For Soccer Endurance
to Give Your Team the Edge
By Rick Guter, ATC, PT -
PoweringMuscles.comThis guy I know, Jeff,
used to be a goal-scoring machine as a youth soccer player despite being rather
uncoordinated. His teammates called him legs in reference to his gangly,
awkward build. He had no touch, limited speed, and below-average creativity,
and yet he averaged a goal a game as his teams starting center forward thanks
to the one virtue he did possess: He never got tired.
Jeff loved to run. Although just a kid, he
ran about 20 miles a week on his own throughout the year, in addition to
practicing with his team and playing informally with friends.
Jeffs role during games was to just
keep running until the opposing defenders fatigued, at which time he would
inevitably find an opportunity to one-touch a crossing ball into the net. Most
of his goals came late.
As it turned out, Jeff went on to become not
a professional soccer player but an amateur marathon runner, but he set a clear
example for all youth soccer coaches and players to heed: Dont be fooled
by the ball.
In terms of its physical demands, soccer
shares more in common with marathon running than it does with other ball sports
such as basketball and tennis. Soccer has a bigger playing field than any other
major sport and less stoppage. In a typical game, a soccer player might spend a
cumulative two minutes in possession of the ball and more than 30 minutes'
running, covering a few miles in the process.
For all of these reasons, there are few
greater advantages one team can have over another than better running
Nevertheless, most coaches approach fitness
as a potential liability rather than as a potential advantage. In other words,
they seek to make their players fit enough to survive a full game
rather than seeking to make them fitter than their opponents.
Finding this advantage does not require that
you force all your players to run 20 miles a week or neglect skills and
strategy in favor of conditioning work.
It requires only that you do the following
five things better than the average coach does.
1. Build a solid base. Many coaches
make the mistake of assuming that because soccer involves a lot of anaerobic
work, soccer conditioning should be primarily anaerobic as well. While
anaerobic training is essential for soccer players, this training is much more
effective when preceded by a phase of fitness base building that is primarily
aerobic in nature.
The improvements in oxygen consumption
capacity, muscle glycogen storage, and fat burning efficiency that come with
aerobic training are the foundation for later gains in strength, speed, power,
and anaerobic endurance.
Ideally, this base phase should last at
least six weeks and should take place during the off-season. Encourage your
players to jog, bicycle, swim, skate, or undertake any other aerobic activity
they enjoy on a regular basis during the off-season.
But you cant assume all your players
will heed this recommendation, so you should emphasize moderate-intensity
running during the first few weeks of team training before you begin to
emphasize anaerobic conditioning with drills such as shuttle runs.
2. Set concrete fitness goals. One of
the important means that runners use to measure and achieve progress in their
fitness is to run against the stopwatch. Very few soccer coaches set concrete
fitness goals with their players, so here is a great opportunity for you and
your team to get a step ahead of the competition.
I recommend creating a fitness test such as
a shuttle run that you administer every few weeks with your team. For example,
have each player complete a 300-meter shuttle run (in a 10-20-30-40-50 format),
rest for five minutes, and then repeat it. Players will show progress not only
by improving their overall times, but also and especially by narrowing the gap
between their first and second run times.
3. Train for recovery. The major
difference between soccer endurance and the kind of endurance marathoners need
is that soccer players tend to sprint and recover repeatedly, whereas runners
maintain a consistent, prolonged effort. Soccer endurance is all about being
able to recover quickly from high-intensity bursts. Among the best ways to
cultivate this ability is through a sprint workout in which you progressively
lessen the duration of recovery periods during the course of the season.
For example, you might have your players run
10 x 15 meters, then 3 x 50 meters, and then 2 x 100 meters. Initially, allow
them to rest three seconds for each second they spend running. As the season
progresses, gradually reduce the recovery periods until your players are
running more than they are resting.
4. Fuel the muscles properly. Most
youth players fail to take full advantage of all that is now known about
fueling muscles during practices and games. Players should use only a quality
sports drink to supply all of their bodys hydration, energy, and nutrition
needs. Water is not sufficient, and other sources of nutrition such as fruits
and fruit drinks do not provide energy in its fastest-acting or most digestible
A good sports drink rehydrates players
faster than water and provides plenty of carbohydrates to fuel the muscles and
delay fatigue. An increasing number of professional players, including several
members of the 2002 U.S. World Cup roster, are now turning to sports drinks
that contain protein, as well. The addition of protein to a sports drink
extends endurance even further and also reduces post-exercise muscle soreness.
Encourage your players to begin each game
with as much sports drink in their stomach as they can tolerate without
discomfort. Not only does greater stomach volume translate into more energy,
but it also speeds the delivery of this energy to the muscles.
Players should also start the second half
with a high stomach volume, and should get a gulp from the sideline at every
available opportunity during stoppages in play.
5. Simulate game conditions. Rather
than organize low-energy practices wherein players are frequently waiting their
turn to participate in some drill, try to make each practice session as
game-like as possible. Include scrimmage time in each practice and make an
effort to include a running component in most of the drills you select.
Keep in mind that larger fields of play and
small-sided scrimmages facilitate running more than their alternatives. If your
players expend just a little bit more energy in each practice than other teams
do, they will wind up being substantially fitter on game day.
Rick Guter is the Team Physiotherapist
and Athletic Trainer for the D.C. United soccer club. He has twice been named
MLS Trainer of the Year and has served as Head Athletic Trainer for nine U.S.
National Teams. Rick has also worked as a physical therapist and athletic
trainer at Vanderbilt Sports Medicine Center. He graduated magna cum laude in
athletic training from Arizona State University and later earned his physical
therapy degree from the University of Central Arkansas. Rick is also a
competitive amateur triathlete.
Copyright 2002 by Poweringmuscles.
Published with permission. For cutting-edge sports nutrition info, visit