Years ago, if someone had told me I was going to turn into a “soccer mom,” I would have laughed at them. Heck, back in Ohio no one even played soccer. We used to play what we thought was soccer in the back field at the old North Side Elementary School. It was more of a cross between football and soccer actually. We divided up in teams and kicked a ball at each other until somehow it got across an imaginary goal line. That game, however, came to a screeching halt one day when my friend, Loretta, got kicked in the ankle by a guy named Bennie who was playing in steel-toed boots. She ended up with surgery and on crutches most of the summer, so our parents banned the sport.
Nowadays, kids start playing real soccer at about 3 years of age. There are goals, referees, uniforms and little cleats and shin guards. I am not embarrassed to say that I have been right in the thick of it since the twins were about 4. My youngest daughter, Nikki, plays travel soccer and will play on the Lumberton High School team this spring. Her big sister, Becca, is a sophomore goalkeeper at Emory and Henry College in Virginia. At a very early age, soccer becomes a way of life if your kids are committed to playing in high school or beyond. This has forced me to learn not only the difference between a direct and indirect penalty kick, but how to keep the girls in shape for playing. This column is dedicated to the soccer moms and dads of the U 16 Lady Gunners and the Emory and Henry Lady Wasps, who travel the country to watch their daughters play the game they love. Let’s look at what the basics of an off-season conditioning program for soccer players should look like:
— Cardiovascular conditioning: Most soccer games at this level have 35-minute or more halves of running up and down the approximate length of a football field. This means that players need to be highly conditioned. Running in the off-season is crucial. Thirty to 45 minutes of sustained running three to five times per week will help keep the athlete’s “wind” for when the season starts again. Soccer camps and playing games throughout the off-season is even a better choice to keep ball-handling skills up to speed as well.
— Speed work: As important to being able to play for long stretches at a time without a rest, is the athlete’s ability to get to the ball before their opponent does. Speed work consists of alternating sprints of varying lengths with a walking or jogging rest interval.
— Strength training: One of the most neglected parts of a soccer conditioning program is weight training. Weight training is important to build a strength base to help increase vertical jump. Lower body strength exercises that are appropriate for improving speed and vertical jump are squats, lunges, and weighted step-ups. Upper body exercises should include lateral shoulder raises, lat pull downs, and abdominal work. Goal keepers can benefit from wrist and forearm strength exercises and medicine ball work.
— Plyometrics (jump training): Once an athlete has built a good strength base, plyometric exercises can be added to help improve jumping. Jump running, bounding, and lateral jumps are good beginner exercises. Plyometrics should only be done two times per week with a two-minute rest between each set. Total repetitions should not exceed 120 ground contacts (foot on ground).
This is just the basic outline for a soccer-conditioning program. Specific exercises and routines are available from coaches, online and in several published books. A great website to check out is www.totalsoccerfitness.com . By keeping your teenage soccer player in peak condition, they will not only perform better, but will suffer fewer injuries. As a parent, we should never push our kids too hard to excel in a sport, however, if they catch the soccer bug, you want to arm them with the tools to be successful.
Kathy Hansen has over 20 years of experience in the health and fitness field and will be traveling to see Becca play against Randoph-Macon on Saturday and catch Nikki in a home game on Sunday.