Soccer Training: 5 Questions for New England Revolution strength coach Nick Downing
How important is physical and mental training in the sport of soccer? Extremely important according to New England Revolution strength and conditioning coach Nick Downing.
Downing became the team's first strength and conditioning coach back in 2012 after having played for New England from 2001-2003.
Here's our December 2014 interview with him that gives great insight into how soccer players can vastly improve their training.
1. You had the opportunity of playing for the U.S. U-17 and U-20 teams early in your playing career. What was that experience like in helping you develop as a player and what were the biggest lessons you learned from it?
Nick Downing: I learned to become a very responsible and focused young professional. I picked up at a young age what was necessary for me to challenge myself and my teammates to become better soccer players.
Secondly, I learned the importance of being grateful of what I had. I was lucky enough to be able to travel all over the world from the age of 14-26, and I learned my parents provided me with every opportunity out there. Many kids my age didn't have that option.
2. So that younger players can have a better understanding of just how hard professional players train, what is a typical New England Revolution training session like?
Nick: Training here is very challenging when we want it to be. Depending on the week, the player and the team goal training can vary a great deal.
3. What should be some of the key differences in how players train during the preseason vs. in-season?
Nick: The offseason is geared towards getting players healthy, stronger, and a bit more aerobically fit. We spend a lot of time lifting heavy weights, mobilizing joints, and increasing our players' aerobic base. The reason these are so important to us is because recent research has shown a positive correlation between stronger and more aerobically fit athletes having less muscle injuries. My job is to make sure all our players are available at all times. Training this way in the offseason helps us try and reach those objectives.
In-season training is more about maintaining a good strength base while trying to continually improve aerobic fitness. We work extensively on hip gurdle and core stability to ensure our guys are healthy and injury free throughout the regular season and playoffs. Most of our fitness session is done within the training session, in small sided games, tactical sessions, etc.
4. If a player feels that he's reached a plateau in his training, what steps should he take to try and reach that next level?
Nick: Focus mentally. The problem is usually not a physical problem. Part of being a good soccer player and a good professional is about being strong and confident mentally. This is often an underappreciated trait of many great athletes.
5. What staple exercises should always be included in weight training programs for soccer players?
Nick: Generally soccer players need to get stronger. It is a battle we fight daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. The facts are that the stronger you become as an athlete, the less apt you are to being injured. Healthy athletes outlast unhealthy athletes long term across the board.
So my advice is to do your research, seek out a qualified professional and learn how to properly lift, strength train, and condition.
6. For youth players who are just starting to place more importance on their diet, what are a few basics in building a sound nutritional plan?
Nick: Eat for energy or fuel. Too often adults and kids eat for leisure or because they are bored. It is important for people to educate themselves on food and nutrition. My advice to people is to make wise choices. If you can control what you eat 90% of the time, everything else is a cakewalk. I
If you haven't trained or played matches on a particular day, there is no need to stuff your face with everything in sight. You are doing yourself a disservice.
Having said that, if you have played and trained often throughout the week or weekend, have a steak, veggies and potatoes to fuel your body. Not Taco Bell or McDonald's.
7. Having played in the MLS, what's the best piece of advice to soccer players who have hopes of playing professionally?
Nick: Refer to No. 4. Be mentally focused. It is the most important trait all athletes have. Work on trying to focus in situations you normally wouldn't.
These are the things that separate many good athletes from great athletes.