Thursday, July 19, 2007

U11 Fitness Session -- Why?

Dear JT

I just read a youth soccer coach's blog. For the first time, he is coaching a travel team, U11 girls. It's mostly a new team, and they are getting ready to start practicing for the fall season. He's excited and so are the girls.

So what is he planning for his first session? Fitness.

Drives me nuts.

First of all, do U11s really need fitness? That's debatable, obviously. What isn't debatable is that U11s need the ball. I'm sure this coach will preceed his first training session with a speech about commitment and work ethic and how it's important that the team be able to play a full game without tiring out, etc., etc. And the girls will hear none of it.

Then they will go through some ill-conceived running drills and when it's all said and done, they will say, "Dad, how come we didn't get to play soccer tonight?"

How about this instead. Start out by putting them through some individual touch activities. Maybe a 10 cones in a 5-yard grid. Avoid the cones by chopping, rolling and pulling back the ball. While some are doing that, have others do some Coerver training. Then switch them to a different station.

Now put some cones down in gates. A ball for every player. See how many gates you can dribble through in two minutes. Rest 30 seconds, do it again. Then put them in pairs and tell them it's 1v1 through the gates. Then the pairs work together to pass through the gates.

More water.

Add an activity that involves sprinting, maybe something like 1v1 to goal where two players sprint after a loose ball and try to finish it.

Finish with something fun that has them changing speed and running backwards and send them home. The fitness they get from this will be far more beneficial than anything called a "fitness session."

When I think of more, I'll write

You know who


Soccer Dad said...

Well since you didn't actually link to the blog you talk about, I can't know for sure - but I'm 99% sure you're referring to my recent post on fitness training and my U11 Girls team.

Needless to say - your assumptions are a bit off. Actually way off.

Yes - U11 Girls need to be in shape to play soccer. It's been 90+ almost every afternoon here in August and that will continue into September. They need to get acclimated to the heat AND get in shape.

Does that mean just doing running drills and nothing soccer related? Of course not - that's silly. I'm a huge advocate of ball touches. Our girls have a ball at their feet for almost the entire 60-90 minutes of practice.

Ironically I found this post just now, but we've already done gate passing along with many other running heavy drills involving ball touches. Changing speed and running backwards? Check. Footwork drills within confined space? Check.

Now in fairness - you may have read some other youth soccer coach's blog who just started coaching U11 Girls - but if it was me - I guess I wasn't making myself very clear.

Yes - I believe fitness is important. But I also believe you can combine fitness training with ball touches and 'soccer' and make it fun for the kids. My U11s have 'played soccer' every night we've practiced. We may have had some time set aside for fitness related stuff, but soccer balls are never far from their feet.

Don't be so quick to assume a coach is doing something wrong. I found it hilarious that in the past 3 weeks we had done the very things you suggested below (and much more) as part of our 'pre-August' fitness practices.

Anyway - glad to see another youth coach blogging - look forward to your future posts!

Old Soccer Guy said...

I'm glad I was wrong. My apologies. When I hear the words "fitness session," I cringe. The assumption I make is that fitness is the main focus of the session. What I was trying to say is that in my opinion fitness should be a by-product of a session, not the theme.

Good luck with your team.

Soccer Dad said...

No apologies necessary. I freely admit that we told the girls AND the parents that the July practices would be fitness oriented. That we wanted to get them ready for long games in the hot late summer sun.

We may be using the term 'fitness' loosely - but in our eyes we want the girls to get into shape since not all were doing other activities over the summer as well as work on strength and agility. This was the most important part.

We run agility ladders often ... as a warm up. Too many of the girls run flat footed and don't 'run' well. They don't stay on their toes. Good soccer players need solid foot skills and ball control to move on to more advanced 'moves' Well, even more basic - they often need to be taught to stay on those toes - allowing for much quicker direction changes, more frequent ball touches, etc. So that was our goal of improving 'fitness' But looking back, I would say that the girls the girls didn't have a ball at their feet 10% of any given practice.

However, like we mentioned in the post, in August, we are having a trainer come in for 30 minutes twice a week (1/3 of their practice) to work on plyometrics. Again with an eye towards getting them to learn the 'right' way to run and accelerate - to stay balanced. Considering the amount of contact in soccer jostling for a free ball, proper stance and balance is a good thing to work on - but not for entire practices.

I was talking with a coach from Britain this summer who was running kids through some drills - and the one they were doing involved half the players balancing on one foot in a striking stance while the others dribbled around 'the statues' I asked why he wasn't just using cones - his response was brilliant. He noted that a common problem with younger players is they lack good balance. When they plant to strike the ball, many don't balance well and struggle to consistently hit the ball properly - so he has them 'rest' while practicing proper balance. The dribblers dribble for a few minutes then the groups switch.

That's good stuff.

I agree there are coaches out there who over concentrate on fitness, speed, etc. No question (often ex football dads/coaches). But they seem to have been the exception, not the rule. Just like crazy soccer parents.

Tim said...

Sounds like good stuff. Personally, I think a trainer twice a week for U11s is too much. Maybe once a month. That's just me. At U11 they have a lot to learn and time tends to get away from us.

However, learning the proper running technique can be important. While you have a trainer there, you should ask him/her to teach the girls how to jump and land. Girls don't bend their knees when the land (or jump) and that can lead to ACL injuries. And if they can strengthen the hamstrings and other muscles surrounding the knee, they are less at risk of ACL injuries later.

But I'm still not sure a trainer is needed at that age for anything other than setting the foundation.

I think U13, when the girls are growing more, is the age for that.

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