Differences Between College and Pro Training

To say the least, Randy Waldrum and Schellas Hyndman are two of the most successful coaches in US soccer history and know a thing or two about what it takes to play at both the college and professional level. We caught up with these legendary coaches to discuss the differences between playing and training collegiate and professional soccer.

Randy Waldrum was named as the first head coach of Houston Dash ahead of the 2014 season after one of the most successful collegiate tenures in NCAA Division I history. Waldrum's career totals of eight NCAA semifinal appearances, five title games and two championships (2004 and 2010) all rank second in Division I women's soccer coaching history. His combined win total (399-108-29) and win percentage (.771)—spanning 24 total seasons at Tulsa, Baylor and Notre Dame—both rank fifth in the DI women's soccer record book. In addition to his collegiate responsibilities, Waldrum was head coach of the U.S. Under-23 Women’s National Team from 2012-13 and more recently has also spent time as the head coach of the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Team.

Schellas Hyndman is one of the most successful men’s soccer coaches in American sports history. Hyndman's resume spans 31 years as a college coach and six years as an MLS coach. He was inducted into the Eastern Illinois University Athletics Hall of Fame, coaching that school to a 98-24-11 record in seven years (1977-1983). He was the NSCAA Coach of the Year in 1981. He followed that up by compiling a 466-122-49 record as the head coach at Southern Methodist University from 1984 to 2008. In 2008, FC Dallas hired Hyndman as head coach and in 2010 he let them to the MLS Cup Final. Schellas Hyndman is currently in his first season as the head men's soccer coach at Grand Canyon University.

Amplified Soccer: What’s the biggest difference in college training versus professional training? 

Schellas Hyndman: There are certainly differences.  Because of the length of the season 3 months in college soccer and 10 months in professional soccer, training has to be monitored at the professional level very closely.  Because of the length of the season, coaches need to use different exercises in training which stress the same desired outcome as players will get bored doing the same exercises in training.

Randy Waldrum: I think the biggest difference is the periodization of both.  In college you play two games a week with a mandated day off, and in the pros the schedule is generally one game per week with some periods where we play a few games in a short amount of days. There are more tactical implications to train with the pros, and I also don’t have the 20 hour per week limitations.  So, I’m able to train as much as needed, and then work with individuals as often as needed.

Amplified Soccer: Do athletes at each level place enough emphasis on their nutritional habits? Do you see a difference in professional athletes approach to their diet? 

Schellas Hyndman: No not really. I do know that more and more emphasis on nutrition is placed on the professional level with nationalist. You will also find much more sponsorships for the professional players. At FC Dallas we had a great contract with Advocare for example.

Randy Waldrum: This is an area that our league needs to improve.  At Notre Dame I had a nutritionist that worked with our team along with other support staff such as a fitness trainer, sport psychologist, etc.  Now it should also be noted not all universities have this either.  Here in the pros, I don’t have that much support staff yet in the women’s game.  I know the MLS teams do on the men’s side, but our league is young and on a shoestring budget.  My fitness trainer and athletic trainer work with our nutritional needs.  Having said that, the pros are still much better at taking care of the nutritional needs than the college athletes, as their jobs depend on it.

Amplified Soccer: How does the time an athlete spends training and preparing with the team at the two levels compare? 

Schellas Hyndman: At the college level you have NCAA restrictions that have guidelines for the student-athletes. At the professional level the league does required that players have one day off a week as well. At the professional level the atmosphere is like a job and players need to put in a full day with training, strength and agility training, video analysis, small group meetings etc...

Randy Waldrum: Simply put, the athletes in college are limited to the 20 hr per week rule including games, plus they are students first.  I’d say our pros spend much more time on their game both on the field and off the field in the fitness center. They also spend time away from team training with individual work, which is hard to get college kids to do at times, with your limitations.

Amplified Soccer: What is the expectation of athletes at each level in terms of their training outside of organized team practices? 

Schellas Hyndman: At the college level the NCAA regulates training time in the fall and spring trainings. The professional level because of the long season, 35-50 games plus preseason training. Professional athletes need to take their free time to recover both mentally and physically.

Randy Waldrum: In college, outside of the 20 hours per week team training, you may only have a couple of hours to train individually with a coach.  So much of your individual training must come from your own discipline to get out and do it.  At the pro level, we are constantly taking individuals out and training them on areas they need to improve on, we have no time limitations.

Amplified Soccer: What do you see as the biggest challenge that athletes face when transitioning from college to pro? 

Schellas Hyndman: Some of the biggest challenges are adjusting to the long season. College players usually hit a fatigue wall by the 4th. Month of a MLS season. Obviously the level of play, the speed of play and the competition for playing time to name just a few.

Randy Waldrum: I’d say there are a couple of areas of transition that are key.  One is the speed and athleticism of the pro game.  There are many top tier college players that simply don’t have the athleticism or pace to play in the pro game.  Much like the NFL or NBA, a great college player doesn’t always translate to a great pro.  The other thing is the college player has to “learn to be a pro”.  They have to learn self-discipline to work on their game, they have to pay attention to their lifestyle including rest and nutrition, and fitness levels.  They have to learn how to work hard and smart, and much of this is on their own.  

Amplified Soccer: What is the biggest surprise that athletes discover when transitioning? 

Schellas Hyndman: How good these players are at the MLS level. The technical and tactical level of regular starters is really quite impressive. Players are extremely athletic as well.

Randy Waldrum: I think most are surprised how fast the game actually is compared to college. They realize how quickly you have to make decisions with the ball, as you don’t have the time that you had in college.  They also realize everybody is good, so they cannot get away with some of the things they did in college.

Amplified Soccer: Finally, what’s your biggest piece of advice for a young athlete? 

Schellas Hyndman: Same advice that I give to my grandson Emerson (midfielder at Fulham). "When you’re not practicing, someone else is and when you meet, he will win."

Randy Waldrum: I’d advise the young players to continually develop their technical abilities, as that will be key.  If your first touch often lets you down, then at our level you lose the ball.  So, technique, technique, technique.  Secondly begin to pay attention to your lifestyle now, while in high school and college.  Pay attention to your nutrition, this is so important to the pro level player.  Pay attention to your fitness level and push beyond your comfort zone in this area.  Make sure you get to know your body, when to rest, when to take time off, and how to recover immediately after games and training.