This article is guest blogged by Mat Herold, a former D-1 soccer player and certified strength and conditioning coach with a Masters of Science degree in Exercise Physiology. Visit his website and his latest book Joga Strong: Becoming The Ultimate Soccer Athlete at www.empoweredathletes.com
Individual Training For The Soccer (Football) Player
In soccer (or football), like other team sports, the success of the team is based upon the sum of individual performances. If you are a soccer player or coach, the following are areas that when given proper attention, can quickly and dramatically improve outcomes across the board.
1. Play more small sided games
I know we’ve all heard about how the South Americans play street soccer for hours on end and well, there is something to learned there. When I was 15 I really started playing pickup soccer as much as I could. Anything from 8v8 to 1v1 and within no time my performance shot up drastically. It’s simple; as your skills continue to improve from so much time on the ball in game settings, and you become comfortable being in certain soccer situations (shielding the ball, finding a free player under pressure, etc.), those improvements will transfer over to games. In pickup soccer, we also have to freedom to try new things and play on the edge because “messing up” is not going to result in the coach yelling at you or subbing you out. You can laugh it off and forget about it quickly learning to play in the moment. This fact alone allows players to evolve rapidly by trying new things, and to add elements of relaxation into their game that the top players in the world have.
2. Work on specific skills relevant to your position
Shooting, passing, dribbling, long balls and individual defense all require time spent perfecting them. Europeans spend hours on passing with the right weight, at the correct angle, and to the correct foot. (Look at the way small countries like Holland and Germany always seem to play fantastic passing soccer)The outside players spend hours perfecting their service of the ball into the box. Strikers finish and defenders work on getting their long balls to resemble a laser beam. On TV in the top leagues around the world, they make it look easy because they put in the time when the cameras are off. Sorry to burst your bubble, but twice a week at club practice ain’t gonna cut it. You need reps.
3. Hit the weights
There are some soccer players out there who are strong (usually they are the fastest on the pitch), but for the most part, soccer players are far too weak. How does strength help? Well, strength is the foundation on which all other athletic attributes are built. Strength is highly related to power since the stronger you are, the faster you can move a significant load such as your body weight.
Hopefully, you realize the importance of getting strong so that you can generate a lot of force. Then it is a matter of getting good at developing that force in a short amount of time specific to the movements of your sport.
From famous sports scientist and Powerlifting champion Dr. Fred Hatfield:
“Elite athletes develop the ability to generate maximum tension in less than three-quarters of a second, perhaps even in as little as half a second. That’s one of the factors that make them so great. They’re able to reduce the amount of time it takes to generate maximum tension.”
It is important to keep in mind that if you don’t have the strength or force to begin with, you won’t have anything to apply in that short amount of time. Another benefit of strength training is that you will also be improving your body’s resistance to injury, and it’s ability to recover.
4. Concentrate on improving your hip and ankle mobility
Soccer involves many movements over a long duration. Many of these movements do not require us players to get into deep stretch positions and over time tightness can develop if we don’t include mobility and flexibility in our training. The ability to perform deep squats, stable lunges where the knees don’t cave in, and proper landing mechanics are crucial not only for staying healthy, but being an efficient athlete that gets the most out of your body.
Too many players rely on ankle taping. Unless you are just coming back from an ankle injury, it might be a good idea to toss the ankle brace or tape. Your ankle is designed to be mobile, and if you take it away by restricting it there, you will have to compensate by finding mobility at the knee. Last time I checked, your knee is designed to hinge, so not a good thing when you increase the chances of your knee twisting and bending other ways.
Lift weights and get your glutes and hamstrings strong (hip thrusts, glute ham curls, good morning and RDL variations, back extensions done properly, etc.)
Do some barefoot work and realize that our feet are supposed to work and be mobile (think toes spread like fingers).
The feet contain 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Do some barefoot dynamic movements to improve on your foot stability, and balance (proprioception). Low-intensity plyos work great such as exercises where you are hopping around on one leg in different directions.
5. Add Recovery Work
I am always amazed at how many soccer players don’t know that the positive things that go along with training hard occur when you’re not training. You damage your body while training, and then rest in order to come back stronger, faster, and better. Rest is when your body repairs the damage, and in an attempt to better handle the stress it knows is coming in the near future, it super-compensates. Foam roll your quads, calfs, groin and adductors, tensor fascia latae, and IT Band. Do mobility exercises before each training session and stretch after training to reduce recovery time and restore tissue length. Sleeping enough in a pitch black room, eating properly, flexibility and mobility protocols, foam rolling, massage, and even yoga are all great tools to keep your body and mind in the right place.
About the Author
Mat Herold is a former D-1 soccer player and certified strength and conditioning coach with a Masters of Science degree in Exercise Physiology. He is the author of Joga Strong: Becoming The Ultimate Soccer Athlete. Visit his website at www.empoweredathletes.com