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Whole-Body Training for Soccer

This is an excerpt from Soccer Anatomy by Donald T. Kirkendall.

The goal of whole-body activities is to prepare players for the strategic actions that will lead to success either in scoring or preventing goals. Those actions frequently require high power output for jumping or sprinting. Repetitive jumping is a plyometric activity, and various versions are used to take advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle that is known to improve power output not just in jumping but also in sprinting. If improvement in sprinting is a goal (and it should be), look at what track sprinters are doing and you will see plenty of exercises directed toward repetitive jumping.

Incorporating whole-body training tools helps in coordinating the body during the random actions that occur every few seconds in a soccer game. Players will jump, hop, skip, leap, and cut at a moment's notice, often without any conscious thought at the time to the action or reaction. Although it is difficult to plan training to mimic what actually happens when facing a real opponent (as opposed to a teammate in training), it is not difficult to prepare each player's neuromuscular system to be ready to make sudden reactions to unforeseen circumstances during a match. And it's the responsibility of the coach to make sure each player is as prepared as possible. This is why it's more the norm today to see players doing guided activities that on the surface appear unrelated to the game. These might involve benches, hoops, hurdles, speed ladders, and other tools of the trade that will teach players to use their bodies efficiently with as few unnecessary movements as possible. Although the running form of a soccer player will rarely be mistaken for the smooth and efficient form of a sprinter, a comparison of soccer video clips from a few decades ago to today's game should be proof enough that the training, coordination, and athleticism have advanced considerably.

Despite all the training advances of the past 25 years, none of them will produce the desired benefit if coaches and players fail to heed the lessons of experts in other supplementary aspects of performance. Consider the following:

  • Research has shown that as little as 2 percent dehydration can lead to impaired performance. Don't use the running clock in soccer as an excuse not to drink during a match. There are plenty of dead-ball opportunities to take a drink. On really hot days, the ref has the authority to stop play for a fluid break. A water break is part of the rules in numerous youth leagues during hot and humid conditions. Did you notice the water break in each half of the men's gold medal game at the Beijing Olympics?
  • It has been reported that between 25 and 40 percent of soccer players are dehydrated before they even step on the field for training or competition because they have failed to adequately rehydrate after the previous day's training or competition.
  • Muscle requires fuel, and the primary fuel for a sport such as soccer is carbohydrate. Restricting carbohydrate will only hinder performance. Players who enter the game with a less than optimal tank of fuel will walk more and run less, especially late in the match when most goals are scored. For some reason, team sport athletes are not as conscientious about their food selections as individual sport athletes are.
  • Injuries increase with time in each half, suggesting a fitness component to injury prevention. One aspect of injury prevention is to improve each player's fitness. Players should arrive at camp with a reasonable fitness level so that the coach can safely raise the fitness of the players even further through directed preseason training. Many teams have a very dense competition schedule, making it hard to raise fitness further during the season. Those who try to improve fitness each week with too much high-intensity work during a match-dense season risk acute and overuse injury, poor performance, slow recovery, and the possibility of overtraining.
  • Some reports suggest that less skilled players suffer more injuries than do more highly skilled players. Thus, another way to prevent injuries is to improve skill.
  • Take the time to do a sound warm-up such as The 11+ outlined in chapter 2 (page 18). Tangible rewards should be realized when a warm-up is included as a regular component of training. There are no guarantees when it is done infrequently. Most coaches are good at planning a training session, but neglect guiding the team through a good warm-up.
  • The most dangerous part of soccer is tackling. Research has shown that the most dangerous tackles involve jumping, leading with one or both feet with the studs exposed, and coming from the front or the side. (Head-to-head contact is also dangerous. See the next item.) A simple axiom to remember is bad things happen when you leave your feet. Players should stay on their feet and not imitate what they see in professional games.
  • Don't take head injury lightly. Head-to-head, elbow-to-head, ground-to-head, goalpost-to-head, or accidental ball-to-head impacts are dangerous. You cannot see a concussion like you can see a sprained ankle. A player who experiences one of these head contacts should be removed from the game immediately and not be allowed to resume play until everyone is sure about his safety. The best advice is: When in doubt, keep them out. In the United States, many states are following the lead of Washington state, passing laws requiring written medical clearance before a player is allowed to return from a concussion. Don't mess around with head injuries. No game is that important.
  • Exercise some common sense when it comes to training. For example, use age-
    appropriate balls. Older players shouldn't train with younger players. The younger ones will get run over or hit with high-velocity passes and shots. Next, the best predictor of an injury is a history of an injury, so an injured player should be fully recovered before returning. An incompletely healed minor injury often precedes a far more serious injury. Be smart and stand on a chair or ladder to put up or take down nets. The combination of jumping, gravity, rings, and net hooks is an invitation to a pretty severe laceration. Finally, never allow anyone to climb on goals. There have been serious injuries and even deaths because kids were playing on unanchored goalposts.

Read more from Soccer Anatomy by Donald T. Kirkendall.

More Excerpts From Soccer Anatomy