What Do Professional Footballers Get Up To During Their Time Off?

The full-time whistle blows in the final game of the season and the summer of a footballer begins. Except our summer isn’t in July and August when most get to enjoy the good weather. By the height of summer, we are well into our pre-season training, in preparation for that first game come early August. So what do players get up to in their time off and how do we prepare ourselves for the dreaded pre-season?

Off-season: the period between the end of the season and when we return to training.

Time off: Complete rest

At the end of the season, we can get anywhere between 4 to 8 weeks off depending on when our season ended. The end of season typically varies from the beginning, to the end of May depending on participation in playoff games. The ‘summer’ usually runs until the last week of June. This is the only time of the year we get to enjoy a holiday and completely switch our minds and bodies off to football.

The first couple of weeks is usually complete downtime, or as it is better known ‘letting the hair down‘. Holidays are taken and some head home to spend time with family and friends, whilst completely relaxing our usual lifestyle choices. This is also the time of the year players can have their own weddings and guarantee attendance at family and friends’ big occasions.

A lot of players play for clubs a long way from home, so they are away for extended periods throughout the season. The off-season gives them an opportunity to catch up and spend quality time with loved ones they have missed.

The traditional lap of honour signals the end of the season and the start of the off-season. Image by Richard Blaxall

Some like to remain active without overdoing it. Players like to keep themselves ticking over with exercises like:

  • Golf
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Cycling

Others choose to give their bodies a complete rest for the first couple of weeks. Everyone has their preferred way to relax and switch off, with this being the perfect time to enjoy our social life with no demands for high-performance.

It is important to make the most of this time to give our bodies time to recover from the gruelling season. Not allowing the body to have enough time to recover, increases the chances of muscular injuries and burnout during the season.

It’s not only the body in need of rest though, but the mind is also in desperate need of some rest. The season is extremely taxing on the body and mind, so this break is a great antidote to the demands placed upon them for 9 months solid.

On our first holiday as a family. Holidays and time off can only be taken during the off-season.

This time of the year I always try and spend as much time as possible mentally switching off from football, spending my time chilling out and enjoying some family time. I like to:

  • Go away somewhere with my family
  • Go on day trips with family and friends
  • Go and visit family and friends I don’t get to see much of during the season
  • Enjoy the foods that aren’t great for the body, without the added guilt!!

Family time is often put to one side during the season when the schedule is relentless, with one eye always on recovery and preparation for the next training session or game. However, once the season is finished, this is the perfect time to make up for that and to enjoy the things that matter most to me, like creating memories with the people closest to me.

Often we forget that it is not only us as players that suffer throughout the season, but our close family and friends (our support network) are forced to live with our sufferings too. 

Time off: Staying fit

During the off-season, we have to remain motivated and disciplined in our lifestyle choices and training. Although we have to have some time to enjoy our social life and the foods and drink we limit during the season, we must remember that we are professional athletes.

It can be easy to slip into bad habits and drop our standards with no one watching, but we will only find ourselves playing catch up in pre-season.

I like to give myself at least two weeks of complete downtime at the end of the season whilst I try and recharge the body and mind, but always ensure I have 4 weeks of building my fitness up for the return to pre-season training.

Clubs send out tailored fitness programmes for us to do in the lead-up to our return to training. These get the body conditioned to cope with the demands of pre-season training.

They consist of different types of runs to complete:

  • Long distance
  • Short distance
  • Speed and agility

There are also strength and injury prevention programmes.

Memories created during the break soon become a distant memory with pre-season on the horizon.

Most of the programme can be completed at a gym whilst some running drills, like speed and agility, will need to be completed on grass.

This period of the off-season is where we can begin to set in place foundations that will give our bodies the best chance during the season. Injuries are a huge complication in sports and are a major setback to the ability to perform well consistently. This is why we will spend the off-season putting in some real hard groundwork to make sure our bodies are prepared for what is coming.

Fitness isn’t the only component that players focus on, injury prevention and strength work is even more important. Pre-season is incredibly demanding and a body that is not prepared for those demands will struggle to cope. We will find ourselves picking up little niggles and perhaps more serious injuries as the workload increases.

We will work on strengthening and working smaller muscles that are sometimes forgotten about, but are crucial to the mechanics of running and the movements football requires. Those body parts are:

  • Glutes
  • Groins
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Ankles
  • Knees
  • Calves
  • Core

Although all of those muscles and joints can be worked through different exercises, like squats and lunges, they are only a part of the strength programme. We require specific exercises that can target those parts of the body and get them firing for the return to pre-season training.

Exercises that are always a part of my off-season gym programme:

  • Single leg RDL’s
  • Box jumps
  • Single leg balance work
  • Abductor (groin) slides
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Hip thrusts
  • Glute activation

The weight won’t be heavy but the emphasis will be on form and ensuring those muscles are fine-tuned.

Although we want to be as strong and fit as possible upon our return to pre-season training, we have to ensure we get the right balance of WORK and REST. Looking after ourselves in the off-season gives us a strong foundation to hit the ground running on our return to training, but this period of the year is also the only time we can RELAX with no pressure of high-level performance.

As pre-season looms and our ‘summer’ comes to an end, I find myself wishing for a few more days to spend with the family relaxing. Just like any path of life, holidays and time spent with loved ones can’t be beaten. Although I am excited and looking forward to the season ahead, I am also faced with the realisation that certain aspects of my life have to be put on hold for 9 months as I make sacrifices for the chance of success on the pitch!

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