Academy View: Pre-season training in youth football

The season ends in September but Young Bafana is already looking ahead to pre-season training

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Due to the intensity of the football season, it is important that the pre-season training is carried out in a way that builds the player to the point that injuries are minimised and he has the endurance to see out the season from start to end.

Pre-season usually lasts between four to six weeks, with the primary focus being to build each player's aerobic endurance (to build stamina).

The first two weeks involves low intensity training at high volume and gradually working each player back to fitness and avoiding any risk of injury.

In the first week, each player’s fitness will be tested. This test is conducted so that I able to compare the results with the post-season test.

This fitness test would comprise of:

  1. A bleep test - This is an endurance test that involves players doing shuttle runs over 20m in time with the bleep. In each stage of the test, the pace of the bleep picks up and forces players to push themselves to the limit.
  2. 1 minute of Sit-ups,
  3. 1 min of Push-ups, and
  4. 1 minute Plank.

These tests will measure each player's aerobic endurance as well their strength endurance.

This test will be repeated 4-6 weeks later so that I can assess each individual's progression during the first few weeks of training as well as throughout the season. 

As the training progresses the amount of training will increase gradually. This is done in accordance with and adjusting to the fitness advancement of each player.

In addition to the testing, the first two weeks of training focusses on playing 7v7 or 9v9 matches on a large field; as playing 4v4 matches in a compact area could cause injury due to the quicker/sharper movements in the tight area.

The 7v7/9v9 matches would last 20-45 minutes and would comprise of the following: 2 x 10 min games, 2 x 15 min games, 3 x 10 min games or 3 x 15 min games.

Many coaches have their players do road running or endurance exercises in the early stages of pre-season, which is essential in building players’ aerobic endurance.

I opt for 7v7 or 9v9 matches on a large field because each individual automatically pushes themself whilst playing, and it allows recovery time so that they don’t need to do anything their bodies can’t do.

The training load will gradually increase as we continue training as we need to get each player match fit. The only way to do so is by increasing the load of training, for example the intensity of the session will increase and the recovery periods in between each exercise will be shorter. 

As we reach the third week of training, player power will be incorporated, by making use of explosive jumps or short sprints as well as looking at improving each player’s strength endurance.

As these boys are between the ages of 16-18 strength training is a crucial part of their development in order for them to play at a higher level.

This is one challenge we have at Young Bafana at the moment. We would like to incorporate gym sessions into our calendar; however, we don’t have the funding to allow us to get into a professional gym facility. 

With football being more advanced, as coaches we always have to try and make each exercise football specific. This is to ensure that when doing speed endurance, the focus would be on creating an exercise that is relevant and that will influence the development of each player.

Towards the fourth week, I would incorporate more position specific speed exercises, as we would soon be approaching our first pre-season friendly. Each player on the field has a different role when in possession of the ball and when not. They will need to familiarize themselves with position specific movements to achieve success on the field of play.

Even though we look to get each player back to match fitness as quickly as possible we need to remember that adequate rest and recovery is essential for all athletes.

In the beginning, we would have up to three sessions a week 90-120 minutes long. As the players reach a higher level of fitness the intensity of the sessions and the number of sessions would increase, and there would be less recovery days.

Nutrition should be seen as a necessity, as what we put into our systems is the fuel that our bodies use to push through training sessions.

It also assists in preventing muscle fatigue and essentially contributes to better performance.

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The lack of knowledge around the importance of good nutrition is a big issue for young footballers, as they do not understand how essential it is to optimize training and performance. 

After at least four weeks of training we will play our first match. We don’t play any earlier as the players won't be sharp enough to immediately go into a match within the first few weeks of training.

Pre-season training sets the tone for the season ahead and it is important that we get the foundation right if we wish to have a successful season.