Recently I’ve adopted a new motto along the lines of 'Train Smarter, Not Harder'. This is a change for me, because I’ve always been the type of person who believed “more is always better”. For instance, if the coach told us to do 2 full field sprints after training, I’d do 10. Well, maybe not 10, but you get the idea.
Around Christmas of my sophomore year back in 2012, I decided I was going to really dedicate myself to becoming more “technical”. I had frequently been told that this area of my game was the most deficient so I decided to try and change that during the spring. The problem was, telling someone they aren’t “technical” enough is a very vague label, and doesn’t really point to a specific aspect of the game to work on.
For those next 5 months, January through May, I woke up at 5 am every single weekday, drove down to the turf field and worked with the ball for at least an hour. I thought that getting 1,000 touches per day would help me become a more “technical” player. Unfortunately, those touches were without much purpose or relation to situations I would find myself in matches, and while I did find that I improved on the ball, I didn’t improve in the ways that I had wanted to.
Somehow I kept that routine up until the end of April, when I found myself diagnosed with mono and forced to stop training for a month. Looking back at that semester today, I sometimes wonder if I would ever get into that routine again. The answer is a resounding no, or at least not in the manner in which I did it.
As a young naive 19 year old, I literally believed that if I worked really, REALLY hard, that I was guaranteed to achieve my goals. Don’t get my wrong, hard work is ESSENTIAL to getting to where you want to go, but hard work just to satisfy your own question of “Did I work hard today?” is silly and actually counter productive.
I like to compare training to a contractor building a house. Who will have a better house at the end of 3 months, the guy who planned out every detail and stuck to the plan? Or the guy who didn’t have a long term plan and just busted his butt every day laying bricks and putting up beams, even if they were in a place they didn’t belong.
Sure, the guy who doesn’t have a plan will still have a house at the end, and it’s better than not having a house at all, but it won’t be on the same level as the contractor who focused on the little details.
So today, here are my 6 key points on how to become the best player and athlete you can be (SoccerPulse can ABSOLUTELY HELP with all of these!)
1. Build a Blueprint
This is the most important point, which is why I have put it first. Having a blueprint is absolutely essential to a successful training program. Build a plan for the next 8-12 weeks that will help you to become the player you want to be.
A good idea to start is to write down 3 of your specific strengths and 3 of your specific weaknesses. Using these as a base, come up with a plan that involves how you will target the weaknesses until they become strengths, and the strengths until they become unstoppable.
Write out a day-by-day program of what you will do each day, when your recovery days will be, which days you have matches, and when your team training sessions are.
The most important thing is that you use SPECIFICS!
For example, instead of saying I am going to work on shooting on Monday, say that you will take 10 shots with your laces with each foot from outside the box after a 1v1 move at high intensity. Write down your rest time, say 30 seconds, so you have enough time to recover and do each rep with maximum explosiveness. (Click here to see how to plan individual events in SoccerPulse!)
If you need help formulating a plan, or don’t know what your strengths and weaknesses are, talk to players and coaches who have achieved what you are aiming to accomplish. Look at players at the top level who play your position and are similar to you and figure out what makes them successful.
2. Make Adjustments, Not Excuses
It is okay to make adjustments to the blueprint that you create. Sometimes things come up that are unavoidable. Say your game gets called off for weather, is it really necessary to take the next day off also? It’s okay to make tweaks to the schedule you have prepared, but it is NOT okay to make excuses.
Recognize the difference between an excuse and an adjustment. An adjustment is my dog died today so I feel upset and I am going to use today as my recovery day instead of tomorrow. An excuse is I woke up late because I decided to watch a 4-hour marathon of How I Met Your Mother and now I don’t have time to work out.
Don’t make excuses.
3. Relevance and Consistency are Key
It is important that the things you choose to work on are very relevant to what you are trying to improve. If you feel unfit in the last 30 minutes of a match, going outside and running 6 miles a day at one pace is probably not the best way to improve that aspect of your game.
Soccer is a game that involves sprints, walking, jogging, and fast jogging. Nothing is ever at one pace for more than 5 seconds. Soccer is a game of explosive actions over the course of two 45-minute halves, so interval training or Fartlek runs are much more effective at targeting this than long distance running.
If you are not consistently following your plan, then you will find yourself having to start from square one and not making the improvements that you should have.
I personally had been trying to learn to play the guitar for the last 6 months, but because it is not high on my priority list, every day that I practice for an hour is followed by 7 days where I don’t pick up the instrument at all. I then find that I’m back to relearning the same 5 notes over and over and I never make any progress.
Don’t let this be you!
4. Recovery is NOT optional
I’ve always had trouble with this one, primarily because I used to watch the motivational YouTube Videos that talked about taking no days off and how you have to want to succeed more than you want to sleep. I saw recovery and days off as a sign of weakness.
The ironic thing is, almost all of the progress that the body makes does not occur when you are training, but when you are resting.
If you are never resting and you do not allow your body enough time to super compensate for the training you have done, you will actually get worse instead of getting better.
Overtraining is worse than under-training. Build days into your schedule where you can relax physically and mentally from training.
Alcohol hinders the recovery process significantly, but if you are going to drink, try to have three drinks or less and do it on a night where you haven’t trained during the day. This way, you do not double the damage. I knew a lot of players in college who thought running and working out before a night out neglected the effects of drinking. (Click here to see how you can track how you are feeling daily with SoccerPulse!)
It actually compounds it!
5. Quality over Quantity
I hate hearing people say “I took 200 shots yesterday” or “I got 3,000 touches on the ball”. That’s all well and good, but what was the quality of each touch or shot?
What was the relevancy to your game?
Are you doing 1,000 toe taps just to say you got touches, or are you working on escape moves to get out of pressure with your head up and at maximum speed and explosiveness because that is something your game currently lacks?
It is much more important to do the reps well and focus on the little details that make the difference, than to be able to boast about how many reps you did. Let them judge you by your results and nothing else.
6. Set Your Own High Standard – And Keep it!
Most of the time when players train they do it on their own, which makes it easy to get away with things you wouldn’t be able to if there was a top coach there watching you. Every time you train, train as if the stadium lights are on so when they actually are on, you won’t notice them.
If you are in a group or on a team where everyone doesn’t have the high standards that you do, don’t let yours drop down to their level, make them come up to yours.
I have plenty more tips for training, but these are the 6 most important that I have come across. Taking these ideas on board and implementing them into your own training routine should help you see better results and get the best out of you. If anyone has any questions or wants help putting a training program together, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org