10 Ways to Get Soccer Players to Love Strength Training

10 Ways to Get Soccer Players to Love Strength Training

“Coach Erica, when are we starting off-season training? I’m ready to lift weights!” – a boy’s soccer player asked me with enthusiasm.

At first, I thought I was hallucinating.

What do you mean a boy’s soccer player is eager to get back in the gym? Has the world flipped upside down? Did I just perform successful witchcraft?

Whatever the reason, I was delighted to hear this from him. In fact, I hear this same enthrallment from all of my players, and it’s music to my ears.

Especially because the soccer world still remains hesitant to lift weights for several reasons:

– They’re afraid they’re going to lose a step.
– They’re afraid they’re going to get hurt.
– They’re afraid they’ll lose flexibility.
– They’re afraid they’ll get too bulky.

Before I get into 10 ways on how to get soccer players to love strength training, let me refute everything on the list above:

– They’re afraid they’re going to lose a step.

Acceleration and speed are enhanced from adding in strength training. Without getting into too much of a physics lesson, here’s what you need to know: the more strength a player has, the more power they’re able to produce.

Too, it’s worth mentioning, a comprehensive performance program for soccer players goes beyond picking up heavy weight. Oh, and it’s using more than just barbells. To that end, a sound performance program includes running mechanics, power production, and acceleration training:

One more thing: if the girls in the above video weren’t strong, their acceleration steps would not be as forceful, and I wouldn’t be able to gradually increase the load on the sled for optimal power. Keep in mind: strength training augments the other aspects of performance: speed and power development.

For a more extensive article on this, check out the piece How to Develop Speed I wrote a while back.

– They’re afraid they’re going to get hurt.

Because weight training adds external load to the body, of course soccer players will have some fear, especially if they’re new to it. However, the only way they’ll get hurt lifting weights is if their strength coach is an incompetent a-hole and doesn’t teach proper technique.

As long as form is being mastered and load is progressed with great care, weight training actually keeps soccer players on the field because it reduces chance of injury.

Because get this: soccer is a 90 minute game of tackles, jumps, cuts, maximal sprints, and eccentric, muscle damaging movements. In order to handle this amount of load, they must make their bodies resilient and strong.

– They’re afraid they’ll lose flexibility.

Here’s a mind fuck for you: strength training is flexibility training. Ever tried a bodyweight squat and felt you couldn’t get depth and your hips were tight? Have you tried adding a kettlebell only to find your hips being grooved much better? Yeah. Sometimes adding load improves flexibility.

Or ever perform a bodyweight lateral squat and felt a stretch in your adductors? Yeah. Loading this will only make you better able to groove hip mobility.


Given you’re performing a dynamic warm-up and stretch 10 minutes before a strength training session, you’re becoming more supple. If you’re skipping your warm-up and stretch, you have no place to bash strength training for your lack of flexibility.

– They’re afraid they’ll get too bulky.

For athletes who practice 3-5x a week, run on average 5-7 miles a game, and play small-sided games at training with little rest time, like what? For the amount of aerobic and anaerobic conditioning soccer players do, do you really think bulky is an issue?

Get outta here.

10 Ways To Get Soccer Players To Love Strength Training

Now I’ve gotten these myths out of the way, how do you get soccer players to love strength training? After all, the physical and mental benefits are tremendous, so we need to inspire them to get in the gym.

Given the current soccer culture of anti-weight training, how do we get through to players?

As much as I want to say lure them into your facility with Eminem music on the sound system, I won’t.
Over the past 7 years, I’ve done a variety of things to inspire my athletes to love lifting. I hope these help you out:

1. Explain the “why.”

A few weeks ago, the Chelsea manager made a bold statement. He said, “when have you ever seen a player on the pitch carrying weights?”

Of course, he’s right: you don’t lift weights during a 90 minute game, so why is it paramount players do it?

From an injury reduction standpoint, the gym work done behind-the-scenes helps players to withstand the 90 minute game. With the amount of pulled hamstrings and ACL tears in the soccer world, one of the best ways to mitigate these is to increase muscle strength, mainly, through eccentric and posterior training.

And sometimes, the injury reduction explanation alone is enough to get soccer players to buy in.

However, if they still don’t budge, tell them how lifting improves performance: improves speed, agility, and acceleration and deceleration. Here is a detailed article explaining How To Build Soccer Agility.

2. Explain the benefits beyond the physical.

I’d argue the technical, tactical, and mental benefits of strength training go much further than the physical.

Players need to know how strength training enhances their technical skills, such as 1v1 ability, turning out of pressure, and shooting because you know, just to get “soccer specific.” ;-O

Without going into a dissertation, here are a few ways strength training improves the technical:

– Improved ankle strength improves passing technique
– Improved hip flexor strength improves the follow through for a shot
– Improved balance improves balance of the plant foot for a better shot
– Improved transfer of power from the upper extremity to the lower extremity improves throw-in distance and shooting power
– Improved lateral power improves 1v1 capability and explosiveness out of a move to beat a defender

You can read more here on how physical training makes the other components of soccer blossom.

On the mental side of things, there’s something magical about strength training and it’s impact on a player’s confidence – confidence in their body, confidence in their ability to overcome obstacles, and confidence to stay dialed in to their training. The mental game becomes critical the more players go through their careers. Always reinforce this.

3. Have passion behind your voice.

Are you explaining strength exercises with energy like Beyonce? Or are you explaining with monotone like Bill Lumbergh?

This much I know: athletes respond well to passion.

I don’t care if you’re teaching arm mechanics, goblet squats, planks, or the torque angle of the hip thrust, if you have conviction behind your voice, they’re in.

With that said, don’t be boring. And crack some jokes.

4. Keep strength sessions moving.

Soccer players are used to training sessions that are intense and productive, with few breaks. Strength training sessions should be the same.

This means you need to go in with a plan to keep the session running smoothly:

– Have them superset exercises.
– Have half the group perform main lift #1 (deadlift), while the other half does main lift #2 (pull-up or neutral grip dumbbell bench).
– Have them partner up as they go through a lift to keep each other focused and productive.
– Give them written programs so they can execute and track on their own.
– Walk around and engage to keep things moving.
– Drink 3 shots of espresso.

Of course with new groups, you’re going to have “teaching days” that will move slower so people nail down form, but overall, keep the sessions flowing. Nothing makes strength training more of a bore than standing around.

5. Talk about how professionals train.

The best soccer players in the world strength train. Zlatan, Ronaldo, Messi, Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Gareth Bale, Lukaku, and more.

If you’re working with youth athletes, it bodes well to mention what the pros do to stay fit for the game. As an example, any time my female athletes are skeptical about strength training, I show them this video:

And any time my boy’s soccer players are hesitant about lifting, I show them this:


Wonder how Ronaldo gets a six pack? As you can see, the body composition benefits from strength training are tremendous.

Six packs aside, there’s loads of research out there on the performance benefits of decreased fat and increased muscle mass, including improvements in maximal speed and agility. You can check it out here and here and here.

6. Sprinkle in new progressions.

To evade boredom, add in variety to your lifts. You can do this by changing grip, stance, side of load (contralateral or ipsilateral), modality (dumbbell, kettlebell, or barbell), or added chaos:

In addition, you can even have crappy Marshmello music playing in the background while athletes do vertical jumps. You know, for added cognitive load:

Or Zercher variations that torch their core more than conventional abdominal exercises:

I always tell my athletes, “hey, if you train with me for a long time, meaning more than 1x a week for 1 month, then we can eventually do cool stuff. Oh, and my jokes get funnier.”

I’ve found saying this has been a great way instill in them consistency and longevity. Moreover, lifting weights isn’t something we do for a meager amount of time and then peace out. It’s a process that athletes are in for the long haul. In fact, one that shouldn’t end if they’re serious about evolving in their soccer career.

7. Make it fun.

As I hammer home in the Total Youth Fitness Soccer Program, fitness should be both serious and fun.

You can only have a straight face for so long, until your athletes need you to come to life with your humor, and get creative with your drills.

If you haven’t gotten the program yet, I highly recommend it. There’s over 100 pages of video content and fun drills for you to execute with your soccer players.

8. Customize programs.

Strength training shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. Some athletes will flourish with barbell training. Some with dumbbell training. Some with kettlebell training.

When you customize programs to their needs, they know you care about their performance goals.

One player may need more coordination work. One player may need more posterior chain strength. One player may need more left glute activation.

Always customize and deliver a special experience that looks out for the individual.

9. Give athletes autonomy.

Sure, a strength training program should be structured and periodized so athletes are improving and not getting injured, but to keep them engaged, give them autonomy.

As an example, after every lift, I give them 4 different options for core and hip circuits and allow them to choose their favorite. I have a plethora of sample options in my Total Youth Soccer Fitness Program if you need ideas to give to your players.

10. Lead by example.

There are plenty of leadership styles out there, but when it comes to performance training, nothing beats leading by example. Good old-fashioned practicing what you preach.

If you’re a performance or team coach who is unhealthy, overweight, eats lasagna TV dinners every night, and drinks Coors Lights every weekend, then you have no business talking to athletes about strength training.

To some extent, you have to look the part.

And practice it too.

Kids look up to you, no doubt. When they see you living out your values and training philosophies, they follow suit. Moreover, they’re inspired and see their trainer as an empowered role model who can fight crime and knock down the Great Wall of China, and they’ll want to be just as badass.

No need for a psychology lesson here, but learned behaviors are real. Sure, you can talk the talk about the benefits of deadlifts, pull-ups, and training consistency, but are you walking the walk yourself? Can they go to your Instagram, see your training videos, and think to themselves, ‘shoot, coach is going hard with her training. I need to as well’?

Personally, I love strength training. I understand the science behind it. I see the physical and mental results. I can’t live without it. So walking the walk comes easy, and my passion permeates on to my athletes.

And sometimes, the soccer community not being “bought in” to strength training isn’t the problem. We are.

As performance coaches, it’s our responsibility to get our athletes to elicit certain habits and behaviors. Blaming and complaining everyone for their lack of passion for lifting weights is stupid.

With that said, take action. But more importantly, be a coach.

  • Shane MCLEAN
    Posted at 02:19h, 16 December Reply

    Great article. Your passion shines on through. What that Chelsea coach said was fucking stupid. English Premier League is so physical if you don’t strength train you’ll get blown off the pitch.

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