Football Training techniques had come a long way when I retired in 2001, from when I first became a Professional Football player in 1992.
Players Fitness levels are one of the first items to be assessed. Typically this would involve checking the players weight, fat levels and heart rate based upon the end of year readings from the previous season. Unlike most players I used to return to pre-season training a few pounds under my playing weight, which was about 180 lbs. The reason was that I used to find it hard keeping my weight up due to any of the muscle mass I had put on during the previous season falling off me.
Most players were the opposite, many accumulating a few inches around their bellies and butts. A sure sign of a summer of over-indulgence. In the lower leagues some players would come back looking like Darts players, although the more elite professionals would never allow themselves to become so out of shape.
Once the formalities of fitness levels had been checked and the guilty parties fined or warned by the Football club management the serious business of getting footballers back into shape for the coming season would get under way.
The first few weeks would involve a lot of running. Long distance drills up to 2 to 3 miles to get the heart, lungs and legs pumping again. Managers would have different approaches to the speed at which the intensity of pre-season training would increase but Alan Curbishley at Charlton gets my vote for the thoughtfulness of him and his teams approach to getting the players fit. They were in no hurry and would steadily build up the intensity of the running. A big consideration for the coaching staff is that they want fit players but not at the expense of getting them injured.
Very long warm ups and warm downs are an essential part of the pre-season program allowing the players bodies to adapt to training programs. Scattered between the warm ups and warm downs would be stomach burning sit-up repetitions to harden the mid-torsos of the players. It would not be unusual to pound out 600-700 sit ups in a session, inducing searing pain through a players stomach. I have seen many players give up or throw up (or both) in these sessions.
Rest after a training session is vital and in fact you don't really have much choice due to legs, stomach and body generally aching so much that you just go home and collapse for the rest of the day, knowing that tomorrow will be the same again.
A Football might appear as a gift from the coaches to lift the spirits of the exhausted players. After all we are called Football players and the incentive to play a bit of "ball" was often needed to get players through the weary fitness training.
Another incentive was the pre-season tour. I think the whole club looked forward to this as it was a chance to escape the daily routine, press and have a bit of fun a long the way. Pre-season tours are notorious for players getting into trouble.
I saw the captain of one of my teams revived on the 18th hole of the golf course at 7am by some of our players after falling asleep on his way home to the room at the hotel.
The Manager had put a curfew of 10pm on the players, allowing us to go into the closest town for a few drinks and watch a movie. The bus driver waited for us and a happy and slightly inebriated bunch of footballers got back on the team coach at 9.45pm to get back to the Golf Resort we were staying at in Cornwall. The manager was waiting for us and after checking the numbers was satisfied that we had all returned. Little did he know that a small group of our squad had ordered taxis for 10.30pm to come to the Hotel and take the players back into town. Our captain (no names) and this small group spent the night in the club and enjoying the local beer. The rest of us woke up early the next day and found him asleep in the bunker of the 18th hole.
Not wanting to get him in trouble we took him back to his room and did our best to sober him up but our manager had already caught wind of his escapades. He was not pleased and although we pleaded with him to leave the player asleep he insisted he trained with the squad. We all took it in turns to hold him up as we went through our running exercises, a player on each side of our captain, dragging him around the training field.
Apart from the occasional indiscretion most players would be respectful of the job in hand and enjoyed the pre-season tour. The training is intense but lots of games would be organized so the players could start honing their skills for the season. I always felt like I needed 6 or 7 full 90 minute Football matches in the pre-season to gain my full fitness. Some players would be up to full speed and ready for August kick off in as few as 3-4 full games.
I would find myself running for the sake of running in pre-season games just to boost my fitness levels. The results of the games were not so important for the players as they would be for the fans, who would be devastated if Newcastle United lost to Gateshead or West Bromwich Albion lost to Halesowen, in local derbies.
4-5 weeks into the pre-season and players get an inkling if they will figure in the managers plans for the upcoming season. If you had played in most of the pre-season games then everything looked good. If you had been left out of a few matches, the little voice inside your head would start to question you whether you were in with a chance of making the starting line up in August. As a striker goals make a huge difference and a hatful of goals in pre-season would be great for a strikers confidence.
My professional career lasted 10 years and I only ever missed one pre-season. This was at Newcastle United when I broke a metatarsal in my foot. I missed the pre-season fitness program and found it very difficult to catch up, something that a lot of players will testify to. Pre-season football training is an intense, grueling 4-6 weeks of hard work but well worth the effort and players that survive the program will be in great shape for the upcoming season.
A Typical Football Players Training Day
Plyometrics and Football Training