Shortsighted on Small-Sided Games


In an interesting discussion in NYC, small-sided games were brought up as a part of the cause for injuries in professional soccer. It was interesting to see such strong opinions, and the lack of filter with foreign coaches was entertaining to hear. This topic is in Neil’s Kinetics Manual and is going to be a interesting topic down the road. A systematic review of the Physiology of Small-Sided GamesTraining in Football was done and it was ripped apart by several high performance and medical experts. One of the issues that was a primary focus on physiology such as heart rate and estimated training loads of player tracking tools such as catapult options. While total training loads were estimated, they didn’t replicate the eccentric estimations because lactate and accelerometers are not sensitive to see muscle fatigue patterns like TMG. So what is the solution? I was very surprised about the responses being focused on intense weight lifting and plyometrics being factored as solutions in soccer. When I was talking about time in the weight room with Liverpool, Fergus Connolly found it funny that lifting was talked about. I didn’t. Athletes are not stupid, and they think about what they need every day and if they see Rugby guys running around and lifting weights, they wonder why bosu balls and TRX circuits are used to keep them busy. Everyone wants soccer athletes to lift more, but fatigue and starting points make it very difficult and risky.

When I talked about periodization recently in workshop, everyone asked about GPP and microcycles. My progression was very contemporary, low risk to more risk. That resonated because all the exotic Bondarchuk is great but I never see the Triple Matrix Rehab Cycle in any of the power points when athletes are chronically hurt. Conservative training is the start, and as the athlete becomes more fit and stronger, then risk (intensity,density, and volume) can be manipulated. Too slow of a progression one is not ready to play, too much too soon you are hit by friendly fire.

Nordics was a discussion point brought up because many are using them to reduce injuries to hamstrings. When one strength coach barked about RDLs, everyone talked about how weak the cores are when only is living only on a steady diet of planks and bird dogs. While I respect Stu McGill, I suggest listening to what he says not to do versus what to do with high level core training. I don’t know if Bob Alejo was right about squats and pitchers, but he can boast that he didn’t have an oblique issues during his tenure. This is backed up by the sEMG studies that sport does stress muscles of the core and must be accounted for. I don’t think KB swings or pulse swings are going to help a running back avoid Patrick Willis, but similar movements perhaps can help in circuits to get some core conditioning. I think we need to research more total body movements and see how the core is used, outside strongman movements. I find the pelvic motions are too specific for bilateral loading even if asymmetrical options like suitcase carries are done.

Another discussion that was surprising was one leading physiologist talking about biomechanics of loading, not just energy system nonsense. I have switched to a Wolfgang Meier approach because fatigue is a drop off of power, not a multicolor energy system chart. I do think Mike Bottom’s color coded energy system collection and the list provided by Gary Winckler is valid, but those are descriptors of what is taxed, but it still comes back to the watch and tape. How far. How fast. How long (rest), and how much (volume). I was expecting the physiologist to talk about lactate or Heart rate but he went into muscle fatigue and eccentric responses causing structural damage and shared Tensiomyography studies of positional responses. That is not the future, but it needs to be the current standard. Bar charts of training load is nice for research studies, but if they worked we would see far less injuries.

A cool discussion is estimation of crashing during the season with athletes that are injured. Estimating how much preparation and what level of risk is what everyone is interested in. You can be fresh and fit (readiness and preparedness) from a good offseason but when you see the stars on the websites drinking on boats it’s because the season is so long making the preparation so short. Training monotony is a huge physiological and mental issue with seasons in the NBA and NHL. What happens in elite soccer is researched to show that athletes may not show drops in performance but some physiological and morphological changes will decrease conditioning and increase risk of injury. I brought up the capillary changes over a football season and the relationships only found in biochemical and HRV testing. They were all in agreement that small-sided games need to be manipulated to do a few different options or one is going to have a slow death in conditioning. One can do that with more pool workouts and slower velocity tempo runs.

Small-Sided games are not the problem, but they are not the holy grail. I don’t know enough about the sport of professional soccer but I do know the problems that the smart people are sharing. I think training load will evolve to body internal and external load and how we share this information and collaborate is going to change the game.

Carl Valle

Carl Valle

Track & Field Coach
Carl is an expert coach who has produced champions in swimming, track and numerous other sports. He is one of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and restoration.
Carl Valle

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