There are many ways to work on a soccer teams fitness. These can range from sprints, to longer runs to ladder work, to plyometrics, to resistance work to weights to any number of other activities. One thing that is often forgotten is much of the fitness work can be built into the various games and activities.
One of the most valuable games I like to play with teams is the 5 yard sprint rule after every pass. This can be a 3 v 3 scrimmage up to full sided 11 v 11. It’s a regular game with the only restriction being that after every pass there must be a hard 5 yard sprint by the passer. Any passer who doesn’t sprint after they make a pass results in a loss of possession by his team and also that player has to do 5 “burpees” before returning to the game (a burpee is a push up followed by a star jump and any form of “punishment” can be used). The 5 yard sprint can go in any direction so it doesn’t have to follow the pass. This 5 yard sprint will create and use space for the runner as well as for the teammates and is one of the most valuable habits a player can develop. In other words, we have soccer fitness as well as tactical development at the same time.
Another tactical game that involves a great deal of fitness is a full field game with anywhere from 5 v 5 to 11 v 11. When a team wins the ball they need to make 3 passes before they can get to goal (this is working on possession as well as giving the attackers the time to spread out). The fitness comes in when a team loses the ball. Upon losing the ball, all players on the defending team must sprint back and touch the end line or goal line. The only exception to this would be if possession is lost on a shot. If a shot is taken and the other team wins the ball the defending team does NOT have to sprint back to the end line (but hopefully they will still sprint back to get behind the ball. This teaches the players the importance of keeping possession (since they have a long run if they don’t) and also the benefit of getting a shot hit. A variation you can play is when possession is lost everyone has to sprint back EXCEPT THE PERSON WHO LOST POSSESSION. This player has to chase after the ball until his team gets back and can help.
A small sided game that can be played to encourage shooting on target is a 5 v 5 game with full sized goals and a keeper in each goal. When a shot gets hit, if it goes wide or over the goal the keeper grabs another ball and plays in the other direction while the player who hit the shot has to sprint after the ball, retrieve it, and get it back to the goal before returning to the game. This is not one of my preferred games because I want to encourage shooting whenever possible and not have players afraid to shoot but it’s a good example of how you can alter games to add in more fitness work.
A 1 v 1 activity that works on dribbling, defending and fitness is done with 2 players facing each other. One starts with the ball and starts dribbling at the other player who is in a proper defensive stance and works backwards trying to contain the dribbler. The coach calls “switch” and the dribbler becomes the defender and the defender becomes the attacker. The attacker is trying to go at full speed and beat the defender to there is a lot of stopping and starting and changing of direction. This is an intense workout that really works the legs and the lungs.
Most soccer activities can include fitness but it’s dependent upon the coach and the players to force things to go at full speed for the fitness part to get included.
Having a good mix of separate soccer fitness and fitness built into each activity will help make sure the players are ready to perform at their optimal level.
Have a great day!