• May 1, 2018.  SUMMER’S MOST VALUABLE SOCCER ACTIVITY 

Summer provides all kinds of soccer activities for players. Teams can play in tournaments on 14 of 15 weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  In addition to over 15 3v3 tournaments (including the “World Championship”) there are summer leagues for in 3v3, 5v5, wall-ball indoor soccer and other formats. 

Not to mention camps galore – every club, every college and scores of others, including Coerver Colorado’s 9-week, 21 camp schedule. Finally, add in the other adult-run activities from team practices to less formal kick-around sessions and individual training and lessons and it’s easily possible for an athlete to squeeze two or three soccer activities a day into the days of summer.

All of this without leaving the state!  How great is that?

 

 “If a four-month season of one’s sport of choice is good, then six months is better. Ten months is better yet.  And twelve months: optimum.  Except that it’s not.”

– James Sokolove: Warrior Girls

 

“REST IS A WEAPON.” Athletes need time off – for rest, for recovery, as a balance to the intensity of the time on, and to allow opportunities for other sports, interests, activities and friendships that bring texture and equilibrium to their lives.

That’s not happening for far too many youth soccer players.  The concept of “off-seasons” – which once in youth soccer were from the last game in November until 3-4 weeks before the first league game in the spring and from the final June game into August – has largely disappeared.

The endless season has an increasing role in the overuse injuries, mental and physical, that are significant contributors to kids’ decisions to leave The Game.   To remedy this, a 2007article1in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, issued a number of recommendations. Among them: “Encourage the athlete to take two to three months away from a specific sport during the year.”  “Encourage athletes to strive to have at least one to two days off a week from competitive athletics, sport specific training, and competitive practice to allow them to recover both physically and psychologically … (with) longer scheduled breaks from training and competition every 2 to 3 months.”  The article also noted: “Young athletes who participate in a variety of sports have fewer injuries and play sports longer than those who specialize before puberty.”

            Not that we’d expect – or want – young athletes to settle in for a lengthy stretch of pizza and pop in front of a video game console.  Active kids want and need to be active.  But they can actually get better at their sport of choice by, in the words of the article, “focusing on other activities and cross training to prevent loss of skill or level of conditioning.”  Athletes will also learn valuable athletic competencies from other sports, notably in the areas of strategies and tactics.  It’s not inconceivable that the best way to become a better soccer player during the summer is through swimming or biking or a camp involving a different sport (even a new one!)

“OFF-SEASON”  GUIDELINES: We know that getting away from the game completely during off-season periods is a difficult option.  So here are some ideas about what soccer should be during those intervals:

> Different from the normal routines of team and club.  Different coaching, different mixes of players, different versions of The Game. Use non-soccer activities (e.g. a hike or raft trip) to allow teammates to maintain contact. 

> Limited, with the maximum number of soccer activities per month between 1/2 and 2/3 of the player’s age (e.g. 5-7 for a 10 year-old.)  And never more than one a day. 

> Low Key, particularly where games are involved (futsal, indoor leagues, etc.).  Let these activities belong totally to the athletes. Make them opportunities to develop spontaneity and daring in their play.  If they need “coaching”, your club should be able to find some older players who’d love to provide light guidance.  

> Voluntary, truly voluntary – as opposed to “voluntary (wink, wink)” with the implied threat that without participation a place on the team could become at risk.  (Athletes and their parents need to clearly understand which definition of “voluntary” is in play.)

> And in summer, at a minimum, either a three-week hiatus from any organized soccer activity or a pair of two week breaks.

ParentNotes: if a player is involved in a week-long all-day sports camp, that’s more than enough physical activity for that week.  Skip the rest, all of it, in order to get the full benefit of that camp.

Next, with all the choices out there it’s always worthwhile to weigh the costs against the benefits.  Even when an activity will in the short run make a player better or be really enjoyable, it’s important to see where it fits in the larger scheme of things.  Less, wisely chosen, will always be better than a full schedule that is merely more. 

We’ve seen players who’ve gone non-stop through the summer.  By early October they’re fried.  Learning and improvement stops, enthusiasm wanes.  What should be fun becomes a chore. 

On the other hand, we’ve seen great success with teams whose schedules provided regular breaks in the routine, who would turn a Saturday off in the fall into a full week away, with a similar break during the spring season.  Team cultures can be constructed so that kids return from longer breaks with good fitness levels and skills that need minimal sharpening – things the athletes do on their own (while learning to take responsibility for their own training) and which they will willingly do in return for the freedom to do other things and to “just be kids”.   

Players in such “less is more” environments return to training (and largely stay) refreshed, excited and motivated to continue their soccer journeys.  It even becomes a decisive competitive advantage – a secret weapon – as opponents who often do much more wear down from the volume and monotony of their activities.

Note:1http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/6/1242.full