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Summer Speed, Strength and Conditioning for Busy ECNL Soccer Girls

May 31, 2024, by Erica Suter | Courtesy of

The girls’ ECNL is one of the most competitive leagues for girls soccer players.

With great competition, however, comes great responsibility.

The girls’ ECNL runs practically year-round, with play beginning in September and going through May for the regular season. That is over 8 months out of the year when adolescent girls are specialized soccer players, just like the pros.

Some weekends, girls play two games straight. And some teams, go beyond the May regular season and into June for nationals and then July for the finals. So now, we’re talking over 10 months out of the yearwhen adolescent girls are specialized soccer players.

This year, Nationals play-offs are held in Seattle June 22-28. And for the winners, they head to Richmond July 10-July 13 for the national finals.

For the ECNL girls who actually finish their season in May, it’s a blessing in disguise because they have time for a true summer off-season of over three months—that is if their coach gives them one.

Some ECNL coaches still hold 3-4x a week of practice over the Summer, and there’s no wiggle room to do other activities, deload, and then get the body strong and in shape with new stimuli. Girls’ bodies are in a constant catabolic state from so much running from soccer.

This doesn’t mean girls should spend time away from the ball, but they should lean more toward speed, strength, and conditioning during the Summer months since they just played soccer for over eight months straight.

Girls must build robust bodies to handle game demands. They need to strength train so their muscles and bones are durable and resilient to injury. Too, strength workouts in the off-season should be done freshand not tired from soccer practices, otherwise it’s hard to get a quality strength adaptation.

All ECNL girls should be strength training at this point. The practice, game schedule, and competition are too demanding NOT to. Being frail never helps anyone.

They also need to focus on true speed training, where they are able to time their sprints of over 20 meters and raise the ceiling on the top-end speed. Soccer girls very rarely reach over 20 meters in practice due to the small-sided game setting, so they are limited in building explosiveness and max velocity.

As far as conditioning, when the season wraps up in May, it’s not good to jump right into hardcore summer runs. The joints and muscles need a break from a ton of mileage, intense change of direction drills, and conditioning. It’s okay to deload for a few weeks and enjoy Summer.

Then, when girls are ready to rock for their Summer training (end of May/early June), they should start general conditioning via linear and tempo runs to gradually build up endurance again.

For Nationals ECNL Girls

This is where things get tricky.

For the girls whose extended season into the ECNL playoffs ends in June or July, they only have about three weeks for off-season training. This is because most ECNL teams start back up in August for team practices to prepare for that first match in September.

Girls should at least strength train in May and June, so they build their muscles up to handle what is to come at the playoffs. Strength workouts shouldn’t be too high-volume; otherwise, we risk muscle soreness and fatigue for practices and playoff games. We want girls going in strong and fresh!

Lifts should start with a proper mobility warm-up and then attack each muscle group: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, upper body, and core.

And then, work out any kinks/tightness that specific player needs.

Once nationals are over, it’s finally off-season! We have 3-4 weeks at most.

First and foremost, when girls return from Seattle or Richmond, take time to chill. Think about how much soccer, running, and change of direction that was just endured for the past 10 months, and lean away from these movements for a week or two. Continue to work on mobility and strength training as different stimuli.

Off-season must be spent introducing new stimuli to the muscles to prevent over-training and unnecessary injury.

“But what about conditioning?! I need to get ready for August pre-season because my coach runs us into the ground when we return!”

This is a problem. Pre-season shouldn’t be about punishment and stupid conditioning, especially for ECNL teams that had a meager 3-4 week off-season. It should be about putting girls back together and putting health first.

However, for girls who are worried about their conditioning, it begs the question, “Didn’t they just do conditioning all Summer through practices and prep for nationals?”

Most ECNL soccer girls already have an excellent aerobic base and are already conditioned from so much soccer. But most aren’t fast because they failed to get in year-round speed work.

Here’s a podcast explaining true speed training and how it improves conditioning as well:

Summer Program Tips

For ECNL girls who finish in May, here is the summer focus and training template:

May – 1-2 week deload, mobility and strength training

June – linear conditioning and acceleration work, muscle hypertrophy work

July – change of direction conditioning, top speed, strength, and power work

And for more customized speed, strength and conditioning programs for girls soccer players, go HERE

For ECNL girls who finish end of June/early July, here is the summer focus and training template:

July – 1-2 week deload, mobility and strength training

End of July – speed work, strength training

Early August – power training

And for more customized speed, strength, and conditioning programs for girls’ soccer players, go HERE

I’d also add that when the season ends in July, it’s a great time to focus on proper nutrition. Learn to shop for nutrient-dense foods, cook healthy, and develop good habits.

A lot of girls will improve their endurance and pre-season readiness when their muscles are fed properly to handle load. They certainly won’t fatigue as often or as fast.


Closing Thoughts on ECNL Off-Season

It is critical that we design our programs meticulously, keeping the health of the player in mind first. It’s unnecessary for ECNL girls who end in July to do hard change-of-direction conditioning right away. We must put their bodies back together and empower them for that meager off-season so they’re ready to go again in August.

It’s a LONG season and girls must lean toward specific adaptations at different times in the year.

Don’t do the same things year-round and expect different results.

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