From a physical perspective, the sport of soccer requires players to have strong levels of endurance, strength, speed, quickness, and flexibility (to name a few). For that reason, I felt it was necessary to formalize my education of strength and conditioning, because as a soccer coach, every training session or game is a prescription of exercise. I formalized my knowledge with the National Strength and Conditioning Associations’ – Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification because my vision for training and development is a holistic one.
However, often times, there is a strong disconnect between the soccer coaches and the strength and conditioning coaches, and in all honesty, I am not too sure why such disconnect exists. At the end of the day, all coaches work (or should) for one common goal, to increase individual and team performances.
However, as I examine the disconnect from an open perspective (being both a soccer coach and a strength and conditioning specialist), soccer coaches often demand more training time or game experience while strength and conditioning coaches seek more time in the weight room for athletic development (strength, speed, flexibility etc.).
More specifically, as I examine the disconnect from a global perspective (currently living in Barcelona, Spain for a soccer coaching course), one possible reason for the disconnect could stem from the fact that most professional sports teams in the United States spend the same amount of time in-season as they do off-season. For instance, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have roughly 6-month regular seasons and 6-month off-seasons (not including playoffs). Not to mention the fact that they play 162 and 82 games respectively. Compared to European soccer, the season is about 10 months long (usually 1 game a week, but top teams can play multiple times per week) with an off-season of roughly 6 weeks.
From a strength and conditioning perspective, working with those athletes becomes a dream. There is an extended period of time to improve the player in all areas - movement competence, strength, and energy system work. On the flip side, working with a soccer player can be difficult as the player needs time to recuperate after the long season, and before you know it, the player is back in pre-season training. However, as a soccer coach, I do not understand the strength coach’s frustration, after all, the athletes are professional soccer players and not professional weight lifters.
With that being said, my contention is that strength and conditioning coaches and soccer coaches must come together to formulate a plan that improves the players and team in a progressive, holistic way. Throughout the course of a 10-month season, there is ample time for the strength coaches to accomplish their needs within the head coach’s framework.
Typically, most micro-cycles are Saturday – Saturday or Sunday – Sunday (I know this is not the case for teams competing in Champions League or Europa League or during league cup competitions). With regards to the Saturday – Saturday cycle, the micro-cycle could look like – Saturday: Game, Sunday: Recovery Training, Monday: Day Off, Tuesday: Training, Wednesday: Training, Thursday: Training, Friday: Training, Saturday: Game. Within that micro-cycle, the strength and conditioning coach can utilize the ‘acquisition days’ (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) to help improve the movement competence and strength of the players.
Normally, from a training periodization perspective, the session on Wednesday in a Saturday - Saturday micro-cycle is the most demanding for the players. Knowing that, one possibility could include the strength and conditioning coach working with the players prior to the training session on the Tuesday. Why? Because usually the first training session after an off day is not too demanding for the players as they still have yet to fully complete the 72 hour recovery period (although extremely close) after the match. Not only that, but by working with the players in the gym before the training session on the field, the strength and conditioning coach can freshen up the players movement patterns, ultimately preparing them for the new week of training.
In addition to the movement/strength day in the gym on the Tuesday, the strength and conditioning coach can utilize the warm up of the training sessions on the field to further increase the movement competence/strength of the players. Often times players warm up for a training session with poor movement activities, and essentially wasting valuable time. The strength and conditioning coach should take advantage of that time period to further educate and cement proper movement patterns in the players.
Finally, my last thought or suggestion is for the strength and conditioning coach to teach the players individual corrective exercises that can be completed before training sessions. For instance, a corrective program for a player who is overly extended could include – PRI All 4 Belly Breathing, Wall Press Abs, and Dead Bugs with Breathing. The idea is that by providing the players with individual pre-training plans, the strength and conditioning coach is progressively improving the movement competence of the player while preparing their body for the demands on the field. The idea is that as the player improves their movement capacity, the strength and conditioning coach can make adjustments to the player’s corrective program and strength program in the gym to improve them further.
At the end of the day, the team’s tactical competence is what will be the difference between winning and losing, and the strength and conditioning coach must respect that. Simply put, doing more squats will not bring the US National Team’s tactical understanding to the level of Spain’s. However, the soccer coach must remember that without healthy players, the tactical components cannot be implemented to the fullest.
I believe that the team that is able to blend tactical power with physical dominance will experience the most success. In order to accomplish such feat, the technical staff and strength and conditioning coaches must work together in unison to create a training model that values tactics and physical preparation equally. If both groups of coaches constantly preach the same message, a tactical-physical culture can be created. Often times it can be difficult to convince a professional player that they need to train in the gym when they reached such levels without it.
Also, most players cannot see the correlation between the gym and the playing field, but if the gym
work is constantly used in reference to tactical executions, I believe a culture shift is probable. For instance, a strength and conditioning coach with tactical knowledge of soccer can explain to a striker “by training your eccentric hamstring strength, your acceleration-deceleration abilities will improve, and therefore you will be able execute the ‘lose of marker’ tactical fundamental with greater sharpness.” By directly relating physical work to tactical executions, the player can feel confident that they are improving as soccer players.
The game of soccer will always be dominated by tactical know-how, as the game revolves around ever changing situations, requiring the individual players, lines, and the team to read the game and respond optimally in each given situation. The idea is that the strength and conditioning coach must respect and acknowledge that the tactics of the head coach will dictate the physical requirements that the team must possess. However, once the tactics are clearly understood, the strength and conditioning coach can begin implementing the necessary physical work in accordance to the needs of the specific players and tactics of the head coach.
By working in unison, the coaching staff as a whole has enough time (10 month season), to improve the tactical understanding and physical competence of the players and team, rightfully earning the 6-week holiday at the end of the season.