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Kenny McMillan Q and A

by Taylor Tollison

Recently I had the opportunity to write Kenny McMillan the Head Sports Scientist for Newcastle Utd FC in the English premier league about the key aspects of soccer fitness.

1) What fitness qualities are most important for youth soccer players u-13 to u-18 to develop?  

All !! Speed, agility, flexibility, strength, power, and aerobic. All of these fitness attributes should be trained by using soccer-specific exercises as much as possible though. The youth players should be getting as much time with the ball as possible.  

2) What are some big mistake in training for fitness that you have seen some soccer coaches make?      

The biggest mistake is making the training like that of an endurance runner ! Most of the fitness training performed should be performed using the ball, and through implementation of small sided games, and larger scale games. Another mistake is pounding players on a regular basis with repetitive interval work that floods the muscles with acidosis.  

3) One of the biggest constraints soccer coaches have in America is they play year around. How can soccer coaches properly prepare their teams by having such a short preseason period? Or is that not even a concern.  

In the UK, most professional teams may only have a pre-season of 2-4 weeks duration. This is not enough. Conditioning has to be performed in season when possible, although this is difficult when teams play 2-3 times per week. Players have to be catered for on an individual basis if possible. By maintaining day to day records of players training, and even better, HR monitoring of every session, allows the fitness coach to monitor how much training a player is doing per week. Based on this info, extra training, specific training, or perhaps less training can be advised  

4) What are effective ways to develop anaerobic capacity in soccer and why is that important?  

As the quality of soccer play increases, anaerobic capacity of the players becomes more important. But the ATP-CP and aerobic energy systems are the most important. Anaerobic capacity can be increased by small sided game play alone, e.g. 1 v 1 and 2 v 2's.  

5) What are some effective ways to develop aerobic capacity in soccer players without sacrificing speed and why is that important?  

Aerobic POWER is the most important aspect to improve on. I regularly advise players to perform aerobic power boosting sessions (e.g. 4 x 4 min intervals at 90-95% of VO2max) in addition to normal training. Aerobic capacity and peripheral adaptations can be increased by match play at approx 80-90% of HRmax for extended periods. By carefully periodising intensive and extensive match-play, aerobic power and capacity can be improved. By performing as much of your conditioning work in a soccer-specific way, sprint performance is not sacrificed, and can be improved. "Sprint endurance" is increased also.      

He is now Head Sports Scientist for Newcastle Utd FC in the English Premiership. He holds a BSC and MSC in Sports Physiology, and a PhD researching endurance and strength training of soccer players.