A little background:
Soccer is generally regarded as an intermittent sport with changes of direction every few seconds, sprints lasting no more than 4-6 seconds, played for 90 minutes (for older players) requiring jumps, ball interactions, etc. Elite players can cover between 10-15 km per match and generally work within or around 70% of their VO2 max. Most of the game is spent jogging/walking with high demands for repeated sprints, jumps, turns, executing skills, etc.
Given the above statement, there is no one right way or one magical answer in developing conditioning programs for players and teams, but there are incorrect recommendations. Even so, it’s all underpinned by an individuals’s DNA (among other attributes)!
An effort to develop the necessary physiological traits or energy systems in soccer players designed to meet the demands of the game (and hopefully reduce injuries), requires a series of thoughts and development of skills which can be broken out into several steps.
Step 1: Have athletes been physically screened for any limitations in their movement as it relates to their function as a human and in sport? E.g., if a player has sprained his or her ankle during a game, he or she may still be able to play and move but with some other part of his or her body compensating for the injured area – ultimately at a cost somewhere else in the body (See FC Boulder Injury Reduction Screenings for more explanation).
Step 2: All players still must first have the physical competencies required to complete the technical soccer skills. So, players must be able to move efficiently i.e., movement in proper (joint) sequencing resulting in possible increased flexibility in muscles (See FC Boulder Movement Prep for more explanation).
Step 3: Running mechanics may be scrutinized. Inefficient running mechanics may lead to limitations in developing acceleration and maximum velocity or power (See FC Boulder Movement Prep).
Step 4: Teach force reduction (absorption) BEFORE force production. Soccer players are always stopping, pausing and turning. They must learn how to brake in order to produce the force to accelerate, jump, etc. (See FC Boulder Movement Prep).
Step 5: Once steps 1-4 are addressed, then you can begin to ask- “what are the physiological or energy system demands being asked of the players?” E.g.,during the preseason – focus may be placed more on aerobic capacity via longer runs or sprints. Or as part of a medium to high intense training session you may add SAQ work…just be sure to do it in all 3 planes of motion!
Simply put: Decide the skill desired, break out the sequencing of developing that skill, establish the appropriate energy system, select the movement or game and variations (along with number of players, playing area, use of soccer balls or not, other rules), select the appropriate timing of the games (work:rest ratio), and number of sets/repetitions. Plan for regeneration/recovery as well! Teach with quality!
Here are some key words associated with soccer conditioning: Perception and Awareness, Motor Skill Development, Agility, Flexibility/Mobility, Balance, Speed (Reaction, Acceleration, Maximal Speed, Deceleration, Speed Endurance, Acyclic Speed), Endurance (Muscular, Aerobic Capacity, Aerobic Power, Anaerobic Lactic, Anaerobic Alactic), Strength (Strength Endurance, Explosive Strength, Maximal Strength), Regeneration/Recovery.
Needless to say, it takes careful planning to develop a quality program. To assist in our efforts, we will add resources to this site covering a wide range of topics or ideas (some even contradicting each other) to aid in your critical thinking, planning and preparation.
Feel free to contact James Wagenschutz, Director of Athletic Performance, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to assist your individual players and teams.