In my opinion too many talented young footballers have their careers cut short because of burn out or injury.
I believe that by speeding up a players physical development you can dramatically effect their future career by preparing the body for the rigours of professional sport. In Australia there is a real movement away from the physical aspect of football. Although I agree that a lot of time needs to be spent improving the technical aspect of Australian youth footballers I also feel that building the physicality of players through well planned stages is a must if they are to avoid many years out of the game due to injuries. Many coaches know that working on speed, strength and all round fitness is essential in the modern game, but because of the current skill based national curriculum they either avoid it all together or go about it in the wrong manner. They fail to prepare the athletes body in the correct stages. It’s not about smashing players for the sake of it in the gym. it’s all about layering strength and fitness in the right way.
My view on this topic is based on my own personal experience as a player through research and years of coaching and developing footballers.
Some of the current players from the Heart Wings World U16 team have been with me since they were 12 years old, while others have come from different clubs and academies or sport schools at the age of 14. The difference between the two sets of players to me is instantly obvious. The two years of difference in physical preparation means I can recognise the possible future problems of players who started physical program in very early age without any pre-preparation program.
At the age of 12 the importance of building muscular balance of each individual should be main goal of any fitness preparation. Lots of players at this age have highly developed lower parts of they body (legs) sometimes, thanks to solid core program, they have well defined abs as well but what about the other parts of the body?
There is also a big difference is between players that do not have the experience of playing other sports. You may not think it but letting your child participate in a number of different sports will help with their physical preparation for turning pro and that should start as soon as possible. 15 years old is not right the time to start preparing to turn pro! This should start as young as 6 years old. Do you think its extreme ?
The time of professional athlete has changed in last 5-10 years dramatically. The top elite players are not just incredibly skilful with amazing vision, high tactical awareness and intelligence. The players of today are top athletes and their bodies must be at the top of all physical aspects including speed, power, explosives, endurance and more.
But the important part of what I’m here to share with you is; you can not start working with the youth player at the age of 15 or 17 without any preparation of the body for this hard physical change.
As I said before the right program should start from early age 6 years old. No, I’m not crazy I believe this is the time to do few different types of activities no matter what type of sport the child will choose in the future. Doing things such as gymnastics and tennis will help a child master all parts of their body and give them an extensive range of motions. While the likes of karate and swimming brings strength and an understanding of discipline in technique.
I’m recommending to all parents who ask me for advise please do not focus on one sport too early but give the child chance to develop all parts of their body. In the end its’s all about muscular balance. This will not only help them perform to the best of their ability but it will also help prevent long term injury.
Reflex is another, often overlooked, important aspect of physical development.
What is reflex?
Basically reflex is an involuntary and instantaneous movement response of the body to external stimuli. The human body is really incredible and has so many types of reflexes. Reflexes in sport tend to deal with skeletal muscle constructions.
Sports that specifically use a ball are often prominent reflex sport. Sports that rely heavily on reflex actions to move an object include tennis, hockey, football and basketball. Different sports might also emphasise the importance of reflexes in facilitating movement, and these reflex sports range from swimming to weightlifting. Other reflex sports rely on the instinctive urge of the skeletal muscles to jerk away from an incoming object. Marital artists and boxers for example, must have quick reflexes in order to avoid getting struck by punches or kicks. In somewhat of a reversal, football (soccer) or hockey goalies must jerk their body towards the object in order to stop its motion.
Incredible isn’t it.
Imagine if give your child the opportunity their reflexes as well as their physical muscular balance. Imagine how much you will increase their potential or opportunity to excel in any sport they may choose in the future.
Personally i can see the difference in some of my players in U11 team. The best example is a player who came to Heart Wings with high experience from martial arts (2 times per week) – swimming (1 time per week) – football, soccer (two time per week) compared some of the players who specialised just on football from 6 years old.
The technical ability of players who practised football for 4 years usually 4 times per week was obviously on higher level than the boy who practices only 2 times per week.
But the physicality, coordination gave him an ability to physically adapt to any type of game & exercise during training. His balance, his flexibility, reflexes and speed are miles above the rest and help him dominate in any exercise or game during training.
If you are curious about his technical ability, well, he was able to catch up all the skill deficit with other boys in six months and now he is the same level as the boys who practised football 3-4 times per week for last 4 years.
How you can master the ball if you cannot master your body?
My personal belief is that every child should practice more types of sports from age of 6 both individual and team sports ( big difference between two of them but will explain in detail in another time).
All of this will give your child the perfect foundation and will play big part in developing a possible future professional athlete.