by Tony Waiters

Do you want your players to compete at their peak potential on a regular basis, and not have to take time or practices off so that they can recover from the game or practice? 

That is the question every coach should ask themselves as the soccer season progresses.  The coach has the responsibility of making sure that the players are able to perform at their optimal levels while maintaining a high level of consistency in effort, skill, and mental preparation.  If a player is allowed to reach the point of mental and physical saturation/fatigue then their performance will be affected.  As a result the team may not perform well on days that count the most.

The lack of or poor recovery and regeneration strategies will lead to overtraining.  The greater the fatigue of the tissue, the greater the poor after-effects.  This will lead to:

  • Low recovery rate
  • Poor coordination
  • Decreased speed and power of muscle contraction.(Lehmann et al, 1997).

All of these can and will eventually lead to injury.

Everyone needs to be aware of the various strategies that professionals can use.  Some may not be appropriate for your specific team this year, but as the players get older being able to go back to the following strategies will be beneficial.

Players need to avoid the three different types of fatigue:

  1. Metabolic fatigue:  When the body does not have enough energy stored for the next training session or is unable to rebuild damaged tissue.
  2. Neural fatigue:  When the body is no longer able to activate muscles.
  3. Psychological fatigue:  Actual or perceived mental overload.

SOME  FACTORS AFFECTING RECOVERY

Age

Older athletes require longer recovery periods after training than younger players.  Of note is that athletes younger than 18 years of age require longer rest periods  between training to facilitate higher intensity training  (Nudel et al, 1989).

Gender

Females recover slower than males, primarily due to decreased levels of testosterone (Vender et al, 1990).

Injury

Injured players require more time to recover between sessions because the tissues are already compromised (Berg,1994).

Type of Muscle Fibers

Fast twitch muscle fibers recover faster than slower twitch, thus quadriceps and hamstrings would benefit from specific recovery strategies.

Psychological

Negative feelings appear to trigger the release of stress related hormones.  This in turn can cause a variety of physiological problems that can inhibit muscle tissue growth repair (Bloomfield et al, 1993).

Lactic Acid Removal From the Body

Lactic acid, a waste product of intense exercise, needs to be removed from both muscle and blood for the body to recover from exercise.  It must be noted that it takes at least two hours for lactic acid to be removed from blood and muscle if the athlete undertakes a regime of simple rest and recovery.  If the player uses ‘active recovery’, which includes some light jogging where the heart rate is 60% of maximum for a minimum of ten minutes, the lactic acid is removed in one hour!

A coach can help reduce the effects of these factors by implementing all or some of the following strategies:

PERIODIZATION OF TRAINING

Even the most inexperienced coach needs to chart out the season for his team.  He needs to decide when the team needs to peak and slowly build the team’s fitness and knowledge base so that the players are peaking at the appropriate times.  Sometimes the team will need to peak at two different times in the season.  This needs to be taken into consideration when planning training days and specific days off.  Remember that a lot of the recovery and regeneration does NOT take place on the soccer field necessarily.  So, although the team may only have two specific training days allocated by the club, the team can do activities together in a gym, weight room, park, track, or other similar facilities to ensure that the strategies are being carried out.  Players should also be educated to the value of incorporating the various strategies into their busy schedules.

REST/SLEEP

It can’t be emphasized enough to players that rest/sleep is an important component for recovery and regeneration.   A nightly sleep of 7-10 hours is a must, even for the night owl teenager.  The body’s ability to restore the appropriate energy stores and allow the nutrients to reach the correct tissues is done during this period.  Cat naps of fifteen to twenty minutes during the day have proven to be very beneficial to re-energizing the individual.  Just make sure it isn’t done during school classes. Naps lasting longer than twenty minutes have tended to lead to a sluggish performance in afternoon sessions.  If this holds true, then the player will have reduced the quality of training that day and as a result achieve a lower training effect.

NUTRITION

Proper nutrition is needed to replenish depleted energy stores.  Carbohydrates, protein, minerals and vitamins are all needed for energy, and repairing and building tissue.  There are many good resources regarding nutrition and they should be consulted for a better appreciation of the extent of knowledge that is needed.  

GENERAL FITNESS

The fittest athlete recovers faster.  This is by:

  • more efficient removal of damaged waste products produced by a high intensity session;
  • a more efficient delivery system of nutrients to muscles for rebuilding tissue;
  • fitter athletes have shown a better ability to handle stressors (both mental and physical). RECOMMENDATIONS  A coach can help implement some or all of the following strategies to help his players avoid the pitfalls of overtraining and burnout.  It is suggested that a coach use one, some or all of the following:
    Kinotherapy –  moderate aerobic running (for up to ten to 15 minutes at 60% maximum heartrate) which can include some dynamic stretches and then end with static stretches of the key fast twitch fibers of the calf muscles, the thigh (quadriceps in the front and hamstrings in the back) and torso.
    Rest – allow the players enough time to sleep 7-10 hours when possible.
    Massage – players can get a post-event massage of the major muscles in the body or they can use a small foam roller to self-massage the key muscles noted earlier.
    Cold tubs – allow time for players to use ice on key joints in the lower extremity or allow time for the players to use ice baths.  Typically the players are in the ice bath up to ten minutes up to their waist.  The ice bath is at 4-8 degrees celcius. The benefit mostly comes from the analgesic effect on localized tissue.  This is even more useful with injured tissue, fast twitch muscles (like the lower extremity) and tendons.
    Fluid and Fuel Replenishment – an easy way is to have players weigh themselves before and after playing.  They need to drink 1-1.5 liters (4-6 cups) of water for every kilogram  (2.2 lbs) lost during the competition.  Eating carbohydrate rich foods within twenty to forty minutes post competition is very useful.
    Compression – some athletes have benefitted from using compression shorts and socks to promote circulation.  Final scientific studies on this theory using athletes have not been published to date but anecdotal evidence thus far is positive.
    Positive feedback – being positive and encouraging to your players will allow them to perform at their peak potential.  The avoidance of negative feelings will not trigger the hormones leading to inhibition of tissue repair.
    SUMMARY
    Be sensitive to your athletes and look for signs that your athletes are struggling with the schedule.  Be flexible in your approach so that you do not burnout your players and the season becomes enjoyable, successful and injury free.
  • References
     
    Balyi, I.  (2002) Long-Term Athlete Development- The BC Approach. SportMedBC.
     
    Kallmann, M. (2002).  Enhancing Recovery: Preventing Underperformance in Athletes.  Champaign, IL, USA. Human Kinetics.
     
    Koutedakis, Y., Budgett, R., Faulmann, L. (1990) Rest in underperforming elite competitors. BJSM 24:248-52.
     
    Lehmann, M., Foster, C., Dickhuth, H., Gastmann, U. (1998)  Autonomic Imbalance Hypothesis and Overtraining Syndrome.  Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 30:1140-5.
     
    Smith, Richard.  Optimal Performance through Effective Recovery and Regeneration.
     
    SportMedBC.  In Training Manual, “Recovery and Regeneration.”.
     
    Thomson, Cindy.  Recovery and Regeneration.  December 2006. Pacific Sport Strength and Conditioning Coach. 
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