High school coaches have a demanding job, one that involves not only preparing a team both technically and tactically for the upcoming season, but also getting them into peak physical condition. Most coaches institute an off-season fitness program for their soccer players that has one primary goal: have the team arrive the first day of practice in shape so the more important tasks of training can be addressed.
However, as any coach with even a touch of experience will tell you, the best laid plans never truly come to fruition in the manner you originally wished. Instead, you generally get a few athletes who took their physical fitness training seriously and can compete at a considerably high level rather quickly. Coupled with those few is a large group of players who need the time and discipline to get their bodies ready for the fitness demands that soccer requires.
So, complaining about how players never use their off-season to get ready is a waste of time. Rather than lamenting about the issues the kids have and all the shortcomings they have shown, you need to design workouts that address the needs of the team so that you can succeed.
Through the years I have watched more talented teams who lacked excellent fitness dominate games only to lose at the end out of fatigue. Teams with a high level of fitness and marginal talent can compete, and those teams with incredible talent and impeccable fitness can dominate.
That said, try integrating these three basic workouts into your sessions early and often during pre-season training. Understand, however, that you must set forth a serious expectation for each, and every time you have them compete in these workouts they must do so with a pace goal in mind. Just running through them offers no mental focus or physical challenge; it allows the players to finish but not maximize the experience. If you can extract the greatest work rate from them by giving them pacing checkpoints and benchmarks upon which they can measure themselves, you’ll see faster, more substantial progress.
Workout #1: Half-field interval pyramid: If your field is 120 yards in length, the interval distance will be 60 yards. Some high school soccer fields are slightly smaller, so just adjust. Using the midfield line and one of the end lines as starting points, break your team into three groups, giving each a number one through three. Put the ones and threes at midfield, and send the twos to the end line. Have the players in group one run from midfield to the end line. Just as they arrive, the twos release and run to midfield. The threes, upon the twos reaching midfield, begin their run to the end line. The series repeats after that. Your job is to set a pace based on the percentage of output desired. For example, if you tell your players to run at 50%, you give them ten seconds to go line to line. As the percentage increases, the time should decrease. Use the following progression pyramid: 50%, 75%, 100%, 75%, 50%. Best if done over a 15 to 20 minute time period.
Workout #2: Indian Run: Place your team in two parallel lines. Select the distance to be covered, either the full field or half. Send the team jogging around the perimeter of the space. On your mark, the last two players release from the back, sprinting beyond the front of the lines and continuing all the way around the field ahead of the pack. Their job is to catch the back of the pack, pass the group, and settle in at the front. Once they do, they can shut down their sprint and begin jogging again with the group, yet they should become the new leaders. Release a new group each time the last has caught the pack. You may elect to send them earlier to move the workout along. Do not offer the group a pace, as they should be recovery jogging. However, do give the releasing players a time pace to finish the sprint and become the leaders.
Workout #3: Soccer Suicides: An adapted version of the age-old basketball drill, soccer suicides is simple but remarkably effective. Have the team line up together on the end line (you may also wish to break them into teams of three or four to make it competitive and increase the rest/recovery period for each athlete). On your mark, the team sprints to the top of the eighteen yard box, then back to the end line. Once they arrive, they turn and run to midfield and back, then to the opposite eighteen yard box and back. Finally, they do a full-field sprint down and back. That’s one soccer suicide. Again, like the other workouts, have a realistic pacing goal and keep them aware of the progress as they train.
Overall, make sure you judge the athletes’ fitness levels accurately, give them realistic time goals to meet, and provide them with adequate recovery periods so that the work rate can remain high when it needs to.
Fifteen years of training high school soccer teams