It’s the time of the season that adults typically fear; the endless laps, the ‘bleep test’, the military-style circuit training with one-minute planks and a 12 minute run. The thoughts of not seeing a ball for six weeks and having to take your ‘runners’ every week as doing those miles in your Copa’s on rock hard ground wasn’t fun for your feet. And why? Because someone can recall, back in their youth (circa 1960′s), that this was the way to get people fit and ready for the test of a gruelling 8-month long slog of a season through the hardened English winters.
So, it makes sense knowing what we do about physical development principles now to question some of these approaches to training. For example, doing a 12 minute run makes you a good 12 minute runner, it doesn’t make you a good footballer. Nor fit for the game because the game actually bears no resemblance to a constant 12 minute run. Therefore, why do you do it?
It makes even more sense to question why we see this with children! I kid you not, 9-year olds doing the ‘plank’ have been witnessed on playing fields of the south east of England this very preseason! This post is not going to give you the answers about what to do or how to plan for a whole preseason but more to ask you to think about this question – Why are you doing what you are doing? What is the benefit? Is it appropriate?
This time of the year is important and it could be for a number of factors. You might have new children that have joined the team and you need to integrate them with existing members. You might have new parents that then come with expectations of their perception of what a ‘coach’ is and what ‘preseason looks like’ so these need managing too. You might need to get the kids running about and into some kind of physical shape if they have not done much exercise throughout the summer. You might be going to a different format of the game and you need to introduce the young players to an alternative formation. There could be all sorts of different elements to consider and these need careful pontification.
Therefore, rather than do what you did as a youngster yourself, or regurgitate those adult-centric drills that we think worked for us, or repeat what you did last season and the three before that, take a good look at the process for the next few weeks ahead.
What does age-appropriate training look like?
Young children don’t have the same bodies as adults; they don’t regulate temperature and deal with hot and cold in the same way ours do, they don’t deal with high intensity bouts of exercise as their anaerobic systems aren’t fully developed yet…so park those shuttles and find a different way to help them.
The challenge is to decide what is appropriate for the age of the young people you are working with. This could vary from no fitness related sessions at all and a focus still on developing fundamental movement skills and functional movement skills with little ones to doing some elements of capacity building, game speed and game strength with U18 players.
How can you make the experience one that doesn’t scare players for life?
We all have our own reservations about preseason training and you can sense my feelings on what I have endured in the past by the tone of this blog! So as a coach, how can you make this fun and enjoyable for the young players? These sessions have to be fun and where possible involve a ball too. Just because there is a ball doesn’t mean the players aren’t working.
For example, playing four games of 4v4 for 4 minutes (on a small pitch and small goals) with the simple conditions of a) the coach having lots of balls ready to use, b) the ball has to come back into play within 4 seconds and c) the player in possession has to be closed down within 4 seconds, can be an incredibly tough and high tempo workout. And this closely replicates the game they are getting fit for.
Whatever your aims and outcomes are for the preseason period, please give them some thought. Plan appropriately for the group of modern day learners you have in front of you, use modern day coaching methods and make this an enjoyable start to the season. Now, wouldn’t that be a modern approach for this time of year?!
Written by: Nick Levett, author at Youth Football Development