The Indian Super League (ISL) returns on Friday (7 October), and all teams would be hoping to hit the ground running, and maintain that momentum through the season. But to do so, players train hard in the run-up to the opening game, be on the same wavelength as their teammates, and have a proper understanding of tactics and strategy. Lounge caught up with one of the ISL clubs, FC Goa, to get a sense of how elite football clubs train. There’s much to learn for all of us from how athletes approach their fitness and conditioning.
FC Goa are currently working with a new strength and conditioning coach, Joel Dones. The Spaniard has a professional master’s degree in high performance in team sports from FC Barcelona, as well as a UEFA A coaching license. “As we are almost into the season, we now plan our training sessions in week-long microcycles, which begin a day after matchday, and end just before the next match day,” says Dones, who has also worked in the Hong Kong Premier League. At FC Goa, the team training sessions start around 5:15pm—they work on speed, running, changing directions, reaction, footwork and contesting 50-50 balls among other things. A typical training session lasts 75 minutes.
The players report earlier to the training facility, around 4pm, and start with 45 minutes of strength training and warm-up at the club’s gym. They have a strength training routine based on their needs and playing position, helping iron out weaknesses. “At the very beginning, the players are made to undergo a fitness test where we primarily assess their strength and power. Based on that, we create an individual programme for each player in the squad, with a focus on on mobility, strength and core activation. Everyone has two upper body strength training sessions per week. All this training is also intrinsic to our injury prevention protocol,” explains Dones.
The day after a game is recovery training day for those who have played over 65 minutes of the match. For the others, it’s time for compensation training. The day after is an off, since players’ bodies experience peak fatigue 48 hours after a game, says Dones. Three days after the match, the players begin with strength training in small groups, and one day later, they move the training to a bigger ground that resembles stadium conditions.
The countdown to the next matchday begins roughly two days before the game. Players begin with a session of active recovery work, where they stick to upper body workouts and play no football at all. Among other things, doing so helps their legs recover. “It is important to find a balance and not make the players play football all the time. If we train them in football all the time, that might be an overkill or cause a burnout. Apart from the upper body workout on the active recovery day, we play non-football games with the squad to have some fun,” says Dones.
The day before matchday consists of pre-game training, where the coaches and players work on small details. This mainly involves the tactical side of the game, says Dones, but there is also a focus on things like footwork, reaction time and other techniques to get the squad ready for the game.
The most important thing that Dones takes into consideration when drawing up a training plan is the high humidity. “The humidity gets to the players very quickly here. They are always ready to go out and run their hearts out if we ask them, but we can’t push them too much. Because of the high humidity we can’t even go into high intensity right from the start. We increase the training intensity gradually once the players start adapting,” he says. To check the impact of humidity on the players, each footballer’s weight is noted before and after training. Depending on the weight they have lost, they are advised on the amount of water they must drink in the next three hours to return to optimum fitness. Each player also has an individual nutrition plan, and hydration needs are tailored accordingly.
Dones and his team also monitor the players’ recovery. Every player gets sessions with compression leg recovery systems like the Hyperice Normatec leg sleeves through the week, as well as regular sessions with a physio. Apart from this, the players are also advised on what they can do on their own to improve recovery, such as how much sleep they should get and how to manage their stress. “We can give them advice but cannot control what they do in their private time,” Dones says.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.