Don't be left wondering what to do. Be effective in your practice.
Practicing/playing frequently is physically demanding. Maximizing productivity of practice sessions becomes very important when performing at a high level. There will always be a structure to the practice session that facilitates effective use of time and minimizes the risk of over-training. Ensure you maintain high quality soccer practices each time you head out. Below is a typical practice structure that I follow.
Three slow speed laps around the field. The purpose of this is to get the blood flowing and gently loosen up joints and muscles and get the body and mind ready to compete. This will include dynamic stretching and movements too; elephant touches, leg swings, side by side movements, figure four, forward lunges, 1 legged Romanian deadlifts.
During this period I always practice being “light on my feet”, moving smoothly and getting tuned in.
After the initial warm-up, it's then a good time to stretch any tight spots. For me, this is the hip flexor which is a quite common tight spot in soccer.
It can then be fun to play a game such as 5 v 2. In a restricted space the 5 players attempt to keep possession against the opposing 2. Often the 5 players are restricted to one touch. This game is great for building camaraderie in the team, no-one wants to be one of the two in the middle.
Here is an example of an elite professional team warming up: Watch Manchester United’s in the first two minutes of this video.
It’s possible to improve one’s technique as it can always get better. This is a time to improve specific aspects of ones game. For example; first touch, dribbling, controlling the ball in the air, passing over a variety of distances, using different parts of the body to control the ball, turning. Pick one and experiment. It's also good to observe how the best players to things and then replicate in ones own practice.
If practicing first touch, go opposite a partner; someone plays the ball in, practice touching the ball in a specific direction Either out in front, across the body or turning in a different direction, Before I receive a pass each time I’ll turn my head, practicing looking for a defender behind. It’s important to ingrain good habits like this. The speed of the pass can also be varied, passing faster makes it harder for the other person to control. It's also important to be fluid and natural in ones movement.
Main body of practice
The main body of a practice is dependent on a variety of factors. Is it pre-season? Is it the day before a game? How fatigued are the players?
On a typical day which has no specific match preparation, it’s important to practice principles which are fundamental to soccer. For example, a team can practice keeping possession while the other team tries to tackle, there will often be one floating player who plays with whichever team has the ball. This practice requires working on communication, first touch, passing and movement. Within this I may have a specific focus, such as play 5 one two’s. My specific focus will always fit in to the team’s overall purpose of the practice.
A team may also practice co-ordinating in attacking plays. Such as, passing to the striker, running past him and then shooting. By doing things like this a team can improve attacking fluidity and coordination and help players get on the same wavelength as each other. It’s difficult to practice these things alone.
Finishing with a practice match is good. It’s a good opportunity for a team to work on any specific aspects that they have just practiced in a live situation. It’s also always good fun.
Ice baths, light jogging and stretching can be helpful in speeding up recovery. At this stage of a practice a resistance band can facilitate an excellent cool down stretch. Long, gradual stretching can help ease tired muscles. It’s also very important to eat after practice. I like to have a protein shake and a cliff bar or banana, then head for a meal of meat, a carb and some veg afterwards-a curry is a favorite.
See Rubberbanditz resistance bands mobile gym kits, they are ideal for a cool down stretch.