Thursday, September 16, 2010


‘If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail’

Your season may have just finished but have you considered planning for the ‘new’ season!? A good pre-season training base can often provide the foundation for future success both for your team and individuals’ fitness. Generally, pre-season duration should be 6-8 weeks. It is vitally important for a number of reasons:
• Fitness and conditioning leading to match fitness
• Setting team and individual goals
• Discipline, boundaries and expectations
• Establishing a ‘work ethic’ and standards
• Group cohesion and team-building
• Developing team plays, tactics and strategies
• Code of conduct for the players’/staff
• Creating positive attitudes and ‘open’ environment

Pre-season is also a good time to encourage the players’ to develop strong learning habits of mind by getting them to understand the importance of resilience and resourcefulness. Their attitude, desire and dedication for self-improvement will be important along with a subjective mental assessment by the coach i.e. ‘do they really want to put in the required work’?

Many players’ have negative images of preseason training E.g. long, tedious aerobic runs with little football specific training. I and many others’ probably experienced this as a player and viewed it as a chore, but do endurance runs have a link to what actually happens in a game of football? Quite clearly, the answer is no and direction should be aimed toward interval work incorporating the complex movements within football.

Hopefully, the ‘modern’ coach has realised this and I aim to provide some possible ideas that you can implement this summer. A well planned programme should accommodate individual needs and provide variety and challenge to intrinsically motivate the players’. Rampini et al. (2007) reported that coach encouragement is a dominant variable on playing intensity. Therefore, coaches should aim to maximise motivational techniques when high training intensities are required during pre-season.
The focus needs to be on encouragement, positive reinforcement, using a competition structure and providing feedback to the players about levels of intensity.

Most activity in football lasts approximately 5-6 seconds and for about 25 yards in distance. Invasion games involve a startstop process, which utilises fast-twitch muscle fibres and has a focus towards the anaerobic system (energy system that does not use oxygen). In today’s game, elite players’ are trained ‘athletes’ and should demonstrate prowess in the key principles of fitness- speed, power, stamina, strength and flexibility. Most clubs and academies now employ fitness and conditioning coaches’ who deliver fitness specific and rehabilitation work.

Pre-season conditioning work should develop both energy systems (anaerobic and aerobic) incorporating an element of football in most activity. Through match analysis techniques researchers have studied the work-rate and activity profiles of footballers, the demands imposed on footballers during a game include:
- Runs between 6 and 10 miles
- Activity at a pace representing 70-80 % of their endurance capacity
- Walks, sprints, jogs, cruises, stretches, jumps, passes, heads, tackles and shoots
- On average an individual player has contact with the ball for 2-3minutes
- Turns approximately 400-450 times through 90> degrees during a game

The aim of establishing optimal player fitness is to reduce the risk of injury and improve a player’s overall game performance. Consider the following indicators when pre-planning your programme:

• Developing a players’ recovery capacity E.g. Recovering quickly after a period of high intensity work, enabling the player to be ready for the next ‘bout’ of activity.

• Developing the body’s capacity to manage lactic acid (a waste product of intensive work causing muscle fatigue and often a feeling of nausea).

• Variation- players’ are looking forward to what the next session might be and are challenged through diverse activity, individual goal-setting and tailored programmes to meet their needs.

• Testing- this provides an information base and facilitates assessment for learning by engaging the player on the benefits of testing and its use as an evaluative tool. This can potentially, improve individual weaknesses’ through specific one-one work. Tests can also be used as a tool to motivate players.

• Training both energy systems (aerobic and anaerobic) with specific focus on strengthening the fast-twitch fibres needed for explosion E.g. checking, turning, accelerating, jumping and side-stepping.

• Position specific work- Players in specific positions require tailored fitness work to suit the demands of where they play E.g. A central defender will differ to a striker. Relying on standard training methods for all players’ neglects to consider the specific conditioning required for individual players.

Training plan for a Centre midfield player:
- High endurance capacity (VO2 max) required. Endurance training an important focus.
- Balance: focus on balance and flexibility work
- Strength: Abrasive to frequent contact situations and physical strength important
- Agility: checking, turning and explosive work needed
- Anaerobic capacity: intermittent, high intensity activity with varying work-rest intervals
- Power: dynamic strength exercises

• Monitoring and evaluation of progress is a vital component of any training programme, and from the results specific work can be tailored to suit the needs of your squad and individuals.

Example Fintess Test
-Run from 18 yard box to 18 yard box in 10-14 seconds (target), recovery- jog the width of the penalty box in 20-25 seconds, and then repeat the 18 yard box run in target time.
-Perform 6-8, 18 yard box runs. Rest for 120 seconds and repeat x4.
-The aim of this field test is to work the players’ heart-rate at 85% of their maximum HR.

Utilising football drills for conditioning has its benefits when compared with generic physical training. Players’ will be more motivated, greater physical output is generated in many cases and better transfer of match-specific fitness. The challenges for the coach is creating optimal work intensities and constructing sessions that meet fitness targets. Many coaches’ can find it challenging to plan a fitness-based football session. There are many variables to consider E.g. number of players, equipment, facilities, pitch size and rule modifications. However, if you are prepared to overcome these difficulties you will observe improvements in team motivation/morale and performance at training.

As conditioning improves, a player’s resting heart-rate should be gradually lowered.
Depending on an individual’s fitness level it is recommended that you train between 65% and 80% of your predicted heart rate reserve.

Speed, agility and quickness can often make the difference between winning and losing E.g. a player exploding through a defensive gap, checking, turning and sidestepping to outwit defenders. Intermittent, high intensity activity with varying work-rest intervals focusing on specific elements of the SAQ continuum can better prepare players for the demands of the game.

With on-going SAQ training, the neuromuscular system is gradually re-programmed and restrictive mental blocks and thresholds are removed. Consequently, messages from the brain have a clearer path to the muscles and the result will be an instinctively quicker player.

The SAQ continuum is used to ‘kinaesthetically programme’ the performance of a specific physical activity with improved quality and control. SAQ continuum is the name of a progressive sequence of training ‘phases’ which collectively improve performance. Over a period of time you will observe improvements in explosive multi-directional speed, agility and quickness, acceleration/deceleration, quality and speed of response control. SAQ is a vital part of my training plans and below are 2 examples which can be carried out with and without a football.

Final thoughts
Football is now a ‘scientific art’ with numerous factors combining to create peak performance. Pre-season training and fitness, have become a vital cog to facilitate potential success. I will close with the following quote as you consider a new season: ‘If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail’.

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