Overtraining or Undertraining?

There have been many articles written over the past few years about youth overtraining. We have all read about too many games in the high school season, too many games in a weekend during the club season, too much speed and agility training during the season and too much participation in multiple sports during in the same season. This, we commonly refer to as, Overtraining. But as the fall season wages on, I am noticing a whole new problem that is beginning to emerge...Undertraining.

I have several athletes that I see on the soccer field that are also running cross country, playing volleyball, or doing speed and agility training, and some of them are playing quite well actually. Then I look at some of the others that took the summer off, rested their legs, went out and ran a few times a week, but spent most of the summer at the pool, and I see hip flexor pulls, quad strains, hamstring strains, etc. They limp out to practice, tell the coach that they feel fine, but as soon as they start to go full speed they pull up with an injury.

The parents tell me that they were instructed to "take the summer off” because it was going to be a long and competitive year and they shouldn’t overtrain. And here is where the problem lies. Taking the summer off might mean stepping away from soccer for a little while (due to the almost year round season). It also might mean making sure you get some rest and let your body heal from some of the nagging injuries you might have had during the spring. But you still have to prepare for the season.

Example 1: HS Freshman Female

  • Summer Activities: Working, Jogging (not running), a few soccer camps (thought it would be enough to stay in shape)
  • First Month of Fall Season:
    • Fitness Test in School PE Class – Hamstrings got tight after run
    • Fitness Test in Soccer Practice – Hamstrings got sore, cramping up, failed test
    • Pre-Season Speed/Agility Tests at Training – could not participate because hamstring was injured
    • Did not participate in first game with team

This is a real example of a female that did just as she was instructed (by coaches, parents and training staff), but what was unexpected is the sudden increase in fitness testing (high speed, max effort exercise), and her body had not been prepared for that. The problem is not the taking the summer off or each individual test that she had the first week of fall. The problem is that her PE teacher, Soccer Coach and Speed/Agility Coach don’t even know each other and each believed that they were the only source of testing she was exposed to. The very next statement from the coaches and parents when they find out what is going on is usually, "I think she is just OVERTRAINING.” This couldn’t be further from the truth...she is actually UNDERTRAINING!

Example 2: College Freshman Female

  • Summer Activities: running 2x per week, strength/speed/agility 2x per week, training sessions with coach/team, worked a few camps
  • First Month of College:
    • o One of the highest scorers on the fitness battery
    • o Started and played almost the entire game
    • o Scored her first college goal against the number 1 team in the country

This is another real example, but this time not taking the summer off and doing things that challenge and prepare the body for what it is going to have to do during the season. The younger the athlete, the faster they recover and therefore the more they are able to do. The older athletes need to be smarter in preparation, mixing conditioning, speed /agility, technical work, and strength/power work on different days, thus allowing the body to recover.

At the younger age the speed of the game is slower, less intense and the body doesn’t produce the type of stress that subjects the athlete to pulls and tears of the muscle fiber and connective tissue. Somewhere around the 11-13 age range the game becomes more physical and therefore the body has to prepare itself to handle the demands. At this point it is critical to start thinking about preparation before the season, not during the season.

Here is an appropriate guideline:

Post Season: Summer after your season is finished

  • A few weeks off, camps, clinics, etc in attempt to learn new skills and keep touching the ball
  • Begin your Aerobic Training (set a base), Get in Shape
  • Refine your foundation in Strength, Power and Speed Fundamentals

Pre Season: Late Summer at least 2 weeks before practice starts

  • Begin to up your interval (sport specific) conditioning with sprints and intervals of 30 seconds to 2 minutes on with decreasing rest time
  • Set your standard in strength and speed so that you have an idea where your maxes are and what you need to maintain during the season

Early In-Season: First Month

  • Lower your volume of strength and power work
  • Cut the Aerobic Conditioning, except for recovery runs
  • Increase your speed work with full recovery (at practice)
  • Continue to increase your Soccer Specific Interval Conditioning to peak levels

Late Season: Last Month or during a month of major competitions

  • Back the Conditioning down towards the Aerobic work (save your legs for the games)
  • Maintain a base of strength and power with low volume work 1x per week (save your legs for the game, but don’t let them get weak)
  • Increase the speed in which you practice, but allow for full recovery
  • Focus on Tactics, Technique, Speed of Thought, Speed of Play and Recovery

Winter: After Fall Season, but before your Pre-Spring Training

  • Get strong and powerful
  • Set great speed and agility mechanics
  • Build a great base of conditioning that will carry you through the spring and into the summer Championships

Then the process starts all over again with the pre-season training.

The problem has been that we never set a base with the young athletes, we are either trying to improve speed in the off season when it matters the least, or we are trying to get in shape during the season when we need to be working speed and tactics. In my opinion it is not an "Overtraining” issue, but more correctly a "Lack of Preparation” that puts the athlete in situations that they are not prepared for.

Scott Moody acts as the director of the SoccerFIT Academy in Overland Park, KS and has spent the last 10 years developing a curriculum that bridges the gap between the physical and the technical developmental aspects of soccer. His website, www.soccerfitacademy.com is designed to be an educational site that promotes discussion, offers ideas and breaks down current trends in research and training to offer suggestions as to how it can be applied to youth player development. Scott also is a featured speaker, author and research fellow for numerous organizations, equipment manufacturers and online training magazines.

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