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Advice Feb 18, 2014

Survival Training: Five healthy ways to tackle Icebreaker tournaments

WendyLeBolt-HeaderWe’ve survived the snow and ice, now how about the Icebreaker?

The tournament, I mean. Can you believe spring soccer is just around the bend? This year the weather has prevented most teams from doing a lot of preseason preparation. What will this mean when the team takes the field in March?

Is there anything we can do to help them be better prepared for the season-opening tourneys just around the corner? What should be in your Icebreaker tool box?

Weather Alert

This never used to be an issue, but in our great wisdom we created turf. Turf allows us to play in all weather conditions. So…the games that used to be canceled for puddles, driving rain, sleet or snow are now being played. We only cancel for lightning and thunder, right? Things that can kill, we respect. Things that only injure, bring ‘em on.

What can you do? 

  • Warm them up, slowly, carefully and completely. Start at the time you tell them to arrive for warm up. Don’t have kids’ teeth chattering who wait for their dawdling teammates. The late-comers don’t play until they’re fully warmed up.
  • Warm up to the field conditions. The cold ball will be hard. The field may be wet or slick. The ground might be either. Tune them into the playing conditions. They’ll be the same for both teams and, after the whistle blows, the show must go on.
  • Keep your bench players warm. It’s not wimpy to have blankets and hand warmers. Sitting is cold work; just look at the parents! Ten to 15 minutes before you plan to sub, get players up and re-warming to the conditions. If you don’t get them in, no worries. They will be happy to be moving around!

Fitness Gauge

Expect your team’s “fitness meter” to read low, maybe in the red. Yes, even teams who invested in a bit of indoor field space to do preseason tuning have been hard-pressed to get there and get to it. While time off to rest and recover is a very good thing, too much time at home leaves a bit of lethargy in its wake. Online entertainment and sleeping in does not do much for fitness. Jumping right in to full field, full minutes, full speed ahead is a recipe for fatigue, at best, and injury, at worst.

What can you do?

  • Use tournament play as training, and suspend the win-loss meter in your head.
  • You’ll have several games over a couple of days — too many, really to compete safely and hard — so use them to take a look at all your players. Play them in different spots. Challenge them with different demands. Put righty in on the left. Drop top down to bottom and send sweeper up to strike. Sub gratuitously.
  • Expect their muscles to be sore after game one and especially after day one. Competition will have them performing at a higher level than they have been in practice, even those who have worked hard. Adrenaline and teammates will do this every time. A recovery cool down (dynamic) and some stretching (static) after the game will help with lactic acid build-up in those muscles and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness that will be an adversary later.

Check the Fuel Tank

Athletes need to eat well to prepare for competition and that means healthy carbs mixed with some low fat protein for fuel on game day. If early-morning games present a challenge, fill up the night before and hydrate well before game time. Tournament games do take their toll on the energy stores. Refilling the tank is crucial: Studies show that the first 30 minutes post-game is key, and protein ingested before sleep improves muscle recovery and force production by up to 22 percent.

What can you do?

  • Plan ahead. Locate healthy eating options for between games. Coordinate with players and/or team families.
  • If there is not enough time for a whole meal, gather the team for healthy snacks. Bagels and light cream cheese. Hot chocolate with lowfat milk. Bananas. Cereal. Granola bars. Trail mix. Stay away from pure sugar, high fat and fiber.
  • Most tournaments have vendors who offer food and snack options to competitors and spectators. For me, this is the last resort. Advise players about the best choices. Two Snickers bars and a Ring Pop won’t get them to the second half. A cheeseburger with the works may have them doubled over in the parking lot. I am still waiting for the boxed lunch delivered field side by the enterprising nutrition entrepreneur. I would love to see this at every tournament.

Rest and Recovery

Kids are high-energy, especially when they’re excited. Power them up to play their best in their opening tournament, toss them out there with a bunch of their friends, fill them up with snacks and dinner and you may have some whirling dervishes on your hands.

Now what? Ha. I don’t have a good answer for this one, but here are some possibilities:

  • Option 1: This is about the fun. Just hold on till the end of the tournament.
  • Option 2: Set a curfew and stick to it (works if you’re on the road and have a block of rooms).
  • Option 3: Sleep, elusive though it may be, is essential for recovery and rebuilding of the days’ damage done. Shut down screens early and make lights out at a designated time the expectation. Sleepovers doom play the next day. (Caution: I have found that between-game naps are usually energy sappers, too.)

Game Plan

As coach, it’s essential to establish clear objectives for the preseason tournament and communicate these to the players and team parents. Expectations are much easier to meet and more difficult to challenge when you state them clearly for everyone. The season opener is your title page and preface. Write it down. What are your pre-season objectives?

  • Playing time
  • Getting the kinks out
  • Having fun
  • Getting to know teammates – new or old – team bonding
  • Trying players at different positions
  • Cardio training
  • Dynamic tune up
  • Trying out new players or guest players

The “showcase” phenomenon presents an interesting challenge for today’s high school players. We’re asking them to “show well” at a time when they are hardly ready to show up. It may be that these college coaches are looking for kids who can persevere through the tough conditions and lead their teams in spite of them. The ones who do more than survive will stand out. 

Stay safe everyone and play well. See you out there on the pitch. I’m the one bundled in four or five extra layers. See me at halftime. I’ll have the heat on and extra blankets in the back.