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Training Load Monitoring In Youth Football Development

In the world of youth sport where development is the ultimate goal, the importance of carefully monitoring young athletes cannot be underestimated. It can be easy to forget that young athletes are still children, and that their bodies and minds are still developing, which is why special care should be taken when it comes to their training. Karl Attard, a Fitness Coach with the Malta Football Association National Teams, is aware of the risks young athletes run if their training load is not carefully monitored and controlled.

“Training load can be viewed as any stress put on the body, be it physical or mental, and often refers to the stress that results from the volume and intensity of training or during competitions,” explains Attard. “There are two types of training loads: the internal and the external one. The former is the physiological response a person has to exercise, and it differs from person to person according to their level of fitness and abilities. External training load, on the other hand, is the work completed, and is measured independently of a person’s internal characteristics. So, if two people run five kilometres but their fitness levels are different, one person might feel exhausted, while the other might not struggle at all. Their response to the run is their internal load, but the external load of five kilometres is the same for both.”

“Alongside heart rate monitors, the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale is probably the most commonly used tool to monitor the internal load, which is a scientifically validated method,” explains Attard. “Thanks to RPE, coaches can understand how each athlete perceives the prescribed load. External load monitoring, however, varies depending on the setting. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology provides objective feedback about the work performed by the players via an array of metrics.”

Coaches also rely upon another monitoring tool which allows them to assess the athletes’ perceived physical, psychological, and/or social wellbeing. “We monitor important factors such as perceived muscular soreness, fatigue, and mood through a self-reported questionnaire,” says Attard. “Of course, we need to educate the athletes on how to report, and trust and honesty are of utmost importance in this case. Having an open line of communication with the athletes is fundamental since data can quickly become unreliable if they only tell you what you want to hear.”

In youth football, managing the training load is fundamental in preventing injuries that are related to overuse or growth. And although there are many similarities between adolescent girls and boys, girls tend to start their adolescent phase earlier than boys and have different physiological and psycho-social needs. “Apart from the higher risk of certain injuries, the biggest difference which is rarely discussed is the menstrual cycle. I believe that we are past treating this subject as a taboo and there is a pressing need for more awareness and education,” continues Attard. “I think we will eventually need more specialised modules in coaching courses and sports degrees pertaining to female athletes.”

Attard’s advice to parents of very young players is to expose children to a variety of sports and activities. “I would avoid an early specialisation in one sport, as studies have shown that doing so often leads to burnout, causes overuse injuries, and increases drop-out rates,” he says.  “Besides, more is not always better! It is crucial that we support our young athletes without pressuring them into excessive workloads, and that we provide additional support in areas like nutrition and mental health. Finally, I would advise them to pay close attention to any signs of overtraining, such as lack of appetite, prolonged fatigue, and sleeping difficulties, and to seek professional support where needed.”

The Mediterranean College of Sport is set to be one of the most pioneering educational and sporting facilities in the Maltese islands, aiming to develop future athletes of international calibre. The co-educational college is set to open its doors to students in September 2024 and will be housed adjacent to St Aloysius College in Birkirkara. For further information please send an email to .