Soccer coaches are always trying to beat opponents, obviously. Recruiting bigger players or playing a particular system is one set of strategies, but a growing trend to improve a team’s performance, regardless of player age, is through a training regime that includes speed and agility workouts.
In speaking to pro players and coaches at the international level while completing my UEFA “A” license, these workouts are standard operating procedure and are growing in popularity. The coaching incentive for these types of workouts is that a forward may score a goal or a defender stop a scoring opportunity if they are simply one half step quicker than an opponent. Let’s face it, the first five yards are so important in the game of soccer and today’s games are faster, players are stronger and have to think and react more rapidly – any added advantage, like a split second in speed or agility, can impact the end result of a game.
Foot ladders are great for foot speed and coordination work. Finish the drill with a ball; either shooting, passing or heading. The ladder helps players stay on the balls of their feet for quick change of direction which is so critical on the field. The ladders in a straight line are great for the quick footwork while using the smaller ladders at different angles to change direction.
Another suggestion is to use coaching sticks as hurdles to work on improving the explosive first step. A lesson gained during the UEFA “A” course was how to use eccentric training drills specifically for hamstrings that help players improve that first step. Their example was done using different size hurdles and a reaction ball was used to reduce reaction time to events on the field.
I implemented speed and agility training during the last six years coaching at the college level and have witnessed much improved overall player fitness levels and frankly, I believe these workouts were the right addition to overall training that helped the team win three straight conference championships and four in that last seven years. In addition, a striking, yet affirmative, discovery is that players with improved speed, balance and agility through these workouts actually got injured less as they are more agile and conditioned to invade tackles and their recovery from muscular injuries was quicker from being in top condition. Speed, agility and quickness workouts are also shown to reduce ACL injuries. Top professional clubs can’t win titles with injured players.
The ways we test an athlete’s fitness and agility levels are changing. The use of speed ladders, coaching sticks, different size hurdles and reaction balls are the present and the future.
Consider adding speed and agility equipment and training to your team’s training schedule. You will see an improvement in the overall competency of your team and you will be amazed at how much more often your players are first to those 50/50 balls.
George Crampton is the men’s head coach at DeSales University and holds NSCAA National, Advanced, and Premier coaching diplomas, where he passed all three with distinction. During the summer of 2010 he received his Union of European Football Association “UEFA” A license, which is the second highest certification in the world. George is also the Pennsylvania Technical Director and a national staff coach for the NSCAA.