|Soccer fitness standards
and the Ontario Player Development League
Ontario’s new High Performance league, which begins competitions in the U13 age (2001) category, is called the “Ontario Player Development League” or OPDL. The inaugural OPDL season kicks off in May of this year, with 18 club/academy teams from across Ontario participating. In order to gain acceptance into the OPDL, each of these organizations had to meet several strict requirements and standards. Among these standards is the requirement of a periodized, year-round fitness training program, provided by a licensed, qualified fitness professional. Below is a summary of 4 reasons why the standard for mandatory fitness training is so important, and how it will benefit your child’s long term development.
U13 soccer players have specific physical needs that will not be met by playing soccer only
The reality is that soccer at the elite level requires several physical abilities (high intensity running ability, strength, speed, power, and agility, to name a few) that will require some specialized training at younger ages in order to fully develop.
Even in countries like Spain and France, who have traditionally been world-renowned for their youth development programs centred around soccer and the use of the ball, professional academies support the use of specific running, coordination, strength training, as well as participation in other sports including Judo, gymnastics, and track and field.
With the OPDL now mandating specific fitness training for all of its member club teams from the U13 age category onwards, we can expect to see better physical development of Canadian payers leading into their early adulthood.
There are gender-based physical developmental differences between boys and girls that need to be addressed in training
In the U13 age category, there are significant differences in the physical and physiological development of boys and girls. On average, girls are about 2 ½ years ahead developmentally, and thus the focus of their training must be different.
When I conducted the OSA’s Fitness Training Workshop for OPDL coaches in March of this year, the aforementioned gender-related differences between boys and girls at the U13 age group was one of the focuses of my presentation. A combination of making coaches and fitness coaches more aware of these differences, while at the same time providing education and tools to help them plan gender-appropriate training methods, is another added benefit of the OPDL’s fitness training standards.
OPDL clubs are required to create a periodization model that summarizes their yearly training plan, which includes physical fitness training
Periodization involves breaking the yearly season into smaller phases of training, with a different focus used within each phase. A common periodization model in soccer is to have a pre-season (6-10 weeks), a competitive season (20-25 weeks), and an off-season (10-15 weeks).
Within these phases, smaller 2-3 week sub-phases are also planned. The idea behind periodization is that it allows coaches and fitness coaches to ensure that players are performing the right amount (volume) of physical work, while at the same time training with the optimal speed and duration (intensity).
The yearly plan for the OPDL provides for no more than 1 game per week, with specific time allotted each week for physical fitness training, so that coaches and fitness coaches are presented with an ideal training environment in which they can develop their periodization model.
All clubs are required to have a qualified fitness professional work with their teams
This requirement stands out to me more than all of the others. The OPDL has mandated that each member club must hire a fitness coach with a minimum educational background of an undergraduate degree in kinesiology or health science, and one of either the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), or the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology’s Certified Exercise Physiologist (CSEP-CEP) post-graduate certifications.
What this standard means for clubs, teams, and players, is that they can be assured that they will have a fitness coach who has appropriate knowledge of theoretical exercise science, as well as practical program design. For the first time ever in Ontario, top level clubs are mandated to have trained and educated fitness professionals deliver safe, effective, soccer-specific fitness training programs to elite level player.
The new Ontario Player Development League has, and will continue to have, detractors and critics. One point that cannot be contested, however, is the benefit of introducing standards into high performance player development.
Countries with strong youth development, professional leagues, and national teams programs from all over the world share many of the same standards as the OPDL, including coach licensing and education, high training-to-game ratios, presence of licensed athletic therapists to handle first aid and injuries, and of course having qualified, professional fitness coaches to deliver appropriate physical training programs.
The implementation of these standards is a huge step in the right direction for the Ontario Soccer Association and should help to ensure better player development at the youth level in the province. Parents of players born on or after the year 2001 should consider the Ontario Player Development League as an option for their children’s soccer development).
Richard Bucciarelli is the President of Soccer Fitness Inc., a soccer-specific strength and conditioning company in Toronto. Richard recently led the Ontario Soccer Association’s Ontario Player Development League (OPDL) Fitness Training Workshop, which was attended by all 2014 OPDL coaches and fitness coaches.
For more information about Richard and Soccer Fitness, please visit www.soccerfitnessgols.com