• Train, and Recover, Like a U.S. Soccer Star

    September 1, 2015 MVP Blog comments

    It has been a triumphal summer for women’s soccer in the United States. Although the U.S. Women’s National Team began their march through the 2015 World Cup field somewhat haltingly, with narrow wins during the group stage over teams that they were expected to thump, they rapidly gained confidence, cohesion and dominance.

    (NYTimes.com, by Gretchen Reynolds)

    By the championship game against Japan, the U.S. women were unstoppable. They overpowered Japan’s defense and poured in five goals, one of which, a thundering half-field smash by the midfielder Carli Lloyd, would have made the highlight reel of any men’s team.

    And they weren’t done. They out-ran and out-muscled the Japanese squad throughout the full 90-plus minutes of play.

    Since then, the United States women have continued to display enviable fitness and power. Last Sunday, at the Pittsburgh Steeler’s football stadium in Pittsburgh, during the first game of a 10-match victory tour, they steamrolled the visiting Costa Rica squad, winning 8-0, almost an American football score line.

    Such ascendance naturally raises the question, how in the world did these athletes become so fit?

    The short answer is that they listened to Dawn Scott, the fitness and performance coach for the U.S. women’s team and one of the most influential behind-the-scenes players in women’s soccer today.

    A native of Newcastle, England, Ms. Scott joined the U.S. team six years ago after a decade of working with elite British men’s teams and the British women’s national team.

    Since then, she has upended the American women’s training, using sophisticated exercise science to guide training and pioneering the use of metrics.

    With youth and high school soccer teams across the country beginning their training now for the fall soccer season and with so many young players, female and male, having been inspired by the women’s national team, this seems an ideal moment to learn more about Ms. Scott’s training methods and how they might be put to use by players at home.

    I caught up with her as she was making a recent guest appearance at the Nike National Training Camp in Beaverton, Ore., where she was working with 100 of the top female high school players from the Elite Clubs National League. What follows are edited excerpts from our conversation.


    You’ve worked with top male and female soccer players. How does the training differ between men and women? And should it?


    Obviously, women are not quite as strong and muscular as men. That’s a physical reality. So you take that into account when you plan training sessions. You might make a lifting session a bit shorter. But the basic routine is the same. You want players to gain endurance and strength, and women can do that the same as men can. No one who watched our team in the championship game would think that women can’t get strong and fit.


    Are there any areas related to training that women players should especially emphasize, maybe more than men would?


    Knees are a big concern, especially A.C.L. tears. Coaches and trainers of girls’ teams should make sure that the players warm up well and that they strengthen their legs, focusing on the muscles around the knees. Quad strength is important for women.


    How do you monitor fitness and strength in the women on the national team?


    We use pretty sophisticated monitoring equipment. All of the players wear a heart rate monitor during every session and game and we’ve added G.P.S. monitors, too. That lets us track precisely how much and how fast every player runs. We can tell when they shift direction and when they start to slow down. We can compare one player’s heart rate with another’s. We can totally individualize the players’ training now, based on each athlete’s fitness and position and what she needs to be doing during every game. There’s no one-size-fits all approach.


    Most youth coaches don’t have those kinds of technological resources. How would you suggest that they track their players’ fitness?


    Ask them. We have players tell us after every session how they felt. Technology is great but athletes still can be very reliable judges of how their bodies are working.


    What was the biggest change that you made to the training of the women’s team when you came on six years ago?


    Probably emphasizing recovery. The American team was already famous for its conditioning. The women had always done a lot of running. But when I came in, they weren’t devoting the same resources to recovery, which I thought was a problem. To me, recovery is such a massive aspect of overall fitness. It’s what prepares you for the next session or game. If you don’t recover, you start the next session tired and that sets you up for poor performance or injury.


    You’re working at the moment with some of the country’s top high school female players. Seeing them play, how do you feel about the future of women’s soccer in the United States?


    Seeing these girls and what they can do, I’d say that the U.S. is going to be powerhouse in women’s soccer for a long time to come.

    5 Ways to Recover Like a U.S. Soccer Star

    “For me, as soon as you finish a game or a training session, you are preparing for your next session,” Dawn Scott said. “The more you can do to accelerate that process, then the more quality and energy you will have for your next session.” To that end, she said, “these are the key recovery strategies and methods we encourage and have available to the players from the final whistle.”

    The research “is mixed and inconclusive for some of these,” she noted, “but I am of the mindset that athletes should try different methods and find what works for them. Even if a method only makes you feel better mentally, then it is worth using, since we often forget about relaxation of the recovery process.”

    1. Cool down. Gently jog and move around for five to 10 minutes at the end of a practice or game to gradually return the heart rate to resting levels and prevent blood pooling. Follow up with some light stretching.

    2. Roll. Foam rollers can really pinpoint areas of tightness or soreness in muscles, Ms. Scott said. Use the rollers as soon as you can after training and games. But don’t push too hard on sore muscles or you can increase achiness. Let your muscles tell you what they can stand.

    3. Really cool down. Fill your bathtub with cold water and add a couple of bags of ice. Sit in the tub for 10 minutes straight, Ms. Scott advised, and then shower normally.

    4. Squeeze. Pull on compression shorts or socks for a few hours after you have showered or if you don’t find them too uncomfortable, sleep in them for maximum benefit.

    5. Sleep. Make sure your bedroom is quiet and dark. Turn off your cellphone and tablet. “The quality and duration of your sleep will have a big effect on how well you recover,” Ms. Scott said.