If you ask any player from 8 to 40 what the worst part of playing soccer is, two answers will almost universally arise: losing and conditioning.
When it comes to conditioning, most players grow up with the belief that conditioning is a chore – that conditioning is something to be dreaded. To most players, conditioning is a punishment. Players run more when they do something wrong or when the coach is upset.
This is where the other universal “worst” comes in – losing. Even in the most casual leagues, players do not enjoy losing, and coaches can establish the value of conditioning by reversing traditional thoughts about it.
Establish that the players want to win.
Coaches do not have to overemphasize the value of winning, just re-affirm that the team does want to win. In most cases, this should be fairly easy.
Get players to agree that better conditioned players are better players
All other things being equal, a fresh player is better than a tired player. Better conditioning helps keep players from getting tired.
Get players to agree that having better players means having a better team.
Get players to agree that having a better team means the team is more likely to win.
Affirm that conditioning is, therefore, a good thing – indeed, it is a privilege.
Making this work does require some philosophical changes on the part of the coach. For example:
Rather than punishing players by making them run when they do something bad, let them run for doing something good.
Have players that win practice games do shuttle runs as a reward.
Let the team do more conditioning for a good practice rather than a bad practice.
Of course, this technique is most easily accomplished if implemented from the beginning, however, if handled correctly, it can still be accomplished at a later time.