There are many goals that our high school and college athletes have. Most of the desired outcome revolve around speed, strength and conditioning. Sure, there are many other related ambitions, but just about every one of them can be funneled into those three.
In Conditioning For Youth Soccer Players – Stop Running Laps Part 1, you were immersed in the truth about how to get young players under the age of 12 “in shape”. In this piece the focus is on High School players and older.
As the physical demands of the game increase, so does the need for players 14-18 to be able to keep up with those demands.
Without delay, let’s dive into this like Logic attacking his next project.
Let me first enlighten you the notion that success at a younger age will largely dictate their success in High School.
This is not to say that a 6-year-old who dominates on the field at age 7 will do so at age 16. In fact, in MOST cases, the kids I have seen over the past 26 years that are early succeeders either plateau or hit a brick wall in their teens.
Moreover, a comprehensive athletic development program at a young age is what will give them the opportunity to chase greatness in High School. Speaking of High School, let’s use a school analogy to anchor this point.
The parallel is remarkably accurate.
To have improvement in, let’s say math, our youngest student will gain a foundation in addition and subtraction. Once comprehension is there, the student will take the next step…not before.
Forward 6-7 years of consistent work, the student my progress to advanced concepts in mathematics, algebra, calculus or beyond. In contrast, would it not seem ludicrous to expect a young child to fast track from simple first grade math to algebraic equations in 12 weeks.
Yet that’s what is often expected from our young athletes.
All things being equal, there are several elements of a well-designed program that will elicit a level of conditioning and athletic dominance on the field.
Here’s the short list of mainstays to develop the athlete first and the player second.
- Tissue Quality – Utilizing a foam roller, stick, ball or other implement to increase blood circulation, release knots and adhesions as well as prepare muscle tissue to do work.
- Mobility – Exercises designed to actively stretch muscles through wide, ranging movement.
- Activation – Flipping the switch to turn on all of the smaller stabilizing muscles as well the big global movers that are paramount to being the best athlete possible.
- Dynamic Warm up – Calisthenics movement-based stretching and coordination work to continue the ramp up to greatness.
- Skill Acquisition – Coordination (balance, reactivity, spatial awareness, object manipulation and rhythm), speed and agility, bar skills and more.
- Strength and conditioning – Muscle hypertrophy, strength, power and metabolic training in a cycled periodization model.
Teenage athletes are going through more physiological, psychological and social changes than at any other time in their young lives. That said, conditioning for the sake of conditioning alone is ill-advised and to put it bluntly, irresponsible.
Far too many young athletes, yes even the high skilled athletes, are by in large malnourished and deconditioned. Most have not reaped the benefits of a pre-pubescent life filled with free play consisting of rough housing, crawling, climbing, rolling and physically active outdoors.
What does all this mean?
I’m quite sure for some of you I’ve muddied the waters. Good.
My intent is always to make you think.
Now, to add clarity I’m going to gratefully pass the baton to Coach Erica Suter who will give you the ins and outs on how to get this done the right way.
This much I know: conditioning programs will make or break your athletes.
You’ll either build them up to withstand the demands of their sport, or you’ll tear them down and hinder their health and destroy their love for movement.
Too often, coaches run their players into the ground for the sake of punishment or “teaching them a lesson.”
Too often, coaches program over 100 burpees, 100 laps and full field suicides to make players sore.
In the other corner, very few run their players with purpose and genuine intent to help them in their development.
Now, this won’t be an article firing shots like Eminem in a freestyle battle.
Rather, I want to urge coaches to ask themselves, in fact, think deeply about how effective their conditioning programs are for their players.
The first question to ask is: what is my purpose?
Chances are, if you are a high school level coach, you want your players to play every minute in the game with energy, pace and speed. Expounding further, you want your players to not be sore, with fresh legs and no injuries from chronic workload and duress on the body. And finally, you want your players to enjoy conditioning and push each other in training sessions.
‘Enjoy conditioning?!’ you exclaim.
Yes, it is possible for athletes to get fired up during conditioning drills, and leave your practices with a feeling of accomplishment and fulfilment.
To that end, keep conditioning simple.
What are the demands of the game?
How are you putting your players in a higher intensity environment than the game?
Are you keeping the speed endurance in the picture?
Are you designing game-specific, small sided games to add in the cognitive, decision-making component?
Some examples for soccer athletes include speed endurance drills that last for 45-60 second bouts and achieve over 90% of a player’s heart rate max (red zone) to push them into a more challenging environment than the game:
And to add a harder change of direction component, 5-10-5’s are excellent for mimicking the agility actions in the game, but be sure to still work up to a high RPE (9/10) or over 90% heart rate max:
And if you want to get soccer specific, nothing is more brutal than 1-v-1 Circle of Death battles for 60 second bouts, 2-4 sets, with a 1:1 (60 seconds on, 60 seconds off) or 1:2 work-to-rest ratio (60 seconds on, 120 seconds off):
Conditioning is most effective when it is simple, and executed with proper work-to-rest ratios (i.e. 1:1, 1:2, or 1:3) or if you have heart rate monitors, the zone you want your players to get to (90-95% HR max) and the zone you want them to recover to (70-75% HR max).
For more information, here is a more extensive article I wrote on conditioning here to inspire you with more sample programs.
When you do this, I promise your players will find more joy in conditioning. When there is purpose and thought behind the drill – to get them to bust their butt with high quality reps, that are short and sweet – they then go home feeling like they accomplished something without total annihilation.
Insight like this from someone who is the trenches with her players every day, like Erica, should have you fired up to positively add value to your players level of conditioning and by extension their physical culture. We will leave you with two more small points, in no order of importance, to ponder as you create a plan to help your players be in top condition.
Strength training is integral to the overall conditioning of any player. Consider it the glue that holds everything else together. The lynch pin that help make everything else they do mean more. Every step, every cut and every acceleration will have a greater outcome.
This, of course, is assuming that the strength training and the conditioning program your players are engaged in is of quality. If not, the inverse effect could potentiate.
Certainly, last but never the least, is game play. If you want to elicit a training effect that’s sure to result in a team full of more conditioned beasts on the field then related and non-related game play is a must. For example, setting up any of the litany of tag variations for your team will be fun and exhausting.
I leave you with this. Plan smart. Have fun. Chase greatness.
PS. If you missed out on our first article “Conditioning for Youth Soccer Players, Stop Jogging Laps” you can check it out here.
PPS. Want to train with me and my staff? Contact us here.
Great article and excellent ideas.
I’m impressed, I have to admit. Seldom do I encounter a blog that’s equally educative and interesting, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head.
The issue is something not enough men and women are speaking intelligently about.
Now i’m very happy I stumbled across this during my hunt for something relating to this.