P.O.V.ey: What’s the deal with pre-season?

Pre-season is like Marmite. Some players love it, others hate it. Personally, I’m a little bit on the fence about the whole affair. There’s definitely been pre-seasons which pushed me as a player, and certainly helped me in the season’s opening games, but other times, its felt like a bit of a waste of time. Taking into account the P.O.V from both sides of the Marmite/pre-season battle lines, I’ve written this read about my views on pre-season, and what I think players and coaches should do to really make it worthwhile.

Like my last article, I’ve decided to divide up the different areas of pre-season, so that I can try and think about each bit in more detail. I’ve shared my point of view, but I also had a think about the way my previous coaches, managers and fellow players saw certain aspects, to give a bit of a broader picture (and to not take sides!)

As always, if you’re a player or a coach and have any other advice that you’d like to add, or even if you’d just like to declare whether you’re a pre-season lover or hater, either pop it in the comments or tweet me @LishaPovs, to get the conversation going!

The Fun of Fitness

I think that when a lot of people think of pre-season, they think fitness. Fair enough, fitness is a pretty important part of any footballers success, but in my opinion, pre-season shouldn’t just be about getting fit. The dreaded Bleep Test is not (in my humble opinion) going to help me score more goals. Nor will long-distance running help with the start/stop nature of a striker’s matchday experience.

Clubs that focus solely on fitness during pre-season are a conundrum to me. I’ve been to pre-seasons where we’ve done fitness session after fitness session, and barely touched a football. Conversely, I’ve played for a team whose pre-season was all ball-work focussed with no fitness in sight. I think that during pre-season, the ratio of fitness to ball work should be about 30% (fitness) to 70% (football).

Summer is also arguably the time that people are most motivated to go out and exercise themselves, and if it is made clear by the coaches that they expect players to be doing their own fitness, I think that’s fair. If I know that I won’t make it into the starting line-up without doing some running and gym work in my own time, then I will make the effort to do enough.

Verdict: Pre-season fitness is necessary, but should be made more of an individual responsibility. Don’t prioritise running over ball work. Strike the right balance! N.B. It’s completely okay to be absolutely knackered and red in the face during pre-season, we can’t all look like the model in the above photo! Do the amount of fitness that is right for you!

The mystical PSF

I like a pre-season friendly as much as the next person. It’s great to get back out on the pitch and test yourself against some different opposition, and especially after moving clubs, it’s also the perfect opportunity to start learning about how your teammates play, and what to expect from them for the coming season.

However, although I love a good PSF, I think that a lot of teams and players put too much emphasis on results, and not enough on development and trying new things. Pre-season is the only time that a player can try a new position, or a manager can give a new formation a go, without the fear of it going wrong and costing all-important points.

It was at some point in a pre-season friendly when I was 12 or 13 that I was moved from a right-back to a striker, and I’ve never looked back. Trying new things is definitely a good thing, both individually and as a team!

Going back to my previous verdict on fitness, pre-season friendlies can also build on what you’ve been working on in the off-season; your endurance, pace or maybe your strength and conditioning. It’s one thing to be able to run 10k without too much huffing and puffing, but it’s another thing to be able to run doggies when the ball is going end-to-end during a match.

Finally, as a player that’s moving to a new club (again!) I would have really valued playing in more pre-season friendlies. I played in one with Woodley United, who I have now signed with, but due to holidays and not having moved house yet, I haven’t been able to play any more. The PSF I took part in gave me a good idea of how my new teammates play, whether they like the ball at their feet or a cheeky through ball, if they can bash in a header from a high cross or like to slot in from a low one… You learn so much from 90 minutes with a new team. So, in that regard, pre-season friendlies can really help settle in, as well as to start the important process of gelling with your team, new and old signings alike.

Verdict: So, maybe pre-season friendly results aren’t the be all and end all, but it can help exponentially with fitness, and is perhaps the only time to try new things. You never know, you might be the next Rapinoe, but you’ve been playing in goal your whole life! Linking perfectly to my next point about pre-season, these friendlies, and pre-season in general, are also vital in building up team morale and welcoming new faces.

Teams that play together, stay together

No, for once, I’m not talking about playing football, I’m talking about the out-of-football social aspect. Having a team that is clique free and get on when they step off the pitch can have a massive impact on the success of the squad. Teams that focus on this aspect of team-building during pre-season are definitely an example to follow in my opinion.

Last season, I played for Almondsbury FC Women in Bristol. A great bunch of girls from lots of different backgrounds, but what made it a special team, was the team spirit (cheesy, I know). Gary, the manager, put in so much effort to make every single player welcome, and the team took part in boot-camp style team building this pre-season, alongside the more traditional training and friendlies. Although this might not be every players’ cup of tea, it’s nice to know that your teammates have your back, not just on the pitch.

Pre-season should be the time that the team gets to know each other, and that the coaching team and captain work to quash any tensions, lone-ranger ideologies or moaners within the team. From my experience, teams that spend time together off the pitch, and who know each others strengths aside from football, are more likely to be successful in their season. Also, and very importantly, this kind of team is much more healthy to be part of than a ‘team’ of individuals who want nothing to do with each other outside of the sport.

Verdict: Team bonding is something that, in my experience, is overlooked during pre-season, but can be vital. Creating an environment where everyone supports each other and gets on will boost morale on match-days, encourage attendance at training, and will just make the club a more enjoyable and welcoming place to be. So, any coaches out there, follow in Gary’s footsteps and book a team boot-camp, go on a team night-out or host a BBQ, you’ll be surprised what a difference an afternoon can make to team relationships!

So, pre-season, what’s the deal?

Pre-season has the potential to be like the Marmite debate; love/hate, but it doesn’t have to be. With a bit of individual fitness work, some enjoyable, low pressure pre-season friendlies as well as some emphasis on creating a supportive team environment, pre-season can be enjoyable!

As always, tweet me @LishaPovs with your thoughts/ opinions on the issue, and any advice you have as to what has or hasn’t worked for you during pre-season! I’m always interested to hear what you have to say, and if it helps other players and coaches, that’s a bonus!

P.O.V.ey: New beginnings

Not sure of your next move? Struggling to find a team that fits? Have a look at my point of view on making a new start in the grassroots game!

It’s that time of year again: pre-season. It’s the perfect opportunity to get fit get to know new teammates and look ahead to what the coming season has in store. However, for the fourth year running, I miss out on all that. My pre-season will instead be spent trying to find a team with the right fit. A bit of context at this point; I havenn’t always been serial mover and shaker in grassroots women’s football! I was at Wycombe Wanderers Ladies FC from the age of 14 until I was 19 and left for university, and even then, I would still return intermittently when they were struggling for numbers. However, for the last few years, things have been up in the air.

I’m sure a lot of players may have faced the same issue as me if they have decided to leave home to go to college or university; rebuilding your confidence within the university football setup and potentially joining a local team on the side is a pretty daunting prospect, especially if you have been with the same team since youth football. For me, I had to contend with not only this scenario in my first year at the University of Bath, but as part of my degree I had to spend a year abroad, which meant finding two more suitable teams to play for in both Spain and Russia!

Now, as I am writing this, I am in this predicament again, searching for a team for the coming season. In September, I will be moving back homewards, which means joining yet another team, and one which I probably played against when I was 16. Having had my fair share of team trials, open training, and newbie nerves, I feel like I’m in a pretty good position to give advice to any of you struggling to find a new club or team to join this season.

Here’s my 4-step guide to finding a new beginning this season!

1. Do your research

Make sure you know what you’re looking for, and whether the team fits the bill!

Arguably the most important step before you even consider going for an open training session or a trial is to do your research. Firstly, try and find some general information about the team as well as where it fits into the larger picture within the club and league. Is it a standalone team? Is it linked to a men’s side? How involved is the club with the women’s setup? These might seem like relatively unimportant questions, but unfortunately a lot of women’s teams do struggle financially, and clubs can be quick to cut them loose when things get tough. If the club seems supportive of the women’s team e.g., they feature them on their website and social media, they use the same ground or training facilities, and there’s a ‘one club’ mentality, that can be a good sign. Of course, appearances on social media can be deceptive, so don’t base your decision purely on whether the team play at a nice stadium or get shout-outs on Insta.

It’s not just the club and the team itself that you should look at though. Having a look at the league is also a good shout. Have a glance at where the prospective team has placed in the last few seasons, whether they’ve had to drop any games due to insufficient player numbers and also have a look at teams which you’ll be playing against. I normally look for a team which isn’t comfortably winning every game, but similarly isn’t losing convincingly week in week out. You can easily find the information on the league website or on FA Full Time.

2. Choose the right level for you

Find a level where you feel comfortable, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push yourself!

Leading on nicely from the issue of different leagues, choosing the right level that you want to be playing at is also key. Having played at all sorts of levels, I have a pretty good idea of where I’m comfortable, what level I need to be at to push myself, and what’s probably a no-go area at the moment. Over the past year, I played in the Segunda Division Catalana in Spain, the FA Women’s National League South West, the Southern Region Women’s Football League and with a Russian beach football team that boasts about 80% of the national representative side. I can freely admit that I was pushed out of my comfort zone, and I would say that the benefits and drawbacks probably presented themselves in equal measure. For example, in the FA WNL, I definitely improved technically, but often found myself on the bench for long periods during matches. In Russia, apart from the language barrier, I was training with high-performance players who played like a well-oiled machine and knew each others moves inside-out, often leaving me feeling lost, but at the same time, the baptism of fire has really encouraged me to improve and aim for that same level as them in the future.

Learning from my past experiences, this season I’ve decided to head for the Southern Region Women’s Football League Premier Division. It’s a league that I know well, and boasts some great teams. AFC Bournemouth, Oxford City, Abingdon United and my old club Wycombe are some of the teams that will be going toe-to-toe this year. It’s a challenging league, with some stand out players, so I’m excited for the season.

This Sunday I tried out at a club in this league, but I will write about how that went in another post.

3. Think about travel

Have a think about how far you are willing to travel for training and matches.

When you’re not a professional, finding a team that’s close and convenient is a really important factor. Especially for those of us who juggle full-time work with football training, the idea of a long drive or journey after the 9 till 5 grind is not an attractive one. If you’re having to drive a long way or get public transport to training and matches, it might have a knock-on effect on your ability to give it your all in training, and subsequently how you perform in matches.

In my experience, choosing a closer club is the best option. Although you might be tempted to go further afield for a more prestigious club or for a higher league, sometimes the best thing to do is to stay close to home and then work from there. If you think you can manage the travel, then go for it, but it’s better to start close and then move further afield, then to start at a club that’s miles away and burn yourself out for a season.

Another travel related tip to take note of! If you’re joining a regional league where away matches are likely to be a bit of a trek, it’s definitely worth asking about whether they take a team bus or lift share. I’ve played for a lot of teams where they didn’t really consider this, and it meant that there were 11 players all driving to fixtures in 11 different cars. Travelling together not only makes sense (money-wise and for the environment!) but it’s also a nice way to build team relationships if you’re a newbie.

4. Make sure you enjoy it!

At the end of the day, enjoying your football is the most important thing!

You’re probably thinking that this is a bit of an obvious point to make, but I can’t stress it enough! At grassroots level, enjoying your football is the most important thing. Of course, you might enjoy football in challenging environments, or like a relaxed lower level club better, but wherever you end up, make sure that you are happy.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been to train with a few different clubs, and for me, it’s just as much about the attitude of the coaches and players, and how you’re welcomed into the team, as it is about the football itself. 15 years of football has taught me that I play best when I have supportive teammates and coaching staff backing me up. When you go and try out for teams, get a feel for the atmosphere and encouragement from other players, as in my experience, you’re more likely to be happy when you’re supported.

Sometimes, even if you’ve been with a club for years and loved it, you might really not enjoy the next season. That’s completely natural! Teams change as new players come in and old ones leave. Don’t be scared to make a change just because that club is all you know. That change might kick-start something amazing!

So, if you’re looking for a new beginning, don’t be afraid to go for it! Have a think about what’s best for you and go and take some teams for a spin. When you find a team where you feel happy and can’t wait to play with, you’ve hit the jackpot! If you’re a player who’s been on the move like I have, or who has just swapped teams, feel free to add any more advice in the comments or tweet me @LishaPovs!