Let’s start off today’s article with something that will melt your face: soccer players spend on average 1-2 minutes out of a 90 minute match with the ball at their feet.
Holy blueberry muffins. That is a meager percentage of the game.
How do I know this, you may wonder. Well, want me to show you the research?
Ugh, fine. As much as I didn’t want to get sport scientific in this piece…
In addition to being a soccer strength and conditioning coach, I’m a skills trainer, too. So I promise you there’s no bias in this article whatsoever. I see both worlds. I’ve trained players in both areas. And I’ve seen what benefits them more in the long run.
And I’ll be the first to brag: it’s awesome being both a soccer strength and conditioning coach AND soccer skills trainer. Not only do I get to work with a diverse roster of clients, but I get to immerse myself in the connected beauty of the game of soccer. I truly believe the physical training improves the technical, and vice versa.
If you want more of explanation as to how these components have an intimate relationship, read this article.
If I had to choose one for players to hone in on, however, it would be strength and conditioning.
Before you send the hate mail, hear me out. Oh, and read this article word-for-word before you give your opinion. Because I DO provide plenty of caveats and scenarios, so stick with me here before you furiously tap away in the comment section and flood my email inbox with resentment.
As much as I love the technical aspect of the game (hello, I lived and played in Brazil for a year), to some extent, youth players don’t need as much extra skills training as you think. At least formal skills training.
Still, I see clubs holding mandatory technical nights. Still, I see clubs hiring technical trainers. Still, I see parents signing their child up for 100 skills camps in the summer. Still, I see players with more than one technical trainer. Still, I see coaches making technical training mandatory, not strength and conditioning. Still, I see clubs treating the soccer strength coach like the dog poop on their shoe.
Sorry I got belligerent off the bat, but look, Bunky: I’m also a skills trainer. So there’s no bias in this article. Only experience and perspective of what players need for the long haul to attack the game with confidence.
Also, coming from a woman who watches the Premiere League every Sunday for four hours, don’t argue with me.
I’ve noticed a couple of things about the game: most goals are scored off of a maximal speed run, diagonal without the ball through defenders, or 50-yard run onto a cross from the flank. Did I mention, without the ball?
Other things I’ve noticed: most players get injured in the second half, most youth players suffer overuse injuries from lack of strength and balance training and no real off-season, and most female athletes aren’t strong enough to be safeguarded from the ACL epidemic, or resilient enough to survive a tackle without rolling an ankle.
No 5-day-6-hours-of-training-a-day, crammed skills camp in the 100 degree heat of the summer can protect them.
No technical trainer that makes them dance through agility rings can make them stronger.
No added Monday night club-wide skills training can be get them to change direction safely and efficiently without blowing out a knee.
Okay, okay. Here’s Caveat #1. You know, because I’m a professional blogger in year 2019 and want to be as articulate in my message as possible: none of this is to say technical training isn’t important.
Some of the most dazzling moments in the game happen with the ball, whether this is from a 1v1 juke against a defender, or a center mid swirling around a double team and out of pressure, or a David Beckham bending free kick into the upper 90.
Sometimes, all of the buckets of the game need to be filled equally. The technical. The tactical. The physical. The mental.
Soccer is a multifaceted game, and the best, healthiest players balance all of them.
Again, I have witnessed too much emphasis on the technical.
It is non-stop year round. And more often than not, the strength coach gets put on the back burner because of all of the skills training shenanigans going on.
Again, I’m a skills trainer, too. But I’m also a strength and conditioning coach. Both buckets – technical and physical – need to be filled equally if we want to do our players a performance AND injury prevention service.
Expounding further, players are getting enough technical work in their team practices. Especially if they have a good coach, they’re getting 30, hardcore minutes of meticulous technical training at each team practice. That happens 2-3x a week.
That’s a lot of a skills.
And here’s caveat #2: if your kid does not have a good coach who doesn’t do a technical portion in practice, then maybe it is best to get a technical trainer to address specific skills.
And if your kid doesn’t have a coach who instills in him/her the accountability to practice skills on their own time, then maybe you need a technical trainer for motivation.
But I’ll be honest: if you want them to play in college, kids need some degree of intrinsic motivation and an insatiable desire to spend time with their ball. On their own.
Once your kid has learned all of the foundational skills by age 12 (because, every kid should know all of the turns, fakes, trick shots, passing techniques by this age), then the rest just becomes their desire and passion to practice on their own time.
What’s funny is, skills training can be done without a trainer once all of the movements are nailed down.
What’s even funnier is, strength training can’t be done without a trainer without a child’s life being on the line. The risk of pushing the weights too heavy with terrible form is too high.
With that said, this portion of soccer training needs supervision, and it needs to be thought out and planned in cycles with customized programs.
Strength and conditioning, to that end, is a periodized methodology that must be approached with great care. Admittedly, I don’t know why sessions with the strength coach aren’t mandatory.
On a side note: every athlete, if you’re listening, please stop going to Planet Fitness on your own. Stop. Just. Stop. You need a strength coach for this.
I have an idea, instead: go Game of Thrones on me, and build a wall. Play wall ball and work on your skills on your own.
Oh, and go see a strength coach (under supervision) so you can actually progress and have someone calculate 78% of your hip thrust max for you:
…without getting a herniated disc.
Caveat #3: Maybe your child needs a technical trainer to help facilitate the process of skills motivation. That is fine in my book. But eventually, they’ll need to learn autonomy, especially if they want to play at a high level in college.
This reminds me: I saw one of my college girls home for the summer at 7am on the 100 degree turf field rocketing shots and practicing her 1v1 moves. The reason why she got to such a high level was her passion for practicing technique on her own time.
Of course, she still saw her strength coach (me) to further progress her in the weight room and help her with tremendous feats of strength and insane progressions with great care:
Too, if you’re super high level, perhaps you do need a technical trainer to step in as a defender for crazy progressions like this:
Caveat #4: If you’re working with a high level player like Alex Morgan, perhaps she does need more attention-to-detail technical work with a trainer. As Beat Mode Soccer has spoken about before, the “separating touch” to create a small space against a defender and crack a shot in a split second.
Caveat #5: Sometimes, skills training evolves into a high level of detail. I’d argue skills sessions should eventually become detailed and super position-specific so kids get the most out of them, as a lot of this cannot be accomplished in a team setting.
Of course, it’s worth mentioning this all will be a case-by-case situation with each player needing different things, but more often than not, players need to maintain and build their strength so they’re able to stay on the field for the long haul.
And skills trainers need to be more cognizant of when to back off on training load when a kid has four games on the weekend. Periodization 101.
So let me ask you this:
What are your players doing to recover and not suffer overuse?
What are your players doing to develop single leg stability?
What are your players doing to build hamstring strength to reduce ACL?
What are your players doing to be able to decelerate safely?
They’re solid questions, no doubt.
Personally, I’m sick of the injuries. In fact, I’m PISSED. And when Fitsoccerqueen is pissed, it’s not good.
Too often, girls come to me with tendinitis.
Too often, girls come to me post-ACL surgery.
Too often, girls come to me with IT band syndrome.
How are we going to solve this injury epidemic once and for all? HOW?
I’ll give you a hint: not added skills sessions.
As a skills trainer myself, it was a tough pill for me to swallow, too. I had to evolve in my methods and incorporate more strength training to ensure my athletes were reducing chance of injury and able to withstand the demands of the game.
Here are some samples of on-field strength movements that will work wonders for your players:
Eccentric Hamstring Strength
Gluteus Medius Activation
Single Leg Loading and Force Absorption:
Hip Adductor Activation:
Of course, this all is just glossing over the tip of the iceberg. You see, I don’t just complain here. My mission is to provide you all with actionable steps and exercises for your athletes. Skills coaches and team coaches alike can execute these.
With that said, I challenge coaches, clubs, and skills trainers to help their players become total athletes, who is yes, are technically sharp, but who can play the full 90 with confidence and resilience.
Skills training is great. But we also need to balance out all aspects of the game. Don’t poo-poo on the strength coach.
Use them. They’re there to help. We’re good people, yo.
Strength training, to that end, shouldn’t disappear. Ever. And skills sessions should never replace strength sessions. Both must work in conjunction with one another in order for our players to develop into their best and healthiest selves.
End of story.