I started [working] with the Olympic team two weeks before their first qualifying game. The first week, we had two-a-days, and that's when we hit their conditioning really hard.
I remind the players all the time that they play two 45-minute halves of constant movement. You'll either be walking, jogging or sprinting, so that's how you need to train. You need to adjust your body and respiratory system so you have the ability to run fast for long periods of time. To accomplish this, we did a lot of intervals.
At the end of practice, we set up the field like a track by cutting off the corners with cones so they seem rounded. Then I split the team into two equal groups and put them at opposite ends of the field. They jog for two minutes; then when I yell go, they full-out sprint for 30 seconds. When those 30 seconds are over, they hit a light-paced jog for 30 seconds to recover. Then they go into another full-out sprint for 30 more. Early in the preseason, we do 10 intervals. As we get closer to the season and the players are in better condition, I cut the reps down to 6.
It's important to make sure you don't overtrain during preseason. Interval running is great, but if you have shin splints, hip flexor strains or pulled muscles, conditioning will not make you heal faster, but instead just compound your injury.
Rocha is the U.S. Men's Olympic Soccer preseason strength and conditioning coach
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