By Jordan Day and Dr. Robert L. Herron |
The World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the World. Taking place now, USA have recently matched up against England, Wales, and Iran – and will start with the Netherlands in the second round. Interestingly, the USA is set to play hosts for the 2026 World Cup alongside Mexico and Canada, now is an exciting time to discuss the rapidly evolving soccer environment in the USA.
Soccer encompasses many physiological demands, requiring a well-rounded athlete to succeed. A proficient aerobic system helps athletes to perform for a 90-minute match and aids in faster recovery of repeated sprint actions. Utilization of the anaerobic energy systems helps athletes perform high-value sprints that often lead to goals or goal-saving tackles. There is often an over-emphasis on ‘fitness’ in soccer; however, players just need to be “fit enough” to cope with the demands of the game and allow their technical and tactical prowess to do the rest.
At the elite level, demands are high to perform week in week out, but what do these athletes need to be able to do? Soccer players can cover anywhere between 10 to 12 km (≈ 7.46 miles) per match and the distance is increasing over recent years. In addition, high-speed running (> 19.8 km or 12.3 mph), maximal sprint speed, and the number of accelerations and decelerations have seen a significant rise. Furthermore, fluctuation in player demands from week to week can lead to higher incidences of injury, highlighting the importance of player’s fitness and a structured training week.
During games, players must be able to sustain repeated sprint actions over a 90-minute period (two 45-minute halves), these high-speed actions are often decisive when creating chances and scoring goals. Pair this with jumping, twisting, turning, and reacting to opposing players, the difficulty arises by determining what your players need. Game demands vary by position, playing style (e.g., high press, counter-attack, etc.), opposing team, season period, etc. GPS technology (e.g., STATSports & Catapult) can be used to help analyze player demands during games, helping to inform training decisions during the week.
All this said, how do we structure our training week? In-season, MATCH DAY is our sole focus. Coaches and high-performance units work to prepare the players to be ready to perform on match day. Are they over/under-trained? Often, optimal training should follow a Match Preparation – Match Recovery cycle.
Above is an example of what a training week could look like. Having a varied focus on each training day allows each physiological aspect to get sufficient training and rest. Small-sided games are used for an increased acceleration/deceleration focus and expanded games are used to achieve high-speed running goals. Please note, these sessions can be modified for individual players and session types can differ between starting 11, substitutes, and reserve players.
This information can serve as a brief guide. Remember, it is important to look at your individual needs as a player or coach when planning your training weeks. But most of all, enjoy the beautiful game.
Jordan Day, CSCS is a Graduate Student studying Exercise Science at the University of Montevallo. He is a Graduate Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Men’s Lacrosse and Women’s Soccer team at Montevallo. He acquired his CSCS in 2019 whilst playing and captaining the University of North Georgia’s men’s soccer team. Jordan is an international student, hailing from Beverley, England.
Robert L. Herron, Ed.D., NSCA-CSCS*D, ACSM-CEP is an Assistant Professor in the Exercise and Nutrition Science Program at the University of Montevallo. Dr. Herron is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® with distinction from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA-CSCS*D®) and a Clinical Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM-CEP®). Dr. Herron is a graduate of the United States Sports Academy and serves as a Non-Resident Faculty Member.