As a fitness coach for Spanish football clubs, I understand first-hand how important it is that the whole team (coaches, medical staff, players etc.) has one common goal: to win, to be competitive. That part seems obvious; however what people forget is that there are many ways to do this, and many different perspectives. Coaches and players come from all over the world, each bringing different ideas and experiences to the table - some good, some bad, but you can learn from them all.
‘We all learn from each other so you need to stay open-minded… You can’t be afraid of other opinions within your own team.’
So, as fitness coaches, what are our priorities? For me, there are always 2 main goals that I establish before the first day of training.
1. Get to the first competitive game in the best way possible
It may sound a little bit obvious, but it’s not that easy. During pre-season we have the chance to prepare a game for 4-5 weeks. The only time in the year when we have 4 training sessions (if we are lucky) to prepare for every other game. So, to establish our way of playing, get the players in shape to avoid injuries and get to know the nature of our players, it’s the best time of the year.
We have time to get to know the players, their ways of playing, strengths and weaknesses etc.; and to establish variables, measuring, evaluating and changing the things we are doing wrong; and train. So, getting to the first game ready to compete is not easy. It takes time, but the key is factoring these 2 things:
a) How do I want to play?
b) What / how do I need to train to play that way?
Get that right and a big part of our job is done.
2. Create habits for the players
‘‘What we do not train, it gets forgotten.’’
Pre-season is the perfect time to develop certain capacities in our players to increase their productivity as athletes. Nowadays, everybody knows that a football player, or any other athlete, has to do so much more than just training on the pitch to get into shape. To be the best, players are training harder and harder, making it a lifestyle choice, not just a profession. Living a healthy lifestyle, doing strength training, having a balanced nutrition, sleeping properly, avoiding alcohol, and avoiding stressful situations are equal to, if not more important than, putting your boots on; as is training for a minimum of 1-2 hours a day. And that’s just the base rate. Players like Cristiano Ronaldo do even more.
It’s also important to take an interest in the players’ overall wellbeing. Spending a little time before or after training sessions to ask our players what do they do when they get home, how they’ve been sleeping, if they are going through a stressful situation (often with the team’s psychologist), and to try to give them tools to overcome and improve these situations can really improve their performance on the pitch.
‘RPE and wellness questions are a must in my job. We need to know how the player’s are doing holistically (mentally, physically, emotionally, in pitch performance etc.) in order to do a good job training them.’
We often talk to them about how to improve these situations (e.g. the benefits of strength training, eating a healthy diet etc.). By making them part of the decision-making process, it encourages them to develop (and stick to) the behaviours we want them to perform throughout the year. It’s not unusual for some players to resist the habits, but by creating a curiosity in some of the others, they follow suit, as ultimately, they’re competitive. They don’t want to be the weak link in the team, or see their teammates progress when they aren’t.
And I’m not the only one to see this effect. I asked some of my colleagues to describe what pre-season means to them. Here’s what they said:
‘‘To opportunity to get my players in the best condition possible to compete''' José Rubido (Coach, A.D. Alcobendas Levitt)
‘‘It’s the first step taken in the journey’’ Borja Muñoz (Coach, Atletico de Madrid Academy)
‘‘Time to focus on learning and understanding the baggage that each player has (strengths, weaknesses, ideas etc.) so that we can build our strategy for the season’’ Iván Cano (Coach, Lama Football Academy, China)
‘‘For me, the pre-season is the best time to generate the player-staff relationship. We spend time with the players, learning about them and developing concepts and ways of playing; then we use this information to adapt the fitness strategy to complement it. We don’t look for ‘loading deposits’, but the aim is to start the beginning of the new season in the strongest position, with a good understanding of any weaknesses so that we can resolve them.’’ Sergio Magro (Coach, CF Trival Calderas Alcorcón)