Blog Series: Bigger, Faster, Stronger? – By Pablo Toledo

Pablo Toledo is Rush Soccer’s Sporting Project Director and Rush’s Coach Development Department leader. 

 

Well then, we’ve covered some important, foundational topics already about soccer specific conditioning, starting from generic principles of  training, passing through stretching and warm up concepts, to end up analyzing the beautiful game’s real physical demands for our players.

To facilitate the understanding, in this post we are going to suppose that we analyzed a player and we concluded that during competition his physical demand can be simplified as:

  • Slow Jog: 4 miles
  • 1/2 & 3/4s Pace: 1.4 miles
  • Sprint: 0.6 miles
  • Total: 6 miles.

 

Now, when we look at this, we need to think: what are the physical valencies that I need to develop to be able to perform these efforts effectively? 

My grandfather used to say that common sense is the most important sense and the less common of them. In America, we are frequently intoxicated with cliches that come from other sports or disciplines, like the idea of getting bigger, faster, and stronger.

 

Bigger & Stronger: Do I need to be strong to play soccer and therefore train with lots of heavy weights to develop maximal strength? How’s that going to collaborate with the physical demands I already know I’ll have? The answer is it won’t. Muscles are, in terms of density, even heavier than fat, so if your upper body has big muscular packages, that means your legs have to carry them around.  Yes, you will be capable of lifting a lot of weight, but you will never use it, at least not on a soccer field, then what was the point of wasting training hours in this?

Faster: A lot of people highlight the importance  of speed training. I (and this is an opinion) think that’s a mistake. Speed is a very genetic based valency. That doesn’t mean you can’t improve it, of course, but have you ever seen a professional player that when he started his career he was slow and a couple years later he was fast? I haven’t. What I have seen is a very fast player become even faster, and a slow player get a bit less slow, but the improvement tends to be marginal and takes a lot of time to achieve. As an example, think of an athlete that runs 100 meters at the Olympic games. He/she trains only for speed for 4 years to improve his/her mark, but how much? Less than half a second maybe? Therefore, what I’m saying is not that Speed is irrelevant, not at all, but that I think training other capacities might be comparably more effective, more pragmatic, especially when you consider that ‘deception’ is the queen of the game, so a good move of a player that pretended to cut in to the penalty spot and cut out to the second post might create that extra half of a second that we were trying to accomplish through years of speed training, wouldn’t you agree?

 

 

Then, if it’s not about strength or speed, what are we trying to develop? The answer comes again from the observations of the specific physical demands. We know it’s about those six miles that combine slow jogs, medium and three-quarter paces, and sprints, that are not run on a straight line but as soccer is an acyclic sport they’re full of changes of directions, stoppages, turns, etc. Therefore, what I really need is stamina/endurance, agility, coordination, and explosive strength (understanding this as a low resistance power capacity, to overcome pushes, jersey pulls, ball disputes, etc). Adding to the plan components of injury prevention, I would argue that these are the real capacities to develop, as they’re the ones that support the efficient execution of the game demands.

Now, Stamina/Endurance tends to be misunderstood by equalizing it to aerobic resistance, because people normally associate this with distance running. That wouldn’t be specific for soccer, in where endurance matters in relationship to our explosive strength and speed.

 

Hold on Pablo, what? You just said that strength and speed were not a priority.

 

Correct, running faster is not a priority, but having the endurance to repeat the action of sprinting sustaining the same level of quality is. This means: I’m not training you to make you faster, I training you to be able to run your first and your last sprint of the game at the same speed. Do you see the difference?

The same happens with Strength: I don’t need you much stronger, I need you capable of resisting the first and the last push/pull/dispute at the same level.

The capacities that we are trying to develop are so called Speed Endurance, and Strength Endurance, and these are vital for the game.

 

Ok, good for now, I don’t want to confuse anybody. I hope all of this makes sense coach. In the next post we’ll go over:

  • Common athleticism based training methods: RSA, Intermittent, Intervals.
  • What’s good and bad about them
  • The mental component
  • Are you really tired?