Conditioning

Soccer requires you to run for two halves, which can be anything from 60 to 90 minutes long. For this reason, staying in shape is a necessity. In the beginning of your season, being in shape is what could set you apart from other teammates and give you more play time in the game. In soccer, you need to be able to transfer from a slow jog to your fastest sprint as quickly as possible, so having a lot of speed is great. A soccer player who is in shape should never be walking on the field. This is where endurance comes into play. However, speed and endurance work together. If you have endurance but no speed, how will you defend a fast opponent or beat one? On the other hand, if you have speed but no endurance, you’ll do fine for five minutes, but what will happen when you can’t run anymore?

 

Endurance:

Many people mistake endurance for speed, but they are actually two very different things. Speed is how quickly you as a soccer player can run. Endurance is your ability to keep running even when you’re worn out. When training for endurance, keep in mind that running at the same speed for an hour isn’t going to cut it. Soccer players need to be able to change directions as fast as possible.  Interval training is a great way to do this.

Interval training consists of switches between moderate and fast paced movements. This will help you to react more quickly to changes in direction. (YOUTUBE)

One factor of endurance that is sometimes overlooked is muscle strength. Although athletes should try to get their entire body as strong as possible, soccer players should focus more on building leg strength. Lunges are great strength exercises, but if they are done incorrectly, you are at risk of injuring yourself by putting strain on your joints. To correctly do lunges, make sure your upper body is straight with your shoulders back and relaxed. Try not to look down. Take a step forward with one leg and  lower your hips until both of your knees are bent at a 90 degree angle. Make sure to keep your front knee directly over your ankle. This is where many soccer players make their mistakes. If your knee goes past where your foot is, the form is improper and it makes the joints more susceptible to injury.  Make sure that your other knee doesn’t touch the floor. Keep the weight in your heels as you push yourself back up. Then, take a step forward with your other foot and repeat the process.

Another thing that will improve your leg strength is wall sits. In wall sits, you will lean against a wall and then slouch down to the point where your legs are straight out in front of you. It should look like you are sitting in a chair. Make sure to keep your back straight. Push your feet down like you are trying to touch the arches of your feet to the ground. This will relieve a bit of the stress being put on your legs. Hold this position for 15 seconds to 30 seconds if you’re just beginning, but go longer if you can. Gradually increase the amount of time you hold that position, and you will start to see a lot more strength in your legs, especially on the backs of your legs. This will not only help you with endurance, but will also help you in speed and will give you the ability to kick with more power.

 

Speed:

Speed is one thing a soccer player can’t do without. In any position, you will have to use your speed to accomplish something, whether it be defending your goal or scoring one. No matter what level you’re playing at, speed is one thing that can separate a good player from a great player. Contrary to popular belief, speed is really a lot more than just how much you can run. Since we’re talking about speed, here are some attributes that will make you better in the game:

  • High speed endurance
  • Quick speed off the mark
  • Fast acceleration over 10-15 yards
  • Speed while maintaining possession of the ball
  • Fast feet that are light on the ground
  • Quick execution of skills
  • Fast reaction timing
  • Speed of thought

 

Players who aren’t fast runners can still be great soccer players if they have a quick mind and fast feet. A good training program can help your muscle fibers improve, and in turn, will help you run faster. Keep in mind that one of the most important things is to have high sprinting power. Soccer players will usually never sprint very far or for very long without changing directions. A second important thing to remember is that speed endurance will really improve your recovery after sprinting hard out on the field.

One thing that many soccer players (or athletes in general) look to for an increase in speed is either track or cross country. Track is a great way to help improve your speed. It includes levels or running from a slow jog to your fastest sprint in a matter of seconds, much like players in a soccer game. This will help with your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which will improve your reaction time. Cross country, on the other hand, is great for endurance, but can slow you down. While track trains your fast-twitch muscle fiber to improve your speed, cross country trains your slow-twitch muscle fibers. This is great for gaining endurance, but can actually slow you down in a game situation.

A side effect of sprinting or jogging for long periods of time is side cramping. This used to happen to me as well, and until I found the “cure,” I suffered from severe side cramps until my heart rate went down. One of the things that can trigger side cramping is water. Drinking too much water right before a game or at halftime can cause side cramps as well as an awkward feeling in your stomach. Try taking small sips of water at a time. Another thing that will cause cramping is bad breathing technique. In my past, I tended to take lots of short, shallow breaths, and avoided letting all the air out of my lungs. Proper breathing technique includes taking deep breaths in and letting all the air out of your lungs as you exhale.

Recently, my side cramps returned with a nasty vengeance, and I could never figure out the answer. On and off they would return and I couldn’t figure out why they kept coming back. I tried changing my eating habits, increasing water intake, and the other things that had worked in my past. The cramps were relentless. One day, I realized I was particularly nervous before practice, and I mentioned it to my dad. To my surprise, he didn’t give me his usual pep talk, but instead asked how often I got nervous before games and practices. A little self reflection left me shocked when I realized I had been having pre-game anxiety. Sure enough, I went onto the field with a different attitude that day, and they never have returned.

Flexibility is another important factor to remember. One muscle can contract only as fast as its opposing muscle can relax, so if you don’t have flexibility, your reaction time, speed, and agility won’t be as fast as it could be. Make sure to always stretch before engaging in running or kicking anything. Nothing is more frustrating to a soccer player than an injured leg.

Lastly, agility is a much needed tool for a soccer player. Agility is your ability to accelerate, decelerate, and quickly change directions, allAgility Ladder while maintaining  body control (and ball control if you have possession of the ball), and speed. One thing my team and I use at the start of every practice is an agility ladder. This is basically like a flat ladder laying flat on the ground. You can shuffle through them, hop through them, sprint through them…there’s so many things you can do with these agility ladders to help you improve your agility and I would recommend having one. Even if you don’t have the ladder, you can use cones or something of the like spaced one step apart.

 

One thing that is often forgotten about when it comes to soccer is core strength. Many people think that all soccer players need is strong legs, but this is not the case. Because all movements originate from the core, it is important for you to have a strong midsection to improve athletic movements and performances. Another thing commonly mistaken is that the core is not just your abdominals. Your core includes all of the muscles in your torso that support your spine and midsection. The main job that your core has is to control the movement of your torso as well as providing resistance and stability. The best part of having a strong core is that it will help you improve all other areas of your game.