Greatness in anything takes tremendous amounts of hard work, persistence, patience, mental toughness and accountability.

 Footballers of almost every-level and located all over the world either have already, or be will taking the opportunity, to participate in their respective preseason’s over the next couple of weeks (and in some cases, such as the Westfield W-League in Australia, in a month). While this is both an exciting and stressful time for the footballer, it is solely an enthusiastic and optimistic time for local football enthusiasts.  

Stop Wishing, Start Working  

     Unfortunately, this is also a time on the worldwide football calendar where creeping out of the woodwork we start to notice the true manifestation of way too many players and coaches whom exemplify the “worst” that our game has to offer. Players and coaches who are "wishers", not "doers"; "complainers", not "problem-solvers" and finally "victims", not "survivors" Are you insulted by these words? Do they make you angry? I hope so, because maybe movement will take place and you will start working, and stop wishing.  

     Kelli Tobuk, an 18-year old incoming college freshman soccer player, states this will be her first “legitimate preseason.”  Even though she has played for one of the top youth clubs in the United States, Tobuk says she never really experienced a “preseason” because they were always playing year round. However, as a freshman at one of the nation’s elite women’s college soccer programs, she found it hard to prepare for something she has never experienced; the tight, intense, compact preseason schedule that most teams at almost every level the world over condone.  

     You see Tobuk is one of the rare exceptions in today’s game. It would be easy for her to wish she had certain things, such as experience with a college preseason, the secret to the all-anxiety inducing ‘fitness test’ or a time-machine so she can travel back several months and properly prepare for what she experiences during preseason camp. It would be easy for her to complain about being treated unfairly due to being a freshman or not getting the minutes she deserves because she didn’t come into camp ‘fit enough.’ It would also be easy for her to play the victim and not take responsibility for her plight in life or her own athletic career.  

     Unfortunately, Tobuk is an exception to what has become the “norm.”   The "norm" for both coaches and players alike.  Normal for players to take their opportunities to play at a certain level for granted and not put in the work it takes to prepare for those opportunities. Normal for coaches to allow it and not demand more from these players.  

     For those of you in the “norm” - enough is enough! Stop complaining, wishing and playing the victim and get moving - become a doer, a problem-solver and take complete responsibility for your current playing or coaching career. It is not easy, but if football were this way, I would not be writing these words. Greatness in anything takes tremendous amounts of hard work, persistence, patience, mental toughness and accountability. It takes you to stop wishing you had certain things in your athletic life and start working towards making those things happen, for you are truly the only one who can do so.  

     I believe better preparation needs to occur long before players hit the nitty-gritty of preseason. This would be a good way to get players who don’t show well in these environments because they aren’t ready to show better and those who are prepared and show well, would be able to show even more.  

     Some players have taken up the challenge to prepare for the next level, and in doing so will join the minority of footballers who will be as ready as possible for their respective preseason camps this year. When it comes down to it; it really is impossible to be fully ready for camp.  That’s one reason why preseason is held; to fully prepare players individually towards a level called “match fitness.” Match Fitness is the ultimate level of fitness for a footballer. It means that a player is ready for the physical, mental and emotional demands of a match.  

     Ultimately, a player can never become truly match-fit without actually playing in a full-fledged match. This is where preseason exhibitions become very helpful.  Even the best training environments are unable to replicate the little idiosyncrasies that occur in a match and have such a direct affect on one’s match fitness.  Small, unnoticed by the casual observer and even difficult to see occur by the experienced one; things such as stepping on the back of an opponents’ calf when trying to rise, pulling of shirts and shorts, etc… nothing can replace the game itself when trying to prepare to play the game. This is true, regardless of what level you play at and even though experience helps alleviate this issue, experience in and of itself still requires the actual playing of a match to fully prepare a player for competition.  

     When it comes to pre-season, the ever-apparent ailment I like to call the “invisibility injury” always seems to effect at least one of the players on the team.  We all need to be careful, because the invisibility injury is a dangerous one. It can cut a player’s career short in the blinking of an eye and what’s even more profound is that there are never any documented methods of injury nor are there any proven functional abnormalities. The really unfortunate players suffer from the even worse “invisibility illness.” I hope you can feel the sarcasm in what I just said, as I was laying it on rather thick.  

     This “supposed” injury or illness (and sometimes even more pathetically, both) is nothing more than a lazy player “wishing” instead of “working.” As a coach, once the medical staff confirms my ‘gut feelings’ about the athlete’s complaints, I have such little patience for them that my first instinct (and one I have acted upon a few times) is to just not deal with it and send them home.   

     One example that pops to the front of my mind comes from a year when I was coaching at the university level and a returning sophomore who had played significant minutes for me as a freshman, contacted me just a few weeks into the summer to let me know she had injured her neck and her doctor had “shut her down” until she had healed.  She sent the medical records and such to our Sports Medicine Department, as was the acceptable protocol for these types of situations, and when she arrived on campus, she failed her physical because she was still complaining of neck pain and thus, our Athletic Trainers were unable to clear her.   

     Maybe it was the pessimistic side of me or maybe it was my ‘coaching gut’ or maybe I was just psychic but I really had my doubts about both the legitimacy and severity of the injury.  She sat out almost all of pre-season (missed the Fitness Test), but just a few days before our first exhibition, she was ‘miraculously’ getting better…and…yep, you guessed it – was fully recovered just in time for the friendly.  

     The trainer had his doubts, as well.  He told me that she started inquiring whether she’d be able to play in the upcoming exhibition or not almost every-time she reported in for treatment and once that day came, she was ‘suddenly’ 100% recovered and ready to go.  

     My normal personality is one where I almost never get angry and my coaching personality follows suit.  However, there are things that get under my skin and this was one of them. I was as close to being infuriated as possible, without actually being so.  I didn’t play her in any of our pre-season exhibitions (she was the only one who never played in these friendlies as everyone else had passed their fitness requirements and thus were eligible) and I left her behind on our first road-trip. Eventually, she confronted me about it asking why she wasn’t getting playing time.  I didn’t respond at first, but rather had her follow me to my office where I reached into a filing cabinet and handed her a copy of the Fitness Test and said, “When you pass, you can play.” She self-selected out two days later.  

     Not only is it laziness, but it is also a lack of respect for themselves, their teammates, their coaches and the entire program.  On top of that, it’s dishonest and that’s not a good first impression to make; one of ‘distrust.’  If they want to develop an invisible injury or illness, then I feel like making them invisible to the program!

      I just have no patience for this. I take it as a personal insult, especially since I put myself through absolute horrors to be as prepared to play this game as possible.  I was going into my senior-year of college. I went through an entire pre-season, including a full-week of two-a-days, after having tested positive for the Epstein-Barr Virus - you know, the one that causesMononucleosis (Mono).  I fought through every session and was so tired each day that after lunch I would literally sleep downstairs in the student-center below the dining commons because I didn't have enough in the tank to make it home and back.  My teammates would be sure to wake me up when it was time to get ready for the afternoon session.  That was very hard and if I was able to put myself through that and still be an All-Conference Player that year, then surely you can see why I have such little patience for these ridiculous and insulting "invisible" injuries...or rather excuses for being lazy!

     Now, looking at this from a different angle, I believe it is quite healthy for players to venttheir feelings (venting is different from complaining), it needs to stop at some point and action needs to take place, but the freedom to feel comfortable enough to vent is a very positive thing.  Because ‘venting’ looks very similar to ‘complaining,’ there are many coaches who are unable to distinguish the two and end-up squelching the sense of comfort a player has tovent.  This is a very dangerous move for coaches.  When you begin to inhibit the comfort level of your players within the confines of the program, their natural response is to defend themselves, which many times results in fear of failure and a lack of confidence to try new things and play freely.  So what you have really done by not allowing time to elapse and manifest whether the player was ‘venting’ or actually ‘complaining’ is concede yourself to the fact that they were ‘complaining’ and deal with it without regard to the fact that they might not have been 'complaining' at all.  

     Because it is so difficult to initially discern whether a player is ‘venting’ or ‘complaining’, I have found that time will answer this question for you.  If a player is ‘venting,’ it will happen and then be gone. However, if a player is ‘complaining,’ then it won’t disappear and will grow like poisonous fungi throughout your team if it is left unchecked. After some sort of a loss or mistake, I give my players at most a 24-hour period to complain, wish, beat themselves up, feel bad and maybe even play the victim. However, after this point, it is time to get back in the game and back to business. The first line in "The Road Less Traveled" by Scott Peckstates, "Life is difficult." This is true in sports and most definitely true in the game of football. Accept this fact and get in the game. Yes, it is tough at times, but wishing, complaining and playing the victim do nothing at all; doing, problem solving, and holding ourselves accountable does. So look yourself in the mirror and assess yourself honestly…and…whatever your answer, stop wishing and start working.  

     Though some trainers encourage running for a full year without injury before fully being able to establish a fitness base, the trainers whom specialize in football and even more specifically women’s football are less restrictive. Jim Caldman, an Athletic Performance Specialist for a women’s pro-club here in Australia stated “Once you can run three mile runs three times per week for three to four months, you’ve established your fitness base.

     Some clubs host ‘pre-season camps’ for players whom are stepping up to the next level. If done correctly, these types of camps can be quite beneficial in helping to educate and expose a player to a new and usually different level of training. Regardless of how beneficial they may be for some, I question why these camps are even needed? If we better prepare our players in the natural flow of their developmental process, these camps wouldn’t eve be needed, would they? Sure, there will also be that innocent, naïve “wisher” looking for a quick fix or even a boost that will keep these types of camps from ever disappearing entirely, but again, I ask: what is the real purpose? To serve as a band-aid for the failures of coaches who should’ve been doing their job long before the thought of these camps even entered a player’s mind?

     Recently, a huge topic of discussion has been about “overtraining.” ‘Overtraining’ not only in football, but also in sports overall. Ironically, this genuine and legitimate concern about not overtraining players and increasing the possibility of injury or burnout is actually leading to more injury and burnout anyways, as coaches have begun to “under-train.” The negative effects of under training aren’t seen right away and are difficult to trace back to any isolated aspect of a Player’s Development (or lack thereof).  Never the less, under training is more dangerous to the safety and well being of players whom are going to a different level of play than overtraining could ever be. “Under training” has become the physical impediment to Players’ Development.  Brought to the forefront via sincere means, players are not entering different levels of play with the proper preparation because of this fear of “overtraining,” which is just leading to “under training.”

     Some coaches and players are fearful that too intense of a level of training before a player gets into camp will cause an injury. Injuries to the knee, hip, ankle and feet (i.e., plantar fasciitis) are the most common injuries feared. Too many coaches aren’t doing their players justice by fueling this fear with unmerited apprehension and selfish ignorance of being “responsible” for overtraining a player who then suffers an injury in camp.

     However, the experts refute this mentality and are proving that trying not to over trainplayers actually increases the risk of injury from under training almost three-fold.

     The Journal of Athletic Training completed a study in 2007 titled, “Descriptive Epidemiology of Collegiate Women's Soccer Injuries: National Collegiate Athletic Association Injury Surveillance System, 1988–1989 through 2002–2003.”  The Objective of this study was:To review 15 years of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) injury surveillance data for women's soccer and compare those results to personality surveys disclosing individual player’s opinion of their level of pre-season preparation, as well as identify potential areas for injury prevention initiatives. 

     Results were compiled via the NCAA Injury Surveillance System, which collected game and practice injury data for women's soccer across all 3 NCAA divisions from 1988-2003.

     The study found that the rate of injury was more than 3 times higher in players who reported being “undertrained” upon entering pre-season camp than those who reported being “over trained.” These results also indicated preseason practices had an injury rate for players who reported being undertrained that was more than 3 times greater than those who claimed to be over trained.

     The key to injury-free training is simply proper preparation. A gradual increase in training intensity over several weeks or even months while paying attention to nutrition, footwear, and proper stretching.  According to Caldman, “It is so important to stretch before, during and after training.

     Sports injuries are rarely debilitating.  Most sports medicine professionals recognize that the benefits of ‘possibly’ overtraining far outweigh the risk of an injury.  Most Athletic Trainers would much prefer to have an athlete check-in because he or she is having knee pain, than to have to run onto the field during training when he or she goes down with a twist to the knee and then only to find out the athlete had been complaining of knee pain to their roommate for the last few days.

     Interestingly enough, failure to properly prepare for an upcoming season is not limited to only amateur footballers.  It is more prevalent in the professional ranks than one might think.  In addition, one wouldn’t expect the issue of ‘overtraining” or ‘under training” to show it’s ugly face at the higher levels, either – but, none-the-less, even professional football isn’t immune to these training practices.

     Recently, allegations were made against AC Roma boss, Zdenek Zeman, that he is overworking his players.  He dismissed these reports of suspected overtraining as "nonsense".

     Zeman is renowned for his rigorous training programs and there were reports circulating through the Italian media that Zeman is pushing his players too hard during their preseason camp in Riscone, Italy.

     Zeman admitted that he made changes in terms of diet and fitness work, but he insisted there was absolutely no risk of burnout and even hinted that several players on the team were in dire need of a good workout after their summer break.

"You say we are training hard, but for me that is nonsense," the 65-year-old Prague, Czechoslovakia native told reporters at a press conference recently. "To me, they are long strolls in the woods. The players have changed their habits; some do more, some less. But there are no problems, we'll all be fine.

"Preparation is essential; it is the basis on which to build a season. We are here to work, to prepare for the season. It's normal to get tired” Zeman added. For now, we are not talking about football with the team; we are working only on the physical aspect, because some players are a bit 'heavy'."

TANGENT: If I may, please allow me to digress for a few moments and mention another quite important aspect of heavy training. Besides the obvious benefits to one’s level of play, heavy fitness activity is known to improve brain function and may provide protection against Alzheimer’s disease.  Scientists have measured several chemicals that are released during intense exercise that have an effect on the brain similar to pain killers and anti-anxiety medications.  

OK…back on topic - The feeling experienced when these chemicals are released is called “the runner’s high.”  It explains why some people become dependent on running.  However, unlike harmful addictions that cause life to fall apart; heavy, focused and intense training supports good health and in many ways helps peoples lives come together. 

     Football may not be the ideal sport for everyone. But, for those who have fallen in love with playing it, don’t forget: the body was meant to move.  So, training of some form is an important part of not only your game, but also in simply being healthy.  As Tobukcontinuously tells herself when she’s all-alone, pushing her limits and her body is telling her it’s time to quit, “Lift, run, play.  You were made to play this game, so make it your playground.

     If you’re going to play the game, is there really any other way?