Motivation to train can be very hard to come by in the cold, harsh winter months. Hat and gloves are necessities, daylight becomes scarce and that belly becomes one or two inches bigger after indulging in a little too much food over the festive period. However, it is essential to keep fitness levels high and to keep training so your team doesn’t falter and struggle towards the latter stages of the season. So we’ve compiled a list of exercises that are tailored for training in winter.
- ‘Catch me if you can’
Few players out there like running exercises, but there is no question that they are useful in developing fitness. This exercise involves four cones making up the corners of a square, with the distance between cones 10 metres. With one player starting on each cone, they must run clockwise and aim to catch the person in front while not getting caught from the player behind. Setup multiple squares to involve everyone simultaneously.
It is great as a winter drill, as it involves a lot of high-intensity running, and yet there is still a purpose to it. There is a tactical element which involves thinking about when to work harder and when to slow down and rest. It also gets players thinking as a team, as if one begins to run quicker, they all must run quicker to avoid being caught, which replicates team pressing in a match.
- Pentagon run
Another exercise certain to get the blood pumping to combat those freezing temperatures is a group pentagon run. This is another easy concept, where cones are placed in a pentagon formation, with each one about 20 metres from the other. The idea is to first jog slowly around all five ‘sides’ of the pentagon. Then, after the first lap, sprint flat out for one side of the pentagon, and then jog the other four. With each full lap of the pentagon, the number of sides that must be ran increases by one. This is until all five sides are ran at 80-90% work rate.
The main point of this exercise is to build anaerobic fitness, there is also another dynamic to it. The entirety of the drill should be done as a team, leaving no player to fall back or sprint ahead. This creates that togetherness and team bonding that is so vital in football. Running is far less intimidating when you’re with your mates, and they’re helping you get through it.
Moving away from fitness drills, this next one is great for improving counter-attacking as well as working on direct attacking play. Setup a regular five-a-side training pitch, however, instead of goals just mark a line of cones across the two ends. The aim of this drill is to simply dribble the ball over the line you are attacking.
Although it may seem rather simplistic, this works in winter because of the fast turn-around when the ball has been successfully dribbled over the line. Each team takes in it turns to attack, where they have 20 seconds each to cross the line, or they must relinquish possession and give the ball to the other team to attack. This continuous shift of play and attack versus defence creates a highly-intensive drill where nobody is left standing in the cold.
- Thought-provoking passing
Every player worth his ankle tape can play a simple five yard pass to feet, but this exercise is a bit intricate. Arrange four cones in a small square again, and get three players to stand behind one another on each cone. One player at the front of one cone will have a ball, and they must play a pass to a player at a different cone. Once played, they will follow their pass and join the back of the queue at that cone. The pass can be played to any cone apart from the cone where the ball has just been played from.
It sounds easy enough, but players must remain vigilant as, if the ball repeatedly goes to one cone more than another, there may end up being nobody ready to receive the ball at one cone and five players ready at another. To increase the difficulty, add more than one football or make it one touch. This will require very quick thinking, similar to a match situation. This is perfect for winter, as it gets everyone moving, and does not require vast amounts of space should you be limited to a sports hall.
- Play and pass
In the UK winter pitches are far from the delicate carpets that we see on TV every week. If there’s green on the pitch then your groundsmen must be doing something right, but games tend to be far more scrappy and balls a lot more difficult to control. This exercise aims to confront that.
One player starts with the ball, and powerfully plays a difficult pass into a receiver to test the receiver’s touch. This is to replicate the unpredictable pitches that will be ever present during winter, where perfect passes will not be arriving at a player’s feet. After successfully controlling the ball, the receiver will then lay off the ball to the player who played the initial ball, and they will run onto it and pass the ball into a small goal or a target between two cones. This is to encourage playing accurate passes along the floor – a must if your team is going to hold onto the ball while playing on an awful pitch.
There’s no sugar-coating it, winter training can be tough at times, which means it’s essential to keep drills fun and active for everyone involved. Where space is limited be sure not just do exercises for the sake of it. Make them thought provoking and relevant to your team’s current situation, and you’ll get greater buy in from your players and better performances on match day.