A Coach Asks

I have recently become involved with a 12 year old Representative Soccer side in New Zealand.  During last years national tournament it was clear that our team was notably more fatigued than the other sides. Could you give me some advise/training tips for pre-season and during season to increase their fitness and maintain it.

Some Ideas

In general, for U12 youth soccer players, I suggest working on a physical focus on developing for success during the U16 soccer season.  This includes
  • leg development
  • flexibility
  • agility and balance
  • coordination
  • mid body strength
  • injury prevention, including ACL reduction through proprioception training (especially for girls)
  • running technique for speed

What follows below is a an accounting of what we've been doing recently with middle ages, with junior soccer players in the U12 to U14 age range.  It is not a complete program, there are some missing parts that you will need to add for yourself.

Fitness

We honestly never have time for much fitness work per se, but accomplish it through interval runs at the end of practice sessions and through vigorous 1v1 to goal with keeper activities after free play at the end of practice.   1v1, 2v2, and 3v3 games can be very grueling, and should be accomplished with a reasonable rest intervals between work periods.  Interval runs typically involve 5 to 10 repetitions of a shuttle run with four cones at five to seven yard intervals, depending on age.   Finishing technique is best developed when fresh but practiced under conditions of fatigue, so end of training 1v1 to goal with keeper,  or 1v1+recovery defender (to chase) going to goal with keeper provide both a fitness challenge and a skill challenge.   Also, prior to important tournaments, we have often added a great deal of high work rate technical repetitions as fitness work at the end of training.  Although we've not done much of this prior to U14, you could.  For example, this might involve having a player check away five yards and then sprint forward four steps to receive a pass from a partner, with this being repeated rapidly for 60 seconds.   

Leg Development

I really like the exercises shown in Vern Gambetta's Legs-Legs-Legs video.  You, as the coach, are seeking leg stabilization and strengthening to improve power, ability to shield the ball, to avoid rolling ankles on bad ground, and to provide the basis for running pace and striking power.  We work a great deal with bands at the field.   

Flexibility

We do static and dynamic flexibility exercises, before and after training.   

Agility and Balance

We play running games that require agility - a simple game of tag is a good example.  For balance, we do activities such as throwing and catching a soccer ball while balancing on one foot.   

Coordination

I don't do anything that only addresses only coordination in isolation.   

Mid Body Strength

A lot of speed comes from being able to bring the trunk along with the legs and vice versa.  Crunches and ab work of all types are done at the field.  We work also in partners who provide a push or resistance for legs being moved in an extended configuration to apply pressure to the abs.   

Injury Prevention and Proprioception Training

We work at the field with Airex Balance Pads.  These are multiple layer closed cell foam pads that provide an unstable standing surface, even for two feet.  We do one and two legged single leg squats on these pads, as well as single leg balancing with eyes closed.  We also stand on the ground and repeat single leg balancing with eyes closed, typically for 60 seconds at a time.  Studies accomplished in Italy show that this sort of proprioception training provides a significant reduction in ACL incidence.   

We also, especially for girls, do a great amount of inside leg lifts and hamstring development.  Some of the hamstring development is accomplished at the field with hamstring curls accomplished with four limbs on the ground.

Recently we have added round foam rollers and small heavy balls to our balance equipment.  Toss and catch between players standing on rollers is a familiar exercise.

Running Technique for Speed

In the past we have worked with an ATC (trainer) who has a good eye for running form.  The focus here is on the first few steps, on running mechanics (eliminating wasted arm motion, etc.), and on getting players into soccer specific speed situations, such as with resistance over the first few steps.  Running with parachutes, for example, is not that helpful for soccer, because it provides very little resistance over the first few critical steps.

Off Season and Home

We have kids spend time riding bicycles for aerobic fitness and variety away from the field during the season and between seasons.

See also...

Beep Test

Five Dot Training

Proprioception Training

U12 Summer Training


Be a Special Olympics Volunteer Coach