I get this question a lot:
Training in cross country will help us perform better in soccer—Right?
On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. It’s necessary for soccer players to run on the field. So, training cross country will help a player perform better.
But, when you dig into the mechanics of each sport, it doesn’t work as well. The principle of Specificity says that you’ve got to train your muscles and your energy in the sport that you’re going to play. That’s the best way to get the performance results you’re looking for.
So, cross country training will benefit you for a long-distance run. But soccer-specific training will benefit your soccer performance. Soccer and cross country are two different sports.
Given this principle, it’s possible to say that running is part of soccer and should be included in training—but in shorter durations and higher intensities than those performed by athletes who aim to run 5km, 10km, half-marathon and marathon. Long distance run will help soccer players to improve their aerobic endurance; however, it will make them slower.
Soccer is an anaerobic sport. The reality is that a soccer player is sprinting in both short and long distances, changing speed and directions, cutting, jumping, landing, and walking during a match. The intensity of activities, resistance and muscle action needed are extremely different than cross county athletes.
I will support a youth player/athlete who wishes to engage in cross country activities if the priority is cross country. On the other hand, if soccer is the priority and the engagement in cross country training is to improve soccer performance, that is not my recommendation.
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