Ranko Popovic, head coach of FC Pune City, a city-based Indian Super League (ISL) club, tells us how footballers can stay fit and why one should take up the sport as a fitness activity
Besides passionately following your favourite football legends, playing football also requires a strong body and a sharp mind. Quick footwork, great muscle strength, dexterity and endurance are some of the prerequisite for playing the game. So, if you aspire to become a professional footballer or want to play the sport for fitness, there are certain things that you need to keep in mind.
Ranko Popovic, former Serbia defender, and currently the head coach of Football Club of Pune City, Indian Super League, talks about fitness, and how he looks at football as a fitness activity.
What is an ideal body type for a footballer?
It is a balanced one —if a player knows and understands his body weight, strength and other things, then he will maintain it properly and maintaining it properly is a ideal one.
Legs play an important role in football, but I believe the other muscles are important too. Footballer will play a solid game when every muscle will play its role on the field. Core muscles like abdomen, waist and lower stomach should be strong because the player’s movement and flexibility depends on the core. A strong core explains how quick a player can move on the field in the game as well as in the training.
On the other side, even hands should be strong when it comes to a footballer, defending on the field, covering a player during free kicks and headings. Hands support the players to protect their sides. So I would say that a complete balanced body plays an important part.
What are some of important workouts and exercises that footballer must follow?
The focus is to strengthen the leg muscle — the ankles, thighs and knees are one of the focussed areas among footballers. Working out in gym is important but in functional training the body strengthens more than one muscle during a single exercise. A player goes under intense training like jumping, developing power, movements on the field but this all depends on the core muscles, legs and hand so they should be strong.
As a young footballer, I climbed trees, played on the sand, grass which helped me develop my hands, fingers, leg muscles, etc.
So, we make sure that players under go functional training too. In recent times, the injuries have increased, the body contact on the field has grown so we have to make sure the player's body is ready for those contacts and the power impacts they take.
Football is a team and collective sport, there are 22 players running behind a ball which makes it tougher. It’s our job to make sure that players are trained for strength as well as for concentration. Football as a sport has numerous and never ending fitness variations and there is no best plan to be fit in any sport in the world. So all one should do is keep improving as well as growing.
How is a footballer's diet designed?
We have specialists for diet but the coach needs to understand the basic of players’ body as every player’s body is different. A regular diet includes fruits, pasta, rice and chicken. It is important that they should know the quantity of food they eat, eating more or less can affect them, but balanced diet always improves them.
We test the players in the beginning and plan their diet accordingly. The test explains us the body fats, what kind of vitamins a player needs and sometimes we have to also consider what can make a player feel better after eating. For example if a player likes a chocolate, we allow him to eat some, or soft drinks. But this is only to make his body and mind feel satisfied.
What are common fitness mistakes that footballer make and how to prevent/rectify them?
Sometimes players overdo their personal workout, they push themselves in gym when they need to relax. Sometimes they think they need to strengthen their muscles further, which is not necessary, so I ensure they do smart work and follow the regime. They need to understand when they should stop and rest. More time in gym, doing heavy workout, can affect the game. The body balance should be consistent, a balanced body helps a player to perform well on the field, so we make sure they avoid unnecessary exercise and food.
How important is rest for player to remain efficient and restore the stamina?
Rest is as important as diet and training. Players undergo intense training on the field, they keep themselves hydrated, eat proper food, but then resting helps calm their bodies.
After every training session a player needs power nap or a couple of hours rest and then s/he should go out with friends. Rest is basically caring about your body and helps regaining their strength, and re-energising it. However, too much rest can make your body dull and lazy. It should be done within limits.
What is your comment on the growing trend of running, marathons and cycling? How do these activities help footballers?
Running and cycling helps the footballers only if it's done for a limited period of time. Jogging and cycling help you warm up for a training session. Marathon is a distance-running sport so it can’t help a player much as football is a speed game.
How do you look at football as a fitness activity?
Football as a fitness activity is good but I will say play it regularly only after a good warm up exercises. Don't play it once in a while as the game helps you improve different muscles. So play it as a good sport but only after a proper workout or it can injure someone easily.
Tell us about your own fitness regime and nutrition plan.
I used to play different sports to keep myself fit — basketball for stamina and upper body muscles, trek and play on sand for leg muscles and on a match day I use to play billiards for better concentration. I used to eat meat, chicken, fruits etc. But since I'm growing old now, I eat grilled chicken and grilled vegetables and follow a controlled diet so that I get strength. I go to gym and workout for body balance and jog with speed variations. I do functional training.