PWSI Icebreaker: Fitness, recovery pivotal for cup contenders
By Michael Willis
The PWSI Icebreaker tournament can be a grueling event.
With teams coming from as far as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and being asked to play consecutive games in a short time-frame, the tournament setting is not for the ill-prepared. Proper preparation the night before and game day hydration is fundamental to being successful.
Take, for example, FC Pittsburgh, the U-19 Boys squad playing in the Prince William Cup. Their challenges began before they even left their home state to step onto the field at Howison Park in Manassas, Virginia.
First, their roughly five-hour trip Friday evening to the hotel in Virginia. That may not seem like much, but traveling can be difficult when everyone on the team has a different schedule. Oftentimes, players arrive at different hours. The later a team arrives, the less quality sleep they will be getting before FC Pittsburgh’s first game at 8 a.m.
“In an 8 a.m. [kickoff] after a longer trip, where some guys didn’t get in until midnight, I thought we were sluggish,” explained their coach, Chris Karwoski, when asked by Soccerwire.com about their performance. “We probably should have done better than a nil-nil draw.”
Overcoming the early start time was just the first dilemma, because like many teams, FC Pittsburgh’s U-19 boys squad had another game in less than four hours.
And the competition at the tournament does not get any weaker; on the contrary, in this instance it got stiffer. Their next opponent was the seventh-ranked team in Maryland, FC Frederick ’94 Royal.
You would think that a coach would be pleased after a 2-1 victory in the second leg of the afternoon against a very strong team. But then, coaches aren’t paid for complacency. Karwoski attributes fatigue to the mental errors that led to their only goal allowed of the day.
“They were a better opponent,” he said of Pittsburgh’s second foe, “but from just a snapshot of the game I think we didn’t manage it well. We were up 2-0, but we kept playing too much individually…we got caught in possession and they ended up getting a goal.
“We just played two matches against two good opponents, including an 8 a.m. [kickoff], which is always hard on these high schoolers,” he chuckled. “I definitely saw fatigue going on.”
Indeed, when fatigue sets in, it’s unlikely that teams will permanently remain on their best game, which is why doing the proper things before, during, and after games is absolutely essential.
“We had training on Thursday night where we actually did an inter-club scrimmage just to get ready,” noted Karwoski. “We talked about, ‘Hey, [Friday will be] a travel day, so make sure tonight you’re getting rest, a lot of hydration.’ It’s going to be a little warmer. Lot of fluids, good nutrition, and rest. Just make sure they’re not up late playing video games. In between games, they just need down time, you know? Replenish a little bit of energy and fluids, and then you’ve just got to get through the second game.”
“But we were resilient enough to bend, but not break.”
Perhaps that is what it takes to compete in a tournament like this, when your best form is unlikely to show up in every game, considering the time constraints placed on rest and recuperation. Sometimes the goal is simply to beat out the other teams and play for tomorrow. Endurance is a crucial part of the game, and only the fittest outfits persevere.
“The good thing is we’ve got a long rest,” Karwoski commented, “and we don’t have to show up until 8 am tomorrow.”
Even for teams that only travel a few paces away, like the SYC (Springfield South County Youth Club) Titans, the exhaustion that sets in as a result of the amount of energy these kids expel can drastically alter game plans.
Much like FC Frederick, their stalemate opponent in Saturday’s first 8 a.m. game, the second match was more about health than anything else for the Titans. With players cramping up and falling all over the turf, head coach Sean Burke erred on the side of caution.
“I actually tell that that it doesn’t matter if we win,” Burke responded when asked about what preparation he takes on grueling days like this, “[I tell them] just to play simple, play smart, and let’s get out of here with no injuries.”
To further complicate matters, the SYC Titans goalkeeper ended up finishing the game with a broken hand, forcing them to use field players to compensate.
Still, Burke was complimentary of the tournament mandates overall for their insistence on limiting matches to specific time frames and ensuring that no team played to the point of absurdity.
“Limiting the games to 60 minutes, I really appreciate everything [the tournament] is doing there,” he said. “That means a lot to coaches like myself who understand that you can’t play two full games in a day if they were 80 to 90 minutes. It would be disastrous.”
Playing to not get hurt and ensuring that your team plays smart and safe football is certainly a strategy. And it is apparently one that works; the SYC Titans finished in a three-way tie with FC Pittsburgh and AFFA for most points after two games in the U-19 group.
Either way, both teams have to get up and go to battle again tomorrow. The winner of the Icebreakers tournament may just end up being the team that implements the best refueling strategy.