Gregor Roberton writes about the changes happening in the off-season
The close season is a time for footballers to switch off from the pressures and strains of the professional game. It is a time to relax with friends and family and perhaps to take in a bit of sun. It is a time to enjoy, because after all it is the only break of the working year for a footballer.
However, in the modern game it is vital to maintain fitness throughout a period of almost two months, so as not to return behind the pack and risk injury in what is perhaps the most competitive and demanding stage of the year - pre season- and to give yourself the best chance of success in the year ahead.
The summer break is a time of the year that all footballers look forward to. The season is a long one, and in its last few weeks when bodies and minds are fatigued the sense of anticipation is obvious - sometimes a little too obvious in performances on the pitch! Undoubtedly the season is demanding though and it is important to use the summer break to rest and recuperate.
Players will travel far and wide during this time and holiday plans are a common topic of discussion as the season enters its final stages. For many who play with clubs far from their homes and their families, this will be their only real chance to spend some time there.
In today’s game it is essential that throughout your travels and time away you keep your fitness levels high, or you will undoubtedly face a tough time in pre season two months down the line.
At each club I have played for the summer has been a clean break at the end of the season – a ‘see you for pre season’. Although all clubs today provide an off-season training programme, this lays a lot of trust and responsibility at the door of the players.
The vast majority of players nowadays will look after themselves and return in good shape, but I have certainly seen one or two over the years who have returned carrying a little extra holiday weight and the first few weeks of pre-season for them is even more gruelling!
Often younger players will be the ones who might enjoy themselves a bit too much but the experience of racking up a few pre-seasons will usually make them become more professional down the line.
Crewe is the first club I have played for who have training sessions through the summer period, something which is becoming more common and which I believe shows the increasing importance of fitness and athleticism in the game.
There will be two training sessions a week for the majority of our summer break and holiday plans and dates must be given to the club. This should mean that a level of fitness will be maintained and that the dreaded pre season becomes a little less dreaded! While this may mean a bit less of a ‘clean break’, knowing that the players are at a certain level should mean that the preparation and coaching from a footballing perspective can begin earlier than at other clubs, and perhaps give us that all important edge.
The off-season is also seen by many nowadays as a chance to improve yourself physically and to work on things that are hard to do during a hectic and demanding season. If there are any areas of the body that have been weakened through injury during the season or that you feel need strengthened specifically, the close season is the best opportunity to do this without the constant rigours of training and games to contend with. I’ve seen players who have transformed themselves over the close season and returned more powerful and muscular and in great shape for the season ahead.
Of course, the work you do over the close season is all to prepare you for the much-feared pre-season. There is no doubt that the thought of the lung busting runs on hot sunny days that lie ahead will be in the back of your mind as pre-season approaches. And it is true that pre-season is a tough and gruelling time for footballers. However, it is not like the old days any more, with mile after mile of plodding runs or trips to the seaside for runs up and down sand dunes to contend with. Even in the time I have been a professional, things have changed enormously with a much more scientific approach being taken at most clubs so there is certainly a little less to fear than in the past.
For many the biggest fear over the summer months won’t be getting fined for those extra few kilos they’re carrying, or of lagging behind in the fitness tests. Their fear will simply be about where they will be playing their football next season. Every year hundreds of professionals of all ages are released or are out of contract and face the prospect of being without a club or an income for the season ahead. I know from experience that this can make for a pretty stressful and uncertain summer as you wait for the phone to ring with some news from a club or agent. But it is even more important in this situation that you stay in good shape and ready for whatever the future holds.
Whatever the summer entails for a professional footballer, it is important to relax and enjoy this time of year. But for me there is always a little bit of you that misses the action and looks forward to the fresh challenges of the new season, of going through the ups and downs and experiences that every season brings, and of getting back to doing the job and playing the game that nothing can beat.