For many young players, and their coaches, the ability to move with speed & agility is seen as some sort of magical and elusive gift that only a lucky few inherit at birth. However, far from being born ‘quick’, it has been consistently and overwhelming proven both on the field and in the science laboratories that speed & agility can be dramatically improved – provided you know the secrets!
This is the first of a ten-part series exploring the secrets of soccer speed to help you develop your young players into some of the fastest and most agile players around. This article will provide a background on the need for speed and an overview of the secrets of soccer speed which will be examined in greater detail in future articles.
The Need for Speed
Whatever position you play, attack or defense, on the wing or in the middle, up front or in goal, the ability to move with speed and agility are highly valuable and highly sought after assets vital for success. Speed & agility to create or deny space, support your teammates, get into position to pass, shoot, save or receive the ball, or rapidly reacting to a loose ball.
First step explosion, short sprints, twisting, turning and changing direction. Running straight lines or running angles and in multiple directions, the faster and more efficiently you can move and control your body, the more effective a player you can be. The ability to move safely and efficiently can also help reduce the risk of injury. Learning to load the muscles, land and decelerate. Ensuring that all the muscles and joints are working effectively to reduce wear and tear and better prepare the body for the random stop-start, multi-directional demands of soccer.
Fortunately, the ability to move with speed & agility is also highly trainable given the correct guidance and support, opportunities to practice, and hard work and effort on the part of the athlete. Understanding these three key areas are the real secrets to soccer speed, ensuring that your young players have plenty of opportunities to practice their skills, are encouraged and motivated to train and work hard and that they receive appropriate guidance and support to effectively learn, apply and enhance their skills in a logical, structured and progressive program.
Speed Secrets Rule #1
Speed & agility are skills that must be taught and developed like any other skill. Striking a ball on the half-volley, quality first-touch control or a goalkeeper catching a football when diving at full stretch – these are all classic examples of soccer skills that require dedicated time and effort to master. You certainly wouldn’t expect to show expertise without a great deal of learning and practice. What’s not as commonly recognised are the numerous specialised skills that are central to the ability to move with explosive speed & lightning agility. And as it is these specialised speed & agility skills that help you get into position to use your soccer skills then it is vital that they are trained with the same effort and consideration as any other soccer skill.
The ability to move fluently and efficiently at speed, to start and stop or change direction with precision and control are all dependant on how well you can co-ordinate the action of your feet, legs, trunk and arms. It is about control and mastery of your body to create optimum angles to apply or absorb force, synchronizing the action of muscles and joints to cover optimum distance with every step, come to an abrupt halt or seamlessly switch movement skills or direction with minimal loss of speed.
Whereas the ability to strike a half-volley is a skill gradually progressed and refined from the first attempts to kick a static ball as a young child, speed & agility skills are built on a solid base of fundamental movement skills. Skills such as lunging, bending, twisting, jumping, hopping, landing, running and skipping evolve over time to become the more specialised skills of first-step quickness, linear and lateral deceleration and multi-directional agility.
The development of these speed & agility skills should follow a sequential progression from learning the skills in isolation through to applying in practice and simulated-games, and finally enhancing the skills by training for added strength, power and endurance.
Speed Secrets Rule #2
Incorporate elements of speed & agility training into every session. For example, include technical speed drills within or straight after warm-ups, add speed & agility based games within sessions or set-up skill circuits with stations focussing on different elements of soccer or speed skills.
Speed Secrets Rule #3
Attitude is everything. As a coach it is important to create a positive learning environment where players are praised for their efforts and where they feel supported and encouraged if they make mistakes. Speed & agility can be improved, but only if you go out and put in some effort on a consistent and continual basis. Be positive, adopt a ‘can do’ attitude. Have a go, celebrate successes and learn from mistakes, but never stop trying.
Through consistent practice and effort, rehearsal and repetition of the different movement skills and patterns, the ability to move with speed & agility can be dramatically improved – and your soccer potential greatly enhanced.