I’ve trained soccer players regularly for the past 15 years, and I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two along the way.
The biggest shock to me when I was first started was how long the competitive soccer season can be. High school athletes will often go straight from their pre-season (which starts in late July/early August) until they’re done with sectionals in October.
From there, they go immediately into their club season, and often don’t finish there until early June.
So that effectively leaves us with a matter of months (and sometimes weeks!) to get an athlete ready for the rigors of the competitive season.
And if you think it’s better at the professional level, you’re sorely mistaken.
Last year I had a few of my pros for 11-12 weeks, but the shortest amount of time I had to prep a guy was seven weeks!
The bottom line is this:
If you want to improve your skills as a player, you need the athletic foundation to build from.
Here are three things that must happen in the off-season if your goal is to be the best soccer player possible.
Goal #1 – Improve Movement Quality
Whether we’re talking young athletes just getting started in the sport or professional athletes, virtually every one of them can get better by improving movement quality.
The weight room or practice field is a great place to learn basic movements like squatting, bending and reaching.
Here we can teach our athletes in a slow and controlled environment what good movement looks and feels like.
We can show them how to effectively load their hips, or how to keep their spine in a more optimal position, so that we can not only keep them healthy but improve their performance.
And from there, you can build out to more aggressive athletic movements like sprinting, jumping and cutting.
But if you don’t have the foundational movements down, or if you can’t produce quality movement in a slow and controlled environment, what makes you think you can do this in a chaotic situation like a soccer match?
Or taking that a step further, how do you think you will hold up when you’re gassed and running around in the 80th or 90th minute?
Teaching an athlete to move well is simple, but it’s a step that most coaches miss out on. Take the time necessary to build a quality movement foundation and you’ll be rewarded for years to come.
Goal #2 – Get Stronger
While football players and the weight room are synonymous with each other, many soccer players avoid the weight room like the plague.
Whether they’ve had bad experiences in the past, aren’t comfortable there, or simply don’t want to get “too big,” this is a big mistake.
Dave Tenney (head performance coach for the Seattle Sounders) has mentioned to me numerous times that one of the biggest predictors of injury for his athletes is when athletes fail to strength train in the off-season.
But don’t look at this solely from an injury prevention perspective; on the flip side we have performance, and that’s what every athlete is truly chasing.
If your goal is to become faster or more powerful on the pitch, strength training can make a profound difference here. Getting stronger has a spillover effect, and can give you the potential to far more powerful and explosive.
The key is to focus on the right exercises, and making sure every rep of every set is done with great technique.
Goal #3 – Improve Conditioning
Last but not least, the off-season is the ideal time to build fitness and get into great shape.
The old adage of just showing up and “playing your way” into shape is a misguided notion. Far too often, you see a rash of injuries right at the start of the pre-season or competitive season, simply because athletes aren’t ready to perform at a high level.
Instead, the off-season should use a systematic approach to building fitness. One of the biggest issues I see nowadays is that coaches are constantly blasting their athletes with high-intensity training methods, and it’s doing more harm than good.
If you read the scientific literature (which I do, because I’m a geek like that), you’ll note that the average sprint in soccer takes 2-4 seconds, and then is followed by up to 90 seconds of down time.
So if the average sprint in soccer is 2-4 seconds, why on Earth would we condition or test our athletes with tests that have them going 25, 30, or 35 or more seconds per bout?
The bottom line is it’s not specific, and it doesn’t give us an idea of how truly prepared this athlete is to perform.
At IFAST, we use a pyramid approach to building conditioning. It gets a bad rap but I consistently find that many of our athletes don’t have the necessary base to perform high-level training.
So we begin with low-intensity, higher volume methods to build a sufficient base. Once that’s been installed, we can build into short, explosive bouts of running, which better simulate what really happens on a soccer field.
If you’re a soccer player (or your kiddo plays soccer), the off-season is the ideal time to give them the physical tools necessary to succeed.
And if that’s not enough motivation, here’s one final thought:
If you don’t take the time in the off-season to build your athletic capacity, when will it be a priority?
At the end of the day, soccer coaches get paid to teach soccer skills.
But if you want someone to develop you (or your child) to give them the best athletic foundation, you need to call or e-mail us at IFAST today. We have a $129 trial that allows you to try our services, before you make any sort of ongoing commitment.
Or if you just want to learn more about our soccer-specific training here at IFAST, check out our Soccer Training page.
Regardless, we hope you make this upcoming off-season your best one ever!
All the best