Matt Danaher is a Soccer player + Coach (And founder of SoccerSpotlight.org) who is filled with wisdom and incredible soccer sense. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattdanaher.
I'm excited to be sharing his awesome posts!
In America, we have a fascination (obsession) with celebrity figures. There is a reason why they have so many social media followers; people want to see what they are doing on a daily basis and see how it compares to their own life. For a lot of young boys and girls, the celebrities they care about the most are their sports idols, especially if they play the same sport. They want to follow in their footsteps and take the same path that they took to stardom.
The superstar athletes who have this power are given a tremendous opportunity to impact millions of young, impressionable athletes simply by sharing a video, or making a statement about how they train. Sometimes, players give brilliant little insights into things that they do which got them to where they are, but many times, (more often than you think) top athletes share how they train and, if followed verbatim, can hinder a younger player’s development or worse, injure them.
Many training programs market themselves with the simple “Train like ______!! (Insert superstar athlete name here).” Using an athlete’s name is a common marketing tool to validate something quickly to a consumer base. It provokes thoughts like “Well if _____ does it, then it must work!”
This type of thinking is particularly dangerous, because subconsciously, we have approved of a product or a training method that we do not know the finer details of. In fact, you might be shocked that there are many pro athletes who train in a way that is actually contradictory to their goals.
A friend of mine shared with me an article for Women’s Running magazine, which talked about a USWNT player and her training program. The article detailed the type of running that she does and her reason for following it.
“For sprint endurance during periods: 100 yards in 15 seconds, and then rest 15 seconds. Repeat 12 to 16 times, completing two sets. For longer endurance over an entire match: Half-mile repeats. Run hard for a half of a mile—which (she) aims to do in under 3 minutes—and then rest for 2 minutes. Repeat as many times as you feel appropriate for your body.”
Whenever I see a workout or a new training method, the first question I always ask is “why?”. I always try and look beyond the fireworks and get down to what fitness principles are being applied, what the specific goal is, and how/if this method is effective at helping to achieve that goal. In this professional player’s case, the goal is to be more fit, or to maintain fitness. “The more fit you are, the better you can perform on the field”, she writes in the article, which is not wrong.
But the big problem with this goal, and with a lot of coaching feedback to so many players, is it is not specific! Being “fit” is not a specific goal!!! Marathon runners can be “fit”. Sprinters can be “fit”. Basketball players can be “fit”. Does the word “fit” mean the same for each athlete? Of course not! We must examine the demands of the sport and how our training method applies.
"When young, impressionable players or parents read articles like these, they think that they have found the road to success, without asking why they should be doing it, or if it might cause damage to a young athlete."
According to a study done over two UEFA Europa League seasons in 2008-09 and 2010-11, it was shown that “about 90% of sprints performed by professional soccer players were shorter than 5 seconds, whereas only 10% were longer than 5 seconds”. Therefore, we can determine that very, very rarely will a player sprint for 40 yards or more. This should cause us to question why we are training in a way that is not replicated in our sport.
Sprint endurance, or being able to sprint repeatedly with minimal recovery time, is a very important attribute to have as a player, but it is best trained with short sprints less than 25 meters and with minimal recovery time (Around 10 seconds), not 100 meter sprints. These sprints should also be related to what we do in the match. i.e. sprinting to close down an attacker, sprinting to receive a pass, sprinting to have a shot at goal.
Second, I want to focus on what is described as, “longer endurance over an entire match” or, in other language, being able to maintain volume for two 45 minute halves. To improve this, she focuses on running a HALF MILE (800 meters) as fast as she can. Can anyone tell me if they have seen a player run for 800 meters at a single pace continuously in a game? If you have, I would love to see video of it.
Running at one pace for a long period of time trains the wrong energy system. You are not forced to catch your breath and sprint. You are not forced to think and react. When you run for a long distance, you are training to be a long distance runner, and not a footballer. However, even the wrong type training can help some professional players, because their bodies are capable of handling it, but that doesn’t mean it will help a youth player who wants to reach the same level.
To train for endurance in a match, you need to work on doing what your position demands, consistently, for a longer period of time. For example, if I am an outside back, I might work on sprinting, receiving a pass, making a cross, recovering for 20-30 seconds, and then trying to maintain that for 10-12 minutes. Not only are you achieving your goal of “improving endurance” but most importantly, you are also working on actions that you would perform in a game that are important to becoming a BETTER PLAYER, not just a better runner or a better athlete.
What really scares me is this. When young, impressionable players or parents read articles like these, they think that they have found the road to success, without asking why they should be doing it, or if it might cause damage to a young athlete. I pity the young female athlete that is told by her coach that she needs to “score more goals” and sees a tweet that a USWNT player takes 1000 shots every week, so she should do the same.
We need to be less impressed by the name of the athlete, and more willing to examine the why. Players on the US Women’s National Team have accomplished tremendous things in their sport, and deserve a lot of credit for winning a Gold Medal and World Cup. At the same time, we cannot be so awed by their accomplishments that we tell the younger generation that they have to train like them to become a champion. Is hard work necessary to become great? Absolutely. But that hard work mentality needs to be paired with the smart, specific work that helps us to achieve real, relevant goals.
I love helping players optimize their soccer careers + lives through actualizing their potential.