Soccer: Energetic conditioning drills
Conditioning is one of the most important aspects of soccer preparation, but with so many different strategies available to coaches it can be difficult to identify those that are most effective.
Here are a few of my best conditioning drills. We use a ball in each of them to add a layer of skill work.
1-on-1 Defend/Possession DrillWe usually call this the Andrew Drill because I learned it long ago from a coach in Bowling Green, Ohio, named Andrew Arthurs.
One or two coaches stand within a no-entry area for the players, as shown in DIAGRAM 1. I usually mark off a triangle with 8- to 10-yard sides that only I and other coaches can be in, but you could also use the center circle of a field. Players are not allowed to enter the area at any time. Everyone else pairs up with a partner and a ball so that you have eight to 10 pairs going at once.
The drill begins when each group plays a ball to one of the coaches inside the triangle, and the coach then throws the ball out to another side of the triangle. Players then race to their ball and it’s 1-on-1 with the ultimate goal to get the ball back to the coaches in the safe zone.
Players battle and go at each other 1-on-1 but can only pass the ball to a coach after calling the coach’s name and getting recognition from the coach. This forces the players to be able to shield the ball until a coach is available.
No one can play to the coach until all groups are out playing. Once a pass is made into a coach and the coach receives it cleanly, the ball is sent back out another side and they race off again. It’s a bit chaotic as you have balls and players scattered about the field all playing their 1-on-1 game to get the ball back to a coach, but the conditioning comes in having to defend and keep the ball.
We usually play so that the first person to get three passes to a coach is the winner. Once a player gets to three, the player and their partner go off to the side and partner juggle until all teams have finished. After everyone is complete, we pair up winners versus winners and those who lost their games and we go again.
Two to three rounds of this is exhausting because of the pace, but we often continue pitting winners against one another until we have just one player left standing. It takes awhile and is very demanding to do if the whole team is involved, but the fitness level and ball work, both offensively and defensively, is excellent.
Coaches must be careful as to how they redirect balls back into the field after a player has passed into the safe zone to avoid collisions. The triangle is designed to make the players not take shortcuts to balls. Also, if a pass is made to a coach that is not to the coach’s feet or is not acceptable to receive, the pass does not count and play resumes. You will see a lot of players be able to get open, but the pass is poor, especially when they get tired.
4-on-4 Continuous Drill
On a small field (40-by-30 yards) two teams with seven to nine players each attack on full sized goals with goalkeepers. Each team is behind their respective goals, and play begins when the coach on the sideline throws a ball to the middle of the field, as shown in DIAGRAM 2.
Four players from each team sprint out and try to get a quick shot on the opponent’s goal. If the ball goes over the endline or into the goal, the team that shot races back to their own goal for another ball, while the other team subs out with four fresh players. This requires the attacking team to sprint back, get a ball and organize an attack while the new defensive team must quickly sub in and apply ball pressure because of the small field.
It’s best to have an odd number of players on each end so that when subs are made you do not get the same group of four every time. It’s a very fast-paced drill that players love.
We require one team to win by two goals, but you can play to a predetermined number of goals and the teams will compete hard. Those who do not win must complete a certain fitness exercise before we play the drill again.
Oftentimes, we play a best-of-three series. If the ball goes out on the sideline, the coach dictates who stays on and who goes off, and the team that stays sprints back and gets a ball from their goalkeeper before attacking, while a new set of defenders challenges them. Players must quickly move off the playing field and communicate to those coming on.
I thought I would share what we do on Fridays when we don’t have a game over the weekend. We call it “Fun, Fitness, Finishing Fridays” because all we do is focus on those three things that day.
It’s generally a fast-paced session where the goal is to get as many opportunities to finish/shoot on goal while sprinkling in fitness throughout. We always end with a fun shooting game that promotes teamwork and competition.
Again, this practice is designed to be quick moving and lighter but with a very specific focus of going hard because we have two days off from training over the weekend. It also allows the kids to get an early start on their valuable time off over the weekend.
We can play three to four games a week in Missouri and have played up to 31 games in a season, so giving them some time off is key to both mental and physical health.
We start with a quick exercise that focuses on warming up the legs with a ball. We often do three to four person “short-short-long” passing with the emphasis on the long pass for accuracy. It’s important to warm up and not make the long passes too far at first but eventually having them striking balls for accuracy at a distance to their teammates while moving.
In the meantime, the goalkeepers — at least three and sometimes four if you have that many — are warming up on the side with catching, throwing and diving. Fridays are typically tougher days on the goalkeepers.
We usually have three to four goals set up on the sideline facing the field, or all on the half line facing the same way. Each goalkeeper is in a goal and we have ample balls available. Players are evenly divided into three or four groups and assigned to a goal.
After everyone is organized we run a predetermined number of 60/30s without a ball (60 to 65 seconds to do one full lap around the field and then walk across the half line to the other side with 30 seconds rest). Half the team is on one midfield line, the other is on the opposite midfield line. On the whistle, the whole team has 60 seconds — or whatever is attainable, depending on field size, player age, fitness level, etc. — to complete one full lap.
At the 60-second mark, players should be finished with the lap. They then have 30 seconds to walk across the field to the other side, passing each other at midfield, before the whistle blows and they go again. We do three to four of these in a row, and upon completion of those immediately sprint to the goal assigned and begin the finishing drills that we have already discussed with the players.
Each goal has a different type of shot being played. We do balls rolling away from us (usually about 20 to 22 yards out depending on the skill level), balls rolling toward us, balls thrown over our head that we must turn and volley off the first bounce, balls played from an angle at the side, etc. Basically, any variety of shot that they could get in a game and with no defensive pressure. This forces them to work on technique first without worrying about a defender stealing it.
The object is to get as many shots off within your group as possible. One person shoots, then the next one, with players chasing missed shots. After five or six minutes of finishing at the goal, we return back to the midline for three of four more 60/30s. Once those are completed, we immediately go back to finishing, only this time with different types of shots. We repeat until all different types of shots have been taken for the day.
That’s a coach’s discretion, but we usually do three to four rounds and ultimately 12 to 14 of the 60/30s in that time period. As you can imagine, the technique level begins to drop once fatigue sets in but we try to simulate the end of a contest as best we can — legs wobbly, heavy breathing. Players must focus on their technique throughout and it’s important for the coach to focus on “finishing” rather than just kicking a ball toward a goal.
Chris Miller is president of the Missouri Soccer High School Coaches Association and head soccer coach at Southern Boone High School in Ashland, Missouri.