The subject of physical fitness at an early age is often a source of uncertainty for many coaches. What approach should be taken? How can the contents be properly adapted to this age group? This article provides guidelines to help resolve these issues.
Physical fitness for children at an early age should not be specific
Young players should not do purely conditioning workouts, as it is not necessary to improve this aspect in any specific manner at this age; moreover, there are more important aspects that need developing: Workouts should be focused on an improvement of our players’ psychomotor skills and their coordination. This type of workout is more appropriate and necessary, as in our sport players are faced with a multitude of problems in ever-changing scenarios.
Hence, in soccer, the children’s motor development is the idea behind the work done on our players’ psychomotor skills and coordination. We understand motor development as a process of adaptation to a certain environment in order to control our own bodies in a given context.
Specific physical fitness workout sessions or physical fitness as part of a normal training session
We must remember that we train our players so that they can function effectively and efficiently when confronted with the different actions that arise when playing. In this sense, the game itself allows us to improve the situations our players must solve. Therefore, we can work on physical fitness within a given drill that is not outside the game context. If we modify certain parameters – the playing field or playing time, for example – we can foster an improvement in certain aspects of our players’ physical conditioning without having to implement drills specific to and exclusively for physical fitness.
Strength through the use of coordinative training
For this age group, strength improves naturally with growth and better coordination, or, in other words, with the optimization of response at a neurological level and motor technique.
We can therefore improve out players’ strength through the use of drills that will involve a large amount of coordination. These could be global tasks like games, or more specific drills like circuits.
Endurance through the use of global games
We can conceive only very basic endurance training. We do not believe lactic anaerobic resistance should be trained during this stage, given that our players are yet immature and that their ability to eliminate lactate is low.
To work on endurance with young players, we can create tasks, for example, global games, in which the desired display of strength appears for a continuous amount of time.
Speed through the use of high-speed coordinative actions and global games
In order to improve our players’ velocity, we must insist that circuits or games be carried out at very high speeds. Working at high intensity will improve our players’ ability to respond very quickly when faced with a new situation. Nevertheless, we must point out that in soccer speed is relative, as sometimes players, in order to adapt to the environment, need to move very quickly while at other times more slowly. It would therefore be interesting to assess which actions need more or less speed when executed, and make our players aware of the context of the different actions. Hence, if we design global games we are fostering that the conditions in the environment change throughout the task, which in turn offers the players a number of variables in which they can adjust the speed of their actions to the elements they encounter. We will therefore be promoting their adaptability to the environment.
Basic requirement for circuits and games in coordinative work
In circuits and games for coordinative work, the basic requirement is that motor abilities found in the sport be present. The motor skills based on the game should be worked on during the workouts: players will be coached in these skills and will return to the playing field with an improved arsenal of motor abilities.
Among these skills we include: displacements, changes in direction, accelerations and stops, jumps, different types of support when a player is on the ground, turns, imbalances. We should also try to incorporate the appearance of any technical actions that involves contact with the ball. These could include, amongst others: passing, dribbling, control, and protection of the ball.