Soccer Conditioning

Soccer Coaches Get Rid of the Laps

If you can understand why running laps in youth soccer is huge waste of time you will not only be a better coach, but a better all around youth soccer trainer.

Last year I watched a youth soccer practice and by the time I got home I was still in shock.  Most of my thoughts were simply of renaming the coach to “old school” and I was also a bit angry. I wasn’t angry at the coach. He was doing what he thought was right and what had been taught to him.  I was angry at the director of coaching for this soccer club for not watching his coaches, correcting them and bringing them up to speed on the best practices / methods for youth soccer player development.

Running “laps” in youth soccer is common and done for many reasons. Some coaches use laps thinking it will condition their players. Others use laps for warm ups, while others often use them as punitive exercises for players that are misbehaving. Unfortunately all of these reasons are wrong and slightly misguided.

First look at conditioning.

Youth soccer players and even competitive players don’t run “laps” the entire soccer match. Most of their conditioning needs should be geared towards how they play. Short to medium bursts of extreme speed followed by a slow jog or walk is what they do in a game. This is what we should condition them for. High intensity 1 v 1 or 2 v 2 “wave games” are the best for conditioning players and combine soccer skills with conditioning. If you want to have them do sprints, put a soccer ball on their feet. The players should have a ball on their feet with every form of exercise.  You can increase the number of touches by over 300 each practice simply by adding a soccer ball. Do this over 20 practices and you have increased the number of touches a season by over 6000 per season. By the way, that is more touches than most collegiate players will get during games their entire playing careers. Coaches must design these drills and games so that no players are “standing in lines”. Multiple grids should be used so that players are constantly involved and on the move.

Warm ups:

With such little time available to train youth soccer players, EVERY minute of your practice should involve some form of SOCCER training.  Being prepared really helps with proper warm ups. The warm up section of your practice should include not only ball touches, but player movement as well. Have a series of drill stations set up that keep all players moving and not waiting in line. Focus on dribbling, moves and passing. Instead of your players standing in a circle passing the ball, make them move. Have them touch the ball to the middle of the circle, pass and replace the player they just passed to. Then instead of just one ball, add two or three balls so that it becomes “mayhem” in the circle. Eyes will be watching every direction and players can’t stand still for more than 5 seconds. After 5 – 10 minutes all will be breathing hard and be tired. Now is the time for a good stretch.

Punitive exercise:

Youth players should NEVER be told to run laps or perform physical exercises for misbehaving or breaking rules. This is the time for a CALM, non-embarrassing talk about the behavior. We should let the player know that their behavior is taking away from other players’ training and it should be corrected. If the behavior continues after the talk then players should sit out on more fun activities like scrimmages and small sided games. Let the player know you’re not angry, but the bad behavior needs to have some repercussions. Teaching a soccer player that running is a “negative” is a huge mistake.

Last month I worked with 2 former division one soccer players. I had them run through what I call the “Play and Puke” 1 v 1 session. A high intensity 1 v 1 session, it is extremely taxing on the players but is a TON of fun for them. After the session I asked them a simple question. “What is easier, running laps or playing this game?” The answer was unanimous but hard to hear through the gasping of air, “Running laps is a piece of cake compared to that game.”  Then I asked another question. “Which is better SOCCER training?” Again they all agreed that they used GAME skills in the game while at the same time working muscles they seldom used.

My point is simple. Running laps shows lack of creativity and understanding in a soccer coach. It also wastes valuable time and is not conditioning players for game like conditions. This is not just my theory but also promoted throughout the world of youth soccer. We often hear the phrase, “Remove the three L’s from your practices, Lines, Lectures and Laps.”  Very good advice.

While creating and we tried to get this point across to coaches, parents and players.  Conditioning is short term and only lasts a few weeks after it stops. Once it stops, it is gone forever. Technical training and skill training gets ingrained into the soccer player’s mind and body and becomes a part of them. It will stay there forever so why not combine the two. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of soccer skill related drills and games that can be used for warm-ups. Most include a soccer ball on the player’s feet or them running “off the ball”. So why on earth would you have them spend valuable soccer training time becoming long distance runners?

One of my favorite conditioning / skill games is the “Wave Game”.

How to set up the game:

Field size will vary but should be around 40 yards long and 20 yards wide.

Small goals or two cones are placed on each end.

Players are NOT allowed to shoot until they are within 5 yards of the goal.

3 to 4 players stand ready with a ball on their feet on EACH end. They MUST be ready with a ball on their feet.

The first player receives a pass from an opponent at the other end of a small field. They play 1 v 1 challenge until the ball crosses the end line, whether the ball goes in the goal or not. When the ball crosses the end line, or goes in the goal, the player that kicked the ball across the line must now recover quickly as another player waiting with a ball on the same end is taking off trying to score. The former shooter is now the new defender and must recover quickly. That 1 v 1 match up ends with a player shooting and then the next player, waiting with a ball, charges off trying to score and again the player that shot the ball must recover to defend.  This is an exhausting game / drill that will challenge even professional level athletes.

This training can now be done with in a 2 v 2 format as well. Encourage overlapping and diagonal runs when working this game in a 2 v 2 or 3 v 3 setting. Help offensive players understand that having them both “following the ball” doesn’t open up space or create fast breaking attacks.

High intensity “soccer training” creates well conditioned and skilled soccer players. Laps create good runners. Make sure you know who you’re training.

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