This is a post from Scott Moody of the Soccer Fit Academy. I thought you would find it interesting because it follows on from the discussion that was generated by the post where I discussed the preseason running program I used with one of my teams.

I was recently forwarded a soccer conditioning research article from a member of a soccer forum that I sometimes post on, and I wanted to give a brief review of the study…



Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2006, 20(2), 316–319

This study hypothesized that “soccer drills that involve the highest exercise intensities would demonstrate the lowest inter-subject variability and the highest intra-subject reliability,” and that fitness objectives could be obtained in small sided games (2v2 to 8v8 with varied grid sizes) which would save practice time by combining technical / tactical work with intermediate aerobic conditioning.

In other words, games are more applicable than aerobic runs without a ball. This seems to be the general consensus in the soccer / football community everywhere, and I can’t say that I fully disagree, but here are some things to consider.

1. This research is usually done with professional players or players within an elite club system. Basically… the players are already very good, and possess a good understanding of the game.

2. Heart Rates in this study were reaching 90-95% of max, which is great for aerobic high intensity training, but well above anaerobic threshold. Heart rates this high show up in spikes throughout the game, but are not held for very long, and are often followed by periods of walking, jogging recovery.

3. In this heart rate zone, technical ability is sure to suffer, as players will be in a fatigued state. A very high level of technical ability is required to get quality work when training at this intensity.

Here is my concern…. In a professional environment this is a very smart way to train. As stated in the research article, this may …”provide simultaneous skill and fitness training…or a reduction in total training time required.” This reduction in volume is great for professional players who understand that quality in short bursts is very beneficial. This also gives more time to rest the legs verses a system that pounds out the technical / tactical and then finishes up with the fitness.

However… in a youth system, where the players are still developing, this type of training will be significantly slowed (players moving at a slower pace with less than desired technical efficiency). This is still all right for conditioning benefits, because we still might be able to challenge them aerobically if we modify the grid size or rules. But…

Many of the developing players that I train, don’t move very well as it is (speed, agility, technical efficiency, etc.) and these games can sometimes put them in a state where they are too fatigued to become mentally, technically or tactically engaged. This promotes limited movement skill, sloppy play and poor tactical decision-making.

Is this type of training needed in the youth system…? YES! But do we also need to focus on games or types of training drills that will challenge the aerobic system, anaerobic system, technical efficiency, group movement, agility, speed, etc.? YES!

In my opinion, practices should be divided into days where we do use the awesome conditioning benefit of small-sided games to help players learn how to deal with situations in a fatigued state. This has also been proven in the research to be an great way to build aerobic capacity. And on a second day we structure our practice to incorporate the crisp agility or speed based movements with a ball, so the players learn how to react with speed to control the sometimes chaotic, ever changing environment.

Speed and agility drills need to be done with a ball and without a ball in rhythmic settings, reactive settings, repetitive settings and speed settings with young developing players. We need to broaden the foundation and fix the little flaws in movement, while they understand how to apply this movement to the game.

Here is one of hundreds of drills that we have that incorporates the ball into speed/agility-based fitness. This drill can last for 30-60 seconds and can be a great way to build fitness with a simple focus on crisp passing, drop step or triangle agility and reacting to played balls with speed. The player’s focus should be on the ball and not simply running to each cone. We want to get them using the shuffle to prepare their body to react with speed and precision. Click here to view the video on the Soccer Fit blog.

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