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Pre-season soccer (football) training: a comprehensive guide for football players

By Sportlane Team, 8 May 2020

It is a well-known fact that pre-season football training is one of the most important elements in players preparation for the upcoming season or its resuming after the break. Those who has a possibility take part in intensive short-terms football (soccer) camps, others do train individually or within their local environments. We have prepared this in-depth guide, first of all, specifically for the second group of players.

 

Significance of pre-season training in football (soccer)

In 2015, Nathan Redmond (20 years old at the time, an ex-player of Norwich City FC & England team U21) gave an interview to the Telegraph [1] on his pre-season training. He noted among other things that:

Today, Nathan Redmond is 25 years old and has been playing successfully for Southampton FC (FA Premier League, England) and England’s national first team. 

nathan redmond pre-season soccer training
Nathan Redmond of FC Southampton, England. Credit: Southampton FC archive

We refer to his interview to focus on the following moments: a) pre season football training is one of the most important stages in a football player's development and it must be taken with all due seriousness; b) if the player wants to improve the athletic performance faster, he/she needs to have an individual training plan; this is especially true for off-season football training, when the athletes mostly train individually; and finally, soccer strength and conditioning training is an indispensable part of the overall training process in modern football.

What’s more important is that all these findings are fully supported by science and statistical research. In particular, a study has been conducted [2] which tracked the performance of football clubs in the first five games of the season and evaluated them in terms of how their performance affected the clubs’ position at the end of the regular season. The research team paid particular attention to the financial budget of the clubs concerned. The pro clubs from Serie A, La Liga, FA Premier League, BundesLiga and French League 1 were evaluated as well.

The study showed that performance in the first 5 games of the season affects clubs differently, depending on their budget and financial capabilities. In the case of small-budget teams, points gained after the first five matches significantly affected the club’s final position. The higher position the clubs had after the first 5 games, the higher ranking they had at the end of the season. That being said, the smaller budget the football club had in its possession, the stronger the correlation between its performance in the first five games of the season and the final ranking at the end.

However, this correlation does not apply to the clubs with big budgets. Their position after the first five games does not affect their final ranking at the end of the season at all. The reasoning is quite simple. For small-budget clubs, a good performance at the beginning of the season usually inspires the team, like they are on the right track. As a result, the players become more confident and they do their best in each consecutive match so as not to lose the points and possible bright perspectives.

On the other hand, the players of the big-budget clubs feel confidence in their capabilities despite a bad start to the season. Put simply, they know that the team is comprised of highly talented individuals and coaches, financially strong, - so, if they “find their game”, they will recover the negative point balance quickly enough.

 

What practical implications do the findings have for the coaching of football teams?

a) Coaching staff of teams with a small budget need to focus on:

b) Coaching staff of teams with a big budget need:

That being said, one can argue that off-season soccer training is of great importance for the vast majority of professional clubs, soccer academies and athletes, whereas individual pre-season training plays a key role in teams’ overall preparation. With that in mind, we will examine individual training plans that are recommended by football experts for young players, that might be used for soccer endurance, fitness, and strength training as well technical preparation. 

For your interest: there are a variety of soccer camps presented on Sportlane which cater specifically for pre-season soccer training. For instance, a soccer camp at the WOSPAC football academy in Barcelona (Spain) offers «Normal» and «Pro» packages. An intensive pre-season football training camp is run by the International Center for European Football in Evian (France). There are also sports programs (e.g., organized by EduKick football academy in Manchester, England) aimed at preparing players for football trials and helping them to participate in them. You can always see the whole list of soccer camps organized all over the world. 

 

II. Individual pre-season soccer training plans and practice

 

A.  A 4-week training plan for soccer players focused on speed, endurance and mobility.

Expert: Tom Henson is an accredited coach (UKSCA) in physical training at FC Southampton (Premier League, England). This is a plan for players aged 17-21.

Week 1

When it comes to preseason football training, the first thing that comes to mind for athletes is jogging to nausea. Under this plan, the first week of football training is designed to bring the athletes back to training mode after a few weeks of vacation. Balanced cardio loads will not be stressful for the body if interval sprints are started from the very beginning, but will serve as a good base for aerobic preparation before the subsequent exercises. This week's other two football training drills should be anything but uniform cardio, to improve muscle and cardiovascular mobility, without a monotonous load like running. 

Session 1: 45 minute run. Must work up a little sweat, average heart rate. Focus on 70% of your maximum heart rate.

Session 2 and 3: General sports exercises, maybe swimming, cycling (in-door cycling), rowing machines, etc..

Week 2

This week's exercise focuses on super-compensating for lactic acid in the muscles. The main idea is the following: the increase in the intensity of the load should be compensated by an increase in the rest time, which will help to correctly move from aerobic to anaerobic exercises. This week's training will improve your ability to accumulate higher levels of lactic acid in your muscles and maintain high levels of exercise over a longer period of time; that is, you will have strength, even at the end of the match, while many others will be running out of it. Intensive energy consumption will also help you burn the calories gained during the vacation and lose surplus weight.

Session 1: "3-2-1" interval sprints. Use a treadmill or exercise on the field. Run as fast as possible for 3 minutes, then rest for 1 minute. Then run again for 2 minutes, then rest for 2 minutes. Then, run for 1 minute and rest for 3 minutes. This exercise will take 12 minutes. Repeat it 3 times (36 minutes).

Session 2: Runs to reach VO2 max

VO2 max shows the maximum amount of oxygen (in milliliters) per kilogram of weight that an athlete is able to absorb in a minute at maximum physical activity.

The exercise itself is performed in the following way: stand on the goal line and run the whole field to the opposite goal 4.5 times (back and forth) within 2 minutes. Then you rest for 2 minutes. Repeat the exercise 6 times.

Week 3

Good soccer endurance training for VO2max makes no sense if an athlete's muscles are saturated with lactic acid and the body "stops" working. It's time for shorter interval exercises with increased intensity. They allow you to train at a level just above the lactate threshold, but with increased intensity - that is, conditions close to a real match.

The lactate threshold is a specific level of effort or pace at which fatigue begins to increase rapidly. So, for an experienced runner, it happens at 90% of the maximum heart rate, which corresponds to the pace at a distance between 10k and half a marathon. Soccer players, naturally, have other lactate threshold values, depending on the level and age.

In other words, the athlete will be able to maintain a high intensity in the match, because of previous training in a higher intensity mode. Training games "5-a-side" are a good exercise in this sense, because players are forced to do frequent short sprints in different directions (behind the ball, without the ball), while it also helps to improve the athletes' speed and agility training capacity.

Session 1. Interval sprints.

Sprint for 1 minute, followed by a jog at a calm pace for 1 minute. Needs 10 repetitions.

Session 2. Interval Sprint 1/3

Increase the intensity. Sprint for 45 seconds, then quiet run for 2 minutes 15 seconds. It only takes 8 repetitions.

Session 3. Football Practice

Ideally, a 5-a-side football game. If there is no such opportunity - work with the ball by yourself. Exercises for independent work with the ball will be described below. 

Soccer fitness training at ICEF football academy in Evian, France
Soccer fitness training at ICEF football academy in Evian, France

 

Week 4

According to this plan, the last week of football fitness training before the competition includes a mixture of sprints at different distances with a change of direction. These exercises will prepare the body for playing situations on the field. In this case, you should try to do exercises of high quality: be mobile, make quick turns, accelerate powerfully.

Session 1. Shackle Running.

Sprint from the goal line to the goalkeeper line, then back on foot. Then a sprint from the goal line to the penalty mark, then you walk back on foot. Sprint from the goal line to the half-way line, then walk back. Repeat this cycle 6 to 8 times depending on fatigue.

Session 2. Exercise "clock".

Take 12 cones and place them around the center circle, or in a circle in another place if you do not exercise on the football field. The cones represent a clock – put an extra cone to mark 12 o’clock. The starting point is always the center of the circle. Run to the 3 o’clock position and go back to the center; then run to the 6 o’clock cone and return to the center, then the 9 o’clock cone and then the 12 o’clock. Rest as long as you need. Repeat it twice.

Then do one sprint set for 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 o’clock. Rest as long as you need.

Then, do one set of sprints to all the cones for 1 o’clock, 2, 3, 4 o’clock, etc. That's the end. 

Try to run to the cones both clockwise and counterclockwise - so that there is load on both legs.

Session 3. Ideally play football in 5- a-side format.

If there is no chance to play 5-a-side, work with the ball yourself. The exercises will be described below.

Please note that there are many professional soccer camps (5 days and up to 2-3 months) and long-term football / soccer academies  (from 3 months up to 2 years)presented on Sportlane, which have an excellent reputation within the football community for their high-quality coaching of young players, who may continue their careers in pro or semi-professional football. Students can either train and study according to the school curriculum, or (for athletes aged 16 and above) they can only train, dedicating all their time to football and their career. There are soccer camps and academies in England, Spain, France, USA, Portugal, Greece, etc.

 

B. Pre-season strength and conditioning football training

Expert: John Cissik (20 years of experience in strength and conditioning training of athletes from university level to Olympians, NFL and MLS players, Iron Man participants, etc., author of 10 books on physical training). This soccer workout is suitable for high school and university students who wish to improve their strength training in soccer. 

Modern football is a very demanding game. To improve the game on the field, athletes must improve their athletic performance and physical fitness, including speed, strength, agility and endurance. Off-season is the best time for that kind of training.

Below is a 6-month off-season soccer workour plan that caters specifically for soccer players. It is divided into 3 phases (month 1, months 2-3, months 4-6). If you have a shorter preseason time bracket, you can do follow the part of the that fits into the off-season "window" (i.e., if you have 2 months for pre-season soccer training, then follow this plan only for 2 months). 

We have added videos to some of the exercises to make it easier to understand how to do them properly.

Month 1.

The first month is designed to help you get in shape and start developing basic techniques of speed, strength and mobility. There are three training sessions per week, with the first focusing on strength, the second on speed and mobility, and the third on endurance.

Day 1

Day 2. 

10-15 minutes of speed and agility technique drills

 

Day 3. Do each exercise with a med ball. Perform each for 30 seconds and repeat the circuit three times.


 

Months 2-3

Soccer fitness training during the second period, months 2-3, includes training 5 times a week. Three sessions are dedicated to strength & power training, and the other two are aimed at improving speed performance, mobility and plyometrics (sharp muscle movements, such as jumps and accelerations).

Day 1

Day 2.

Day 3.

Day 4

Day 5

Do each exercise with your body weight. Perform each for 30 seconds and sprint for 30 seconds between exercises. Repeat the circuit three times.

 

Months 4-6

In this phase there are also five strength soccer training sessions per week. However, the exercises are a little more complex and aim to increase the level of physical preparation more intensively.

Day 1

Day 2

10-15 minutes of speed and agility technique drills

Day 3

Sprints:

Day 4

10-15 minutes of speed and agility technique drills

Sprint to Lateral Shuffle: 3x30 meters (switch sides every 5 meters)

Sprint to Backpedal: 3x30 meters

Standing Long Jump: 1x5

Counter-Movement Jump: 1x5 (stick landing)

Day 5

Back Squats: 3x12-15 @ 60%

Lunges: 3x12-15

Good Mornings: 3x12-15

Back Raises: 3x12-15

Calf Raises: 3x12-15

Half-field Games: 20-30 minutes

The abovementioned football strength training program will help you get in shape by the time the season kicks off. It needs to be remembered that strength training for youth is of great importance to develop thier overall fitness as modern soccer requires more and more power and athletism from the players.
 

III. Soccer training drills aimed at developing technique, speed, dribbling and quick decision making

This set of exercises for preseason football training should be done either on general physical training days (e.g., as in the 4-week plan above) or on individual days. However, it is not recommended to perform these exercises on strength and conditioning days.

Expert: Scott Wright from Coerver Coaching (36 years of company's coaching experience)

 

Ball mastery and controll soccer drills (1)

As you will see in the video for these ball mastery soccer drills, you will need cones and, preferably, a partner (but you can do it yourself). It is important when you do an exercise, in particular when rolling the ball, to keep your knees slightly bent and your body tilted forward.

Part 1: Start running in place without touching the ball between the feet for 1 minute. Next, start rolling the ball between the feet back and forth, make 20-30 touches.

Part 2: You roll the ball between your feet and, at the same time, your partner picks up cones of different colors and you must quickly see and name the color of the cone. If there are no cones at all, or only cones of the same color, your partner can use any items at hand - for example, showing you the cap, bottle, etc. in turn. The key point is for the athlete to keep rolling the ball between the feet and quickly raise the head to identify the object correctly.

Do this exercise for 1 minute.

If you don't have a partner, just spread handy things in different directions: roll the ball, raise your head to the sides and name the thing.

Part 3: Roll the ball 10 times with each foot (see video).

Part 4: Roll the ball between your feet 10 times -> run to one of the cones → go back to the ball and roll it again between your feet 10 times → run to another cone, etc. (watch the video)

How these football training drills help: it helps the football player to develop the ball mastery skills with each foot and the ability to notice what is going on the field while still in possession of the ball. It also improves your agility and movement capacities. 

 

Ball mastery and controll soccer drills  (2)

Start at low speed to master each element of the exercise. As soon as you understand the specifics, increase the speed of movements. Do it with slightly bent legs, body is a little bit tilted forward, head is up to see the field.

How this ball mastery soccer drills help: it helps the football player to develop dribbling skills with each foot and the ability to notice what is going on the field, while still in possession of the ball. It also improves your overall technical skills, agility and movement patterns. 

 

Passing football drills: first touch of the ball  

First of all, do the exercise as shown in the video. Next, you can make it a bit more complicated: try to use the outside of the foot to stop the ball and then pass with the inside of the foot, then vice versa; receive the ball with the inside and pass with the outside of the same foot. Then, do the exercise with the other foot in the same way.

How this passing soccer drill helps: It improves the player's first touch of the ball, mobility and speed when passing and receiving it. As a result, a player feels more confident in controlling the ball when he is "pressed" by an opponent. The footballer learns to make correct game decisions faster under pressure; it is easier for him to develop attack in different directions when the opponent attacks and "cuts off" the free space.

 

Soccer drills on shooting the ball

How to do the exercise: try to hit the goal as soon as possible, use no more than two touches to receive and process the ball. Before hitting the ball, take a quick look at the goal and the point where you want to hit it. Hit the ball with the outside of your foot for a power kick and with the inside of your foot for an accurate kick. As you can see on the video, on the goal net, there are some colored bibs: when the athlete gets a pass - the coach tells them which bib to aim at.

How this shooting soccer drill helps: this football exercise helps to improve the skills of shooting the ball with both feet from different positions, in the shortest possible time (thus preparing the athlete for real game situations, when time is limited and the opponent puts pressure on you).

 

Technical soccer drills: passing the ball

Do this football practice as shown in the video. Use cones for marking or, in their absence, other handy objects (bag, bottle, cap, etc.).

How this soccer drill helps: This exercise will help to develop mobility and speed on the first touch of the ball when receiving passes under pressure. The exercise develops ball control when a player needs to change the direction and angle of the attack if an opponent "cuts off" either side. Most importantly, it improves passing skills under intense pressure.

 

Soccer drills on improving the weak foot

How this soccer drill helps: Obviously, improving your weak foot boosts a player’s confidence a lot, and helps to expand different aspects of the game; for example, now you can shoot with a weak foot, you can dribble, you can receive a ball and change the attack angle, etc. So, it is never too late to start working on your weak foot; you can really improve your play significantly if you put your mind to it. 

 

Finally, please, take a look at the video below with a list of great individual soccer (football) drills:

 

Conclusion

Naturally, there are dozens of other exercises that a player can do independently as part of pre-season preparation. We have included only those that are key to effectively achieving the goal of proper preseason training. Please, do them within your pre-season physical conditioning training plans, following the strength & condition plans or a 4-week plan, etc.)

In addition, we recommend paying attention to international football camps and academies and programs that are aimed at intensive training of athletes to their maximum potential. For example, EduKick Football Academy has branches in different countries (Spain, England, Italy, Mexico) and offers both short-term programs from 1 week to 3 months, and long-term programs - up to 2 years of training.

 

IV. Preseason soccer endurance training with an emphasis on general fitness

Expert: Matt Springham, FC Brentford, physical conditioning coach (Championship, England)

Exercise 1. Shackle Running

After a 10-minute warm-up, including quality stretching, stand half way between the goal line and the center of the pitch. Do a 10-meter sprint in any direction, walk back to your starting position and then sprint 10 meters in another direction – walk 10 meters back. Repeat 10 times. The sprints should be at 80% of your maximum speed. This exercise is good in that it copies the conditions of a real match, where you will often have to make short sprints in different directions.

Exercise 2. Endurance runs

After the first exercise, drink some water. Stand on the corner of the field, run at 80% of your maximum speed around the field along the markup lines for 4 minutes. Rest for 30 seconds. Repeat the cycle 3 more times, with 30 seconds rest between each cycle.

It is important that the athlete tries to run evenly during each 4-minute cycle. This exercise is aimed at maintaining endurance and will help to preserve strength and "breath" until the end of the match. 

Exercise 3. Long sprints

Now the heavy part begins. Stand on the corner of the field and run at maximum speed to the opposite corner of the field diagonally. Rest for 30 seconds and then run like this to the adjacent corner flag. Rest for 30 seconds. Then, run diagonally to the opposite corner check box. Relax for 30 seconds. Run to the adjacent corner, which is your original starting position.

Repeat the exercise.

For a good video with examples of the above soccer drills to improve endurance and dribbling as part of pre-season training, see below:

That's the end of the session. 

 

Conclusion 

Obviously, the ultimate goal of any sports pre-season training, or football training as its part, is to improve athletic performance to the maximum potential. There are many ways to accelerate the progress of players, but the most popular remains participation in special football camps or training in professional football academies.

We, at Sportlane, search for and select the best football programs all over the world, and partner with their organizers. You may find it interesting to check out our short-terms football (soccer) camps or long-term football academies - or explore all avaiable options (soccer camps and academies) alltogether. Graduates of many of them have been able to break through to the highest level, e.g. right up to the APL clubs.

If you need help or assistance, please contact us by any means you deem fit.

Footnotes:

[1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/11789082/11-things-you-didnt-know-about-pre-season-football-training.html

[2] Lago-Peñas, C & Sampaio, J. (2015). Just how important is a good season start? Overall team performance and financial budget of elite soccer clubs. Journal of Sports Sciences. 33(12): 1214-1218