Opinion: There Is No Off-Season for Elite Soccer Players
Although there may be times of the year when there is no official competition, if your goal is to become the best, you can't take a break. That's why my message to elite soccer athletes is "there is no off-season." The final game is not a signal to take time off or go on vacation. Although physical and mental recovery is important, most dedicated soccer players use this time to stay in shape and begin to prepare themselves for the next season.
However, the most instrumental element to this philosophy is for you to be a committed, motivated and dedicated athlete. If you are, here's what to expect over the months leading up to the next season of soccer competition.
Transitional and Recovery Season
Immediately following the season, it's important to reduce training intensity and duration of practices. Just do not stop completely, because you must maintain fitness. The cliché "use it or lose it" applies especially to endurance, one of the key attributes of a complete soccer player. Maintaining fitness takes a moderately low volume of training compared to building or rebuilding fitness.
However, if you have sustained an overuse injury during the season, you need to recover and rehabilitate. (See Value of Rest and Recovery to Sports Injury Prevention and Treatment.) From a psychological standpoint, this is also an excellent time to reflect on the season and determine what you did well and what you can improve on. The most helpful way to address both of these is with low-impact cardiovascular sessions. They will help you maintain fitness while reducing the stress of running and other soccer-related activities. The elliptical trainer, rowing machine and exercise bike are all excellent options. I advise using resistance bands for any type of strength training at this stage to help adjust and prepare your muscles for the next stage of strength training. (See Increase Speed and Conditioning With Resistance Band Drills.)
Groundwork and Foundation Season
The groundwork season begins after your body has completely recovered. You should gradually increase the volume and intensity of your training. Strength training should start to become more soccer-specific. (See How to Practice Soccer in Your Bedroom.) It's a great time to increase resistance training for strengthening the muscles and movements used in competition. Your strength training program should focus on maximum strength, strength endurance and power. Specific exercises to meet the demands of soccer are upper- and lower-body plyometric exercises, speed ladder drills and movement training. (See also How to Train Like a Soccer Player.)
After building a solid foundation of fitness and strength, you now enter the functional season. This integrates the types of exercises you've already been performing with aerobic endurance and conditioning training. You should also work more on individual soccer techniques and the tactical aspects of team play. These will jumpstart your preparation on team shape, formation and strategy for spring competition. (Check out STACK's Soccer Drills.)
For coaches, it's the best time to work directly with individual athletes to assess weaknesses and recommend drills to increase efficiency and skill execution.
Summer Fitness Program and Pre-season Camp
The functional spring season for soccer workouts is followed by the summer preparation period and pre-season camp. The summer calls for a detailed regimen incorporating every component of fitness required for optimal performance in the season ahead. Summer training sets standards and highlights the fitness tests that will be administered during pre-season camp. It also provides a training program that is progressive toward achieving fitness targets to pass the tests.
The purpose of pre-season camp is not to develop fitness but to cap off everything you have done up to this point to prepare for the season: the transitional season, the foundation season, the functional season and the summer program.