Small Sided Games Versus Fitness Training
I see a lot of coaches running the crap out of their players before, during, and after training. I can understand every now and then doing such grueling, NTF (not-that-fun) kind of work with older players, but what about younger players? A study on Spanish elite youth players, average aged of 13 years old, showed that small sided games are as effective as interval training for maintaining aerobic fitness in elite youth soccer players. Players also reported more enjoyment playing small sided games versus doing interval training. (Arcos et al 2015). With only so much time at training to improve players' skill under pressure, game intelligence, and collective intelligence in playing a certain brand of soccer, it looks like keeping general fitness training to a minimum is the way to go. Kids need to play games. They are fun, and they transfer. I recently heard a very experienced coach talk about the main criteria of evaluating a good soccer practice; he said, "ask yourself, does it look like a soccer game?"
Arrangement of Strength and Plyos
In another study on elite youth soccer players, average age of 18, half-squat exercises were performed at 60-80% of 1 repetition maximum (1RM) combined with plyometric training composed of drop jump exercises executed in a range of box height of 30 to 45 cm (Kobal et al 2017). The experimenters tried different arrangements within the session consisting of complex training with all strength work coming before the plyos, traditional training with all sets of plyos coming before strength training, and contrast training with strength, in this case the squat and the plyos performed alternately, set by set.
Dynamic strength (half-squat 1RM) and vertical jump ability (countermovement jump height) increased significantly in all groups. Importantly, whereas the plyo first then strength group presented a significant decrease in sprinting speed in 10 (7%) and 20 m (6%), the other groups did not show this response. You read that right, the plyo training then strength training groups got slower. Furthermore, no significant changes were observed in agility performance in any experimental group, probably due to a lack of specificity.
The take aways?
1. Strength training combined with drop jump training can help you jump higher.
2. Training all of your plyos in a session then making the session strength based may not be the most effective way to improve sprinting speed. Perhaps it was just this group of players that didn't respond well, or maybe doing the strength work at the end sends the signal to the athlete to be strong and slow. I don't know those are just guesses.
3. Training in the sagittal plane or the up and down motion of the squat and jump did not transfer to the frontal and transverse planes of motion and involved musculature that are needed in agility performance.
Until next time, ball hard.