Key Elements in Designing a Soccer S&C and Injury Mitigation Programme

Enhance your soccer training with this guide to effective strength and conditioning and injury prevention. Prioritize quality over quantity for optimal results.
Instagram LinkOutput Sports Twitter LinkOutput Sports Linked In LinkOutput Sports Facebook LinkOutput Sports Youtube Link

A Guide by Michael Mullane, Head of Academy Sports Science at Leyton Orient Football Club

// Introduction

Some call it soccer, others football, but there is no question that it is the world's most popular sport, with an estimated 270 million people actively playing (1). There is no doubt that to be successful at the elite level, one must possess various athletic attributes from strength and power to aerobic endurance and speed (1). It has also been noted that the physical demands of soccer increase year on year; therefore, the game requires players to be more athletic. Robustness is another attribute elite players need as they must handle up to 200 training sessions and 60 competitive games in one season (2).

In recent times, sports science and strength and conditioning have expanded considerably to enhance performance enhancement and injury reduction. For S&C's working in soccer, these two elements are clearly inter-linked; simply because the athletes who stay injury-free get ample opportunity to enhance their sporting performance - from a physical, technical, and tactical perspective. This leads to a positive cycle, as the more they train, the more robust they become, reducing the chance of future injury.

Before we can detail the key elements in soccer from the perspective of the S&C coach, we need to consider the bigger picture. The below circle diagram is a basic breakdown of the training planning process that underpins an effective soccer-based S&C and injury prevention programme. It will provide you with an excellent way to conceptualise the essential and cut out the clutter, and as such, focus on quality and not quantity.

Screenshot 2021-08-12 at 17.45.20.png

1. Needs Analysis

"Start With Why" Simon Sinek

Yes, I am stealing the term from Simon Sinek; "because it doesn't matter what you do, it matters why you do it". There needs to be a clear rationale for every intervention you put into place, and carrying out a thorough needs analysis is how it all begins. For this to be performed, the following categories should be investigated:

  • Sports Profile (general rules/time motion analysis/physiological demands/biomechanics demands)
  • Injury Profile (type/mechanism/rate)
  • Player Profile (age/gender/position/training age/injury history)

Going into more detail around these 3 categories is outside this article's scope, but the following is a brief outline of male, elite soccer demands;

  • Intermittent in nature (high intense actions intertwined with more prolonged low intense activity) (3).
  • Players hit up to 9-14km in total distance, with 1-3km high-intensity distance (4).
  • Sprinting occurs roughly every 90-120 seconds lasting 2-4 seconds (5).
  • Players perform 150-250 short, intense actions, with 1200-1400 changes of direction (6).

In regards to player injury, the following are some interesting stats that coaches and medical staff should be aware of:

  • Injuries are 4-6 times higher in a match in comparison to training (7).
  • Higher number of injuries in the last 15 minutes of each half (fatigue being a potential issue) (7).
  • Most common contact injury coming from tackling (8).
  • Most common mechanism for non-contact (9); Running (19%), Twisting/Turning (8%), Shooting (4%) and Landing (4%)

Soccer insight #1 – Teams tend to perform significantly less high-intensity activity when winning in comparison to losing or drawing (11).

Soccer insight #2 – Home teams cover greater distances compared to away teams (11)

2. Testing

"If You Can Not Measure It, You Can Not Improve It" Lord Kelvin

Once you’ve completed a full needs analysis, selecting the relevant tests should be straightforward. The needs analysis acts as the road map, providing a rationale for specific testing to be carried out. If coaches don't carry out performance testing and screening, they have no guidance on which areas players need to work on. Coaches and medical staff must have a solid understanding of the basic principles of testing and screening to be carried out effectively.

Having in-depth knowledge of these principles is fundamental, and understanding concepts such as variability (standard deviation), effect size, z-scores and confidence intervals are essential for test analysis and interpretation. This knowledge provides practitioners with reliable and valid information to aid in decision making further down the road. For further reading in these areas, readers are recommended to look up the work of McGuigan (10).

Due to time constraints and cost, laboratory testing can be inaccessible to many clubs; therefore, field-based tests are widely popular. It is recommended that testing is carried out up to 4 times a year (start of pre-season, end of pre-season, mid-season, and end of season).

Testing is conducted to assess a player's progress and make any program adjustments if necessary. Regarding a full testing battery outline for soccer, along with testing recommendations, readers are directed towards the work of Turner and Stewart (1).

Soccer insight #3 - The use of z-scores is a great way to gain between player comparisons.

Soccer insight #4 - At youth level, linking performance testing scores with maturation data is a great way to get a full picture of each individual player.

3. Objectives

"Alone We Can Do So Little; Together We Can Do So Much." Helen Keller

For the whole system to work at its peak, everything needs to work in tandem. Now replace system with team and everything with everyone. This is very much true, as for a soccer team to perform at the highest level, all support staff must work closely to ensure no stone is left unturned and performance is maximised. This involves clubs stepping away from the 'silo' effect and changing mentality from an 'us' and 'them' to a 'we' mentality. Player-focused approach works well here.

By coming together as a multi-disciplinary team (MDT), a more holistic approach is taken to help the player reach his/her highest potential. From an S&C and injury reduction point of view, the S&C/Sports Science and medical staff must come together and set specific targets and objectives for each individual player.

It is essential to point out that there must be a rationale for each goal set, and the implementation of a needs analysis and testing battery, along with talking to the technical coaches, helps identify this rationale.

Soccer-everything to work together.png

Soccer insight #5 – Use player rehab as a "window of opportunity" to work on areas they need to improve on.

4. Training Program

"If You Fail To Plan, You Are Planning To Fail!" Benjamin Franklin

This article focuses on the key elements and considerations when planning an S&C/injury prevention program in soccer, but due to there being no single 'correct way' for implementing an S&C program, the following are little pointers I have learned along the way.

  • Physio: If you lack knowledge around the area of GPS and on-field monitoring, it is an area to focus on. If you are lucky to have such technology, it is wise to utilise this tool during rehabilitation; therefore, having a basic understanding would be deemed wise.
  • Physio: Ensure a player profile is carried out to identify previous injuries and prehab work is regularly implemented to reduce the risk of reinjury.
  • Physio/ S&C: Get to grips with, and master excel (let's be honest, all S&C coaches love a spreadsheet!). Being competent in areas such as pivot tables, data validation, and macros can save you lots of time and headache. ExcelTricksForSports is a great free resource on YouTube that can help develop your skills in this area.
  • S&C: Minimum dose during the in-season is your best friend. During in-season, with games coming thick and fast, doing the least amount to get the adaptation you are looking for is vital. This ties in closely with a non-linear model of periodisation during this period - a much more viable option for coaches and athletes, as changes in bio-motor emphasis and volume can be achieved on a session to session or weekly basis.

Soccer insight #6 – Be sure to implement accessory prehab work in your gym sessions such as calf raises, copenhagen's, and nordic hamstring curls.

5. Monitoring

"An Intervention Without Progress Monitoring Is Just An Activity" Unknown

To maximise the training effect, coaches need to understand how certain training interventions will produce a specific physiological response. This is where the monitoring of training load has become a significant element in enhancing performance and reducing soccer injuries. In relation to monitoring, there are internal (RPE, Heart Rate) and external measures (GPS, accelerometers), but the key is that monitoring is consistent.

If coaches are not consistent, they will be unable to track trends and changes over time, leading to a potential decrease in sporting performance and an increase in injury risk. A hybrid approach is recommended if one is carrying out monitoring among Soccer athletes, which will involve both internal and external measures.

The following is a breakdown of measures that coaches are recommended to monitor


  • s-RPE
  • Session Load (Duration X s-RPE)
  • Monotony
  • Strain


  • GPS
  • Volume Load (gym-based)

Soccer insight #7 - Tracking ball rolling times during sessions is an excellent metric to measure as it will help guide technical coaches.

6. Review

"Mistakes Should Be Examined, Learned From, And Discarded; Not Dwelled Upon And Stored." Tim Fargo

This is an area that many coaches fail to address and is the most important as it helps identify what elements went well and others not so well. In soccer, this can be done at the end of the season and can be done in various ways:

  • Injury audit – A season-long account of all injuries should be carried out. By performing such an audit, all staff members can come together and analyse potential reasons for such injuries. By linking this closely with the periodised plan and monitoring performed by the sport science/S&C department, coaches can get a much better view of potential causes. This audit can also be compared to previous seasons (if data is available) and show if the injury reduction interventions had a positive effect.
  • Postseason performance testing – Performance testing comparisons of postseason can be carried out as it will highlight if individuals or the team as a whole are in better shape after the long season. Identifying this can help coaches compare year on year and outline the most appropriate interventions. This can also be performed in post pre-season testing to support guide decision-making regarding an optimal pre-season.
  • Cut the clutter – Reviewing the season as a whole around the data and testing can help both S&C and physios identify what is not 'essential'. This is very important as due to the rise of technology and metrics being pumped out, coaches need to realise what they are using to make meaningful changes and remove the rest.

Soccer insight #8 – Be sure to get feedback from your players also, as they can provide great value.

// Conclusion

  • Soccer is a demanding sport requiring development of various physical attributes; from strength and power to change of direction and aerobic capacity.
  • Implementing an effective training plan and process is crucial to provide practitioners with a road map to develop an effective soccer S&C and injury reduction program.
  • Ensure a thorough review is carried out. This is an area many coaches miss, but it can provide valuable feedback when conducted appropriately.

Download our useful sports physio and rehab ebook for expert advice on injury risk mitigation, rehab strengthening, hamstring injuries, concussion management & more -  a great resource to have!

// About The Author

Michael Mullane.png

Michael Mullane is the current Head of Academy Sports Science at Leyton Orient Football Club. Michael is an experienced multi-sport practitioner having previously worked with London Gaelic Football and the University of East London. Michael holds a Masters degree in Strength and Conditioning from Middlesex University and is an accredited Strength and Conditioning with the UKSCA and NSCA.

// References

Turner, A. N., & Stewart, P. F. (2014). Strength and conditioning for soccer players.Strength & Conditioning Journal,36(4), 1-13.

Balsom, P., & Phillips, G. (2010). Sport science –Making a difference in modern football? UEFA Medical Matters, 18, 7-9.

Rampinini, E., Coutts, A.J., Castagna, C., Sassi, R. and Impellizzeri, F.M. (2007). Variation in top level soccer match performance. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 28(12), 1018–1024.

Bradley, P.S., Sheldon, W., Wooster, B., Olsen, P., Boanas, P. and Krustrup, P. (2009). High-intensity running in English FA Premier League soccer matches. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27(2), 159–168.

Bangsbo, J., Nørregaard, L.and Thorsoe, F. (1991). Activity profile of competition soccer. Canadian Journal of Sport Sciences = Journal canadien des sciences du sport, 16(2), 110–116.

Mohr, M., Krustrup, P. and Bangsbo, J. (2003). Match performance of high-standard soccer players with special reference to development of fatigue. Journal of Sports Sciences, 21(7), 519–528.

Junge, A. and Dvorak, J. (2004). Soccer injuries. Sports Medicine, 34(13), 929–938

Wong, P. and Hong, Y. 2005. Soccer injury in the lower extremities. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(8), 473–482.

Hawkins, R.D., Hulse, M.A., Wilkinson, C., Hodson, A. and Gibson, M. (2001). The association football medical research programme: an audit of injuries in professional football. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 35(1), 43–47.

McGuigan, M. (2019).Testing and Evaluation of Strength and Power. Routledge.

Turner, A. (Ed.). (2018).Routledge handbook of strength and conditioning: Sport-specific programming for high performance. Routledge.About the author(H2 Heading)

SPeak to a performance specialist

Book a demo to see how Output how Output can support you and your goals.