Perhaps one of the most fascinating observations of contemporary Premier League soccer is the athleticism and movement quality demonstrated by the elite few. When we look at players like Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo, flowing along in full stride, we witness a connection with the sublime. This state of flow, often described as being ‘in the zone’, is spoken of in near mystical Zen like terms. Effortlessness, ease and a sense of lightness in movement are clear indications of a highly developed co-ordination system. Indeed, improvements in balance and co-ordination lead to more efficient movements with less wasted effort. Energy can then be directed to where it will yield the greatest return.
Players who demonstrate poise, awareness and economy of style learn to differentiate between movement forces, not only through external means such as observation, but also through the sensations arising in the muscles themselves. This feedback from the movements of the body allows players to make ongoing adjustments and is known as kinaesthetic awareness. This awareness allows the centre forward to know where he is in space during an aerial challenge or the wide player to suddenly change direction and beat an opponent. Such knowledge is essential to fast paced sports that demand rapid movement skills.
Drills and other conditioning aids are used in most sports. They help a player warm up, develop a kinaesthetic picture of the movement pattern, and improve running technique. Drills however, can also work against the player, by reinforcing existing patterns of poor co-ordination and misuse. A key reason for improving movement mechanics is simply the matter of efficiency. Learning how to move so that energy is translated as efficiently as possible into forward motion is clearly important. The reduction or elimination of unnecessary movement needs to be maximised. Some players are born with this quality, but most can improve to some extent.
In recent years, the market has become saturated with speed and agility tools in the form of speed ladders and micro hurdles. Speed ladder exercises carefully planned and vigorously pursued will promote balance, coordination and explosive foot speed. Upon these however, players must be taught to superimpose the skills of body control and body management that will transfer to the movement demands of fast paced sports. The inclusion of such equipment during practice sessions often becomes a convenience tool for coaches, where the exercises are restricted to the abilities of the coach to demonstrate.
Indeed, the way in which movement patterns are taught during training will determine to what extent they can be utilised during the game. If one series of exercises is chosen and then strictly adhered to over a long period of time, solutions to movement problems may be limited. Alternatively, players with a rich repertoire of movement skills to draw from will find it easier to acquire football skills and will thus be prepared for all eventualities in an ever-changing environment. The game is about fluidity and as such training must facilitate this fluidity.