Overspeed Training
Important Considerations for the Periodization of Conditioning Elite Soccer Players

by Professor Angel Spassov


Experts from around the world share the common opinion that the most important components, which influence the quality of the soccer game are:


Genetics - The major direction of the expert here is to find athletic, agile and skillful players with exceptional qualities. For the best in the world, this problem is already solved because a large number of experts permanently apply a well established system for selection and training such players among the entire population.


Technique - The problems of the technique of international soccer are not so much with adding new technical elements or variation, as much as improvement of well known technical activities which allow less offensive and defensive mistakes. An example are the leaders of the international soccer like Germany, Italy, England, Brazil, Argentina who don’t demonstrate new innovative things often, but try to clean the style of play by avoiding mistakes.


Strategy - In this direction, the best teams in the world are applying a style, which is a combination of effective and fast offense and defense on the base of athleticism, raised to a genius level.


Psychology - The specifics of soccer, which is a combination of different movements performed in a fixed space with a large variety of quick changing circumstances determining the special importance of psychological preparation of the players. The object is approached in different ways in different countries from the involvement of special psychologists to make the practice environment more difficult than the competitive one. Our opinion is that the best way to solve the problem is to use a tough and competitive calendar playing with the best teams in the world. Using a larger number of selected players will give a chance to choose the best of the best.


Physical Conditioning - The top class soccer player is an athlete with a great speed and strength endurance, quick reaction, exceptional ball handling abilities, orientation in a complicated and constantly changing situation. Our task in this article is to begin a discussion and share our experience for ways of improving the players conditioning, as this component is more and more important. The importance comes from intensive preparation, tough matches, and competitive calendar. These circumstances demand an exceptional requirement due to physical conditioning of the players. It is clear that if all other circumstances are equal, the teams with the best conditioning will be at an advantage.


Because the best coaches and experts have been working since a long time on the areas of Genetics, Technique, Strategy and Psychology, soccer is well developed in these aspects and nothing revolutionary can be expected until an eventual change of the rules. However, Physical Conditioning is still the big reserve for improvement of the players performance because here there is no common, well developed system as there are in the other areas. Therefore, it can be said that with all other circumstances being equal, the teams with the best Physical Conditioning will be at an advantage over their opponents.


Of course, it will be an extremely difficult task to choose and apply the best system for physical preparation. We know that even the best choice never will be perfect. For maximum avoidance of the possible mistakes, we fix our attention on the periodization of the conditioning during the preparation for important tournaments.


What is the periodization? In simple form, the periodization is a system of variable applying of the volume, intensity and frequency of the training means for improvement and maintaining the top sport shape a strictly determined period of time. In this way on the base of certain physiological development, our goal is to build up certain working physical cycles, similar to the biorhythms, as result from the organism’s adaptation to produce top physical and psychological achievement when needed. Here, without following the details and the experience of training of the top class athletes confirm, that the habits created during the periodization are stronger even than biorhythms and can eliminate their negative effects and consequences. Therefore, we can use penodization not only for better conditioning but also for our teams to be in the best shape exactly when needed. This statement is true because the physiological and psychological parameters of the players are the base for all of the soccer components.


Structure of the periodization


The scientific foundations of the theory of the Periodization begins it’s development by the Russians back in the 1930’s on the base of the physiological studies of I. P. Pavlov, A. N. Krestovnikov, V. S. Farfell, N.V. Zimkin, etc. Later important contribution for practical applying of the Periodization have the works of N.G. Ozolin, L.P. Matveev, A.N. Vorobiov, in USSR. D. Harre was the leader of a large group of experts who worked on the same issue in former East Germany. At the end of the 1950’s A. Lydiard created very strong system of practical Periodization for distance runners in New Zealand.
Periodization of the sports training is constructed from Macrocycles, Cycles, Periods, Mezocycles, and Microcycles where each is a specific time duration and depends upon the sports calendar.


Cycles - A macrocycle can last from several months to several years. For example, the Olympic Cycle is about four years. The most common duration of a cycle could be one year, and this one is important for those teams that have one dominant tournament per year. For example, this could be any high school or collegiate team. Usually this type of season lasts three to four months while alternating matches with practices. This variant of Periodization is applicable only for student teams because of their academic obligations.

Outside of high school and collegiate sports there exists another approach to the Periodization, when the teams can face several important tournaments in the same year. Obviously, we have to divide the year into two smaller cycles. For example: First - from February until the end of August and Second - from September until November. The duration of these two cycles is different but the goals are the same - best performance at the end of each cycle. We need certain variation in volume, intensity and frequency of the training load during each particular cycle to be able to develop the team in a desirable direction. The more often we can monitor progress reached, the easier it will be to avoid mistakes. If we wait to the end of each cycle it’ll be too costly to figure out the mistakes after so long period of time. This is why the Periodization presumes dividing the cycles into smaller intervals of time, from which the following are the Periods.

Periods - If the plan of the Periodization contains 1 cycle per year given this cycle includes 3 deferent periods, which are:

Pre-season Period - The longest period of time of the Periodization of the sports training, lasting about 5-6 months. The major goal of this period is to solve the fundamental tasks of the preparation, which have to provide achieving the sport shape - base of the maximal sports results during the next In-season period. The major work have to be done here is building up the physiological bases for accomplishment of great volume and intensity of practice and competitive loads, developing of specific locomotive habits as a fundament of farther bettering of the technical qualities and strategies. Usually the Pre-season period is divided into two stages: General preparation and Special preparation.


General Preparation (First Stage) - This is so called general improvement of the training level of the organism which is very important for extension and further developing of the potential of the athletes. The major tasks of that stage are:
- improvement of the functional abilities of the organism through complex developing of the locomotive qualities
- extending of the theoretical soccer knowledge
- reconstruction and refinement of the individual and team techniques and tactics
- increasing of the number of the locomotive habits and activities
- certain development of the general and specific physical condition
- enhancement and stabilization of the major psychological qualities of the soccer players

Special Preparation (Second Stage) - This part of the pre-season period is characterized with alternating of the structure of the workouts to more defined specific directions which create circumstances for direct obtaining of sport shape. To reach this goal the second stage is divided into 2-3 mesocycles with total duration of 10 to 12 weeks. In the area of physical conditioning the training influence is increased and directed to development of the locomotion qualities, specific for the sport chosen. In other words, the special physical conditioning dominates. The general physical conditioning provide mainly maintaining of the reached total shape, highly correlated with the specific conditioning.


The technical preparation is concentrated in direction of the automatization of the technique of the competitive activities.
The success of the special preparation depend from the combined applying of different means and methods of the sports training, which are determined from the following conditions:
- the developing of the sport shape, with all other circumstances equal, is as better as more often and harder (to the certain physiological limits) the specific training factor is applied
- each system of the conditional reflects can be build as faster and smoother as less variable outside influence is applied.


The sport shape reached to the end of this stage can be determined as than optimal for participation of the athletes in the nearest competitions. Farther, this level can be improved because of better recovery. Around the end of the pre-season period the athletes participate in number of competitions which main goal is as scrimmages to fix up the last details for the forthcoming in-season period.


In-Season Period - This is the time also well known as Competitive period and the duration is usually about 4-5 months. The same way as pre-season period is structured from 2 stages:
- Stage of early competitions
- Stage of major competitions


Early competitions stage is that time when different components of the sport shape undergo major changes related with the necessity from adaptation to the specific conditions of the competitive situation. This can be done usually in the limits of 2 mesocycles with total duration of 6-7 weeks.


The physical condition in the first stage of the competitive period is guided directly to achieve of the maximum specific sport shape and maintaining this high level as maintaining the general sport shape.


Major competition stage is the culmination of the whole system of the Periodization of sports preparation. Here exactly the players face the highest intensity and psychological pressure. Two are the most important questions:
The first one relates with the number and the character of the competitions. With the average duration of the stage 10-12 weeks the major competitions are usually 2 to 4.