The Order of Things

In order for soccer players to receive the most benefit from training, coaches must be careful to control the level of fatigue during a training session. Excessive fatigue can inhibit the learning of new skills, encourage poor choices in tactical decision-making, lead to injuries, or prevent the athlete from completing the prescribed volume of conditioning.

The elements of daily training must be conducted in a specific order in order to control the level of fatigue and prevent the negative consequences described above.

  1. Warm-up [10-15 min.]: All training sessions must begin with a proper warm-up to raise the body temperature, spark the central nervous system (CNS), and increase the blood flow to the muscles. The warm-up should be dynamic, progressive, and related to the training session. It should last for 10-15 minutes. Consider the warm-up as divided into two sections: general warm-up and sport-specific warm-up. The general warm-up should be approximately 5 minutes and consist of light jogging or similar activity to increase blood flow and warm-up the major muscles. The second part should consist of soccer-specific movement patterns that gradually increase in intensity. Make sure to incorporate all the movement patterns expected during regular training such as forward/backwards/lateral movement, skipping, jumping, accelerations/decelerations, and quick changes of direction.
  2. Agility/coordination exercises [10-15 min.]: These exercises should be done when the body is fresh and the CNS is not fatigued or stressed. During these exercises, the body is learning to be more efficient by firing the correct muscles in the optimum order. Fatigue will degrade this learning process and inhibit progress. These exercises should also be soccer-specific employing movement patterns seen in the game such as changes of direction, lateral movement, obstacles like small hurdles, etc. It is also a good idea to have each repetition of the exercise start or end with a short 5-10 yd sprint. Organize groups so that their is plenty of rest between reps.
  3. Speed training (short duration, acceleration/deceleration) [10-15 min.]: After the very short duration CNS work done in the agility/coordination exercises, it is time to progress to the speed training. Now is the time for the athletes to work on short and medium duration speed including acceleration and deceleration. As before, though, these exercises should not be done to fatigue. Allow plenty of rest between reps and watch for tired responses when players get sloppy. Don’t only have the team work on straight-ahead speed but incorporate changes of direction and obstacles. To get the best effort out of the team and make it soccer-specific organize the training into races and incorporate the ball as much as possible into the exercises. Don’t get over-fancy and keep distances in the realistic realm. Seldom do players have to sprint more than half the field. Typical distances are from 10-40 yds. Finally, if you can work with specific groups of players, develop speed training drills that mimic the movement patterns typically encountered by each line of players – defenders, midfielders, forwards, and goalkeepers.
  4. Strength/Plyometric Training [15-20 min.]: Before too much fatigue develops and inhibits coordination this is the time to perform any strength or plyometric exercises. It is imperative that athletes not attempt to perform plyometric exercises when they are tired as this can lead to injuries.
  5. Technical exercises [15-20 min.]: Technical exercises include any repetitive soccer-specific activity which may or may not incorporate some fatigue. This includes passing, control, shooting, etc. These exercises will always include the ball. At this point in the training session the players will be totally warmed up and ready for any training games. However, you want them to maintain this status and not start to cool-down due to standing in lines during the technical drills. Therefore, avoid lines and players standing still. Get a sufficient number of balls or develop technical drills that use all the players in some capacity.
  6. Small-sided games (tactical) [20-30 min.]: These games will form the heart of the training sessions and will typically be used in all training sessions with the exception of recovery training. In order to be as efficient as possible, coaches should consider these games as a form of conditioning, too. That means organize them in terms of interval training – number of reps, duration of high-intensity work (the game), duration of rest between reps. For example, a common small-sided game with conditioning is 4 sets of 4 v 4 x 4 min. with a 3 min. rest between sets. Or divide the team into 3 groups or 4-6 players. One rests while the other groups play a small-sided game. Switch one team every three minutes so that each team works for 6 minutes and has a 3 min. rest between. Repeat this for 4-6 sets. All aspects of the small-sided game can be manipulated to achieve the desired aims.
  7. Match play [30-45 min.]: This section will consist of the game which continues any themes introduced in the small-sided game section. Coaches may start and stop the game in the beginning to get the teams to play as desired. These games are typically not good conditioning tools as there can be some standing around by players due to the large numbers (usually between 8 and 11 per side) and the large field area. You also want the players to focus on the tactical objectives and not be too debilitated due to excessive fatigue.
  8. Specific aerobic/anaerobic training [15-45 min.]: At the END of the training session, after all of the technical and tactical training is completed, is the the time to work on the really hard conditioning. These exercises should be done to exhaustion and are intended to develop aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. As I discussed before, soccer is characterized as an intense-intermittent game and, therefore, interval training is the best type of training for this type of activity.
  9. Cool-down [5-10 min.]: Always have the team perform a good cool-down after all training has been completed. This will restore the players to a somewhat relaxed state, help to flush lactic acid from the muscles, and help to reduce any potential delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) which may develop afterwards. At this point is the only time in which static stretching is appropriate.

A normal training session should be between 60 and 90 minutes. You’ll notice that the total time for all training exercises is well over 90 minutes. That’s because a training session should never use all of the activities described above. A soccer training session will always include a warm-up and cool-down. What happens in between is dependent on the team, the coach, the stage of the season or pre-season, when the previous game was, when the next game is, and how many players are in attendance. Here are a couple of good combinations that involve complimentary exercises:

  1. warm-up
  2. agility/coordination
  3. technical
  4. tactical
  5. match
  6. aerobic/anaerobic conditioning
  7. cool-down
  1. warm-up
  2. agility/coordination
  3. speed
  4. plyometric/strength
  5. tactical
  6. match
  7. cool-down

Remember to always include sufficient breaks for hydration. Without proper hydration the physical and mental functions of the players will steadily decrease until the training is worthless.

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3 responses to “The Order of Things

  1. I justed skimmed this and agree with almost everything…except why the cool-down is important. Not much evidence that any cool-down influences lactate levels. In fact, lactate is a buffer, and not the fatigue criminal we have been lead to believe. Read Roberg’s review, PubMedID: 15308499 , 2004.

    Cool-down also does not help DOMS, which has a variety of causes, all related to elevated Ca2+ levels…2-4 hours of increased Ca2+ set of signaling cascades for a training effect…6-10 hours leads to DOMS. Probably a sarcolemma failure or t-tubule support protein failure. Once you have recovered from DOMS you are immune for a period of at least 8 weeks for the same force levels.

    • Michael,

      Completely agree. Latest research leads one to the conclusion that lactic acid may have a beneficial effect and, in fact, does not alleviate DOMS. However, on the subject of the benefit of lactic acid and its removal, one must consider the next training session or game and whether the lactic acid build-up will negatively impact performance. In that case, anything to help flush the system of this byproduct will be encouraged. We need to understand the requirements during the different training periods. During the off-season (and to a lesser extent even the pre-season) period, when anatomical adaptations are desired, lactic acid can be helpful. However, during the late pre-season and regular season, the most important consideration is maintenance and refinement of skills and tactics, lactic acid can be an impediment.

  2. Great article..to add to the importance of “warming/cooling down”, after reading The Science of Traing- Soccer by Thomas Reilly, he adds that “warming down helps restore equilibrium by promoting venous return and helps to offset the temporary depression of the immune system proposed by the ‘open window’ theory”.. So the cool down is definitely not going to hurt.

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