Play With Your Strongest Team: A player/coach's perspective

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Earlier this week we had one of our classroom sessions with the GCF Academy U16, U17 and U18 players. Usually our classroom sessions are geared towards the college process, goal-setting or setting standards for the season. 

This classroom session was a little different. 

We had separate meetings with each of the teams to educate them on the Football Periodization process. As a club, we are using Raymond Verheijen’s “The Original Guide to Football Periodisation Always play with your strongest team Part 1”.

There are two main reasons we wanted to explain this process to the players. One was so they understood what we were doing in team training sessions and another was for them to understand how to train on their days away from team training. From my experience, many players do not know how to train on their own, at any level. 

As a professional player, I am included in that group of players currently training on their own. Periodization is something I’ve been learning a lot about for my own training thanks to some who know more about it than I do (Matt Danaher: Pro player and Eleri Earnshaw: Assistant Women’s Coach at Yale).  

It’s very possible that I tore my ACL last year as a result of over-training. Obviously I’ll never know, but anytime there is a non-contact injury, the question as to whether overtraining was a factor has to be asked. 

With that said, it is evident that young players are experiencing more serious injuries now than ever before. I have a player on my team who had three knee surgeries before I met her as a 16-year-old. And this isn’t uncommon anymore. 


So, what is it? 
For those that might not be familiar with it, Verheijen’s Football Periodization stresses the importance of a slow build up of fitness in order to maintain that fitness longer. The better a player’s fitness is, the better and longer they can execute something he calls “soccer actions” in a game. 

Basically, he believes that any “get fit in two weeks program” or run players into the ground type of preseason is a short-term solution that likely won’t be as effective toward the end of the season.

There are different models of periodization out there, but all of them have the same idea of a slow build-up with the goal being to peak at the right time and reduce overtraining. 

Benefits
After the College Cup I learned that Duke Women’s Soccer used a form of periodization called Fit For 90, which was founded by John Cone. Duke went from 8-9-1 last season to 14-6-5 and an appearance in the championship game. (Always hard to beat Penn State, of course.) But that is an impressive turn-around.  Maybe they overachieved as a result of being fresher? 

When I played for the Portland Thorns in 2013, we also used Fit For 90 and ended up winning the NWSL Championship.  Maybe we were fresher than the other teams for the last few weeks of the season. 

I say maybe because using periodization is only one variable in the formula for success as a player or team. Clearly there is much more that goes into it. 

GCF Academy
At the end of the day, we want our players to understand that there has to be a balance when training. Some sessions are hard. Some sessions are light. Some weeks are hard. Some weeks are light. They can improve fitness by playing. They should avoid treadmills. And they should avoid getting tons and tons of reps for the sake of getting reps. 

We want our players to be students of the physical parts of the game as much as the tactical and technical. If they can understand the different loads they put on their body, they might avoid some overuse injuries and maybe some more serious ones. 

Aside from preventing injuries, I love the idea of having long-term and short-term plans for players. Some of them are going to play in college come the first week in August. There are many training sessions to be had from now until then. If there is no plan, many players can be over trained or under trained when that day arrives. 

By continuing to educate our players on the training process, we are making it so our players have the best possible opportunity to go in fit and sharp. 

Now they can look at their week and see what days they should do conditioning, what days should be off, what days they can do technical training or get a lift in and also listen to their body to say that sometimes their plan isn’t always what’s best. 

Next Session
For our next training session, players have been asked to create an individual training session based on the football periodization conditions. They’ll probably have to present it to the rest of the team too. (That will be a surprise, unless they read my blog, then they’ll have a heads up!)

If we are to actually create students of the game, it could be beneficial for them to know the ‘why’ for things we do. As a female player myself, I like knowing why we do certain things in training. 

As Gary Curneen says in his blog about successfully coaching today’s player , “The player you are working with today may question your exercises or decisions and may not mean any disrespect.  They will question your methods and look to see why they should be doing anything. This is a huge threat to insecure coaches who will chose not to work with talented players because they misdiagnose them as having ‘bad attitudes’.” 

Ps. Maybe I’ll post the best training sessions from the kids on my next blog. We shall see how good they are.