Training Setups for the Substitute Player

Most of the weekly training schemes we see are planned around the starting 11. While, of course, it’s important for training weeks to be planned with the intention of the team’s starting players being the most prepared (or least fatigued) on match days, but if substitute players aren’t handled differently, this can quickly become an issue.

If a substitute player followed the same training week as a starter (assuming the substitute plays very low to no minutes on match day), we might see a general loading pattern that looks like one of these two setups:

Training Setup 1
Training Setup 2

As you can see in both setups, the substitute player would have 4 days where they get little to no stimulus. Overtime, with this type of setup, the substitute player will undoubtedly detrain.

In terms of physical preparedness, the goal of managing a team should be to have as many interchangeable parts as possible. If a starter goes down with an injury, ideally a substitute player can step in and perform at the level expected of them. I believe performance is indirectly influenced by fitness in that greater levels of fitness does not equal better performances, but lack of fitness can definitely have an negative impact on performance. Lack of fitness may not only have a negative effect on performance, but also is related to higher risk of injury.

Categorization of players

After the match, I like to think of players being in one of three categories: starters that have played big minutes, substitutes (small minutes and no minutes), and non-dress players. While there is some overlap in these groups, i.e. a sub comes on at halftime or a sub that plays no minutes, for the most part, after the match, these groups are on all different wave lengths in terms fatigue. Starters who played significant minutes are very fatigued while substitutes are relatively fresh. Between post match on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, the goal should be to get players back on the same wave length by Tuesday’s training. I actually think in some cases substitute players may come into Tuesday’s training a bit more fatigued than the starters if they did a session on Sunday and/or Monday.

Knowing that we have to train the substitute players differently to keep them from detraining, there are a couple options I like to use, with both options having their own pros and cons:

Option 1
Saturday – Match + Post Match Fitness
Sunday – OFF / Recovery
Monday – Training

If a player has actually played minutes in the match, I’d be more inclined to go with the first approach so we can tack on some additional running to the minutes already played. Doing this post-match and having Sunday as an off day (or recovery if necessary) would provide some variability in the general loading pattern rather than a semi-flat loaded three days.

Option 2
Saturday – Match (No Post Match Fitness)
Sunday – Weightroom / Fitness
Monday – Training

If a player hasn’t played minutes I’d be more inclined to like the second set up because we could do another weightroom session as well as some fitness. Realistically, you might only have 10 minutes post match and while you can still get a good dose of work in, it’s usually just enough to not let players totally drop off.

From a practical standpoint, especially when on the road, you may not have the luxury of choosing from multiple options because you have to catch an early flight back or lack of equipment in a hotel gym. In this case, maybe post match is the only time you have to accomplish this task. As long as the athletes are being addressed in some capacity as to not detrain, I think you have to do what you can with what different scenarios that present themselves.


Published by John Grace

John is a performance coach, specializing in the development of speed, power, and strength, with experience coaching in professional soccer at the national and international level and in weightlifting at the junior, university, and senior national level and masters international level. Along with this professional and national level coaching, he has coached athlete's in a variety of semi-professional sports as well as Division I, II, and III athletics. With more than a decade of extensive coaching experience, he aims to provide an unparalleled training experience.

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