By Rob Smith
The fitness demands required to play a game of soccer can be overwhelming for many athletes. Some players will be in fairly good shape while others begin the season out of shape and struggle to get through the first few weeks. Some allow the psychological side of fitness to wear them down even though their fitness might be good. Basically, being fit makes the game easier and as a coach you have to convince players to be responsible for their own conditioning.
Endurance is a critical aspect of a game like soccer. By definition it’s the ability to exert the body through aerobic exercise for extended periods of time. Endurance training is one of the most important elements of a conditioning program because soccer players do a lot of sprinting with little or no rest between sprints. During a game, a player must be able to change speeds, jump, tackle and kick a ball all while being challenged by opponents.
The greater the player’s aerobic capacity, the more ground can be covered during the game. Soccer players need a good aerobic base because it’s the building block for speed and the ability to change pace repeatedly. As for health aspects, running can be great for relaxation, circulation, and strong bones.
As a general rule, running for the sake of running at a soccer practice should be avoided. If any running takes place, make sure the player runs with a ball. Most youth players, although they have a lot of energy and endurance naturally, don’t like to run or exercise at all unless the conditioning is part of a game or drill. An occasional run around the soccer field with a ball is ok as a part of a warm-up, but younger players will find this tedious.
As players grow older more running can be added to soccer practice, but keep in mind soccer practice is for working on game techniques. Conditioning can be discussed but for the most part shouldn’t be a part of the limited time already available in practice. Players need to know, however, proper running techniques to that they can train on their own time.
During the season, avoid long runs for aerobic training because the players are receiving it in drills and games. For older players, off-season running is up to the players themselves and up to 30 minutes three times a week is a useful amount for building an aerobic foundation. Most players that want to be successful will have no problem keeping themselves in shape for the sake of their team.
Once an athlete experiences the rewards of being fit, he or she will usually develop great away-from-soccer training regimens which will likely continue for the rest of their lives. Soccer practice, however, is primarily for soccer and running will take care of itself.
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Practice time is limited – I agree that for younger kids you really shouldn’t have them just run. I try to incorporate running in the skills and games I use in practice. I have the kids run a relay race with a ball down and back up the field every practice. I come up with drills where they need to battle for the ball and travel the length of the field to score. And, I always have a 15 minute scrimmage at the end of practice – it improves fitness, reinforces skills and prepares them for game situations.
The running advice is horrid and bad at best. Drills do not get players conditioned, that is a myth. Watch the amount of running college and professional soccer players do….maybe not at practice but they do it somewhere