Youth Soccer Players: Understanding Energy Systems

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Football players obtain energy both aerobically and anaerobically. During a game of soccer, players will run, sprint, jog and walk – all of which use different sources of energy.

As the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems develop, players’ performance during matches and in training sessions will change. It’s essential to understand what is occurring and how you need to plan coaching sessions accordingly.

Adenosine Troposphere (ATP) is the main energy or fuel that we acquire from eating food such as fat or carbohydrates. Anaerobic energy gives players short concentrated bursts for activities such as sprinting, whereas aerobic energy gives performance over a longer period of time as, for instance, in jogging.

Anaerobic Energy

As previously mentioned, anaerobic energy enables players to perform short bursts of intensive activity, such as chasing, sprinting, heading, etc. To perform these actions, energy must be released quickly so the body obtains small quantities of ATP energy from muscles and from breaking down a substance called glycogen, which accumulates, in the muscles and in the liver.

This combination permits young soccer players to perform short bursts of high intensive actions usually for around 5 – 60 seconds. However, when glycogen is broken down by the body, another substance called lactate is produced and begins to accumulate in the muscles that are being exerted. The production of lactate results in muscle fatigue, therefore the more intensive the action, the more lactate builds up, hence the quicker muscle fatigue will set in.

The positive news for junior and youth soccer players is that the amount of lactate accumulated in their blood and muscles after a period of intensive exercise is much lower than that of an adult. This doesn’t however mean they suffer reduced muscle fatigue but does imply their muscles are more responsive to aerobic energy supplies rather than anaerobic. Before and during puberty, there isn’t much difference between the anaerobic capacity of boys and girls but once puberty has passed, boys anaerobic energy systems are much superior to girls.

Aerobic Energy

Young soccer players and even those in late adolescence obtain a high percentage of their energy from aerobic sources, as this is much more efficient. Fat is used for the supply of ATP in aerobic energy systems and young players use this system every bit as successfully as adults do. Knowledge and understanding of these energy sources will assist you as a coach to get the very best from your players.

Unlike adults however, young players will struggle to maintain long stretches of low intensity action. The reason for this is growth spurts, lesser bulk to store glycogen and a less efficient temperature regulation process.

It’s important to be aware of these differences between adult and youth soccer players. Many coaches have a habit of treating young players just like ‘mini adults,’ basing their coaching sessions accordingly. Always evaluate the size and shape of youth players as an estimate to how effectively they can deal with stamina-based activities.

Smaller players usually have a lesser body mass and use up less oxygen to carry out sustained activity than a taller and heavier player does. Overall, however, as a small player develops he will be capable of breathing in higher amounts of air by taking larger and deeper breaths and of using oxygen more efficiently.

How hard do your players train?

In order to evaluate how intensely players are performing during coaching sessions, heart rate monitors can be used. Whilst training ask your players to record how hard they work.

Whenever your players take a break from training, get them to immediately find a pulse on their wrist by pressing with their middle and index fingers. Ask them to count the pulse beats whilst you calculate ten seconds on a watch.

Get the players to multiply the number of pulse beats by six, which gives a rough idea of the speed their heart is working and indicates how intensely they are working. This is only a very approximate reading but other methods such as a heart rate monitor will provide a much more clear and accurate picture.