My experiences of professional football trials have been hard fought to say the least. From two hour trial in the middle of rural Scotland in February to meeting a club chairman aboard a hovercraft to Belgium and much more inbetween. Although I had a great goal-scoring record and an appetite for the game I never made it big. What I did have however were plenty of opportunities to do so. I had dozens of trials, numerous scouts watching me and extended stays at clubs. This is less of how to impress at a trial, something I never did, but how to get one in the first place.
The first thing is you must have some ability and stand out at the level you are playing at. There are dozens of people wanting to take money for you either as “agents” or soccer trial/academy days. I have never known anyone personally to have success with either of these options. All of the people I have known to have become professional have succeeded from networking. Either they know someone, or a member of their family does, or in my case I attended every league meeting, conference, lecture or coaching session I could. Eventually this paid off and I was offered a trial by Cambridge United after talking to one of the coaches. This led to further trials at other clubs after recommendations and name dropping. However by far the most successful way I found of securing a trial was to write to clubs. This would translate to email in this day and age, however I suspect a letter would hold some novelty value. I wrote to every club in the top 3 divisions of every league in Europe. The postage cost was horrendous, however I probably received dozen or so “yes, come and have a trail at your own expense” letters in reply. No way could I afford to go to all of them so I had to pick the best couple to go to. I didn’t choose the biggest teams, but the teams which I felt may have less competition for places. This was Lokeren in Belgium and Willem II in Holland. I must admit the language barrier was more of a problem in rural Belgium and at both trials I found the training much more tactical than I was used to. Both were successful with offers of short term contracts.
After returning I used these clubs as a reference and attached a report they had written for me to send to other clubs, again resulting in more trials. So my advice is not to give up, get references, reports or quotes from clubs and use them to your advantage.
If your pre-match stretching routine involves blasting the ball into the net (or not), and a quick fag, then take note. There is more than 1 type of stretching. Here is the low down. Static – The Sunday league faithful, but studies have shown static stretching to be as ineffective as no stretching at all and can in fact decrease muscle strength. Static stretching does have a place post-match. Dynamic – The most effective pre-match stretching technique designed to replicate game movements. It works by using momentum to extend range of motion, but not exceed normal static range. Recent research has indicated that dynamic stretching benefits speed and acceleration, static and dynamic balance, increased range of movement, increased core and muscle temperature and may reduce risk of injury. PNF – Proprioceptive muscular facilitation. Can be active (done by yourself) or passive (with a mate) and works by stretching and contracting the muscle. Excellent flexibility training and more effective post-match. Ballistic – Uses momentum of moving body part or limb to force muscle beyond normal range of motion. Recent evidence suggests this may be detrimental as this type of stretching has a higher risk of injury and can decrease actually flexibility.
Clearly the evidence supports dynamic stretching as part of an effective warm up. These should be done after an initial pulse raiser. Sport specific drills and progressing to faster paced drills/sprints should conclude a pre-match routine.
The usual routine of heading back in for a team talk pre-match will undo this hard work, so make sure you organise yourselves before heading out. Take a look at the recommended dynamic stretching routines below.
Considering adding beach running to pre-season training? It is a great way to improve aerobic conditioning, muscle strengthening and is lower impact than regular hard surfaces preventing stress on ankles and knees
There is also a risk of injury if you done incorrectly. When you think beach running you may think long stretches of beautiful sand and in perfect early evening conditions. In England it more like stony/litter strewn beaches in blizzard like conditions so get prepared before you go.
Follow these guidelines to get the most from your pre-season beach run:
• Recce the beach first to be sure of suitability. It doesn’t have to be miles and miles of sand but make sure there is enough to fit your team on safely.
• Check tide times and weather conditions for obvious reasons.
• Wear shoes. Especially if beach running this is not a regular experience. Wearing shoes assists ankle stability in the sand.
• Stick to the shoreline where the sand is harder and more compact to ease the body into beach running.
Beach running + team bonding + ice cream = increased player motivation
When you think Pilates you may think of a group of women stretching and practising breathing techniques. That was my initial impression when originally advised to attend after a back injury. I was partially right. I was the only man, but in the months that followed I was joined by more and more men, and in the end the class has a near 50/50 split. I oozed self-esteem. The benefits of improved muscle tone, joint mobility, balance and whole body strength and flexibility were evident. Pilates can help players maintain stamina, reduce risk of injury and recover quicker post-match.
A bit of research tells me top clubs such as Tottenham and Manchester City deliver it on a regular basis and players such as Beckham, Giggs and Friedel advocate Pilates for career longevity.
If it’s so good why isn’t everyone doing it? As a form of anaerobic exercise not all clubs have the time to fit this in around other forms of training. Club training once a week will be utilised for game related activity, and one off sessions of Pilates will not bring the expected outcomes.
So if you needed any extra encouragement to don the meggings and head to a Pilates class consider the benefits and catch up on the latest gossip at the same time.
SAQ training hit it big a few years ago in the football world and has seemingly disappeared in favour of newer, shinier, cheaper trends, however recent studies detailing SAQ improving physical ability, learning skills, confidence and overall wellbeing in Primary school children may have reminded people of the benefits.
Does this mean thought that is not relevant for elite athletes, all of whom should have these basic requirements? Well no. Aside from the mini hurdle and floor ladder that innovative young coaches wielded out in to impress onlookers, SAQ now boasts technology such as fitLight trainer, an interactive system of lights that can be used to improve SAQ at any level. Research show SAQ training is especially important intra-season football to maintain power at a high level and is regarded as an essential building block in player development.
So before you groan at the thought of SAQ drills just remember the coach may just be rolling out the new fitLight trainer. Maybe.
After seeing a group of men playing 5-a-side barefoot I was surprised to see that they actually looked to have more control on the ball than I expected. What surprised me more is the fact they were playing a team wearing trainers. Admittedly I failed to hand around to witness the ratio of metatarsal injuries that occurred but aside from the obvious danger, a notion that players could play and develop their skills barefoot has intrigued me. The former Arsenal frontman, Gervinho, swears by his barefoot heritage, and as recent as 1948 the India national team played barefoot competitively.
The pros of barefoot certainly seem to be the sensitivity that is gained, enhanced power and accuracy and reduced incidence of chronic injuries. The cons remain it is pretty dangerous if all players don’t adhere to barefoot playing, the fact competitive football rules prohibit barefoot playing and of course the British weather usually means traction is an concern. Training barefoot would have the obvious above benefits, however many people have struggled to wear studs after a prolonged period of barefoot training.
I must admit I have tried barefoot 5-a-side and it does take getting used to, especially the pain when leathering the ball high and wide, but my touch and control certainly seemed superior.
The best of both worlds comes in the new barefoot style football boots developed by the likes of Puma, Nike and Adidas comprising the usual benefits with a barefoot feel.
Barefoot football does take dedication and bravery, however if in it for the long term there are very clear benefits physically and financially.
The yo-yo intermittent recovery test varies from coaches staple beep test by having a short recovery period after each 2 x 20 metre sprint. The yo-yo test proposes to evaluate a player’s ability to perform repeatedly over a prolonged period rather than just VO2 max as in the beep test.
The test is split into level 1 aimed at novices, and level 2, fit to elite, starting at a faster pace. Upon hearing a test lasts between 6 and 20 minutes at level 1, and the expected distance for recreational players was just 12-1300 metres for men (level 16.3-16.5) the assumption was it would be too easy, especially with “rest” periods. I was wrong. It was hellish. My feeble attempt was summed up by the coach indicating I may not be a team player anyway.
Luckily research indicates even the moderate marathon runner averages 20% less than the equivalent level footballer in this test, signifying the yo-yo intermittent recovery test is a more accurate reflection of an intermittent game player over the old faithful. Expect to see coaches rolling out this test in pre-season and don’t make the same mistake I made by actually turning up. You have been warned.
They definitely make me look better and feel like an elite athlete. But do they actually work? Research concludes compression garments “promote numerous physiological processes capable of effecting athletic performance and subsequent recovery.” It was also noted they play a role in lowering perceived muscle soreness and fatigue levels as well as improved athletic performance.
This research doesn’t take into account individual garments which are graded 1-3 dependant on their compression rating and with garments costing up to £90 each is it really worth the risk?
Well that depends on the individual. For me no amount of help can improve athletic performance but I feel better and it sucks up my gut a little, psychologically making me the Sunday league version of Ronaldo, if not physically. For the serious performer compression garments obviously play a more important role in performance and recovery which could be the difference between winning and losing.
If China use their influence and wealth to mastermind a serious challenge for a change of culture in the country and can do this without further corruption allegations then the European and South American dominance in football may be in serious peril. Here’s to the future.