In this first article of many to come in this collaboration between Fit for 90 and Soccer Parenting, Skye has asked me to discuss the looming question that coincides with the start of summer and the off-season for many of your daughters and sons:
What type and duration of break from soccer do youth and adolescent players need?
Of all the athletes I work with, the youth and adolescent athlete is without question the most challenging because they are always changing. They present a physiological moving target from youth through adolescence!
FOUR FACTORS TO CONSIDER TO HELP YOU MAKE THE BEST DECISION REGARDING YOUR SON OR DAUGHTER’S BREAK FROM SOCCER.
1. THE DENSITY OF THE SEASON.
This is the length of the season relative to the number of competitions and average number of training sessions per week.
High density is defined as a high number of training sessions and competitions in a relatively short period (e.g. multiple games in a week or weekend and training sessions throughout the week). Low density is defined as a low to moderate number of training sessions and competitions over a longer period of time (e.g. one match each weekend with training sessions balanced throughout the week)
I am not suggesting you take part in a complex calculation; just in retrospect consider the commitment that your child has made over the last season to get a general idea in order to guide your decision.
Generally, my advice is the higher the density, the longer the break needed.
2. THE SCHEDULE OVER THE FINAL 2-3 MONTHS OF THE SEASON.
Is the season ending at a high density (i.e. a flourish of tournaments, travel and games) or low density (i.e. a limited number of games spread out over a reasonable period of time)?
Generally, ending at a high density logically results in the need for a longer break versus low density, which may result in the need for a slightly shorter break.
3. THE PHYSICAL STRESS RELATIVE TO THEIR TEAMMATES.
This is both subjective and objective, where answering the following questions will guide your decision
- Are they playing in their natural age grouping?
An athlete playing above their age grouping is more likely to experience higher physical stress. The logic here is that they maybe technically and tactically equivalent to their teammates but are more likely to be physically less developed.
- Are they older or younger relative to their age group?
The player who is born later in the “year” relative to their teammates is essentially at a disadvantage to those born earlier and is likely to experience greater physical stress.
- Are they late in growth and maturation relative to their peers? Are they the biggest kid on the team, the smallest, or in the middle?
The “further along” an athlete is in terms of growth and maturation relative to their teammates, the less physical stress they are likely to experience. Alternately, a “later maturing” athlete is more likely to experience higher physical stress than their teammates.
Generally, the combination of these allows you to consider the physical stress of the individual relative to the team. The higher the physical stress relative to their teammates, the longer the break.
4. THE DIVERSITY OF THEIR TRAINING.
It is logical that playing only one sport will increase overuse patterns and therein the likelihood for injury. In fact, researchers are increasingly proposing that early sport specialization may be related to injury (Mostafavifar et al 2013, Early sport specialization, does it lead to long-term problems? British Journal of Sports Medicine. 47: 1060-61.)
Answering the following questions should help to further guide your decision.
- How many sports outside of soccer have they participated in seasonally, and over their “career”?
My logic here is that a stronger participation in other sports historically and recently will decrease the likelihood of overuse patterns being developed.
- What was the consistency and frequency of their participation in other sports?
The more often movement is changed and the body challenged to move differently, such as in other sports, the less likely an overuse pattern is to develop.
- If they did not play other sports, did they consistently cross-train, and/or did their soccer coach or club run sessions that focused on developing general athleticism and movement abilities?
Working with professional players, the more soccer-specific training we performed, the more I emphasized performing non soccer-specific movements as a component of our warm-up and in our weight training sessions. My goal was to diminish the chance of overuse problems by complementing the work they did with foundational athletic movements.
The more consistent you observed general movement training in your son or daughter’s “soccer-specific” training sessions the less likely overuse patterns are to be developed.
Generally, if it looks like soccer all the time, the greater the break is needed.
3 PHASES OF YOUR SON OR DAUGHTER’S BREAK FROM SOCCER
The duration of each of the following phases is related to: 1) the 4 factors we have just discussed, 2) the available window before the start of the next season, and 3) the duration of the preseason phase of training.
- The focus of this phase is to literally put the feet up. It is fully expected at this point for some “fitness to be lost,” and this is normal and perfectly acceptable. During this phase I prescribe zero structured training, but advise the athletes to relax for a duration of time related to the year, and the season that has just been completed. Typically this phase will last 1-3 weeks.
- The focus of this phase is to return the body towards “normal” movement patterns. During this phase I encourage athletes to be active, but not participate in structured training, beyond strength and flexibility training designed specifically to diminish overuse patterns that have been developed over the past season. Typically this phase will last 2-4 weeks.
- The focus of this phase is to begin the re-building process towards the next season. During this phase I continue to focus on diminishing overuse patterns through strength, flexibility, and movement training. Additionally, I systematically develop muscular tolerance to the frequency and intensity of the accelerations and decelerations that are central to soccer. Typically this phase will last 2-6 weeks.
A few general thoughts I have in summary:
- Use logic to develop your decision.
- With any athlete, I error on the side of being more conservative, as opposed to more aggressive. I believe this is more likely to prevent injury, and results in a better balance of long-term development over short-term success. This is amplified in youth players! Zero risks.
- Create conversations. It is important to discuss the decision-making process you are under-taking with two people in particular. One is your son or daughter, and the second is their coach.
I hope that this article has led you down a path that allows you to make an educated decision, based on the assessment of your individual son, or daughter.
I look forward to any questions or feedback, and developing future articles and great discussions.