|There are many theories on whether coaches should incorporate fitness only (meaning no ball) training into their practices with youth players. My feeling is if you are practicing once a week, for 1 hour and 30 minutes the entire time should be spent with soccer balls, or as much as possible. Now there are some fun fitness based drills that can be incorporated. Nothing purely fitness based should be too exhausting, and or for long distance.
My primary focus for young players (14 and younger) are attaining or reaching their fast twitch muscle fibers. This is attained by short movement patterns in a confined space. Agility type movements also adds to a young players development in the game of soccer, and can really further their development.
I have copied a few speed and agility drills that you can incorporate into your warm up or at some point during the practice. There is also an interesting article below written about youth conditioning that you might find helpful.
HYS Director of Coaching
The drills shown are taken from the following website: http://www.sport-fitness-advisor.com/soccer-agility-drills.html
| Weave In – Weave Out
1. Place 4 markers out in a straight line approximately 3 yards apart.
2. In between each set of markers place another marker only 3 yards to the left. Sprint from one marker to the next bending down to touch each one with your hand.
3. The emphasis is on taking quick side steps, rather than turning to face the marker and sprinting forward – that takes more time (which don’t have in a game).
| Follow the Leader
1. Mark out a large area – 20 yards by 20 yards for example.
2. Pair up with a team mate and have them run randomly within the area.
3. Try to maintain 2 yards distance from them at all times. Your team mate should be changing direction and pace constantly.
| Box Drill
1. Use 4 cones or markers to mark out a square approximately 5 yards by 5 yards.
2. Place a cone in the center of the square. This is your starting position.
3. Give each corner a number and remember it! Have a team mate (or your coach) call numbers at random.
4. Sprint to the corner shouted and return to the middle.
1. Place 2 markers 20 yards apart. Place marker in the middle only 3 yards to the side. (see diagram)
2. Starting from the middle marker sprint to one end (10 yards), turn and immediately sprint to the other end (20 yards) and then back to the start (10 yards).
3. Turn on a different foot at each marker and try to touch the ground with your hand.
| Super Shuttle
1. Set a series of cones out in a cross formation. (see diagram)
2. Run backwards to the center cone, side step to the right cone (or your left if you are performing the drill), side step back to the center cone still facing the same way.
3. At the center cone turn and sprint forward to the end cone. Now run back to the center cone, side step to the left, side step back to the center, then turn and sprint back to the start.
4. Phew! Sounds complicated – it’s not – the diagram explains it quicker than I can!
1. Place 10 cones in a line 5 yards apart.
2. Weave in and out as fast as possible and walk back to the start.
3. This exercise is often performed much more slowly with a ball. The goal here is to develop speed of leg movement so no ball is used.
| YOUTH CONDITIONING, WRITTEN BY JOHN LYTTON, PRESIDENT, PERFORMANCE UNLIMITED
The cardiovascular aspects of a young player must mature, just as the other parts of the body have to mature. Everyone is aware of the false notion that young players should not lift weights, because of the inability of the body to be able to handle the stress…yet we are putting young players in a considerable amount more stress (5-7 x body weight on joints in every step, during jogging) when we have them repeatedly running countless miles.
We can see, through research, which the “sweet spot” for aerobic training in youth players is during their Peak Height Velocity (PHV) where the aerobic systems are more developed.
Physiologically, there is not much evidence that Vo2Max (quantifiable test that is most often considered the scale for “fitness”) increases with training, before PHV. After the peak velocity of growth, there is considerable effect of this type of training.
Before this PHV “window”, conditioning for young players should be prioritized through the technical demands of the game. What aerobic conditioning that can be gained is more likely to be progressed by consistently performing the nature of the sport. Namely, technical work and game-like scenarios.
However the PHV is individual, this should not excuse coaches to blanket training for all of their players. Understanding that PHV usually does not occur in girls before 12 and boys before 13/14 years old, there is no reason to do endless running drills for young players. The result will only cause injury instead of huge conditioning effects. What we do see, with this training is a high increase in “overuse” or chronic injuries that are caused by too much unspecific conditioning with little rest that tend to be common amongst young teams (have heard it from players as young as 8 years old).
The one aspect of specific running that should be prioritized and shows results through conditioning is speed development. This window (there are 2) is shown at 6-9 years old and 11-14 (girls), 13-16 (boys). Speed is largely dependent on a genetic number of fast twitch fibers, however there are a large number of fibers that are awaiting the body to transition them to slow or fast. Long, slow, aerobic conditioning will force these fibers to slow twitch and lose the ability to create fast movement later in the athlete’s career.