Is More Actually Better?

By Rick Meana

Nope, the direct opposite according to sports medicine doctors is actually the case. No two words have raised more concerns amongst those in the sports medicine field recently than overuse injuries.

According to most of the Sports Medicine Professionals I have spoken to recently report that just 15 years ago, overuse injuries accounted for 20% of patients visiting their clinics, now it’s up to 70% and increasing year after year! What is interesting to note is that over training, early specialization and too little rest and recovery all contribute to overuse injuries. What is even more interesting to note (and very troubling) is that they point to the “youth soccer club mentality” for the “epidemic” that is affecting all youth sports across the board!

Overuse injuries develop when tissue is injured due to repetitive loading of a muscle, bone, tendon, ligament, that is too much physical activity and too little rest and recovery. It is also defined as the cumulative effect of many tiny injuries that cause pain and loss of function. Close to half of the injuries reported regarding youth soccer are overuse injuries!

So Why Are Kids Being Pushed To Play Sports So Hard?

Parents? Coaches? Or a combination of the two? Are they being lead to believe they can get a college scholarship?

”It’s amazing how many parents project their children at professional levels,” says Vern D. Seefeldt, director emeritus of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State. Coaches feed the frenzy too. When a soccer guru urges playing another tourney or ratcheting up practice time, parents often don’t object. They’re being told by the coach: “Your son has amazing potential and needs to continue to improve”.

“There are few people guiding the parents who have the welfare of the child at stake,” says Dr. Eric Small, head of the Sports Medicine Center for Young Athletes in Mount Kisco, N.Y., and author of “Kids & Sports”. Here is what Dr. Small says, “Making the injury list even longer is the trend toward sport specialization. A decade ago a peppy 10-year-old might divide his play among soccer, basketball, and baseball seasons. Now more are being channeled to one sport that they play year-round. The extra training improves skills but adds to the wear and tear.”

One of the most popular women’s soccer stars Mia Hamm’s parents encouraged her to play a variety of sports. When high school soccer season ended, she played as a point guard on the basketball team. ”I was a terrible shot, but fast,” says Hamm. ”My dad never said: ‘Go out and work on soccer.’ The decisions about playing came from me.” Hamm tells parents and kids to avoid early specialization.

All over the country Sports Medicine Professionals are advising parents to closely monitor how much time their children are putting in to organized sports. Be leery of the number of hours that coaches may be demanding to play and train. Parents are so focused on their kids being superstars that they think they’re doing a service when training jumps from 10 hours a week to 30. They love their child, but they have blinders on. Dr. Small goes on to say, ”Often those blinders don’t come off until a youngster gets hurt, but by then a youngsters sports career could be over.”

A Watch List for Parents, Coaches and Administrators

Many injuries occur when organized practice time is ratcheted up from two days a week to five. A good rule of thumb to follow is physical activity should not be increased to more than 10% a week.

Be Aware Of Growth Spurts

As kids grow, muscles can become less flexible and more susceptible to injury. Parents should watch for periods of rapid growth.

Early Specialization Leads To Muscle Imbalances

Kids who play one sport year-round develop certain muscles to deal with the demands of that particular sport while others remain weak. A well balanced conditioning program of playing a variety of different sports and proper rest in between activity is healthy.

When There Is Pain There Is No Gain

Child athletes and parents shouldn’t ignore the warning signs assuming that injuries will magically go away. Have a doctor check out any minor pains in joints or bones before they become major ones.

Signs of Overuse: Weakness, Loss of Flexibility, Chronic Pain, Inflammation, Swelling. The inflammation is actually a degeneration of tissue caused by the micro trauma Some others: Loss of Performance, (Hard to differentiate between a ‘bad day’ and overuse injury). “I don’t know, its just a little sore”, “I don’t remember getting hurt”

Soreness after workout is normal but it should dissipate after a day or 2 and soreness, aching and limping lasting 3 days or more may indicate overuse. The overuse injury is a process, and will take time to develop, starting 3 or 4 weeks into a season. Muscles affected by overuse injury tend to be tighter, more irritable and will become prone to an acute injury.

Rick Meana has been the New Jersey Youth Soccer Director of Coaching for over 16 years and in that time he has directly impacted the education and development of thousands of players and coaches from all levels. Rick has served on both the US Youth Soccer ODP Region I Boys and Girls Coaching Staffs for more than 18 years and currently is the director of the Under-12 Boys South Development Camp. He holds the USSF ‘A’ License and National Youth License, as well as the NSCAA Premier Diploma.

Advertisements

Formations and Positions – Not for U6-U8 Play

By Rick Meana

Why, do you ask?

Because children at this age do not understand, do not have the capacity to grasp the concept of “functionality.” They don’t understand that the pieces make up the pie as a whole. They only can understand that pieces exist, but don’t understand how they contribute to the make-up of the whole. In school they learn about basic math, reading, and writing, with an emphasis on fun discovery and development. They are not grouped by accountants, lawyers, or doctors, each having their own curriculum. Everyone receives the same basic curriculum that helps form a foundation for later education and applications.

Before players learn functionality, they need to first experience basic movements. Through spontaneous uninhibited play, children can learn to solve problems, invent, create, and become aware of their physical relationship with their environment. Small-sided game play offers all these factors, and in addition, contributes to skill development. This becomes a foundation for the next levels of play.

Besides, the use of terms such as ‘defenders’, ‘fullbacks,’ ‘midfielders’, and ‘strikers’ are analogous to asking a six-year-old to describe the duties of an accountant or lawyer. Do defenders just defend? Not attack? Does that mean that they need to stay close to their goal? (Usually, these players have been seen standing on the edge of their penalty box 50 yards away from the action – after being instructed by their coach to stay back.) These are literal definitions of positions that are misconceptions of the game of soccer. Usually, these misconceptions derive from other sports where positions literally are constants of what action players’ perform/areas of the field, i.e., baseball. This is not true in the modern game of soccer.

Let’s take a look at the modern “adult” game to gain a perspective. Players who are termed “defenders,” are becoming notorious for scoring goals, while “forwards” who have become famous for their scoring prowess must now be able to defend and chase down assertive back players. Coaches have also had to convert forwards to defenders because of a shortage of attacking defenders. Players today, no matter their position, need to be fluent in all “soccer skills.”

Midfielders, once known for their ability to launch attacks and work at a high rate for 90 minutes are being converted to defenders, and so on. All this goes to show that positions and formations aren’t the answer. Besides, it is not necessarily being in a designated “position” or being a part of a formation that helps the players solve the problem/situations in the game, but rather the ability of the player to read visually the cues, that is the movement of the ball, movement of the teammates and opponents, and quickly execute a movement/decision that will be effective.
Soccer is a game where the players are constantly changing their movement and activity patterns because the game demands – fluidity, interchangeability, unpredictability, quick thought and execution. Adherence to the formations will not aid players in developing the foundation of the game needed to meet these demands.

The activity in “small-sided” games, where players are not inhibited by formations and positions, result in a variety of movement patterns, more contacts with the ball and other players, and is more challenging to a player physically. It also offers many opportunities for players to make decisions and solve problems based on the conditions that are encountered in the game. This is the “learning environment” that is best for the players at this age and maturity level.

Further proof that this environment is best; can be seen in those professional coaches, who in order to economize their practice, efficiently use small-sided games often, to provide a more challenging environment than 11-a-side play. And that is proof- positive that small-sided games, are important for this age group, however, formations and designated positions should not be used by coaches of U6-U8 players.
Rick Meana has been the New Jersey Youth Soccer Director of Coaching for over 16 years and in that time he has directly impacted the education and development of thousands of players and coaches from all levels. Rick has served on both the US Youth Soccer ODP Region I Boys and Girls Coaching Staffs for more than 18 years and currently is the director of the Under-12 Boys South Development Camp. He holds the USSF ‘A’ License and National Youth License, as well as the NSCAA Premier Diploma.

 

Coaching Throw-ins

By Rick Meana

Apart from the importance placed on passing and shooting, Coaches rarely emphasize the technique of the throw-in during practice. Yet, it is a basic method utilized in the game of soccer. This is especially true in the youth game, where because of the technical deficiency of the players, the ball frequently goes out of play resulting in a throw-in. And, 99% of the time, the throw-in ends up going to the opponent.

I strongly feel that the throw-in is not necessary for U6-U8 game play. On any given weekend, I have watched numerous games where feeble attempts are made by U6-U8 coaches to “mold” the bodies of their players, hold down their feet, demonstrate, and explain their version of a proper throw-in. Incidentally, it is done incorrectly as the player either drops the ball in front of them, or in an effort to bring it back over their head, they drop it, throw it to the other team, or fire at the face of the nearest victim — sometimes this just happens to be the coach. And worst of all, when patience has run out, the game is allowed to continue and the player is allowed to re-enter the field with a “slight nudge” by the coach, having learned an improper throw-in.

All this should indicate to the coach that something needs to be fixed. It indicates to me that too much time is spent in the games trying to deal with this phenomenon, when this is something that needs to be practiced outside the game first. So much time is spent; that I have estimated over 25% of the game time is wasted trying to deal with this. That’s 15-20 minutes less the players are in contact with the ball. Less contact with the ball means downtime, downtime results in boredom and disinterest.

A solution to this problem would require modifying the rules of U6 and U8 play. Coaches should emphasize the importance on the technical application of the throw-in during practice. For U6 and U8 play, I strongly recommend that when the ball goes “into touch” or outside the sidelines, the ball is put back into play by the player choosing to either dribble or pass. Also several balls should be placed around the outside of the field, so that when a ball goes out of bounds, time is not spent trying to chase it down. The nearest ball is played in, being careful that no stray balls roll onto the field. Since the hands of a U6-U8 player are not properly developed for the proper execution of the throw-in, more emphasis needs to be placed on providing the players with more opportunities to manipulate the ball with the foot. Not to mention, throws that result in someone getting a ball to the face can also be avoided – the pass or the dribble – is a safer alternative while maximizing chances to play the ball with the foot.

To learn the proper technique, and technical application, the following should be stressed. First, coaches at any level should teach their players how to correctly hold the ball. For U6-U8 coaches, this can be done to teach the habit of securing the ball, which later on can be used to teach proper technique for catching in goal keeping as well. Coaching Implications 1. Secure the ball with both hands; ensure that the index fingers and thumbs are as close as possible (almost forming a “W” or “u” shape with fingers on the ball). 2. Bring the ball over the head just behind the ears with your arms loose and elbows bent and flared out. 3. Stand with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart with one foot in front of the other (start at a standstill first, then add 1 step, then 2, and so on). 4. Face the field. 5. Bring your head, neck, shoulders and trunk back, bending at the knees. 6. Thrust the ball forward resulting in your entire body going forward. 7. Release the ball as it just goes past the head.

The throw-in is a pass; so therefore, it should have all the characteristics of a pass, i.e. played to a teammate with the proper pace so that it can be controlled easily and possession can be maintained.

Rick Meana has been the New Jersey Youth Soccer Director of Coaching for over 16 years and in that time he has directly impacted the education and development of thousands of players and coaches from all levels. Rick has served on both the US Youth Soccer ODP Region I Boys and Girls Coaching Staffs for more than 18 years and currently is the director of the Under-12 Boys South Development Camp. He holds the USSF ‘A’ License and National Youth License, as well as the NSCAA Premier Diploma.