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Where would Scottish football be without its grassroots? From the Scotland under 18 team that won the European Championship in ‘82 to the Lisbon Lions of 1967, a group of local lads all born within 30 miles of Celtic Park, every success owes so much to the nation’s local youth development systems.
 
To celebrate the history of the beautiful game, Dundee-based publisher, DC Thomson, has compiled a list of the greatest Scottish football memories, featuring 100 classic moments. The timeline has been carefully put together with contributions from fans and is already stirring up excitement amongst clubs and their supporters.
 
Beyond the Lisbon Lions and the win at the Euros, the piece features talking points such as the four Jacobs brothers playing together for Livingston having all come through the club’s youth system. There’s also some iconic goals from John Robertson, for Hearts against Hibs. Robbo played for Edina Hibs as a youth, but signed for Hearts as a senior and went on to haunt the Hibees with an impressive goal scoring record in the Edinburgh Derby.
 
Another highlight is Willie Miller, who played as a forward in his youth but switched to a centre back as a teenager thanks to advice from Teddy Scott. Miller went on to lead Aberdeen to multiple trophies, and was described by Sir Alex Ferguson as “the best penalty box defender in the world.”
 
Thanks to grassroots football and the talent that it has produced, memories such as these live on in the minds of Scottish football fans. Check out the visual below for some of the best moments from the timeline:
 
 
 
Have you ever made an excuse for your child? Could you have made an excuse for them when they have behaved badly, failed a test at school or been on the wrong side of a sporting contest? I certainly have and it is a very difficult thing to manage.
 
The problem is that by making too many excuses for our children, we run the risk of not allowing them to reflect and grow in their moments of adversity, and it is in these moments that character can shine and be developed.
 
It is so important that we resist the urge to make excuses for our sporting children. We are there to provide support but we must allow them to go through this process.  It is vital that they can learn the right way to go about their sport and competition themselves.
 
Children often see their parents as the ultimate role models and will take the lead from our behaviours. Does making excuses give them carte blanche to start finding plenty of their own whenever the situation may arise?
 
Dented pride can often be one of the main catalysts in making excuses for our children as we feel the need to protect and justify what they have done so it is equally as important as adults that we understand that our children’s athletic capabilities do not define them or us as parents. If we are able to live by this, excuses will become a thing of the past……
 
The aftermath of matches and competition can be the worst time. Your children are feeling vulnerable and we are all desperate to make them feel better. They may be walking back to the car head down, holding back the tears or even sat in the car on the way home sobbing.
 
You feel desperate to help and want to do the right thing but actually an acknowledgement that you feel their suffering, even periods of silence can be a vital part of them rebuilding themselves. We need to let them know it is ok to be upset, allow them quality time to tell us how they are feeling and simply be there for them emotionally, whilst listening and trying not to interrupt too much.
 
Many of us may be tempted at this stage to say things like ‘its only a game’ or ‘you did your best’ – both statements are lovely things to say and are probably true but to your child that game at that point in time is vitally important to them and by saying this you may be negating the importance that your child places on such a thing – something moving forward that may not be a good idea. Doing their best was not necessarily what the child wanted, they may have wanted so much more.
 
We need to find ways for our children to understand that failure is all part of the learning process. When we blame other players or the coaches for decisions that they have made, we are actually teaching our children to also look to blame others. This can ultimately lead to a bad attitude from your child athlete if it is allowed to develop and this type of behaviour becomes more ingrained.
 
So what can you do to help in these darker moments?
 
By taking a back seat you give your child the opportunity to grow, reflect and learn from the experience.
 
If all we do is provide lame excuses, we are fundamentally stopping our child from growing. Maybe when the dust has settled and only you know how long that may take with your own child, ask them some questions that allow them to reflect?
 
Could the disappointment have been avoided? Is there anything differently that you may do next time? Could you have asked someone for some extra help?
 
It could be something that could be corrected in training, something they could have done differently in their preparation or quite simply the disappointment of defeat or a performance that fell well short of their expectations. Remember, this can happen to the best teams and athletes in the world, no matter how well they sometimes prepare.
 
Perhaps using some of these examples from the TV and explaining how some of our role models bounced back in the face of adversity may also help give your child the courage and confidence to know it is ok to fail. Disappointment will certainly pass, it is just part of the learning process that they will go through.
 
Sigmund Freud pointed out that defence mechanisms like rationalisation (in this case, excuses) are normal and often serve useful and protective purposes.
 
Unfortunately, competitive sport is not a normal situation, and the useful purposes they provide do not include winning matches or engendering respect from opponents or bystanders.
 
Successful players resist making excuses by consciously recognising the real issues on the playing fields and use the rational parts of their brains to keep themselves on track.
 
Let’s teach our sporting children to handle life and sport by manoeuvring our own wins, losses, successes and failures with grace.  As the ultimate role model that we are to our children, maybe these are the best actions that they could possibly see!

By now we all know the story.

Ever since he broke into the Liverpool first team at the turn of the year, reminders of Andy Robertson’s humble journey have followed the 24-year-old Champions League finalist wherever he’s gone.

A mere five years before he was competing against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric on the grandest stage in European football, the former Celtic youth player was turning out for Queen’s Park in front of a few hundred fans a week in a near empty Hampden Park.  

It was called a remarkable rise. It was fairy tale stuff.

But the truth, for the Scotland left-back, is that the path to stardom began long before his days in the fourth tier of Scottish Football.

As a youngster growing up in Giffnock, Robertson recalls it was at an early age that he discovered a love of football that would start him on his journey:

“As a young boy I was always running about kicking a ball.” He said. “I used to go and watch my big brother until I was at an age where I could join a team.

“I played with my local team [Giffnock Soccer Centre] and my dad coached us. I remember being four or five years old and playing 4-a-side football. I played there, with my dad as a coach throughout, up until I had to move to Celtic where I stayed until I was nine or ten.”

Unsurprisingly, Robertson is still thought of incredibly highly at Giffnock Soccer Centre, and his story is one the club hopes can inspire more up-and-coming young players.

Club Chairman Donald MacLennan said: “Andy joined us at a young age, before his talent was spotted by Celtic and he left to start his pro youth career.

“He was and clearly still is a very hard working, grounded young man.

“All of us are delighted to have been a part of Andy’s journey and he is regularly held up as an example to all of the boys and girls at our club.”

Despite being coached by some of Europe’s best, Robertson insists he still carries some of the lessons he learned as a youth player into every game:

“I think the most important thing – especially at that age – is to enjoy it.

“That’s what I always tried to do and to this day I still try and take that into every game. It’s served me well so far.

“You see a lot of the top players have a smile on their face and I think that’s key.

“I still go and watch some kids football, and I think that some coaches can take it too seriously at times and put a lot of pressure on the players. [My dad and other coaches] were very much of the ‘go and enjoy the play’ mindset.

“Of course, we wanted to win the games, but it was more important to enjoy than to win, and because we were enjoying it we won more than we lost.”

Robertson recalls that he was playing so much football at that age that remembering particular highlights or matches is a struggle; what he remembers most is the enjoyment he got from the sport.

“I think I was playing three or four games a weekend so trying to remember them all is hard, but I loved my time as a youngster just playing all weekend.

“Going to school on Monday was always a bad thing.”

However, he does admit that one game stands out – even if it’s not a particularly fond memory:

“We never quite managed to get to any cup finals or anything, but I did get to a school cup semi-final [with St Ninian’s High School].

“We got beat and I got sent off, so I think that one’s remembered for all the wrong reasons.”

But semi-final defeats aren’t the only adversity he’s faced; famously, he was released by Celtic at under-15 level. Looking back, Robertson believes the disappointment helped motivate him, and urges any other young players in a similar situation to follow his example:

“To get let go from the club you support is that wee bit harder, but I just used it as my motivation and tried to prove to the people that maybe didn’t think I was good enough wrong,” he said. “Luckily, I’ve managed to do that, and for people in the same position I would say try and do the same because there have been a lot of good players that I’ve played with at different ages that haven’t kicked on because they’ve had one rejection and not known quite how to deal with it.

“I think up and down this country there’s a lot of talent goes to waste. If people can try to use the rejection in the right way, then hopefully it can be positive for the country because there will be a lot more players making it.”

And now, with a wealth of experience under his belt, Robertson has returned home to help inspire the next generation of Scottish talent.

Ahead of his return to Merseyside for pre-season, he took the time to make an appearance at a ProAcademy session at Rouken Glen in Giffnock.

ProAcademy is a coaching initiative that aims to provide professional coaching to kids, and was launched in association with Robertson.

The Liverpool and Scotland star answered questions and signed autographs for the young players and is hopeful that ProAcademy will help pave the way for these kids to have bright careers in football.

“Although my dad was a good enough coach, I’d much rather be coached by someone like [Technical Director and former professional footballer] Simon Donnelly,” he said. “We’ve got Simon and other coaches that are so enthusiastic about it. The kids can come and get excellent coaching and, more importantly, try and enjoy it.

“I worked closely with Simon at Dundee Utd and I know how good a coach he is, so if he could transfer it to younger kids then that would stand them in good stead and it’s proven that way. It can only be positive for Scottish Football and we hope that it can make even a small difference, and that maybe we can find one or two players that can hopefully pull on the Scotland jersey one day.”

For the kids taking their first tentative steps into football, the thought of playing for Scotland must seem like a pipe dream.

But, as Andy Robertson has proven, nothing is impossible.

 
Is football enjoyable anymore?
 
That was the question asked by 14-year-old Lucy Sinclair who, after spending yet another night of hard training with her club Glasgow City, found herself wondering when she’d get the time to go and have a fun kick about with her friends.
 
This was a concern, she felt, because her dedication to football meant she was in danger of losing touch with her friends, and that simply wasn’t an option for her. 
 
And so, with some help from dad Michael Sinclair – who founded the sports social enterprise charity iTouches – they set out to bring the fun factor back to the beautiful game. 
 
This was important to Michael. He’d seen across the years that the pressure to reach certain standards set by parents and coaches was putting children off football and was one of the main reasons that so many gave up the sport in their teens.
 
Father and daughter put their heads together and came up with iBaller: a one-of-a-kind football carnival featuring a variety of activities designed to provide fun for children, parents and anybody else that comes along – and it might even help reignite a passion for playing football. 
 
Based in the Pollokshaws area of Glasgow, the facility includes games such as football golf, darts, bowls and the FIFA-inspired flip & chip, which has players trying to chip balls through holes in a board.
 
Each game is designed to help develop a skill – be it passing, shooting or controlling a ball- in an enjoyable, non-competitive environment that’s accessible to players of all abilities.
 
With so many kids committed to training nights and matches, Michael believes it’s important that iBaller be different, and that all children can learn in an environment that emphasises fun and social interaction; the perfect antidote to the robotic and competitive football club formula.
 
He said: “We’re getting kids in, we’re getting them laughing and joking and we’re creating these things purely because it’s not happening right now.
 
“Within football clubs you’ve got your training and you’ve got your games and all these things, but do they really just take time out and learn to just have fun? 
 
That’s what the facility does and that’s what iBaller does.”
 
Since opening its doors for business mere months ago, iBaller has proven a big success, with the number of visitors rising from 100 in the first month to almost 400 in the second – and it’s not just children that have been getting involved:
 
“It’s already growing, and we know that it’ll keep on getting bigger,” said Michael. 
 
“We’ve had football teams in; we’ve had large groups of 22, as well as smaller groups – we’ve actually had a mother and daughter come in. We get families and community clubs here, so we’ve had all types of people in to take part.”
 
But, Michael adds, the opportunities provided by iBaller go far beyond a fun kick-about with friends.
 
A system they operate, in which children can become Buddies to the younger kids taking part means that children are at the forefront of their experience. For Lucy, this meant a chance to offer part-time jobs to her teammates, but for her dad, Buddies are about giving kids a voice by getting them involved in leadership roles and helping them develop into confident young adults.
 
Similarly, the youngsters have been given the opportunity to help develop the next iBaller game, which it is hoped will help provide them with the tools to find employment when older:
 
“The next step of iBaller is to try and engage with kids and think: can we create the next entrepreneur?” said Michael.
 
“The idea is to put classes together and look at other games that can be created, that iBaller will then go and manufacture. The hope is that [kids will] come in and actually run the whole aspect of a commercial process in terms of designing and managing a product.”
 
Lucy and iBaller are preparing to launch a new initiative called “StreetBaller” - or iSports - that will see the team provide funding and kit for kids from all social backgrounds who are less fortunate, so that they are able to play football, other sports and even enjoy iBaller Days out. 
 
People are certainly starting to take notice; Michael has been approached to take iBaller to festivals, whilst just recently they were appointed Partick Thistle’s pre-match entertainment. Videos on social media of mascot Kingsley trying his hand at some of the games has proven great exposure for the brand. 
 
And it doesn’t end there.
 
“We’ve got a lot of other games lined up,” said Lucy. “Our next project is a thing called iBaller8, which is another 8 games that are designed for the more competitive and professional kids who think they could be the next Messi.
 
“It’s gone the way we thought it would because all these other football projects – no matter how good they are – they’re not proving the fun like we are.
 
“Build it and they will come.”
Tuesday, 26 June 2018 15:08

Playing up an age group

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This is one of the most common questions we get asked here at WWPIS, with the vast majority of parents concerned that their young children are far too strong for the people that they train with and for the opposition that they play against come match day.  As a result parent frustration is rising as they fear their child is not progressing as they should be and a worry that the fun will go out of it for their children as they are not appropriately challenged.
 
Many parents are sold the dream of playing up and playing with older and more talented children to help aid their development and there are some occasions where this may be beneficial to all parties.
 
 
The Appeal of Playing Up
 
When we hear that our child is ‘special’or ‘talented,’ it can stir a broad range of emotions. ‘Wow, my child is really special! … of course he/she is; we’ve got great genes!’ ‘Maybe my child really has the potential to play at the highest level.’
 
We all love to hear good news about our children and no parent will tell you that they hate hearing good news about their own child.  However, we need to check the motivations behind some of these compliments.  Is it merely to improve an older team, help fuel a coach’s ego, win more matches or is it truly in the best interests of your child?
 
I often say that football scouts hovering the fields of U7-U10 football matches have the easiest job in the world in telling parents that their children are talented and maybe good enough for academy football.  However, that is where there involvement ends, without any further support to the parent who suddenly sees the glittering lights of Hollywood.  A small exaggeration but parental thought and actions may well start heading in this direction.
 
These thoughts and ambitions for our children can be very powerful and even seductive at times. Our children’s sporting success can validate us as parents(even though it shouldn’t) in some primal fashion while also offer an even brighter and more accomplished career in sports than we had, from which we take great pleasure.
 
And, it can be simply a joy to see our children embrace their sport accomplishments.
 
Playing up can also generate real concerns such as: ‘I worry that she or he might get hurt.’ Or, ‘I worry that emotionally she or he is not ready to be exposed to older children?’
 
‘Maybe the older children will use language that I am not comfortable with for my child and perhaps I am concerned that my child will lose confidence from not having as much success.’ ‘What happens if my child loses their friends in there school year as they are not socialising with them as much?’
 
Based on these various viewpoints, how do you decide what is right for your child?
 
 
Social Considerations
 
As a general rule, particularly for prepubescent, primary school children, it is extremely important that they develop friendships. Friendships and competency development (skills of learning the game, etc) are the two most critical objectives of latency (ages 6-12). Playing up often places our children into new groups of older kids. They may see their friends less and feel less connected to what may have been a very supportive social network. In effect, the new and allegedly improved schedule and atmosphere can potentially alienate our kids from their long-standing, critically important friendships.
 
We know that one of the biggest reasons that children play sport is to have fun and socialise with their friends so please bear this in mind when making such decisions. 
 
Are you making them in your own best interests or in the best interests of your child?  It is worth reflecting on this question every once in a while for all aspects of their sporting experience.
 
 
Burnout and Injury
 
There are other risks such as burnout and injury. More serious and competitive sport for a young athlete has the potential to transform the game from fun to a job. With less fun, there is a risk of burnout. Practice times and game schedules are likely to be longer and more intense.
 
When our children play with bigger, stronger and faster kids, they are placing greater stress on their developing bodies, increasing the risk for injury. In particular, children have more growth cartilage than adults, making them more vulnerable to injury. Fusion of bones in the elbows and shoulders can occur in later adolescence, making playing up at a young age, a greater risk for fractures or potential growth impediments.
 
 
The Argument for Playing Up
 
All of this said, there are still arguments made for playing up. ‘My child is so big that he might hurt the other children on his team if he isn’t playing up.’
 
We know that a number of sports and countries across the world use the bio-banding method and in New Zealand rugby teams can be picked on physical size and weight.
 
‘I worry my child may quit playing sport because she is so much better than everyone else, that she is getting bored.’ Or, ‘Why wouldn’t you give your child a chance to see how good they can be and play for a more demanding program and knowledgeable coach?’
 
These are compelling statements and may be true for a select few, but given the risks mentioned above, it is generally a safer course to avoid playing up. For those bigger, more talented athletes, staying with their peers and learning how to be the best player and a leader can be a life-long asset for a developing young person. They can learn how to make others around them better, so that when they are surrounded by better players as they grow older, they are versatile as a team player.
 
 
The Final Call
 
Developing talent is a delicate balance of meeting athletic demands within a strong and supportive environment. In environments that celebrates a win-at-all cost mentality and the drive for instant gratification, we may actually be positioning our children to be better and more balanced athletes over time if we keep them engaged
in their own peer groups until they reach their teenage years when their bodies and minds are more able to handle the greater demands of more competitive sport.

The GoFitba project went in to its final week and the focus this time was on the Kilwinning Sports Club in Ayrshire as the children were presented with medals and certificates to commemorate their time working on the project.

The twelve week programme has focused on showing children from disadvantaged areas the benefits of healthy eating and exercise and it has been running successfully in the Kilwinning Community Sports Centre.

Kilwinning community sports club was opened in 2000 and is a voluntary organisation and registered charity. It aims to give local people the chance to engage in a healthier lifestyle and is able to promote these aims to young people through projects such as GoFitba. 

Kilwinning coach Colin Hunter believes the Project has achieved these aims. “From the results of the quiz that the GoFitba project set out, the findings are very detailed. It is clear to see that they have taken the messages on board about being more active and staying healthy through diet and nutrition“.

The last week saw the children hit the books first to do the final piece of their learning journal “The Football Hour”. The children then headed outside to the five a side parks to take part in some drills and small sided games. 

Shannon, who took part in the GoFitba Project in Kilwinning loved her time on the course. “I loved having the chance to learn new skills that I didn’t already know before. “My favourite part of the course was the opportunity to make new friends, seeing how it is to play with them and work together as a team.”

After the five a side games, the children were greeted by family members as they received their medals for their involvement on the project. Parents clearly see the benefits of their children taking part in the project also. 

Debbie, whose son Jay took part in the GoFitba Project has seen benefits from the course at home. “Before he joined he wasn’t that interested in football and keeping fit but I think him coming along here has really helped his confidence”. 

“He has always eaten healthily but this has really encouraged him to try new things and new foods he wouldn’t have tried before at home.” Hopefully it will help him make some better food choices in the long term.”

Colin Hunter is very happy with the progress the children have made. “They have really bought into it and have done what we have asked, playing football with a smile on their face. It’s been twelve weeks of fun”.

The GoFitba project has clearly had a positive impact in Kilwinning and has been a huge hit with parents and children alike. The GoFitba project may now have come to a close but from Kilwinning to Motherwell, it is clear to see that the project has made a positive impact on many young people’s lives up and down the country.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018 15:28

Injury Prevention in Youth Footballers

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This article is part of a series by Jamie Henderson that will be coming to Youth Football Scotland on a monthly basis to help educate, provoke thought and encourage discussion with parents, coaches and youth footballers on sport science-related topics to aid youth football development. 
 
In football, injuries are common and unavoidable at times due to the nature of the sport which can include both contact injuries (e.g. collisions) and non-contact injuries (e.g. sprains and muscle strains). However, due to the time away from sport participation required to recover from such injuries, preventing them should be a primary goal of youth football coaching staff with a main focus on preventing non-contact injuries to ensure long-term athletic development.
 
When it comes to preventing injuries, it is important to understand the most common types that youth footballers are likely to experience. In a recent study (1), it was found that the most common types of injury in elite youth football academies in the UK were overuse injuries, muscular strains and ligament strains. Locations of these injuries were most frequently reported around the knee and ankle. This study also broke down the mechanisms contributing to these injuries which included faulty movement patterns, fatigue, lack of proprioception (body positional awareness and coordination) and lack of muscular strength.
 
 
Faulty Movement Patterns
In most field-based sports, being able to move efficiently in a variety of planes/directions is key to effective on-field performance and staying fit throughout the season.
Steve Curnyn, Head of Academy Science and Medicine at Hibernian F.C. stated “A well thought out periodised strength plan using multi-planar, multi-joint and ground-based exercises will significantly increase training and game time in youth players.
 
"However, a good strength plan can’t be built without solid foundations of fundamental movements such as Squat, Hinge, Rotations, Push and Pulling. Once these basic movements have been learnt only then can you start loading up the players.”
 
Coaches should implement these basic movements into warm ups and players should perform the movements regularly at home/in the gym in their own time. It should be stressed that these exercises should be performed with bodyweight only until optimal technique is achieved – having a coach or specialist who knows the correct technique points for each exercise is important here.
 
 
Squat
 
 
Push
 
 
Pull
 
 OR 
 
Hinge
 
 
Rotation
 
 
 
 
Fatigue
 
When footballers become acutely fatigued during a match or during an intense training session, neuromuscular control is reduced which can lead to a greater risk of injury (2). For example, during the later stages of a match, tiredness can reduce movement quality during tasks such as changing direction and landing which can lead to a greater risk of injury during these tasks. Having greater levels of cardiovascular fitness and conditioning can help prevent this from occurring.
 
Furthermore, long-term overtraining and chronic fatigue can also contribute to a greater risk of overuse injury – more information on this can be found in last month’s article. Ensuring that levels of fatigue and tiredness are monitored as best as possible can prevent this fatigue. At clubs with smaller staff numbers, this can be difficult to monitor.
 
Despite this, having general discussions individually with players to see how they are feeling may be effective. Good indicators to look out for include muscle soreness, poor sleep habits, general fatigue and tiredness and stress from school and exams which can highlight whether or not training sessions should be reduced in intensity and/or duration.
 
 
Proprioception
 
Proprioception is the sensing of movement and positioning of body parts being used in a movement or physical task which forms the base for balance and general movement. Poor proprioception can lead to poor physical performance during tasks and an increased risk of injury. It has been shown that increased proprioception can play a role in reducing risk of injury (3).
 
Proprioception training can come in the form of balance-based tasks using only one leg such as static single-leg holds, lunges and single-leg passing/ball-based exercises.
 
These types of exercises can help to strengthen the muscles of the foot as well as the ankle stabilisers which will help to prevent injury in these areas.
 
 
Lower Limb Strength
 
Increased strength is considered to be one of the most important injury prevention strategies in youth footballers. As previously stated, strength cannot be developed safely until the essential movement patterns of the body have been sufficiently adopted from frequent repetition.
 
The most commonly injured muscle group in youth footballers is the hamstrings (1). Strengthening this muscle group can reduce the likelihood of injury and can come from training the hinge movement as shown above, but they can also be strengthened at home using the following simple and easy-to-learn exercises:
 
 
Nordics (With a partner)
 
 
 
Glute Bridge (On couch or floor)
 
 
 
The recurring theme when it comes to preventing injury is the development of strength. Regular and varied movement should initially be performed until correct technique is adhered to, then properly programmed strength training and proprioception exercises focussing on strengthening the muscles around the hip, knee and ankle should be performed. Management of fatigue is also important, and at lower playing levels this can simply come from an informal discussion with players to see how they feel.
 
 
References
  1. Read PJ, Jimenez P, Oliver JL, Lloyd RS. Injury prevention in male youth soccer: Current practices and perceptions of practitioners working at elite English academies. Journal of sports sciences. 2018 Jun 18;36(12):1423-31.
  2. Oliver JL, Croix MB, Lloyd RS, Williams CA. Altered neuromuscular control of leg stiffness following soccer-specific exercise. European journal of applied physiology. 2014 Nov 1;114(11):2241-9.
  3. Emery CA, Meeuwisse WH. The effectiveness of a neuromuscular prevention strategy to reduce injuries in youth soccer: a cluster-randomised controlled trial. British journal of sports medicine. 2010 Jun 1;44(8):555-62.
 
About the author: 
Jamie Henderson
BSc Sport and Exercise Science 
MSc Sport Performance Enhancement (in studying)
Strength and Conditioning Intern at Hibernian F.C.
Has previously worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Leith Athletic F.C. and Selkirk F.C.
 
This article is part of a series by Jamie Henderson that will be coming to Youth Football Scotland on a monthly basis to help educate, provoke thought and encourage discussion with parents, coaches and youth footballers on sport science-related topics to aid youth football development. 
 
 
What is Early Sport Specialisation?
 
Early sport specialisation (ESS) and the impact it has on youth physical development is currently a very hot topic in the global sport science community.
 
Experts in the field of sport science have spoken of the importance for any parent, coach and youth athlete to educate themselves on why specialisation could be a significant dent in a child’s physical health, mental wellness and chances of achieving their sporting dream.
 
So, what is ESS? ESS is defined as the youth participation in a sport for a period of 8 months or more per year without participation in any other sports (1). The typical training and playing patterns that many current young footballers experience can result in ESS being a stark reality in Scotland, as seasons can last 9-10 months with a short break until the subsequent pre-season begins with no other sports or activities being performed regularly.
 
It is correct that exposure to frequent and intense training specific to football is crucial for youth footballers to build the physical foundations and skills required to develop, but what is commonly missing is the concurrent balance of other physical activities and adequate recovery.
 
 
 
The Outcome of ESS
 
The aforementioned factors play a role in obstructing motor skills development and increasing risk of injury in youth athletes. A 2015 study (2) examining the injury rates of 1190 youth athletes aged between 7 and 18 years old found that those who were ‘highly specialised’ had 2.25 greater odds of sustaining an overuse injury.
 
This study along with many others suggest that by training for only one sport, a youth athlete will have a smaller spectrum of physical abilities and movement skills that they can transfer into their primary sport causing an increase in injury rates. This also links with the overuse of certain muscle groups/movements patterns and a lack of motor control that is required to be an efficient, well-rounded athlete – specialised athletes will have a reduced ‘physical literacy’.
 
Therefore, the science suggests that the child who likes to play tennis and golf every Monday and Wednesday night as well as football will have a greater opportunity to develop their movement, coordination, strength, balance and power than the child who plays additional football.
 
With particular reference to youth football in Scotland, a football season can start in August and will usually last 9-10 months up until the end of May/June. Coaches are also eager to get players back training in pre-season at the end of the same month after a 4-6-week break.
 
Despite being more common in older youth players (14-18 years old), this is a huge risk factor for improper recovery and physical burnout. The cause of this physical burnout is not that the child is only playing one sport, but more so that they do not have the physical literacy, physical capacity and robustness to be playing one sport so frequently throughout a year with such minimal rest.
 
Furthermore, it has been suggested that specialisation for team sports such as football should be avoided until middle-adolescence at around 15-16 years old (4). A youth footballer of this age who has played a greater number of sports will be more tolerant to the demands of the long-term football season and will thus have a greater physical performance and reduced likelihood of injury.  
 
ESS can not only increase injury rates and impede physical development, it can also have psychological implications. Studies have shown that ESS can increase the chances of dropout from sport by hindering psycho-social development and reducing enjoyment for a sport (3).
 
When speaking on the subject, Dr Russell Martindale – Associate Professor and Head of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Edinburgh Napier University – stated “Specialising early is often associated with a culture and priority of ‘winning’ and therefore ignores the psychological, social and longer term developmental needs of the player. It usually has added pressure of higher training volumes and more serious practice regimes which can undermine motivation and wellbeing.
 
"There is clear evidence that early specialising is not required to become an elite performer, therefore highlights the need to think carefully about our talent identification and development pathways.”
 
Consequently, a specialised youth footballer may experience greater pressures to perform well rather than having the freedom to enjoy a multitude of sport/activities, causing a greater risk of drop out from the sport.
 
 
 
The Cause of ESS
 
The ‘10,000-hour rule’ is a long-standing myth claiming that those aiming to become experts in their chosen field or activity should practice for 10 years or 10,000 hours. Despite being vastly outdated, many coaches and parents still unknowingly follow this by pushing youth footballers to train harder and more frequently to improve, which is a primary reason as to why ESS is common.
 
Furthermore, pressure from parents, coaches and team-mates can brand the taking part in other sport and physical activity as a counter-productive idea that gets in the way of development as a footballer. Nonetheless, awareness on this area is growing as experts are trying to educate coaches and parents to apply the findings of the emerging body of research, but this is more complex than it seems.  
 
 
 
Solving the Problem
 
With any subject, there are always grey areas where people should consider thinking. One of the grey areas with regards to ESS lies within how specialised an athlete is.
 
Instead of thinking of an athlete as either ‘specialised’ or ‘multi-sport’, the majority of Scottish youth footballers will lie somewhere between the two along a spectrum. For this reason, starting off by balancing a young athlete’s primary sport with adequate off-season rest and other enjoyable activities and exercise stimuli throughout the season is a good starting point to reduce the likelihood of specialisation.
 
By adding in additional sporting activities with a family member or friend on a set night each week and allowing ‘free play’ time with friends on another day, a more balanced approach to youth athletic development will be adhered to. A broad example is shown below:
 
 
Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday
Sunday
PE at school and athletics club at night
Football (training)
Badminton with a parent
Football (training)
PE at school
Football (game)
Outdoor playing/activities with friends
 
This is a very general approach that will not suit every youth athlete but can be considered as a starting point for young people who are only playing football and are in the early stages of adolescence. However, when talking on the subject of rectifying the ESS problem, Dr Martindale also identified that “School PE alone is not the answer to the issue of early specialisation”.
 
He explained “Education and support for school teachers, coaches, parents, and players at all levels will help this shift in culture and help a wide variety of people to provide good experiences to young people.” Therefore, the change required is down to education of the youth athlete support network to provide greater balance and adequate training methods to allow them to develop optimally.
 
Another grey area to consider with this topic is that there is no ‘right way’ to becoming a professional athlete or footballer. It would be very unwise to significantly reduce the amount of football a young person plays each week and substitute this for sports and activities that a child doesn’t enjoy.
 
Despite the growing amount of research showing that national-level athletes across a range of sports were ‘multi-sport’ throughout their adolescence, there still remains a requirement for sport-specific training.
 
Beginning to solve the problem comes down to moving away from the specialisation side of the youth development spectrum and getting young footballers to lie a bit closer to the ‘multi-sport’ side.
 
 
About the author:
Jamie Henderson
BSc Sport and Exercise Science
MSc Sport Performance Enhancement (in studying)
Has previously worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Leith Athletic F.C. and Selkirk F.C.

GoFitba continued it's successful start in Paisley with another fun-packed day for the kids of Glencoats Primary School last Friday.

The project, which is being delivered by the Scottish Football Partnership Trust in association with community football clubs across the nation, was in its fourth week at the sunny venue of St Mirren Park.

St Mirren in the Community were the hosts, with several coaches delivering a two-hour session to the kids of Glencoats that promoted nutritional health values, as well as giving the kids their hour of activity in the club's stunning football dome.

The day was wrapped up with another healthy meal for the kids, which was scoffed down by all as there wasn't a crumb to be found!

Stephen Gallacher, one of the coaches involved with the St Mirren in the Community group, stressed the importance that the kids bonded with each other and have nutritional values educated into them.

"A lot of the kids can be stuck in the house all day within some of the communities where they live, so when you're getting them out and getting them to build friendships and eating together, then that community friendship and community spirit can be very important to them.

"If you look at the numbers of the kids coming along - we've had a full house every day - you can see the kids are enjoying it and obviously the parents are happy that they're coming along and seeing that they're getting involved in active activities.

"The programme is all about giving the young people an opportunity to be healthy, and then to provide them with a healthy meal at the end of it.

"The training session today was more to do with working in their team games - teams of two and groups of fours - and taking that into the game at the end. Obviously, we're hoping that they can then work as a team at the end and get some goals"

And get some goals they did. The kids, whose smiles couldn't be wiped off their faces, spent their hour in the dome practising dribbling, shooting, and control drills in small groups. The coaches tried to emphasise the need for concentration on the ball, and this was taken on board by the Glencoats pupils, who loved every minute of it.

This was transferred to their short games at the end, where the two groups had individual games against each other, with some lovely team-goals being scored and an appreciation from the kids about sharing possession of the football.

Stuart McCaffrey, whose leading the project across all member clubs, spoke about the importance of the kids getting involved in the football side of things to help boost activity levels.

"The ultimate goal is happier, healthier, more engaged children. 

"Football is a very powerful tool and can be used to help lives for the better, and I think that projects like this have a real chance to engage with children at the right age where we can try and give them some positive messages. They can take these on throughout their life and can stay active and give themselves the best chance in life.

"I think it's been a fantastic start (for the project). It's been very well received with the children, which is the most important thing. Teachers have received it well too in terms of supporting that key element of one hour of activity to get the kids active. 

"The project takes the kids on a 12-week educational journey, and it helps to make small changes so that their lives can be better and more active. There's a lot of team-building and other skills that are developed throughout the project. 

"I'm obviously very excited with how it's started, and there's obviously a number of weeks still to run in this initial block."

There can be no denying that Stuart wasn't the only one excited with the project, as the kids of Glencoats showed real enthusiasm for football and a keen desire to learn throughout their hour of football inside the dome.

However, as well as the activity, GoFitba puts a high emphasis on nutritional values and educating children about the positives of a healthy, balanced diet.

This took us to hour two of the day, where the kids went out to the main stand for a quick picture in the St Mirren dugout, before heading up inside the stand to start the educational section of the day.

Week four is all about educating kids on how food is your body's fuel, and they certainly needed no reminder of that when they wolfed down their lasagne and garlic bread for dinner!

McCaffrey felt that the kids responded tremendously well to the health tips and nutritional education laid out to them, and described how GoFitba gets this message across to the young footballers of tomorrow.

"We spent a bit of time and researched how best to put that to them, so we created a 12-week interactive learning journal for them. Each week it's a colourful page they look at, and we try and make the learning creative and interesting for them.

"We try and relate it to football, and the nice thing is that the journey then goes home with them after week 12 - it's something they can share with their parents, brothers and sisters, and it's a chance to extend that learning.

"We try to make it as fun as possible in a football context, but also to use the learning journal to try and emphasise these positive messages."

GoFitba continues to express a message that positive, engaged children that live on a balanced diet can have greater performance in both school work and sport development.

McCaffrey confirmed that the project will culminate with a "showpiece event" in week 12, where the families of the kids involved can come along and see what their young ones have been learning over the block.

But what did the kids make of their fourth day at GoFitba? 

YFS spoke to Mazy, Ryan, and Aaron who all spoke of their enjoyment at the project and how they couldn't wait to go back this Friday.

All three kids learned something new about nutrition and football from the day - ranging from Ryan's tip of drinking more water on a daily basis to Aaron's newfound ability to pass with the inside of his foot.

St Mirren in the Community's Gallacher believes that the project emphasises what community clubs like St Mirren are all about.

"I think it's in part showing that we're giving that hand back to the wider community. Being a community club, it's good to get the badge into wider places and to see that we're involved in not only the football part, but also the healthy choices.

"There's other programmes that St Mirren in the Community do during the day, during the holidays and after school - there's quite a few. It's to do with looking after the community and not just about playing football all the time - there's other parts St Mirren do and they have the community at heart first and foremost."

McCaffrey seconded those words about community from Gallacher, and stated that he hopes the project can only grow in the future.

"I think the coaches that involve themselves in clubs like St Mirren and other community clubs are so enthusiastic and want to make a difference to young people - they want to give them an opportunity to take part. I think that opportunity is the key thing - we're really giving people a chance and perhaps get the inactive active. Some kids maybe don't get the chance to play at clubs and maybe don't have the confidence to get involved.

"But the coaches we work with are there to improve their confidence and improve their skills, and hopefully give them a taster of what it would be like to play football more regularly and sport in general. This project gives that opportunity, and the coaches are key to it because they deliver the positive messages, the sessions, the educational resource - they're the catalyst for success.

"I think it can grow. It's something that we want to expand on, but the resource has been created and the project is up and running and straightforward to deliver. We've taken care of sessions on and off the park with the educational journey, right down to what the kids eat on a weekly-basis.

"We feel it's something that can be replicated, whether that's in the schools directly or by our delivery partners. 

"And of course, the sport could easily be changed and it could be branded as something else, because the principles between the project and what it's trying to achieve can be transferable and can certainly be replicated.

"People need an opportunity to take part, and I think when people do take part and have that chance then they tend to stay in the game."

Whether the kids of Glencoats Primary stay in the game or not, there is an overwhelming desire from them to stay with GoFitba and continue what has been a tremendously fun journey for them.

It's been a strong few weeks for the project so far, but in the grand scheme of things, GoFitba is only just getting started.

 
 
The Scottish FA has officially announced that SSE will be the title sponsor for the new Scottish FA Girls' Soccer Centres that were launched in April 2017.
 
The Soccer Centres were launched last year in order to help young girls aged between 5-12 years old fall in love with the beautiful game. There were 39 centres opened up across the country by the end of 2017.
 
With this new sponsorship the Scottish FA will aim to have over 1000 girls enrolled cross more than 50 soccer centres by the end of 2018.
 
The Soccer Centres are run in partnership with local authorities, leisure trusts, schools and community clubs to deliver weekly active sessions for girls and help to create a gateway for them to the club game. 
 
SSE announced their sponsorship of the Soccer Centres at a launch event at the SSE Hydro on Monday, attended by SWNT players Lee Alexander, Claire Emslie and Head Coach Shelley Kerr.
 
Colin Banks, Head of SSE Sponsorship said, “SSE are proud to support the Scottish FA Girls’ Soccer Centres – together we can make a difference in inspiring young girls to play football, in a safe, inclusive and engaging environment.
 
“SSE is driven to nurture and develop talent on and off the field, and we firmly believe that everyone deserves the same opportunity regardless of gender.
 
“That’s why we’re continually exploring new ways to make girls’ and women’s football more accessible to play and support.”
 
Donald Gillies, Head of Girls’ and Women’s Football at the Scottish FA said, “We are delighted to welcome SSE on board as title sponsor of our Girls’ Soccer Centres and are extremely grateful to them for their investment in growing the girls’ game in Scotland.
 
“Since the Girls’ Soccer Centres launched last year we have seen a tremendous uptake from young girls, no doubt sparked by the success of our Women’s National Team and through the excellent work by local partners.
 
“The Soccer Centres are designed to make the game attractive to as wide an audience of young girls as possible and offer a gateway into the game for many girls who may otherwise have no outlet for their interest in football.
 
“SSE share our passion for growing the girls’ and women’s game and are the perfect partner for the programme as we look to inspire a new generation of female players to fall in love with the game.”
 
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