Lorena Sumser is an S&C coach in Munich, Germany. After getting her bachelor’s degree in health management in 2017, she took a job as a rehabilitation and injury prevention specialist at a physiotherapy facility. This led to her also taking on the role of strength and conditioning coach for FC Bayern Munich Women’s U17 teams and other athletes.
Freelap USA: You’re a strength and conditioning coach for the professional soccer club FC Bayern Munich in Germany and currently work with U17 female players on the FC Bayern campus. What are your main athletic performance goals for this age group considering the transition to the senior professional level?
Lorena Sumser: First, it is important to point out that in Germany and most other European countries, the athletic development for female athletes starts much later than for their male counterparts. Depending on the competition level in the sport, girls mostly don’t start a structured athletic development program before the age of around 12. They surely develop a certain movement quality by playing the sport itself for several years and usually performing in more than just a single sport, but to close the gap to a senior professional level, structured development should start earlier in age to prepare the athletes as optimally as possible for the step into senior professional soccer.
The big clubs in Germany try to close that gap by creating farmer/feeder teams for the U17 teams in Bundesliga, as there is unfortunately no highly competitive league system below that.
As I coach two U17 teams in Bundesliga and Bayernliga (second-highest league in the age group), with players from 13 to 16 years old, my main goal is to build a foundation of general and sport-specific athletic abilities. I do this so that after the U17 stage it will be easier to move to our U20 team (playing in the second Frauenbundesliga (Senior Women’s League) and further along the road to our professional senior team.
Therefore, the focus is on strength/speed of all varieties and injury risk reduction. Consequently, I keep my choice of exercises rather basic: the athletes should be able to perform a variety of squats and hip hinge-based exercises, as well as the basic upper body lifts and plyometrics.
Aside from the athletic development, I put significant effort into the educational aspect without overloading them with too much information to soak up. I think, in the end, when athletes know why they are doing what they are doing—and let’s be honest, strength and conditioning is usually not their favorite part of training—they give a little bit more effort and maybe like it a tiny bit better.
Freelap USA: What are the biggest challenges for young female soccer players on their way to professional soccer? How do you assess the development and professionalization in the different professional leagues over the last few years, and what are the future demands in women’s soccer from an athletic perspective?
Lorena Sumser: From an athletic perspective, one of the main problems—mostly for the female players who did not play/train with a U20 or senior team since they were around 15/16 years old—is the development gap when they are pushed onto a senior team after being on the U17 squad. Suddenly, they must compete with players who are in their mid-20s and have played at that level for years. These players are usually stronger, and what’s even more important, they have more experience with the game and making decisions, which makes it even harder for the young ones to keep up if a few years of athletic development were missed or neglected. These factors can be highly challenging on the mental side and are one of the reasons for a high dropout rate after youth teams.
Another challenge is the mindset of some youth players. They think now that they play on a senior team, they are the next soccer superstar, and they forget to stay humble. This can cause issues when facing challenges in their sports environment, as they don’t know how to cope with them. These players lack the right attitude when things get rough, and things will become hard and challenging at one point in everybody’s life.It’s necessary to incorporate S&C, recovery, nutrition, and mental health into a pro athlete’s lifestyle in a way that every player has access to, not just the top 20 players, says @LorenaSumser. Click To Tweet
Women’s soccer has undeniably been growing in the last few years, and it is becoming more and more professional. Nevertheless, structural gaps between soccer, S&C, and academics/work still make it hard for most athletes to fully commit to the sport. This gap can only be narrowed down by clubs and federations (national and international like FIFA and UEFA) providing aid to support the women’s game financially and marketing-wise.
The athletic demands in women’s soccer are constantly increasing; therefore, the demands on the players and clubs are rising. It is necessary to incorporate S&C, recovery, nutrition, and mental health into a pro athlete’s lifestyle in a way that every player in the league has access to, not just the top 20 players. To guarantee this, structures for integrating these elements should be provided in youth teams, as it would support the transition from youth to pro.
Freelap USA: If you could wish for three major changes in women’s soccer, what would they be and why?
Lorena Sumser: My biggest wish is to get rid of the prejudice of women’s soccer not being soccer. There is no such thing as women’s and men’s soccer. Soccer is soccer—it’s the same sport.
I understand why it might be hard for a hardcore men’s team supporter to see the perks in watching women play for the first time, as they are used to a different style of playing: usually faster, tactically different, and in my opinion, way more dramatic when it comes to fouls and such.
That difference doesn’t make it a totally different sport though. In Germany, women were banned from playing soccer (football) up until 50 years ago, so it is no surprise that the development of play remains slightly behind.
On the other hand, for me, watching women play brings out the kid in me who fell in love with the game and not the circus around it. Therefore, I see women’s soccer as a great opportunity for families and children to experience and also fall in love with the game itself without being too influenced by the circus that is usually found around men’s teams.My biggest wish is to get rid of the prejudice of women’s soccer not being soccer. There is no such thing as women’s and men’s soccer. Soccer is soccer—it’s the same sport, says @LorenaSumser. Click To Tweet
Next, I wish for federations to adapt to the needs of women’s soccer. Most of them call their first league a professional one but barely treat it as such when it comes to structure for players and staff. It is not uncommon for women to have a job in addition to soccer to make a living, for example. It is not about women earning the same as men; it is about creating the same opportunities and giving the same or similar conditions for the game to be able to grow. These conditions begin with training facilities and the national team playing at a decent time, when people are actually able to watch, not on a Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Finally, it would be highly beneficial for more clubs to create and support their women’s team for them to be able to grow. Positive examples are teams in England and Spain, like FC Barcelona and Nottingham Forest Women, which play third tier but can hold their derby in the men’s stadium in front of thousands of spectators.
Freelap USA: When discussing all sorts of S&C topics, attending conferences, or reading blog posts specifically in the context of female athletes, the same topics always stand out: ACL risk, menstrual cycle, RED-S/Female Athlete Triad. They are certainly important too, but what other topics do you think S&C coaches working with young female athletes should be discussing and addressing with a particular focus?
Lorena Sumser: I think the biggest focus aside from the obvious and the above-mentioned should be in education. It is essential to show the girls the reasoning behind the work or exercises they are doing to create awareness. The picture most teenage girls have of fitness and training is highly influenced by the videos and trainers on social media who do “booty, leg, abs” workouts all day long to fulfill society’s stereotype of how women should look. Usually, those workouts are a harsh contrast to the work S&C coaches do, and therefore they put the work of an S&C coach in a bad light, as the stereotype of “muscles will make you look big” is still present in people’s minds.
Communication is another big factor, especially being a female coach with a female team. My goal is always to build a level of trust, so the girls feel like they can come to me whenever they need to—it doesn’t matter if it’s about their performance in a game or training or about their private life. Regarding performance-related matters, the athletes might tell you information about themselves that they don’t feel like sharing with the head coach, as they think it might reduce their playing time. You can help them solve the problem without making a big deal of it.
This trust is also incredibly relevant for an athlete’s mental health. They have so much stress built up in every aspect of their lives and often feel like they don’t have an outlet, which will negatively influence their relationships and performance. So, if I can be someone they trust and speak to when they are having problems, then I am more than willing to be that person to improve their mental health. The key to trust is open and honest communication.
Freelap USA: Your sports background is actually not soccer; you call yourself a “ski bum” and are passionate about skiing. You are a licensed ski instructor and still coach skiers as an S&C coach. What can you learn from an individual winter sport like skiing and apply to a team sport like soccer?
Lorena Sumser: When thinking about the differences between skiing and soccer, it mostly comes down to the mentality/mindset and the physical abilities.
As a skier, it’s always you and the track; no one is there to help you or correct your mistakes. You must take responsibility for any mistake almost instantly, whether it’s a loss of time because you have to ski a few extra meters or, in a worse case, a crash. This “Lone Ranger” mindset, as I like to call it, is often found in individual athletes since they are alone in the moment of competition.
I believe that you often have a different, if not even closer, relationship to the coaches in individual sports, as they basically take on the role of your teammate on the track before a race, pointing to the fastest line and providing feedback. This often leads to improved communication between athletes and coaches/staff members.
When you look at the physical abilities of a competitive skier, they are usually beasts in the gym. The demands of the sport require high athletic capabilities: the faster the discipline, the stronger a skier has to be; the more technical the discipline, the faster the reaction.Because skiing, and winter sports in general, requires a bigger variety of physical abilities, I think team sports can absolutely learn from this more holistic approach to S&C, says @LorenaSumser. Click To Tweet
In addition to that, a skier’s body needs to be able to protect them in case of a crash, which can often result in torn ligaments, broken bones, etc. Because skiing, and winter sports in general, requires a bigger variety of physical abilities, I think team sports can absolutely learn from this more holistic approach to S&C.
The thing I love probably the most about winter sports is the calmness that rushes through you when you stand on the mountain, take in an incredible view, and are just thankful for what you have in that moment. This appreciation is something I find missing in the fast-changing and rushed world of soccer, where it is mostly just about success and the next win and not about the beauty of the game, the fun with your teammates, and just playing.
Lead photo by Ed Wolfstein/Icon Sportswire.
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