The Astrology of Soccer: About Training Pre-Adolescents Athletes
Today I have a great guest blog by Netherlands based rehab clinician and sports performance specialist, Chi Chiu.
Chi talks about some great information regarding the preparation of pre-adolescent athletes. Chi gives some great practical applications regaring strength training and aerobic capacity for this young group as well as the importance of taking into consideration an athletes biological age, not just their chronological age.
The astrology of soccer (about training pre-adolescents)
Any event with mass media exposure like the World Cup soccer will lead to mass sign-ups of fathers claiming their kid will turn pro one day. They want the best training money can buy, preparing them for their rightful place on the world stage. And that’s a good thing, if nothing else then sport should inspire! It’s your job to create the optimal environment for maximal development. To create a star however, means you have to respect the stars. If this kid is born in December, his chances to become a pro just went down fourfold in comparison with his age peers, born in January. That sounds pretty much like astrology to me. Your job, change fate!
Dutch soccer conditioning expert Raymond Verheijen has found remarkable correlations. By checking the birth months of soccer professionals, he found that 43 percent was born in January, February and March. The rest of the soccer pros are born in the second (27%), third (20%) and last (10%) quarter. That’s an interesting correlation, because the month of birth should have no effect on talent. It doesn’t end here, because sports have an inherent risk of injuries, so kids born in the first quarter have a chance of 25 percent. The following quarters however show a dramatic upward trend of 40, 50 and 65 percent increased risk. Is it all astrology or is it physiology?
While watching a youth game, you’ll notice a difference in size of the players. Although they are in the same league and have the same age, the length difference can be up to 4 inch. It’s the result of a cut-off date January 1st. Even if you have the same age in years, the first quarter players can have a head start up to 11 months. First quarter players are larger, faster and less prone to injuries as a result of physical contact. They are more in possession of the ball and therefore easily noticed by scouts. So, it probably is not astrology, but can a strength and conditioning coach battle fate?
Pre-adolescents at the age of 6 to 11 can grow an inch a quarter and that requires a lot of energy. Intensive training swallows that energy and the statistics shows that it has a significant impact on the growth development. The energy debt leads to a fall on the growth curve to half an inch per quarter. During the summer rest, a growth surge is noticeable, an EPOC of growth if you will. It does not always compensate for the debt and some of the kids will stay behind the curve. This will leave them prone to injury. Before we see whether you can work around it, we have to answer the question whether training pre-adolescents is useful at all.
Fit by themselves
Before puberty sets in, there seems to be no difference in performance between girls and boys from the same age. Children are active and fit and will remain fit until the girls reach the age of 14 and boys turn 18. Besides this natural fitness, we see little or no results due to training. I’ve seen many mothers melting and many fathers screaming, at the sight of their little champion at age 5, kneeling down in the field to pluck a flower during an all-important match. Is lack of results due to lack of discipline (they are kids, you know), or is it hormone driven?
To increase the aerobic capacity of children, you need to get the intensity up. As a general rule of thumb, you have to train around the anaerobic threshold to get a good aerobic gain (Katch V 1978, MacDougal JD 1977). This threshold lies around 75% HRmax for adults and for children a bit higher in the 85% HRmax range (Rotstein 1986). After a decent warm-up, you can progress to interval training with all-out sprints and with resting. It seems to have the largest effect on the VO2max for children as well (Baquet G 2003, McManus AM 2005). Do however keep the temperature in check, because children have less glands and therefore less effective thermoregulation. Two or three times interval training a week is ideal, more won’t increase the effect.
Strength training is also useful and several studies show that a frequency of two times a week, with an intensity of 70% RM in 1 to 2 sets will lead to good results. No hypertrophy is to be expected at that age. A nice circuit with 6 to 8 exercises that can be finished in 20 to 30 minutes would be commendable (Faigenbaum AD 2005, Vehrs PR 2005).
Clearly exercise will induce a health benefit and the most active kids, whose fat were measured at age 12, were slimmer at age 14 and had three times less visceral fat than the most sedentary kids (Riddoch CJ 2009). Strength training has of course a positive effect on strength, but also on bone density. It also has a positive effect on their self-esteem (Faigenbaum 2005). If a kid falls behind the growth curve, it is probably wise to bring down the volume. Don’t be afraid to cut the team in half. Kids that were born in the first half year train three times a week, while the other half gets to train once or maybe twice a week. Although I implemented it for only a year, I’ve noticed positive results because of it. More fun, more self-esteem, less peer pressure and less injuries.
Putting it all together
Watch the length and the growth development of the children. Make sure that they exercise healthy and have fun at what they do. Keep them flexible and introduce other forms of trainings besides soccer. Although pre-adolescents gain less with training than adults, it can be useful. As a safe and sound guideline you can use:
Aerobic: twice a week, 85% HRmax interval for 30 minutes
Resistance: twice a week, 70% RM, 1-2 sets, 6-8 exercises
You can do strength training with weights, but also with body weight exercises during soccer practice. Although there are clear benefits to strength training, explaining goals to young children is not useful. The big difference between kids and adults is that an adult needs to know why he has to do something, while for kids it must be fun or new. Basic moves like lunges and squats are excellent, but you have to adjust them. For the young kids you can introduce frog leaping (explosive squats) while they have to circumvent storks (agility work). Or let them be storks and let them hop after the frogs (single leg squats) or let them take big strides (walking lunges). You can introduce weights as bars of gold or food they need to transport. So, hold your speeches and get crea(c)tive!
Having the same age in years does not mean that they have the same age metabolically. The difference of eleven months between kids of the same age, can make a huge difference. Although the science is not completely in yet, growth curves and birth months are practical indicators for appropriate training, volumes and scouting. It will add to your chances to get the most out of their potential. No astrology required, just basic science, a lot of love and common sense.
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Chi L. Chiu (39), M.S. is a rehab clinician, personal trainer, vitality coach, educator and presenter. He is the founder and director of Chivo physiotherapy, Chivo vitality coaching and Chivo education, a continuous professional development (CPD) center, specialized in courses medical fitness and lifestyle management. All his courses are accredited by the Dutch associations of physiotherapy, dietitians and personal trainers. He holds a degree in nutrition and one in health sciences and is currently working on his master (last one!) in psychology. He loves learning and spends 50 days a year on seminars, courses, conventions, etc. His approach is always holistic, which means he will include nutritional, physical and psychological interventions when appropriate. He is a consultant for sports coaches on a variety of topics and is assistant coach in little league for fun. He is not a typical strength coach, but his ‘I don’t like sports, I like results’ philosophy, keeps him close to elite level sports, where failure is not an option. He does not maintain a blog, but he posts regularly on his facebook page and welcomes you to join.