6 Soccer Tips I Wish I Knew Sooner

1. Moving Off The Ball is SO Important 

Johan Cruyff said "When you play a match, it is statistically proven that players actually have the ball 3 minutes on average … So, the most important thing is: what do you do during those 87 minutes when you do not have the ball. That is what determines wether you’re a good player or not."  

He also said that sometimes you help a teammate the most when he or she has the ball  by moving away from them, thus giving them space to operate or dribble 1v1.  I used to always follow the ball, which was rooted in some things discussed above which is a desperation to make good plays and feel like I impacted the game. Like surfing, we need to let the ball come to us or better yet, make nice movements for the team into empty spaces and we will get the ball with more time to play. Great players think about how to get the ball from not the guy on the ball, but 2-3 players ahead of them.  

What about just moving into "windows" in the midfield? In the image below, see how the player at the bottom in blue is behind and between the two defenders in black and receives the split pass? If he was even with them, immediately upon receiving the ball he would be closed down and so his teammate may not even want to play him the ball.  Backpedaling 5-10 yards between them into the "window" he creates space for himself. If one of the defenders were to track him, then he creates space for others. Movement like this is subtle, but so important for higher levels. 



2. Strength train regularly and intelligently

 Strength relative to body weight is very important for the accelerative phase of a sprint, jumping, and change of direction (especially eccentric strength).


Change of direction ability is essential for many team sports athletes. However, the biomechanics of changing direction are complex, which makes intelligent training to improve performance difficult. This study sheds some important light on the determinants of side-step cutting ability. Stronger athletes were faster, and displayed greater vertical and horizontal braking and propulsive forces. Additionally, the stronger athletes displayed a more horizontally-directed force vector, and a lower body position (by greater hip and knee flexion). It seems likely that the lower body position helps produce the greater horizontal force vector, and the higher strength levels make it easier to adopt these more flexed joint angles while exerting high forces. This suggests that strength (and particularly strength in a horizontal direction, and at flexed hip and knee angles) plays a key role in determining change of direction ability. ------------------- #sandcresearch #strengthandconditioning #strengthtraining #strength #sportsscience #biomechanics #deceleration #agility #changeofdirection #speed #sprinting

The fast guys are strong for their size, period.  Form is important and so is efficient use of that strength which comes from drills and actually sprinting, but strength is a great foundation of power. Heavy strength training with heavy loads often directly improves power since we have to turn on all of our motor units including the fast twitch fibers. Bodybuilding training not as much since the focus is on time under tension to stimulate growth versus develop force quickly like athletes should lift.  

I was a weak little endurance athlete with quick feet. At 35 I am much faster than I was at 22, all because I resistance train. I will go into plyos for soccer in another article soon. But one thing to understand is that with training plyometrics, the results top of quickly. Strength is something that can continuously be improved and when added in appropriately (ie. drop the volume during important games and shift more from strength training to explosive training), and almost all studies show that a combined strength and plyo program is superior to only one or the other. 

If any of that was new or interesting to you and you want to become an athletic freakbeast soccer player, check out Soccer Strong which is on the right side of the page. The value in that simple ebook will change your life.  


3. Don't run cross country or get too caught up with long distance running.

The best players in the world are fit, but it is not just the total amount of distance covered that matters, but how we cover it. The big plays that impact the game are done at faster speeds so what good is it to just get to the 18 yard box if you don't have the burst to be first to the ball or beat or tackle the opponent in the clutch? Running cross country is a total waste outside of developing mental toughness.  I was 3rd in league in Varsity Cross Country as a Junior (was injured my entire senior year) and it did not help my performance at all in the high school season or the spring club season that followed. I would just show up to club practice exhausted after meets and practice with sore knees and it definitely hampered my progress as a soccer player. Now I am weirder than ost in that I love to run, so I understand if you like the runner's high and competition that is cross country. It is a beautiful sufferfest that pushes the body to the brink. But if soccer performance is what you're after and cross country running is something you think will help you there are better, less destructive ways. 


4.  Surf or rock climb

Neither sport directly competes with the leg heavy demands of soccer so both are a good way to stay active and cross train.   Mostly, both rock climbing and surfing make it easy to enter the flow state. They both present a huge challenge which is an essential part of entering the flow state. The flow state is when your analytical mind (nagging, defeatist mind) shuts off and it is as if everything comes easy and your body does the thinking. Better yet, your body does the feeling. It is being in the moment, void of expectations and internalization. 

Rock climbing and surfing are adventure sports which in The Rise of Superman, author Stephen Kottler says are great for entering into a flow state.  When you go back to soccer, you will be able to tell more easily that your mind is over-active compared to the states of mind you have while paddling and hopefully catching a wave or making your way vertical.  You will also enter that flow state with more ease and allow things to happen versus trying to force things with a huge attachment to outcome. Desperation, thinking, and sports are not a good combo. This video does a good job explaining what I am talking about: 


5.  Meditate 

It is very helpful for calming oneself, working on detaching from ego-based thoughts, and find more focus when the mind races. Being able to focus on the breath or a mantra when the mind wants to drift into the past and the future is a huge ask. However, it gets easier and easier to shut off the monkey mind and be in the moment with practice. What is flow state again? Being in the moment. Just being and allowing, not forcing and overly trying. Even the sensation of pain and fatigue appear different in when we are in the zone and the perception of such feelings change. 


6.  The benefits of eating a lower carb, higher protein, healthy fat diet

Eating like this reduces inflammation, and makes staying lean, injury free,  and strong per lb. of bodyweight much easier.  I used to eat a very low fat, low protein, high in carbohydrate diet. Tons of bread, Powerbars, cereal, and "energy foods". Its a bunch of processed crap devoid of real hearty nutrients and not only that, a high in simple carbohydrate diet makes my body hurt, my mind race, and store more body fat due to hormonal effects. On top of that, the combo of sugar, fat, and salt messes with the palate and we crave it. "Bet you can't just eat one".  Damn straight. It's not always about willpower. 

In soccer we need carbs, but not nearly as much as we think and not in the form of bread and pasta. Roots and tubers, some white rice paired with protein pre-training and game is the way to go. Some people tolerate carbs much better than others, but the source of the carbs must be whole foods. I remember a teammate of mine would eat heavy pasta meals before games and literally fall asleep. He looked half dead all the way through the warm up until the whistle blew. He was also skinny fat.  Good player though, and often talent can cover up health and athleticism. If I knew how to eat a paleo-style diet, I would have been in a better mood, I would have done less junk training to burn off the extra calories I couldn't stop myself from eating, my mind would have been sharper, and I wouldn't have so many aches and pains.  I think I stayed sore extra long sometimes due to my high carb intake. Bump the fats, especially omega-3's which you can find in wild game and fish which help with cardiovascular performance, brain health, and reduce pain and inflammation.  Sushi anyone?