Let the preseason camps begin
getting the players together and seeing how the new guys look and starting to implement the new plans.
Everyone does things a little differently, but during preseason there are some things all coaches want to achieve. Weather certainly plays a role and budgets have a real impact as to what you can do and where you can go. But regardless of every team's situation, there are some constants.
Fitness and getting the team fit is a prime ingredient of preseason. Most teams have informal training that is not required, but the players who are around start to come out beginning mid-January. In the cold weather places this is usually somewhere inside. Coaches say they are not watching -- but most know who is coming out or not. As a coach you feel good about the players who are showing this self-motivation. The ones who are missing, you generally know the reason why: if they are out of town, have family duties -- or do not have that much desire.
Once teams can officially begin training they usually start some sort of physical fitness testing. The components are an aerobic test, some variant of what is called the beep test, an agility test, and a sprint or speed test. There is also often a vertical jump test and something measuring strength thrown in.
What is the purpose for all the testing? It establishes a base starting point. It gives the players something to prepare for. I always wanted to reward my team. The better we tested the more playing and less running we would throw into preseason. If done on a consistent yearly basis you can compare the players' performance to prior years to see the trend.
But the most important reason is that it helps the team's fitness specialist to divide the squad into appropriate groups for the preseason fitness work. Training a player at a level that is well beyond his physical capability is counter-productive. Different players need different goals and training methods in preseason and testing lets you divide your team into appropriate four- or five-player groups. It has become more of a science. The old days of "run until they throw up" are long gone.
However, I do still believe in mental fitness. Every player has physical capacities, but there are some who have the ability to will themselves through physical barriers. That to me is mental fitness. Players like Joe-Max Moore, Frankie Hejduk and Chris Armas are good examples of players who are very strong there.
After testing the approach changes and really comes down to a coach's preference.
Some coaches like to start off with double-session days and pour on the fitness right away. When the team grows tired they back off, rest them and then push them again. Soccer training is part of the session but fitness holds the priority.
Some coaches like to play a little first, use double days but play more. You can get a lot of fitness in a normal soccer training sessions if you so desire.
Some like to train and start playing games early in the preseason program. I am talking mainly about the first two weeks of training.
Some need to travel during their first two weeks to find good weather. But, they will still follow one of the above approaches. A team like CD Chivas USA will travel to Mexico. But this is mainly because of the club's heritage and the number of players they will have who will be Mexican. It takes a while to get work visas and if they trained in the USA they might not have half of their team in the first two weeks.
My approach was to play the first two or three days of training. I wanted to see my new players before they fatigued. I wanted all the players to get their bodies back into the rhythm of training before we pushed too hard.
Days four through six I wanted to push them a bit physically. Playing soccer but devoting either the first 30 or last 30 minutes of training to fitness of the aerobic variety. After a day off I wanted to play some games. Players want games and that motivates them again to push themselves. Training and games would be the main ingredient of the second week.
During these first two weeks most teams already incorporate some sort of gym work or weight training. Core work is the new popular term. Some do it on the field with barbells and body weight resistance, some do it in a gym as an adjunct to training. There are players who love this part and do it naturally and others who do not feel the need.
The third week also varies. Some teams are traveling by then -- either seeking out overseas competition or domestic games. How the team has done the first two weeks will determine how much fitness is put into the training sessions thereafter.
Ideally, I liked to use the third week for a fitness camp of 4-6 days. I felt the team was now in a training rhythm and I had seen the new players play. The perfect situation was to get away for this week. This allowed for the team to start to bond and for the players to concentrate without the usual distractions at home. I felt a solid base could be built here and team-building in the psychological sense could best start. The year we won with the Galaxy in 2002 I was able to follow this exactly.
However, other factors enter into the preseason plan. The budget, just like for all of us, forces coaches to compromise. Teams in good climates need to stay home more. Cold weather teams need to find economical and efficient locations for training. How long do you stay away from family and friends? Where can you find good training conditions and possible games? That is why a lot of teams go to Bradenton, Fla. Training grounds are good and with the other teams there you can find competition.
Sometimes your club has games set up to make some money or at least cover the expenses. Again, it might not be ideal, but finances are important. Even Manchester United has to tour the Far East -- even if it is not ideal.
Next week we will get into traveling for preseason games. Where to go? Why go there? Do you go to Europe, Mexico, Central America, the Far East or South America?
See you at the airport.
Sigi Schmid is one of the winningest coaches in MLS history, having led the Los Angeles Galaxy to four honors in his five-plus years at the helm, including the 2002 MLS Cup championship. Send comments to Sigi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.