“No laps, no lines, no lectures.” US Youth Soccer Coaching Education

Warming up, without running laps

A recent soccer coaching clinic started with a demonstration of two kinds of warm-ups:

  • one group ran a lap around the perimeter of the complex
  • the other group ran forward and backward, sideways, skipped, and hopped through several gates scattered around the field

Five minutes later, everyone was slightly sweaty — warm-up successful. But the second group had accomplished much more than the group running laps: they had moved like soccer players, quickly changing direction and speed while avoiding collisions. They had to make quick decisions and listen carefully to the coach as he called out instructions. And they had more fun.

Even if you don’t have time to set up and direct a warm up like the second one above, you can still achieve a better warm up than running a lap with some movement (jogging, backpedaling, skipping, shuffling, karaoke-ing, open/close the gates, butt-kicks, high knees, etc.) and short, dynamic stretching.

Good behavior, without running laps

Never mind knowing the perfect soccer activity for every situation, surely the ability to keep the attention of a group of pre-teens is the greatest challenge of a soccer coach! (Oh, and did I mention the school-day’s worth of pent up energy coursing through their veins?)

Ever notice that the same group of players can be quiet and attentive to one coach and hyperactive and disrespectful to another?

One of our most experienced coaches handles discipline this way:

I warn them once verbally. If they are a negative distraction again, I sit them out for a few minutes on the sideline. At this point, I also tell the player that if there’s a next occurrence, I will gladly send them home and have a discussion with their parent. Fortunately, I have yet to have to have a discussion with a parent! After a few minutes, I then invite them to make a choice: rejoin the team and continue to become better, or choose to simply to be finished for the night. Again, fortunately for me, they have all chosen to rejoin the session and not been a nuisance further.

Fitness, without running laps

Fast-paced sessions with soccer-related activities are more fun and better training for soccer players than running laps. Long stretches of running the same pace are for cross country runners and coaches who want their players to quit playing soccer.

John Cone, who most recently served as the Portland Timbers Director of Sports Science and fitness coach, is a health and fitness consultant to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and the youth national team program, and a USSF coach educator. He has this to say about running laps:

In team training it seldom makes sense for the players to do activities without the ball at any age. Above the ages of approximately 13 in girls and 14 in boys, performing fitness without the ball may be important if the individual player is in an off period of training, returning from injury, or supplementing training. Even at these times, there are activities with the ball that can be used to simultaneously increase fitness and soccer-specific technical ability.

Competitiveness, without running laps (see a theme yet?)

So you’ve figured out by now that we’re not fans of running laps. But does that mean we don’t advocate using fitness activities as a punishment for the “losing” team? Nope. In fact, this is a great technique to increase competitiveness in your sessions.

One coach describes it this way:

I use “added-value fitness” to get players to compete in every activity. Sometimes it is with every round/turn. Sometimes at the end of the activity, and sometimes both. No blue ribbons in my sessions! If you tie, you do AVF the same as a loss. I also invite the winners to join in to build good character as leaders by example. I tend to keep the AVF short and sweet so as to keep moving through the session plan, e.g., two push ups for losing a round or 5 burpees for losing the activity.

FIFA 11+ Warmup

FIFA 11+ is a warm up program that has been shown to reduce the risk of injury in soccer players by 30%. It includes a dynamic warm up as well as strengthening exercises that we may not have time to do at team training but would be great to implement at home or at the gym.