Training Considerations for Soccer (Football) Players

Training Considerations for Soccer (Football) Players

Soccer (or football) is widely accepted as one of the most popular sports in the world.

Despite this, many amateur athletes and coaches get it wrong when it comes to training and preparation.

Long gone are the days of players running as far as possible for as long as possible to get fit. However, often this approach at an amateur level is implemented still, neglecting other important training elements for the game.

The misconception around amateur soccer players is that training fundamentals such as strength or power development aren’t necessary for their sport – which couldn’t be further from the truth!

Let’s dive into the forgotten training principles of the sport and listen to some important advice from experts at the top on how to take your game to the next level!

TRAINING CONSIDERATIONS FOR SOCCER PLAYERS:

1. Strength and Power

That’s right – hit the weights room.

Strength training within a soccer regime has various benefits on performance for players.

It’s one fundamental of training easily ignored by players and coaches, but training strength and power is an important element of the sport.

Go through your head and think of the basic movements performed during a game – kicking, sprinting, tackling and jumping. Most are repeated power movements. What is power? Well strength forms the basis for power and speed which is crucial to play the sport effectively.

2. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

As soccer is an intermittent sport with repeated bouts of high-intensity activity, it’s fitting to incorporate HIIT training.

Evidence shows that the effects of high-intensity interval training benefit soccer players, particularly among younger players, and helps with endurance and performance throughout the game. HIIT training improves both aerobic and anaerobic capacity and is reported to show greater improvements compared with continuous training methods.

So, does HIIT help your endurance?

A major difference in players at an amateur level is usually how long they can run or maintain their level of stamina for.

Soccer is a game of endurance, with elite players needing to perform at their best for the entire duration of the game. Highly anaerobic, soccer is not about how long you can run for, it’s about the intensity you can put in – the sport demands you to be very active. You are constantly running up and down the field, defending against a player, and moving into space to receive and make passes. You are rarely just jogging around the field.

Using interval training will help your soccer skills significantly. This is when you alternate between activity levels throughout an exercise, giving your heart rate a chance to recover periodically. The best interval training actually alternates between very low energy exercise (low intensity, a slow jog) and bursts of high energy exercise.

This helps your muscles train and condition without straining them unnecessarily, and also helps push your physical capacity to improve your strength or speed without excessive wear and tear.

3. Speed and agility

A significant determinant of success and a key component of the sport is agility. The ability to perform fast bursts of speed and quick changes of direction often separate great players from average ones.

Soccer isn’t linear; it constantly changes from one part of the field to another. You are sprinting, changing direction, stopping and starting. It’s never in a straight line. Training should represent how you play.

WE SPOKE TO THE EXPERTS

Australian national teams rely on the expertise of world leading sports science and sports medicine staff to overcome some of the unique and often extreme challenges they face when competing globally.

We had the opportunity to talk with Accredited Sports Scientists, Fabian Ehrmann and Andrew Clark of Football Australia.

Fabian and Andrew give insight to the training and preparation of players at national level, but also provide advice for amateurs looking to excel their game.

Why should a soccer player strength train? (power, speed, etc.)

Football at the elite level is incredibly competitive and it’s not possible anymore to compete without being an outstanding and well-rounded athlete. Playing football, like many field-based team sports, requires high levels of endurance, speed, strength and agility, which, when combined, act as the foundation for the technical and tactical work required on the pitch.

We know from using tracking technology that physical demands on professional players are increasing from year to year and we also know that individual physical qualities can make a significant difference to a team’s success – whether it’s a striker using his speed to get onto the end of a through ball and score, a defender using his strength to outmuscle strikers at set pieces, or a midfielder using his endurance to cover every blade of grass on the pitch in the last minute of a match.

All this means that elite footballers have to work very hard on developing physical qualities, be it in team training sessions or in supplementary sessions on the pitch or in the gym.

The good news for junior players and amateur players is that what is true for professionals, usually holds true for them as well. Physical qualities along with technical and mental qualities can make a real difference at any level of the game and it just becomes a matter of how we can optimise the training time available to us to ensure all qualities are trained adequately.

Do different soccer playing positions require different physical attributes and how do you account for that in training?

Match demands on players are vastly different depending on where they play on the pitch. Wide players tend to cover a lot of ground and do much more high speed running than central players. Central midfielders often cover the most distance but do so at a steadier pace, while central defenders and strikers tend to run the least but perform more explosive actions (accelerations and decelerations) than their midfield counterparts.

It’s not just playing position that determines how much and what type of running a player needs to do though; playing style and tactical instructions, as well as external factors like heat and humidity, also play a role and must be factored in when preparing players for matches.

One of the most important principles we have to adhere to when planning training for the team or individual players is specificity and this means, amongst other things, that we need to adjust our training to the type of work required of a player in a match. The easiest way to achieve this is by using game variations in training that mimic the demands of the game. This could be large-sided games (8 v 8s up to 11 v 11s) or small sided games (3 v 3s or 4 v 4s). These game forms allow us to overload certain physical components while also training technical and tactical aspects, thereby maximising training time. In professional football, we can use GPS technology to ensure that the training intensity during these drills is at the desired level for us to achieve our targeted outcomes.

At grassroots level, training intensity is a little harder to track (although Session RPE is an excellent and inexpensive way of doing this), but can be manipulated in exactly the same way; changing pitch size (small training areas generally mean more explosive actions, while large areas mean more high speed running and higher top speeds), introducing new rules (how many touches are players allowed to take, extra players on the attacking/defensive team, etc.), and making sure there are plenty of balls in case one is kicked away are easy ways of influencing intensity.

What about training for goalkeepers?

Conditioning for goalkeepers is of course completely different to that of field players. Goalkeepers are usually taller and heavier than their counterparts on the field, as they don’t have the same endurance demands, but they need to be explosive and able to perform these explosive efforts repeatedly if required. They also need extremely good reaction times, which must be worked on in specialised goalkeeping sessions or drills.

How important is HIIT training and what type of HIIT training exercises can soccer players perform?

High-intensity interval training is a fantastic tool for footballers to work on in off-season fitness, to get back to fitness levels following injury or simply top up their regular team training. It trains both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, and it mimics match demands really well, as football is an intermittent sport, which means there is a lot of low-intensity activity interspersed by high-intensity efforts like sprints, tackles or jumps.

We often use “15/15s” in our training, so 15 seconds of intense running followed by 15 seconds of rest and we do this for a few sets of several minutes. A good starting point for junior and amateur players is probably 2 sets of 4 minutes with 2 minutes of rest in between (so 8 x 15 second runs starting every half a minute, 2 minutes rest, then go again) before working up to 5 or 6 minutes and eventually adding a third set. The distance covered in those 15 seconds depends on the fitness levels of the player. In one straight line it can be anywhere between 75 and 90 metres (again, it’s probably good to start on the lower end before working up to the high end). When adding a change of direction, a rule of thumb is to halve that distance and take 5 metres off to allow for the deceleration and acceleration phase.

Footballers don’t often run in straight lines for extended periods, so manipulating work to rest times, adding changes of direction (try 10 seconds of intense 20 metre shuttles with 20 seconds rest) and combining technical components of the game with high-intensity interval training methodology, are great ways of achieving training goals and keeping individual sessions interesting.

Our creative thinking is constantly challenged when designing game specific physical overload sessions that combine HIIT training principles with technical and tactical components of the game.

Why should an amateur soccer player implement speed & agility training and what are some examples of agility drills?

The ability to run fast and change direction at speed, with and without the ball, is decisive in football, especially to create goal-scoring opportunities in the attacking third. Importantly, like in other team sports, it’s not just important how fast a player can run or turn, but how well he or she can anticipate and react to external cues, like which way is the opponent moving or where will the ball go next. This means for us it is important to incorporate decision making and reactiveness into our speed and agility work.

As an example, a simple progression of agility drills could be a square with different coloured markers, approximately 10 metres apart, and a coach asking the players to run around any combination of colours as quickly as they can (one by one, not all together, and one effort shouldn’t last more than about 7 seconds). The players’ runs are hereby pre-planned, and the focus lies on optimising power and running mechanics. A simple progression would be the coach not calling out the next colour until the player has nearly reached the marker.

The player now can’t pre-plan his or her movements and is forced to be alert and react quickly. A final progression could be a second player starting two metres behind the first player and, on his own device, running towards any marker as fast as he or she can. The first player anticipates and reacts to this run by chasing after player 2, much like they would in a match.

As with all drills we do, we want to make them as interesting and fun as we possibly can. Setting up several squares so players can be competitive and race against each other is a good way of doing this, as is including a ball, for example by allowing the race “winner” a shot at goal while the “loser” tries to stop them.

What should a typical training week look like for an Australian player?

No matter what level or age, it is important to keep three main physical aims in mind when planning a training week. The first aim is to recover fully from the previous match, the second aim is to load – working on maintaining or elevating fitness levels – and the third aim is to taper for the upcoming match – to ensure players are fresh and ready play. Most teams play once per week, either on Saturdays or Sundays, and train twice or three times per week. This gives them plenty of time to recover, load and taper. If teams play two matches in a week, the second match replaces the loading period and recovery becomes a bigger focus.

Weekly training schedule for soccer players.

If we use a team that plays every Saturday as an example, they should focus on recovery on the Sunday and Monday (a little bit more or less depending on the age and the fitness levels of the players). Recovery doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing (although good sleep is essential), instead this period is great for doing light aerobic activities, like jogging, cycling or swimming, and working on football technique with low-intensity dribbling and passing drills.

On Tuesday and Wednesday the focus should shift to ensuring players work on their fitness levels. Teams can play large-sided games one week and small sided games the following week to ensure they overload all aspects of football fitness. Individual players can top up their training with high-intensity intervals and also work on strengthening their muscles (Football Australia’s FUNdamentals and Perform+ programs are excellent starting points for this).

Thursday and Friday should see a decline in training load again as players prepare for the match ahead. Besides tactical training, this period is great for doing speed and agility drills as described above. That should sharpen the players up and ensure they are ready to perform at their best on the weekend.

FOOTBALL AUSTRALIA’S TRAINING AND HEALTH HUB:

For information on how to train and recover like a professional footballer – including tips and tricks around football nutrition – check out Football Australia’s Training and Health Hub.

Training for soccer

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Written by Exercise Right. We have partnered with Nike Australia Pty Ltd for this article series. The views expressed in this article, unless otherwise cited, are exclusively those of the author, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA). ESSA is a professional organisation committed to establishing, promoting and defending the career paths of tertiary trained exercise and sports science practitioners.

Nike had no role in the collection, analysis, or interpretation of data or research or the writing of this article.

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