The enemy: Tired legs and burning lungs
By Greg Bach
The average Major League Soccer player runs more than six miles during a game, so it’s not unusual for youngsters to put a mile or two on their spiked feet during a Saturday morning match.
And the more advanced and competitive the games become as youngsters progress in the sport, the more conditioning plays a factor in your practice planning – and your players’ game day execution.
SK Live checked in with Wade Barrett, an assistant coach with the Houston Dynamo of the MLS, to get his take on the best ways to condition young players so that they are able to perform as effectively in the final minutes of action as they are at the start of the game.
During his playing days Barrett captained the Dynamo to two straight league championships, so he knows as well as anyone the importance of conditioning and how tired legs and burning lungs can sabotage performance.
“Like it or not, proper conditioning is a crucial aspect of the game and something that great players and teams embrace,” Barrett says. “But this fitness work does not have to stand alone at the beginning or end of each practice.”
Here are Barrett’s tips for conditioning soccer players throughout your practices:
SET THE FIELD UP FOR THE ENTIRE PRACTICE IN ADVANCE
“Put cones down for passing or possession grids in different areas of the field so you can move fluidly to the next segment of training,” he says. “Many practices have ‘dead’ time between exercises and players spend too much time standing idle. Keep your practices moving quickly and efficiently.”
BUILD FITNESS INTO YOUR PASSING OR FINISHING EXERCISES
“Requiring players to move after a pass makes the exercise less static and instills good fitness and habits,” Barrett explains. “Having players make a hard sprint before a shot or moving for a series of shots pushes fitness levels while working on another specific skill.”
MAKE FITNESS SOCCER SPECIFIC
“Laps around the field seem boring for a reason – they are boring!” Barrett says. “Make drills short and sharp and keep the energy level high. Kids love competition. Relays are a great way to compete and do fitness work.”
A top mental skills coach and former college athlete – who has worked with the Browns, Bengals, Jets and Giants – on how you can help build teams that care, appreciate and support each other
Bowling Green football coach Mike Jinks on helping young athletes embrace roles, recognize responsibilities and be all in for the team
Dr. Jesse Michel, mental skills coordinator for the World Series Champion Houston Astros, on helping young athletes improve focus and concentration to perform at their best
University of Tulsa football coach Philip Montgomery on the importance of sending players home in a positive frame of mind