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Canadian Women's Soccer Team Fitter Than Ever

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Some interesting comments also about what happened at the WWC - JM

Canadian Women's Soccer Team Fitter Than Ever

The Canadian Press May 10, 2012

If Christine Sinclair isn't running hard enough or long enough, or her heart rate drops below the optimal level, Cesar Meylan knows about it.

Like soccer's version of Big Brother, Meylan is constantly monitoring Canada's women's soccer captain and her teammates, meticulously gathering data and drawing up training programs.

It's all part of Canada's quest for Olympic glory, and Sinclair is already loving the results.

"Absolutely, I'm in the best shape of my life. Without a doubt," said Sinclair, looking undeniably lean on a recent trip to Toronto.

Meylan is a sport scientist with the women's team, following head coach John Herdman from New Zealand's women's squad to Canada when he was hired last September.

The two believe in a scientific approach to training, and what the stats showed them a few months ago is that the Canadians weren't as fit as they needed to be to keep pace with the top teams in the world.

FIFA, the world's governing body for soccer, used a soccer analysis program called Prozone to study every player in every game at last summer's women's World Cup in Germany. The results showed Canada — which was ousted in the opening round — was the seventh fittest squad in the tournament.

That wasn't good enough for Herdman.

"(Herdman) expects us to be the fittest team leading into London, so in the span of less than a year, we've changed a lot," Sinclair said, in Toronto on a promotional tour for sponsor Tide detergent.

The team is based in Vancouver, housed in furnished downtown apartments. Training camp is scheduled in three-week blocks with a week away in-between to train at home. The Canadians spent several months leading up to the World Cup in Rome with former coach Carolina Morace — an experience Sinclair wouldn't want to repeat.

"We have a great group, but even with your best friends, you need to get away from them, and in Rome there was none of that," Sinclair said. "I think a big thing (at the World Cup) was players were ready to go home. You had people counting down the days until they could go home and that is not what your mindset should be at a World Cup or an Olympics.

"We had some people who hadn't been home since Christmas, and the World Cup was in July. Obviously athletes are trained to train hard and push through barriers, but we still need some sort of balance in our lives."

The 28-year-old Sinclair, Canada's leader in career goals with 133, admitted the past few months have been some of the toughest of her career.

"John has us working pretty hard, a lot of double days, a lot of lifting, a lot of running," said Sinclair.

Saturdays are the real gut-wrenching days. The team is in the weight room at the Olympic Oval in Richmond, B.C., at 7:30 a.m. for two hours of lifting. They're back in the afternoon for a gruelling cardio workout of indoor soccer. Split into two groups, they play six four-minute mini games during which they have to keep their heart rate at 90 per cent of their maximum. While one group is playing, the other is running around the track.

"It's doable. . . but we have Sundays off to recover," Sinclair said laughing. "No one has thrown up yet, but it's entertaining, just to see how different people deal with exhaustion. Some people get really mad, others just give up."

The players wear heart-rate monitors plus GPS units that tuck into pockets in the back of their sports bras, which allow Meylan to keep tabs on how hard they're working.

"It sends signals to a satellite so you can measure the speed at which the player is travelling, how many sprints they're doing, how many high-intensity runs they're doing," Meylan said. "You can measure how many accelerations they do forward, how many times they decelerate, they go sideways, up and down. . .

"You can pretty much have unlimited data on all their activity on the field."

Meylan puts the players through a battery of tests every two months or so, and said the players have improved on average about 3.5 per cent since increasing their workload following the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in January.

"It's a huge improvement, especially for players who were already at a decent level," Meylan said.

Playing time is the other major indicator of fitness, said the Swiss sports scientist. Herdman had to manage minutes by rotating players through matches at the Pan Am Games last October and the CONCACAF qualifier in Vancouver.

"We don't have to do that anymore," Meylan said. "And they don't carry as many chronic injuries."

The Canadians are also using the Prozone program to study the teams they'll face in opening round of the Olympics. Canada is in a pool with World Cup champion Japan, plus Sweden and South Africa, and has already gathered data to be analyzed on all three.

Prozone is used by the top European pro teams, plus some of the bigger U.S. university programs, to break down everything that goes on during a game. In its analysis of the women's World Cup, FIFA gathered data on everything from which team ran the most overall, to which team showed the biggest drop-off from the first half to the second, and how many runs the top players made.

"My job now is to then look at the activity profile (of Canada's three opening-round opponents in London)," Meylan said. "What runs they're making, where do they tend to be running on the field, at what intensity, et cetera."

No. 7 Canada opens the Olympic tournament versus third-ranked Japan on July 25 at Coventry's Ricoh Arena, two days before the opening ceremonies. The Canadians will face South Africa (No. 65) on July 28 in Coventry, then wrap up the preliminary round versus No. 5 Sweden at Newcastle on July 31.

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Duane Rollins had the classic tweet today:

Duane Rollins ‏@24thminute

Listening to #CanWNT interview. You [know] what would have been nice? Hearing insiders criticize Morace AT TIME rather than attacking those who were

From someone who's heard every "praise Hallelujah" and "I just love {the new coach}" for decades, it gets pretty formulaic and cold after you hear the same players gush the same things about three different people, all of whom are about as different as you can find.

I had a moment a few weeks ago somewhat like Duane Rollins where yet another cycle of inch thick patronizing and b.s. was making me nauseous. Sure that's the game off the field but as he has alluded to backbone and spine are worth their weight in gold. My take was more performance-oriented and a derivation of Hemingway's "you lose it if you talk about it." It was - "stop talking and win."

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I was just thinking, you never see an article which says "Players relatively less fit this time" or "New coach bringing 'different, but not necessarily better' attitude to locker room"...

or "We're wingin' it"...

Reminds me of that great Harry Neale quote from when he coached the Canucks. "We can't win at home; we can't win on the road. My failure as a coach is I can't think of another place to play."

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William Hill odds on overall winner and groups. Brazil seems a bit overinflated and GB at 16-1 looks interesting.


USA 11/4

Brazil 3/1

Japan 3/1

France 11/2

Sweden 10/1

Great Britain 16/1

North Korea 20/1

Canada 20/1

New Zealand 50/1

Columbia 100/1

Cameroon 100/1

South Africa 100/1


Brazil 2/5

Great Britain 11/4

New Zealand 6/1

Cameroon 16/1


Japan 8/11

Sweden 7/4

Canada 9/2

South Africa 33/1


USA 8/13

France 13/8

North Korea 7/1

Columbia 33/1

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Interesting deVos tweet given the thread topic:

Jason deVos ‏@jasondevos

“The difference between the best players in the world and the rest is decision making at the highest level.” John Herdman #canWNT

There is a very definite relationship between decision-making and fitness. The better your fitness the better your ability to perform situational analysis in microseconds. That said there are exceptions to his rule for things you can't coach or learn like speed (de Vanna, Leroux) or height or size (JScott, Zurrer). Speed kills and size in certain positions and dead ball situations is a definite edge. Mad skills won't hurt you either. The EPL has it's fair share of insanely talented players with pretty marginal-decision making at times.

The other talent is creativity. Decision-making is the ability to quickly cycle through possibilities. Creativity is the ability to invent them.

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