This is a question that all coaches, at all levels, should ask themselves and reflect on their soccer training sessions. For many years soccer coaches have used laps to "warm up" soccer players or increase their endurance. We should all reexamine this thinking.
Last month a friend of mine, Coach Mike, called me and he sounded a little upset. He knew my philosophy on soccer players running laps and we had a long discussion about it earlier in the year. Coach Mike is successful high school coach that holds a USSF "C" license and in years past has coached many youth academy teams. He is well respected and liked by players, parents and the soccer community. While developing both Blast The Ball and our new SoccerU series I would often sit in the bleachers watching his players practice and play.
His 10-year-old son had a practice that night and he was appalled at what he saw. There were a total of 10 teams on the filed ranging from 9 years old up to 16. After the practices started he looked out at the fields and nine out of 10 of the teams were running laps. Needless to say his jaw dropped as he watched this spectacle.
Finally he walked over to the club's coaching director and said, "Hey Tom, nice running club you have here." Of course Tom looked at him strangely and said, "What do you mean?" Mike proceeded to have an education session with him. "Look out at the fields Tom and tell me what you see. You have nine out of 10 teams running laps. It looks like a cross country club rather than a soccer club. Don't you think the coaches would have learned by now?"
Tom shook his head in agreement and told Mike that he would address the issue at the next coaches meeting. The director understood the problem but his coaches failed to truly grasp what they were doing.
Make Running More Productive
One of the biggest challenges we face as youth coaches is the lack of time. We have one or two hours, twice a week for about 12 weeks to mold and shape young children and adults into well-trained soccer players. There simply is not enough time. Using ANY of this valuable time on anything other than "soccer training" is simply insane. Every thing you do during your practice should be geared towards touches, control and improving "soccer skills".
Here's a great question for you. If you have soccer players running laps, why do they not have a soccer ball at their feet while running? Simply by adding a soccer ball, at least we have incorporated something related to soccer. If you can't break your old habit cold turkey, at least change the method.
If you run laps to warm up players, why not have them pair up and run dribbling and passing grids? Ten minutes of this has the same cardio benefit as running laps, but they work on dribbling, moves, passing and receiving while exercising at the same time. This can be set up by the players and run as soon as they get to the field. This gives you, the coach, more time to set up your sessions.
Also, guess what you can do before Saturday's game to warm up? You got it, the same drills. The other team will be impressed that the players took control of their own warm up and looked like a truly organized team.