Learning to Speak "Soccer Coach"

Jun 22, 2022

Years ago I wrote an article I titled Learning to Speak Coach. The article was a general overview of the idea that you needed to understand the language and culture of a particular sport in order to sell your strength and conditioning program to the players, manager or head coach.

In no sport is this selling process more difficult than in the game of soccer. Many soccer cultures have a disdain for strength training borne from years of seeing programs designed for American Football players applied to soccer.

Soccer coaches are famous for avoiding strength training, particularly the type they associate with American Football.  In fact, during my year working with our women's national team (2003) I was specifically told “ I don't want to see a player with a bar on their back or in their hands”. What the head coach meant was “ no heavy squats and, no cleans” and, I knew it. If I was a wise guy I would have said “what, no bench press” but, comedy or sarcasm wasn't going to help my case.  Just remember, as soon as a soccer coach sees what they perceive to be “American Football stuff” they usually run in the opposite direction.

Another area of conflict is in speed development. Soccer coaches are also famous for wanting everything to be done “ with the ball”. Running without a ball is viewed as a waste of time and is reserved for jogging in warm-ups. Sprints without a ball are also viewed as a waste of time.

However, as we discussed in Learning to Speak Coach, an understanding of the game can help to sell coaches on good quality strength and conditioning.

The reality of soccer is that much more time is spent chasing the ball or, chasing another player with the ball than is spent in possession of the ball. The key selling point to a coach is that speed leads to possession and possession leads to wins. No ball, no wins. Win every 50-50 race, win the match.  

 To sell strength training to a soccer coach you need to sell three things

 1-injury prevention ( hamstrings and groins)


2- then speed development ( I try to explain that the ball impedes speed development)


3- then strength and power training as the key to speed.

If you start with strength training, you are doomed to fail.

If you start to push American Football programming built around heavy bilateral lifts, you are doomed to fail.

To sell injury prevention, we need to focus on health. The old saying is that the number one ability in any sport is avail-ability. The best way to win is to have your best players playing. Every coach knows and understands that. Because of that we need to package everything we do as injury prevention first, performance enhancement a distant second.

Even if we know this might not be true, we need a few little white lies to get started.

Next we need to sell speed improvement. It's not hard to watch Mo Salah run under a ball to see the value of speed. We need to explain to coaches that we can improve speed but, improving speed requires an “ engine upgrade”.

I use simple race car or car engine analogies here as Europeans tend to like and understand fast motor vehicles. I love to say that you can't win at Lemans in a Yugo or, that you can't beat a race horse with a plow horse. Coaches generally get it.

Lastly you need to explain that strength is a big component of speed and, a huge component of injury prevention.

In any case, start slow and build trust. Deliberately avoid things like squats, deadlifts and bench press in favor of unilateral versions and dumbbell versions. The truth is this is a bit of deception but, necessary deception. As time progresses, players will improve, injury rates will decrease, and most importantly, trust will increase.

 Remember, if you want to succeed, the boss needs to know, like and most importantly trust you. All of these take time. So, as strength and conditioning coaches or, as fitness coaches we need to be patient and, develop trust.