The following are common questions & concerns from coaches on training and fitness:

When is it appropriate to begin formal speed training?
A common mistake many coaches make when beginning formal speed training is to prepare their players for a track meet and not for the game of they are training for. Speed training for sport should always have a game-like emphasis. Typically, younger players between the ages of 7-9 should focus on free play. Variations of games such as tag are a wonderful way to work on speed and improve gross motor skills. Coaching considerations prior to implementing any type of formal training include the ability of the player to handle formal instruction and the player’s physical maturity level. Starting at an early age, sport technique should be developed concurrent with speed training. Once these skills have been mastered, players need to learn to distribute their efforts relative to the technical and tactical demands of the game, incorporating short explosive bursts with varied changes of direction.

In need to improve my team’s endurance, should I do distance running?
Practical experience and research has shown that slow steady distance running detracts from speed and explosiveness. In the last minutes of a game or match your players should not only be able to run, but continue to run fast. This is accomplished by incorporating fartleks and interval runs into your training. For example, have your players perform a 30/30 run. This is a 30 second jog followed by a 30 second run at 70% of maximal effort. Start with a 10-minute run and work up to 18 minutes. Carefully consider the conditioning that also occurs in the course of practice. Additional fitness work that is relative to the demands of soccer and properly planned into the overall training cycle will help to ensure a fitter and faster team.

When is it appropriate to begin formal strength training for a young player?
Strength is one of the biggest deficiencies in young athletes As with speed training, the athlete’s emotional development and level of physical maturity are important in determining if the athlete can learn the routines and handle formal training. Although research has shown that pre-pubescent athletes may benefit from weight training, heavy loading of the spine is not recommended until after puberty. The player has to be able to handle his or her own body weight before adding external resistance. This can be accomplished by incorporating pushups, pull-ups, body weight lunges, and body weight squats into your program. Various medicine ball exercises as well as hopping and jumping games will also help to strengthen the tendons and ligaments further helping to prevent injury and establishing a solid strength base.

How can I include fitness activities within a normal practice?
Integrate each component throughout the entire practice. It all starts with a proper warm-up. This is the time to work on balance, coordination, speed work, and high quality touches on the ball. The objective is to work up to game effort speed, therefore, warm-up to play, don’t play to warm-up. From this point on the entire practice should mimic the game. This requires a well thought out training plan that flows from one component to the next with a smooth transition. For example, when performing team drills, the length of the lines affects the work to rest ratio. Players should never stand around for more than 30-40 seconds at a time. Use the length of the lines to determine the desired work to rest ratio. We look at the whole practice as a water break. Have your players bring their own water bottle so that whenever they need a break, they quickly take it and get immediately back in to practice.

What can I do to help prevent fatigue when my team plays two games in one day?
Your players are only as good as their ability to recover. Factors such as hydration and a pre and post nutrition plan are always important. Be aware of environmental conditions such as altitude changes, time zone changes, and the weather. The warm-up before the first game will be more extensive while the warm-up before the second game will be much shorter in duration. Many teams will go through a long warm-up before their second game and end up coming out flat. This may be attributed to the players becoming fatigued from the long second warm-up. Include a cool down after each game lasting around 10-15 minutes incorporating light jogging and dynamic flexibility. End the cool down with a short static stretching routine to help the muscles return to resting length.

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Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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