Soccer Speed Training
At any level, speed separates the outstanding players from the average...
So, soccer speed training sessions should play a major role in your training.
Speed in soccer can be quite complex. It certainly entails more than just running fast. When you talk about speed in your game, here are some of the attributes that will make you a better player...
Quick speed off the mark
Quick acceleration over 10-15 yards
Good speed endurance
Speed in possession of the ball
Quickness of feet or agility
The ability to quickly change direction
The ability to execute skills quickly
Last but not least... speed of thought
You can see from the above that good 100m sprinters don't necessarily have the attributes to be quick soccer players. And by the same token...
Players who are not typically fast runners can excel in soccer if they have sharp feet and quick speed of thought. Remember that old phrase...
"The first 10 yards are in your head."
Absolute speed or your ability to run fast is determined by a number of factors - the obvious one being genetics.
But if you've been blessed with less than favourable sprinting genes don't worry too much...
A good soccer speed training program will improve the efficiency of your muscle fibres (if not the type or amount of them) and that will make you faster.
So, one goal of your soccer speed training schedule should be to increase your sprinting power - particularly your acceleration and speed off the mark. Soccer players rarely sprint more than 50 yards in a straight line.
A second, and equally important, goal is to increase your speed endurance. I mention this in another article calling it "anaerobic endurance"...
Speed endurance training significantly improves your recovery after a bout of repetitive sprints. Your body's ability to remove lactic acid increases which can make such a difference to your game.
Thirdly, a soccer speed training program should improve agility, foot speed and reaction time. Exercises to improve agility don't tend to be physically taxing. The emphasis is on short, sharp movements of a high quality.
Finally, incorporating a ball into some of the speed and agility drills is important to make all those gains in speed transferable to the field of play.
As for speed of thought, I can't help you there. That come with practise... and eating lots of greens ;-)
How to Improve Your Speed & Sprinting Power
Before we move on to agility and fast feet, let's look at how training can significantly improve absolute speed and acceleration. There are 4 important elements that will make you a faster athlete...
1. Strength and Power Training
Power relates directly to absolute speed. 100m sprinters are very powerful. So are footballers. Weight lifters are very strong - but not necessarily as powerful.
Power is a combination of both strength and speed of contraction. Increase either one and you increase power. Ideally, you want to increase both.
Weight training increases strength and plyometric training "converts" that strength into speed and power.
Both strength and plyometric training for soccer are covered in the following 2 articles...
2. Sprint Training
To improve speed off the mark, running mechanics and acceleration training should feature in your soccer speed training routine. It doesn't have to be much - just one short session a week before practice is enough during the in-season.
Drills should be completed over short distances with plenty of rest between sprints. The idea is not to tire yourself. Concentrate on form and speed of leg movement over the first few yards.
Over the course of a season, start sprint drills in mid to late pre-season and continue right through the in-season. Because they aren't fatiguing you can perform they the day before a game. A lot of pros teams feel that they help to increase mental sharpness in preparation for an upcoming game.
As a side note, sprint drills should be performed at the start of a training session when you are fresh.
3. Speed Endurance Training
Be prepared - this type of training can be a killer. A few athletes I know have nicknames for some of these drills. None of them are repeatable here!
But from a personal perspective, the rewards are worth the temporary "discomfort" you feel after (and during) a short session.
As you can probably gather these drills are intense. They are designed to generate large amounts of lactic acid quickly. That way your body adapts by increasing its removal and dramatically speeding up your recovery.
What does this have to do with speed?
Soccer is a multi-sprint sport and there are many occasions over 90 minutes when you are forced to make repeated sprints in quick succession. Your ability to maintain high percentage of your speed and power relies, in part, on your body's ability to remove lactic acid. Besides...
There's nothing worse than receiving the ball after several sprints chasing opponents - as they triangles around you! Try doing a Cruyff turn then!
From personal experience, as taxing as these speed endurance drills are they make a game feel easy. It's a real confidence booster and well worth the effort.
During mid to late pre-season you can perform 2 speed endurance sessions a week (separated by 24-48 hours).
During the in-season this can be reduced to one or even omitted if you have 2 games in a week.
4. Flexibility training
It's always an uphill struggle trying to get athletes to stretch for the purpose of increasing their range of motion. They'll do it to warm-up but there are so many benefits to moderately increasing range of motion.
One of them is increasing power and speed of motion.
A muscle can only contract as fast as its opposing muscle can relax. Flexibility training can release tightness and promote this speed of relaxation.
Increasing range of motion also helps to lengthen leg stride and is important for quick and agile changes in direction.
Try to do some stretching exercises three times a week - following a training session when muscles are warm.
How to Improve Your Quickness & Agility
A soccer speed training program should also cater for agility...
Agility defines your ability to accelerate, decelerate and change direction quickly, whilst maintaining speed, body control and poise. Often times you have to do this while in possession of the ball.
Whereas strength, power and all-out sprint training are designed to improve your maximum speed, agility and quickness drills help to increase the speed of finer movements. They improve co-ordination, balance and foot speed.
You can easily combine agility exercises and sprint training exercises into one session - or even a part of one session (usually at the beginning).
If you've ever seen an athlete use an agility ladder they are training to improve foot speed. But you don't need anything other than a set of marker cones and a little creativity to design effective drills.
You should also try to use a ball in some of the drills, although it's not the time to try elaborate skills. Typically, if you're using a ball, you should touch it the minimum of times and focus on the movement between touches.
You'll find some speed and agility drills on the following pages...
To wrap up, soccer speed training incorporates several components of fitness and a number of different types of training modalities.
Thinking that you've got to make time for sprint training, speed endurance training, agility drills AND then strength training and plyometrics can be a bit disheartening. Remember though...
Most of these drills can be combined into one practise. No need to have a separate session for agility drills and sprint training. And also don't forget...
Not all types of training can or should be performed at the same point in the season. A plyometrics session substitutes a weights session for example.
How to Get REALLY Fast for Soccer!
To take all the guess work out of soccer speed training, I wrote an ebook called "Total soccer Fitness"...
The speed an agility training plans will help to make ANY player quick... even players that are naturally quite slow.
Aside from speed training, Total Soccer Fitness also covers:
Strength and strength endurance training
Speed and agility training
Aerobic and anaerobic endurance training
Flexibility, warming up and cooling down
Testing soccer-specific fitness
Nutrition for soccer
Off-season, pre-season and in-season program design