The Seattle Sounders Sports Science and Mentorship Weekend just wrapped up and once again Dave Tenney did a fantastic job of bringing out some great speakers and hosting an amazing weekend. If you are into physical development, sports science, and/or soccer I highly suggest putting this event on your calendar for next year.
Whenever events like this end I am always left feeling two ways:
Excited because of all the new ideas and information I have swimming around in my head. I am so pumped to go back, marinate a bit on what I learned, write down more notes (and questions), and think about ways to apply things.
Upset because I always feel like I never want it to end. I can sit in lectures all day long and then go out and talk shop all night. I love this stuff and I could attend things like this weekly.
That being said, the presentations were fantastic, the international speakers gave the event a different vibe, and there were some good lessons learned. For a general overview of the weekend CLICK HERE.
From left to right: Patrick Ward, Chris West, Dave Tenney, Jan Van Winckel, Jan Willem Teunissen, Nick Winkelman, Steve Tashjian
Steve Tashjian – Tracking Training Load Volume: Integrating GPS Technology
Steve Tashjian, fitness coach for Everton FC, kicked off the weekend with a talk on tracking training load. What I enjoyed most about Steve’s talk was seeing how he utilized technology to evaluate training stress/stimulus on the various systems of the body - cardiovascular with heart rate telemetry, nervous system with GPS meters/minute, and musculoskletal with GPS player loads. The weekend as a whole was pretty intensive in terms of looking at data and determining how to figure out appropriate training loads for the athletes. Steve helped remind us that we need to question ourselves about whether or not we are getting info that helps drive the training program. This stuff can get confusing at times with all the various methods of analysis and it can take time of collecting data to figure out the true significance of what you are looking at. Steve emphasized that we need to try and keep things clear and simple as complexity could be out biggest downfall. After collecting the info on each of the three body systems above, Steve creates something called a Total Stress Score, which can be used for tracking athletes long term (weekly, monthly, yearly, etc) and helpful when planning training. Additionally, the main goal is to use all of this info as a means of identifying fatigue in players and determining who needs rest and who is ready to play to ultimately decrease the potential for injuries.
Finally, and I think this point is important because many will talk about how they can’t afford GPS (or other systems to monitor individuals), Steve stated that “something is better than nothing, so you need to start somewhere!” To me, this means, even if you need to figure out low budget ways to collect information or monitor athletes you should try and do. It may not be optimal. It may not be the best. But it is better than nothing!
Soccer Specific Periodization Panel
The soccer specific periodization panel wrapped up Day 1. On this panel sat Chris West, Jan Van Winckel, Jan Willem Teunissen, Steve Tashjian, and Guido Seerden (a young coach from the Netherlands who has a lot of knowledge and great ideas).
The panel discussed various aspects of periodization and athletic development. One of the things that amazed me was how much older players overseas play until. Both Jan Van Winckel (Belgium) and Jan Willem Teunissen (Netherlands) talked about how the model of development is set up to allow athletes to hit a peak in their upper 20s and early 30s! In American sports we consider a guy a veteran if he is over the age of 25. A lot of this has to do with how we develop athletes (or don’t develop athletes) at a young age and crush their bodies with extensive amounts of practice and competitions instead of thinking more long term.
Another topic the panel covered was improving motor abilities in training and determining the profile of the athlete and what you are looking to achieve with their program (a topic that we discussed extensively on Sunday, the day after the conference ended, with some special guests who came to town. More on that later!). For example, if you have a striker who has a high VO2max it would tell you that he is an athlete with a high amount of type I muscle fibers. Thus, he is an athlete with a higher aerobic capacity, however, this may not be a quality you want in a striker – opting more for an athlete who is powerful and explosive, more type II in nature. In the opposite example, you may have a midfielder who is really fast and explosive (very type II in nature) but may lack the aerobic qualities to repeat those efforts and display that explosiveness optimally during the game. Of course the question then becomes, how do we train this individual to get them closer to the profile we are looking for?
Chris West – Seasonal Planning of On and Off Field Activities In a College Soccer Season
Chris West started off day 2. Chris is the head strength coach for soccer and men’s basketball at UCONN. Chris brings a lot of experience to the table and his ideas on program design had a lot of similarities to the things I have been doing – which is great to me because it is always nice to see you are on the same page with someone that has a lot more experience than you do.
Periodization is a hotly debated concept and whether or not it really applies to team sports that compete most of the year and have minimal offseason is always one of the big questions. Chris was honest with his approach and periodization can be difficult which is why I think Chris’ ideas of planning were excellent because they allowed for some versatility within the program.
Chris keyed in on three key qualities – aerobic capacity, anaerobic power, and anaerobic capacity – and offered various methods of testing those qualities to help guide program design. Chris also gave various methods of training these qualities and relayed the information gained from the test and selection of training methods back to the same concept that was discussed during the panel the day before – what is the athlete’s profile and how do we train to make that profile optimal for their position or their unique sport demands? Finally, looking at these three main qualities Chris gave examples of how you could structure your program over the year based on the competitive season, the offseason, and what you are looking to accomplish with regard to the improvements in fitness you are looking to make. There is really no right or wrong way to distribute fitness qualities in training – block, linear, undulating, parallel, etc – and I liked that Chris mentioned that given all the semantics between these various periodization schemes he doesn’t even know anymore what to call it. I also liked that Chris is not set in his ways and always looking for new methods, new ideas, and new ways to setting up planning and programming of the fitness qualities. Great info all around from Chris West and I loved the practicality of his lecture.
Nick Winkelman – Athletic Profiling: Testing Considerations
Nick gave a talk that was chock full of valuable information regarding how to choose our tests when evaluating athletes for things like speed, power, and agility. Again, coming back to the ideas talked about during the soccer periodization panel and Chris West’s talk, this is information that, when looked at appropriately, can assist you in planning training on a more individual basis as each athlete on your teacm has a different/unique physiological profile, thus training should be specific to the person. Nick’s talk highlighted the importance of strength and how strength correlated to various aspects of speed development. I thought this was great info because I still think many soccer coaches are afraid of lifting or getting their athletes strong. Strength can be an important component of performance and if you take some of Nick’s information regarding athletic profiling you can better determine which areas of strength training will give the individual athlete the biggest bang for their buck in terms of breaking down the weak link and optimizing their potential.
Patrick Ward – Stress Management and its Impact on the Recovery Process
I was up next and basically just covered some of my ideas on stress management and how we can try and influence an individual’s stress resistance to either (a) get more out of them in training or (b) improve recovery following competition to allow them to be ready for the next game quicker. I offered some ideas on training and some ideas on massage implementation in the sports performance setting. Keeping in line with some of the ideas that Steve spoke about, we have all these methods of measuring and monitoring the stress loads being placed on the athletes but now we need to figure out what to do with that information to drive change and create an environment that allows the athlete to go out there and optimally display their sports skills.
Jan Willem Teunissen – Talent Development and the Act of Balancing
Jan Willem works at Ajax in the Netherlands (one of the bigger soccer clubs around) and helps direct the fitness development of their youth academy (one of the best models of youth sports development in the world). The one thing I really wished about this presentation was that there were more parents and youth sports coaches in the audience to see some of the things Jan Willem was talking about. The information in this lecture was top notch and it was refreshing to see a system that does not force early specialization, takes into consideration the long term athletic development model, and looks to improve many general fitness qualities at a young age.
Jan Willem presented different phase of development and the training themes that they focus on in each of these phases at Ajax. I enjoyed when Jan Willem showed videos of some of the games and activities that the children participate in - such as judo, gymnastic activities, various balancing type of games, etc – and it was nice to see a model that doesn’t over coach the kids and get them into a state of paralysis by analysis. Jan Willem stated that his goal is not to make the kids so focused on perfect movement at this age but to rather put them in situations and activities that challenge them and allow them to figure out their own movement capabilities on their own. Brilliant!
Another interesting topic that Jan Willem covered was transitional phases that youth athletes go through and distinctions between chronological age and biological age – some kids develop faster than others or hit growth spurts at different times. What you do during these phases is critical as it can either allow the athlete a better platform for development or totally de-rail training and force the athlete into leaving the sport because they aren’t able to achieve success in the tasks you are asking them to complete. Counter that with an American system that doesn’t take into consideration any of this stuff and just keeps running kids through…it’s no wonder we have so many youth injuries or kids quit sport because of burn out! So many things to consider with youth athletes. I really wish that more parents could have heard this talk.
Dave Tenney – N of 1: Are We Asking the Right Questions?
In keeping with the data analytics theme for the weekend Dave presented on how to create a performance model and determine if you are even asking the right questions. During this pre-season period I remember Dave reading a bunch of data crunching books – Freakanomics, SuperCruncher, The Flaw of Averages – and borrowing ideas from these books Dave is able to make some connections with what he is doing in regards to creating a model that allows him to manage a team of individual athletes. The thing to keep in mind is that no model is completely perfect. Dave quoted statistician George Box, “All models are wrong, some models are useful…” I guess the hard part is knowing whether or not your model can be more useful than it is right now. There is so much info that one can choose to gather and analyze that it can drive a person crazy (as well as waste a lot of time). Dave reminded us that we must start with a small model that works and then build from there as we gain more insight into what the model is telling us.
One of the biggest problems is that coaches will often base their model on models from other coaches in different leagues, sports, age groups, status of players, etc. This is like comparing apples to oranges. You need to try and create a model that is specific to your needs and your situation and then you need to be skeptical of that model, question the model, and be honest about where the model may fail.
Dave’s current model is interesting and it has been nice to see it evolve over the past couple years. One of the biggest challenges with creating a performance model, and Steve alluded to this as well, is that you may collect all this information about players and you may have an idea of what you want to do with them or you may see them getting crushed by training and spiraling downward but you may not be able to intervene as much as you’d like because the head coach wants to run practice a certain way. This is where your model needs to be created to not only ask the questions that you want answered but also be able to take those answers and put them into a packet of information that answers the questions the coach wants answered! Some coaches won’t understand all the data and statistics you are throwing at them. The trick is to figure out how to distill it down into information that they find relevant and present it in such a way that drives change.
Finally, two key pieces of information that Dave collected with his performance model thus far is that:
Those that are non-compliant with their offseason training program are more likely to sustain an injury.
Older athletes (26-30yrs of age) are at greater risk of injury.
Both of these should come as no surprise really. If you don’t do anything in the offseason and allow yourself to get deconditioned, showing up to pre-season and hoping that you will get really fit (without breaking down from the two-a-day workouts and friendly matches) in that three week period is a bit unreasonable. Older athletes have more miles on their body and often break down quicker because of it, unless you manage stress and allow them to train at a level that is optimal for them (something I touched on a bunch in my presentation and something I will cover in more detail in a later blog article).
Jan Van Winckel – Top Sports Lab: Take Your Team to the Next Level
Jan Van Winckel is one of the owners of Top Sports Lab, a company that uses technology and data to monitor athletes and get a better understanding of how to decrease injuries. Additionally, Jan has been a fitness coach (and currently still is a fitness coach) for almost 20 years with numerous teams – he goes out and consults with and coaches teams all over the world. Jan’s presentation was excellent and full of practical information. Jan stated that, “2% of English professional football players retire each year because of an acute injury…Nearly HALF (50%) of former professional players report that they retired from football because of injury!!”
Jan spelled out three components of injury prevention:
Injury prediction – Internal and External Risk Factors
Jan and Top Sports Lab use an extensive amount of testing during their injury prevention screening which includes things like:
Functional screening (adapted FMS)
Functional strength tests
Previous injury profiles
Structural malalignment assessment
Collectively, this information builds an Individual Risk Profile which can be used to plan training for each athlete to ensure they get the most out of their program. Jan stressed the importance of re-testing whenever you see certain limitations so that you always know whether your program is moving in the right direction or not.
Another piece that Jan touched on, which I really enjoyed, was the individual training zones as the dose response to training is different for each athlete depending on their unique physiological profiles. A certain volume/intensity of training may be idea for your more aerobically dominant athletes but that same volume may cause your anaerobically dominant athletes to breakdown as it is too much (and then, of course, you have athletes that are a decent mix of both aerobic and anaerobic profiles and they have their own unique training zones that would be specific to them). Like most of the other presentations from the weekend, Jan was stressing the importance of individuality and understanding the athlete’s physiological profile to ensure you get the most out of training while preventing overtraining.
Finally, the interdisciplinary approach that Jan discussed is so crucial for the athlete! Too many times we see the blame game going on between sports medicine, strength and conditioning, and coaching staffs. If these individuals can remove their egos, breakdown the walls, and start to get on the same page the athlete stands to benefit much better than when these groups don’t talk to each other, don’t communicate, and dislike each other. The negative environment can plague a locker room and create a huge disconnect for the athletes (as it does in many professional and collegiate settings in America).
Gym Practical Session With Patrick Ward and Jan Willem Teunissen
Jan Willem Teunissen and I spent Thursday morning, before the event kicked off, in the gym while some of the players were training. Dave asked me to assess one of their young goal keepers who had lumbar disc herniations a year prior and was just now getting back to training (while still in a small level of discomfort). We were trying to determine what some safe exercises for him would be while he was also getting some therapy (soft tissue therapy, etc) to keep everything healthy – my assessment and exercise approach in this instance, when there is some level of discomfort/pain or when the individual is coming back from an injury, is straight out of what I have learned from Charlie Weingroff. It was interesting to see different approaches and some people gathered around to watch. There were things that Jan Willem and I agreed upon and there were things that we both had different approaches for. I think it is key to remember that there are many ways to do things and many ways will get you the favorable result you are looking for. When I wore a younger man’s clothes disagreement like this may have gotten me fired up a little bit but these days I am a more mellow about this stuff, willing to be open to other ideas/opinions, and also willing to embrace the fact that the human body is really complex and I am comfortable saying, “I don’t know”. Anyway, Dave enjoyed the dialogue and banter back and forth so he decided to try and re-create that in the practical session by having us assess a guy and talk about our different approaches. This was a lot of fun and very interesting.
Dave gave us the profile of a typical soccer player and one of the things that I wanted to stress to people is that this may be “normal” for the soccer athlete! In the previous talk, Jan Van Winckel used the term malalignment. I prefer not to use that phrase because it has some negative connotations to it and also the individual is malaligned compared to whom? I prefer to use the phrase, well adapted. What we see in the soccer player may be considered malaligned and not normal for the everyday individual, however, the soccer player is well adapted to play their sport and some of those adaptations may even be specific to their position on the field (the same could be said for an athlete in any sport, for example, the extreme external rotation abilities of a pitchers throwing shoulder is normal for them but might be considered excessive for me). Taking this into consideration, when we assess the soccer player, we want to ensure that there are no red flags that may lead us down the road of injury and we also want to have some baseline measurements so that when we do assess them later we want to know if we are maintaining their current movement profile. The FMS uses a 0-3 scoring system and the goal is to try and achieve 2′s on all tests without any asymmetries. In my experience, it is fair to say that the 2′s in the scoring system leave open a lot of room for these differences between athletes without things getting out of hand (extreme losses of range of motion or gross asymmetries). The fitness coaches from Belgium and Netherlands who were in the audience use the FMS with their clubs so it was easy to speak this language with them, even though we had some differences of opinions on how to approach training based on the tests – Again, not a bad thing as there is no right or wrong. The important thing is to re-test and make sure you are getting what you want and making an improvement. Aside from training ideas we also went into the idea of pain and athletes and what some of our goals may be for training and how we integrate them back in following an injury or how we work together (interdisciplinary approach) with our sports medicine staff to help make sure they keep training and don’t get unfit without doing any harm.
Sarah Rudd – Assessing Individual Performance: How Do We Do It?
Sarah works for a company called Stat DNA which is a soccer data and analytics company. Basically, Sarah is crunching numbers and playing Moneyball in the game of soccer.
This was a great lecture and a good compliment to the other lectures as Sarah stressed the importance of collecting data – how you collect it, what data you collect, etc – and how you analyze it – does it answer the questions you have, are you asking the right questions in the first place, are you interpreting the data correctly, etc.
One of the biggest points Sarah made was that our data collection and analysis needs to be sound so that we remove as much possible bias as possible. As they say, “everyone remembers the hits”, and it is true! We always remember the times when we succeed but we seem to forget the times when we fail, thus, our analysis is flawed and biased towards our successes. Trying to be honest with your data and analysis are key to (a) ensuring credibility and (b) ensuring that your information is of a high enough quality that you can make proper adjustments to your program based on it.
Throughout Sarah’s presentation she gave a number of examples of how collecting data can go wrong and how we can make dangerous inferences based on data when we analyze it improperly. What it all comes down to is figure out the questions that you have, collect the data properly, analyze the data is a method that removes bias, and see if the information you have gathered can help you make proper changes to your program.
The event wrapped up with a nice get together at the Seattle Seahawks training facility where we were fed good food and allowed to tour the facility. It was a great experience!
The day after – Excellent shop talk
One of my favorite experiences at events like this is talking shop with everyone there. On Saturday we had a real treat as my friends/colleagues James Fitzgerald and Max El-Hag, of Optimum Performance Training (I talked about these guys in THIS BLOG ENTRY) made the trek up to Seattle to hang out for the day and then spend Sunday talking shop with myself, Dave Tenney, and Joel Jamieson. It was a great time indeed as some good topics were discussed. Our discussion started on the topic which I touched upon in the periodization panel above – how do you take an athlete with one physiological profile and try and influence them to be successful in a different physiological profile (basically trying to cheat the system and do what the physiology textbooks tell you that you can’t really do). James and Max have a lot of great ideas because this is something that challenges them when trying to prepare people for something like the Crossfit Games. Dave and Joel offered some ideas because obviously this is something that they see with soccer athletes or fighters as well when trying to prepare them optimally. In reality, it is a problem that faces all strength coaches – whether they choose to see it or not. Ideas were bounced around and more questioned were asked. As with most things in the human body we are often left with more questions than answers (this is a good thing though). After having some lunch and talking a bit more we headed over to Joel’s gym so that James and Max could try out the Omegawave. They both had some questions about HRV so at the gym Joel and I offered some discussion about how we have used it in training and things to look for (again, probably more questions than answers!).
James getting Omegawave'd
Both James and Max got Omegawave’d and this led to discussions about their unique physiological difference/profiles and how various training programs would impact them – again, it all comes back to individuality!
All-in-all it was a fantastic weekend. I look forward to doing it again next year!