Get in Shape, Have More Fun.
Every athletes favorite is word is "Conditioning". Right?
Whenever I tell an athlete they have a conditioning day, the usual response I get is a huff and a puff, a sigh, a complaint, and depending on the age of the athlete, some harsh words. Conditioning will never be anyone's favorite thing to do and it most certainly is not my most favorite thing to do, but it is a huge component when we are talking about building our aerobic energy system up (the energy system responsible for how well we recover day to day, which plays a big role in how we perform at tournaments and showcases).
A lot of coaches have this same issue. We do not want to make our athletes miserable, but we also don't want our athletes to be out of shape. So what can we do about it? Not all conditioning has to be 300 yard shuttles, endless sprints, or running poles (which actually don't help the athletes at all, but I'll save that for another article). In fact, there are MANY fun alternatives that accomplish the goals that a conditioning session has. The best part about this is that the athletes have fun while doing it, which creates buy in and a competitive culture within your team.
Upon arrival to our training camp this month, our coach wanted a conditioning session at 7pm the night that we arrived into town. Fresh off of long travel days, we wanted to get the bugs out and simply just get our bodies moving. Of course, a lot of the team was skeptical about a conditioning session the very first night we got there. Most people wanted to rest, recover, and just get to it in the morning. Knowing this, I turned our conditioning session into a fun game of tag. After the game was all over, my Whoop activity score was a 10, the optimal amount for recovery the next day! (You can check out more of Whoop's specific recovery tracking here, it's great wearable tech that a lot of athletes are utilizing).
If you are skeptical of using games as conditioning exercises... I'm just saying, if the United States Olympic Team can play a game of tag for conditioning, so can your 12u elite showcase gold team, Bill.
Here are my 5 favorite conditioning games to play:
TAG. Has to be number 1. Grab a deck of cards and have athletes randomly select a card. If an athlete draws a king, they are the taggers. If the athlete draws an ace, she is an angel that can bring athletes out of the "dead zone" if they are tagged. The grass is used as an "active zone" where taggers are chasing the other players. In the active zone the players must always be moving and are allowed to walk if they need to. The dirt is used as a "dead zone" where players go after they have been tagged. In the dead zone the players must always be jogging. There is no walking allowed in the dead zone. The angel can bring back to life one person out of the dead zone at a time, but she cannot bring herself back, once she is dead she remains in the dead zone for the rest of the game. Each game lasts a total of 5 minutes (unless the taggers get everyone). You can repeat this anywhere from 3-5 times in order for it to be effective.
Chase Sprints. This is one of my favorite ways to incorporate max level sprinting at the end of a practice. Pair the athletes up with a partner that has a similar speed skill set. Have the athletes perform a 20-yard sprint with one partner getting a 2 step head start. If the person gets tagged after getting a head start, have them repeat the rep. Anywhere from 10-20 reps on these should do the job, ensure anywhere from :30-:45s for rest in between.
Sharks and Minnows. Designate a single player or small group of players to be sharks and everyone else is a minnow. Have a line of cones set up 20 yards apart and have all the minnows line up on one side. When you say "Go!" the goal of the minnows is to get across the 20 yards without being tagged by a shark. Keep going back and forth until the shark has tagged all the minnows and repeat as many times as you see necessary.
Touch Football. Now this is where things can get competitive and extremely fun. Touch football is a great way to get some conditioning in but also developing leadership skills within your team. Have 2 captains draft teams. Play for as long as you see fit. I like having the first team to score 5 touchdowns wins.
Homerun Relay. This is another fun way to get your team competing. Have 2 captains draft two teams and set up 2 tees on either side of home plate and grab a bucket or two of balls. One person from each team hits the ball off the tee as far as they can on their side of the field. The person up in line from the other team is responsible for going to chase it and bringing it back to their line. The next hitter cannot swing until the player chasing the ball crosses the line. See who can collect all of the balls hit by the other team the fastest.