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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.”
 
 
One of the hardest things to see as a sporting parent is when our children are struggling or they do not achieve what they aspire to. One of the most common times for this is when our child is not selected either for a particular match or in a representative team after going through a trialling and selection process.
 
The initial feeling as a sporting parent is one of hurt, often we feel that we have to go on the offensive either criticising the process, the people selecting the team or those involved with the coaching. Hopefully, most of us keep these feelings to ourselves however difficult that may be, but if we are not careful we can often forget the most important person in this experience and that is our children.
 
If we are proactive as sports parents and create a positive environment at home, we can try to be balanced in our view and try to prepare our children for all possible outcomes. One thing that we certainly must be emphasising on a regular basis is that only through hard work and a great attitude to training can our children be expected to even be considered for selection.
 
We are by no means saying that you should be negative or too pessimistic but we must strike a balance between this and unrealistic optimism.
 
It shows how difficult it can be as a parent as if you go too far one way you run the risk of discouraging them if you are pessimistic or if you are at the other end of the scale the disappointment after all the expectation can be even harder to take. This seems like common sense but it is amazing how many parents find themselves at either end of this scale.
 
If your child is not selected you need to understand how they will be feeling. They are bound to take it personally, it is an attack on their self esteem and none of us like to feel rejected. It can be made even harder by the fact that your child will probably have to watch some of their friends go off and participate and will feel that they are missing out from a social perspective as well.
 
So as a sporting parent what can we do to manage this?  Here are a few useful pointers:
 
 
Don't Overreact - as mentioned earlier, as emotions run high it is very easy to make poor decisions that we may regret later.  Allow some time to cool off, reflect before acting.  One thing is for certain make sure you praise your child and tell them how proud you are of them for giving it a go.
 
Offer huge emotional support - let your child talk. Let them express their feelings, let them express anger and frustration at how it all went. Even if you disagree with what they may say, listen to it from their perspective, this will be useful to you moving forward. 
 
Certainly do not squash your child at this stage, it is really important as parents that we do not play it all down and tell them for example 'that it's only a game' or 'there is always next time'. Let them talk, sometimes silence or even telling them that you feel their pain with them can act as a huge support.
 
Encourage and don't create an excuse for them - be positive and encourage your child.Try not to make excuses for your child. Instead talk to them about the selection process, ask them questions that allow them to reflect on what they think. 
 
Who are the best players? Who do you think you are better than and what might you do next time?
 
Speak to the coach - if you are totally disillusioned with the decision then after at least 48 hours consider speaking with your child's coach. It would be even better if you could get your child to go and ask for some feedback on what they could maybe do next time to break into the team? This chat needs to be non confrontational and should only be used as an avenue to plan a route forward.
 
Plan ahead - can you plan the next stage? What can you do to help support your child? Do they want to continue to fight for their place in the team? If so how can you best support them using the information that they your child and their coach has given you?
 
Play lots of sports- one thing that missed selection highlights is the need to make sure that your child is involved in a myriad of different sporting activity. If you only play one sport and this selection process is the be all and end all either at the weekend or as part of a representative process then it can be all the more difficult for your child to take or even be motivated to continue. 
 
If they are involved in lots of sports and different teams, any type of failure like this can be kept in a far greater context.
 
One final thing to be aware of is that many early selection processes around the world are heavily in favour of the more physically and emotionally developed athlete. Many of these athletes being born in the early part of the sporting calendar year.
 
In making long term decisions and trying to keep things in perspective, recognise that this may be a phase your child will need to go through. It does not mean that further down the line they will not be selected ahead of some of their peers, so keep encouraging and keep motivating them!
Tuesday, 27 March 2018 11:39

Do not fall into 'The Comparison Trap'

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As more and more children battle to be the best at younger and younger ages, what is the damage to those children around them, who spend large amounts of time comparing themselves to their higher performing peers in terms of their own long term development and potential future participation? Potentially it is huge and we must do all that we can as parents and educators to avoid the children we are involved with getting sucked into ‘The Comparison Trap’.
 
When your child first sets out on their sporting career and are attempting sports for the first time one of their main forms of feedback is how they compare themselves to others. You may say that this is mad, but it is one of their most significant forms of feedback.
 
We know that there are many discrepancies during these early sporting experiences.  Some children are well ahead of the game due to the amount of time they may have spent practising a specific sport or they may be physically and emotionally more developed for their age.
 
If your child compares themselves to some of these early developed athletes they run the risk of dropping out of the sport too early and as parents we need to do all that we can to help manage the situation.  We can be all too quick to label our children potentially in a way that may hold them back, comparing themselves to us or other players, or giving them specific positions or even defining them on their sporting prowess in a particular sport.
 
We run the risk of labelling our child musical or sporty without giving them the chance to properly develop in a particular field. The reason for this is that a lot of time may need to be committed to improve a particular skill and we take the starting point sometimes as a sign of what they may be capable of. It is far easier for parents to motivate and invest time for their children in something where there is already some perceived success as opposed to developing areas of weakness.
 
Children need to know that they all develop at different rates and at different times and as parents we need to understand that sporting development is never the lovely line that we see in the first diagram below, but more like the second one.
 
 
Children will have periods where they plateau, where they grow quickly, where they improve rapidly, where they get worse and this is all part of the sporting process.  The latter one is a difficult one for parents to watch and see but it is a reality.
 
One thing is clear, current or early sporting performance is not a good indicator of future sporting success.
 
Think back to your own childhood, people you may have seen or played with who were so far ahead of the game at a young age but then never featured as they hit the teenage years or moved into adulthood. Many international junior sportsman in a number of different sports struggle to make the jump from junior to senior athlete.
 
There are so many stories of athletes who were average at a younger age, who never really featured prominently who went on to become far better sportsmen and women than many of their earlier high performing peers.
 
As parents, understanding this is crucial if we wish to manage the situation successfully. Many children will soon lose the motivation of turning up to training and matches each week if they are regularly comparing themselves to others and see their team mates or opposition as ‘miles better than them.’
 
This can be even more testing for parents and athletes as many selection and talent programs select the physically dominant performer, the one who is competing well in the here and now and not the one who may develop much further down the line.
 
However, as parents we need to understand how and why this may happen and communicate it effectively with our children, letting them know the following in whichever type of language we choose to use:
  1. Physical advantage – some children are bigger, stronger and quicker and they will always dominate at a younger age.
  2. Emotional maturity –  some children are emotionally more mature, can listen to coaches more effectively, deal with competition better and cope with situations in a far better way than some other children.
  3. Time spent – a child who has spent double the time on a chosen sport or a skill generally as a rule should have a significant advantage over the other.  At a young age this can be even more pronounced but that does not mean that it cannot be caught up but it will need time.
  4. Skills –  can be developed and they are not based on physical characteristics
We have to accept as parents that there will always be someone better.  However, our children need to understand more that they must not compare themselves to others! They can enjoy playing with these players, competing against them and indeed even learning from them but they must never feel a failure or threaten to walk away from a sport just because they are not as good as someone else. Not at least until they have given themselves plenty of time to develop.
 
They will never know what they are truly capable of until they have truly invested the time and effort.
 
So the next time your feel that your children maybe falling into ‘The Comparison Trap’, be armed and ready to explain to them why comparisons may not be such a good idea! Ensure they know that sport and development is a long term investment and success is not necessarily in the here and now.
Friday, 23 March 2018 11:54

Heriot-Watt Firsts do the double

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Heriot-Watt University Firsts completed the double in the BUCS competition this season. Watt clinched the Division 2A Championship way back in February when they disposed of a University of Stirling Thirds team 5-1. To add to this, Watt retained the BUCS Scottish Championship Cup with another impressive scoreline, 5-1.
 
Head coach of Heriot-Watt University Football Club, Banji Koya, expressed his joy in being crowned the champions.
 
“As a group, we are naturally delighted to be champions. Most pleasing part was the manner in which we achieved it. Maintaining our playing style and showing humility in our journey.”
 
To win the league is no easy feat, but to win it that early in the season and remain unbeaten makes the achievement even more impressive. Banji claimed that the heartbreak of last season, drove the team on to win it this year.
 
“Our expectations to win the league was determined when we drew 1-1 with Glasgow Uni (last season champions) on our ground, which gave them the championship and dented our hopes. We as a group decided on that day that our expectations was to win the league this year. From the first day we got in, the players, old and new, have all embraced the pressure and delivered in style.”
 
In terms of the performance of the team, the head coach was full of praise for his players, giving a shout out to the first-year players who were prominent in the squad.
 
“I mean this, I am honestly a fan first, then a coach due to the way they have performed. The performance level has been extremely high, even when we drew our first game against UWS, we remained calm. Another pleasing aspect - this season I decided to go with a lot of first years in the first team, they have been quick learners and have embraced our system of play but most importantly they have been good around the group. This bodes well for the club's future."
 
The unbeaten run was hanging by a thread when the Watt travelled up the coast to rivals St Andrews. The team found themselves 2-0 down after the first twenty minutes but fought back to clinch an important victory.
 
“The most pleasing moment was our game against our biggest rivals St. Andrews away. We won 4-3 after being 2-0 nil down after 20 minutes, 3-2 down with five minutes to go and scored with the last kick of the ball, really boosted our confidence. Our marksman and captain Anton Dowds scoring a great hat-trick.
 
As with almost every team, injuries are bound to take their toll at one point in the season, but Banji believes that after being faced with that problem, the team proved their worth and showed the determination to be champions.
 
“Our magical moment was away to Stirling in our 6th game of the season. We were down to bare bones, players playing out of position, five minutes for a warm up and on a difficult pitch. 0-0 with ten minutes left and young player Mathew Law - making his debut - came on and scored two goals to win the match 2-0. In that moment I knew we would win the league.
 
“In our last match against Stirling to win the league, to be 4-0 nil up at half time in a such a high-pressured game and to then put in one the best performances seen at HWUFC says a lot about the players. I can't praise them highly enough. We won 5-1”
 
The mentality of the team was put under pressure for most games, with last minutes goals and big chances being common. But a particular win against Aberdeen Uni stands out for Banji.
 
“Tough test moment of the year has to be Aberdeen away 2-1, for anyone involved in BUCS knows how difficult this is. I have been involved but as a player and coach.
 
"This was the toughest yet, Aberdeen posed us a lot of difficulty in their approach to the game both physically and mentally, but we stood up to it. Our goalkeeper (Calum Reid) made a great save in the last minute to preserve our three points.”
 
With Watt being the league champions, they will play in Division 1A next season, the top division in the Scottish conference. But Banji expects it to be a challenging test and his aim is to stay up.
 
“The aim for next season is to stay in the Division 1A which is going to be difficult due to many of our players moving on (graduating) and playing in a very competitive league. It's one we are looking forward to and am sure our players will embrace the challenge. We will aim to maximise everything within our control to achieve it.”
 
An impressive season to say the least for the Watt Firsts, to go the season unbeaten as well as winning the league and retain the Scottish Student Sport Conference Cup. This will no doubt make them a formidable force for next season with the quality of players in the first team as well as the momentum and confidence they will have gained from winning the league and the cup.
 
Next season the Edinburgh outfit will be playing the likes of rivals Edinburgh University Firsts and Glasgow Uni Firsts, a step up for the Watt team but one they will be relishing and the opportunity to retain the Conference Cup for a third consecutive year.
GoFitba is a new and exciting football-based health and wellbeing project for primary school kids in Scotland, delivered by The Scottish Football Partnership Trust in association with community football clubs across the country.
 
GoFitba offers kids a 12-week project in which, after school hours, they will go through a fun, interactive and educational journey to find out how they can live a healthier lifestyle through diet and nutrition, as well as giving them an hour of football to help get them active.
 
Motherwell Community Trust is one of the clubs involved with the project, along with local school Knowetop Primary, whose pupils were excited to start week one of the project, ‘The Eatwell Guide.’
 
 
Knowetop Primary Head Teacher, Jill Nicholls shared her enthusiasm about the project:
 
“We’re next door neighbours and the club very kindly allow us to use their astroturf and some of their other facilities. So when the club was looking to work with a school, it was an obvious partnership because we are so geographically close.
 
“Our children love football as I think most children in Scotland do and because we are so closely linked with the club, there is a natural affinity. The children are desperate to go and play on the astroturf at every opportunity, so the fact that it’s in a more structured way and can offer support is excellent and I think the whole educational link as well as the fitness and health links will be really beneficial.
 
“Any school would be desperately keen to take part in an initiative like this, especially a programme about health promotion to encourage children to take up activities, to encourage them to think about healthy nutrition, because it’s fair to say that we’re not the healthiest nation.
 
“I think the children in the school will really benefit from this project because apart from the football element, they will learn and focus in a fun way on the nutritional benefit of diet and sharing the experience of the socialising element of sitting together, preparing together, planning nutritional elements which ties in with the work in our dining hall where more schools in North Lanarkshire and Scotland are moving towards more healthy menus and we’ll be able to see that in a real life context.”
 
 
At the start of the day, the kids were led onto the astroturf at the back of the John Hunter Stand where they took part in some basic passing drills, being taught the importance of warming up and cooling down as well as some tips from the coaches.
 
In small groups they were assigned a coach each who assessed their passing, whilst also giving them tips and examples of what they could do to improve their game. The kids took the advice onboard and the coaches decided that it was then time for some fun.
 
The group finished with a game of football, 6v6 with a thrilling scoreline of 5-1. Out of breath from an action packed hour of football, the group headed to the South Stand and into the dugout area before posing for photographs in the best seats in the stadium.
 
Dawn Middleton, General Manager of Motherwell Football Club Community Trust spoke about the partnership they have with The Scottish Football Partnership Trust and the work with the kids:
 
“We benefit here from the power of football, that’s the most powerful thing we’ve got because everyone loves sport. We’ve got them out there and for the first hour they’ve got sport, something they love doing, they’re running about and tuned into the coaches who also take them through the healthy eating part of the project - so they really are engaged through football.
 
“We’re in one of Scotland’s most deprived areas in North Lanarkshire so sometimes children don’t get a hot meal, but this programme teaches them and their parents about healthy eating which is critical.
 
“A lot of programmes about healthy eating tend to be about young people, but actually it’s not your nine and ten year olds that are going to do the shopping - it’s their parents and what we particularly liked about this programme is the fact that it’s about educating the parents, it’s about financial management as well.
 
“It’s teaching parents how to cook and some of the food looks phenomenal, it’s about educating people with the Eatwell Guide and all the different elements and it really is a well thought out course and that’s what appealed to us as a Trust.
 
“Before the GoFitba project, the club and the Trust already had a good relationship with The SFP but GoFitba has highlighted the continued success of that partnership.
 
“We’ve had a long standing partnership as a club and also as a Community Trust with the Scottish Football Partnership and we’re really enthused and positive about the Partnership, they’ve provided us with some changing containers and storage containers out in the astroturf and now we’re working together on this project.
 
“GoFitba is a fantastic initiative but we firmly believe that nothing should be standalone and it must be linked to other things whether that be our community team, our football development centres, our holiday camps and match day experience. All of the work in the Community Trust is about growing the next generation of Motherwell Football Club fans and for us to get those children along on a match day, bearing in mind some children in the project don’t have access to a hot meal or the financial windfall to pay £16 for a match day ticket -  but we can provide that through our partnership and if it involves coming to our centres and our programmes, then obviously its open to anyone here and we’re delighted to be involved.  If the GoFitba project opens the doors or allows us to engage with people that we wouldn’t traditionally engage with, then that’s a fantastic added benefit to the programme.”
 
 
After the session on the pitch, the youngsters headed up to the Davie Cooper Stand for the second part of the programme. In the boxes with a birds eye view of the ground, the group learned about the importance of healthy eating and the different types of food groups.
 
This was helped by the food chart and in their groups they were given the task of sorting the different types of food into categories and from that, they learned about the right portion sizes to have and about the positive effects certain foods can have on your body.
 
Jim Chapman, Head of Football at Motherwell Football Club Community Trust spoke about the benefits he felt that the GoFitba programme brought to the kids involved:
 
“I think you can see many benefits from all the children here and not just on the activity side of things but on the food and nutrition side as well, so I’m really looking forward to the next few weeks.
 
“At the same time, it’s education through playing - we get the kids playing; a wee bit of activity which is good and then they come back and think about what they were doing.
 
“We encourage them to think about that and then you look at the nutrition requirements and energy sources that they are going to get through their food and that’s why this project works perfectly together.
 
“They’ve joined in really well, some of them are maybe a little too excited at the moment but we’ll soon get them on track.
 
“It’s the first week and to see the smiles on the kids’ faces and more importantly some clean plates, especially some foods that they’ve maybe never experienced before, so it’s educational and every part of it - whether it’s physical activity or learning about different food sources - and hopefully they’ll go away after the 12 week programme a wee bit more aware about the importance of eating healthier foods as well as having physical activity to match.
 
“Today was about introducing some food groups, and more importantly the eatwell plate and about portion sizes and the hazards of taking too much of the wrong things.
 
"But it’s not to say that the food is bad for you but it’s more about the portion sizes and that was the crucial thing today. We’re hoping to get across to the parents that it’s not too bad to have these foods but it’s how much you have.
 
“It’s a great start, a great initiative and I’m quite sure that it’ll be a very successful programme for the whole country. The most important message is the education through playing, kids will take part in any activity that they love playing - they really love football, they love joining in but the most important thing is understanding the energy and resources that go with it.
 
“Some kids get a wee bit frightened to speak about what they do, even a wee bit frightened to take part in physical activity but if we can start to show the importance of how well they eat and combine that with good physical activity then maybe that’ll stop them thinking like that.
 
“A lot of young kids get self-conscious as well and some have never tried some of the food groups and are totally unaware. It’s a massive undertaking for the children at the beginning but I think that it’s a start and it’s a message that we need to continue with - and that’s not just for the kids but hopefully it will impact on the parents as well.”
 
 
While the kids were learning in their group exercises, a healthy meal was being prepared for them.  On the menu in week one was chicken pasta bake which went down an absolute treat and ended with plenty of empty plates and smiley faces!
 
With a dessert of fresh fruit and more water, the kids learned about what they had just eaten and how much protein they took from the portion of chicken. This was a chance for the youngsters to enjoy a healthy meal and to steer them away from junk food – a key component of the project’s aim.
 
With the first week of the project over, it was obvious how much the kids had enjoyed playing football as well as improving their knowledge of the game. In addition to learning about healthy alternatives, the kids increased their understanding of what food was good for them and had a better understanding about the portion sizes they should be having.
 
All of the kids seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves and were fully engaged with the programme. Dylan spoke about his favourite parts of the day:
 
“Today we were having loads of fun next to Knowetop Primary and we were doing lots of drills and then we had loads of food.
 
“The food was really nice and we learned that you always need to have a little bit of sugar in your diet but not too much. My favourite part was that we had a big match against each other. I learned that not everyone always has a balanced diet but sometimes you have to have a balanced diet and I’m going to be so excited to come again next week.”
 
The debut week of GoFitba seemed to go down a treat with the kids, which was evident by the enthusiasm and smiling face! Next up for the kids, learning about 5-a-day, every day! 
 

GoFitba is an exciting football-based health and wellbeing project for primary school kids presented by The Scottish Football Partnership Trust in association with various community football clubs across Scotland.

The project lasts 12 weeks and offers the kids a chance at the end of the school day to take part in enjoyable, physical activity. The weekly sessions provide a fun-filled and informative experience for the youngsters to discover ways in which they can stay active and improve their lifestyle through healthy food and nutrition.

One of the clubs involved with GoFitba is Kilmarnock Community Sports Trust. Kilmarnock are working alongside local school, Shortlees Primary, to deliver this new exciting initiative. Kilmarnock Community coach Mark Miller spoke highly of the project.

“We give these kids a chance to come in and train at Rugby Park which wouldn’t normally happen so the project is a great opportunity for them to do that”

The kids started off their day with an action packed training session. Here they took part in a variety of passing and shooting drills which help them build teamwork and communication skills, as well as learning different ways to complete vital skills in football.

They ended the football side of things with a penalty shootout in front of the Moffatt stand, an experience that the kids enjoyed massively.

Depute head teacher at Shortlees Heather Sabatini shared her thoughts on the positive reaction the school have had from the parents of the kids on the project.

“They were very enthusiastic, very interested in the kids taking part in it. The letters came back very quickly for the children to come to this event”

The youngsters then headed for the second part of their session, healthy eating. On the menu for them was tomato pasta and a glass of water with a selection of fruit. This is done to help with one of the key aspects of the project which is to promote healthy eating at home and steer the children away from junk foods.

Depute head Sabatini is already seeing the positive effects this is bringing, “One of the kids on the programme is already going home talking about the food they had here and the parents are starting to cook the meals we had here last week so already the parents are engaging with programme.”

An educational lesson on the ‘eat well’ plate brought an end to the day for the Shortlees youngsters. Mark Miller enthusiastically led a lesson on what they had been eating and the different food groups. He also recapped with the children what they had done during the course of the day and how this will help them throughout the rest of the course. 

Miller is hoping the kids are able to take something positive away with them from this project.
 
“The hope is to raise awareness for the kids about the benefit of healthy eating and give them advice on what they can eat and what to limit their eating of. Along with the fitness aspect to get them active, get them running about and to get that love for the game and have that done in a good environment for them”
 
Two weeks down and ten to go and it looks like the enthusiasm from these youngsters shows no signs of wavering. The GoFitba project continues!
 

We all know that football can be a catalyst for social good and there’s now a new project proving just that. GoFitba is an initiative set up by the Scottish Football Partnership (SFP) Trust which focuses on getting youngsters out of the house to play football, but crucially, also underlines the importance of nutrition and diet in living a healthy lifestyle.

The scheme has already been trialed in parts of Scotland and now features 12 clubs taking part all across the country. Kids can turn up once a week for two hours at a time – half of this is spent getting trained by club coaches, with the other half reserved for engaging lessons on how to live healthier. Sessions are rounded off with kids being fed a healthy hot meal.

Each project takes 12 weeks to run and youngsters will learn a variety of skills over that time. On the football side of things, primary school children will have the opportunity to have coaching sessions with a different focus every couple of weeks – one week it’ll be passing, the next session will be on ball control, and so on.

Stuart McCaffrey is the chief operating officer of the SFP Trust and believes the projects offer far more than a simple exercise regimes.

“The main aim of the project is working with young people and giving them opportunities to take part in regular fun football activity and to helped them to understand the importance of living a healthy life through exercise ,diet and nutrition . We’ve put together 12 structured and engaging coaching and education sessions which help the participants with their own personal development”.

“During the second hour, kids will learn about the importance of hydration, the different food groups , and the benefits they provide and personal hygiene, amongst other things such as the dangers of too much sugar in our diet. There’s also a learning journal for those involved to reflect back on their experiences and take note of what really stood out for them which they can share with their brothers and sisters and parents. This really extends the scope of what this project can achieve beyond the youngsters involved”.

Stuart continued: “It’s not just about children being more active – it’s also about trying to develop their confidence, team-building skills and working together.

“We don’t want the kids to just come for 12 weeks and then stop. By doing it at these clubs, it almost becomes a showcase into what the clubs can offer them.”

On top of the coaching sessions and nutrition lessons, Stuart also feels it is important that the children see the practical effects of these classes.

He said: “The nice part is that we’re able to reaffirm these positive messages by giving the kids a healthy cooked meal.”

GoFitba received a 50,000 Euro grant from The UEFA  Foundation for children after being nominated by the Scottish FA and a further £18,000 from the Kilpatrick Fraser Charitable Trust. The initiative has recently drawn admiration from Aileen Campbell, the Minister for Sport and public health.

She said: “The GoFitba project is a great opportunity for children to learn about the importance of health, nutrition and physical activity while having fun at the same time. It is great to see so many children and football clubs involved. The Scottish Government is committed to helping communities across Scotland to have healthy lifestyles and get more active. Projects like this demonstrate the power of football and other sports to help achieve this”.

 


For more information about the GoFitba project, click here.

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