Step 1: NO OFF-SEASON, no rest, no recovery…just continue to compete or train with programs that have no concept of periodization.

There is not 1 professional or elite athlete, never mind 1 soccer player, that would be crazy enough to skip their most precious portion of the athletic year. Not 1..I dare you to find 1.

Oh wait, here are a few examples of professionals that did not get an off season in 2010, as the World Cup prevented the top flight players throughout the world to skip their time off and push through fatigue from the already exhausting regular season.

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“The structure of football in England means that a player can play 38 league games, 14 domestic cup games (excluding replays), and between 15-19 European games – totalling a potential 67-71 games in a season. That is a very heavy schedule…In a World Cup year, the number of games a player plays is even more crucial. “

Which led to the following:

“The website’s Premier League injury table on the weekend of 4-5 December recorded there were 108 top-flight players out of action.

On average, that is 5.4 players for each Premier League team or a fifth of each club’s designated 25-man squad, with Aston Villa and Tottenham each having as many as 11 players on the treatment table over the weekend.

It is not just in England that clubs are having to juggle their resources due to injury. On the weekend of 20-21 November, 124 players were unavailable to play in Italy’s Serie A due to injury.”

Less rest = more injuries

For those of you who are not familiar with or just don’t care about international soccer, a typical top youth club in the US plays anywhere from 15-25 games per season. However, when we factor in all the additional competitions that most young players are involved in (high school, ODP, 3 vs 3, NPL, ID Camps, ect…) we can push that total from 20 to 50 or more games per year, without a break (note that in north carolina, clubs only play 1 season then high school in the opposing season). And that is not even factoring in the notion that some teams that win, play more.

So why is youth soccer in the United States continuing a “more is better” pattern and creating more games, offering less practice, having no emphasis on quality physical training, and creating a new league every time there is an open weekend? Profit my friend!

From ODP, to the Academy, ECNL, High School, 3vs3, Region III (here in NC), etc… What makes us think that this recipe is going to produce quality results in our players? When are the clubs going to step up and live up to their mission statements? Investment in PLAYER DEVELOPMENT, not the pockets of the coaches. note: not all clubs are pushing there players in the manner that I am referring, I am making a summarization of the majority of teams that I see across the country and not just in one location.

Here’s how I see it:

Less Practice + More Games = less skilled + more injured

The first thing that I want to know, as a performance coach that is looking to get you to your goals, is to get an idea of what you are doing now.

I regularly encounter high school aged, as well as 11 or 12 year olds, that are simultaneously playing for a club soccer team,  basketball team, 3 vs 3 team, middle school/high school team, an ODP team, AND trying to fit in 1 or 2 sessions per week of work with me. You say you have knee pain? Not sure why (sarcasm)…It is often that I have players that try to schedule as many as 9 training sessions, per week, between all of the aforementioned organizations. Sometimes, I feel worse for the mom who has to drive to all of these locations than I do the kid who has to train this often. This is insane! I WILL turn away a client that I believe has too much on their plate, rather than take this player into our program.

Sticking to the theme of my last post (go ahead and read it here, if you have not already:…we, meaning US soccer, are doing our youth players an injustice  by producing all of these money making schemes, otherwise known as “leagues” with empty promises of high quality competition. We are pushing our players to strive towards perfection without giving them quality instruction…as if we are pushing them out the door of a plane without a parachute to guide them down.

Prevention of injuries by providing ample recovery time is only one advantage of an off-season.  The best players utilize down time to progress their skill sets. Not one of these additional leagues has proven to consistently generate players that can play at a high level, but instead has produced a multi billion dollar orthopedic and physical therapy field that many people are most thankful, all the way to the bank. The majority of players that do manage to come out unscathed and on top of their game tend to come from the clubs that limit the number of competitions, offer proper physical training programs to their players, and play a more possession styled game.

We are pushing our players to do more and are conditioning them to rest less, so that a player develops only 1 speed of play…hard. I find this ineffective both tactically and physically. The outcome is a player that does not know how to change pace and a body that can not reach top speeds, resulting in an athlete that runs constantly at 3/4 maximum.

So what is the solution?

We have to take advantage of the time that is given to us between seasons and competitions to recoup from injuries, rejuvenate our love for the game, and refine our skills and strength for the upcoming competitive months of soccer. We have to coach our players to relax, not just off the field, but on the field to create a rhythm within the game.

Our young players are too weak for long seasons, too unskilled for the practice to game ratios, too unclear about themselves to be confident, and never given time to understand how to play the game effectively.

Here is my list of parachutes vital for the youth soccer player’s long term development

1) Recovery

2) Proper Movement Patterns

3) Strength

4) Soccer Specific Rhythm

5) Mental Clarity

I will talk specifically about our solutions, in the next post.