uncertainty of the environment that we work in allows us to develop highly adaptive skill sets, methods of management and development, as well as finding ways to enhance the players potential for success.

 

2. Minimal Effective Dose

Whether we admit it or not, the common protocols and typical weekly templates we use are traditionally adopted from strength-training-determined sports such as weightlifting, powerlifting and bodybuilding. These common prescriptions have not changed much since the creation of such protocols and is dictated by the fact that the gym IS their sport.

If we think about the football environment, the focus is on the performance of football training (in its various forms) and match play. The footballer has many other competing demands and performs multiple hours of physical training, on and off the pitch, to prepare them for the vast array of skills and qualities required. The overall volume of work as well the general guidelines regarding intensity, volume etc. need to be adapted based on their sporting requirements and individual needs.

From my experience, young players who are new to strength training can still enhance physical output through strength training in as little as one 30-minute session per week. This is largely due to the adaptability of their bodies, as well as how potent the new stimulus is as a stressor. Why use 5 sets of 5 when 2-3 sets will still produce improvements in near untrained individuals due to the relative potency of the new stimulus; once these low volumes of work cease to produce improvements then more may be required.

 

3. Embrace submaximal Loading

All notable resources regarding the pursuit of maximal strength and its many benefits advise that the best parameters of maximal strength include loading of 8o-85% of 1RM and above. While this is true, these recommendations are in their origin taken from strength-determined sports and usually for well-trained populations.

I would advise that when working with youth players that the use of submaximal lifting strategies e.g. 50-80% of 1RM are the mainstay of the program as they can elicit improvements in strength qualities, but also can be managed more easily within an in-season plan. For the young player these intensities can be reduced even further depending on their age, maturation and training level as well as allow a diverse range of movements to be trained.

Overall the primary objective of strength training methods is to develop strength qualities in the players without impeding too greatly on the performance of their specific sports training. Significant improvements from submaximal methods can be achieved before more maximal forms of lifting are even required. The mainstays of my programs are sub-maximal loads performed with explosive concentric phases and through compensatory acceleration training (CAT) to produce high outputs with relatively low loads (40-80%). This has repeatedly produced increases in strength with players without the need to load the body greater than 80% of 1RM.

 

4. Movement Variability

One of the primary goals of developing physical ability and robustness of players should be on creating a diverse range of movement experiences and competencies that they can tolerate and perform successfully. Simply getting players to lift resistance implements in a select few movements may be a short-sighted view of movement preparation and by allowing a more diverse and varied program, especially for young players, we may be able to create a more physically robust athlete for the field of play.

By looking at the number of types of training stimulus and number of movement tasks on your players’ plans, you should be able to see the diversity within your own framework. For example, if one player between the ages of 12-18 has experienced 40 different exercises within their strength program, and another has experienced 80 different exercises within this same time frame, the second player may have had greater opportunity to develop the necessary physical abilities for a wider range of skills and proficiencies.

 

Closing Thoughts

These four factors I believe are crucial in managing the strength programme for youth footballers to successfully develop athleticism, while accounting for the diverse needs of players in a constantly fluctuating environment.

 

 

Lew Coldham is an accredited strength & conditioning coach who graduated from UCLAN university currently working as academy strength & conditioning coach with West Ham United FC. His main area of expertise are on the topic of movement and strength development for youth athletes.
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Dispelling the myths surrounding youth resistance training

17 Oct '2018

This weeks blog comes from Joshua Dragone. Josh is a member of our Football Fitness Online Community & is a performance coach working with many players. Josh has written a blog to dispel the myths surrounding youth resistance training.

 

Youth resistance training come a long way in recent years and there is now compelling evidence to support strength training amongst youths.

However, having worked in youth sport I often noticed that the myths surrounding youth resistance training are still out there.

This post will identify a number of questions/myths that I have received during my time working with youth athletes.

 

 

Myth #1: Strength training will stunt the growth and cause injury to children

 

This is always one of the first questions I get asked and tends to be based on opinion or what’s been heard. In fact, strength training actually inflicts less compressive force on the joints compared to other sports involving running and jumping. Strength training has been shown to prevent injuries to bones and growth plates by strengthening bones, ligaments and tendons. Also there have been a number of studies that show injuries associated with strength training are less common than injuries occurred when playing sports such as football, rugby, basketball or gymnastics.

See what your body can go through in these sports below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7GWGHTkMlM

 

Myth #2: Strength training is unsafe for children

 

This misconception comes from extremely poor and misinterpreted data from the 1960s and 70s and has had a serious negative impact on youth strength training since.

I also believe that there is a misconception as to what S&C in youths looks like most people tend to think that strength training has to mean lifting extremely heavy weight. However, this isn’t the case, particularly for youth programmes. Training with bodyweight or light free weights with proper lifting technique can provide a great, safe, effective foundation of strength.

 

Myth #3: Strength training is only for young athletes

 

It’s a common one I hear in that ‘oh, my son/daughter isn’t that serious about the sport just yet so there is no need for strength training’ Youth strength training is highly beneficial for developing physical qualities such as strength, power, speed etc. which can help kids be involved in life long sport. Even though there is a huge amount of evidence around the physical development of adolescence, having worked with youth athletes for a number of years there are also huge psycho-social benefits. Adolescence don’t just benefit from getting bigger and stronger but also gain improvements in their self-confidence, self awareness, develop social skills to name a few.

 

 

As coaches when we hear these common myths it can be very frustrating as the time and effort that has been put in can often be disregarded. However, these situations can be an ideal time for coaches to educate parents, players and coaches on the potential benefits of resistance training whether it be via workshops for parents or even just a conversation.

Times are slowly changing in my opinion and parents, teachers, coaches are beginning to recognize the potential physical and psychosocial benefits that resistance training bring.

 

Regular participation in a S&C programme is a perfectly safe and an enjoyable type of training for adolescents. As long as training is focused on development technical competency and age-appropriate guideline are met and followed by qualified coaches.

 

 

Josh is a 24-year-old strength and conditioning coach with a specific interest in youth athletic development. He graduated from the University of South Wales and is currently studying a Masters in Strength and Conditioning at Cardiff Metropolitan University. He is currently the lead S&C coach at Swansea Tennis Academy and previously worked at Cardiff City FC, Aberystwyth Town FC and Cardiff Devils Ice Hockey Juniors.

 

Twitter - @JoshDragone1
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