U.S. Soccer’s High-Performance Director James Bunce on How Sports Science Impacts Youth Soccer Players
What are the ‘Best Practices’ for optimum performance? How can the science of technology help players reach better performance? Here is the first of the new interview series with James Bunce, U.S. Soccer’s High-Performance Director.
U.S. Soccer new Sports Performance Director is James Bunce who left England’s Premier League as Head of Performance to cross the Atlantic to help us Yanks harness the power of science to gain an advantage on the soccer field.
The goal is to accelerate U.S. Soccer’s ability to develop world-class players and to achieve this, Sports Science is a must. Bunce has already helped develop many world-class players who have become Premier League and international soccer stars. Now Bunce is turning his expertise to the youth players in the USA.
As U.S. Soccer’s High-Performance Director, Bunce has already had a tremendous impact, launching Bio Banding and several other key programs which are improving the quality of player development in our country.
These initiatives are dedicated to improving elite athletic performance — and really helping enhance the development of all youth soccer players across our country. The importance of nutrition, recovery, strength, and conditioning, along with performance data and performance research cannot be underestimated. Whether or not it is as simple as avoiding unhealthy fast food to refuel after a match or as complex as detailed performance data from elite players competing in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs, sports science gives new hope to amplifying player performance and boosting everyone’s love of the beautiful game.
Bunce worked with all 20 professional Premier League clubs before joining U.S. Soccer and was responsible for their supporting performance departments.
SoccerToday’s Diane Scavuzzo interviewed James Bunce at the Development Academy Playoffs and Showcases on his goals, challenges and on ‘Best Practices’ for youth soccer players.
Here is the first of the series of interviews with James Bunce — on using the science of technology to help players reach better performance and the top 3 ‘Best Practices’
Diane Scavuzzo: First of all, how do you think sports science can impact an elite?
James Bunce: Good question. What is most important for elite youth soccer players, especially when competing in tough competitions like the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Showcase and Playoffs?
How players are eating, and how they are sleeping to recover.
It is important for elite youth players to get their post-session and post-game habits optimized. Players need to optimize their eating habits and they need lots of rest and recovery — at the hotel or at home.
The recovery processes of elite athletes, especially when they are playing a lot of games in a short space of time, is very important. So enhancing their recovery, and this includes post-game recovery sessions with stretching and massage, can really make a difference on their on-field performance.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is new in Sports Science?
James Bunce: From an innovation standpoint, U.S. Soccer has a huge deal with performance data experts STATSports.
The players at the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs, Showcase and Championships are all able to wear performance technology similar to that used by the game’s top professionals.
Worn in a vest under the soccer jersey, the APEX Athlete Monitoring device fits into a pocket between the shoulder blades and quantifies physical performance including, physical load and movement when the player is on the field. The high-resolution units measure physical metrics including distance, speed, acceleration, deceleration, high-speed running, load, and heart rate. A typical training session will see millions of data points collected on a player, providing an unparalleled insight into their performance.
Basically, by having a better understanding of a payer’s load and physical activity, you can individualize training and enhance their performance — from a training need as well as from a recovery and development perspective.
It is really useful that this technology is now so available because previously, coaches were guessing what a player does or has done, or what his or her individual load is.
Now with technology, a sports scientist is going to be able to, literally five minutes after a game, know exactly what the internal and external load of each player is and then adapt training or recovery to best meet the needs of the player.
The data can be used to optimize individual performance as well as have a positive impact on the performance of the team as a whole.
Diane Scavuzzo: Two youth soccer players can have a different response to playing 90 minutes? This technology can explain that the load is much heavier on one player than another?
James Bunce: Every player in a game of 90 minutes will be exposed to a different physicality load.
Every player’s physiology is different.
How they cope with a game is different. But also positional differences play a huge part in what is the requirements of the output.
If a player is a winger or an outside back, he or she would do a lot more long-distance, high-speed running going up and down the pitch rather than a player who is a center-back whose performance is made up maybe of more short and sharp runs.
So the physicality of each player’s movements is very different.
And the physiology of that player, the ability to sprint or run based on their own genes and genetics and training, will also impact their performance.
So you can get youth soccer players who are running two to three kilometers different in a single game, but it’s not just the difference of the distance covered, it’s the nature of how they cover that distance which is really important.
So STATSports for example, like the company that we use, you’ll get a reading at High Metabolic Load Distance(HMLD) and that is a real eye-opener to see what things players are doing at high metabolic load, which basically means at a high intensity.
This equates accelerations, decelerations, sprinting, high-speed running, and accumulates all that load for each player. And you’ll see big differences in players because of their speed or high levels of explosiveness.
Now, that’s really important to know from a sports science perspective because when you do things at intensity you damage the body more, it’s a higher cost on the body because it’s so dynamic —therefore the recovery of a player like that needs to be different than for a player who may traditionally be slower, and a little bit less dynamic, as well as playing positionally less dynamic. And, the player, of course, might completely have a different kind of mapping of physiology
So what is the requirements to be an elite outside back? An elite center midfield? What does Christian Pulisic do in a Men’s National Team game that makes him successful?
U.S. Soccer has benchmarked averages of their normal physical outputs for each of our players on our national team, on the women’s and men’s side, and all youth national teams
And then we can benchmark the players’ position and then track to see how we can develop these attributes in a player if they don’t have them.
Diane Scavuzzo: Can you explain the different workloads between the two positions of a 9 and a 6?
James Bunce: It does depend on what kind of 9 you’re looking at, but a 9 compared with a 6 usually will be a lot more dynamic.
Let’s use New York Red Bulls’ Tyler Adams for example. He is a rising player on the U.S. Men’s National Team. He probably breaks this mold a little bit, but as a 6, he will cover a lot of ground, probably the highest amount of ground in the game and it may not be as dynamic in its nature, although in the new age of soccer it actually is.
But a 9 traditionally would be making shorter, sharper accelerations, decelerations. A 9’s runs are more angled and he or she runs smaller distances, but at a very high intensity.
So the big difference between a traditional 6 and a traditional 9?
The dynamic nature of the movements in shorter durations from a 9 and the wider-ranging distances covered by a 6.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do most players have a clear idea as to what they should put into their bodies after a game? What are the ‘Best Practices’ you recommend?
James Bunce: So, it’s a great question. And I think the science is really clear.
My mentality for performance is three things:
Eat right, Sleep right, Train right.
And, if you get those three things right, you’ll have a very good professional athlete.
We, at U.S. Soccer, have a food-first mentality. We encourage good healthy eating.
Supplements are important for certain periods and times of the day when nutrition isn’t available to get those good nutrients, but we encourage good food sources that are rich in nutrients.
What to eat after a game?
If you can, grilled chicken with asparagus and brown rice is great straightaway, but here at the fields you can’t get that so that’s where the nutrition shakes come into play —to get that quick absorption of protein, and carbohydrates, so that the body can instantly begin that repairing process, which is really critical.
With our National teams, we have very strict and coordinated nutrition plans.
We also periodize. You may be familiar with periodizing training? Basically training hard on one day, training less on another day to recover.
We also periodize our nutrition plan. So when we train hard, we alter the nutrition that we give players to compensate for the excess calories, the muscle tears, and the recovery needs.
We equally periodize our nutrition performance as well as our training performance.
Again, we ensure there’s good quality of nutrition from a sports science perspective and we supplement that with nutritious supplements when and if the timing of that session or the timing of that delivery of nutrition is not possible.