Club Conditioning: Qualities to Look for in a Comprehensive Program

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By Roby Stahl (reprinted with permission from Performance Conditioning Soccer)

Roby is one of the first Americans ever to play and coach full time professionally in Europe. He graduated from the University of Akron in 1975 where he was a four-year varsity letter winner and captain for two years. During those years he was a member of the U19 Men's National Team and the U.S. Olympic Team player pool.

After graduating from Akron, Roby played professionally in Europe with the Cork Celtic FC in Ireland and trained with West Ham United of the English Premier League. Additionally, he played professionally for the Cleveland Cobras of the American Soccer League and was a member of the Clayton Football Club and Walthamstow Park FC of the Rothman-Isthmian League in London, England. He was very active in the London Football Coaches Association at that time.

In addition to his impressive playing resume, Stahl comes to AFC Lightning with extensive coaching experiences at the youth, adult, collegiate and professional levels. His professional coaching resume includes stints as the Head Men's and Women's Coach for Tyresö FF in Stockholm, Sweden, Head Coach at the College of Charleston (SC), Assistant Coach at Old Dominion University, and Interim Coach for both Men and Women at the University of Central Florida. Roby spent two years assisting with training for the Columbus Crew (MLS) and is the former Head Coach of the Cincinnati Kings (USL PDL & PASL). He is the former owner and director of Post-To-Post Training Centers catering to elite players across the US.

On the youth level, Stahl previously served as the Director of Coaching and Soccer Education for the Ohio South Youth Soccer Association, Founding DOC Boys Ohio Elite Soccer Academy, Technical Director/Director of Coaching for FC America Omni/Kumba in Orlando, Florida, Technical Director for Hungryneck International in Charleston, South Carolina, Technical Director for Kings Hammer Soccer Club, Cincinnati, Ohio, and as Head Coach for numerous boys' and girls' youth and high school teams in various states and countries.

Roby possesses coaching licenses from NSCAA Premier, US Soccer 'A', Swedish FF Elite, Brazilian Elite, and US Soccer National Youth, and a Masters in Educational/Sports Administration from Old Dominion University.

The AFC club dates back to 1984, and has produced four national team players: Clint Mathis, Ricardo Clark, Josh Wolf, and current world champion team member, Kelley O'Hara. When I arrived at the club, there were some issues that lead to a slight decline of the club, in membership but this opportunity presented a good challenge. The first week of watching the top team play, the first comment that I had was that the kids did not work hard enough. This is directly related to the fact that the coaches did not expect enough from them. As a result, they didn't push the athletes hard enough during training.

The conditioning aspect is something we addressed after I hired three new directors who worked for me in the past. These individuals had the same philosophy that I have toward conditioning.

We are just starting our fitness/conditioning program. We are hiring experts who live in the city to train our older kids once or twice a week. We expect that all of our coaches work hard to learn and integrate other conditioning activities every day in training.

Outside Conditioning Expertise

What do we look for to bring in someone from the community to do our sessions once or twice a week? The first thing to consider is testing the athletes to see where they are. The next thing is to ensure the kids enjoy what they are doing. This program is just starting and we have had good response from the players.

One important thing to avoid is bringing in someone with an American football background. The expectation of football conditioning in soccer is completely different, so the next important selection aspect is having an individual with a soccer background. We were fortunate to have a conditioning specialist who was affiliated with Solar Soccer out of Texas.

The first thing we look at is speed. This includes multi-lateral directions, mobility, and agility. The other thing we consider is explosive power to use in effective jumping for headers and tackling. I find that most "speed" companies work on straight-ahead speed. When you look at soccer, the speed is based on starting, stopping, and change of direction. We begin with proper mechanics with outside expertise: how to run, stop, and change direction properly and efficiently. Accelerating and working from a lower body position is equally important. Start with bodyweight activities. Loading exercises (squats) come later.

I have an extensive background is soccer strength, speed, and conditioning—so do my Directors. This begs the question of how much conditioning we bring into the program beyond what our initial hire was for—the technical/tactical, social, and emotional development of our athletes.

Who Is in Charge?

What is the relationship between the outside expert and the soccer coach who is ultimately responsible for the team? How does this relationship work? The ultimate responsibility in our club setting is the director of coaching. It is his job to communicate the necessary information and practices from the program athletes to the coaches. The coaches come into the conditioning facility, watch what happens, and apply what the athlete does as part of what the coach does.

We have thirty to forty coaches. At the elite level, we have about 740 kids and are supported by two recreational groups that have over 2,000 kids. The problem is how to get the information from me to our directors to our select/elite athletes, our coaches, and have it trickle down to our recreational program. The real work starts at the rec program. In the past, we had physical education. Not that it was a developmental program, but we had daily activity. When we were kids, we played outside activities like kick the can and climbing tress. Now we must train the kids how to play the game.

I expect all my directors of coaching to have a good background in physical education. I would like my directors to have similar backgrounds or at least be in some type of continuing education and/or played at a high level. That way, the three directors have the same philosophy as I do.

How, then, do we get this information out to the coaches? We have several things we are responsible for:

  1. Communication to ensure all the coaches are on the same page and that they are actively communicating with athletes and their parents.
  2. We send out weekly information online. We may have information on strength and conditioning, tell the coaches to look at it, but then we add the ball.

It's not just strength and conditioning, but also how we tie this to soccer. The concept is to combine physicality with soccer skill abilities. Our U8 to U12 academy has a skills night on Monday. After Christmas we began to teach players how to move their body not only as a soccer player, but also as an athlete. Then we incorporate the movement skills into soccer skills. This provides us with a very economical ninety minutes. We end by playing small-sided games, like four v. four, to reinforce the earlier skills development. This is fun for the kids and they learn.

Future Directions

US Soccer has a developmental program based on the concept that our better kids are not getting enough training and play too many games. This led to the start of the US Soccer Development Academy. It means your club must be certified by having a proven reputation of developing better athletes. This does not necessarily include just winning. The reward is having USDA status, like our U12 program. This is a great challenge because my goal is to prove that we are a club that can develop kids skill-wise, technically, tactically, socially, and improve their physical conditioning/development.

We started this fall. My goal after a year is to take another look as to what works and what does not work from a physical development standpoint. I have been here two years, and our goals are simple. I expect the coaches to develop the kids so that what we are physically doing actually works in a game. In strength training terms, it's not how much you can lift, but how much you can lift using proper technique. Expecting kids to develop to their full potential is the most important thing we do; winning is secondary. Before I came here our coach, coaches were told that their only responsibility was to win. We started with under 600 kids, now we are at 740. We lost a lot of kids at first, but now parents realize we develop their kids by giving them physical and skill development without the emphasis on winning every single day. Realize this is a long process. If you develop your players, you are going to win in the long run.


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.