How Can YOU Deliver a Great Pre-Season?
How Important is Pre-Season?
Pre-season is an important time for any sports team or athlete. It is the final preparation period for the competition ahead. It is fundamental in football that a team has a good pre-season to start the season on the right foot. But what constitutes a good pre-season? And how can you create one for your team or club? The most important question to ask yourself at the start of pre-season? Is ‘What do we need to achieve?’. You can then work retrospectively back ‘What would I like to achieve?’ and ‘What would be good to achieve?’
This will clarify what it is you need your group of players to achieve. Then, from here, it will be possible to plan and prepare the players to be challenged to improve in these ways. However, it is important not to get caught up on the ‘physical’ side of performance in pre-season. This time of the year is the perfect opportunity to develop players in a very holistic way. It is the coach's greatest opportunity to install many of the key principles that they want to see in their players.
For example, this can start with behaviours the coach wants to see. If you are a coach who wants the players to have ownership and want to create a player-responsible environment, this is the opportunity. It might be as simple as providing the players with jobs for kit and clothing. The simple and consistent implementation of this during pre-season will allow for positive habits to be created. Further to this, Pre-season can provide an opportunity for development on a tactical level.
Coaches will often find pre-season is their first opportunity to work with a new group of players. So, during this time, the coach must try to install their game model and the tactical requirements of their system. This doesn’t mean just coaching the players to play in your favourite ‘1-3-5-2’ formation but looking to create players who understand what the system looks like with and without the ball. What are the individual responsibilities? Where should a player be when the ball is here etc... Whilst training these tactical moments, players will naturally be challenged technically and physically.
Effective session design can challenge the players physically and push them to become stronger, faster, and more athletic through clever design. This means that during pre-season, we can keep the ball rolling and work for longer periods, without the need to get rid of the balls and perform running exercises away from the pitch.
You might start to be thinking about the structure and thinking about the way you deliver pre-season at your club. We are constantly trying to develop whilst using the plan as a reference point. We have our beliefs and what we want to achieve but are also adaptable to know that challenges will occur through pre-season. When this happens, we must be flexible enough to adapt and ensure that these adaptations can help progress our delivery for the players.
Ultimately pre-season is a challenging and complex time of the season, this time of the season really requires a few things to be successful. It requires Clarity. This is important for players and staff. If both are clear on what is expected on the pitch and off the pitch, we are more likely to find success both on and off the pitch. Consistency is also important during this period. We must remember that there will be highs and lows during the pre-season period, and to be successful, we must remain balanced throughout. This carries through into the following competition period. So if the team start poorly, we do not need to rip the plan up and start again, we need to review the plan, understand the challenges and then make an adaptation that will allow for future progress and development.
The third and final pillar of our pre-season plan is a challenge. We must ensure that this is evident throughout for everyone. For players, this must be a part of most of their time during pre-season. Some moments they might be part of a physical challenge, their legs are tired, and they need to dig deep and keep working to get to the end. On other days it might be a tactical challenge, trying to understand the problem and then adapting to it. This challenge is what will drive the players to progress and develop into better players.
This is ultimately what we wanted to achieve at the start of pre-season, we wanted to ensure that on the final day of pre-season, our individuals, units, and team were all in a better position than on day one. For our staff, the challenge is also very important. We need to ensure that they are challenging each other to create a progressive environment whilst being thorough in their approach to challenge themselves to be the best coach they can be.
This is a short extract of some of the content available in ‘Delivering the Complete Pre-Season’, which is a near 200-page book on the importance of pre-season, the structure of pre-season and over six weeks of complete sessions. The book is very detailed and provides coaches with physical periodisation, tactical information as well as physiological and technical coaching points. The book is the complete guide to creating a pre-season that can prepare your players for the season ahead.