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.

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

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.