PDA U-17/18 Head Coach Sam Nellins Breaks Down Club’s Weekly Training Program
The U.S. Soccer Development Academy has showcased a vast amount of talent throughout the country, and among this base you tend to see some familiar clubs in the mix when the postseason rolls around.
One such club is Players Development Academy, based out of Somerset, N.J. The club’s U-15/16 and U-17/18 teams have already qualified for the 2012-13 Development Academy Playoffs, which run June 24-28 in Frisco, Texas.
So how are clubs in the Academy system able to maintain such high standards from year to year and week to week? PDA U-17/18 head coach Sam Nellins credits the 10-month season and the structure of more training and fewer but meaningful games as key proponents to the club’s ability to foster top results on a regular basis.
“The one-game weekend has helped us enormously,” Nellins said. “We have the ability to play and focus around one opponent in our training environment. It increases the intensity at training and there is less risk of in-game injuries and less worry of balancing the players’ time for 180 minutes in two days. Even this year, when we have played two games in a short time frame, we have rotated our starting 11.”
The in-game success naturally comes from a strong weekly training program, where Academy teams typically train three to four times per week. Here is PDA’s breakdown from Nellins:
Mondays: Strength and Conditioning
Nellins: “We are normally coming off a one-game weekend, which has really helped us from a development standpoint. So on Mondays we really work them hard. They will come in at 7:45 and do 15 minutes of running, followed by 45 minutes of strength and conditioning with [PDA Speed and Fitness Director] Mark Williams, who is on staff just to focus on the gym work, speed training, long distance and anaerobic exercising. For the last 45 minutes we will work on combination play, technical elements and focus on elements such as finishing.”
Mondays and Wednesdays: Goalkeeping Preparation
Nellins: “Our goalkeepers train for one hour on Mondays and Wednesdays away from our teams. Since the inception of the Development Academy program, we have had a specific goalkeeper coach. Before the Academy we would hold one session per week, but now we have the two, plus games.”
Wednesdays: Technique and Conditioning:
Nellins: “We will pick a technique to focus on, such as driven balls, taking players 1-v-1, the first touch to get away from pressure, and we will do that for 45 minutes every single week. Then we will progress to small exercises and conditioning, such as a 5-v-5 or 7-v-7 tournament where many of the younger players are brought up an age group. We will place conditions on the games, such as players needing to be up to the midfield for the goals scored to count to emphasize keeping our team compact.”
Thursdays: Opponent Focus
Nellins: “On Thursdays we will have an 11-v-11 game and we dedicate everything toward preparing for the opposition that weekend. We will work on set pieces, how we’re going to defend and how we’re going to play against that particular team. We also incorporate situations such as how we would play if we were a goal down, how we should play for the final 15 minutes. This week, for example, we face Baltimore Bays Chelsea, and we know that they are a team that likes to press, so we want to work on how we attack out of their pressure when they send so many numbers up. How do we play through them? How do we handle that pressure? So on Thursday we structure our training around our opponents and get them ready for in-game situations.”
Along with the focus on the field, Nellins said that the club tries to build the players for long-term success on the nutrition side.
“We give them the information and preach about what is a good, healthy meal,” Nellins said. “These are bits of information passed down from what professionals follow throughout the world. You are what you eat. Between that and strong conditioning, we give them what they need to make their bodies better.”
Depth and Playing Up
PDA has benefited from a wealth of soccer talent on the east coast. From a training and development standpoint, the PDA coaching staff has the task of weighing the players’ amount of playing time to making the decision to move a player up and age level.
“Our club academy program focuses on U-13 through U-18, and if you look at the rosters we put out, we are always playing kids up,” Nellins said. “A third of our U-15/16 roster is ’98s and ’97s, so many are a year young and have had the ability to play up. Within our U-15/16s to U-17/18s, there has not been as much movement because our U-18s are so strong. That ’95 age group has been a good age. [Midfielder] Brian White on our U-15/16s has played about 10 games for our U-17/18s. Last season, we had four guys who played up all year, so it varies from year to year. It depends on the scenarios and how strong your players are.”
Along with the budding player talent, the importance of having a full-time Academy staff tends to increase from season to season. Nellins is just one facet of a full-time group of Academy coaches. Gerson Echeverry heads the U-15/16s. Gerry McKeown, Brian Grazier and Mike Gould are full-time Academy coaches. Phill Herbert and Mike Romeo handle goalkeeper coaching on a full-time basis. Mark Williams handles the fitness aspect. And John Murphy deals with the Academy administration side of things.
“This entire staff works with our U-15/16 and U-17/18 Academy boys teams, and we feel the player-to-coach ratio helps enormously with the technical improvement of our players,” Nellins said. “
The 10-month season and Academy coaches build the best platform for the teams’ players to succeed. And while that sets the high standard among the country’s top players, Nellins said that the best of the best take the game with them 24/7.
“All of our players who are looking to make it to the next level, they’re training six to seven days a week, whether they’re in the weight room or have a personal trainer,” Nellins said. “Even if they’re on the playground with other kids, all of our players put in a lot of work when they’re away from us. It’s all about putting in the hours toward the game. The more you try to get out of it, the more the game pays you back. That’s what we preach to the kids.”