Well, unfortunately there is plenty of snow covering the soccer pitch. As a coach, it’s an opportune time to reflect on the positives and negatives of the past season. What you might discover, is that some of the team was lacking in energy and/or, incurred far too many injuries. The good news is that the winter time provides a great opportunity to work on fitness deficiencies.
Soccer is one of the most physically demanding sports and has been categorized as a high intensity, intermittent, team sport. It is also a sport using linear and nonlinear running, with players having to go through various planes of movement during a game, often changing suddenly. If not to make the game more challenging, throw in some vertical leaps (and the occasional rough landing) – good thing Soccer is officially, “a non-contact sport”.
During a competitive youth soccer game, depending on the position, a player can be expected to run/walk well over 5 kilometers (with mid fielders typically going farther). As the majority of a soccer game is run at sub-maximal, aerobic cardio intensities (much to the chagrin of all coaches), it’s extremely important that players develop a solid aerobic base. It has been shown (K McMillan, J Helgerud, R Macdonald, J Hoff 2005), that even a small improvement in a players aerobic conditioning can result in more efficient running on the field. Extending a players energy base is paramount, as once fatigue kicks in, coordination starts to drop, i.e., fatigue can mean the difference between an accurate kick on goal, or putting it 10’ too high. A great metric for determining a player’s aerobic conditioning is their VO2max (maximal oxygen uptake). Once determining that metric as part of a “base lining” process, an off season training program can be implemented to improve upon VO2max levels.
In addition to the cardio element, soccer players also require both explosive and endurance based muscle activity during a game. So, what’s a relatively easy way to improve both cardio and muscular levels? Cross Training!
Why cross training, as opposed to just running laps? Well, over time if the same stimulus is applied day in and day out to an individual’s fitness level, sooner or later their body will adapt to the static stimulus and begin to plateau. If you want to try this fitness phenomena out for yourself, do a simple bicep curl exercise with a weight that makes it challenging to complete a proper set. Within a month or so of repeating the same exercise, that same weight will become easier to lift. Unfortunately, if the same weight stimulus continues, in the same technique, you’ll find your bicep strength will plateau and could even get weaker.
Using the previous analogy exemplifies the importance of cross training, whereby the athlete is continually being challenged by different exercises and techniques - as a coach, there is a myriad of options for improving players overall fitness level, simply implementing a relevant cross training program can be a great start.
Cross Training can be made as simple or sophisticated as you like, including the use of a “periodization” program (a systematic approach to improving one’s fitness level). To get an extra bang for your buck, incorporate some Speed, Agility and Quickness (SAQ) drills and if time permits, a properly done plyometric program will nicely cap off the training.
NOTE: Be careful with implementing too demanding of a plyometric program, as youth player’s bones structures are generally still growing and overly demanding impact forces can cause negative effects (try jump rope, which when done properly, is a great form of basic plyometric, works the cardio element and is inexpensive).
Finally, with the reality of cost and time, get your players at a minimum, to try out another sport, ideally one with similar movements to that of soccer, e.g., basketball.
Certainly, it’s also paramount that players continue to work with the ball throughout the off season, as this is what they’ll be doing on the field, but cross training with other sports and/or exercise programs, can make for great improvements in fitness.
Mike Kelly is a canfitpro PRO TRAINER (“providing training to trainers”) and runs We Mean Fitness, specialising in fitness and the sports conditioning training for individual and teams in the greater Ottawa area. © 2018 Mike Kelly