After over fourteen years of high school soccer coaching experience, with eight of those coming as a head coach, I have tried an endless number of ways to get my players fit during the pre-season. Years ago, we ran, and then we ran some more. After that, we sipped some water and ran again. Somehow, however, we simply never achieved great strength. We had tremendous lungs and could run for days, but something was missing.
Over the last six seasons, I began to change my scheme, electing to include a series of core sessions within each practice. With a heavy emphasis coming during the three weeks preceding the season and a strict maintenance program instituted throughout the match schedule, I have noticed players performing at more consistent levels and, more importantly, avoiding injury.
The focus on the core in addition to the fitness training we do has improved players’ postures, enhanced their over strength with the ball and in one versus one challenges, permitted them to shift and change direction more precisely, and allowed them to run longer and with better purpose. In short, they have improved their overall game as individuals and it has resulted in greater success for the team come game day.
I spend no more than ten minutes per practice hitting the core, and I teach all of the movements needed during the pre-season. As a result, we do what is called a “core blitz” for two separate sessions of five minutes each. Rather than changing each movement on my own and having the team do the identical training, I begin the blitz and simply call out “switch” every 20 to 30 seconds. The players take the initiative and move to another movement.
Although all the players are doing different poses, the overall effect is highly productive. Players focus hard on what they have chosen, and each one knows various progressions for each movement to challenge themselves.
The following is a list of the core exercises I teach during the pre-season and use during the core blitz all year.
1. Plank: Beginning on your stomach, raise your body up onto your toes and elbows. Keep the body in a straight line between your shoulders and heals.
2. Side plank: Resting on your right side, raise up onto your right elbow and have your left foot rest on top of the right. Keep a straight line between your right shoulder and your right foot.
3. Superman: Starting on your stomach, stretch your arms out ahead of you, raising them three inches off the ground. Simultaneously, lift your legs the same distance off the ground. Attempt to stretch your fingers away from your toes and vice versa.
4. Boat: Beginning on your back, raise your legs up to a forty-five degree angle. At the same time, lift your upper body up to the same angle, forming a “V”. Take your arms and extend them outside passed your knees.
5. Six inches: Placing your hands just below your buttocks, lift your legs six inches from the ground and hold. Have the knees slightly bent.
6. Bicycles: In a regular sit-up position, place your hands on the side of your head, as if to slightly hold your ears. Lift your feet up. Have your left elbow touch your right knee while your left leg pumps straight out and away. Repeat using the right elbow and left knee while the right leg pumps away.
Each workout should be done slowly and with great concentration. Remind the players to mentally focus on the area being worked.
A consistent commitment to this blitz will give your players the core strength they need to stay healthy and compete over the course of the season.