In offseason, build up legs, stamina for soccer

Youth sports

April 29, 2007|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- What's the best offseason workout for soccer players? Should they be running or doing something different like swimming or cycling?

Steven Dockery, Akron, Ohio

DEAR STEVEN -- You should consult a fitness professional before starting any program. Certified strength and conditioning coaches, and athletic and personal trainers understand the demands required of any sport. After testing an athlete's level of conditioning, they should be able to design a program that suits the athlete's needs for a particular sport and age group.

Soccer requires tremendous leg strength and a rare combination of endurance, lateral quickness and overall explosiveness.

Soccer players must be able to keep running for up to 90 minutes without tiring, to move from side to side when marking an opponent and to sprint after loose balls and passes from their teammates.

Leg strength is needed to shoot hard and pass over long distances using both feet. So, it seems to me that some sort of fitness program that incorporates distance running, sprinting, plyometrics, agility work and lower-body strength training would be ideal.

I would like to caution you, however, to make sure that your child has ample time to rest and recover between soccer seasons - mentally and physically.

Let kids be kids. At some point, they'll decide how seriously they want to approach a sport, and offseason conditioning will be a part of that.

It's important that the decision is theirs, or they may lose their love for the sport.

DEAR CAL -- My kid's travel baseball coach entered the team in a wood-bat tournament this summer. What's the significance of using wood bats? Is there any concern that switching between metal and wood will be a hard transition for the hitters or for the fielders adjusting to the way balls come off the bats?

Mike Baker, Columbia

DEAR MIKE -- Wood bat tournaments exist for younger teams to expose them to something different. For young players who always use aluminum bats but see big league players using wood, being able to use wood bats in a game can be exciting.

I'm for anything that makes the game more fun for kids, and there's nothing wrong with making the kids feel like pros - even if it's just for a day or two.

As players advance to high school ball and start to consider attempting to play collegiately or professionally, wood-bat tournaments and leagues exist as a training ground and allow scouts to see how players adapt to wood.

Transitioning from aluminum to wood is difficult for hitters. The ball doesn't jump off a wood bat the way it does off an aluminum bat, the sweet spot is smaller and there are fewer "handle hits."

The pitchers and defense definitely have the advantage, but part of the fun is seeing the kids progress throughout an event to the point that they get comfortable using wood bats.

Pitchers will be able to have more success throwing inside, outfielders won't have to play as deep and infielders may need to move in to prevent against slow dribblers that end up as infield hits.

Offensively, teams may have to play more of a "small-ball" style to be successful - putting the ball in play, bunting, running and otherwise moving runners along.

Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askripken@baltimoresun.com.

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