Soccer Conditioning Running Laps

Why Are You Running Laps At Soccer Practice?

This is a question that all coaches, at all levels, should ask themselves and reflect on their soccer training sessions. For many years soccer coaches have used laps to “warm up” soccer players or increase their endurance. We should all reexamine this thinking.

Last month a friend of mine, Coach Mike, called me and he sounded a little upset.  He knew my philosophy on soccer players running laps and we had a long discussion about it earlier in the year.  Coach Mike is successful High School coach that holds a USSF “C” license and in years past has coached many youth academy teams. He is well respected and liked by players, parents and the soccer community.  While developing both Blast The Ball and our new SoccerU series I would often sit in the bleachers watching his players practice and play.

His ten year son had a practice that night and he was appalled at what he saw. There were a total of ten teams on the filed ranging from 9 years old up to 16 year old players.  A short while after the practices started he looked out at the fields and 9 out of 10 of then teams were running laps.  Needless to say his jaw dropped as he watched this spectacle.

Finally he walked over to the club’s coaching director and said, “Hey Tom, nice running club you have here.” Of course Tom looked at him strangely and said, “What do you mean?”  Mike proceeded to have an education session with him.  “Look out at the fields Tom and tell me what you see.  You have nine out of ten teams running laps. It looks like a cross country club rather than a soccer club. Don’t you think the coaches would have learned by now?”  Tom the director shook his head in agreement and told Mike that he would address the issue at the next coaches meeting.  Tom the director understood the problem but his coaches failed to truly grasp what they were doing.

One of the biggest challenges we face as youth coaches is the lack of time. We have one to two hours, twice a week for about 12 weeks to mold and shape young children and adults into well trained soccer players. There simply is not enough time.  Using ANY of this valuable time on anything other than “soccer training” is simply insane.  Every thing you do during your practice should be geared towards touches, control and improving “soccer skills”.

Here’s a great question for you.  If you have “soccer players” running laps, why do they not have a soccer ball at their feet while running?  Simply by adding a soccer ball at least we have incorporated something related to soccer. If you can’t break your old habit “cold turkey” at least change the method.

If you run laps to warm up players, why not have them pair up and run dribbling and passing grids?

10 minutes of this has the same cardio benefit as running laps, but they work on dribbling, moves, passing and receiving while exercising at the same time.   This can be setup by the players and run as soon as they get to the field. This gives you, the coach, more time to set up your sessions.  Also, guess what you can do before Saturday’s game to warm up? You got it, the same drills. The other team will be impressed that the players took control of their own warm up and looked like a truly organized team.

Are you using laps as a punitive measure?  I won’t dig deep into this subject but it is VERY clear that running laps or associating running as punishment is a very stupid move.

Conditioning?
Let’s face it; soccer players don’t jog an entire soccer game. They have short bursts of sprinting speed followed by recovery running or walking.  We should try and condition them for how they are going to play as well as increase their ball handing and general soccer skills.

One of the best ways to do this at any level, even the collegiate level, is the use of small side game drills or wave drills.  Here is an example.

Set up two small goals with cones, 4 feet wide, or Pugg goals about 30 – 40 yards apart.

Have the players run 1 v 1 or 2 v 2 wave attacks.

As soon as the ball goes in the net or crosses the end line, the next wave begins.

You can also make players touch the goal after shooting and then have a race back to the other end. (My favorite for conditioning.)

Keep the numbers few. This makes sure players only have a short “recovery” time in between attacks.

If you have a lot of players set up several fields.

This wave format game is ABSOLUTLEY exhausting, teaches fast attack, 1 v 1 skills, and teaches players to recover quickly after a play is finished.

If you are a youth soccer coach I want you to remember this golden rule.

When you train young soccer players you are trying to teach them things that will STAY with them for a lifetime. Dribbling, receiving, shooting, passing, heading, trapping and moves are all skills that once learned and mastered, will stay with their mind and body forever.  Conditioning leaves them once it stops.
Skills that are learned are long term, endurance is short lived.
Speed, endurance and strength are attributes we want to develop in mature competitive players, not a 10 year old that wants to have fun and learn the game

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