S&C Training For Footballers: What Age Is Too Young?
Updated: Oct 20
This is a question I often get:
"Is my son/daughter old enough to be following a strength and conditioning programme?"
I find the best way to respond is by showing insights like the one below...
So what can we see?
In a nutshell we can see that the athletes who had the addition of following a structured strength and conditioning plan specific to their sport whilst also playing their sport, were able to achieve a higher level of neuromuscular performance (i.e. they became better athletes and could perform the actions demanded of their sport to a higher level) compared to playing their sport alone.
Not only did they start to increase their performance level (compared to playing alone) soon after starting to follow an S&C programme, but by the time they reached adulthood the peak level of performance they were able to achieve was also significantly higher.
What this means is, if you have two footballers of equal ability having access to all of the same football training and matches, but one of them ALSO starts consistently following a structured strength and conditioning programme...that player WILL break away and develop the potential to compete at a much higher level.
To top it off, the earlier they start following an S&C programme alongside their sport, the better. As the red line demonstrates, those who started following an S&C programme in pre-adolescence still reached a higher level than those who played the sport alone...however they didn't achieve the same peak level as those (of the blue line) who started the process before them.
In short, the best time for a player of any age to start following a structured S&C programme if they're serious about fulfilling their potential and playing at the highest level - was YESTERDAY.
The most important factor is that the training is TRAINING AGE appropriate and provided in a safe and professional environment.
Access to this type of training on a regular basis is taken very seriously by professional clubs at all age levels, because they understand the value that it holds in ensuring their players can reach and maintain the highest levels of performance, as well as allowing their technical ability to shine on the pitch.
It also goes a long way to explaining why often the players who join professional clubs from a young age, have a significant advantage over other technically talented players who try to make that step up at a later stage but keep failing to get over the line.
The physical (and mental) vehicle which these players who have been at a pro club from a young age have to express their talents from is simply more developed - because they started working on their strength and conditioning at an earlier stage through the club. As a result they:
Are more resilient to common football injuries
Are stronger on the ball
Adapt to and recover from training faster
Can maintain high intensity efforts for longer
Possess more advanced levels of athleticism
Can react and move more efficiently at a higher level of their speed capacity
…to name just few qualities.
Notice how none of them directly involve the ball?
All of these things are within your control, if you have access to the knowledge required to achieve them.
From the moment they start following a structured plan, every player outside of that environment is playing catch up - and that's demonstrated by the graphic above.
It's sadly why so many technically talented footballers struggle to make the step up to pro level when they get the chance at a trial (and also why many players are pro clubs get released too).
It's often nothing to do with technical ability, it's the physical and mental side which is hindering them. I saw this first hand during my 9 years at Wycombe Wanderers FC. Three of my very technically gifted team mates who had each been at the club for 4 years were suddenly released, without any prior notice, and straight after a team training session.
The reason? It had been decided they were too small and wouldn't be strong enough moving forward. They were 13.
During those 9 years I also saw many very good technical players come in on trial but fail to get signed. In almost every case it was because they didn't have the fitness, strength, speed or injury resilience to keep up week in week out.
We all know a player who's technically amazing (or maybe it's you, your son or daughter), only to be told they're "not strong enough", "too slow", "lack stamina" or "too injury prone" to make it.
To be honest I found it quite traumatising to see how cut-throat football can be, the margins between getting kept on or released can be so minor, every detail counts.
There's also another important factor that I feel sometimes gets forgotten by players who trial with pro clubs...they need to be BETTER than the players who are already there (who play in their position). Being "as good as" is not good enough. You need to be so good that they are willing to release a player who is already there, that they have probably already coached for years. Again, that's a very tough task, especially if you've not had access to the same level of coaching as them.
So what do you do if you're not yet at a pro club, but you can now see the pivotal role that following a structured strength & conditioning plan consistently has in a players development and the ultimate level they're able to achieve?
You have to take it upon yourself to get guided.
First team pro's get access to specialist trainers on a daily basis, their clubs obviously employ these coaches and in turn cover the cost.
Do you know a specialist coach who could train you in person on a daily basis at exactly the right time for each session? Probably not.
And even if you did, the monthly bill is going to come to a hefty, hefty amount. Certainly not sustainable for most people.
But if you don't take action, you know the gap is going to continue to widen. So what are your other options?
1. Educate yourself and become an expert. This is going to take years of study (at least 10) and tens of thousands of £$£$ in tuition fees. If you're serious about becoming a top pro, you probably don't have this amount of time on your side to get things sorted.
2. Go for the free option, watch hundreds of hours of YouTube videos and try and piece something together yourself. From experience, this is the #1 cause of players wasting months if not years going around in circles. Free information is free for a reason, and studying takes years for a reason - because it's not straight forward. It would be like watching YouTube videos about open heart surgery and then expecting to be able to do it yourself. The devil is in the details, which take years to study and are rarely covered in free information.
Whilst I'm on this topic, there is no single exercise or magic workout routine which can suddenly transform your game and set you up for lasting success. Career-changing results come from sticking to a well structured PROGRAMME consistently.
Players waste so much time and energy hopping from one plan to another looking for the magic workout, it doesn't exist. Try to be savvy to clickbait headlines such as the "Gareth Bale" or "Messi" workout. They are a marketing gimmick and will lead you down the wrong road. Remember that results don't just come from individual workouts, Bale and Messi have never heard of these workouts, and even if they did do them it doesn't mean it's appropriate for you.
The magic happens when you work with a coach you trust and stick to a well structured plan consistenly month after month, just like the pro's do. Success leaves clues.
3. Train with a local fitness trainer once or twice a week. This is a good starting point, but you'll have to do the sessions when the trainer has a slot in their availability which is fine when it comes to technical training but isn't ideal when it comes to strength and conditioning, especially during the season.
Certain sessions need to be done at specific moments during the week for the best effect (and to not be detrimental to team training and match day performances). Also, unless they're a specialist in football S&C, it's likely that there's still room for more specificity in the training for a better transfer over to on-pitch performance.
It's also common for a player's schedule to change week to week during the season, depending on cup matches, playing for multiple teams and rearranged team commitments. This often results in sessions having to be missed which could lead to the player not doing any S&C training for a week or more on a regular basis. The most important thing when it comes to getting results from S&C training is adherence and consistency. Stopping and starting is unlikely to generate lasting and career-changing athletic development.
4. Be trained online by a company like mine, Matchfit Football. This way you can:
Get access to pro level and specialised training on a daily basis (like the pro's), which is tailored to your needs and your goals.
Do each session at precisely the right moment each week for maximum effect and benefit.
Be guided 1-1, 24/7 through the messenger of our specialist private training app.
Easily have your training adapted around your changing team commitments and schedule week to week.
Be kept accountable to your training every day by your assigned personal mentor.
Digitally track every single session and see your progress data represented visually over time.
Learn cutting edge training strategies and methods which you can take with you and utilise for the rest of your career.
Remove all of the stress and guesswork of trying to figure it out by yourself.
Save the time and expense of having to travel to sessions.
Only need to invest a tiny fraction of the amount it would normally cost you to get the same level of training and support from in-person sessions.
Comment below and let me know your thoughts.
P.S if you're the parent of a talented footballer aged 12-18 who:
You believe could get selected by a pro club, if only they were stronger, faster, fitter or suffered less injuries.
Has trials coming up and wants to be in the best shape and form possible.
Has been released by a pro club for reasons related to their physicality or fitness.
Is currently at a pro club, but underperforming and at risk of being released.
Is currently at a pro club and playing well, but looking to gain an edge.
Then check out the details of our Youth Elite Programme here.