Kurt Andrews, assistant athletic trainer for the LA Galaxy, offers insight to coaches on practicing with a purpose.
My name is Kurt Andrews, and I am the assistant athletic trainer for the LA Galaxy- a capacity I have served in for six years. As the assistant athletic trainer, I am part of a sports medicine team that provides health care for our first team players.
A large part of my job is to be proactive in injury prevention; assist in the prehab, rehab, and maintenance of injuries sustained by the athletes; utilize up to date manual therapy techniques; and work in conjunction with the performance staff on a daily basis to ensure each athlete is performing and recovering at their best.
In my six years with the LA Galaxy, I’ve seen the MLS, and soccer more broadly, grow rapidly in the United States. Many MLS clubs, if not all, have tried to mirror the world wide sports medicine department structure - where sports medicine, performance, nutrition and sports science staffs integrate and function as one to ensure every athlete is performing at the highest level.
The four disciplines are capable of creating all-encompassing reports on each athlete, which in turn can be shared with coaching staffs. This facilitates better communication between members of the sports medicine team and coaching staffs. Coaches have access to all data necessary to understand how players recover from training sessions, which players are at a higher risk of injury development during upcoming training sessions, etc. so they can use their players more effectively. The end result is that coaches and sports medicine staffs can more purposefully plan training sessions and make adjustments where necessary.
It’s imperative that training sessions be planned with reason and purpose. Think of it like creating the blueprint to a house. Without such planning, the house might get built in the end, but there will undoubtedly be structural damage and mistakes made along the way that could have been avoided. In sports, it’s the same way. The performance staff must set the end goal of winning a championship, and work backwards to progressively build the team to that goal. We call it periodization.
It’s imperative that training sessions be planned with reason and purpose.
In sports, you have three phases within the macrocycle, or year. The preparation phase (preseason), the competitive phase (regular season), and the transition phase (offseason). Within the preparation and competitive phases, you have specifically programmed meso- and microcycles with distinct physiological purposes- each of which will hopefully lead you to the end goal if maximized.
This type of scheduling requires extensive time and planning in the offseason between the performance and coaching staffs. Below is an example of a Sunday to Saturday microcycle within the competitive phase:
Many coaches have different philosophies on how to design a week, largely based on how many games are going to be played, what part of the season the team is in, what tactically and physically the staff wants to get out of the week and so on. This type of schedule is just an example of what a training week can look like. Ultimately, the goal is to get better every day, both physically and tactically.
Planned progression over the entirety of the season also allows the team to adapt to different training stimuli and avoid overtraining - which could lead to injury if left unaddressed.
The busy summer tournament season is around the corner, so right now is the perfect time for coaches to begin planning ahead and looking for ways to improve. What can you do to help develop better soccer players, ultimately keep them healthy, and get more out of them on the field?
Below are some ideas that can be implemented at your soccer club:
- Preseason Physicals
- All athletes should undergo some sort of pre-participation physical to identify any sort of orthopedic, neurological, cardiological or pulmonary abnormalities that could harm them in during participation.
- It’s incredibly important that the primary care physicians or sports medicine physicians seek out a local cardiologist in the screening of all athletes and the reading of the electrocardiograms. Most athletes who have died suddenly from heart failure during the run of play showed no signs or symptoms before the event began, so stressing the importance of medical screening for all athletes before the season starts is imperative.
- Preseason Injury Assessment Testing
- The field of sport science is the new trend in the US, and it’s growing at a rapid rate. In pro sports, we spend a lot of time trying to develop models to help predict injuries. Assessing the players gives sports medicine professionals baseline measurements for each individual athlete.
- With this information, you can address an athlete’s problem areas in an effort to avoid injury. However, it’s important that testing is not done just for the sake of testing. All data collected should be relevant and have purpose, otherwise you are wasting valuable time for yourself and the athlete. There is no screening test that is accurate enough to fully predict injury, therefore injury prevention exercises should be given to all athletes rather than only athletes deemed to be high risk.
It’s critical that coaches prepare athletes appropriately for each training session, no matter the age.
- Implement Dynamic Warm-Up Sessions
- Again, I am going to harp on injury prevention. It’s critical that coaches and fitness coaches prepare athletes appropriately for each training session, no matter the age group of the athletes. The warm-up session should include stretching (active/dynamic), movements (linear/lateral/multidirectional), glute activation, strength, balance, and plyometric exercises. Each warm-up session should have a specific emphasis depending on the emphasis of the training session that day. Ideally, the warm-up will increase the athlete's’ heart rate and prime the athlete's’ body so they are fully prepared to begin the training session. An example warm-up is outlined in the FIFA 11+ program, which can be found online.
- Training Session Load Monitoring
- In photos of training sessions you may see professional players running around with sports bra type gear over their shirts, or a watch around their wrist and wonder what exactly they’re wearing. That gear, which is either a GPS device or an internal load monitoring system (HR/HRV straps, WHOOP watch, Athos), is used by almost all professional sports teams to help sports scientists and performance teams track the daily load sustained by the athletes. By compiling this data, we capture snapshots of daily/weekly/monthly/yearly loads of each athlete. With this information, the performance staff can set norms for each individual and then flag those that hover around or above a “normal” training stimulus. It’s important to remember that every athlete has their own individual load capacity- there will be plenty of variation in the ability of different athletes to tolerate the same load.
- Promote Recovery
- When sports medicine professionals talk about recovery, we are referring to eating well, sleeping well, hydrating appropriately, and taking care of your body. Sleep is the greatest tool for recovery due to its cost effectiveness (it’s free) and the changes in hormonal secretions that occur during the deepest stages of sleep. It’s recommended that adolescents get 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night.
- Nutrition plays an incredibly vital role in athlete recovery, which makes access to a sports dietitian to guide daily and tournament nutrition strategies very important.
- Lastly, obtaining wellness scores or session RPE’s (ratings of perceived exertion) can be helpful tools to monitor team recovery and training session difficulty.
In order to get some of the aforementioned improvements set in place, club directors should look to grow club infrastructure in four ways.
First, they should look to find a primary care physician who has a background in sports medicine.Second, they should look to partner with a sports medicine rehab clinic. Physical therapists and athletic trainers from these clinics can work with coaches to incorporate injury prevention exercises within training sessions. Additionally, this partnership can create an avenue for injured athletes to receive the care they need to return to the pitch. Third, they should look to find a fitness coach who has a knowledgeable background in soccer and can further implement injury prevention practices, monitor training loads, and make sure the team has obtained appropriate fitness levels. Finally, they should look to find a sports dietitian that can work with the club to educate parents, coaches, and players on healthy eating habits and appropriate fueling strategies.
Coaches should recognize that the most effective club sports medicine structure is a multidisciplinary team of professionals all working together for the common goal: winning games.