How bad do you want it & what sacrifices are you willing to make?

by CoachZ on January 28, 2009

Soccer Fitness & Somewhere in the World!

I used to have a coach who would also follow up the two quotes above with the following challenge:

“Someone is training when you are not. When you play him, he will win!”

I have either competed in athletics or trained athletes at every level for more than 45 years, sometimes training and competing at the same time. During this period, spanning almost half a century, there have been five truths that have stuck out and remained constant:

1) “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”
Vince Lombardi

2) “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.”
Vince Lombardi

3) “Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.”
Vince Lombardi

4) “The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.”
Vince Lombardi

5) Fatigue makes cowards of us all.
Vince Lombardi

All five of these quotes, made famous by the great Vince Lombardi and recognized around the world as his, have their foundation standing on three pillars…a combination of common sense, motivational speaking, and sport’s psychology. Lombardi was able to accomplish his challenge in quote number 2 above as few have before and, I would argue, fewer still since.

Before we set forth on our journey into the “wide world of sports,” and soccer in particular, we must be aware of the physical requirements, the physical demands, of the sport. Soccer requires a high level of physical fitness, fitness only derived by means of hard work and well planned, sport/sex-specific specific training. Don’t underestimate the levels of strength and fitness required in order to excel at The Beautiful Game. Players at the highest level may run up to 15-20 km’s per game, that’s upwards of 10-12 miles in 60 to 90 minutes of play. To be a true championship-caliber soccer player, one capable of competing at the premier-club level, the USYSA ( & AYSO ( Olympic Development Program (ODP), their repsetcivestate team, regional team, or national team level, and , ultimately the NCAA DI levels! Of course, there’s play available to a select few at levels even beyond the NCAA Division I level. For a select few, there is Major League Soccer ( for the men, set to expand yet again this year, and the newly reconstituted Women’s Professional Soccer League (, promising a truly exciting ! Ultimately, there is play in Asia, Europe, Mexico, and South America, as well as national team play, for the best of the best, those gifted and dedicated. At any level, but particularly as soccer players grow an develop, the running involved should never resemble a leisurely Sunday jog. Unfortunately, this kind of running can be witnessed all too often and is referred to as one-speed soccer,unimagination and ugly! Soccer at the highest levels involves frequent sprints, with acceleration, deceleration, change in direction, and even vertical leaps. A well-played soccer match should resemble interval training for sprint and middle distance athletes preparing for a track and field event.

Sex-specific & sport-specific strength and fitness training is crucial, a requirement at all levels of the game; youth to adult, amateur to professional, male and female! If you desire success at the highest levels, strength and fitness training, tailored to your individual requirements and needs is a must. The associated stiffness and pain, the good pain, the kind that lets you know you’re alive, that arrives by way of with championship preparation, will be a constant companion, at least at first. As a result, it is important to begin early in the pre-season and develop a solid relationship with a sports-medicine centered physical therapist and your athletic trainer, hold nothing back! At the youth level, the proper sex-specific program will not only improve overall effectiveness, speed, strength, endurance, and agility, but it will assure the soccer-athlete a more enjoyable experience, on and off the pitch! The objective of sport & sex specific strength and fitness training, as it applies to soccer, is to help to ensure a reduction is both old, nagging injuries and new, possibly career-ending or career-shortening injuries! Soccer-specific & sex-specific strength and fitness training is put in place, in effect, to allow the players to cope with the physical demands of the game while, at the same time, allowing each player to harness and improve their technical and tactical abilities; and, reducing the incidence of injury, particularly catastrophic knee injuries in female-soccer athletes!

How do we define sex-specific strength and fitness training? What is soccer-specific strength and fitness training? Ultimately, what is fitness? Well, Wikipedia offers the following definition:

“Physical fitness is the functioning of the heart, blood vessels, lungs, and muscles at optimum efficiency. In previous years, fitness was defined as the capacity to carry out the day’s activities without undue fatigue. Automation increased leisure time, and changes in lifestyles following the industrial revolution meant this criterion was no longer sufficient. Optimum efficiency is the key. Physical fitness is now defined as the body’s ability to function efficiently and effectively in work and leisure activities, to be healthy, to resist hypokinetic diseases, and to meet emergency situations. Fitness can also be divided into five categories: aerobic fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition.

Strength training is the use of resistance to muscular contraction to build the strength, anaerobic endurance and size of skeletal muscles. There are many different methods of strength training, the most common being the use of gravity or elastic/hydraulic forces to oppose muscle contraction. Strength training used to be viewed within the context of weightlifting, bodybuilding, powerlifting, and other power, anaerobic sports and activities. This is no longer the case, strength and fitness training are now considered absolutely vital, key components in injury prevention. Where we once felt that young athletes, particularly female athletes who had not yet experienced closure of the growth plates or undergone menarche, as well as those male athletes competing in endurance and skilled sports did not, should not under any circumstances, involve themselves in weight training activities. Basketball players, tennis players, and most athletes playing skilled positions where “touch” and skill were factors, should not touch weights during the regular season. Interestingly, until a few short years ago, almost all athletes were told to stay away from strength training during the regular season…period!

The amount of strength and stamina lost during the season often approached 60% of that an athlete started the season with! There can be little doubt that this was a contributing factor in fatigue and stress-related injuries late in the season.

Remember number 5 above, “Fatigue makes coward of us all.” Well, I would suggest that fatigue also makes patients of many.

Taken as a complex working together, sex-specific and sport-specific strength and fitness training, combined with nutrition, and linked with genetic characteristics (phenotypic expression), soccer performance is influenced in quantity, quality, and magnitude by the training regimen and biological factors affecting the soccer-athlete. Don’t let this fool you, even a naturally gifted player will require adequate conditioning in order to ensure ultimate performance and protection from injury. The risk of injury goes up exponentially as the season progresses, and training decreases. A lack of training, matched with an increase in fatigue (#5 above), and the athlete reaches critical mass. Then, depending on other factors, such as nutrition and genetics, injuries happen! Seasons and careers end!

Please try to remember, different sports require different levels of fitness and various levels of conditioning and degrees of strength. Soccer players must be able to compete and perform for up to 90 minutes. soccer-athletes require prolonged strength, strength that will last for the entire match. Match strength, combined with endurance, will have the affect of increasing energy stores, making fuel to compete on and with readily available. Fatigue and injury become less of a factor, although risk is still present, particularly in female athletes! We refer to lasting endurance as stamina, and stamina combined with strength will result in ultimate performance…an irresistible combination. A soccer-athlete, male or female, must have explosive strength to have the ability to sprint, change direction, jump side to side and vertically. Strength training leads to development, and development leads to performance. Combine strength and performance, then increase blood flow to the muscles as a result of both aerobic and anaerobic training, and a soccer player now handles 90 minutes much more efficiently, with less risk of injury due to fatigue! An offshoot of the aerobic and musculo-skeletal efficiency! The legs produce force that will enable them to pass, shoot and tackle with more power, accuracy, and efficiency as neuro-muscular coordination improves!

Finally, increased agility and co-ordination, neuro-muscular coordination, derived from a lean body composition combined with increases muscle control.
During match play, the intensity and the fitness demands vary considerably from player to player, position to position. An outside midfielder or defensive back makes run after run attempting a service of the ball, taxing stores of glycogen (carbs converted for the body and stored in the liver). Sprinting down the wing, chasing a through ball, jogging back to position or waiting for the opposition to take a throw in, a corner or a goal kick all expend energy. Soccer-footskill training, and ball-control training, when linked with strength and fitness training, create an athlete difficult to stop, difficult to resist. Training should always involve the use of balls to develop and condition the muscles used during a match. On-ball training will condition players and will also improve their technical and tactical skills, while keeping them interested and entertained all at the same time.

So far we have defined fitness and all the components of conditioning needed for soccer. So how do we achieve soccer fitness? How do we become a a first-rate soccer player? We will answer that next! Repetition? Most professional soccer players train twice a day, 5 times a week, period. In order to gain, improve or develop, you must train regularly and often. “Practice makes perfect”? Nope! “Perfect practice makes practice perfect!”

To become a great soccer player you must train and condition your body more than your competitors or opponents. Simple as that. If you want to play at the next level, you need to train frequently and with intensity in all things. Intensity! Don’t just go through the motions. Warning! Too much high intensity training will lead to injury and fatigue. Train hard, but use common sense as well.

Resistance-Progressive Overload training should never be done alone, always make sure you have a workout partner and a spotter, always.

“Learn to walk before you run.” Training sessions should be designed to stress the player’s physiological mechanisms, enough to cause the body to adapt and improve. Gradually increase the workload of your training sessions to increase the player’s aerobic and anaerobic capacities.

Specific Training!

Training sessions must be sport-specific and sex-specific. Make sure you have workouts designed for soccer training sessions, not for marathons. During pre-season add balls to the training program. Also divide players into groups based on their position and train these groups separately. Small field and small-group play is often best for a number of reasons…it is usually the most intense!

“He who runs in circles never gets far”.

Recovery: training provides the platform and stimulus for increased performance but it’s during recovery that the bodies’ physiological mechanisms for growth and improvement are implemented and gained.

“It is a sublime thing to suffer and become stronger”.

Warning: Too long a break or too long a recovery period will lead to lost benefits, including cardio-vascular efficiency! Too short s period of recovery or multiple workout in a single day may lead to overtraining, fatigue, and injury. Find the right balance and the alter it every 4 weeks, without fail.

To summarize:

1. Soccer performance can be improved by sport-specific, sex-specific strength and fitness training and conditioning.
2. Components of fitness can be divided into aerobic, anaerobic, and focused individual muscle training.
3. Genetics, and particularly the phenotypic expression, plays a a major role in the overall performance but still requires training and conditioning to reach full potential.
4. Improvements in fitness depend on training methods and need to be specific.
5. Frequency, intensity, resistance-progressive overload and recovery all play a significant role in Soccer fitness and performance.

“I don’t believe in burnout. I believe in losing your appetite”. Are you still hungry?!

See you in the cheap seats!

Skype: johnzajaros1

TAGS: soccer-specific training, sport-speciickids soccer fitness, soccer conditioning, soccer fitness, soccer fitness coach

Article shared and insight added with permission of Thomas Karapatsos.

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