By Macedonio Fernandes, CSC
Whether practice on the football field, agility drills, or weight/strength training sessions in the gym, every footballer’s response to training intensity is different. There are various inborn body type differences in footballers (and other athletes) like the muscle fiber type and their proportions, hormones, neuromuscular co-ordination, and other physiological and anatomical differences hidden from our naked eyes. These differences are not accounted for in their training or rehabilitation by their coaches. I have witnessed this many times during the I League and Indian Super League gym sessions here in Goa. Players are put through the same training regimen irrespective of the differences in their physical traits. This is the current situation in the sport of football and many other team sports in Goa. This article is with reference to footballers, but other athletes from other sports can learn a thing or two from this information too.
Every footballer is pushed through the same training/practice intensity and expected to respond in the same manner. But the outcome is short-lived performance and never ending injuries. When there is enough evidence that each footballer is different from the other from a physiological response standpoint, why is it coaches don’t understand that a level of intensity that will improve one footballer can lead to overtraining for another? This one-regimen-fits-all approach neither helps the team nor the player. The same training intensity must not be applied to every footballer. For some, less training is just right to make progress or else overtraining will occur, resulting in injuries.
Many footballers are sacrificed to the idea that Ronaldo’s, Messi’s and other elite athletes’ on-field, gym training or rehabilitation programs work for everyone. The non-elite players simulate these training programs in the hopes of improving their performance. Have these training programs helped them to reach to an elite level performance like Ronaldo or Messi, or even close to their level of performance? No! But they are training exactly how Ronaldo and Messi train. Why is it those who simulate top level athletes are unable to perform like them? This is because the coaches and physical trainers are not making an effort to understand the differences in the physiological responses of each player. This is the reason why football teams are losing their players to injuries before they even reach the pitch.
The players on the other hand follow ridiculous gym training programs that involve drills and exercises that are not even distantly related to sports specific movement, let alone natural human movements. These futile training methods and exercises are either recommended to them by their “overly smart” fitness trainers or they simply follow an elite level footballer’s gym routine. They fail to understand that the little improvement that happens is because of their athletic ability to learn a skill, and not because of the training method or exercises.
All athletes possess talents and skills that are different from the rest of the population and that is why they are athletes. Quick reflexes and amazing co-ordination are traits that all athletes have. That is why they are playing a sport. Ordinary people are not selected to play football or any other sport. The ones that make the team are the ones who are already good with their skills. They only become better with “practice” i.e to play the same sport over and over again. Valuable time and energy is wasted in doing ridiculous exercises in the gym that they will never be able to translate into performance on the playing field. For eg, if you mastered a circus-like balancing exercise on the stability ball in the gym, you will become better at balancing on the stability ball alone, and that fancy balancing act will never help you to balance on the football field, a shoulder push from a much stronger player or bigger player will land you on the ground no matter how good your balance is. This is because your brain and muscle has learnt to co-ordinate on the stability ball, not on the ground. And by the way, your balance doesn’t improve on that stability ball or any other unstable equipment. It is only your skill to balance yourself on an unstable surface that improves. So, if you put the same time and effort into learning skills on a field (stable floor) your brain and muscle coordination will be exactly similar to the conditions during a game on the football field. And that is exactly what we are witnessing among Goan footballers. These players only shine in the gym doing these theatrical exercises, but never reach the top of their game. Goan footballers from yesteryears hardly did any of these new age fancy theatrical training and yet were on top of their game.
Coaches and physical trainers must take the responsibility to train their players keeping in mind their unseen physiological and anatomical differences. Players must also take responsibility for not wasting their own talent and must learn from non-fancy intelligent genuine coaches and physical/fitness trainers. Whether practice on the field or weight training in the gym, the intensity must be adequate to make improvement; not too much and not too less (for some less works better). It’s not just about putting time and effort into improving yourself, it is also about putting your effort “intelligently” into training that will give you maximum returns.
As I close this article let me tell you that I was a footballer in my teens. I suffered an injury that didn’t allow me to continue playing. But the reason I didn’t continue was because I didn’t get help and the right advice from the right people. And so here I am, doing my best to share information that will help a footballer or an athlete to understand the training aspect of a sport. As a coach, I have trained a few Goan footballers and a couple of players of other nationalities and I’m glad I could educate them about the differences in physiological responses, and where to put their effort and how not to waste their time doing exercises that they will never benefit from, but will definitely cost them their valuable energy. I would like to reach out to more footballers and other athletes to make them aware of their potential and how they may be wasting their energy and their talent, and hence this article. I’m aware of a lot of Goan footballers that have the potential to reach the top. I wish them all the best with their training, and advise them to use their time and hard effort to build themselves up in the physical traits that they lack. And remember, the only thing that will make you a better player or a better athlete is playing the same sport again and again, simply put, practice practice practice (the sport). The only other thing you must do is to maintain a high level of strength in your joints to be able to take the stress that comes along with the physicality of the sport.
Those who think this article may help somebody you know, please share it. If you’re a footballer (or other athlete) and have any questions or want to understand how to train efficiently, drop me an email or meet me at the gym. I’ll be glad to help. I would also like to invite football clubs (and other sports) interested in having me address their team as a whole to contact me.
This article is dedicated to all the footballers I coached. They are my inspiration and pride.