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Tracking Their Training

Increased Potential for Injury
It’s during the early and adolescent years of life that the body’s muscles and bones develop and grow.  The young player may be more susceptible to injury during this period.  Bone in young players is still not mature; it has not yet fully ossified and is under considerable stress from strong maturing muscle action.

Bone grows faster than soft tissues such as muscles and tendons, which become tighter with growth, particularly during growth spurts.  This loss of flexibility can be a factor in increasing the risk of injury.

Because of the stages of development that the body is going through and particularly up until the age of 14-15, you need to be aware of the demands placed on young players.  Ensure their training methods are adapted to the development of the players and that they have plenty of recovery time.

Different Training Needs for Young Players—Keep it Varied
As highlighted above, as young players’ bodies develop, there is an increased risk of injury.  Of particular concern, especially to the soccer parent, is the overuse injury.  This develops over a period of time due to too much repetitive activity.  The injury becomes worse with continued activity at the same level and will continue unless correct medical advice and treatment is followed.

The four main causes of overuse injuries have been identified as the following:

For example, if during a 90-minute training session, the coach runs three 10-minute sessions of jumping and heading practice there would be an increased chance of injury to the knees or ankle joints.  This is because this would be the area of the body taking the impact of this particular training drill.

However, if the same coach had devised a 90-minute training session that only had one jumping and heading practice, one turning with the ball practice and one shooting practice, the chances of injury would be reduced.  This is because different areas of the body would be taking the impact of these training drills.

If training sessions are kept varied and interesting it will not only help young players to improve their chance of avoiding injury, but should also assist the young players’ interest and motivation levels.

The Need to Understand Younger Players
The young player is physiologically unique from the adult and must be considered differently.  Generally, the youngster will adapt well to the same type of training routine used by the mature athlete, but training programs for children and adolescents should be designed specifically for each age group, bearing in mind the developmental factors associated with their age.

Long-Term Development of Young Players

Long-Term Development
In the long-term development program, it should be apparent that there is a gradual change from general to specific conditioning of players as they pass through the various stages of athletic development.

You should be aware that at the younger age groups the players’ training should concentrate on the technical aspects of the game as this is when basic skills are learned.  Ensure training is varied and the emphasis is on playing and having fun.

Early vs. Late Specialization
When describing this, it’s easy to compare soccer players with gymnasts.  In gymnastics, the training of young athletes is more intensive than in soccer and begins at a much earlier age.  Most gymnasts will only compete until their late teens, although some male gymnasts will continue to their mid-20s.  When compared to soccer, gymnastics is an early specialization sport.  The potential playing career of a soccer player is much longer than a gymnast’s, especially at grassroots level with players regularly participating well into their 40s. 

In soccer, players improve and mature at different rates and in many cases the player’s position has a major impact on time taken to specialize.  If a player does not develop until his mid- to late-20s, you should realize that young players, and especially those just starting to play competitive soccer, should be able to have fun while learning the technical aspects of the game through playing matches and specific technical practices. They should not have to spend large portions of their training time working at the physical aspects until their bodies reach a sufficient maturity.

How Much Sport Does Your Child Play?
For many children, soccer may be only one of a number of sports that the child plays on a regular basis.  All the sports your child plays can increase their chances of overloading injuries, so it is important that young players allow their bodies time to recover from exercise.

It must be clearly understood when training young players that they are not “mini-adults.”  As children grow and mature, their physical needs and capabilities change.  Boys and girls differ in their responses to exercise.  These differences are magnified as they grow older and it’s vital that anyone involved in their development and training understands how to nurture talent while protecting the young players’ welfare as they continue to develop physically.