There are very few players that really enjoy fitness work. Most just want to come out and play soccer. At the professional and college levels, players have off-season conditioning program to keep them at a baseline of fitness between seasons.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen an offseason workout program for 12 year old players work That’s just not going to happen.
But we all know that a high level of fitness is required in order to be an effective player. So we have a problem to solve.
This issue is further compounded by the fact that we typically only have our players 2-3 days each week for training. We have little time to practice soccer specific skills as it is, much less employing a strong conditioning program.
Having the players run laps as a warm up isn’t going to get them into shape, and it really doesn’t resemble soccer. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never witnessed soccer players running around the edge of the entire field during the game.
Today I want to share with you some ideas of how you can incorporate fitness training in your practice sessions, but without losing valuable touches on the ball. These sneaky little tweaks will help trick your players into shape.
Tip #1 – Touch Limitations
If players work harder and with more intensity in practice, their fitness levels are going to increase. The trick is getting them to run more and put in the extra effort.
Reducing the number of touches allowed in an activity will require better off the ball movement. This equates to more running, more energy expended, and more conditioning developed. For less advanced players, two touch possession can often take care of this.
Set up an activity with a 2-1 ratio of attackers to defenders (8v4). I like to set up three teams of even numbers. Two of the teams (total of 8 players) will be attackers, and 1 team (4 players) will defend.
Have the attackers on two touches with the defenders on unlimited touches. Have the defenders defend for a set amount of time (2 minutes for example). The attackers count the total number of passes that they complete. The defenders can keep the ball if they intercept until the attackers win it back.
The defenders will have to put in a great deal of work to get and keep the ball. Rotate the teams until everybody has had a turn defending. The team that gave up the least number of total passes by the attackers wins.
Try this game with one touch if you want to make the attackers really work hard as well. You can also play 5v5 with a neutral on one touch. The players will be breathing heavy for sure!
Tip #2 – Increased Distance
I use this method when we on working on skills like receiving and passing with different surfaces of the body. Typically I will set up a grid that is 5 yards wide and 15-20 yards long. I put one player on each end of the grid with a single player in the middle who is “doing the work.”
The outside players will each have a ball. The “working” player will check to one of the ends, receive a ball, play it back and then check to the other side of the grid to receive from the other server.
You can work on 1 touch passes with the inside/outside of the foot. The servers can toss the ball for 1 time volley or half volley. The ball can be tossed for a chest trap and pass. You can do one touch headers with this activity. Be creative.
If you want to work more fitness into the activity, simply increase the distance between the servers. Maybe to 30 yards. You can also put two players in the middle and have them go in opposite directions.
Once they receive the first ball, they will have to sprint past each other to the opposite side of the grid to receive the next ball. You can move the servers up to 40 yards apart if you really want to stress fitness.
Tip #3 – Skill Relay Races
By nature soccer players are competitive. Introducing elements of competition in your practices will raise the intensity level and work rates.
Skill based relay races are one way to accomplish this. Players can dribble to the cone, turn and pass back to the next player.
Have them accomplish different types of turns. They can turn inside of the left foot, inside of the right foot, outside of the left foot, outside of the right foot, etc. You can have them execute a pull back move with the sole of the foot, make a Cruyff turn, or a step over turn when they get to the target cone.
Again, use your imagination.
These are just a few ideas of how you can incorporate fitness into your every day practice sessions. If you are interested in more specific fitness drills for agility, speed, and explosiveness on the ball I recommend you look at Total Soccer Fitness by Phil Davies.
Phil has different training plans based on the age of players. He’ll show you how to incorporate strength training for young players into your practices. Believe it or not, strength training for young players is safe, and will help them prolong their carries.
Phil does a much better job than I can explaining what Total Soccer Fitness can do to help your players.
Also, let me know what other ideas you have for working fitness into practices. By commenting on this blog post, we can all pool our ideas which will make us all better coaches.
Let us hear from you below!