Henry David Thoreau once said, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” As a coach, this quote readily dissects the work you do with your team after the season is over. For your team to truly be competitive, you must work with your athletes year round. Soccer fitness, playing, and even team-building are important aspects of the game which should be approached with enthusiasm and effort. Of course, the details of what type of conditioning you run will vary somewhat depending on the level and the age of your athletes. For example, you will need to push the members of a professional or collegiate soccer team harder than the members of a U-12 rec soccer team. Nonetheless, any team can benefit from the right type of off-season conditioning.
Unfortunately, your players may not all necessarily be thrilled by the prospect of extra workouts. To help keep your players enthusiastic and motivated, try structuring some of your workouts as a game or competition. In fact, one easy way to help your team improve their conditioning during the off season is to enroll them in an indoor league. Since the field used in indoor soccer is surrounded by walls that keep the ball from going out of bounds, the pace of the game is faster, forcing your players to work harder without even realizing it. Of course, playing indoor soccer also helps your players develop their teamwork, strategy and ball handling skills. Keep in mind that since only six players are on the field at a time in indoor leagues, you may wish to enroll two separate teams in the league depending on the size of your regular team.
Having your team play futsal once or twice a week can also be a very effective way to build your team’s conditioning, as well as improve their skill level. Futsal is very similar to soccer except that it is played on a hard court instead of a field with only five players at a time. A futsal ball is also smaller, harder and heavier than a regular soccer ball. This helps develop your players’ power and control during shooting, passing and ball handling.
Of course, not all off-season workouts will be quite as exciting to your players as indoor games. They also need to do the old-fashioned work that few players actually enjoy – work like jogging, sprinting and lifting weights, depending on the age and level of your players. Try keeping a white board in your locker room to mark down the top performers at each drill. For example, point out the person who correctly dead lifted the most weight at the last workout, or the person who completed a predetermined number of suicide drills the fastest. Another great exercise to track can be elliptical and treadmill races. Tracking how far players run on the treadmill or elliptical in a given amount of time can spark their competitive nature to get faster and push themselves more. Also, running on high resistance can be great ways to get players’ legs ready for outdoor training.
If you wish, you can keep track of each player’s standings for each drill over the entire off season. This encourages players to push themselves to boost their rankings. Some coaches find that dividing their players into pairs that work together in these competitions helps them stay accountable and motivated to work harder. Whatever you decide, pushing your players to compete out-of-season will only help them improve during season.
Keep in mind, however, that every player still needs some recovery time during the off season. Remember to give them some rest periods to allow their bodies to heal. Otherwise, your players could begin to exhibit the symptoms of over training, such as unusual fatigue, decreased performance during workouts and even weight loss, according to Rice University. If you notice the onset of over training symptoms, a few days of rest should be plenty to restore your players’ energy levels and heal their bodies. That will help them stay fresh, motivated and enthusiastic about the start of the next season.
Out of season training is an important part of any sport. Keeping your players up to speed in their skills and sprinting ability will only make their transition to outdoor play easier. Remember that indoor leagues and futsal are great ways to mimic the motions of the game, helping them to better their ball skills and pace. Running, cross training and lifting are also intricate parts of an athlete’s speed and strength training. Incorporating all of these methods in cycles will help your players stay in shape and be enthusiastic to return to in-season play, making your job easier and more fun!