In preparation for a Major League Soccer season, a lot of time and consideration goes into what the players need to play at such a high level each and every week. As fans, you see the finished product but as coaches we have to assemble a plan that gives our players the best chance for success. During the preseason we have several things to develop—some of the key areas that we focus on are the following:
- Building a strong aerobic base and alactic energy system
- Improving movement quality off the ball
- Building a strong base of strength
- Implementing a solid nutrition program
- Focusing on acceleration and deceleration (both with and without the ball)
- Implementing a recovery plan
- Stress and fatigue management
- Assessment and movement screening for each player
It’s naïve to think that every player is going to arrive in camp in great shape. One of the great things about preseason training is that you get to spend quality time (5-6 weeks) on the road with the players and find out where they excel and what areas they may need to improve. Every athlete I have ever met can improve in at least 1-2 areas. As the fitness coach it’s my responsibility to work with the coaching and medical staff to try to identify what areas may be lacking and develop a plan to ensure that every player is progressing towards the end goal—the chance to play at a high level each and every week.
Below are five (5) key fitness/training related areas that we focus on during the preseason:
1. Individual screening, assessments and testing for each player
One of the first things we do is look at each player individually and screen them. It is my job along with the medical staff to screen each player so we can assemble an individual plan for the guys. To accomplish this we came up with the following plan:
Functional Movement Screen
This is a 7-point screen that was created by Gray Cook and Lee Burton. This has been around since 1998 and is currently being utilized by thousands of coaches across the world. The goal is to look at fundamental movement patterns to identify what areas players may be deficient in and to identify any major asymmetries that may exist. It’s simply a screen to try and identify any limitations in movement that may cause an injury down the road.
- Breathing patterns
- Pelvic alignment
- Omega wave testing: This provides detailed information on players’ cardiac, metabolic and central nervous system readiness.
Speed—10 meter and 30 meter sprint times
- Vertical Jump testing
- Transition speed: Change of direction drill (30 yd. test to assess transition/change of direction speed)
Upper Body Test
- Lower body assessment: single leg squat test
2. Developing the aerobic and alactic system
During the course of the game certain players can run as much as 6-7 miles. In order to be able to sustain this kind of effort a strong aerobic base needs to be in place to play at this level. In order to progress the players each week we attempted to develop their aerobic system by incorporating as much movement with the ball as possible. We did not go out and run at a steady state for 60-75 minutes but rather the technical staff did an excellent job of incorporating as much work with the ball as possible.
Players really like this because they are working on their skill with the ball while at the same time we are building their aerobic base. We have to remember we are training soccer players, not cross country runners.
An efficient aerobic system is critical for the success of our players. To accomplish this we monitored the players by watching their heart rate as well as their recovery between movements and drills. In addition to making sure that the players have a strong aerobic base, it’s critical that we make speed (alactic system) a priority in the training. A strong aerobic system will help the alactic (speed) system work efficiently.
In order to do this, players need to be alert and fatigue needs to be low to improve speed. All of our speed work is done in the beginning of the training session after our movement prep and before fatigue may set in. Intensity is high (runs of 10-30 yards) and recovery is long (1-2 minutes) when we try and improve a players speed. As the season progresses we will increase the distance of the run (30-60 yards) and manipulate the recovery times to get the adaptations that we are looking for.
When it comes to speed players will run faster without the ball than with the ball so implement speed training early in the session without the ball to ensure that players are running at top speeds.
3. Build a solid base of strength
As a strength coach I am always looking to make our players stronger. I believe it’s one area that is often overlooked with soccer players. During preseason there is so much to accomplish in a short time that strength training can sometimes be pushed to the side. I am very fortunate to have a coaching staff that understands the role that strength training plays in the development of our players.
With that being said we try to focus on BASIC movement patterns that would allow our players to build a solid foundation for the season that we can build upon. Below are some of the basic movement patterns that we try to focus on during preseason.
Single leg strength
- Body weight squats to a bench
- Hip hinge pattern (deadlifts, reaches)
- Rear foot squats
- Hip extension patterns
- Goblet squats
- Front squats
- Pulling patterns
- DB rows
- Band rows
- Several variations of push ups
- DB bench press variations
- Overhead pressing
Anterior core training: Roll outs
- Turkish Get Ups (Starting with the lowest progression and advancing)
- Supine (lying on your back) to prone (stomach) to quadruped (all fours)
Note: We do not perform any crunches with the players.
4. Nutrition and Hydration
At the end of the day, nutrition and the quality of food that our athletes consume plays a critical role in how they will recover and perform on the field. I truly believe that if you have two athletes with the same skill and aerobic system the one with the better nutrition will outperform the other athlete on the field.
I try and keep it very simple for the players when it comes to nutrition.
Everyone is different and my goal is to provide simple yet effective recommendations based off of what I have been able to learn from experts in the field of nutrition. Eat real, unprocessed food as much as possible.
- Learn to cook simple nutritious meals
- Consume quality meats, fats and carbohydrates on a daily basis
- Buy local food whenever possible
- Make hydration a priority by limiting the amount of sport drinks and energy drinks
- On a daily basis consume 5-6 servings of vegetables and fruits.
Always have good healthy snack options with you for when you get hungry. This can be as easy as having a bag of homemade trail mix with you in case you get hungry.
Training is easy. I don’t mean it is easy to train for 2-3 hours each day but rather when we train we cause a disruption on our body that signals a response. It’s that response that helps us grow and adapt. If we want to reap the benefits of a particular training session we MUST develop a good recovery plan for our players. As I have stated above everyone is different and some players respond to one recovery method while another player may not respond to that particular stimulus. To keep things simple we try and provide a few options to the players. Here is a short list of some of the strategies that we implement with the players:
- Post workout nutrition
- Chiropractor treatments
- Breathing techniques
- Quality sleep every night
- Contrasts in water
- Foam rolling/stretching
The MLS season is very long and demanding. Injuries can‘t be prevented but we can reduce a player’s chance of getting hurt. As the fitness coach my number one goal is to do everything possible to keep the players healthy and provide to them the necessary tools that can keep them on the field. I truly believe what the players do off of the field is just as important as what they do on the field.
If you are a coach at the high school or club level don’t try and implement all of the strategies above right away. Educate yourself on a few of the tips listed above and read as much as possible from experts in their field. The more we can educate our players the better off they will be when it comes time to play the game.
Good luck with your training!
Kevin Miller is the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Philadelphia Union. He is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and has been working with the Union since their inaugural 2010 season. Check out Kevin's Instagram: @KevinMillerTraining
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