Do not talk about giftedness, inborn talents!

Do not talk about giftedness, inborn talents! One can name great men of all kinds who were very little gifted. They acquired greatness, became “geniuses” (as we put it), through qualities the lack of which no one who knew what they were would boast of: they all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to construct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole.

Friedrich Nietzsche


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.

The Learning Model


Coaching a soccer team, especially a youth team, is rather straight-forward, at least theoretically.  Like all things, the devil is in the details.  But so many coaches never even get beyond proper planning that the details are beyond a hope and a prayer.  Here is my outline for developing a training model for a youth soccer team focused on development:

1) Determine what the starting point is for each of the players.  What technical skills, tactical knowledge, and experience do they each come in with?  As a group on average what are the abilities that each player should possess?  Bear in mind, that individually there will be variations, deficiencies, and advanced abilities.  These provide areas where the coach can focus individual lessons.  But overall, we are looking for where the players are technical and tactically at the beginning of the season.  This largely is dependent, of course, on the previous seasons development and success, or lack thereof.

2) What is the end-competencies required for the players? What technical and tactical abilities/skills do you want the players to be able to accomplish at the end of the season?  Are you refining skills carried over from the previous season?  Are you introducing new skills or tactical concepts?  Each requires a different training methodology.  This list should also not be so all-encompassing to be ludicrous and not realistic.  Better to focus on a few critical technical and tactical abilities and teach them well than try to teach/train everything and do it poorly or without devoting enough time to each.

3) Write this list of objectives and end-competencies down.  This is the start of your training curriculum for the season.

4) Determine the optimum order for the training of the end-competencies.  How much time is required to teach each one?  How much repetition is required?  Are some skills and abilities progressive, meaning you have to reach a reasonable level of mastery of the first stage before you move on the the second?

5) Now you have a training curriculum.

6) Determine or develop the training lessons, exercises, games, etc, that you will use to teach these skills, techniques, and tactical abilities.  Don’t go crazy with training exercises.  Again, better to have a few that you can coach really well, that teach the necessary concepts clearly and allow for progressive increasing of difficulty, than to have a million drills that don’t allow the players to focus on getting better.  In general, the games should be as soccer-specific as possible, involve multiple phases of play (or all four, ideally), and provide a means to increase or decrease the level of difficulty so that your players can progress.

7) Plan your training week.  Determine how you are going to teach that week’s topic with the given exercises or games.  Allow for repetition and feedback.  Be realistic.  Adjust based on the teams successes or failures with the training.

8) The game at the end of the week is where two things need to occur – 1) The players who trained all week, working hard, and trying to learn new things, get to have fun and play the game of soccer, and 2) you watch, assess, and evaluate the previous weeks training.  This is not only feedback for the players but feedback for your coaching and training ability.  What worked?  What didn’t?  What still needs to be worked on?  This provides the starting point for next weeks training agenda.  Adjust, refine, continue to teach your curriculum.

So, that’s what I consider to be the Learning Model as applied to sports training.  I tried to keep it straight-forward.  Bear in mind that there are details in each step that must be addressed.  But overall, it is fundamentally about teaching.  Not one step is simple, and each requires a level of competency and ability on behalf of the coach.  However, when we can start to break complex tasks down to steps or chunks, then we can start to divide and conquer so that our coaching can improve, thereby improving our players, too.


Training and Performance Management in the Top


Dijk, J.
Performance Physiologist FC Bayern München, Teacher KNVB

Keywords: soccer, elite level, requirements

In elite level soccer, “winning” is the central theme, preferable in an attractive style. Important ingredients are a clear vision of your game strategy, soccer specific team building, and guided scouting. Training and coaching are critical elements to become successful. The game can be structured according to the four main phases in the play:

  1. own team has ball possession,
  2. change of possession – the ball is lost,
  3. ball possession opponent, and
  4. change of possession – ball is won.

Each phase has specific characteristic and specifies the role of each player. Technical, tactical, physical and mental (TTPM) requirements can be defined according to game plan, position of the player and the main phase of the game. In this presentation we will discuss the game plan of FC Bayern München. Based on this plan we profile our players in terms of the TTPM-elements. Players of FC Bayern München participate in four competitions, the “Bundesliga”, the “Pokal”, the Champion League and European/World championships. In a normal season we play 77 games and have about 238 training session. A smart training periodization of the season is crucial to maximize performance and minimize the
amount of injuries. The figure below represents the number of match-injuries for our team last season (UEFA Injury study 2009/10). Main results and conclusions of this study will be presented. The leading training principles
and the periodization in macro and micro blocks will be discussed. Basically the
training exercises consist of small sided games, passing exercises, position specific system exercises, position play, tactical position play up to 11
vs. 11, individual training, athletic ability and power training, sprint power and capacity training. Each training exercise has been analyzed in terms of physical training load and technical / tactical purpose in relation to game demands. The intensity, load density and/or complexity of many training session are above the game requirements. Intensive measurements of each training session and match give us a clear picture of the physical capabilities of our players. The LPM Soccer 3D-system, an advanced technological system, is a key element in monitoring the players, both physically and tactically. A number of possibilities of the system will be demonstrated. One application is to assess the defensive organization in relation to the position of the ball and the opponent. In animations we look at the distances between players and lines. These determine the spaces that we give to our opponents, and the opportunity to defend forward. It is an excellent tool for coaching of players in game situations.
Science and innovations are important domains to create and keep the winning edge in elite sport. Several new and potential interesting areas will be addressed.


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 – Part 1: Dave Tenney

The first presenter on Thursday was our host, Dave Tenney, Sounders FC Fitness Coach.  His presentation was Creating the Player Monitoring Model – Can we accurately capture the fitness/fatigue cycle?

Question:  Can a model of player performance be developed which will take into account the match, training, and recovery in order to predict player readiness to play and train?  That was the question that Dave Tenney attempted to answer with the Seattle Sounders FC, and this presentation presents his concepts, background, and methodologies on that path towards an answer.  In fact, he was able to develop a model which, given the match, training, and recovery inputs, he can predict the likelihood of a player being injured in a match and his readiness to train.  His model is continuously being improved and tweaked as more data is being generated.

Note: Some of the information presented during the three day seminar was proprietary.  Out of respect for the proprietary nature of some of the information, I am leaving out some details, which, frankly, are not germane to this discussion anyway.

The following are my notes of his presentation:

Sports Analytics

  • Performance optimization in sport requires that coaches and trainers understand and control, as much as possible, the effects of the training and the match on the individual players.
  • This is the next phase of improvement in sports science.
  • Technology has advanced exponentially over the last several years, and this includes technological advancement in sports science.
  • However, the coach’s ability to grasp and utilize the technology has not increased at the same rapid rate.
  • This difference between what is technologically possible and what coaches and trainers can use based on ability has created a “Sports Science Gap”.
  • We also have to be careful with measuring unnecessary things.  Just because you can measure something does not mean you should, and the data you generate might not be applicable or relevant to the sport.  The job of the sports scientist, coach, and trainer is to only measure what is valuable in terms of improving team and player performance.  Anything else is a waste of time, energy, and resources.  It can also lead to incorrect conclusions which can have a negative impact on performance.

Player Monitoring Process

  • The player monitoring model must encompass the play->train->recover cycle
  • Recovery must be included in the cycle:  recovery from the game and recovery from training
  • Highest priorities are match readiness and injury avoidance
  • The data generated from the game, post-game recovery, and training is critical to the accuracy of the model.  This data will serve as the inputs to the model of player monitoring.
  • The data will come from different sources in different formats (units), including both objective and subjective.

Building the Model

  • Levels of analytics and statistics:  Descriptive -> Predictive -> Prescriptive
    • Descriptive – Looks at past performance as a reason for success or failure
    • Predictive – Looks at “what will happen” but not why.
    • Prescriptive – “What, why, and when it will happen.”
  • Most never get past the descriptive stage.
  • Goal is to be prescriptive.
  • Reference:  Rationale and resources for teaching the mathematical modeling of athletic training and performance, by David C. Clarke, et al.
  • Development of a model is a long-term process that must be institutionalized.
  • During the first year all the relevant data is collected.
  • After the data is collected, the model is created and tested.
  •  Afterwards the results of the model are continuously evaluated and modified.
  • “Models evolve.”
  • “All models are wrong, some models are useful…” George Box, Industrial statistician.

 Data Collection (Inputs)

  • Match data – reference:  Monitoring Training in Elite Soccer Players: Systematic Bias between Running Speed and Metabolic Power Data, P. Gaudino, et al.
  • When assessing a player’s readiness to play or train the best case is the true positive or true negative in which the player was accurately predicted to be ready or not to train/play.
  • The second best prediction would be the false positive in which the model predicted that the player was not ready to train/play even though they actually were.  This is obviously not an accurate prediction but the error will not cause injury to the player.
  • The worst prediction would be the false negative in which the model predicted that the player was ready to train/play when in fact they were not.  This type of error in the model can result in player injury.


  • Reference: Physiological assessment of aerobic training in soccer, Impellizzeri, FM, et al, Journal of Sports Sciences.
  • Determining the total training load of the player during training is critical. It is the sum of the internal and external load on the player in training.
  • The external training load consists of the velocity load (distance covered in each speed zone in training) and the body load (acceleration/deceleration).
  • The internal training load consists of the HR load on the player in training.
  • Individual player characteristics will also have an effect on the training load, as well as pre-training fitness.
  • Of particular interest was the recent research by Casamichana, et al on the difference in workload between 11v11 and SSGs.
  • Reference:  Comparing the Physical Demands of Friendly Matches and Small-Sided Games in Semiprofessional Soccer Players, D Casamichana, J Castellano, et al.
  • Also reference the Julen Castellano interview by Mladen Jovananic.  The links are shown above.
  • In the research it was found that 4v4 SSGs had a higher body load and lower velocity load than 11v11 games.
  • In other words, the SSGs involved a higher number of short sprints, thus more acceleration/deceleration. The higher player density resulted in a low total number of sprints.
  • In contrast, the larger playing area (and correspondingly lower player density) resulted in the 11v11 games having more medium and long sprints, thus allowing players to reach a higher percentage of their top speed.
  • Relative vs. absolute:  “Measuring individual [speed] zones… it could be an option, but we have to think that football is a sport of absolute values, in other words, for the game we need to know who is faster than another and not if the players ran at their 90% max speed.”  Julen Castellano.

Main Points & Takeaway Messages

  • Player monitoring is constantly changing.
  • Modeling only improves with more data.
  • Not all data is relevant.
  • Sport scientists must work closely with the coach/manager.  Their aim must be to help fulfill the vision and needs of the coach/manager.
  • Incorporate player monitoring into weekly & monthly game-training cycle.
  • Strive to objectify results – give coach meaningful data regarding results of model.  Let coach decide how to use.
  • Be able to justify numbers and opinions.
  • Work to go from simply descriptive to predictive then prescriptive.
  • Best model takes into account variety of stressors including lifestyle, social, environmental.

Overall this was an impressive presentation of the current state of the art in professional sports.  What Dave Tenney and his crew of sports scientists have been able to do is at the cutting-edge of player performance modeling.  Not all big pro clubs have reached this stage, yet.  However, this is also not something that can realistically be implemented at any other organization than a professional club in which the money and expertise are on hand and can be used in conjunction to push the limits of sports science.  Of course, that does not mean that this is a wasted effort and serves only the elite.  The results and methodologies developed by Dave Tenney and his crew will undoubtedly trickle down-stream and result in improvements for all evidence-based coaches and clubs.

Over the next few days (weeks?) I intend to continue to provide my notes and opinions regarding several of the presentations.