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    How to prepare players for the season?

    Radosław Osadnik

    Coach of Górnik Zabrze Academy

    In the context of recent football trends, training micro and mesocycles in pre-season can be divided into conventional ones, as well as those based on tactical periodization. Which of them yields better results? Is it possible to combine these two approaches and work on both tactical elements and team motor skills at the same time?

    1. CONVENTIONAL APPROACH

    The conventional approach is the classic method of planning training micro and mesocycle when preparing for the season. One of its features is rigorous staging, which consists of physical preparation within strictly defined frames. The conventional approach can be generalised as a bottom-up approach. But what does it mean?

    Players in each training microcycle gradually work on individual motor components: endurance, strength and speed. Training means shaping particular motor components remain isolated from the ball or are implemented in the form of various types of games or game portions. The main objective of training is to shape a given motor components, which is implemented in a football form or other form isolated from the ball.

    This method of preparation usually takes six to eight weeks. The first phase of mesocycle shapes endurance, and work during individual microcycles is focused on extensive aerobic training. Then we move on to an intensive aerobic training. At the very end, aerobic power is shaped.

    Each phase is characterized by specific heart rate and time limit range. This type of training can be performed isolated, such as in the case of typical running, using long- and short-duration intervals and variable intensity. In addition, there are training methods such as eurofit or tabata, which use the MAS (maximal aerobic speed) converter to determine their intensity.

    Verheijen’s method

    An equally efficient and increasingly popular among players form of motor training is aimed at shaping endurance, and is performed using typical football means. Verheijen's method is based on the use of fitness games supplemented with running workout. The volume and intensity of training are regulated in this case by the size of the playing field, the number of players and the duration of the game and the breaks between games. Games are supplemented with running workout, which depending on the period is typically aerobic, shapes speed endurance or speed. Extensive aerobic endurance can be built up using 9x9-11x11 games. Intensive oxygen training is best carried out using 6x6-8x8 games and the 3x3-5x5 ​​game shapes aerobic power.

    Transition state

    It is worth to mention here that in order to make the preparation period more effective, the initial condition of the players who enter the pre-season preparation is vital. It is important to take into account the transition period, which begins after the end of the previous season and ends when the preparation period begins. The players must have enough rest during this time, while maintaining the highest level of training possible. In order to achieve that, other sports can be practised, such as tennis, cycling or swimming.

    Strength training

    The transition period is also a good opportunity to continue strength training. It is advisable to start it even before the pre-season. In this way, players can work on their shortcomings and increase their strength. The use of strength training during the transition period does not interfere with the regeneration of players after the season.

    Strength training is carried out in successive phases. The first one is based on coordination and balance exercises performed on an unstable surface, which activates deep muscles. With subsequent phases, external resistance is added in the form of tapes and rubbers, and then load. The initial phases consist in strengthening the areas of ​​the hips, pelvis, abdomen and buttocks, which are the foundations of the body's motor system. After that, we proceed to strengthening particular movements. Such training is carried out using comprehensive exercises - squats, lunges, deadlift etc. The objective of this phase is to improve the players' maximum strength. The last stages focus on generating the highest possible power, often using plyometric exercises, for which the player is prepared in earlier stages.

    Speed training

    Working on speed usually starts from the very beginning of the preparation mesocycle and is combined with strength training. In the initial stages, players perform running workout, but not at maximum speed. This is called submaximal speed, which is achieved on slightly larger distances, from 80 to 100 meters. With each subsequent microcycle, the length of the distance, the span of the series and the intensity change. After six or even eight weeks, running workout is carried out on distances typical of a football match - from 5 to 30 meters, but with 100% intensity. In the final stages of speed training, it is worth to make use of various types of rubbers and trainers, which help players move faster than their 100% speeds and break their speed barriers. It is extremely difficult as speed is largely dependent on genetic predisposition, but with a good training we are able to improve this parameter.

    The most often used microcycles in the conventional approach are based on repetitive training during the week - strength, endurance and speed training.

    1. TACTICAL PERIODIZATION APPROACH

    The tactical periodization approach is a method of working with a team that stands in contrast with the conventional approach. It originated in Portugal and is used mainly by clubs from Western Europe.

    According to this preparation method, the mesocycle is not divided into individual stages of training endurance, strength and speed, and each microcycle is structurally identical, which is called morphocycles. In the ​​tactical periodization approach, the objective of a particular training or microcycle (morphocycle) is not to shape motor skills but the team play. Shaping motor skills, although important, is a secondary result, stemming from the structure of the morphocycle.

    The question remains what about the objectives in terms of motor skills in the preparation period? These are indirect aspects that result from preparation as a whole. Tactical periodization is a top-down approach. Football is perceived here in a comprehensive way and there is no division into components characteristic of the conventional approach.

    What does a conventional training morphocycle look like in the tactical periodization approach?

    1st Day

    The first day naturally starts with a match. The coach watches the players in action, and on the basis of the collected observations prepares a program aimed at improving any shortcomings in the team's game.

    2nd Day

    The next day following the match is devoted to rest. On the second day, players undergo regenerative training with short but intense games in small groups, the goal of which is to stimulate the immune system and regenerative processes.

    3rd Day

    The third day after the match is spent on games played on a small area in small groups with a considerable amount of braking, stopping, short sprints and rapid starts that all make for strength training. The mentioned games require considerable eccentric workout, which stimulates the body in the same way as strength training.  

    4th Day

    The fourth day is based on large games with a large number of players on a large playing field. In this case, long muscle contraction and endurance training is dominant.

    5th Day

    The fifth day of training is highly explosive and characterized by short duration, which means great muscle contraction speed and is considered typical of speed training.

    6th Day

    The sixth day is devoted to regeneration and non-invasive training of low intensity and large intervals between individual games. This type of training sums up the skills acquired throughout the entire morphocycle and is tactical in nature.

    Optimal microcycle

    It is impossible to lay out one pattern of the preparation microcycle, which would be ideal. First of all, the pre-season period depends on many conditions, such as weather and availability of football fields, as not everyone can afford to use facilities that will allow training on the turf in wintertime. That is why in Poland the conventional approach is extremely popular, as it allows to completely exclude ball training, leaning instead towards entirely isolated exercises.

    One should, however, remember that the conditions offered by clubs in our country are getting increasingly better year by year. The question is - how much a coach can bring out of his players based on his experience and abilities. Knowledge of one's own team is very important here, as it allows to prepare a microcycle that will satisfy the needs of the players. Ideally, motor skills should be worked on during the preparation period, but one should not forget about improving the team's tactical and technical skills, either. Unfortunately, working solely on motor skills may result in a standstill. The coach's methods of working with the team determine how good the team will be prepared for the season, while at the same time shaping the game in terms of tactics.

    Radosław Osadnik

    Coach of Górnik Zabrze Academy

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