This was the question I asked a group of coaches of various ages. You may be interested to know that 75% of them told me they always did the first couple of weeks’ training without the ball.
Of the others, two coaches actually berated me for asking the question! “Why do you even mention training without the ball?” one of them asked. “Having the ball is central to the way the world’s greatest team, Barcelona, plays the game.”
“But”, I responded, “isn’t fitness as important? How long would an unfit player last playing the Barcelona way? And does fitness training require a ball?”
As coaches, we hope that players’ fitness levels throughout the summer are maintained, but in this day and age the reality is that many are at home on their games consoles, fuelled by pizzas and soft drinks. The result is they can become sluggish and unresponsive, and often turn their noses up to any form of voluntary exercise!
So what’s the solution? Well, for me, the solution is to mix it up… to do both!
Because what’s certain is that with or without the ball pre-season must be fun, or you might find your players will be back in front of their consoles before you can say ‘Lionel Messi’!
I always ensure there’s a game element in every pre-season training session – be it a small-sided game or a full-on match. But before then there are lots of 1v1s, 2v2s and 3v3s, so every player is getting a fair share of the ball.
And for the bits without the ball, this can be comprised of many things – games, shuttle runs, other exercises, or even other sports. But whatever I choose, my pre-season focus is always on the individual. Team mechanics may not even be possible when some players are away on their holidays, and concentrating on the individual reinforces the idea that every player starts the new season with a clean slate.
So next time you hear a heated debate about whether or not to involve the ball you might want to follow my explanation – give your players as much fun as possible so they enjoy coming back to the game they love. Whether they have a ball or not shouldn’t really matter.
Use the warm-up session Possession technique from my subscription digital magazine Soccer Coach Weekly to make your warm-up sessions more fun and interesting for your players.