Category Archives: Conditioning

Mind Control


The mind controls the body and not vice versa.  Manage the mind and you compel the body to follow.  Lose the mind and the body is lost as well.  For the athlete:  Perception is the reality. 

Four reasons why coaches must manage the mind of their athletes:

1)      Limits to exercise tolerance are controlled by the mind not the body.  Recent research has shown that the mind can put the brakes on exercise well before the body is at a point of exhaustion.  Fatigue has been found to be derived from thoughts which are aimed at preserving the safety and stability of the body.  Players who can control their mind and suspend thoughts of quitting can be compelled to go farther, faster, and harder.  Coaches who help and encourage this will improve the performance of their players and teams.  This has obvious implications for training, match performance, and general habit-forming.


2)      Mental imagery and visualization is widely regarded as beneficial and an important tool to improve performance across a wide array of sports, disciplines, and environments.  Many professional and Olympic athletes use mental imagery as a matter of course to prepare for a match or event.  In fact, it has been shown that mentally rehearsing a skill, if done properly, is equivalent to actually performing the skill.  Learning requires myelination, or the thickening of the myelin sheaths inside the brain which facilitates improved transmission of information in the brain.  Your brain, however, does not differentiate from actually performing the task or just thinking about it.  Mentally rehearsing can also alleviate performance anxiety and fears, increased focus and awareness, and lead to automaticity in performance.  That being said, the skill of mental imagery and visualization is rarely, if ever, discussed in youth sports, let alone practiced.  Coaches would be advised to educate themselves about mental imagery techniques and learn how to apply them properly so their athletes can benefit from this wonderful and powerful tool.


3)      Verbal and visual feedback has been shown to change hormone levels in subjects and improve or worsen performance depending on the type of feedback.  Positive feedback, either through phrases delivered by the coach or video clips showing great performances, increases the testosterone levels of subjects, thereby improving performance.  Negative feedback had the opposite effect.  Importantly, these effects were found to linger up to one week after the feedback.  What does this mean for the coach?  Control the training and match environment.  Do not let negative thoughts have any air to breath.  Instead ensure that your athletes are thinking and feeling positive and have no anxiety or fear.  This will allow the maximum potential for performance to exist.

4)      So what does a coach do if a negative performance or result occurs, as it inevitably will?  Lie about it and get your athletes to believe it occurred differently!  Actually, this last bit of advice is the most challenging and tricky to apply, for many reasons, but researchers have found that reconstructing a negative event into a positive event can have a profound impact on future performance.  In other words, the actual event is not important, but the memory of the event in the athletes mind.  And if the memory of the negative event can be nudged to a positive, then that’s what the athlete will remember, and it can prevent the athlete from being over-encumbered by self-defeating negative thoughts concern the event.  Obviously, it is not beneficial for anyone to live in state of denial, and truthful investigation and analysis of a poor performance is critical to learning and improving.  However, there are many instances where a poor performance, whether by a team or individual, can lead to a spiral of decay.  Self-defeating thoughts can stand in the way of performance improvements and create real fear.  In these instances, the coach should intervene to begin to re-cast the negative performance and nudge it more positively.   The tricky bit is obviously when and how to do this.  Learning from your mistakes is good, being frozen with fear is not.

The mind controls the body.  What the mind believes occurred is the reality.  Coaches must learn to manage the training and game environments so that negative thoughts and feeling do not limit performance, but instead allow the athletes to develop and maximize their performance potential.


Practical Aspects of High Intensity Training for Talent Development in a Professional Football Club

Presented by Inigo Mujika at the VIIth World Congress on Science & Football at Nagoya University, Japan 2011.

Mujika, I.
USP Araba Sport Clinic, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country
Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine and Odontology, University of the Basque Country

Keywords: repeated-sprint ability, developmental aspects, soccer

Most team sports are characterized by a high intensity, intermittent activity pattern. Team sport players (e.g. football, basketball, rugby, water polo) perform a high number of high intensity and sprint activities of various durations during match play. These bursts of intense exercise are interspersed with lower intensity activities also of variable duration. Insight into the cardiovascular and metabolic demands of these sports provided by simple physiological measurements such as heart rate and blood lactate also indicates that high demands are placed on both aerobic and anaerobic metabolic pathways during match play. In view of these observations, it is clear that any performance test aiming at the assessment of a player’s physiological capabilities should take into account the intermittent nature of the game and try to mimic the metabolic demands of its intense exercise/recovery activity pattern.

Intermittent performance tests have been developed and validated to assess match fitness in several team sports. Some of these tests have been used to assess the performance capabilities of players and referees, and to evaluate the effects of various training and nutritional interventions on fitness and performance.

One such test is the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test (Yo-Yo IRT), which has become in the past few years one of the most extensively investigated fitness test from a physiological perspective, but also one of the most widely used test in practical sport settings. The ability to perform intermittent high-intensity exercise for prolonged periods of time, as measured by the Yo-Yo IRT, constitutes a discriminative variable both in women’s and men’s football. In addition, individualized high intensity training adapted to the specific needs of each player could contribute to optimize player development and performance in an elite youth football academy setting. High intensity running activities in the last 15-min period of a football game become fewer and shorter, and the distance covered by high-intensity running in this phase is related to the physical capacity of elite players, as assessed by the Yo-Yo IRT. When urgent
enhancements in sprint performance are required, the sequence of loaded strength-power exercises (15–50% body mass) and unloaded high intensity exercises (jumps and sprints) or drills (small-sided games) may prove effective.

Repeated-sprint ability (RSA) tests have also been used in recent years to assess team sport fitness. Despite the increasing knowledge and interest in RSA, there is little information about the evolution of RSA with age in highly trained, developing, team sport athletes. Recent studies indicate that performance in RSA improves during maturation of highly trained youth football players, although a plateau occurs from 15 years of age. In contrast to expectations based on previous suggestions, percent sprint decrement during repeated sprints do not deteriorate with age.


Fitness Testing and Training of the Top-Class Football Player

Presented by Jens Bangsbo at the VIIth World Congress on Science & Football at Nagoya University, Japan in 2011.

Bangsbo, J. Institute of Exercise and Sport Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Keywords: Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test, soccer

In order to determine the fitness capacity of a football player various test can be
performed. The maximum oxygen uptake of a player can be measured using an
incremental treadmill test and then measuring the expiratory air towards the end of the test. However, the maximum oxygen uptake is not a sensitive measure of performance of a football player. In addition, the measurements require advanced equipment. Instead the endurance performance of football player can be determined in a simple way on the field by the Yo-Yo intermittent endurance test. Performance in the test is well correlated to the amount of high intensity work conducted in a game. The Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test can be used to determine the players’ ability to perform repeated intense exercise during a game, which is essential for a top-class player (Bangsbo et al., 2008). Both tests have been shown to be sensitive to changes in performance of the elite football player, and increases of 20-40% are typically observed in the pre-season compared to only a few percent changes in maximum oxygen uptake.
Sprint performance can be evaluated by carrying out repeated 30-metre sprints
separated by 30 s of recovery.

The physical demands of a football player are high with elements of maximal force development, such as jumping, tackling and jumping, and fatigue does occur during a game. Therefore, it is important to prepare the players by fitness training, which can be divided into aerobic, anaerobic and isolated muscle training as well as coordination training. The aerobic and anaerobic training should preferable be performed in drills as this will ensure that the muscles used in football are trained and are obtaining the adaptations. In addition, such training does also develop the players´ technical and tactical ability. The aerobic training can be evaluated by measuring heart rate, e.g. heart rate during aerobic high intensity should be at the least 80% of maximum heart rate and on average around 90% at the end of each interval. Anaerobic training can be conducted as speed endurance production training, where the players are performing almost maximally for 10-30 s followed by long recovery period, and speed endurance maintenance training with intense exercise periods lasting 20-60 s separated by relative short recovery periods (1-2 times the exercise periods). Additional aerobic and anaerobic training during the season have shown to improve performance level even for elite players. In agreement, short-term intensified training of already well-trained players can improve mechanical efficiency, Na+/K+ pump α2 isoform expression and repeated sprint performance. The isolated muscle training consists of muscle power
training, muscle endurance training and flexibility training.

1. Bangsbo J., Iaia M. & Krustrup P. Sports Med, 38: 37-51, 2008.

2013 Sounders FC Sports Science Weekend – Overview


I was very fortunate to attend the 2013 Sounders FC Sports Science Weekend from Thursday, June 13, to Saturday, June 15, in Seattle, Washington.  This was the third year that Dave Tenney and his crew have put together this awesome show.

The weekend consisted of a series of presentations and discussions at the Starfire Soccer Complex in Tukwila, WA just outside of Seattle.

starfire panorama

starfire map

The presenters included host Dave Tenney, Sounders FC fitness coach, as well as the following coaches and trainers:

  • Bjorn Rekelhof – AFC Ajax fitness and recovery coach.
  • Gavin Benjafield – Head of Physical Performance at AFC Ajax.
  • Darcy Norman – Director, Performance Innovation Team for Athletes’ Performance, former FC Bayern Munich and Euro 2012 German National Team fitness and rehab coach.
  • Marcello Iaia – Researcher/Sports Scientist, University of Milan, former Manchester United assistant fitness coach.
  • Howard Gray – Assistant Strength & Speed Coach at Florida State University.
  • Joel Jamieson – Strength and conditioning coach for combat sports, founder of, former Director of Strength & conditioning for Pride FC and Dream FC.
  • Charlie Weingroff – Director of Sports Performance & Physical Therapy at CentraState Medical Center.
  • Ryan Alexander – PhD candidate in Sport Physiology and Sport Performance at East Tennessee State University.
  • ouMark McLaughlin – Owner, Performance Training Center (Portland, Oregon).

As you can see from this lineup, it was an impressive array of coaches and trainers operating at the very top of the elite sports ladder.  These guys not only “talk the talk”, but they regularly “walk the walk”.  What was great about each one of the presentations, in general, was hearing how the sports science was applied.  It would be great to hear about the latest research findings regarding sports training, monitoring, rehabilitation, etc., etc., but for those of us in the trenches, somewhat removed from the elite level, what we really yearn for is how to apply the research.  What works?  What doesn’t work?  How can this be modified to fit my particular setting or environment?  I am all about training optimization:  I want to train my team as efficiently and effectively as possible to maximize potential in terms of team and individual development, given my constraints of time, resources, and ability (players and my own).  I can’t do this without paying attention to the applicable sports science research (i.e. evidence-based coaching) but research is just that:  research.  Often it is conducted on a small group of players/athletes/subjects, in a limited setting, and achieves somewhat unclear results.  So the question becomes:  what research is applicable in my particular situation and how do I apply it?  I don’t have the time, money, expertise, or resources to conduct my own research specifically aimed at improving my team.  I need help.  And that is precisely where this seminar excelled.  The presenters are knowledgeable enough to understand the research, in some cases (see Marcello Iaia) even conducting research, but more importantly, they have also applied the findings to prepare, train, and monitor their elite group of athletes to achieve the highest level of play in the most challenging environment, professional sports.  Failure to understand and apply the research properly can spell disaster for their athletes and teams.  So they have to get it right.  The practical application of the research, i.e. “Where the rubber hits the road”, is that elusive quest for coaching and training Nirvana that, hopefully, we are all seeking.

This series of articles will be a report on several of the presentations, along with my thoughts, with particular attention paid to accessible applications, i.e. the takeaway messages that we can all use to improve our coaching and the development of our players and teams.  Even though all of the presentations were excellent and had a plethora of great information, I will report only on the presentations directly connected with soccer.

Before the seminar even began, the attendees were sent information about a Dropbox folder containing slides of all of the presentations and sports science research articles pertaining to the weekend seminar.  In all there were 10 research and blog articles delivered and 8 presentations (only Marcello Iaia’s presentation was omitted for proprietary reasons).

The following is the list of research articles and blog posts included in the Dropbox folder:

  • Rationale and resources for teaching the mathematical modeling of athletic training and performanceDavid C. Clarke and Philip F. Skiba, Advances in Physiology Education, 37:134-152, 2013.
  • Comparing the Physical Demands of Friendly Matches and Small-Sided Games in Semiprofessional Soccer PlayersDavid Casamichana, Julen Castellano, and Carlo Castagna, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(3)/837–843
  • Influence of Different Training Regimes on Physical and Physiological Demands During Samll-Sided Soccer Games: Continuous vs. Intermittent Format, David Casamichana, Julen Castellano, and Alexandre Dellal, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(3)/690–697
  • Monitoring Training in Elite Soccer Players: Systematic Bias between Running Speed and Metabolic Power DataP. Gaudino, F. M. Iaia, G. Alberti, A. J. Strudwick, G. Atkinson, W. Gregson, International Journal of Sports Medicine, 2013 Apr 2
  • Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment of the Overtraining Syndrome: Joint Consensus Statement of the European College of Sport Science and the American College of Sports MedicineMeeusen R, et al, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2013 Jan

This provided a perfect solution to the age-old question of what to read in the airport and during the flight.  Problem solved.  In addition, while downloading and printing all of these documents, I ran across some other that seemed relevant.

The reading definitely paid off because the research and concepts discussed in these articles were a theme running through the entire seminar.

The schedule for the weekend was as follows:



Thursday, June 13

Dave Tenney Intro & Creating the Player Monitoring Model – Can we accurately capture the fitness/fatigue cycle?
Bjorn Rekelhof Long-term planning and periodization in soccer performance

Friday, June 14

Charlie Weingroff Hip Extension As a Big Rock in the Global Football Training Program
Mark McLaughlin Omegawave; Assessing and Optimizing the Short and Long Term Training Goals of American High School Football Players
Ryan Alexander Effects of Training Loads in Critical Time Periods of Preparation Before Matches on Performance Variables
Gavin Benjafield Injury Incidence and Injury Patterns in Professional Football
Darcy Norman Practical Application of Speed Training in the Preparation Period of a Major Tournament – Experience with the DFB

Saturday, June 15

Howard Gray Sport Science in Collegiate Soccer
Marcello Iaia High Intensity Training in the Elite Soccer Players – From Physiology to Practice
Joel Jamieson Individualization of Recovery and Regeneration Methods

Over the next few days (weeks?) I will be presenting my notes from the seminar. Please check back regularly (or subscribe to the blog so you can be notified of updates).

First up is Dave Tenney and his presentation on Creating the Player Monitoring Model – Can we accurately capture the fitness/fatigue cycle?

Soccer Coaching & Training E-zine

An e-zine of relevant coaching tips and information I created. Published weekly.

Soccer Coaching & Training e-zine



Interview with Raymond Verheijen

Raymond Verheijen discusses his soccer conditioning methods and principles.


In-Depth Interview with Raymond Verheijen

Interview conducted in South Africa ahead of a WFA seminar on Periodization Planning in Football.