There are many discussions about how different teams prepare for the World Cup. There are many schools of thought when it comes to improving soccer conditioning and fitness.
There are those who believe that playing soccer is the best way to improve your fitness and conditioning.
There are those who believe that running anywhere from 300m to 3km is possible, but primarily without the ball.
Let me tell you, I tend to be on both ends of the discussion.
Get Fit with Soccer
Multiple studies have shown that the maximum distance a player must cover on a soccer pitch is between 10-30 meters. A player can change a type or movement every 4-5 seconds (e.g., sprinting, walking, jumping, back pedaling etc.).
What happens if you do linear runs (200 meters +) without using a ball, and then go out onto the soccer field to perform let’s just say a change in direction every 5-10 second?
Another type of fatigue is possible. To see the livescore difference, run 200 meters straight and then do a 200-meter shuttle (which involves changing of direction). It is much more difficult to run in a change of direction than running straight ahead.
This is why I believe in “playing for fitness”, as it prepares players for the actual game and all its movements.
The biggest reason I believe this method of training works is because of what happens to players after a game when they get tired, both mentally and physically.
Many of us are able to push ourselves as we run suicides and 200-meter shuttles. But what happens when the ball is at our feet?
You must not only have the strength and power necessary to make a good play but you must also “be fresh” inside your head and have high concentration. What happens if you become tired?
It is more difficult to make smart decisions.
This is why you will see more shots and passes being missed at the final game. It is easy to complain about a player missing “a simple” pass at game’s end. If you are a player, you will know the reason this happens. Your mental state and concentration is declining, making it more difficult to make sound decisions.
If you’re looking for a way to keep fit, playing soccer is the best option. You can condition your players to play different kinds of soccer, which will help them to maintain a high level of quality even in the final period. They also learn how to manage fatigue.
Why would anyone want to teach the soccer players how to use the ball for conditioning or fitness?
Primarily, because not all players can maintain a fast enough pace to improve their ball conditioning. This is because not everyone has the ability to perform certain drills.
Technique and dribbling tracks are an example. They have to dribble around and through obstacles. Your technique won’t allow you to improve your soccer skills if it isn’t “average”.
You can perform the same drill/track with or without the ball. Therefore, conditioning without the ball is sometimes important.
Here are my top tips for improving your soccer fitness with or without the ball.
With the ball
1. Play 11 v 11/10 V 10/9 V 9 on a field of 4/5 (penalty box at sideline).
2. Playing 7 v 7, 6 v 6, on half of a soccer field.
3. 5 v 5, 4 v 4, in a 20 meter by 20 meter/30 meters by 30 meter area. You can play this variation with additional players on the sidelines to support your team with the ball. You can make this even more challenging by having the box players play man-man defense where they must follow their man around the defense.
4. 2 v 2/3 V 3 in a smaller area (15 x 15 meters/10 x 10 meter).
I recommend playing these variations for between 4-8 minutes and 2 minutes.
When playing 11 v 11, for example, it is recommended to play up to 8 minutes without taking a break.
Playing 7 v 7, 6 v 6, takes 5-6 minutes
Playing 5 v 5, 4 v 4, takes 3-4 minutes
Playing 2 v 3 v 3 takes 1-3 minutes.
These guidelines are intended for older players (ages 17-24). Make decisions with younger players based on your observations and experience.
These are the methods I recommend for more running and sprinting:
1. 2 v 2 Counterattacks. Two goals are placed at different distances, between 15-40m. Splitting a group into two teams allows you to have the players from each team match up with 2 or 2. The drill begins with one team attacking the other. The defending team wins the ball, or the ball is “dead”, after the attacking team has finished. Next 2 players stand on either side of the posts behind the defending teams and start a counter attack. The team that was attacking now must run towards their goal to stop the other team scoring.
For 2-4 minutes, the drill continues without stopping. It is a good idea to have 6-8 players in each team. However, you can use more or less depending upon your level.
This drill is great because the players must sprint for between 10-30 meters with or without the ball. They also have to make smart decisions, even when fatigued.
2. Raymond Verheijen often uses this phrase with his South Korean players when they prepare for the World Cup.
It’s basically a duel between two players who run for between 10-30 meters to compete for the ball. The coach will deliver the ball to one of them. The winner has the chance to score.
This is a great way to do sprint training in a soccer-based environment. This one is up to your imagination!
Without the ball
1. Agility track. Some drills, especially at the “lower” levels, can be done without the ball. Have the players run as fast as they can through the track by setting up cones with a specific pattern (T, Arrow Head, Arrow Head, etc). You can also encourage conditioning by having them run the track multiple times, with very little rest.
2. 10-40 meter sprints. I sometimes do interval sprints of 10-40 meters without using a ball. It is done mainly because players ask for it.
You can improve your soccer fitness and conditioning by focusing all of your attention on playing soccer. My players do 80-90% of their conditioning with me using the ball in various “game-situations”, while 10-20% does it without the ball. This is mainly through agility drills and sprints.
Last but not least, don’t worry about conditioning if you are working with children aged 8-12/13. Play and have fun. Focus more on coordination and movement skills.