July 23, 2024

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“Great footballers need more than just stronger thighs.”

“Great footballers need more than just stronger thighs.”

Dutch national team players during a padel match. Wormhoudt: “Variety is the foundation for a specific workout.”Photo by Quinn Van Weel/Australian News Agency

Things are getting more intense in women’s football. More and more are being demanded of players’ bodies. Then you also have to adjust your training accordingly, says national coach Andris Junker. That’s why he added strength and conditioning coach Rene Wormhoudt to his staff in the summer, someone with a proven track record with men and a refreshing view on the physique of a soccer star.

What Wormhoudt has particularly noticed over the past six months is that the average player’s body is not in balance. The upper body is relatively less developed, which means women do not perform optimally and are more susceptible to injury. Playing soccer isn’t just something you do with your legs, he says.

This imbalance translates into overall coordination, which is the basis for performing the complex movements required by today’s sports football. “There are tremendous opportunities out there, but we have to think about sport and exercise in a different way.”

The traditional practice of kicking and shooting is no longer enough. Of course this remains very important, but training must also be done differently: more diverse in particular. This is particularly important for women, because in their youth they were generally less active in a number of basic forms of exercise, such as falling, climbing, playing and fighting.

Specialists are better

Wormhoudt is the creator of the Sports Skills Model, an innovative, scientifically based model of talent development. He participated in the youth academy and first team of Ajax for many years. In 2012, then national coach Louis van Gaal included him in the men’s national team.

What motor skills does a person need to excel on the soccer field? Wormhoudt cites a study conducted among badminton players, gymnasts, and cyclists that showed that the difference between the subtop and the top is not in a specific sport, but in overall coordination. Thus generalists become better specialists. Translated into the number one national sport, he once said: “I saw that they are good football players, but they have not yet become athletes. It is as if they can play a beautiful piece on the piano, but they have not yet become musicians.”

Jill Roord.  Photo by Quinn Van Weel/Australian News Agency

Jill Roord.Photo by Quinn Van Weel/Australian News Agency

In his office in Landsmeer, Wormhoudt, who trained as a physical therapist, speaks passionately about his mission: to help the Dutch move better, at every level, leading to better performance and better health. Fun is important, even in major sports. For this reason he often trains certain skills implicitly and playfully.

On his laptop he shows a video from last year in Qatar, during the men’s World Cup. On a day like no other, the Dutch players were allowed to row. There is a lot of laughter. It is a relaxing exercise, but at the same time an excellent balance exercise.


For example, he now sometimes makes women play with the carts after they score a point in the game. Gymnastic movement on the football field? “Of course you can’t do a cartwheel while competing, but practicing this movement ensures that you can orient yourself well in space. That you are flexible and stable. That your coordination improves. This also ultimately helps you get better at other complex movements that are necessary in better football.” .

To explain his philosophy, he compares teaching someone to read or write. “Then you need the whole alphabet, right? If you leave out some letters, you won’t be good at it. There are also ten basic forms of exercise, but the strange thing is that not all of them are presented as standard within the sport. How can you perform optimally? Varied exercise It is the basis for a specific practice.

Six of these basic forms are discussed in traditional field player football training. So, don’t party, including waving, swinging, hitting and catching, while these skills are important for developing a good sense of coordination, Wormhoudt says. “Spatial orientation is important in athletics and is related not only to eye-foot coordination, but also to eye-hand coordination.”

A different physical starting point

According to Wormhoudt, especially for women, it is urgent not to train unilaterally, given the rapid pace at which the sport is developing at the international level. Because this imbalance of the best Dutch footballer, the result of the weakness of the upper body compared to the legs and torso – he emphasizes that he speaks in general terms – has consequences. “This means that she has less ability to gallop and start and run, because that power comes largely from the upper body. It means that she has less power to get into duels, on the ground and in the air, because you have to use your arms for that. And also to position yourself and protect yourself in Duels.

There is still room for improvement, and it does not start with strength, but with management. How do you position yourself in space? How do you adapt to situations? Do you have multiple rhythms in your system that anticipate and are more creative than others? To prevent injuries, a hot topic now that the playing program has become increasingly busy due to marketing, it is important to make the right choices. More stronger thighs are needed.

Wormhoudt explains that soccer is soccer, but a woman’s body provides a different physical starting point. “As a woman, you’re a little more susceptible to knee injuries. You have a wider pelvis, which makes the knee angle a little less favorable. You have weaker ligaments because they need to be able to soften during pregnancy. Women naturally have less muscle mass. To reduce the risk of injury, there’s a need to Greater variety of training.

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