Combine offers unique experience into world class training
US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (US Youth Soccer ODP
) players arrived at the FC Dallas Stadium Complex on March 2 to experience something previously only left to the likes of athletes at the NFL Combine or LA Galaxy.
Some were nervous with expectations and others just wanted to get out on the field and see what a timed 40-yard dash with motion sensors and photos of their movement was all about. Others wanted to see how their times compared with others from around the country.
Thanks to US Youth Soccer partner SKLZ, the industry leader in sports training products, content and programs, select US Youth Soccer ODP teams from the US Youth Soccer ODP Championships were provided a unique opportunity to learn from those that teach athletes at the highest levels. Through a team-effort of design, the player evaluation combine tested a variety of players’ athletic abilities specific to soccer.
Zybek Sports, a leading provider of precision physical measurement and athletic training equipment, was there with the same tools used at the 2013 NFL Combine
. Athlete’s Performance
, the industry leader in integrated performance training, offered best-in-class education to the athletes on how to improve their performance on the field, and Axon Sports
, official US Youth Soccer partner dedicated to protecting and training the Athletic Brain, offered cognitive testing via iPads to the combine athletes.
In addition to learning specific movements on how to best warm up and cool down, the athletes were provided critiques on their form and body positioning to be more explosive and reduce strain on their bodies to prevent injuries.
"I thought it was going to be difficult, and you were going to have to compete against other players. It was more relaxed and it helped us out a lot," said Hope Van Wagner, an Indiana 1996 Girls player. "It was a great experience. It meant a lot to all the teams out there, especially our team and me as a player because it will help out in the long run and help us become better players mentally and physically."
As the Official Player Performance Partner to US Youth Soccer, SKLZ has developed a new soccer-specific player evaluation and assessment platform to provide players and coaches with a standardized way to assess and address their athletic strengths and weaknesses. This platform, developed with Athletes' Performance, is fully supported with education and integrated training as a follow-up to the combine.
Players who took part in the March 2 combine participated in athletic testing exercises, such as the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, shuttle runs and lateral movement testing using light indicators. Each player received individual feedback to pinpoint areas he or she can work on to improve.
Indiana 96 Girls coach John Marovich said he was able to identify an area in which his team needed to improve — crossover steps for lateral movement — just from watching the drill and seeing the results data. He said better technique could improve balance with that movement and make them more effective when breaking down while defending a player with the ball.
"I think those numbers will be able to show them, ‘Hey, these are areas you need to focus on and improve upon,’" Marovich said. "When they have those numbers, then they’re going to see with training when they go back to test again, now they’re going to be able to say, ‘Hey, I actually got better. I see the improvement.’ It’s not just the feel. It’s something tangible for them to see."
Some of the players immediately experienced improved performances after some quick instruction at the combine, with a few players shaving up to .75 seconds off their 40-yard times. James Choe, Vice President of Business Development for SKLZ, said it’s encouraging to see the reaction on the participant’s faces when they see they’ve bettered themselves in a matter of five minutes.
Choe said the combine is about education just as much as it’s about athleticism. Kids are lucky to get any performance data at similar events, but SKLZ provides individual and comparative data against the field, as well as education on technique to further improvement, he said. Because of the importance of the mental side of athletics, Choe said SKLZ is working with Axon Sports, in conjunction with US Youth Soccer, to create training products to test cognitive abilities of young athletes.
"What your eyes see, your brain processes, your body does. Shortening the time for that to happen is our goal," Choe said. "Getting them to see the game differently, almost roll out before it happens. It’s like what Wayne Gretzky says. He skates to where the puck is going, not where it’s at."
SKLZ plans to do a tour with US Youth Soccer, so that 2,000-3,000 kids get a chance to participate in the training evaluations. Choe noted that many kids can’t afford to go to elite, seven-day camps, and this combine is a quick way to improve athleticism for youth players who want to perform at a higher level.
Florida 1997 Boys player Ghedi Omar said it was especially neat to take part in tests that professional players use.
"It makes us so much of a better player that we’re doing things that pros get to do," Omar said. "The [40-yard dash], I really had to push it, and the lateral movement was a little tricky. In the end, it was a lot of fun and worth the effort."
Marovich, who also coaches at Valparaiso University, said he’s already seen the worth of such programs. He said functional movement similar to that taught during the combine’s stretching warm-up has reduced the number of soft tissue injuries at Valparaiso and helped create healthier athletes.
And as far as soccer performance, Marovich believes the lessons taught during the combine evaluation can help give players an edge on the field.
"I’ve seen the incredible impact it’s had with my college players," Marovich said. "If we can get the kids at this age to think about it and take some of these things back home and do them on a regular basis, they’re going to find that their performances just go through the roof."
Players and coaches will be given a basic understanding as to where players rate individually and rank versus the field. SKLZ and Athletes' Performance will in turn support all participants post-event with detailed reports, the education to interpret and correlate the data and solutions to correct key areas with training.
"This event represents a huge milestone for SKLZ in furthering our mission and promise to US Youth Soccer," said SKLZ CEO John Sarkisian. "We're not only delivering the best in training products and content, but now providing these young players with knowledge about their individual athletic abilities to help them better achieve their goals on and off the field."
SKLZ and US Youth Soccer plan to roll out a tour of similar player evaluation events on a national scale, with the goal of offering the ultimate in testing and training systems for US Youth Soccer players.
SKLZ is committed to elevating the athlete in each of us by guiding and serving athletes on their journeys to be their personal best. As the flagship brand of Pro Performance Sports, SKLZ develops innovative athletic performance and skill development training products, technology and knowledge for serious athletes of all ages, skill levels and sports. Based in San Diego, California, SKLZ delivers durable, high-performance trainers that can be found around the world at major sporting goods retailers, specialty shops, and mass merchants, as well as on the SKLZ web site www.sklz.com
About the United States Youth Soccer Association (US Youth Soccer)
US Youth Soccer - "The Game for ALL Kids!®" is the largest youth sports organization in the country and largest member of the United States Soccer Federation, the governing body of soccer in the United States. US Youth Soccer registers more than 3 million players annually, ages 5 to 19, and over 900,000 administrators, coaches and volunteers in 55 member State Associations. US Youth Soccer programs provide a fun, safe and healthy environment for players at every level of the game. For more information, visit www.USYouthSoccer.org