The physiological demands of soccer are diverse and complex due to the intermittent and multidirectional nature of the sport. Soccer players need to possess both aerobic and anaerobic fitness, as well as strength and flexibility in their muscles to perform technical actions effectively. Planning soccer practice requires a multi-dimensional approach that addresses various components of fitness.
It is specifically important in case of the player trying to structure a soccer practice plans on its own (i.e. to be training individually). Yet, the constraints of a busy schedule, including competitive games, team soccer training and other activities (e.g. studying), make it challenging to properly incorporate numerous training sessions.
To overcome these challenges, a complex approach to training is necessary, which integrates physical, technical, tactical, and mental qualities simultaneously. Detailed planning of both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) training sessions is crucial to ensure efficiency and maximize performance improvements.
Periodization, a theoretical model for training planning, provides a framework for systematically varying football practice routines. It involves dividing the training process into phases, macro-cycles, and micro-cycles, allowing for proper adaptation and preventing fatigue or injury.
While periodization has been widely used in sports like track and field, its direct application to team sports like soccer is limited. The nature of soccer, with its multiple physical training goals and frequent competitive games, makes it challenging to follow traditional periodization models. However, variations in training load can still be achieved within the smallest planning unit, the micro-cycle, which can be adjusted based on the number of days between matches.
Research studies have shown that effective training in soccer requires a structured approach that includes progressive overload, individualization, and specificity . Progressive overload involves gradually increasing the training load to improve athletic performance, ensuring that the body is continually challenged and adapted to higher demands.
Individualization recognizes that each player is unique in their abilities and potential for improvement, and soccer practice plans should be tailored to their specific needs and goals. Specificity ensures that the training sessions resemble the physiological demands and movement patterns of the sport, allowing players to develop skills that directly transfer to match situations.
When delivering football specific training, it is important to include soccer practice drills that target the desired physiological objectives while also improving technical and tactical skills. Small-sided games (SSG) have been widely recognized as particularly beneficial for soccer training . SSGs involve playing matches with reduced numbers of players on smaller fields, allowing for maximum contact time, efficient training, and simultaneous improvement of various capacities.
The intensity of SSG can be influenced by modifying factors such as the number of players, pitch size, game rules, and duration. By manipulating these variables, coaches can create specific training environments that elicit the desired physiological adaptations while incorporating technical and tactical elements.
If you are an individual player, we highly recommend inviting your friends and playing SSG together on a regular basis. That is, play 2x2, 3x3, 4x4 and so on during two days a week. It would be a great addition to your team soccer training.
See an example of the soccer practice plan for 4 week time period with SSGs below:
|Week 0||Pre-test||Day off|
|Week 1||Tech + Tact||SSGs #1 + IP||LITR||Tech + Tact||SSGs #2 + IP||LITR||Day Off|
|Week 2||Tech + Tact||SSGs #3 + IP||LITR||Tech + Tact||SSGs #4 + IP||LITR||Day Off|
|Week 3||Tech + Tact||SSGs #5 + IP||LITR||Tech + Tact||SSGs #6 + IP||LITR||Day Off|
|Week 4||SSGs #7 + IP||Tech + Tact||LITR||Tech + Tact||Post-test||LITR||Day Off|
|IP - injury prevention training; LITR - low-intensity recovery session; SSGs - small-sided games # - session number; Tact - tactical session; Tech - technical session. Source: |
The studies also  showed that the submaximal aerobic performance (see Figure below), 4 weeks of SSG training significantly reduced the VO2 at the running speed of 9, 11, and 14 km. Moreover, it also significantly lowered the HR (heart rate) responses at the running speed of 9, 11, and 14 km·h. It means that SSG can significantly improve your stamina capabilities that would help to endure high-intensity games during competitive games (45 or 90 minutes time).
The key objective of training is to bring the player in a high functional state (at the peak of fitness form) directly to the game.
To achieve that task is to correctly select football exercises (football drills).
Athletic performance is to be improved through three components:
- volume and intensity of training sessions;
- proper recovery
The most common for soccer matches to take place one time a week, usually on Saturday. On this basis, let’s consider a sample plan of individual training sessions for the week.
As we have said, training is interval in nature and it should be, ideally, controlled / measured. The heart rate is controlled by mobile heart rate monitors. In our case, a small carbohydrate abstinence is provided. That is, we propose the following: after playing 2 - 3 days, slightly limit yourself in the consumption of carbohydrates (sweets, bakery, lemonades). Then it is important to increase the carbohydrate share in the diet, gradually, day by day to the game. But this should be strictly individual and controlled.
Turning back to our proposed weekly plan (with SSGs included), let’s review which football drills and training routines each category may consist of:
Q. What are tactical soccer exercises?
The problem with tactical soccer drills is that usually you need several people to execute them properly so as to get any significant benefit. Overall, there are many tactical exercises, but they are designed for team training.
Yet, we come up with some football tactical exercises that an individual athlete can train with a small group of at least 2-3 people. Take your friends! :)
Individual tactical actions include opening and closing, leading and circling, hitting the goal, taking the ball away. It is reasonable to teach individual tactical actions in conjunction with the process of mastering techniques (Tech). Otherwise the tactical football practice will be formal and ineffective.
Players opening - means the player goes to a free position that allows him to get rid of the opponent's guardianship, break away from him and, having received the ball, take a shot at goal. An open player can lead the opponent away, clearing the way for one of his partners to the opposite team's goal. The free space is usually played at speed. It may be preceded by a player imitating some passivity in order to mislead the custodian, or it may be preceded by deceptive movements which confuse the opponent. It is possible to open forward, to the side, and, if necessary, backward. And try to do it in time, namely at the moment when your partner is ready to make a pass to the free space.
(1). Three players exercise. They form a triangle on the field with sides of 8 steps. Partners take turns passing the ball to each other in a clockwise direction. Pointing the ball in the direction of a partner, the player runs to his place, etc. After performing 8-10 passes, the players begin to move counterclockwise.
(2). Perform the exercise together with a friend. Moving to an empty space, perform longitudinal and transverse passes. For example, make a pass from point A to your partner at point B, and move yourself to point A1. Your partner from point B makes a longitudinal pass to you (A1) and moves to point B1, etc.
(3). A group of 3 players exercises on a confined area of the field. Each is given a number. The players memorize them. The task of the players is to pass the ball in accordance with the numbers assigned: the first number passes the ball to the second, the second to the third, etc. The players start moving from one side of the field to the opposite side changing sides (i.e. like snakes, changing diagonally) together and pass each other in accordance with the numbers provided.
(4). At least 3 players are needed. They play a traditional game of square / quadrant passing: one player inside the square tries to interrupt the passes and two players pass each other trying to avoid the interruption.
Closing the opponent is an action of the player, which is aimed at taking a good position, preventing the opponent from entering the free space or possession of the ball. The following requirement is taken into account: the closer your opponent is to the goal, the closer you should be to him.
(1). An area of 10x10 paces is marked on the field. You need at least 3 players for this exercise: two attacking players-strikers play against one defender.
Striker B takes a position with the ball near his partner A, showing with outstretched hands where he (A) should run. Player B then passes the ball to player A and then rushes toward the pass, offering himself for the return pass. → b) Player A, once he receives the ball and returns the pass to B, goes to the new free space, but only in the other direction. Player B with the ball, spreading his arms out, points to his partner a new position.
Defender’ C task is to attack the ball carrier and force him to pass to a specific side.
During the exercise, the players periodically change roles.
You can do this exercise with mannequins, whereas two strikers try to score a goal within 6 seconds, and the defender tries to prevent it.
(2). Two defenders play against two forwards. The game is played on a 15x15 paces field.
The task of the defenders is to close the attackers acting with the ball. The defender guarding the striker with the ball seeks to take a position that will delay the opponent's progress and kick the ball away. His partner, acting against the player without the ball, tries to position himself in such a way as to prevent him from taking a good position to receive the ball.
There are many technical soccer drills that you can do on your own or with a partner. Depending on which side of the technical game you want to master on this particular day (e.g. dribbling, finishing attacks, passing), - pick relevant exercises, group them together and get to football practice.
We won’t repeat all the examples of the drills and videos here, just check the links below:
|Master soccer crossing and finishing drills|
|Improve your ball control|
|A variety of drills to train football shooting|
|Fundamentals on training football passing drills|
|And finally, a deep-dive on improving your dribbling technique|
The task is to recover as quickly as possible after an intense football training the previous day ( where you did Tact + Tech).
First off, as usual, proceed with a thorough warm-up. Then get to the Interval training at heart rate up to 160 bpm. The number of repetitions and speed increases, but not the duration of exercises. Pay attention to the recovery in the rest intervals between the reps: they are shorter than on the previous day. Heart rate drops to 100 - 110 bpm, but not more than for 2 minutes.
Remember, that training is of a restorative nature. We have picked some examples of low-intensity soccer exercises for you (see video below) that the player can do alone or with a single partner only:
It is not bad to get a general massage or foot massage on this day. Massage, a light sauna, any cultural events will help to recover. A caloric diet with a high content of vitamins (juices, vegetables, fruits). It is important to restore water-salt, protein and carbohydrate balance in the body.
As we have discussed earlier, small-sided games are a great method to improve the players overall fitness, stamina and decision-making process in a game-like situation. It is recommended to include them in your football practice plans (especially, if your team training sessions take place only 3 days a week and you need to train on your own).
Please, see a table below with the proposed structure of the SSG training :
Important: the proposed plan was tested on elite athletes aged 18-28 years old. That being said, if you are younger than this, decrease the intensity and the number of games, adjust it to your age and physical capabilities.
For injury-prevention soccer training we highly recommend using the official FIFA 11+ Injury Prevention Program which proved its efficacy. Specifically, The FIFA 11+ program reduced injuries in soccer players by 30%, with an estimated relative risk of 0.70 (95% confidence interval, 0.52–0.93, p = 0.01). In the intervention group, 779 (24%) players had injuries, while in the control group, 1,219 (40%) players had injuries .
|I. Running exercises, 8 minutes (starting warming up, in pairs; Path consists of 6-10 pairs of parallel cones)|
|Running Straight Ahead||2|
|Running Hip Out||2|
|Running Hip In||2|
|Running Circling Partner||2|
|Running Shoulder Contact||2|
|Running Quick Forwards and Backwards||2|
|II. Strength, plyometrics, balance, 10 minutes|
|Level 1: static||3×20-30 sec|
|Level 2: alternate legs||3×20-30 sec|
|Level 3: one leg lift and hold||3×20-30 sec|
|Level 1: static||3×20-30 sec (each side)|
|Level 2: raise and lower hip||3×20-30 sec (each side)|
|Level 3: with leg lift||3×20-30 sec (each side)|
|Level 1: Beginner||3-5|
|Level 2: Intermediate||7-10|
|Level 3: Avanced||12-15|
|Level 1: hold the Ball||2×30 sec|
|Level 2: throwing ball with partner||2×30 sec|
|Level 3: test your partner||2×30 sec|
|Level 1: with toe raise||2×30 sec|
|Level 2: walking lunges||2×30 sec|
|Level 3: one leg squats||2×30 sec (each leg)|
|Level 1: vertical jumps||2×30 sec|
|Level 2: lateral jumps||2×30 sec|
|Level 3:box jumps||2×30 sec|
|III. Running Exercises, 2 minutes (End of heating)|
|Running across the pitch||2|
|Running plant and cut||2|
Remember, that IP sessions are of the same importance as usual/intensive football training days, and thus you need to include them into your soccer practice plans.
Pre-test and Post-test are the days when you can optionally do the actual tests to measure and record your results for specific exercises. For example, as it was mentioned before, run 9 km before (Pre-test) and run 9 km after (Post-test) the 4-weeks training period. And then compare results, whether this program does make sense for you at all.
Overall, planning and developing football practice programs require a comprehensive approach that addresses the multi-dimensional demands of the sport. By implementing periodization principles, individualizing training programs, and incorporating specific soccer practice drills, coaches can optimize players' physical development and enhance their performance on the field.
 Impellizzeri, F. M., Marcora, S. M., Castagna, C., Reilly, T., Sassi, A., Iaia, F. M., & Rampinini, E. (2006). Physiological and performance effects of generic versus specific aerobic training in soccer players. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 27(6), 483-492.
 Helgerud, J., Engen, L. C., Wisløff, U., & Hoff, J. (2001). Aerobic endurance training improves soccer performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(11), 1925-1931.
 Hill-Haas, S. V., Dawson, B. T., Impellizzeri, F. M., & Coutts, A. J. (2011). Physiology of small-sided games training in football: a systematic review. Sports Medicine, 41(3), 199-220.
 Owen, A. L., Wong, D. P., Paul, D., Dellal, A., & Djaoui, L. (2014). Effects of a periodized small-sided game training intervention on physical performance in elite professional soccer. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(5), 136-146.
Please note that the references provided are examples and may not cover all relevant research on the topic.
 Sadigursky, D., Braid, J.A., De Lira, D.N.L. et al. The FIFA 11+ injury prevention program for soccer players: a systematic review. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil 9, 18 (2017).