Soccer training, part 2: Basic training concepts

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Did you miss part one of this series, on seasonal planning?

There are a number of training concepts that are to be considered when a soccer program is under development. The wise coach will consider these when attempting to improve the fitness of their team.

Concept 1: Specificity of exercise:

This concept actually has three subsections:

  • Specificity of exercise means that a specific exercise leads to a specific response by the body. For example, the heart-rate response of weightlifting is different than the heart-rate response of a 10K run.

  • Specificity of training is the extension that means specific means of training lead to very specific adaptations by the body. Repeated weightlifting leads to specific adaptations that improve the bodys ability to lift weights, while distance running leads to adaptations that improve the bodys use of oxygen.

  • Specificity of fatigue is the reason people fail to continue their exercise. Most people define fatigue in humans as "the failure to maintain an expected power output." In a 400-meter sprint, the last 100 meters is the slowest; the runner wants to maintain their speed, but cant. So when a weightlifter is unable to push that last repetition, fatigue has prevented it. The marathoner wants to maintain their pace, but the longer the race goes on, the slower they go. They all fail to maintain what they wanted to do, but the reasons are very specific to the type of exercise.

    Concept 2: Overload:

    Simply stated, to improve fitness, one must continue to increase one of the three main factors of training frequency, intensity or duration. To get more fit, add days/week, minutes/day or more intensity.

    Practically, most coaches cant change frequency; their practice time may be fixed based on school, family, or other schedules, so that leaves intensity as the factor that must be pushed to improve fitness.

    That means that intense drills must be chosen, or current drills must be modified to increased intensity. In designing training programs, only change one factor per week. Changing two or all three factors at a time is a straight road to overuse injuries.

    Concept 3. Reversibility:

    This is the opposite of #2. Cut back on the days/week, minutes/day or intensity, and fitness will be lost. The fastest way to lose fitness is reduce training intensity.

    Concept 4: Rate of improvement:

    The body can adapt pretty quickly. Can you get a bunch of out-of-shape kids in shape in two weeks? Of course, but the shorter this training period, the lower the ultimate level of fitness that can be achieved and the less time this fitness can be maintained.

    However, a slower (hence longer) training period will bring the players to a higher level of fitness that can be maintained for a longer period of time.

    Concept 5: Periodicity of training:

    This advanced concept divides a season into segments that have different emphases. This model shows a number of thoughts.

    Periods: Most training periods have four segments based around a competitive focus. The first period is right after the focus called active rest, meaning little if any specific sport training, but the player should still be active. Preparation is the training period before the competitive season begins. For most, this means the period of time when the player is on their own, before some more formal training camp. First transition is the actual competitive season. Competition is the immediate period surrounding games.

    The variables are then manipulated based on the season training volume, training intensity, technique emphasis.

    During active rest, the emphasis on all three is low. Be active, but dont do soccer-related things. In the preparation period, the training emphasis is on volume, but the intensity is low (think distance running), but as time passes, the volume is slowly reduced but the intensity is raised (fartlek running).

    As formal camp approaches (first transition), volume is further reduced and intensity is raised even more (interval and repeat training). A player shouldnt arrive in camp "match fit." That comes in the competition period when they are doing your sport-specific training.

    Right before a game, volume is further reduced as is intensity, but all along in these two periods is lots of technique and tactical training.

    If this seems confusing, consider a typical high school week with a Saturday game. Sunday is off (active rest); Monday is a long, but typically not a demanding day. Tuesday, the work is a little less, but harder. Wednesday is less still, but pretty darn hard. Thursday the intensity backs off, and on Friday the length and intensity of practice is light as the team may work on specific situations, then the game on Saturday.

    But you play twice a week, typically Thursday/Saturday. OK: Sunday off, Monday light, Tuesday very hard, Wednesday very light, game Thursday, Friday very light, game Saturday.

    There are two challenges for the coach now. First, how long should these periods last, and second, getting the players to actually do the first two phases on their own.

    There is no firm answer to the first challenge. The longer the season (e.g. European professionals) may have a very short active rest period before starting all over again. Clubs or schools might have a longer active rest period as the seasons are well separated.

    Many coaches set fitness test standards that players should meet upon arrival to camp (for example, if a UNC woman doesnt make the fitness grade, they join "the breakfast club.")

    Sounds like it is a whole lot easier for sports like swimming, running, cycling, etc. But not game sports.

    Next: Applying training principles to your season

    Copyright Donald T. Kirkendall, 2002

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