From grassroots to professional, we’ve taken some perspectives on pre-season from varying levels of the game.

Now that the World Cup and the summer of football love is over, it’s time for clubs up and down the country to get down to the blood, sweat and tears of pre-season. It’s the time of year that players at every level dread, as they look to work off the excesses of the summer and blow away any cobwebs.

The primary objective for pre-season is always to get the players back up to scratch in terms of both fitness and sharpness. It’s also important for building camaraderie, bedding in new players and devising tactical plans for the big kick-off.

We’ve spoken to clubs and players at different levels of the pyramid to find out how they make the most out of pre-season, how it is structured and the keys to hitting the ground running when that first competitive fixture comes around.

Aaron Aston, Swarthmoor Social FC

Aaron is manager of Swarthmoor Social FC, an FA Charter Standard club based in Cumbria, and has been enjoying the peace and quiet of the close season-

“I’ve been trying as hard as I can to put off sending the text that confirms the start of pre-season. Organizing pre-season can be as physically tiring as participating in it. I’ve had a nice period of no texts. It has been bliss; the group chat on WhatsApp has been muted for 4 weeks but now it is time to get serious.”

Swarthmoor players

Managing an amateur club is not a glamorous job and often proves a thankless task. The lengths a manager has to go to at this level of the game are a little different to what Pep and Jose will be doing on their extravagant tours of the US, as Aaron describes-

The big problem which arises every year is that the main pitch is now having a rest period after an extensive run of games from the fixture pile up at the end of last season. This means that it’s out of bounds for pre-season.

This gives us a major problem as we have no other full size goals at the club. So a week before we are scheduled to start I can remember seeing a pair of near full size goals at a primary school and thinking “they won’t be being used over the summer”.

I arranged for them to be borrowed from the school for the summer but it is a 30 minute journey away. Luckily Brad’s (one of the coaches from the club) Dad is a farmer and has transport methods available. He sorted us a lift out and we travelled down the A590 with two big goal posts on the back.

They weren’t in the best condition so I had to go down to the club after work one day to take off the netting and do a patch up job so that they are useable for the summer. It took me two and a half hours but they are finally useable for the lads.”

It’s important to remember that at the bottom of the pyramid players are turning up purely for the enjoyment of the game and nothing else. Aaron believes that this is something that must be considered when devising pre-season training sessions-

I focus on ball work while Brad uses his rugby experience to do the more physically demanding work. It works really well. We swap over half way through and always end with a game.

The main emphasis is repetition in the right areas but at the same time there has to be a focus on keeping things fresh and as far away from mundane as possible. Lads give up their time for the club just like we do, so it has to have the right balance between being enjoyable and at the same time rewarding.”

Pre-season is also a chance for everyone to prove that they deserve to be in the team, including youngsters moving up the ranks-

“One of the big problems we have experienced in recent years is the lack of numbers. Lads know that it’s going to be hard work which puts them off attending. 

This season however, sees a fresh influx of last season’s under 16’s attending. They turn up every week and make up most of the numbers. Their attitude is fantastic. They just want to play football and work hard at getting into the team, which is bringing previous non-attenders back to training, in order to fight for their place in the side.”

Friendlies are the best way to test whether or not the players are ready for the new campaign. After a few weeks blood, sweat and tears, it’s time for some matches-

“It’s after a couple of weeks we look to get the friendlies sorted. We usually aim for 4/5 games before the season starts.  We also organise a charity tournament between us and 3 other clubs for former player Stuart Shaw, who sadly left us in 2011. We have decided this year to make it an 11 a side game in which our current team faces a “legends” side of past and present from clubs around the area.

As the nights start drawing in we move our training to a facility which has floodlights, usually the local 3G pitch in nearby Ulverston. Around this time I’m going to have to get them nets back to that school as well!”

swarthmoor training

Joe Leesley, Harrogate Town AFC

For a pro perspective, we spoke to Harrogate Town winger Joe Leesley who is working hard towards the new campaign. Last season Joe helped fire his side to promotion to the National League, as well as winning the National League North player of the season.

“We’ve been doing double sessions every day. We work on strength and conditioning in the morning, with ball work and possession based skills in the afternoon.”

“Personally it’s been a tough one for me because I’ve been injured for the start of pre-season, but I will be back training full-time soon. I’ve still had to put the hours in though as I’ve been doing triple sessions with one cardio, one gym and one pool session every day.”

“Most of the lads say that this has been their hardest pre-season. It will be worth it though and hopefully put us in good shape to attack the new season in the National League.”

To find out more about one of the biggest talents outside of the Football League check out our interview with Joe, as well as a special World Cup goals challenge by clicking here

Joe Leesley

Vill Powell, Brighouse Town FC

We sat down with manager of Evostik side Brighouse Town, Vill Powell to get his take on pre-season. Vill took over as gaffer last season after a long and successful career playing in non-league football and beyond.

Vill discusses how he is finding the transition from player to manager heading into his 2nd pre-season in charge-

“Nothing beats being a player but those days are over and I’m 100% enjoying management and coaching.

It’s a lot of planning and organisation- constantly on the phone and always chasing something up. This is my second pre-season as a manager and this year is a lot more structured and planned than my first. My first one was kind of fly by the seat of my pants a little, whereas this one has been much more planned and structured so I have found myself enjoying it a lot more.”

With a long playing career behind him, Vill describes how pre-season training has changed over the years-

“It’s become a lot more game related and lot less cross country running! There’s more match and ball related fitness. There’s lots of strength and conditioning. It’s all a lot easier for players these days because they look after themselves a lot more than they used to!”

It’s perhaps an old fashioned misconception that managers don’t introduce ball-work until the players are back up to scratch physically. For Vill it’s all about integration of the two-

“For us, we introduced the balls from week one and married it with game specific fitness and strength and conditioning work. It seems to be working well but we will only see the true impact of what we have done when the season gets underway and the real games start.

It’s all about getting the players physically and tactically prepared for the season and making sure we get the preparation just right so they are peaking at the right time.”

So what are the club’s aims for the 2018/19 season?

“Last season we were very inconsistent and involved in a relegation battle for a period until we hit form. So progression for us is to get to 50 points as quickly as possible and go from there.”

vill powell

We wish Aaron, Joe, Vill and their clubs good luck for the forthcoming season!

For more practical tips on pre-season training at a grassroots level, check out the FAs free guide here

And Finally…

If you are involved in pre-season at any level this summer, check out some of the training must-haves available now on…

FA Charter Standard ball

Nike FA Charter Standard Footballs – Excellent as both a match ball or for training, you won’t find this ball cheaper anywhere else!

Kitlocker First Aid Kit – Full of everything you need to sort out those early pre-season pulls and strains. Magic sponge not included.

Flat Round Markers – The first thing on the shopping list for coaches at every level. Multi-purpose and the best way to mark out your pre-season drills.

6x Bottles with Carrier – For those who don’t fancy juggling 6 water bottles.

Training Bibs – A must have for those small sided matches!

Training Ladders – A pre-season staple at every level of the pyramid. Often utilised as a warm up tool during the season too!

For all these products and much more, click here to check out the full range of training equipment…

Enjoy Pre-Season!

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