Lloyd Biggs on Puberty, Growth Spurts and Soccer – Specific Fitness Training for the Young Player
SoccerToday’s columnist Lloyd Biggs is an outstanding coach whose passion and dedication for player development is well known. Biggs is technical director for one.Soccer Schools which trains 3,000 youth soccer players all across the USA. Also a youth coach for Real So Cal, Lloyd holds his UEFA ‘A,’ USSF ‘A’ and NSCAA Premier licenses, as well as a degree in sports science.
Recently I interviewed Paul Hart, one soccer schools Director of Goalkeeping and Strength & Conditioning coach for UCSB Mens & Women’s Soccer & Tennis. I wanted his thoughts on Age Specific Physical training for youth soccer players.
Hart played professionally as goalkeeper in England with QPR before coming to the states to play college soccer. Hart has a masters degree in sports performance and injury prevention, a Bachelors in Kinesiology, his USSF B, UEFA B, and USSF National Goalkeeping License.
Having a sports science background, this is a very interesting subject for me. There is no doubt that soccer players need to have a good endurance base, as they cover a lot of distance in a game at high intensity — and I would be the first to say that players must have a good aerobic capacity so they can meet the physiological levels of competition they are playing at. In addition, soccer players need other specific physical traits; such as balance, coordination, agility, speed, strength & power — all of which can be specifically honed for soccer.
That said, how does the growth spurt of the young player affect physical prowess?
I asked Hart to give a little insight into the proper training for youth soccer player and what’s important at what specific developmental stage.
Lloyd Biggs: Can you explain to the reader the importance of growth spurts in youth soccer?
Paul Hart: A player’s growth spurt plays a huge role in the performance side of youth sports. There is a lot of research on this topic and I would personally advise all coaches to read up and have a basic understanding. ,
There is no doubt an education on age related growth and its impact on player performance will help youth soccer coaches understand their players better and improve their ability to perform as a coach.
In short, when we talk about growth spurts, we are talking about a child going through puberty. The time when puberty begins varies greatly, however puberty usually occurs in girls between the ages of 10-14 and between the ages of 12-16 in boys.
Although genetics play a role also in a player’s physiological prowess, players can benefit from early maturity due to increases in size, strength, speed, power and endurance, which are evident when competing against their peers of the same chronological age, but who have not yet hit puberty.
In some cases it is easy to see the differences in players who have hit their growth spurt compared to the ones who have not, but in other instances it is not. Players may look the same size on the field, but one player has greater strength, speed and power — all key factors in success in soccer.
Players who hit high growth spurts in short time spans have an increased risk of getting overuse injuries. This is usually related to the rapid growth of the player coupled with the frequency, duration and intensity of their training/game schedules.
My experience has shown me that rapid growth spurts can cause players to suffer a temporary loss in ball control. This is commonly a result of the player learning how to deal with their changing body type. It is a good idea for the coach to monitor player’s growth spurts during their key growth years.
Lloyd Biggs: What’s your advice on working with players on endurance based training?
Paul Hart: Endurance training along with short burst anaerobic training is certainly of benefit to young players before adolescence. The gains in endurance or short burst speed however are difficult to determine as genetics, along with puberty, brings an increase in growth spurts and key growth hormones. All these elements impact the physiological development of the player.
For the young pre-pubescent player (ages 12 & below) the endurance component of training they already receive through playing in the game itself (this is dependent on the intensity level and effort the players are putting into the game) is adequate.
The coach working with these ages should prioritize the technical aspect of the game as the primary factor in training, with the physical aspect being the natural part of the running that is required by the player when training and playing competitive games.
Lloyd Biggs: If the coach was going to focus on a specific area of fitness for the young players what would you advise?
Paul Hart: I would focus on the following components:
- Agility, Balance & Coordination
We have all seen a lot of work being done with the young player via the training aids of ladders & hurdles. Basic balance exercises should also be added into warm ups. 10 to 20 minutes is usually recommended.
The important factor here is for coaches to educate themselves prior to delivering the training, so they can create a challenging session, which is safe and fun for the player.
When working on the ladders and hurdles it should be noted that it is important to teach/emphasize correct running mechanics. The ball should be incorporated within the exercise as much as possible.
Speed is a key physical component of the game. The playing environment and constant changes of direction and stopping and starting actions required by the player should be enough for the young player — but the coach emphasize the importance of speed, and using the ball, create sessions (no more than 10-15mins in duration) whereby the focus is on speed.
Reactive speed with many changes of direction, acceleration and deceleration, should be incorporated into this session.
- Flexibility, mobility & stability (core muscles included)
For the young player working on flexibility is more about an introduction, helping the player know why these components are important. Keep this type of training short in duration but consistent as part of warm ups and cool downs. It can be beneficial to add a monthly component on flexibility to your training session.
Again it is important for the coach to educate themselves on the differences in stretching and ways to improve both mobility and stability of the joint structures and muscles, as well as create short 10min sessions that are fun for the players to participate in.
Lloyd Biggs: At what age would you increase the emphasis placed on physical fitness training?
Paul Hart: If I am being put on the spot and asked to give a baseline age, I would not begin considering a higher focus and higher intensity of soccer specific fitness training until fourteen years of age. If I was to go out on a limb and highlight the importance of the physical attributes required as a base foundation then I would choose the following to focus on.
- Speed Endurance – ‘anaerobic threshold’ training
- Speed Development – High Intensity Speed, Reactive Speed, Deceleration & Acceleration
- Stability & Mobility – Improved mechanics along with Hip/Core Stability & rotation exercises have been shown to help in the reduction of knee injuries.
- Strength & Power Development – Especially lower body (Glutes and Hamstrings)
Lloyd Biggs: In the perfect world — regarding the physical fitness of youth soccer players — each player would be monitored as an individual and data collected to understand when the peak growth spurts were taking place. Fitness testing would also be tracked to allow us to see the specific strengths and weaknesses of the individual player, and specific training plans would be modeled for each individual.
However this is almost impossible task for most of us at the youth level due to time and resources. That said, we plan based on age, and its important that we remember young players are not adults and thus we should not train them like adults.
Youth soccer players’ bodies are changing at different rates and some are stronger at an earlier age than others. Some will grow at such a fast rate they will be at more risk to injury. As youth soccer coaches, we must understand the consequences of puberty and how this plays a key role in the development of our youth soccer players, and remember the star in the team may be that late developer. It is important to stay patient with the player who has the soccer insight to see the game and has the technique but lacks the physical prowess, give them time and you may unearth a diamond!