This is the second installment of my series; The Playbook - My Strategy (So Far) for Raising an Elite Soccer Player. Today's topic discusses the amount of time my son spends training.
But first my soapbox - the devil is in the details: I don't know about you, but I deal in specifics and HATE general advice. When I listen to parents of successful athletes, I want to know specifically what they did on a granular level. I am intelligent enough to decipher what will work for my family and what will not. I once read that Ann Soetoro, Barack Obama's mom, gave him private lessons at 4am before school. I am not waking my boys up at 4am (yet) and I don't expect them to become president, but the specifics inspired me to do academic and soccer training with them in the mornings. My promise is to lay it all out in detail. Some may judge me, but it's worth it if it helps your child become a better player and person.
- Focus on the process; not the outcomes
- Efficient individual training sessions provide a substantial advantage.
- Team training is not enough.
- Using idle time wisely adds soccer hours with little effort.
- Establishing a consistent routine is a valuable life lesson.
- Successful people, (especially elite athletes) work in the morning.
- Successful soccer players train before and after team training.
Comparables - The average U9 to U11 academy player trains 3x per week with a game on the weekend. That equates to between five to six hours per week. I believe aspiring elite American kids need more training than that; in-part because they don't free-play as much as kids around the world.
Do the math - Six hours of training sounds sufficient until you subtract water breaks, drill set-up, demonstrations, inclement weather, sick days and the expected time-wasting that goes with herding groups of kids. I estimate that if the coach is good, they may be able to squeeze 40 minutes of actual training out of an hour session. Then you have to divide the 40 minutes by four because that is about how often your child will actually be on the ball or defending the ball; according to statistics from Coaches Corner. This is before considering that most training sessions are unorganized and inefficient. Games provide even less time.
Team training offers little differentiated instruction - Differentiated instruction is a fancy educational term that means tailoring instruction to meet the individual needs of students. This rarely happens in team training. Therefore, the limited time that your child is training still may not be effective. We all witness the kid in a small-sided game who touches the ball once every few minutes or the advanced kid that just goes through the motions.
My son is U9. Below is his typical weekly training routine. Take this in consideration as you find what works for your family. My son's soccer journey has just begun; please share your tips with me.
Team training: He trains with his primary club on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Training sessions are 1.5 hours.
Group technical session: On Wednesdays, he attends a group technical session conducted on an indoor turf field. There are roughly forty kids in the program. Training sessions are 1.5 hours.
Program length: Both are 10-month programs but with slightly different calendars. This means that during the offseason he has one group technical session per week. He gets total rest and recovery when they are both off.
Team training = 6 hours.
There are three categories of individual training sessions that I do with my son. 1) Morning work, 2) Warmups and 3) Complete technical sessions. This is where my son develops the most technically.
Morning work: I grew up on a farm, and served in the military. Morning work is a tradition I wanted to instill in my sons (whether they like it or not). Our days start off right and I am able to pack a lot of instruction into a small period of time. It also frees up time in the evenings. Everyone has at least an extra 15 minutes. Note, that we take breaks from morning work as well.
Academics Tues/Thurs 25 mins.
Soccer - Mon/Wed 45 mins*
Sleep-in - Mon/Wed/Fri and weekends.
Special author's note: In order to devote so much time to soccer and other activities my sons need to be ahead academically. The asterisk indicates that we built-up to 45 minutes. We started with a five-minute juggling routine. Consider your child's age, stamina, experience level, and disposition when creating sessions.
Morning Work = 90 minutes.
Warm-up: Attend any youth soccer practice, and it is not uncommon to see kids aimlessly doing random warm-up exercises exclusively using their strong foot. Below is a snippet of a typical pre-game warm-up in so-called elite youth soccer. Even if the objective was goalie training, the priority at this age should be on ball mastery; not 30-yard strikes at goal. And why not at least drop a few cones to incorporate dribbling drills instead of having them stand in line. [God forbid designing a warm-up that reinforces what they have been practicing with game-like intensity.] I guess I don't know what I am talking about since I am a crazy parent without a [pick a letter] coaching license.
After seeing this enough, I decided that my son and I would do our own training sessions before practice and games. As a result, he arrives warmed up and ready to go. Sometimes, we specifically work on areas that I want him to remember during the games. This is a lot better than my yelling at him from the sidelines (which I never would do).
Warm-ups 20 minutes 4x per week.
Warm-ups = 80 minutes.
Complete technical sessions - Lasting between one and 1.5 hours, full technical sessions usually comprise three blocks; 1) Juggling Warm-up, 2) Skills Session and 3) Follow along Video. In a later post, I will detail each block. During the season he does one per week. In the offseason two or three.
Complete technical session = 90 minutes.
Adding it all up: This equates to roughly five days and 11 hours of soccer per week not including free play and remembering that each program takes two months off.
- Team training = 6 hours (360 mins)
- Morning Work = 90 mins.
- Warm-ups = 80 mins.
- Complete technical session = 90 mins.
- Games = 90 mins.
Isn't that a lot? Yes, for some, not so much for others. The biggest toll is on the adults. My boys can't seem to get enough (playing not necessarily training).
What about the potential for overuse injuries? I am not a doctor, but I am someone that ran seven marathons. I don't find an hour of exercise particular taxing. To me, the biggest challenge is the driving and missing opportunities to do other things. I will say that over-gaming injuries are a bigger concern as they get older. You don't hear about too many soccer injuries during training. The majority come during games where the intensity is much much higher. As a result, I monitor closely the number of games my son plays and the age of the opponents.
One last thing: He will pick-up extra games as a guest player or with indoor teams that don't require practice.
Special author's note: If you have read this far, you probably do many of these things already. If not, don't suddenly spring something on your family that you haven't thought through and communicated well. The last thing you want to do is ruin the experience or hurt your relationship with your child. This works for me (currently) in-part because I started young and I try to embody what I am preaching.
And even this is likely not enough to compete on the international level (without special gifts), but it's all my wife and my circumstances can bear at the moment.
I hope you find this helpful and look forward to discussing.