Over the past decade, the University of Maryland men’s soccer team has become a feeder for our nation’s pro teams and the U.S. National Team. Many Terrapin recruits arrive on campus with elite ability and fitness levels; but strength and conditioning coach Barry Kagan has played a major role in turning them into world-class soccer players.
Much of Maryland’s success—most notably in the past three seasons, with two top-ten finishes and the 2008 National Championship—has resulted from the team’s superior fitness level, which Kagan begins crafting at the start of the advantageous summer months. “Fitness is our primary focus leading up to the preseason,” Kagan says. “Since your most intense training period, often including two-a-days, commences when practice starts, your body needs to be fit enough to handle those demands. As a result, our summer training is spent preparing for an early August start of intensive training.”
Huffing and puffing your way through early practices won’t be the only consequence of ignoring Kagan’s fitness advice. “An unfit player displays less intelligence on the field,” he says. “Not only does fitness aid an athlete’s ability to produce repetitive intense performances, it also permits a player to focus on his vision, awareness, skill on the ball and communication with teammates. Simply put, an unfit player will not think as clearly or play as sharply as he otherwise would.”
According to Kagan, you should spend the early summer months developing your aerobic fitness, which allows you to play a game’s 90-plus minutes. But this shouldn’t necessarily come in the form of long trots around the neighborhood. “Include some slower-paced long distance runs during the first two weeks of summer,” Kagan suggests. “But once your body is fit, your aerobic training is better served by focusing on intervals, in which you run different paces for 35-plus minutes to accurately mimic the games. Fartlek runs [continuous running with periods of short, intense bursts throughout] are one great option.”
Once your body is used to all kinds of running and you’ve established your base, Kagan recommends focusing on the core of soccer fitness—anaerobic conditioning. “Improvements in anaerobic fitness can have the most immediate effect on your game,” he says. “As mid-summer approaches, increase your anaerobic training so it becomes at least half of your time commitment. At that point, we’re using 500-yard runs, 300 yard shuttles, 120s and full-speed sprints from one 18 to the other with a jog back.”
Kagan includes these drills in his summer conditioning progression, whose goal is to get his athletes firing on all cylinders come August. Keep these additional tips in mind while attacking the progression this summer.
Start early. Summer provides a great opportunity to improve, and three intense weeks of training leading up to the preseason cannot replace it.
Make a calendar with one of your teammates. Use it to set and reach performance goals.
Do you have a preseason fitness test? If so, test yourself throughout the summer and measure how your performance progresses.
Eat and sleep well. Training will be beneficial only if you nourish your body and give it the chance to recover.
Take a break. If you commit to training all summer, make sure to schedule a five- or six-day break when you do nothing. Early to mid-July is a good time for this.
Did you work hard all summer? Limit yourself to two hard workouts and two jog-and-stretch type workouts in the last seven days before preseason. This will keep you loose going into the toughest training period.