Getting the best out of yourself
With Jimmy Petruzzi
Chapter 1: The Demands of Soccer
Soccer incorporates periods of high-intensity exercise interspersed with periods of lower-intensity exercise. The physiological demands of soccer require players to be competent in several aspects of fitness, which include aerobic and anaerobic power, muscle strength, flexibility and agility.
Summary of energy systems
- Anaerobic alactic – high intensity, duration 0 to 15 seconds, used in soccer sprinting, kicking, tackling
- Anaerobic lactic – high moderate intensity, duration 15 to 120 seconds, used in sprinting, recovery, runs, heart rate of 180–190, (> 90% of maximum).
- Aerobic – moderate to low intensity, duration 120 seconds plus, used in soccer whilst jogging, walking, duration of game, heart rate of 160–170, (80% of max)
VO2 max is a useful indicator of the intensity of any exercise and its impact on the body. VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen (in millilitres) one can use in one minute per kilogram of body weight. Those who are fit have higher VO2 max values and can exercise more intensely than those who are not as well conditioned.
|Aerobic activities||Anaerobic activities|
|walking||most tackling and contact situations|
|jogging||accelerating and changing direction quickly|
|running at speeds less than 3/4’s pace||running at speeds greater than 3/4’s pace|
The game of soccer is essentially aerobic with intermittent anaerobic and alactic bursts of energy. Outfield players average 160bpm during soccer games and operate at 75–80% of their maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max) which is comparable to marathon running.
However, soccer is not characterised by steady heart rates of 160bpm which are sustained for 90 minutes of play. On the contrary, heart rates are continually fluctuating depending on the nature of the activity the soccer player is performing.
The graph below shows the heart rate of a player over a three minute excerpt from a game.
Energy systems in soccer
The debate on conditioning for soccer players comes from the large distances a soccer player covers in a match. In the past coaches had a tendency to prescribe long, slow running during pre-season training.
But as we have seen above, during a game the intensity of exercise varies continually and fitness training should reflect this as realistically as possible. Training should also involve regular use of the ball as this will not only help develop the specific muscles involved in match play, but will also help improve technical and tactical skills and help keep players interested and keen.
Coaches should consider that a game of soccer combines the ability to change direction, kick and jump with power (anaerobic alactic) and sprint (anaerobic lactic) in a game that lasts 90 minutes or more (aerobic).
It’s important to note that soccer players are continuously moving from anaerobic movements back to aerobic activity, which allows recovery to take place. As a consequence you have one dominant energy system in the body (aerobic) with the two other energy systems that enable higher intensity of play (anaerobic alactic and anaerobic lactic). Therefore training in all three energy systems is vital.
Interval training involves repetitions of high-speed/intensity work followed by periods of rest or low activity.
Interval training works both the aerobic and anaerobic systems and is considered one of the most effective methods of improving the physical conditioning of soccer athletes. There are many advantages to this system. Interval training allows the athlete to undertake a more intense workload over a longer period.
Here’s an example of a typical interval session for soccer:
- Run 50 yards out and back in 18 seconds. Rest for 18 seconds. Go again. Do a total of 6 repetitions (reps). Rest for 2 minutes upon completion.
- Run 40 yards out and back in 15 seconds. Rest for 15 seconds. Go again. Do a total of 8 reps. Rest for 2 minutes upon completion.
- Run 30 yards out and back in 12 seconds. Rest for 12 seconds. Go again. Do a total of 10 repetitions. Rest for 2 minutes upon completion.
- Run 20 yards out and back in 9 seconds. Rest for 9 seconds. Go again. Do a total of 12 reps.
The use of small-sided games for fitness
Traditionally coaches have used running sessions like the one described above for interval training. However, the use of small sided games is now more often recommended as an ideal training method for improving fitness and competitive performance in soccer.
It has also been suggested that match-specific small sided games can effectively improve the fitness of the cardio-vascular system whilst mimicking match-specific skill requirements.
Other advantages have been suggested, including increased player motivation, training the capacity to perform skills under pressure and a reduced number of training injuries.
Coaches such as Marcello Lippi, formerly of Juventus and winner of the 2006 World Cup with Italy are big believers in the positive effects of small sided games.
A good example of this can be seen in a training exercise which Lippi’s assistant at Juve, Jens Bansgbo, conducted with midfielder-turned-defender Gianluca Zambrotta.
The training exercise was for Zambrotta to play the ball from the edge of his own box to a midfielder, sprint, receive the ball inside the opposite half, then run with the ball, cut back inside and strike it with his left leg.
The training ratio was 5:1 (i.e. performing exercise activity for 50 seconds and resting for ten seconds) – high intensity specific to soccer. If you recall the World Cup quarter final between Italy and the Ukraine, Zambrotta scored from a very similar move to this activity. So, effectively he was feeling the benefits of high intensity training specific for soccer activity.
Sam Allardyce, Newcastle United manager, describes his 3 favourite practices:
“The first practice would be one of my favourites, which is crossing and finishing.
The second practice would be keep ball, building up to a small sided game, starting at 1v1, building up to 2v2, 3v3, 4v4, probably up to a maximum of 8v8.
The final practice is attacking team play, 11v6”.
Adapting these games to meet the physiological demands of soccer is important.
A typical session could be 4v4 on a pitch diameter which involves the players working aerobically. It can then be condensed to work the players anaerobically.
Such sessions can further be adapted into exercises with the ball, emphasising rest ratios to meet the physical demands of the game.
You might also consider a cool down playing head tennis etc.
Despite the fact that soccer is played by two teams of 11 players performing in an area of approximately 100m by 60m, during training it is common to reduce both the number of players on the pitch and the size of the pitch.
These small sided games are the most common drills used by coaches in soccer training.
Whereas in the past small sided games were mainly used to develop the technical and tactical abilities of the players, they are now being employed by amateur and professional teams as an effective tool to improve the physiological aspects of the game.
You will find examples of small-sided games throughout this book.
It should always be your aim to provide players with a variety of training styles using the ball and soccer related games are great for keeping players motivated. However, sometimes performing specific running exercises can add a different kind of competitive element to training.
Examples of fitness exercises for Soccer
Here are some examples of fitness exercises, with and without the ball, which take account of what we have said about the various energy systems important to soccer fitness.
Endurance and small sided games
Set up a pitch that is around 50 metres long and 30 metres wide. For a low-intensity endurance exercise play a 6v6 game in “free play” mode i.e. with no restrictions to the rules.
To create a moderate-intensity endurance game, limit the players to two touches, forcing them to play faster.
To make the game even faster with shorter sprints and shorter recovery periods, reduce the size of the field so that the game is more compact, forcing quicker reactions, decisions and running.
To make the game more demanding in terms of running volume, increase the size of the field.
For example, if you want a greater speed element to the game you could play 3v3 in area 30 metres long by 20 metres wide.
And to make it even more demanding play 6v6 on a full-sized pitch.
You can take almost any basic small sided game and increase the intensity by adding restrictions such as two-touches, run 10 yards after each pass, all up in the attack etc. Restrictions can be combined, like two-touch, then run 10 yards after each pass.
The idea is to continuously insert restrictions on play to keep increasing the intensity. This will lead directly to improved endurance, speed, and agility.
300 yard Shuttle Run (20 metre course)
1. From the start point, run out 25 metres to a marker, turn and run back.
2. Repeat this 5 more times without stopping.
3. This is an endurance activity and should be performed at a 5:1 ratio (i.e. performing exercise activity for 60 seconds and resting for twelve seconds).
4. Repeat the entire exercise 8 times.
1. using half of a pitch, begin by walking for 30 seconds.
2. Then jog for 30 seconds.
3. Then sprinting for 30 seconds.
4. Continue to do this sequence of walk, jog, and sprint for a total time of 12 minutes.
5 metre repeats
1. From the start point, sprint out to a point 5 metres away, turn and sprint back.
2. Repeat this again, and then one more time.
3. This will equal 3 round trips (30 metres total distance for one turn). Do a total of 5 turns with 30 seconds recovery in between.
Box to box
1. from the goal line sprint to the 6 yard line and back.
2. Then sprint to the 18 yard line and back.
3. Then sprint to the half way line and back.
4. Then sprint to the end of the pitch and back.
5. The aim is to complete the exercise in less than 60 seconds.
6. Then rest for 60 seconds.
Repeat three times.
1. from the corner of the pitch sprint across the full length of the pitch.
2. Then jog across the pitch to the edge of the other corner.
3. Then sprint the full length of the pitch again.
4. Then jog across the pitch again.
5. The aim is to complete the exercise in less than 60 seconds.
6. Then rest for 30 seconds.
7. Repeat three times.
1. Sprint the length of the pitch and back again.
2. Aim to complete in less than 45 seconds.
3. Rest for 45 seconds.
4. Repeat 10 times.
Chapter 3: Anaerobic Training
Anaerobic activity is typically more intense (70-100% of your maximum heart rate) than aerobic but shorter in duration.
Anaerobic activity is based on performing activity while supplying the body with energy from stored sources such as glycogen.
Anaerobic fitness accounts for the ability to recover quickly and to consistently sprint at high speed. This is especially relevant to soccer. Throughout the course of a game, outfield players perform a number of maximum intensity sprints separated by periods of lower level activity.
Anaerobic training exercises
Begin by working on general anaerobic endurance through means of quality interval training which can be performed by carrying out soccer related activities.
This entails alternating maximum speed sprints with very light jogging or walking. Your workout should last about 20–30 minutes consisting of 7–10 second sprints and 30–50 seconds of low intensity jogging or walking.
Small-sided games are a great vehicle for this type of training. Try the 5v5 below and keep the intensity up by continuously feeding balls in.
1v1 anaerobic exercise
1. One player defends a goal with a starting position of the edge of the 18 yard line.
2. The other player sprints at full pace from the other 18 yard line, receives the ball on the half way line and sprints towards the goal aiming to get a shot on target.
3. He then jogs back and repeats the activity.
1. The players stand on the goal line facing the field.
2. Tell them to sprint up to the 6 yard line and back.
3. After a 10–15 second rest get them to sprint again, this time to the 18 yard line and back.
4. After a second break, tell them to sprint to midfield and so on.
5. One repetition consists of a total of five sprinting runs.
2v2 with a spare
1. In groups of five, two players act as attackers and two players act as defenders. One player is spare and should wear a bib or vest to stand out.
2. Mark an area of approximately 12-15 yards square. The attackers are given possession of the ball.
3. The spare player is an attacker – in effect he or she is always on the side of the team in possession.
4. The defenders must dispossess the attackers by intercepting the ball. They also receive possession if the ball goes out of the marked area.
5. Work for two minutes on and the floating player should change at each interval.
1. Place 5 cones 10 yards apart.
2. Starting on cone 1, run to cone 2 and back, then cone 3 and back, 4 and back, then 5 and back.
3. The sprint should be flat out and your players should turn sharply off a different foot at each cone.
4. Rest for 30 seconds and repeat.
5. Rest another 30 seconds and repeat for a third time. This is one set.
6. Now rest for 2 minutes and repeat for a second set (i.e. 3 lots of power shuttles runs with 30 seconds rest between each).
1. Stand on the goal line, facing the field.
2. Sprint up to the 6 yard line and back.
3. When you return to the goal line, rest for 15 seconds and sprint again.
4. Sprint to the 18 yard line and back. Rest for 15 seconds.
5. Sprint to the midfield and back and rest.
6. Repeat from the beginning, one repetition consisting of a total of 6 sprinting runs.
Remember: They’re supposed to sprint in both directions so there’s no reason they should slow down upon reaching the 6 yard line or the 18 yard line. Get them to change direction as quickly as possible.
Use a 2:1 rest ratio i.e. if it takes 15 seconds to run 100 yards, then rest for 30 seconds before the 200 yards.
1. Run 50 metres and rest.
2. Run 100 metres and rest.
3. Run 150 metres and rest.
4. Run 200 metres and rest.
5. Run 250 metres and rest.
6. Run 200 metres and rest.
7. Run 150 metres and rest.
8. Run 100 metres and rest.
9. Run 50 metres and rest.
10. Repeat the pyramid two more times
1. Sprint 200 metres as fast as possible around the track.
2. Rest for twice the time it took to complete the run.
3. Repeat 8 times.
Chapter 4: Pre-season Training
A successful pre-season program is one that incorporates all of the necessary components to have the players maximize their performance when the season commences and to be able to sustain peak physical condition throughout the season.
The program should take into consideration the physical demands of the game, the level of fitness the players are at, what their goals are and what they are aiming to achieve.
These fitness components often vary with the individual player, the positional role in the team and the team’s style of play. So developing a suitable program requires a well designed pre-season training program that addresses the specific demands on each player.
The pre-season period
A pre-season preparation period covers the period from the beginning of team-training until the first official match. The length of these training periods may differ from one country to another.
During this training period physical conditioning should be composed mainly of games and exercises with a ball. The number of training sessions from the beginning of the season should be increased gradually.
Testing your players
The most important thing that you should consider before the season begins is the physical condition of your players after the off season. Because of this, it is worth considering physical and physiological tests at the start of your pre-season schedule to see how the players are doing and to evaluate their preparation plans. These tests give information on the properties of endurance, speed, muscular endurance, strength, coordination, technical, and tactical elements during the preparation period.
Observations highlight the value of exercising with the ball where possible, notably using activity drills in small groups. Small-sided games have particular advantages for young players, both in providing a physiological training stimulus and a suitable medium for skills work. While complementary training may be necessary in specific cases, integrating fitness training into a holistic process is generally advisable.
This table is useful for coaches to assist them in planning pre-season, depending on how many opportunities each week you have as a coach to work with the players and the duration of your sessions, using this table gives you an outline of what you should prioritise in training and how to go about planning your pre-season.
For example, the highest priority in the first two weeks of pre-season should go to aerobic training to build a good base and core stability to assist in preventing injury throughout the season.
Why are we prioritising aerobic work early on in the pre-season? Because aerobic training is less match specific. Nearer to the end of pre-season we want to be sharp and ready for matches so at the end of pre-season speed becomes the highest priority. Anaerobic training is the highest priority in the middle part of pre-season.
So, first we want to build a base, then we want to be able to work on sustaining our work rate and finally we want to go into the season sharp.
|Prioritising Fitness Elements in a Soccer Training Program(based on 6 week pre-season programme)|
(first two weeks)
(second two weeks)
(last two weeks)
So, your weekly planner would look something like this based on two nights per week training as well as players doing some individual work.
|Pre season Soccer Training Program Weeks 1 and 2|
recovery run flexibility work
Chapter 5: The Fitness Test
The most important thing that you should consider before the season begins is the physical condition of soccer players after the holiday season. Because of this, it is worth considering physical and physiological tests at the start of your pre-season schedule to see how the players are doing and to evaluate their preparation plans. These tests give information on the properties of endurance, speed, muscular endurance, strength, coordination, technical, and tactical elements during the preparation period.
From the results of the testing, you can identify the strengths and weaknesses of the players and train them accordingly. Appropriate testing should be specific and reliable enough to reflect the actual status of the fitness of the soccer players. In this context, the features of the soccer game and related physiological testing will be discussed
Purpose of physiological testing
The data from the testing can form the basis for the development of optimal training strategies. Further tests can then be used to evaluate the impact of these interventions on the physical fitness profile of individual players, thereby evaluating the effectiveness of the programme.
Determine individual strengths and weaknesses
If individual players in the team have weaknesses in any particular fitness component relative to soccer, they can be detected during the completion of fitness tests and subsequently remedied by employing appropriate training programmes. During pre-season specific fitness regimes can be designed for individual players, which can then be designed to correct each individual player’s weaknesses.
Training prescription should also be based on the specific requirements of the playing position. Position-specific training programmes result in improvements in the most relevant fitness measures for each playing position; thereby ensuring players are better able to fulfil their tactical responsibilities during the game. These improvements may not, however, overcome individual deficiencies in genetic potential for the physiological characteristics required for the position. This makes physical performance an important consideration in player selection at the top level.
Physiological tests for soccer players
Several tests have been designed either to be part of an overall physiological assessment or to measure specific components of soccer-specific fitness. The following subsections provide examples of some of the common tests used in the laboratory and the field for evaluating different fitness components of soccer players. The relevance and usefulness to soccer of each test are described and a brief evaluation of each test is also outlined
To develop an individual physical profile
The aim of developing a physical profile is to identity a player’s physical strengths and weaknesses. This can be achieved through the administration of a series of soccer-specific tests. The information gained from these tests can then be used to set up short- and long-term goals. In the event of a long-term injury, chronic sickness, or planned rest period, a player’s predetermined physical profile will also provide data that can be used for comparison purposes.
To evaluate objectively the effect of a specific training program
The aim of the pre-season program is to improve performance. In order to quantify changes in performance that have occurred as a result of training, baseline data is needed. Baseline data is collected before the start of a training program using a test (pre-test) which must be specific to the type of training that is to be performed. The same test is then repeated (post-test) usually after 6 or more weeks of training. Thereafter, the subsequent progress of players should be periodically monitored through repeated tests.
To monitor progress during rehabilitation
During a rehabilitation program it is important to monitor how well an injured player is responding to treatment and to know when the player is ready to return to competitive soccer. Players who return prematurely can have a high risk of recurring injury.
To monitor the health status of a player
The general health status of a player can be monitored by checking the heart rate and other physiological responses to a standardized exercise work rate. Early signs of overtraining may be detected by regularly monitoring a player’s physical performance capacity. Heart rate response to the standardized exercise can also be used to evaluate how well players adapt to new, unaccustomed surroundings.
Selecting a Test
Once the reason for testing has been clearly defined, an appropriate test must be selected. Factors to be considered when selecting a test are discussed below.
Specificity for soccer
Information gained from a test will be of no benefit to the coach or player unless the recorded measurement can be applied to soccer.
Test-retest reliability refers to how reproducible a test result is from trial to trial, or day to day. Factors which affect reliability can be classified as either biological or experimental. The former refers to the relative consistency with which a subject can perform, while the latter concerns variations in the way the test is administered. For repeated testing it is necessary to determine whether there is any difference in two test results for a given player, and whether this can be attributed to a change in the physical status of the player or whether the difference is within the expected measurement variation for the test. Test-retest reliability is usually reported in the form of a correlation coefficient; the closer this coefficient is to 1 the more reliable the test is.
When selecting a test, considerations must be made for such factors as the playing status of the team and availability of facilities and appropriate equipment, as well as for the amount of time required to carry out the test and analyze the test results. For example, with a team which trains twice a week it is not feasible to use time-consuming tests. Time can also be a problem for the coach of a national team where the squads of players are only together for short periods of time. Furthermore, selected squads of players are usually assembled to prepare for a game, therefore exhaustive exercise tests are not recommended in this instance.
Testing conditions e.g. running surface, preparation of test areas, and calibration of measuring equipment, must be standardized each time a test is performed. While test conditions can usually be accurately reproduced for tests performed in a research or clinical setting, problems can arise with field tests, e.g. if performed on soccer pitches the type or condition of the surface can change throughout the year. Extreme variations in environmental conditions should be avoided.
The standardization of testing procedures refers to the way in which the test is administered. For example, when a battery of tests is performed on the same day, the order in which each player performed the tests should be standardized. Where possible, the exhaustive tests should be performed last.
Practice should be given if possible to get the player familiarized with the test and this will reduce the learning effect and attain a more accurate test result.
Pre-test condition of players
Players should be well rested before the tests. Usually, at least 24 hours should be allowed after a competitive match. When players have just recovered from an injury or an acute illness this should always be noted. With female players, it is advisable to note any players experiencing detrimental side effects caused by menstruation.
An often-overlooked consideration when testing is clothing and footwear. Suitable clothing should be worn which will not interfere with performance, and in running or jumping tests, the same type of shoes should be worn for repeated tests.
Instructions and test administration
It is essential that players clearly understand how each test should be performed. When using a test which is not possible to test all the players in the team at the same time, other activities should be planned so that players are not waiting for long periods of time. However, such activities should not be strenuous enough to affect the result.
Players are required to exert the maximal effort in performance tests. Such tests can be greatly affected by the motivation of the players. It is therefore very important that players are well motivated and mentally prepared.
When to administer a test
It is difficult to define exactly when or how often to carry out a test. Some general guidelines are listed as follows:
- When the objective of testing is to evaluate the effect of a training program, sufficient time should be allowed for the desired adaptation to take place – a period of six weeks between tests is usually the minimum time advisable.
- It is useful to test players just before they are released at the end of each season and again when the training resumes.
- Data for physical profiles should be collected toward the end of the pre-season period when players reach their peak performance level.
Aerobic testing procedures
Aerobic fitness is dependent on and limited by the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to the working muscles. The heart, lungs, blood, circulatory system, and working muscles are factors in determining one’s aerobic fitness. Aerobic fitness is important as a soccer player has to cover an average distance of around 10km in a game. 35.1% of the total player time in a game consists of low intensity running.
Estimation of aerobic capacity
VO2max can be determined from either maximal or sub maximal exercise testing. At maximal exercise level, VO2max is measured directly from expired gases or estimated from exercise intensity. In the laboratory, VO2max can be estimated from treadmill and cycle ergo meter performance and heart rate response to the exercise.
Field tests can also be conducted to determine the aerobic capacity in soccer players comparing different field test results (Cooper’s 12 Minute Run test, Multistage Shuttle Run test) with a maximal treadmill test. Results showed high correlations, with coefficients for the Cooper test and Multistage Shuttle Run test of 0.92 and 0.86 respectively. As soccer requires frequent changes of direction during running, the Multistage Shuttle Run test may be a more specific comparison.
Multistage Shuttle Run test procedures
Players are required to run back and forth on a 20-metre course, starting at a speed of 8.5kmh-1. The running speed is regulated by a sound signal emitting from a prerecorded tape. Players try to complete as many stages of the shuttle run as possible, and the test is terminated when the testing player is unable to maintain the prescribed pace.
The running speed is increased by 0.5kmh-1 every minute.
The player will be given a warning signal the first time they are behind the sound signal and the test will be stopped at the third warning.
The maximal speed corresponding to the last completed stage is used to estimate each player’s VO2max according to the following equation:
max = 31.025 + (3.238 x velocity in last stage) - (3.248 x age) + (0.1536 x age x velocity in last stage)
Anaerobic testing procedures
Soccer players are frequently required to produce high power output and sometimes to maintain it with only a brief recovery. The total time for high intensity running is about seven minutes of the whole game. The average sprint distance is about 15 meters and occurs once every 90 seconds.
Sprinting is an important component of playing in a soccer match. Bangsbo (Bangsbo J, Norregaard L and Thorso F (1991) Activity profile of competition soccer, Canadian Journal of Sports Science 16:110-116) showed that the 19 sprints (on average) accounted for 0.7% of the total time of a game. The performance of sprinting is important and it is one of the tests included in the test battery of performance in the Australian Soccer Team.
Two sets of timing gates should be used and placed at the distance required (5m, 12m, and 20m). A five-minute warm-up should be completed followed by stretching of the lower and upper limbs.
Several maximal runs over a short distance are allowed in order to familiarize the players with the test. Players then stand 50cm behind the starting line and some crouch is allowed. The player starts sprinting when ready and strong verbal encouragement is given over the whole course of sprinting. Three trials are performed and the best time reported.
INSERT DIAGRAM 3
Strength testing procedures
Muscle strength is also important in soccer as discussed above. It is also included in the test battery of some national and elite soccer teams.
Recording your players’ fitness data
You can perform the following tests on your players then log the results on the proforma checklist below and compare it to the normative data used by professional soccer academies (again found below).
Why use normative data?
Normative data can be used by the coach as an indication of what level the players are at physically, and what level players are at Academy and School of Excellence standard.
This information is highly beneficial for any coach aiming to get the best out of the players. By conducting the battery of fitness tests with the players and comparing the results to the normative data you will get an idea of how physically fit your players are in comparison to players at the highest level. Depending on the margin between your players and the normative data you can decide on the fitness plan you are going to adopt with your players.
1. Height – in centimetres
2. Weight – in kilograms
3. Bleep test results (explained above)
4. Flexibility test
This test measures the flexibility of the lower back and hamstring muscles.
1. The test involves sitting on the floor with legs out straight ahead.
2. Feet (shoes off) are placed with the soles flat against the box, shoulder-width apart.
3. Both knees are held flat against the floor by the tester. With hands on top of each other and palms facing down, the player reaches forward along the measuring line as far as possible.
4. After three practice reaches, the fourth reach is held for at least two seconds while the distance is recorded.
5. Make sure there are no jerky movements, and that the fingertips remain level and the legs flat.
5. T test agility test
1. The player starts at cone A.
2. On the command of the timer, the player sprints to cone B and touches the base of the cone with their right hand.
3. They then turn left and shuffle sideways to cone C and touch its base, this time with the left hand.
4. Then shuffle sideways to the right to cone D and touch the base with the right hand.
5. Then shuffle back to cone B touching with the left hand, and run backwards to cone A.
6. The stopwatch is stopped as they pass cone A.
6. 10 metre sprint (speed test)
1. Set out cones 10 metres apart.
2. The player sprints from one cone to another.
3. Record the time with a stopwatch.
4. Start the watch as soon as the player initiates movement forward and stop it once the first part of the player’s body goes past the cone.
7. 30 metre (speed test)
1. Set out cones 30 metres apart.
2. The player sprints from one cone to another.
3. Record the time with a stopwatch.
4. Start the watch as soon as player initiates movement forward and stop it once the first part of the player’s body goes past the cone.
8. Double leg jump (test for power)
1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
2. Bend the knees.
3. Jump as far as possible.
4. Measure (in centimetres).
|Pre season Soccer Training Program Weeks 3 and 4|
recovery run flexibility work
|Pre season Soccer Training Program Weeks 5 and 6|
recovery run flexibility work
Chapter 6: Soccer Nutrition
Food provides us with energy for our muscles, brain and other organs. Soccer involves rigorous activity, and therefore it is important to have energy available to us during the game and in training.
A healthy diet improves our general level of health, and can help us recover more quickly from games, training and injuries. A good diet will also improve your players’ performance in a game.
Fuel is a vital component of your training because if you haven’t got enough energy in your body, you won’t be able to complete your training at a high intensity, and therefore you won’t experience any improvements in your fitness.
The key nutrients from your diet that give you energy are fat, protein and carbohydrate. Carbohydrate is the main fuel you will use during training and matches, and you need to try to have a high amount of this in your diet. Foods containing large amounts of carbohydrate include bread, potatoes, pasta, rice and cereals.
Protein is not an immediate source of energy and so is not usually stored as an energy source. Protein is only used as a fuel in significant quantities when insufficient energy is available from carbohydrate and fat
Soccer players need to manage their diet to maximize the energy available to them, and so it is important to understand how the body uses food to produce energy, and how you can maximize the amount of energy available for exercise.
On average, soccer players need between 2300-6000 kcals per day, most of which should come from carbohydrate (60-70% of total energy intake). Professional soccer players need to consume at least 500g of carbohydrate each day.
Carbohydrates – how do they work?
Carbohydrate is stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen, and in your blood as glucose. However, your body only has a limited store of carbohydrate so it’s vital you replace this following every training session and match.
When you eat and drink, the food you consume is not immediately available for producing energy. Before your body can use it, the food must be digested and absorbed.
Once the food has been digested and absorbed, the breakdown of products can be used to provide energy – either immediately or they can be stored as energy reserves to be drawn upon when needed. Glucose (from carbohydrate breakdown) is converted to glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles, while fat are stored at various sites around the body including the abdomen and below the skin. Carbohydrate (glycogen) stores have a limited capacity (250-600g), but fat stores do not.
Food intake and energy
Units of energy are usually expressed as Calories (also known as kcal). Calories have been used as the units of measurement for many years and are the term that most people are familiar with.
Different types of food contain different amounts of energy in Calories
1g of carbohydrate provides 4 kcal
1g of protein provides 4 kcal
1g fat provides 9 kcal
Although it would appear from these values that fat is the most useful source of energy, this is not necessarily the case. Energy is produced from fat more slowly than it is from carbohydrates, and carbohydrate is the main fuel used during high-intensity exercise. So, if the intensity of exercise is to be maintained, and fatigue avoided, then carbohydrate is especially important.
Good sources of energy
Carbohydrate is the most important fuel for energy, so you should eat lots of foods that are rich in starchy carbohydrates.
Many different foods contain carbohydrate. The richest sources of carbohydrate are bread, rice, pasta, cereals and potatoes, but other foods also contain useful amounts, such as fruit, vegetables, beans, pulses, yoghurt and milk.
Carbohydrate is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen, and if you get tired during your training sessions or a game, this might be because your glycogen stores are running low.
The more you exercise the more carbohydrate you need. The actual amount you need depends upon the type, intensity, duration and frequency of your training sessions, not to mention your general fitness level.
The bigger the glycogen stores in your muscles, the longer you can perform. So this is particularly important if you’re playing soccer.
After training or a game, your muscles can refuel their glycogen stores twice as fast as normal, so it’s important to eat foods containing carbohydrate soon after you’ve finished training or a game.
Protein is essential for our muscles to grow and repair themselves. Protein is also a source of energy.
The amount of protein athletes need has been a topic of huge debate for many years because people who are very active, especially those who train frequently, generally require more protein than those who don’t.
Most people in the developed countries will eat more protein than they need, so even soccer players training regularly should be getting enough protein to meet their needs. This means there should be no need for you to increase the amount you eat of foods rich in protein and there is no need to buy protein supplements.
You should be able to get all the protein you need by eating a variety of foods such as:
Drinking for sport
Water is one of the most important nutrients in your diet. Hydration is a measure of how much water you have in your body. If you become dehydrated it can stop you getting the most out of your activity, so it’s important to make sure you drink enough.
Drinking too little water or losing too much water through sweating will have a negative effect on your performance in training and matches. Effects on performance will mean that you:
- run slower
- don’t cover as much distance
- react to the ball slower when tackling/passing/intercepting/saving
- can’t jump as high to head or gather/clear the ball for goalkeepers
Exercise increases the production of heat in your body, and sweating helps you to lose this heat, keeping you cool and preventing you from overheating.
However, it’s important to replace these sweat losses, otherwise you will become dehydrated.
If you do become dehydrated, your body temperature rises, performance suffers and in extreme cases you could suffer heat stress.
Monitor your urine
The simplest way to tell if you are adequately replacing sweat losses is to check the colour and quantity of your urine.
If your urine is very dark you need to drink more fluids. When your urine is pale yellow your body has returned to its normal water balance.
If your urine is very dark, you should drink 500ml of water immediately, and continue to drink until your urine is pale yellow again.
You can monitor your sweat loss by weighing yourself before and after training and matches. For every 1kg of weight that you lose, you should drink 1500ml of fluid (1.5 times what you have lost since you will pee some of this out).
In addition to monitoring urine and weight loss, you should also monitor how you feel. If you feel chronically fatigued, have a headache, or feel lethargic then you may be chronically dehydrated, and you should continue to drink until you start to feel better.
Thirst is a poor indicator of hydration status, since you are already dehydrated by the time the thirst mechanism kicks in. Young children especially have a poorly developed thirst mechanism, so you should make a big effort to drink before and during training and matches, and afterwards.
In a typical training day you should aim to drink between 3 and 5 litres of fluid. The exact amount will depend on the air temperature, body size, daily activities and how much training you do.
When you’re training or playing matches you should aim to drink:
- at least 500ml (approximately 1 pint) one hour before you start
- Then drink 200ml (a typical glass) 15 to 20 minutes before you start. This fluid in your system will be ready to replace sweat losses.
- Aim to drink approximately 200ml of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes during training. In hot weather you may need to drink more than this, and less in cold weather if you’re not sweating and the session isn’t that intense.
- Try to drink as often as you can during matches. But you’re dependent on stoppages in play, so place fluid bottles all the way round the pitch so that you don’t have to come over to one point to get a drink.
- drink during half-time
- Drink immediately after the match to start replacing the sweat and energy you have lost during the match.
To help keep you hydrated:
- Don’t wait until you feel thirsty
- Drink lots before you start training
- Keep some drink to hand so you can reach it whenever you need it while you’re training
- Drink plenty when you’ve finished
And remember that the fluid we have when we’re exercising should be on top of the usual 1.2 litres (6 to 8 glasses) we need every day.
If you’re training for longer than 1.5 hours, try to eat a high-energy snack such as a banana or some dried fruit before you start or during exercise (if this is practical). If you can’t manage this, you might find it useful to have some diluted fruit juice or squash to help give you energy.
It’s not usually necessary to drink sports drinks just because you’re active. Fruit juice mixed with water, well diluted fruit squashes, or juice drinks will hydrate you and give you some energy. But remember that these, like sports drinks, contain lots of sugar, which means they contain extra calories and can lead to tooth decay.
Sport and supplements
You should be able to get all the nutrients you need from a healthy balanced diet – and remember that taking supplements won’t make up for not eating well.
What to eat
For breakfast try eating a large bowl of cereal with a small amount of sugar, semi-skimmed milk and a sliced banana; or try 4 slices of toast with jam instead.
For lunch you could eat a large bowl of pasta with a low fat sauce (e.g. tomato or low fat seafood sauce) or a couple of sandwiches, preferably made with wholemeal bread, a small amount of butter or margarine and filled with lean meat (e.g. chicken) and salad, along with a yogurt and some fruit.
For dinner, options include grilled lean meat with boiled potatoes and vegetables, or meat with steamed or boiled rice and stir-fried vegetables, or a large baked potato with baked beans or meat sauce.
When to eat
After a game or training
Within one hour of a training session or match your muscles are still active and the energy you’ve used during training or matches will be replaced and stored more quickly in your body.
During this time, you should aim to drink 1 litre of fluid and eat at least one of the following carbohydrate foods:
- two slices of toast, crumpet, bagel or English muffin with jam
- bowl of cereal with semi-skimmed milk
- 2 bananas
- cereal bar
Timing of meals around training and matches is just as important as what you eat if you want to keep your energy levels up. For the first two hours after training or a game, muscles can refuel their glycogen stores twice as fast as normal so it’s important to eat carbohydrate foods as soon as possible after a training session or a game.
Here are two menu plans that you should try to follow during a typical training day and match day.
The timings given are just a guide. You will need to adjust these to suit your own timetable, but remember to eat your carbohydrate snack and a pint of fluid within an hour of finishing your training. And have a meal 3 hours before kick-off on a match day.
|Typical training day|
|9.30/10am||Bowl of breakfast cereal
Glass of fresh orange juice
1 slice of toast
|11.30am||Banana or toasted muffin with jam
Pint of diluted fruit juice or fruit squash
|1pm||Jacket potato with prawns and cheese (e.g. cottage cheese)
Pint of diluted fruit juice or fruit squash
Handful of grapes
Pint of diluted fruit juice or fruit squash
|5pm||Pasta with a chicken, broccoli and tomato sauce
Pint of diluted fruit juice or fruit squash
|7pm||Bowl of breakfast cereal or banana and a packet of raisins
Glass of water
|10.30/11pm||2 slices of toast and jam
Cereal and fruit
Pint of diluted fruit juice or fruit squash
|Typical match day (2pm kick-off)|
|9.30/10am||Pint of water
Cereal and fruit
|11am||2 slices of toast and scrambled eggs, tomatoes
Fresh orange juice
|Up to match||Sports drink|
|After match||Sports drink
Banana or cereal bar
|5/6pm||Soup and bread
Chicken, pasta, vegetables in BBQ sauce
Bananas and custard
Pint of diluted fruit juice or fruit squash
|8pm||2 slices of toast and jam
Pint of diluted fruit juice or fruit squash
Chapter 7: Soccer Speed Training
At any level, speed is one of the most important aspects of soccer.
In any soccer training program speed training plays an important role in the development of players.
The physical demands of soccer make it complex to train for speed so the speed training techniques used must be specific to soccer.
Some important aspects of speed for soccer are as follows:
- Quick speed off the mark (getting to the ball before the opponent)
- Reaction time (reacting in different situations e.g. penalty box goal scoring opportunities, rebounds etc.)
- Quick acceleration over 10-15 yards (to get around an opponent or to track back)
- Good speed endurance (repeatedly performing sprints at speed)
- Speed in possession of the ball (running with the ball past opponents)
- Quickness of feet or agility (performing techniques and skills with the ball at pace)
- The ability to quickly change direction (turning with the ball)
- The ability to execute skills quickly (shooting, passing)
- Speed of thought (being one step ahead of the opposition)
A player who can sprint fast in a straight line isn’t necessarily going to be able to perform the above activities quickly. This is why soccer specific speed training is so important.
Soccer-specific SPEED-AGILITY-QUICKNESS (SAQ) exercises are said to result in the development of multi-directional, explosive speed which is essential for the development of soccer players.
Speed-Agility-Quickness training enhances the ability of the nervous system to process and produce rapid contractions and relaxations of the muscle fibres. This is a key component of fast, explosive movements of the whole body, which occur frequently during a game of soccer i.e. sprinting for a ball, jumping for a header, moving laterally tracking an opponent. It is also an important factor when a body part needs to start a new movement or rapidly change direction for turning.
Speed and agility training is all about quality. Unlike endurance and strength training, a SAQ session should not leave your players exhausted or gasping for breath.
SPEED training or sprint training will help to improve your players’ speed off the mark, acceleration and power.
AGILITY training allows your players to change direction without the loss of balance, strength, and speed or body control.
QUICKNESS training will help to improve your players’ foot speed and co-ordination
Agility ladders are an excellent tool for improving foot speed, coordination and overall quickness. Where they are not available, you can usually make do with comes or markers.
Soccer Speed Training Exercises
These exercises will improve your players’ soccer speed. Make sure that they work with the ball as this will help keep the motivation high and will make it easier to transfer the skill to the pitch.
Work to rest ratios
|2–9 seconds||5 times exercise duration||maximum||2–10|
1. Speed session
1. Arrange your players in two groups facing each other 20 metres apart.
2. Player A passes to player B and sprints to the other side.
3. Player B receives the ball, controls it and passes it back to the next player.
This is repeated with a high tempo.
It takes around 3 seconds for the player to sprint 20 metres after passing the ball with a rest of around 15 seconds before performing the exercise again.
2. Developing speed of the mark
1. Tell your players to stand with feet shoulder width apart.
2. Place two cones 5 metres apart and get the players to sprint from one cone to the other, using the work to rest ratio as above.
3. Reaction time
1. Place four different colored cones about 10 meters apart in a diamond formation.
2. Divide your players into groups of 4 and call a color.
3. On your call the players must sprint to the cone with a ball at their feet and under control.
A suggested progression might be to have the player’s line up in pairs and getting them to race to the cone with or without the ball.
Another progression could be to have them sprint first to a ball situated near the cone and then shoot.
4. Quick acceleration over 10–15 yards
1. Arrange cones in alternating red and yellow colours 10 meters apart as per the diagram.
2. Get your players to work along the line jogging on red and sprinting on yellow.
This can be performed to mirror soccer movements using the ball.
5. Speed endurance
1. This exercise consists of 6×18 meter continuous sprints with 10 second rests in between.
2. Record the time of each individual run.
6. Lateral movement
1. Lead with the right foot then repeat leading with the left.
2. Start slowly, only increasing foot speed when the pattern is mastered. In a short time you players will be amazed at how fast their feet move through the ladder
1. Start with your feet hip-wide apart at the start of an agility ladder.
2. Jump off with both feet and land on the left foot only in the first square.
3. Immediately push off with both feet and land on your right foot only.
4. Push off from your right foot and land on your right foot only.
5. Push off from your right foot and land on both feet.
6. Repeat this pattern for the full length of the ladder.
8. Downhill sprint
1. Running down a lightly sloping hill will help develop leg speed coordination.
2. A small grass embankment is ideal as long as it’s not so steep as to cause your players to break their run.
3. The distance should be around 10 metres and the incline around 10%
9. Uphill sprints
1. Running uphill will help develop acceleration power.
2. The incline can be steeper than for downhill sprints.
3. Keep the distance short and allow plenty of recovery time.
Chapter 8: Functional Reaction and Awareness Exercises
Coaches have been talking about the benefits of functional training for quite some time now. Functional training simply means that the exercises you choose are specific to what you are training for. Functional training is therefore very goal-oriented.
Before developing a functional training workout that is right for your players, you need to determine what your functional goals are and select your exercises with these goals in mind.
For soccer players it is particularly important that they are aware of what is happening around them on the pitch and that they are capable of reacting quickly.
It is often said “the first yard is in the head” so being aware and being able to react quickly in soccer is extremely important, and making the exercises specific to the game is the key to developing these attributes in you players.
1. Awareness and agility
1. Line up your players in four equal groups.
2. Get your players to run in and out of 3 cones spaced 5 metres apart as illustrated.
3. They must then cross over to the opposite side, avoiding each other, in the area marked by poles, and sprint to the back of the group standing on the other side.
This exercise can be progressed by introducing the ball or increasing the number of players who run at any one time.
2. Mirroring – concentration
1. Arrange two players standing 10 metres apart as illustrated.
2. Get player A to perform a movement or skill which player B must replicate simultaneously.
This exercise can be progressed with the introduction of a ball.
3. Reaction and speed (1)
1. Get your players to start on the single cone.
2. Tell them to sprint through the two cones placed 5 metres apart 10 metres away.
3. As the player reaches the two cones, call out one of the three different coloured cones placed a further 10 metres away.
Try getting them to do this exercise running backwards.
This exercise can also be progressed by introducing a ball or by having two players compete in pairs.
4. Reaction and speed (2)
Have your players stand by a mannequin, pass the ball against a wall (or another player or coach), receive it back and sprint to a cone 10 metres away.
This can be progressed by having another player perform the same exercise simultaneously thus making it more competitive.
5. Pass and move
1. Arrange 5 mannequins 5 metres apart.
2. Arrange your players in two lines. Starting at one end, the first two players start off at speed, passing and returning the ball between the mannequins.
3. Get them to overlap at the end and sprint to the back of the opposite line.
This exercise can be progressed by finishing with a shot on target or a game of attack v defence between the competing players.
6. Reaction exercise
Get your players to stand at cones 5 metres behind the mannequins as illustrated.
Place a different coloured cone to the side of each mannequin.
Call a colour and the players must sprint to that cone with the ball under control.
This exercise can be progressed by having the players “beat” the mannequin to get a shot off on goal.
7. Shooting drill
1. Place 4 different coloured cones in the 18 yard box placing a ball by each cone.
2. One player stands on the edge of 18 yard box facing the other side.
3. Call out a colour.
4. The player then turns and sprints to the colour cone you have called and shoots the ball at the goal.
This can be progressed so players work in twos sprinting to get to the ball first.
8. React and sprint
1. Stand 3 yards behind the player who is facing the opposite way to you.
2. Roll the ball under the player’s legs as soon the player sees the ball he reacts and sprints to it.
Follow the Leader
1. Mark out an area 20 meters by 20 meters for example.
2. Arrange your players into pairs and have one follow the other as they run around randomly within the area.
3. Players should maintain a distance of two meters between each other. Player A should be changing direction and pace constantly so player B needs to work hard to keep up.
1. Place 4 markers in a straight line approximately 3 meters apart.
2. In between each set of markers place another marker 3 meters to the left.
3. Sprint from one marker to the next bending down to touch each one with your hand.
4. The emphasis is on taking quick side steps, rather than turning to face the marker and sprinting forward – that takes more time (which you don’t have in a game).
Chapter 9: Injury Recovery and Prevention
Soccer injuries tend to be categorized as either traumatic (acute) injuries or overuse (chronic) injuries. Acute injuries are usually the result of a specific impact or traumatic event. Overuse injuries tend to have subtle or vague symptoms that develop slowly. They begin as a small, nagging ache or pain, and can grow into a debilitating injury if they aren’t treated early.
Overuse injuries are the result of repetitive use, stress and trauma to the soft tissues of the body (muscles, tendons, bones and joints) when there is not enough time for proper healing. They are sometimes called cumulative trauma, or repetitive stress injuries. Examples include tendonitis and shin splints.
Research shows that most injuries soccer players sustain are caused by trauma, either having collided with opponents or from landing awkwardly after jumping for the ball. Nearly one third of all injuries develop over a period of time, due to overuse or playing with slight injuries that develop into something more serious. It’s also been shown that older players are more liable to get injured, and female players suffer more injuries than males.
Most soccer injuries affect areas like the pelvis and groin, hip, thigh, calf, knee, foot and ankle. There are some very common injuries and by understanding how they are caused you may be able to help your players avoid injuries.
Some common soccer injuries
The most common of all ankle injuries, an ankle sprain occurs when there is a stretching and tearing of ligaments surrounding the ankle joint.
Achilles tendonitis is a chronic injury that occurs primarily from overuse and is felt as pain in back of the ankle.
A groin (adductor) pull or strain occurs when the muscles of the inner thigh are stretched beyond their limits.
Hamstring injuries are common among soccer players and can range from minor strains to total rupture of the muscle at the back of the thigh.
Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness
“DOMS” – this muscle pain, stiffness or soreness occurs 24–48 hours after particularly intense exercise or a new program.
General best practise
Many soccer injuries may result from overuse, lack of proper rest, lack or proper warm ups or poor conditioning. The following safety precautions are recommended to help prevent soccer injuries:
- Warm up thoroughly prior to playing and training.
- Use injury prevention exercises such as core stability.
- Play to the rules of the game.
- Use protective equipment (i.e. shin pads).
- Use good technique.
- Make sure the playing area is risk-assessed.
- Have a first aid kit on hand.
- Make sure that the players are not over-training and that they sufficiently recovery time after training and matches.
- Stay hydrated.
Some tips on how to avoid common soccer injuries and rehabilitation
This can occur after strenuous activity or after a game, especially early on in the season.
How can it be avoided?
- Warm up thoroughly before activity and cool down completely afterward.
- Perform easy stretching after exercise.
- When beginning a new activity start gradually and build up your duration and intensity over time.
- Start a new weight lifting routine with light weights and high reps (10-12) and gradually increase the amount you lift over several weeks.
- Avoid making sudden major changes in the type of exercise you do.
- Avoid making sudden major changes in the amount of time that you exercise.
What you should do if you get DOMS?
- Avoid any vigorous activity that increases pain.
- Do some easy low-impact aerobic exercise – this will increase blood flow to the affected muscles, which may help diminish soreness.
- Use gentle stretching on the affected area.
- Gently massage the affected muscles.
When sprinting during a game the hamstring muscle can be stretched beyond its limit and the muscle tissue can be torn. A tear in a muscle is described as a strain and the level of severity is categorised as a first, second or third degree strain.
How can it be avoided?
- Warm up before training or matches.
- A good warm up should last a minimum of 20 minutes.
- Start gently with a couple of light stretching exercises and build up gradually until you finish at full pace activity.
- Any muscle injury should immediately be treated using the RICE method – rest, ice, compression and elevation. It’s important that you never apply ice directly on the skin as this can cause an ice burn. Use an ice bag if possible, or wrap the ice in a cloth or towel if you don’t have one.
- Your injury should be seen by a doctor, or a chartered physiotherapist.
- Depending on the severity of the injury, the leg must be rested from any sporting activity for between a couple of weeks or in a severe case up to three months. Your doctor will advise you on how long you need to rest the injury.
What should you do if you get a hamstring injury?
The sprained ankle is one of the most common injuries in soccer. It’s usually caused by twisting or turning the ankle inwards. This causes soft tissue damage mainly to the ligaments. The damage creates bleeding within the tissue and leads to swelling of the joint, bruising and pain in and around the ankle.
How can it be avoided?
- Taping the ankle before playing can give it added support and reduce the risk of a sprain.
- An ankle brace is an alternative to taping, especially if the sprain is a recurring problem.
- Wobble board training is specifically designed to increase the flexibility in the ankle joint and is used to increase your balance, reducing the probability of getting a strain.
- Especially in the first couple of days after the injury it needs to be protected. A support/bandage should be applied to help with compression of the injury.
- Ice, rest and elevation should also be applied. Use an ice bag on the injury.
How should you care for a sprained ankle?
To stretch the hamstrings dynamically walk without bending the knees, attempting to touch the foot with the hand on each stride.
This stretch is superb for stretching the hip flexors which can become tight in soccer players. With the hands clasped behind the head walk with an exaggerated forward lunging movement. Be sure to keep the trailing knee off the ground.
High knee to ball
Have a partner hold a ball at waist height and try to touch the ball with alternating high knees. The movement should be kept rhythmical and continuous by bouncing on the toes gently between each high knee. This also helps develop quick feet. Swap places after one minute.
High toe to ball
Have a partner hold a ball at waist height and try to touch the bottom of the ball with alternating feet. Again, bounce gently on the toes rather than staying flat-footed throughout the exercise. Continue for one minute and change.
Sit with the legs bent and soles together. Gently press the knees downward to increase the stretch.
Lying on your back, bend one knee and pull the other knee towards your chest. Try to straighten your leg as far as possible while holding your thigh in place. Hold and repeat with the other leg.
Standing on one leg, grab the bottom of the other leg just above the ankle. Pull the heel into the buttocks and push the hips out. The thigh should be perpendicular to the ground. Hold for a few seconds and repeat with the other leg.
Place the feet in front of each other about 18 inches apart. Keep the back leg straight and the heel on the floor. Hold for a few seconds and repeat with the other leg.
Chapter 11: Core Stability
As we have said, the most important part of soccer training for young players is the work they do with the ball. But as players develop into a higher standard of competition, they must put in greater concentrated effort on conditioning and speed training.
Core stability is an essential determinant of success for all soccer players. That’s because the body’s core muscles are the foundation for all other movement.
The main concepts behind core strengthening programs involve using many muscles in a coordinated movement. Rather than isolating a specific joint, as in most weight training, core stability exercises focus on working the deep muscles of the entire torso simultaneously.
Core stability provides central body control, and allows you to generate power by maximizing the efficiency of your muscular effort. Core stability is the foundation for explosive movements and control (agility, balance and co-ordination) – qualities which are vital in soccer.
Core stability training gives your trunk the ability to support the effort and forces from your arms and legs, so that muscles and joints can perform in their safest, strongest and most effective positions.
In soccer terms, you become more stable, better able to withstand tackles and the demands and stresses of competition. You also become more coordinated and balanced, therefore improving the technical elements of the game.
By training specifically for core stability, you gain a number of benefits:
- Greater capacity for speed generation
- More efficient use of muscle power
- Decreased injury risk
- Increased ability to change direction, as body momentum is controlled
- Improved balance and muscular co-ordination
- Improved posture
The muscles of the torso stabilize the spine and provide a solid foundation for movement in the extremities. These core muscles lie deep within the torso. They generally attach to the spine, pelvis and muscles that support the scapula. When these muscles contract, we stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulders and create a solid base of support. We are then able to generate powerful movements of the extremities.
The biggest benefit of core training is to develop functional fitness – that is, fitness that is essential to both daily living and regular activities. However, training the muscles of the core also corrects postural imbalances that can lead to injuries. Indeed, core stability is now seen as an essential attribute for any player who seeks to keep their chances of injury to the absolute minimum.
Core stability exercises
A common exercise that requires good abdominal strength and co-contraction of the abdominal wall musculature to hold the lumbar spine and pelvis in correct alignment.
Technique: Hold a straight body position, supported on elbows and toes. Brace the abs, and set the low back in the neutral position, once you are up. Sometimes this requires a pelvic tilt to find the right position. The aim is to hold this position, keeping the upper spine extended, for an increasing length of time up to a maximum of 60 secs. Perform two to three sets. Keep shoulders back and chest out, while maintaining the neutral lumbar position. This makes the exercise considerably more challenging.
Progression: Lift one leg just off the floor; hold the position without tilting at the pelvis.
The side plank
This is a safe and effective exercise for the oblique’s and quadratus lumborum (a key lumbar stabilizing muscle). This is an excellent exercise for the lower abdominal muscles.
Technique: Lie on one side, ensuring the top hip is ‘stacked’ above the bottom hip. Push up until there is a straight bodyline through feet, hips and head. Hold the position, increasing the length of hold up to a maximum of 60 seconds. Perform two to three sets. Keep the elbow under the shoulder to avoid upper body strain. Lower under control and repeat on the opposite side.
Progression: Raise the top leg in the air and hold it in the abducted position.
The Gluteal Bridge
This exercise is excellent for the lower back.
Technique: Lie on the floor with your knees bent. Squeeze your gluteus and then push your hips up until there is a straight line through knee and hip to upper body. Shoulders remain on the floor. Beware of raising too high or of flaring the ribs, which pushes the back into hyperextension. Hold the position. Start with five sets of 10 seconds progressing to two to three sets of 60 seconds.
Progression: Extend one leg carefully ahead of you and hold the position without dropping or tilting the pelvis.
This is an effective exercise for the lumbar and thoracic portions of the erector spinae muscle. This exercise also requires co-contraction of the abdominal wall muscles to stabilize the pelvis.
Technique: Start with hands below shoulders and knees below hips. Set your low back into neutral and brace your abs slightly. Slowly slide back one leg and slide forward the opposite arm. Ensure that the back does not slip into extension, and that the shoulders and pelvis do not tilt sideways. Hold, increasing the duration up to a maximum of 20 seconds. Slowly bring your leg and arm back and swap sides. Perform sets of 5–10, alternating sides after each hold.
A good exercise for both the oblique’s and the abdominals.
Technique: Lie on your back with the right ankle resting on the left knee. The right arm is placed on the floor out to the side. Keeping the right shoulder down, curl the left shoulder up to the right knee. Crunch at the top and return slowly, under control. Perform sets of 15–30 reps on each side in turn. Avoid ‘head nodding’ during the movement: keep the head off the floor and look forward throughout.
Chapter 11: The Warm-up and Cool-down
It is estimated that around 75% of soccer injuries are preventable by the use of appropriate warm-up and cool-down activities.
Warm-ups increase blood flow to the various muscle groups. Raising physical intensity increases muscle temperature which improves coordination and decreases the chance of injury.
Reasons for conducting a thorough warm-up prior to soccer training and games include:
- To increase blood flow to muscular tissue
- To increase muscle temperature
- To reduce muscle tightness
- To elevate body temperature
- To stimulate reflex activity related to balance and co-ordination
- To achieve full joint mobility in the specific joints involved in the activity
- To achieve full soft tissue extensibility – muscles, tendons, ligaments
- To enhance the functioning of the neuromuscular system
- To prepare the cardiovascular and respiratory systems
- To prepare the player psychologically for the coming activity
And most importantly, to reduce the player’s risk of injury.
Warm-ups should be intense enough to increase the body temperature, gradually increasing the intensity of activity. The procedure should begin with movements of the large muscle groups as these are the main areas to which blood is redistributed. You should then move on to deal with the smaller muscle groups.
After the general warm-up players can begin more specialized exercises including mobilization of the joints and dynamic movements of muscles, particularly of the lower extremity. The final stage of a warm-up concentrates on technique, and/or practicing a specific movement.
The warm up provides an opportunity to work on specific technical skills in conjunction with mobility work and may also provide an opportunity for the players to mentally focus on the session or match ahead.
A warm up should consist of:
- A gentle jog to circulate blood and oxygen supplying the muscles with more energy to work with.
- Stretching to increase the range of motion at joints (see Chapter 9: Injury Recovery and Prevention).
- Soccer-specific exercises and drills
1. Have your players face each other in four different directions behind cones 20 metres apart in equal sized groups as in the illustration.
2. Arrange 3 sets of cones 5 metres apart on each line.
3. Get the players to jog to the first cone and back, the secondand back, and then the third cone and back to the end of the line. Each player jogs individually and the next player goes when the first player completes.
4. Go through the entire procedure twice.
5. When a player completes their second relay they must go to the opposite side and carry on continuously building up the tempo.
Ultimately you can introduce the ball. The players must complete the relay with the ball, pass it off to the next player and sprint to the opposite line.
Stand on the balls of the feet and walk to stretch the calves.
Thigh and glute stretches
Use walking lunges to stretch the thighs and glutes. With the hands clasped behind the head walk with an exaggerated forward lunging movement. Be sure to keep the trailing knee off the ground.
Raise the knee and kick out with the foot facing forward to gently stretch the hamstring.
Bend the leg and bring the knee up and in front of the body. Slowly move the knee outwards in a circular motion and then back down to the floor.
The aim of the cool-down is to:
- Gradually lower the heart rate
- Circulate blood and oxygen to muscles, restoring them to the condition they were in before exercise
- Remove waste products such as lactic acids
- Reduce the risk of muscle soreness
The cool-down should consist of a gentle jog followed by light stretching.
An excellent alternative is to play a game of soccer tennis. This is also a great game for developing a player’s first touch. Players love this game and we know how important it is to be able to quickly control bouncing balls during a game. Soccer tennis will generate hundreds of quality touches while the players are having fun and cooling down. Without even trying, they will learn to receive chest balls, thigh controls, instep volleys and head touches.
Other activities and games the players can do are as follows.
Jump and go
The players have to listen carefully!
Bring all the players into the 18 yard box.
- On GO – the players must stop still.
- On STOP – players must move around the 18 yard box either walking or running.
- On UP – players must sit or lay down.
- On DOWN – players must stretch up as high as possible
1. Players form groups of 4/5, each with a ball.
2. Players are numbered 1 to 4/5 in each group.
3. Stand each group alongside each other, facing forwards, but with a gap of at least 10 metres at the side of each group, and a gap of 4/5 paces between each player lining up behind one another.
4. Player number 4 or 5 (at the back of their line) must discard their ball.
5. The coach instructs the player to tap the underside or sole of their right foot, explaining that this is the part of the foot that will be used to roll the ball backwards.
6. On the command “now”, each player rolls the ball backwards (a drag back) to the partner behind them.
7. Now, the player at the front of the line will be the only one without a ball.
8. Players at the back of each line now have a ball; they pick the ball up and walk to the front of the line. Note: the coach should instruct that the walk must be along the right hand side of their line to the front as this will ensure maximum space is kept between each line and avoid students colliding.
The player at the back is permitted to jog to the front, initially carrying the ball, then by dribbling the ball with their feet; the exercise is then conducted with each line moving forward, so that the drag back is done whilst travelling with the ball; the coach nominates “left” or “right” to denote which foot should be used for each drag back; players at the back are instructed to sprint to the front and, finally, the exercise can become a competition, with each group seeing how long they can keep the exercise going before it breaks down when every ball is not smoothly exchanged with and controlled by a partner.
Dribble, Freeze, Tag
1. Select 4/5 players (without balls) to be ‘Chasers’, the rest must work independently in the 18 yard box, each with a ball.
2. On the command “go”, the players dribble with their heads up, to avoid Chasers and to ensure they do not collide with others.
3. When tagged, the players sit on their ball, and can only be released by being tapped on the shoulder by a teammate – that teammate must be in control of the ball they are dribbling while making the release tap.
4. Various groups of Chasers compete to see which group can tag everyone in the shortest time.
Dribble, Sit, Switch, Skill
1. Every player BAR ONE, has a ball and dribbles slowly in a free area (the player without a ball also jogs in the area) – heads up to identify space to run into and ensure they do not collide with others.
2. On the command “switch”, everyone immediately leaves their ball where it is and dribbles a ball that belonged to someone else: the player without a ball is allowed to get a ball at this time, thereby leaving someone else without a ball.
3. On the command “turn”, the players perform a particular turn they have been practising e.g. outside foot, inside foot, stop turn, drag back, ‘Cruyff turn’, hip twist etc.
4. On the command “sit” each player sits on their ball with hands on head.
5. The coach now professes confusion: when saying “sit” the group should “switch” and when saying “switch” they should do the nominated skill.
Older age groups can do some light weight work under supervision from an experienced trainer.
Many coaches like to use the swimming pool for cool downs but clearly this option will not be available to most.
About the Author
Jimmy Petruzzi performance coach
Jimmy Petruzzi has worked in many countries with successful people and businesses including premiership football teams, top athletes, politicians, entrepreneur, helping them to achieve peak performance in all aspects of their lives.
Jim trains many of the top champions in the world of Sport based in the UK, and abroad, and has implemented many of his unique and breakthrough concepts in athletic performance.
Jim works with elite sports performers including, among others, Premiership footballers and teams he has assisted to prepare international teams for major tournaments such as the soccer world cup also trained rugby players, European Tour golfers, World and Olympic medallists, international athletes, cricket players, tennis players, professional football and sporting teams and establishments.
Jim has taken these principles of success in sport with NLP and transferred them to the cooperate sector with great success, presently regarded as one of the most successful and effective business coaches and trainers .Helping companies increase sales, improve leadership and management skills, set inspiring goals and fulfil their potential, become highly motivated and function effectively as a team.
Jim Appears regularly on television and Radio in the UK, Australia and USA including weekly segment on radio skysportsradio.com Australia radio, Realcoachingradio.com. Features in worldwide newspapers as well as sports-related documentaries. He is also often asked to provide commentary for radio and in the press, a regular columnist on magazines such as peak performance, men’s fitness and Fit Pro, frequent contributor to other publications, as well as a sought after industry speaker who regularly presents at the leading conferences in the field.
Director of the International Association of NLP and Coaching
Received highly commended for coaching award 2006, for his international and domestic work