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Vern Gambetta Soccer Fitness Interview

by Taylor Tollison

Elite Soccer Conditioning: As you know youth soccer players play year around. There is not much time to build their fitness levels. They don't have time to cycle in and out to focus on different fitness qualities. How do you see soccer coaches having this lack of time and still building their players fitness?

Vern Gambetta

It is a huge issue and ultimately everyone is talking about it. It really puts a cap on how much players can improve during that period. The big solution is to cut down on the number games, limit the number of games to one per week but that is just not going to happen. The typical youth soccer team might practice 2 times per week. They just have to devote a part of their practice to developing physical qualities aside from skill tactics and strategies. If they don't, they are selling the players short on keeping them injury free and they are selling them short on developing their overall ability in the long term.  

Elite Soccer Conditioning: In my experience working here in Utah they do practice twice a week sometimes they will play two times a week and practice two times a week. What are some of the ways they can overcome the obstacles of playing and practicing so much and still find time to develop the physical qualities?  

Vern Gambetta

They have to really plan their practices. Every soccer coach wants to do everything with the ball and the statistic that jumps out is that players don't spend more than 2.5% of the time with the ball.   You should have speed oriented drills. Some with the ball and some without the ball. 2./3 of the work, even up to 80% should be with the ball. Look for dead time in practice, look for time when people are standing around. Shorten the lines. Make small sided games speed oriented and agility oriented. Look for opportunities within the practice to develop speed quickness, agility, body awareness, fitness.  

Elite Soccer Conditioning: What are some of the biggest mistakes coaches make when conditioning teams?  

Vern Gambetta

Separating conditioning from practice. That is one of your biggest mistakes. And then equating distance running with the type of conditioning you need.....  

Elite Soccer Conditioning: I was reading in your most recent book about Interval Training as being an effective tool for building that aerobic capacity in soccer players. How can soccer coaches pick the appropriate volume for conditioning. I have heard some stories maybe U 12 where they will do 20 reps of 40 yards dashes. They have no idea of the appropriate volume, what are some ways to pick the correct volume?  

Vern Gambetta

That is a simple question with a lot of complex solutions. It is hard to give a specific formula because you have to know the players and know their basic overall fitness levels. In the new book we talk about a 6 minute run test which I used to not be in favor of, but the 6 minute run test can be used to determine your vVO2 max and is a very simple very simple formula. Then from that you can figure the speed at which you can do your 15 second and 30 second runs. And I think what you have to do then is you have to start out and undershoot and watch how people handle it. Obviously your 6 minute run test or your beep test will tell you where their fitness levels are and adjust accordingly. It depends on whether you are playing games, the age group, running mechanics, whether the kids have the mechanics or not, how hard what you are doing in practice, those are all factors that will go into figuring your overall volume. I think the last point is instead of looking at your volume in an individual session look at the total work that you do over one week or two weeks. Total minutes of doing various activities and you will see that things add up pretty quickly. It is the sum total of work, of all work, which raises your work capacity which will in turn raise your endurance to be able to play the game more.

Vern Gambetta is the author of Athletic Development: The Art & Science of Functional Sports Conditioning.  Look at to purchase the book.