It's the first week back at pickup soccer after nearly a year off. Maybe you got some touches in at the local field or in your backyard, maybe you didn't. But whatever workouts you did (or didn't do) are no substitute for actual game play.
That first pickup session or game after the spring thaw is always painful after the lack of cardio in the winter. You come in expecting pain, but somehow the pain is always worse than you imagined.
But post-lockdown? It was a primal burn that came from deep inside your abdomen and consumed your whole body within 15 minutes of being on the pitch, rendering your limbs useless by the half-hour mark and making you reconsider all of your life decisions.
Fortunately there are ways to improve your fitness, and they don't involve endless sprints in the summer heat.
We all know you need to get back in shape, and here are the best drills to do it.
The18's Official Get-In-Shape Guide For Pickup Soccer
This is a great drill to help you learn to turn with the ball under pressure. For this workout, you will need a ball, a cone (or any marker really), a wall/rebounder and at least 10 yards of space. Stand about 5 yards away from your wall or rebounder with the ball at your feet and a cone a yard or two behind you. Facing the wall, play the ball on the ground off the wall. When you receive the ball, make a tight turn, pretending as if the cone behind you is a defender putting you under pressure.
Practice different types of turns to get past/around the cone: Cruyff turn, spin, sole roll, etc. Make sure to practice using both feet in both directions.
This is a little workout that I made up during the latter days of quarantine, and the great news is that all you need is the front steps of your place of residence. First set: Facing the steps, jump up and down from the first step 30 times. Rest. Then do quick feet on the first step x30. Repeat facing each of the other three directions. If you have more than one step, incorporate a jog up and down the steps.
I started with 2-3 sets after having done minimal cardio for two months, and it was a good workout without being completely exhausting (definitely less of a killer than doing sprints). Try to minimize rest in between each mini-set, then take a longer break at the end of each larger set. In total, this workout takes 30-45 minutes depending on the length of your rest.
These drills can be done with or without a ball and are great for improving agility and acceleration. Set up anywhere from 5-10 cones (or a speed ladder, if you have one) in a straight line with a little space in between. If you choose to go without the ball, there are endless options for sequences you can do: two feet in each square (both forward and laterally), two feet in-two feet out, two feet in-one foot out (shuffle), one-foot jumps, just to name a few. Explode through when you get to the end and lightly jog back. Here is an example video.
A speed ladder can also be completed with a ball as well. Start by just doing a slalom dribble through, then advance with just right foot, just left foot. From here you can get more advanced, adding in pull-backs, sole roles, toe taps and any of your favorite dribbling moves. Here's another video for some inspiration.
With A Partner
A very simple drill that only requires two people, a ball and a bit of green space, Pelé touches are a great way to improve your technical skills while also doing some cardio. There are two ways this drill can be done depending on the amount of space you have. If you are in a confined area, set up four cones about 2-3 yards apart. Starting in the center, move to one of the cones and back, then using your instep volley the ball back to your partner. Do 3-4 movements to each cone, then switch.
If you have more space, these touches can be done while moving down the field. Your partner tosses the ball, you touch back and in the process you move forward and your partner backpedals. Do this until you reach a certain distance (usually half field or the width of the pitch), then switch and go back the other direction.
Once you complete volleys with your instep, move on to your laces, then progress up the body: thigh to instep, thigh to laces, chest to laces, headers, and so on. With so many different combinations, it is easy to mix it up and keep each session fresh. The big thing though is always stay engaged and on your toes, that way you get the most out of the drill.
Ground Pelé Touches
I'm not sure if this drill has an actual name, which made it difficult to find a video, but it is essentially the ground version of Pelé touches. This one is done entirely within the space of 5 yards and only requires a pair of cones and a ball. Stand 5 yards across from your partner and place the cones just in front of you — about a yard apart perpendicular to you and your partner.
Your partner passes the ball on the ground through the cones, take one touch with your right foot and pass back with your right foot outside the right-hand cone. Do this for a minute then switch to the left foot. Next receive the pass outside and pass through the middle. Keep advancing with different progressions (sole roll, one-touch inside then one-touch outside, receive outside then touch across and play back from the other side).
This drill simulates playing in enclosed spaces without needing defensive players, improving your touch while working in short bursts.
With A Small Group
An ideal game to play if you have a few friends and a goal (or something resembling a goal), World Cup is a great way to get in some cardio while having fun. It is essentially the soccer version of the popular basketball pickup game "21." It is every player for themself as the players without the ball try to defend against the player with the ball and prevent them from scoring.
There are two different versions: One, the first player to reach a certain goal total wins. Two, if you score you are "out" meaning you advance to the next round and get to sit on the sideline. In this format, the last player left standing in each round (which means they did not score) is eliminated. Eventually, the field is narrowed down to two players, and the first to two goals wins. Remember to rotate goalkeepers if there is not an actual keeper in your group.