Interview with USWNT Fitness Coach Dawn Scott

The USWNT has been one of the dominant forces in international soccer for the past decade. Most recently, they won the 2015 Women’s Word Cup with an absolutely brilliant 5-2 win over Japan. Much of the team’s success is due to their athletic performance on the pitch. The coach behind those down field sprints, changes of direction and amazing stamina is Dawn Scott. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Dawn for almost 5 years having first met when the USWNT was looking for a place to train while playing some friendlies at the soccer stadium close to my sport performance training center – Athletic Lab. Since then she’s been kind enough to share ideas with me and continue our dialog on fitness in soccer. When the team won the World Cup in July I knew that others would enjoy hearing and learning from the woman who’s been called “the secret to the US’s success.

Special thanks to Dawn for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions and congrats again on the monster win! Check out this great interview and follow Dawn on twitter.

Dawn Scott. Japan won the FIFA Women's World Cup on penalty kicks after tying the United States, 2-2, in extra time at FIFA Women's World Cup Stadium in Frankfurt Germany.
Dawn Scott. Japan won the FIFA Women’s World Cup on penalty kicks after tying the United States, 2-2, in extra time at FIFA Women’s World Cup Stadium in Frankfurt Germany.

National team members are often separated for much of the year playing with their clubs. During these parts of the year, what is your role with the players, how much interaction do you have with them and how do you effectively communicate and track them?

I would say that the US WNT is quite unique in that it is more like a club team than a National team, especially in relation to the number of days we spend together in camps. This year alone from 1st January, there was only a 3 week period when the players were with their NWSL teams prior to the World Cup. During those periods when the players are with their NWSL teams, I aim to have ongoing communication with the club coaches and appropriate personnel, and my aim is to visit each club at least once every season. As well as that the players complete an on-line physical monitoring tool, so I can log in remotely and monitor the players that way. I also keep in regular contact with the players through combination of email, texts and phone calls.

What is your general philosophy on strength training for footballers?

I feel that strength is such an under rated part of a player?s physical preparation. I think there is a common misconception that strength training causes injury and/or slows players down. But for me it is a key component of fitness that underpins the development of all other aspects of fitness, as well as being an important element of injury prevention. It should also form part of training and development for young players, with the introduction of specific movement patterns and body weight exercises to develop good technique, which can form the foundation for better strength gains as players mature physically. For female players especially regular strength training, with good technique, should form the basis of injury prevention strategies.

What role, if any does fitness training without the ball play during in your training program?

As much as possible I try to incorporate a ball when developing ?fitness specific? workouts, and/or aim to get the physical load required from the technical sessions, thereby minimizing training volume. However I also feel that there are times when you should do conditioning without the ball. For example if you want players to complete work at speeds close to their maximal aerobic speed (MAS) including a ball would slow the players down and mean they may not be able to achieve or maintain the required speeds. Similarly for pure speed work, the use of a ball can distract from the actual movement and mean that a player may not hit the higher speeds if their technical ability is compromised. Conversely for conditioning sessions where you want the players to achieve higher intensity HR zones, the inclusion of the ball has an extra energy cost and will help the players to reach the desired HR target zones. So again it really depends on the desired outcome of the sessions you are planning.

USA defender Becky Sauerbrunn (C) kicks a ball during a training session in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on June 11, 2015, on the eve of their 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup group D football match against Sweden. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
USA defender Becky Sauerbrunn (C) kicks a ball during a training session in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on June 11, 2015, on the eve of their 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup group D football match against Sweden. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

How much individualization do you feel is necessary in fitness and strength training?

You have to consider this in everything that you do. When you test players they will all be at different levels of fitness and with varying combinations of speed, strength, endurance, power etc , so that is your start point. You will then have players who will respond to the training stimulus differently since we all have our own physiological blueprint. Then you obviously have different positions on the soccer field which have different physical demands, so what are you actually preparing your players to do. In terms of the strength training element, similar you will have the challenges already outlined, as well as injury history for players, areas of strength/weakness, and potentially range of motion and symmetry issues. For me, you need to consider all of those factors when developing programs for players, there certainly is not and should not be a one model fits all approach.

How frequently do you strength train in the off-season vs. the in-season?

The schedule for the WNT is such that we don?t really have a long off season. Right now the players are just finishing up their NWSL season and many have not really had a proper break since the World Cup. Added to that we also have WNT games. Once those games are done, the players will have 2 weeks completely off, to get full physical and mental relaxation and recharge, as we then start preparation for Olympic Qualification next year. The introduction of lifting would then involve 2 lifts per week to focus on technique and building a foundation, then ideally I like a period of 4-6 weeks when we can get 3 lifts in per week, but we don?t always have the luxury of doing that. In season it really depends on how many games per week the team has, as well as the stage of the season. I would say one lift per week is a minimum for maintenance, but ideally where possible aim to do 2 lifts per week. The main aim is to ensure the players are recovered following a game (or use the lift as a recovery session, with more body weight/stretching for legs and focus on core and upper body) and not to make the players sore leading in to their next game.

What monitoring tools do you use and what role do they play on a day to day basis?

The players complete an on-line daily physical questionnaire every day, with questions related to mood, tiredness, fatigue, muscle soreness, and sleep hours/quality. This gives a good overview of the physical status and wellness of each player every day. As well as that the players do a pee test to monitor hydration. During all training and games they wear HR and GPS units so we can analyze the internal (heart rate) and external (GPS) physical load on players. This enables us to monitor individual players and to then plan subsequent training sessions accordingly.

Please describe a basic template for your ideal fitness training layout for a week with a Saturday match.

uswntwinThis in part depends on the stage of the season, number of games played, playing minutes completed by players, physical status of the players, fitness focus for individual players, etc etc

  • Sunday recovery day
  • Monday day off
  • Tuesday Strength 1 (heavier lift)
  • Soccer technical (moderate/high intensity)
  • Wednesday soccer technical ? moderate/low intensity (speed in warm-up)
  • Thursday soccer technical ? low/moderate intensity
  • Strength 2 (lighter more functional lift)
  • Friday Light technical ? short speed low intensity footwork
  • Saturday match

What tips do you have for other fitness coaches at the professional and national team level on maintaining fitness during a busy travel or match schedule?

Firstly is to be prepared and know what you have available. Can you train on the field after a game ? how long have you got and how many players need to do extra. If you can?t train on the field, what do you have in your team hotel or at your home venue. They are the key logistical issues. Then you need to determine what kind of fitness you want/need to do and whether the focus is technical, HR, distance or a combination of all. What are the demands of the game and can you design anything that would replicate some of those physical demands in the time frame and with the facility you have available.

What recovery methods and modalities did you incorporate with the USWNT in the time leading up to and during the World Cup?

The key focus initially is on nutrition and hydration, to ensure the players refuel following each training session/game and continue to do that at meal times. Other than that we make many recovery modalities available to the players after every session and encourage them to see what works for them and do all that they feel are beneficially to accelerate the recovery process. The main strategies we make available are: cool down, ice tubs, pool/bike recovery, yoga, foam rollers, massage, compression pants and compression recovery boots. As well as those sleep is a vital part of the recovery process, and ensuring we schedule meetings and sessions to enable players to get enough quality sleep is an important aspect of the planning stage.

Which tests do you use to assess player fitness and how frequently do you test a players fitness?

Again it depends on the fitness focus for the individual player. A key focus for our testing is to complete a functional movement screen, specific to female soccer players and we have continued to refine that. As well as that we pretty much conduct a standard battery of tests including endurance (YoYo Intermittent Recovery Test ? YIRT), assessment of maximal aerobic speed (30:15 test), agility (arrowhead), speed and acceleration (split times from 5m up to 40m) and strength power (vertical jump testing). We also have a submaximal endurance test which we do more regularly which is less physically, and mentally, demanding on the players.

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Mike Young

Director of Performance at Athletic Lab
Mike is the Head Fitness Coach for the North Carolina Courage and North Carolina FC. He is also the owner and Director of Performance at Athletic Lab sports performance training center. He previously served as the fitness coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Carolina Railhawks. He has a PhD in Biomechanics, an MS in Coaching Science, and a BSS in Exercise Physiology and has coached Olympic and professional athletes in Skeleton, Track & Field, MLS and NASL Soccer, PGA Golf, NFL Football, MLB Baseball and Olympic Weightlifting. He has lectured around the world and authored 2 books and dozens of research and coaching articles.