Surviving and Thriving during the 10 Month Season - Part 1: Program Overview

By Brian Goodstein, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Coach DC United (reprinted with permission from Performance Conditioning Soccer)

Brian Goodstein has served as D.C. United's head athletic trainer for the past 11 seasons and is responsible for all aspects of medical care, rehabilitation and sports performance. Before joining United, Goodstein was head athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach for the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 2001. He's also been a member of the MLS Advisory Committee and currently serves as president of PSATS (Professional Soccer Athletic Trainers Society) in addition to holding a position on the MLS policy and procedures committee. With D.C., Goodstein was honored as the MLS Athletic Trainer of the Year in 2004 and 2007.

Goodstein has also served as the Director of Sports Performance at Metro Orthodontics and Sports Therapy in 2003. Prior to working with MLS, he held similar athletic training positions with the US Soccer Men's U17 Residency Program in Bradenton, FL, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Field Hockey Association.

(This is the first of a multi-part series detailing the MLS DC United conditioning program. This issue provides an overview of the 10 month program. Subsequent articles provide in-depth how-to do programs detailing all aspects of soccer conditioning.)

Surviving and thriving in the MLS ten-month season challenges even the most fit soccer players. However, by careful planning and program implementation, players can reduce the chance of injury, improve performance and peak at the all-important play-offs.

This article outlines the ten months and is intended to offer coaches insight into the planning necessary to train and condition their team over the entire year.

Preseason: Testing and Physicals

Preseason starts the first week in February. At this time physicals are done to address any injuries or medical conditions.

Each athlete’s posture, body fat percentage and weight distribution is analyzed by the team chiropractor. We also conduct a thorough eye and dental exam. An important injury prevention thing we do is a functional movement screen to identify any weaknesses or imbalances that might predispose an athlete to injury.

The physiological testing includes blood lactate testing, 30 meter sprint, vertical jump, agility t-drill, 30 second hop (double leg lateral hop over a six-inch hurdle), medicine ball throw (over the back throw for distance), 1 minute of push-ups, and max pull-ups (See How-to-Do Tests).

Preseason: Training Program

Preseason training takes place until the first week in April. It usually involves three 2-week trips starting in Bradenton, Florida and includes a foreign trip (team bonding). The first four weeks usually are 2- a-days. Focus is on cardiovascular endurance “slow and open your lungs” as our coach Peter Nowak puts it (ed note: Nowak was head coach from 2004-2006). This “open the lungs approach” is based on Peter’s experience as a coach and player in Poland and Germany. 

Speed Endurance is accomplished by doing alternates or six flags running. The field is divided by six flags, one at each corner of the field and two at each end of the midline. The players perform laps going from one flag to the next varying the type of running they do. For example, we could do alternates, which includes sprint to the first flag then jog to the second and continue repeating the sprint/jog pattern around the field. The length of the alternates also changes starting with alternate of 50 yards, then 100 yards, 150, 200, 250 and finally 300 yards. We do each one of these alternates four times at each distance with a three-minute rest before moving to the next distance. We also use this as an endurance test to see where the players are. The test is more subjective by checking the results of one player in relation to another. During this period we do the following:

  • Total body strength training 2x per week in the weight room.
  • Functional circuit on field 1x per week.
  • Progressive kicking program.
  • Core stability and flexibility work.

During this time we work on break-ing in cleats and orthotics. We also educate the players about the importance of hydration and nutrition. Since we play a lot of games during the preseason period we bring in a lot of players for tryouts with the goal of finishing out all our roster spots. As a result, we’ll play a game in the morning and do the technical/fitness session in the afternoon. Most of the competition is with teams who come to Florida to train, but we also go overseas to play games. The workload during this period is extensive.

In-season: Training Program

The first part of in-season starts the first week in April and lasts to the All-Star break at the end of July. Emphasis (2x/wk) is on increasing foot speed, which we do with 20-60 yard sprints, agility exercises, bungee cord resistance work, technical work with a ball, and circuit training in the weight room (28 stations, 20-30 seconds each station). The circuit is done in the weight room with a work-to-rest ratio of one-to-one. This allows the athletes to move from station to station and get set up before the next exercise is to begin. If we have a game on Saturday we usually do the circuit on Wednesday. On Mondays we do a personalized program. Here we work on the individual needs of the athletes. An athlete may have a hamstring problem so we’ll prescribe exercises to strengthen this area. If they’ve had a hernia operation we’ll prescribe core/stability exercises. This is a personal program and is based on the functional movement screening we do or some performance goal that an athlete might have, such as increasing power.

In addition, one time per week we fit in a core strengthening and balance program of six to 10 exercises x 25 repetitions for each exercise. Non-participating all-star players have 5-7 days off. They are encouraged to rest for 2-3 days and then do short intense sessions to maintain fitness.

The following is a summary of our in-season training.

July—Oct: Training sessions are short and sharp and intensity is high (less than 90 minutes). Continue strengthening program and circuit training. Focus on team speed and position-specific drills. Massage therapy when possible.

Oct—Nov: (playoffs and finals): Home and away matches with a one game final. The goal here is to unload the legs when possible. To help in recovery, massage and PNF stretching is done along with maintenance strength training.

Injury Patterns and their Prevention

Most injuries occur in the preseason because of the volume and load of two-a-day training. The thing that is seen most is a lot of lower extremity muscle strains. This is a result of starting out too soon with hard sticking and sprinting movements before the body is ready for the high intensity work.

Without a doubt, performance enhancement training decreases the amount of injuries a team will have, which means less player lost participation time. As both athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach I am able assess and modify the team’s workload. For every practice our team incorporates a functional warm-up, which focuses on dynamic flexibility, speed and agility. We work to incorporate many different movement patterns, progress to increasing foot speed and change of direction, and finish with accelerations up to 20 yards.

A comprehensive warm-up, personalized strength and rehab program, and position- specific fitness goals and drills assigned to the player are the most important components to preventing injuries. This is done by close communication with the coaching staff. I’m fortunate that the head coach and his staff support strength and conditioning training. The coaches are able to see the benefits of it, which makes our relationship much easier. This is not always the case, which makes performance enhancement and injury prevention a difficult task and is a determent of the players.

As the season progresses endurance drills decrease and sport-specific speed drills increase. We try to unload the legs from running drills and incorporate circuit training in the weight room and on the field 1-2x/wk. Because of the length of the season it is very important to continue a maintenance program throughout the season to prevent muscle breakdown and imbalances.

Recovery Methods

Recovery from practice and games is an important part of surviving the 10 months. I encourage our players to sign up and utilize our massage therapist as much as possible. She comes in three times a week. She incorporates a lot of active release, myofacial, active isolated stretching with massage, and deep tissue techniques. We tend to focus on the adductors, psoas muscles, quadratus lumborum, glutmedieus, TFL and IT band. Pool regeneration sessions are incorporated every few days in preseason.

We have our players check in with the chiropractor to assure that the hips and SI are properly aligned. Soccer player have imbalances right to left and our chiropractor, who has been with us for eight years, is able to ID these situations and deal with them.

The day after a game we do a recovery jog and stretch. This consists of 10-minute simple movements followed by long static stretches, then a 10-minute jog at moderate pace and finish up with a dynamic flexibility session. We also do contrast baths after hard practices (3x3 minutes cold and 2x2 minutes hot). As a precaution, we weight check before and after practice to determine fluid replacement. Some players will do supplementation—carbohydrate/glutamine mix, Gatorade nutrition shakes and endurance drinks, creatine/chromium pills and multivitamin packs. Finally, we do rope stretching/partner stretching with a walk on the road just to awaken the neuromuscular system and get tightness out from traveling.

Off-season Considerations

After a long, hard season that hopefully ends up with a championship, we take two weeks absolutely OFF. This is followed by four weeks of light cross-training (swimming, tennis, racquetball, etc.). Along with cross-training the players will start to mix in other strength and conditioning activities. Three times a week we’ll do a total body strength training doing the basic three sets of 10 repetitions. Four times a week we do plyometric and explosive power training and twice a week, indoor soccer/basketball for fun. Before start of the next preseason, we do a week of recovery with yoga, long bike rides or easy jogs.

In soccer, the players remain sharp with the volume of touches on the ball. During this period we keep ball touches down to twice a week indoors. When they come back for the preseason, we realize the players won’t be as sharp technically as if they played in the off season; however, we feel the recuperation with active fitness activities allows the body to more effectively recuperate from a long 10-month season.

Lessons for Young Players

For youth players and their coaches, because of their schedules and large volumes of playing time, it’s important to have a strength and conditioning program going on during the season. This can be part of warmup. We do a speed/agility functional program as part of this warm-up. In my estimation, just doing this very basic thing will help eliminate many injuries because it educates the muscles on what they are supposed to do.

As far as strength training is concerned, it need only be done twice a week and can be done on the soccer field using bodyweight or simple, portable pieces of equipment.

How-to-Do Tests

Overhead Medicine Ball Throw Back

  1. Stand ready with back facing direction of the throw.
  2. Squat down and place med ball between feet on the floor with both hands.
  3. Lift med ball from the floor and throw high overhead and slightly backward as far as possible.
  4. As the med ball is released, perform a maximum vertical jump.

Agility T test

  1. Place four cones 5yds away from center cone in (t) shape.
  2. Start at the bottom of the T run forward and touch, move laterally touching the two outside cones
  3. Return to center cone touch and back pedal to starting position.
  4. Done in both directions.


Performance Conditioning Soccer

Ken Kontor is founder and president of Performance Conditioning Inc. His company is the world’s largest single source of sports-specific conditioning information. Among the educational resources provided are Performance Conditioning Volleyball, Cycling and Soccer newsletters now in their 14th year of publishing and 15 sports-specific conditioning books and training card systems. He is a founding member of the USA Volleyball Sports Medicine and Performance Commission and was instrumental in the establishment of the Volleyball Conditioning Accreditation Program (V.C.A.P.) curriculum offered through the USA Volleyball Coaching Accreditation program. Among his contributions to this program was writing the curriculum. He has established the Off-bike Conditioning curriculum promoted by USA Cycling. In the past he has worked with USA Roller Sports and USA Triathlon producing conditioning specific newsletters. Prior to the establishment of Performance Conditioning Inc., Mr. Kontor was a founding father, executive director and publications editor of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) for 14 years an organization of over 16,000 sport conditioning professionals. He was an original member of the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist committee that established the internationally recognized C.S.C.S. credential. He has traveled extensively throughout the world including the former Soviet Union, East Germany and the Leipzig Institute of Sport, Hungary and Bulgaria with the purpose of introducing their strength and conditioning methods to the NSCA membership. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association Inc. and the National Strength and Conditioning Association of Japan. He has lectured extensively on the conditioning of athletes throughout the world.