Fundamental Youth Soccer

Performance Conditioning for Soccer – Part 2

by Tom Phillis, Conditioning Coach

Since 1998 the San Francisco Bay Seals have been in the A-League. Three of our 1997 key players, Tim Weaver, C.J. Brown, and White, are playing for MLS, and Troya Cowell spent two seasons in the Belgian 1st division. Brown has become a regular with the U.S. National team, playing well in the recent wins over Argentina and Germany. Brown, Weaver, and White all came up through CYSA-N. The 1997 season was a defining period for me. I am confident that I have a formula, if not necessarily the formula for preparing elite soccer players physically for national level competition.

Here are a few important lessons learned from my experience.

  1. There needs to be more data disseminated on physical testing of elite male players. The article in the May/June 1996 Soccer Journal was just what coaches of female players needed. To improve the game at the national team level, coaches of feeder teams must know what is expected physically to play at the next level. I propose a national debate on this issue, followed by dissemination of information as part of the program to win a future World Cup.
  2. At least some of your players must be selected for their aerobic capacity. Someone on your team must be able to do the running to disrupt your opponent’s attacks and support yours; in other words, two way players. The ’97 Seals had several. The more players that are chosen for technical considerations who can’t do the running, the harder those who can, must work and the fitter they must be. The players who will be designated to do the lion’s share of the running must be aerobic animals. The ability to get aerobically fit at a high level is a talent, just as is the ability to acquire motor skills. The way in which you decide if a player has this talent is open to question, but I have found that if a player comes to you in shape he should be able to run 1 1/2 miles in 8:20. Someone with the proper gene combinations and specific training will run 8:00, and after an intensive protocol, I had one player run under 7:30. This is the pace at which a good high school distance runner will run 2 miles, so we are not talking about finding world class distance runners and teaching them soccer. We ran the 1 1/2 mile test as six laps around a high school track. We try to get all players, including goalkeepers, to run at the same time as a team building exercise.

    The 300 yard shuttle can have a high degree of variability due to its short time and differing surface traction in varied locations. You should pick a place where conditions will change as little as possible. On grass with cleats all the ’97 Seals starters ran the 300 under 58 seconds. Many were under 56 seconds. Under 55 seconds was rarefied air, and Marquise White ran 53.1.

    My completely biased conclusion is that impact players, the players that win games, will do well if not superior in the 300 shuttle. A player that can dominate his marker by leaving him in the dust on a breakaway, or dragging him on so many sprints that the marker makes technical mistakes, is tough to find. My advice is that you sign every player you find who scores well on the 300 shuttle. Your technical coach can teach him to play, but your ability to improve anaerobic power is very limited. The players who do the work and give up the glory to the impact players will do well in the 1 1/2 mile. These guys are the heart of your team. They never quit, and they don’t have off days. When you find a player who scores well on both tests, you have a nugget. Cowell ran the 300 shuttle under 55 seconds, and the 1 1/2 mile close to 8 minutes flat. He was the playmaker on attack, was always there on defense, and his game did not break down when we played the big games.

  3. Conditioning off the ball has advantages that are only appreciated by the conditioning coach. Everyone else wants conditioning with the ball. Here are those advantages: In a highly structured track workout you can manipulate the training variables exactly. Intensity, work/rest time intervals, volume, (distance run) are all controlled in this environment. This is where I believe that the specificity principle is on my side. There are certain principles of conditioning that have been proved in scientifically-based studies to produce specific adaptations. If you are serious about knowing this field, you must take a class in exercise physiology, and these factors will become known to you in detail. My workouts are true to these principles. In many of the conditioning drills with a ball that I have tried, there are other factors confusing the important aspects of a workout. In particular, intensity is difficult to monitor and maintain. Players not maintaining your pace in a track-style workout are easy to spot. Intensity is the most critical aspect of your workout plan. If the intensity is not adequate for your purpose, you have accomplished little with your time.

My workouts fall into three classifications:

  • Long slow distance workouts are particularly good for pre-season with de-conditioned players. This involves continuous running at 70-80% of maximum heart rate. Start with 30 minutes and try to get to 90 minutes before the season starts. Anaerobic threshold, (AT), workouts are as tough mentally as they are physically. The object is to run at a pace that is over the threshold of anaerobic metabolism. This will be above 80% of maximum heart rate. Players will notice heaviness in the legs, slight dizziness, and a loss of coordination. Expect that most players will run too fast the first few times they run this workout, and have to slow down or stop. Start with 10 minutes, longer as fitness improves. This is a good workout to gauge the commitment of a player. A result of doing this workout once per week will be an increased tolerance of the discomfort of repeated sprints with little rest.
  • Interval training can be used to train aerobic or sprint endurance. Run your players from 10-880 yard intervals with a rest period between each. Rest period length and intensity will determine if you are training short term or long term endurance. For sprint endurance use a 2 or 3/1 rest/work ratio and a heart rate of 180-190, (> 90% of maximum). For long term endurance use 1/1 and a heart rate of 160-170, (80% of max).
  • Typical Seals aerobic endurance workout:
    10 X 220 yards (1/2 lap of a track), at 80% effort, jog across track for recovery heart rate should be 160-170 immediately after running, adjust running speed, or give extra rest to stay in the aerobic training zone.

    Typical Seals sprint endurance workout:
    14 X “Liners”, 100% effort,… Course as Follows: Start at goal line, run to first cone 10 yards away & return to goal line, run to 2nd cone 20 yards away & return to goal line, run to 3rd cone 30 yards away & return to goal line. This is all without stopping, and is very specific to the type of running soccer players do in a game. I do more of this, and less aerobic conditioning, as the players get fitter and the season goes on – 120 yards for each interval. Start your team with fewer intervals, if they are new to serious training, go only to 1st & 2nd cones & return for a total of 60 yards per interval. Use groups of 4 running in sequence to give 3/1 work/rest intervals Look for heart rate > 180 to indicate all-out effort. If they do not go at 100%, you will not get the training effect you desire. Do this at the end of your session, as your players will have nothing left after it.

Please bear in mind that these workouts are for elite athletes with many training years behind them. If you try to start a youth recreational team doing these workouts, the results will not be as you desire. Even though my players are at the elite level, sometimes they can’t finish a workout. Overtraining is insidious, and takes a practiced eye to notice. This is only one reason that pro and college teams have a staff of conditioning coaches. Begin with less intensity, less distance, and more rest. Progress slowly. Most U-16/19 teams are not in good condition. If yours are, you will have an enormous advantage.

Reprinted with permission from Performance Conditioning for Soccer, Vol. 6#1.

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