Ways to Get Better in Soccer

Hey everyone, Coach Harry here! Yes, Coach Harry, writing a blog post, miracles can happen! This is my first one so please bear with me! And if you have any questions, please forward them on to Coach Mlait, he loves answering all of them, and promises to get back to you within 30 minutes, 24 hours, 7 days a week! 😉

Anyway, why am I writing this?  Well it’s a crazy world out there right now, so I wanted to write one for the youth/adolescent soccer players, parents of players, and soccer coaches. I think we all agree it has been stressful in some way or another for everyone, and it is probably harder than ever for the players to progress and get better at football.

I love the game, and I love coaching youth players, especially. As an S&C coach, my goals for each player are to:

  1. Keep it fun, engaging, and educate them
  2. Help and guide them with their goals
  3. Make sure they can play the game well into their 60’s (Injury risk reduction, for my fellow S&C coaches out there)

I’m telling you this because I want you to know that I have a purpose behind everything that I do for the player, which is so important when it comes to coaching an athlete. I’m constantly asking myself why? Why am I making them do this lift? Why am I testing? etc.

Hold up… just so you know I’m English (big shock right), and refuse to call football, soccer! So, from now on you’ll see football in this post, no more soccer nonsense! Anyway, back to the blog…

So, I want to ask you, the player, the kid with the big dreams of one day making it as a pro , a couple of questions… 

You all have goals, and you all have things that you can control. So, what are you doing off the pitch to get better? And what are you prepared to do that others aren’t? 

It’s a tough one I know, but if you are serious about getting to the next level, NCAA Division 1, U Sport, or whatever that may look like for you, you have to be taking care of yourself off the pitch. While making sure you are prepared to do the things that your teammates aren’t doing. So yes, that may mean you have to miss out on that party with your friends.

It became more relevant to me over the summer, when I was lucky enough to work with 3 high level youth female football players. I would constantly ask them what they were doing outside of their training, to help with recovery and make sure they were ready to go for the next training session.

My questions were pretty simple, and the answers they gave were pretty consistent across the board…

  • How much sleep are you getting?  8-9 hours
  • How was your nutrition the day before? Always some sort of nutrient rich food, carbs, proteins, and healthy fats.
  • What are you doing on your rest days? Hiking, biking, swimming, chilling with friends, some form of active recovery.
  • What do you do before bed? Read, hanging with the family, stretch, essentially reducing their screen time as they got closer to the time they go to sleep.
  • What extra did you do this week, to make yourself great? This one was probably the hardest for them, so I helped them out by giving them homework each week. They had to research a player of my choosing. They all played in different positions, so I would make sure to give them players that were relevant to where they played on the pitch. The wing back, got someone like Trent Alexander-Arnold, the centre back, Lucy Bronze, and the central midfielder, players like Edgar Davids. They also came back with answers like, taking time out of their day just for themselves/meditation, to reflect on goals, decisions, training, etc.

Success leaves clues… do I think that what they do off of the pitch has a direct correlation to how successful they are on it? DEFINITELY!  Are they on a path to achieving their goals? I’d say so. They currently play at a very high level, and I’m certain that they will all be picked up in the next year by top ranking NCAA teams, while a couple of them are being scouted for the national team. As their coach, I can also tell you they brought another level (or 2) of intensity and drive to their training, that we could all learn from and is another topic entirely.  OK, so this was meant to be one blog post, but I got a little carried away, and wrote way too much (I’m pretty passionate about football), so you’ll be getting this in 3 posts! SORRY!

Does Exercise Need to be Vigorous?

I remember going to a local business a few years back to give a corporate health presentation.

And before the presentation I connected with someone I knew previously in the foyer. And catching up for a few minutes I excused myself in order to go get ready. The person I knew headed off in the opposite direction. I asked if they were going to attend. And here’s what they said…

‘No, I already do yoga regularly, so I’m good. But good luck with your talk’.

I guess this would be similar to declining a presentation by a financial planner because you already have a bank account. Sure bank accounts and investing are both in the financial sector but that’s about where the similarities end.

Maybe to the average person physical fitness is all the same. Whether you want to do yoga, Pilates or strength training, they are all equivalent and offer the same benefits.

New research says this isn’t so.

A new study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) looked a the effects of exercise on lowering disease and extending lifespan. On a side note I like how our friend Sam Spinelli uses the term ‘healthspan’ rather than ‘lifestyle’.

Anyways, the authors of the study reviewed over 400,000 people, evenly split as male and female with an average age of 42 over a period from 1997-2013. The participants would then self report the duration and intensity of their daily exercise. They wanted to see the difference of moderate and vigorous exercise on all cause mortality.

In other words, when you push hard with your exercise how does this compare to less intense exercise on death due to cardiovascular disease (CVD) or cancer. Exercise intensity can be defined as to how much energy it burns compared to sitting at rest and is known as metabolic equivalents or METs. Moderate physical activity is in the range of 3-6 METs whereas vigorous physical activity is greater than 6 METs.

In terms of how much exercise was involved the authors compared a couple of conditions. For the moderate intensity this was 150-299 minutes per week or about 22-44 minutes per day. And for the vigorous training this included 75-149 minutes per week or 11 to 22 minutes per day.

What they found was that vigorous exercise was more effective than moderate exercise at preventing early mortality or death from CVD or cancer.

Back to the conversation I had with the acquaintance at the top of this story. Yoga, pilates and other lower intensity forms of exercise can be great to include in a training program. But think of these as the sides to include with a great meal rather than the main course. Strength, power and speed have been known to be the obvious benefits of intense resistance training. Now we can add increased health span and lower risk of mortality to this list.

Wang Y, Nie J, Ferrari G, Rey-Lopez JP, Rezende LFM. Association of Physical Activity Intensity With Mortality: A National Cohort Study of 403 681 US Adults. JAMA Intern Med. Published online November 23, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.6331

A Constraint Led Approach to Training

Hey Peak Performer, it’s Coach Nathan here!

Do you have a teenage son or daughter? Well, like them I have a slight problem with remembering to turn the lights off.  When my wife Jen and I first moved to Kelowna we moved into an apartment where some of the kitchen lights were under the cabinetry.  Specifically, the cabinet where we keep all of our supplements and vitamins. What’s the problem? Well, the lights would make the cabinet heat up which could ruin the vitamins, and well, these were my favourite lights.

As much as I would try to remember I would always leave this light on, which would not make Jen too happy. Solution? She wanted me to stop using the lights altogether.

After a few weeks of repeating herself to no avail, she finally decided to tape the light switch down so I would not be able to switch it on.  My ego, obviously, was not too pleased about this as I immediately stated that the tape was overkill. 

Well over the next few days I would repeatedly still turn that light on, but I would notice the tape rip off the outlet and would panic push the tape back onto the wall.  This happened over the next while until I finally learned my lesson.

So what is the point? Well no matter how many times she would tell me to not turn that dang light off, I would fall into a familiar mindless pattern, until she broke that pattern by putting in a constraint.  The tape provided me with a physical boundary that facilitated the desired outcome she wanted. This is very similar to a method we use to teach movement solutions at OPP.

At OPP we utilize a constraint led approach for teaching movement solutions.  Constraints are physical or abstract boundaries, within which learners can search and explore movement solutions.  Wondering what I’m talking about? Here are some examples.

Perhaps you have been a victim of a water bottle being placed on your foot for alternating leg lifts to make sure you keep your leg straight up?


Or maybe you have been crawling and a coach placed a cone & ball on your lower back to keep your hips level?

Or were forced to hinge with a dowel rod on your back, while your knees are against a bench, to make sure you keep a neutral spine and accomplish the movement with your hips?


Essentially all these are different constraints coaches at OPP use to help you accomplish the desired movement outcome.  These constraints are usually worth a thousand words, and help keep you from getting frustrated and sick of our voices!

 I recently had a client doing side lying leg lifts to target the glutes and hip abductors. As she would lift her leg it would shoot forward, instead of going straight up.  I asked her if it felt like her leg was drifting forward and she said no.  I then held a dowel upright in front of her shin, so when she would lift her leg it could not drift forward. As she finished her set I asked if she felt the difference. She said yes and followed by saying “It always feels like I’m doing what you ask until you show me how to do it properly. ” The language was specific.  She didn’t say tell me, she said show me.  I could have said lift your leg straight up and do not drift forward over and over again, but to her perception that is exactly what she was doing.

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Constraints give you feedback in real time and show you how to accomplish the movement. Words can be perceived differently from person to person. Constraints for the win!

So let me ask you.

Have you ever had a coach who would just repeat the same cue to you over and over again?

Have you ever experienced frustration because you feel like you are doing what that coach is saying, but they are still telling you that it’s ‘wrong’?

Or you know you are supposed to feel a particular movement in a certain area but can’t seem to figure it out?

I’m sorry if you have had to experience that, because it’s not your fault. So, if you are sick of the frustration and want to maximize your time and efforts, come visit us at OPP and let us help you look, feel and play better!

Lessons from the ISL Pro Swim League

Success leaves clues. And there can a lot of value is studying someone that’s at a level where we’d like to be. This can be true of watching a professional athlete compete and paying attention to what they are doing differently or at a higher level.

The ISL (International Swim League) has kicked off season two in Budapest, Hungary. The best swimmers in the world, including Kierra Smith from Kelowna, are competing as part of teams including the LA Current, which Kierra is on, as well as the newly formed Toronto Titans.

Last week we had a number of swimmers in for training while the ISL races were happening. So we put the races on the TV while they were training.

And it was interesting to see what the best in the world were doing differently than everyone else. For example, Caleb Dressel, Chad Le Clos, Sarah Sjostrom and Florent Manadou were better than the rest when it came to this aspect of the races. And the commentators were picking up on it.

Can you guess what it was?

It was how strong they were off the wall.

Dressel, Le Clos, Sjostrom and Manadou were surging ahead during the underwater portion of the turn. Or if they were slightly behind at the turn they were able to close this gap and catch the leader by the end.

So why were they better off the wall?

This can be summed up into three main things they are doing well which are:

  1. A strong push off the wall
  2. A seamless streamline position
  3. A strong and stable core

Let’s look at each in more detail below.

A Strong Push Off the Wall

The turn is different than the start in that the feet contact the wall with motion as opposed to a static position for the start. When a swimmer comes off the wall effectively we see an efficient transfer of power with the push to propel them in the opposite direction. This is the combination of muscular power as well as setting the ankles-knees-hips to take advantage of the stretch reflex to ‘jump’ off the wall.

When the joints aren’t set properly, or when there isn’t adequate joint stiffness, the swimmers hits the wall more like a red tomato rather than a rubber red ball. The swimmers mentioned above all do a good job of loading up their muscular power, setting the joints to the right angles and exploding off the wall.

I remember last summer working with a swimmer from Ball State University, an NCAA Division 1 school. Anyways when Cassidy returned to university she sent me a proud text. During one of the practices the coach had them do a drill, ‘furthest off the wall’. Cassidy was the best on her team for this test. As a distance swimmer, getting further and more quickly off the wall will result in faster times.

A Seamless Streamline Position

In swimming the body moves forward during the glide phase and not as much during the propulsion phase. For example, the winner in the 50 m at the Olympics typically takes the fewest strokes.

Russian sprinter Alexander Popov was an Olympic champion and would take the fewest strokes in the 50 m free.

Being in a solid streamline position is even more important off the wall, and the start, when speeds are maximal. If a swimmer lacks overhead mobility at the shoulder, thoracic spine and/or lats this will limit the streamline position and further impair speed off the wall.

Maintaining a streamline position is even more critical at the end of races. This is when the body is under more stress and will typically resist being in a extended position. When a body is in pain it goes into flexion i.e. the fetal position. So at the end of the race swimmers really need to focus on getting long and overcoming the urge to get short.

A body in pain will go into flexion i.e. like pulling the hand back when it touches something hot. At the end of a race the body is in ‘pain’ and will not want to reach and get long.

Lastly, when we extend the limbs as in a streamline position, we are better able to engage the core. This leads to the next point.

A Strong and Stable Core

Reach overhead and pay attention to how much your core engages. Now try and reach another inch or two higher. Reach as high overhead as you can.

You should notice your core engages as you reach further.

With a stronger and more stable core the legs won’t sink as readily meaning there is less drag behind the body. As well, when the body is in a stable position it rewards us with more mobility. When we lack stability we can’t get into the same positions and our mobility is compromised.

So we can see how #2 and #3 above are related. If you lack the ability to move it is more difficult to engage the core. When the body lacks core stability it withholds certain ranges of motion to protect us.

This can feel a ‘chicken and egg’ type of scenario and leave young swimmers wondering what to address first? If this feels like you, leave us a comment below or send an email to athletetraining (at) shaw (dot) ca and we can guide you through the process.

Research Proves – Use It Or Lose It

Back in March we returned home from a Caribbean cruise. Once we arrived back in Canada we were required to quarantine and self-isolate for 2 weeks.

We were probably among the first people to do so as the Canadian government closed the border to international travel as we arrived. I remember the customs agent coming on the plane, explaining the quarantine process and duration and giving everyone a handout with the same information. I remember this agent saying we should feel lucky as were the last flight to arrive in Kelowna as the border was closed.

The next two weeks were spent at home. We didn’t go to work, school or out for any reason. It was kind of nice actually as we would simply text a friend or family member our grocery list and send them an email money transfer. We literally didn’t even step out of the house for two weeks.

And we could notice the difference this was making on our physical and mental health. I couldn’t wait to get back in the gym, train and do something active.

As someone who is normally active a couple weeks break from the gym probably wasn’t the worst thing in the world. If I were a couple of decades older this quarantine could have been catastrophic.

A new study looked at how 2 weeks of quarantine affects our health. In this study of 22 men and women, average age of 69 years, total daily steps were reduced to less than 1500 per day.

Researchers looked at insulin sensitivity and muscle protein synthesis after 2 weeks of inactivity.

What they found was that insulin sensitivity and muscle protein synthesis both decreased after only 2 weeks of sitting around. Leg muscle mass decreased by 4%. A key, and concerning, finding of the study was that insulin sensitivity and muscle protein synthesis were not restored after the study. In other words, for those in the study that didn’t use it for the 2 weeks, they lost it.

That should be a real wake up call to all of us that if we don’t stay active all the time, a 2 week period of inactivitty leads to an increased risk of developing diabetes and losing muscle mass that may not come back.

Although it may be difficult to get in all our steps if we are stuck at home that doesn’t mean we can’t be training. In fact, resistance training is one of the best things you can do to maintain your insulin sensitivity.

If you would like a program to follow at the gym or at home make sure to send us a message or leave a comment below. We will follow up and find the right plan to keep you healthy and strong.

McGlory, C., von Allmen, M. T., Stokes, T., Morton, R. W., Hector, A. J., Lago, B. A., … & Baker, S. K. (2018). Failed recovery of glycemic control and myofibrillar protein synthesis with 2 wk of physical inactivity in overweight, prediabetic older adults. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A73(8), 1070-1077.