For the past decade or so, the USWNT has been a dominant force in the sporting landscape. One simply needs to look at the FIFA world rankings since its inception in the women’s game just over ten years ago.
Since 2003, USWNT has never dropped out of the top two nations in the world, which included a six year reign as the world’s top ranked side. But their monopolisation of the game is no coincidence.
For the third time in four years, Jill Ellis’ side will take on Japan in the final of a major international football tournament. Back in 2011, the Japanese were victorious in the World Cup final in Germany, before the USWNT exacted revenge in the 2012 Olympics by claiming the gold medal.
Now, though, the USWNT have the opportunity to solidify their reputation as the world’s best should they prevail in the final in Vancouver in the midst of their home supporters. While Japan possesses players with superior technical ability, the Americans bring both power to physicality which allows them to overpower the most disciplined sides.
But while the women’s game, and the game in general, has evolved significantly in the past decade, so too has the style of play. The introduction of technology in cleats, footballs, and pitches have provided for a much more entertaining spectacle, and has, in some cases, closed the gap between the good and the great.
Amidst such drastic changes, the USWNT have enlisted the use of such technology to give the side an additional edge over their opponents.
USWNT’s World Cup secret weapon
Founded in the late 1970s following the innovations of portable heart rate monitors in 1975, POLAR has pioneered an evolution in fitness and training which has provided state of the art training systems for the best teams from numerous disciplines. And, undoubtedly, the USWNT are a benefactor of this.
While, tactically speaking, the side has struggled to completely gel and provide the breathtaking football expected of them, the side possesses enough quality through a superiority of fitness levels which has allowed them to navigate through tricky opponents throughout the World Cup.
Take their opening group match for instance where the Australians pressed the USWNT to great effect for much of the match. The Matildas, however, would run out of steam and the American’s physical prowess was the catalyst for an important victory.
“The USWNT aren’t simply in an environment where they are collecting data from their athletes, but they can analyse data and it all goes into a system which is easy to use, easy to understand but also deep enough that if you need to go down the rabbit hole with more in-depth analysis, you can do so,” explains POLAR’s expert Josh Simonsen.
“They have matches, training sessions of varying intensities and then they have their own training sessions and so we’re able to benchmark everything intensity wise and correlate to anything that they want.
“We can ensure that a hard day is the right hard day for not only the team, but each individual member and especially when they are coming back from injury, the harder they bring the athletes back, it’s a challenging thing to do. So these tools which allow strength coaches to work with athletes really give USWNT the physical edge.”
However, the secret to the USWNT’s success comes down to the lack of boundaries. The United States’ strength and conditioning coaches are able to set training regimes and analyse the data from it for any of its player no matter where they are based across the globe, creating a system which ensures that every player is of similar physical standards by the time a major tournament approaches.
While all this may seem complicated, the technology is, in fact, quite simple.
“The current system the USWNT is using is heart-rate monitor by itself and they use an additional product, the M400, for speed and distance. Ultimately, what it comes down to is the total involvement of what the athlete can experience and what the system does is incorporates this into everything that the athletes do,” Simonsen continues.
“The Team Two transmitter which the athletes wear, records heart rate and sends it to a software and the software does its own thing. What separates us from our competitors is when they train away from the team, they use the M400 wrist unit, download the data to an iPhone or a computer and it syncs and sends all the data back to the team.
“There’s a software system which the team uses called Flow For Coach and coaches can create a training session on our web service and send it to the athlete who will then sync it to the wrist unit and the session does the regime and the results go back to the coach.
“The team also uses the training load ‘training load’ – essentially, it is a workout duration and intensity algorithm that helps them quantify work-rate.
Technology is revolutionising the game
The secret of the POLAR system is the ability of the strength coaches to create training regimes built upon efficiency – building stronger athletes through quality training sessions while not overtraining.
The impact the innovation has had on American soccer has been so profound so much so that POLAR has spread to the collegiate soccer level, and thus the game is now benefitting from this innovative technology.
“We have hundreds of systems available, a lot of which are going to the collegiate soccer level programs throughout the United States,” Simonsen explains.
“So you’re not seeing the fitness gaps like the past, the kids are coming in fitter and are able to maintain their fitness levels throughout the year. It helps them manage that without having to deal with injuries and so we’re getting more quality training sessions with the teams and we’re developing fitter, stronger athletes by not overtraining.
“We’re seeing a revolution in the game. As athletes gets smarter and these programs get smarter with the quality of training. It’s not about the 10,000 hours of training, but the efficiency and the quality of the hours in a limited amount of time, it’s more realistic environment.”
Creating a new generation of superstars
With the revolution of training regimes, the younger generation are becoming fitter and stronger. And with so many talented youngster coming through the ranks, there’s no doubt that technology is creating a new generation of stars set to take the world by storm.
“The quality of training at the grassroots level is bringing a higher quality athlete to a higher level,” said Simonsen.
“Athletes are playing highly competitive matches with a short turnaround and so the fitter the players are, the faster they recover and the better the results throughout the tournament.
“Over the years, from the data I have seen, the trick time and intensity and how we get the most out of an athlete through high intensity regimes without overtraining them, and then the backside, how the easy days are truly easy. A lot of the programs out there aren’t getting the intense training sessions because the kids are fit and at the end, the intensity isn’t there.
“Coaches can now manipulate environments to create different intensities. The ability of athletes in a fit team to play solid minutes improves the ability of the team and so at national level, it makes a huge difference as players are playing all the time. So it raises the competitive level team and so in-game scenarios are that much easier.
“We are definitely creating a new generation of players who are ready to take the game to the next level.”