PRE-SEASON – WHEN A LITTLE PLANNING AND PREPARATION CAN GO A LONG WAY TO SUCCESS…
Last updated: 4.29pm, Friday 21st July 2023
Pre-season – when a little planning and preparation can go a long way to success.
In years gone by, pre-season was a time where players of team sports return from a long break and coaches used whatever method they could to get their players fit again. This anecdotally involved running up and down sand dunes, flipping tractor tyres, or scaling the biggest hill near the training ground until enough players had vomited. Some may this has a psychological effect of building resilience or forming relationships in new teams. However, if we don’t think of the stress we are putting the athletes under we may be opening up the perfect storm for injuries that could cost the team when the competitive season begins.
The key to a successful pre-season is planning. Treat your players with the same principles you would at any other time of the season. There is an opportunity in pre-season to improve physical characteristics of the players as the results of the games have no bearing on the outcome of the season. I tend to work back from the dates for competitive fixtures and work out a schedule around getting at least10 training session in with some non-competitive fixtures and work from there. Sprinkle in a little science and you should hopefully have a fresh fit squad for the start of the season.
The breaks are getting shorter between seasons and players overall keep themselves in better condition throughout the year. However, players also require a physical and psychological break from a long hard season. The science tells us that athletes can reduce their VO2 max by up to 14% with more than two weeks of total rest.
Budget for players to rest for approximately 10 days. Then provide training sessions that gradually build up the volume and intensity of training whilst away from the club allows for a smoother transition when they arrive back to training. Be mindful that the purpose is to maintain fitness and be prepared to meet the demands of the season ahead. Therefore, maybe have different expectations between full-time, part-time and amateur athletes. I also find it useful to include sport specific sessions in the weeks before returning to structures training. This will encourage them to get the boots back on and find a local pitch to get them used to what will be asked of them when they are back with the team. *New boots and endless running is a nightmare for Achilles tendons*
This is a phrase that is gradually fading away, and with fitter athletes it can be considered as more of an early season training. Some of the ‘old school’ running was likely based on increasing fitness strength and stamina. All things, we want in our players when the competitive action begins. However, maybe there is a more scientific way to do it.
Planning of the training and match schedule is up to the coaches. With less riding on the result more care can be given to improving fitness and increasing robustness in our athletes. As such we still give a nod to the principles of improving aerobic fitness with 2/3 days per week training 4 reps x 4 minutes runs at 90-95% heart rate, with 3 minutes of recovery at 60-65% heart rate. However it was the great work by Dr Hoff and his group that provided us with the research to show that we can achieve the same improvements in aerobic fitness by performing 4 x 4 minute sessions with a dribbling circuit (Football Conditioning & Fitness Circuit | Football Coaching | Scottish FA) or small sided games (5v5 on 50m x 40m pitch). I know that the players I have worked with would prefer to play the sport they enjoy over doing straight forward running.
Essentially the guidance I would offer to any coaches worrying about pre-season is to take a little bit of time to plan the sessions. You already deliver sessions to focus on a game at the weekend. Aim to mimic that with your training schedule. If you normally work harder on a Tuesday and have more tactical sessions on a Thursday, then stick to this. Gradually increase the more explosive work and high intensity work as you get closer to the competitive fixtures. The aim is that players are at a level slightly above where you need them to be to manage the physical workload required of them for the first week of the season.
It is important to remember that you also might have to adapt your sessions in the first couple of weeks. Have a plan B. It is not a sign of weakness or failure. If players arrive a little deconditioned, then maybe the volume or the intensity of the sessions will have to be reduced in the first week or two. Maybe even allow for players needing to sit out the drills at the end. Having one round less of games in training isn’t going to be the difference between success and failure, but losing players to long term injuries might.
You are likely coaching because of your love for the game. You will likely have a large bank of drills in your head. Almost every drill can be adapted to challenge diffident physical characteristics. Make it enjoyable for everyone, and the results will follow.
The Scottish FA regularly run courses on physical preparation of football players. Keep an eye out on their website if you would like to learn a little more on the science behind it all.
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Whether you are looking for the gold standard VO2 Max fitness assessment or a more health based evaluation we can offer a variety of checks to assist you enjoy being active with the reassurance of an expert analysis of your results and explained in clear language to allow you to move forward.
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