Keep the 'Soccer' in soccer fitness

A foundation for a successful soccer team is built in their fitness program. It is difficult to plan a fitness program especially in youth soccer. You may not have a consistent number of players at every practice and when players miss your sessions it can hurt the team. Because of the problems of attendance etc, your fitness should be a regular theme in your practice sessions. To be more prepared you must encourage your players to work on their fitness away from the practice field. This will give you a good idea of their commitment. It is good to give the players 'homework' which focuses on fitness because this gives you more time to work with the ball whenever you are on the practice field. Growing up I dreaded those long pre-season runs and by the time the coach threw the ball on the field my legs were too heavy to play. They were boring and frustrating. My strength was my fitness. What I lacked was technical ability. We were running for the sake of running. Yes, running is a major element of the game; running to get open, running to create space, running to recover etc but running with no purpose and doing running exercises that are more related to Iron man training is irrelevant to soccer. Our time with our players is limited and we must make the best use of our time spent with them by always relating everything we do to the game. We believe that soccer practice and soccer fitness is the same thing. Every practice should be executed in such a tempo that during  the practice you are working on all aspects of fitness related to the game. Never should the two, fitness and soccer be separated. If you add creativity to fitness training then your players will be motivated, work harder and achieve more. What would motivate players more than a soccer ball, competition or a goal? All the time you are working on soccer, you are working on fitness.

What is soccer fitness training?

Soccer fitness training is soccer training in which better conditioning enables the player to develop greater soccer ability because the player has more soccer capacity to train harder and recover more quickly.

Your players really do need to be in great shape to get to their maximum capacity. The advantages gained can include them:

  • Getting to the ball sooner

  • Solving problems quicker

  • Play longer

  • Concentrate longer

  • Able to play under greater pressure

  • React better to winning or losing the ball

  • Gain more confidence and knowledge

It is important to work all of this into a good, useful, fun and realistic practice session. You must keep a good balance between work rate and work limit. Make sure the players are not over trained. There are many exercises done with the ball that can act as rest periods. A coach's topic for the evening should never be fitness alone. We sometimes see teams running long distances for 90 minutes or even longer. Never separate conditioning from the game of soccer.

Below are some examples of incorporating fitness into your practice sessions. There are a few scenarios where some include a ball and some don't. The ones that don't are still great motivational exercises for your players.

This is a fun decision making game of tic tac toe. No ball is used and the theme is really fun, decision making, team work and fitness so it is related to soccer in many ways.

The exercise shows 4 teams. One team plays against another. Ahead of them they have 9 cones placed as shown. Each team has three pinnies the same color but different from the team they are playing against. The first three players of each team hold a pinnie.

1. When the coach says go, the first player on each team races to the cones and drops a pinnie on a cone (it cannot be thrown from a distance)

2. They run back and tag a team mate who does the same.

3. Once all three pinnies have been used players run out and move their own color pinnie.

4. The first team to make a line straight or diagonal wins.

Coaching points:

Communicating, fun and decision making.

This exercise is great 'go to' exercise especially for the younger players. It is competitive, fun and involves a soccer ball.

25 x 30, 2 goals with GK’s. Teams are placed at opposite ends as shown with a cone facing each team 30 yards away.

1. The coach calls out a number. If coach calls “TWO”, 2 players from each team run around the opposite cone as fast as they can. They now attack the goal they are facing.

2. The coach serves in the ball. A 2 v 2  is played.

3. Play until a goal is scored or until the ball goes out of bounds.

4. Players return back to their group and the coach calls out another number.

Variation:

1. You can play without GK's. The first player that makes it to the cone becomes the goalkeeper.

2. The coach places four cones in a diamond shape on the field. 4 players always start the exercise. When the coach calls out 'GO', 4 players sprint around the far cone and each player from both teams stands on a cone (players cannot stand on the same cone as a team mate) Once a team has all players on each cone the coach serves in a ball.

This exercise has no ball. It is a session I do at random. The players never know it's coming and I get to see the mental toughness of my players. It also works on team work and self directing and understanding their strengths.

The players are lined up on the edge of the penalty area. There are three lines. The half way line and we have placed a line 5 yards before and after the half way line. We tell the players they can run to any line. Whichever line they choose, they have to get back in 15 seconds. The players then get 15 seconds rest before they go again.

If a player does not get back in the allocated time, that run does count. The team do 5 sets.

As the teams fitness improves you can do more sets. Players must understand their limit without jeopardizing the team.

This is a great mental exercise for the group. If you think you have players that will not make the first cone, place it closer to the edge of the area. Emphasize to the players that a player giving it their best effort and only going to the first cone is no different than a player going to the furthest cone by giving it their best.

For the older teams play this small sided game that focuses on pressing. High intensity and it gives the players a feel for real game scenarios.

Area – 30 x 40. 14 players including GK’s arranged in a 7 v 5 plus GK’s. Inside the paying area play a 5v3 with the three being helped by the goalkeepers and the players on the outside. Yellows have to keep possession only. Blues have to win the ball and score.

1. Outside players are limited to two touches. They cannot pass to the outside player that is on the same side. But they can pass to either one on the opposite side the GK’s and the three central players.

2. If the 5 blues win the ball, they keep possession, play a 5v3 and can score on either goal (as shown)

3. Have the players switch roles to give everyone an opportunity to see different scenarios.

Coaching points:

Quality passing

Ball control

Body  shape

Movement off the ball and communication

Field awareness