The Hertha BSC football academy sees itself as a place to nurture talent. In recent years, more and more players and made the journey through the ranks into the Hertha first team. This is down to the academy’s holistic concept, in which football training is only one element. Proper nutrition and sport-science backed development also play a large role. mach-dich-hertha.de spoke to Claudia Wallenta, Hertha U23s’ strength and conditioning coach, about the importance of S&C training in the development of a Hertha player and why age plays a key role in the training concept.
Claudia, you are a strength and conditional coach at Hertha BSC’s football academy. What is S&C coaching and what do you do?
In S&C training, a lot of work is done on learning how to run properly, having the right form and coordination, as well as orientation and balance. The goal is to bring all of these attributes together – with and without the ball. The scope of our training increases year after year. That means from the U9s-U12s it’s more about weekly half-hour sessions of coordination training. The youth players also do a weekly gymnastics session until U12s, in order to improve their overall sporting motor skills. What that means is that the training isn’t very specific at the start, but more about improving general coordination skills. Sometimes the S&C work is done in a dedicated training session, other times it is part of a larger session on the pitch. Far away from being football specific, all different kinds of movement patterns are trained and developed.
Is a good training in overall strength and conditioning a prerequisite for a future professional career, for which you need to lay the foundations especially early?
Oh yes, particularly with regards to form and rhythm, we need to be laying the foundations for this during the golden years of their learning capacity, so when they are still playing on small pitches. The golden years begin at around six and last until U12s or U13s. If coordination is worked on well and continually during this time, you will see it quite clearly later on. Then it becomes easier to learn complex movement processes, exercises or techniques.
Does the focus of S&C training change as you get older?
Yes, definitely. It becomes a lot more individual and player-specific from U12/U13 onwards. Then you start working on agility and speed frequency. From U13s, gymnastics is replaced by obstacle courses. However, coordination continues to play an important role, though by then quick footedness becomes more important. Stabilisation also then becomes an independent training component. At every age group, the importance of the following things are always made clear: a well-trained, overall athlete, with good coordination, good orientation skills and a good balance are all important basic requirements for any professional footballer.
How is the performance ability affected by puberty?
It varies. Most relevant is the time around the main growth spurt, which is why we carry out growth assessments from U12 to U15. We measure upper body dimensions, as well as body weight. The IAT (Institute for Applied Scientific Training) calculates when the main growth spurt should take place.
Why is it important to know when the players will grow the most?
As a rule, they say that young players are most susceptible to injury during their main growth spurt. Particularly when they are under intense workloads or when they have a busy training or match schedule. Then if you add stress from school on top, it can very quickly lead to injuries. We don’t usually see a drop in performance during that time, but we try to make our coaches aware of the potential situations. The players should adjust training for around half a year during their main growth spurt.
Do you also do strength training?
Of course. Players tend to have their main growth spurt between 13 and 14. Once that is over, we start with strength training. We don’t start lifting additional weights until U16s, once they have internalised the correct techniques. If a player doesn’t have the right technique or they lack the stability, we may choose not to start with additional weights at that time.
Does a good footballer need to be fit in all areas of fitness/strength?
Football has a lot of rapid peak loads that come in intervals. On average, every three to five seconds a player will have one of many diverse, high-explosive quick-burst moments, such as sprints, jumps, shots, duels. Strength ability plays a high role in that and must therefore be trained. Focus points in strength training vary depending on the time of the season. During the season, it’s more about maximum/speed training. These are often combined with the help of complex training or a modified French contrast method. Because football is so complex, we need to adjust our players to the workload and train accordingly.
How would a regular training week in the academy look?
Once a week we have strength training. On top of that, leg axis and mobilisation training would also be part of an ideal training week. We tend to do that in small groups. We will choose a focus point and adjust according to the team’s training programme. There’s also ankle stabilisation and speed-based training. From that we can see how the performance translates onto the pitch. Of course, we also work on jumping, acceleration and changing directions, all of which are monitored in isolation.
What makes S&C training at the Hertha BSC football academy special?
At the academy, we have a clear idea of how the sporting and athletic development should be carried out. We want to create a good, general foundation for our small-sided players through coordination and gymnastics training. Then it can become more specific from U15s and tailored to the player’s level. We have an S&C coach at every age group from U15s to U23s. In the future, for example, we hope to improve our monitoring procedure. The aim is train them according to their current performance ability, in order to take best possible care of them.