by Eamonn Dolan (Reading FC Academy manager)
first published on BBC Sport
A good pre-season is a must for all professional players in the Premier League and Football League – but is also hugely valuable for all amateur and junior players.
Here Reading FC Academy manager Eamonn Dolan describes how he would begin to prepare a youth soccer team for the new season.
WEEK ONE – GETTING STARTED
Regardless of age and ability the basic principles of a pre-season stay the same.
Every training session should start with a good warm-up but for the first one of pre-season I would probably make it a little longer than usual, perhaps 20 minutes.
I’d be tempted to lead the first part of this, with five minutes of jogging followed by five minutes of static stretching (which involves holding a position).
Follow this with another five minutes of jogging and five minutes of dynamic stretching (using speed of movement, momentum and active muscular effort to produce a stretch).
The jogging gives the players the chance to have a bit of a catch up if they have not seen each other for a while and allows you to make an initial assessment of the fitness your squad is in.
Running is good for aerobic conditioning but can hit the body quite hard, so I would not do too much of this.
After the warm-up set up a ball circuit. Players are always motivated by sessions with the ball – and not only find it more enjoyable but tend to work harder than drills that do not involve any ball work.
Mark off a square with each side four metres in length and position a player at all four corners. Use two footballs for this drill.
One player dribbles at his own pace from one corner to the next, where a player without a ball takes over and dribbles to the next corner.
Players can regulate themselves during the drill dependent on how fit they are feeling and a coach can see when a player is fatiguing.
There are lots of variations available using this square – for example if the players are looking in good shape you can always get them to dribble to two bases.
Next I’d consider working on basic skills. Split the players into pairs, one serving and the other working on his first touch. Work through all the key surfaces like the foot, inside and outside, both knees, chest and head.
Finish the session with a small sided game, perhaps dividing your players into two sides but using a relatively small area.
When using a smaller area players can naturally take a rest if they are feeling tired.
Ensure the players warm down properly.
During the first week try to make sure that the players do not over exert themselves as their enthusiasm after several weeks off can often get the better of them.
Another key issue is hydration. This is really important. Make sure that all of your players have some kind of water bottle and are drinking water throughout the session. If they do not they will not perform at anywhere near the level they are capable of doing so.
WEEK TWO – DEVELOPING SKILLS
As always, I would start with a decent warm-up and then work on passing technique – which is very important.
I would suggest breaking down the players into pairs. Get them to pull the ball across their body with their first touch and then pass to their mate.
passing drills and games
They should use the side of the foot for accuracy and the instep for power, then bend the ball with the inside and outside of the foot.
Dependent on how well this session is going, incorporate an element of pass and move. This is excellent for conditioning without players actually realising how hard they are working.
I would also think about introducing an element of possession, which is a massive physiological conditioning tool and great for technique.
Use one ball and if, for example, you had 11 players, you could break down the session into seven versus four. Play for two minutes, challenging the four players to dispossess the seven.
The bigger the area, the more difficult it becomes for the four players trying to win the ball. If the four players are winning the ball easily, make it harder by setting two against nine.
Before warming down finish with a game.
If you have 16 players you might consider two four-a-side matches rather than one bigger game with eight players on each team.
The smaller game will give players more touches of the ball and therefore improve their conditioning and be more football specific.
As with many of these drills, you can shape the game to whatever you want. If you think your players are performing well you could even try two against two.