The Need For Speed In Soccer

By: Neil Travers

You only have to watch a senior professional game of football to recognise the importance that speed has in the game. But there is more to speed than meets the eye.

Soccer players are athletes, but unlike a 100m runner where there is explosive speed for 10 seconds in a straight line, there are many other abilities that soccer players need to develop.

Here are 5 key soccer related speed abilities that you should develop in your players.

#1 - Speed of thought

Soccer players have a great deal to concentrate on. There senses are constantly being blitzed with information, which they need to quickly decipher. Here are some examples:

  • Where opponents are positioned

  • Actions of their team mates

  • What's infront of them and their peripheral vision

  • The conditions of the pitch and the weather

  • The noise from team mates, crowd, coaches and opponents

  • Their tactical position and the strategy of the team

#2 - Speed of anticipation

Some players have a great reading of the game. I have a friend who although he is now in his late 40's early 50's still plays regularly and competes well with players half his age!

How does he do this... because he's played soccer all his life at professional and international level he has built a huge database in his brain of playing situations, player characteristics, tactical situations etc. and he is able to draw on this which gives him superb speed of anticipation.

Sure for explosiveness and reaction times the younger players would win every time, but as the old saying goes..."the first couple of yards are in the head!".

So here it is important that players develop a knack of interpreting the actions of the opponents and what that means to the games development.

#3 - Speed of reaction

As mentioned in the last bullet, speed of reaction is vital.

Anticipation is one thing, being able to react quickly is another.

Consider the role of the goal keeper, their reaction time to a sudden shot, deflection, switch in angle of attack, flight of the ball must be very acute.

But how does a goal keeper react and what to? In this instance, the goal keeper will react to a number of external stimuli, here's a list:

  • The visual element of the opponent with the ball, are they carrying it, have they got backlift as if ready to strike the ball, is the opponent in space and is their a clear line of sight on goal

  • The auditory element, do they hear the strike of the ball, is it fizzing, does it take a deflection of a player (thud), a shout from a team mate, maybe a close opponent barracking the goalie " he's going to shoot!"

All of these stimuli will have an effect on the player.

Once stimulated the player should choose the best option available to them to react to that situation.

Again we will use the goalie;

If a shot is fizzing towards them low and hard, the pitch is wet and quick, and there are a number of players the ball has to go through before hitting the target, do they get down low anticipating a clear strike on goal, have quick feet and get their body in line with the expected flight path, do they dive towards the ball, kneel or hack the ball?

The answer to this question lies in the ability, confidence and experience of the player.

#4 Speed of feet

Here we are talking about the basic running / sprinting motor skills.

Initial explosion and acceleration are vital to covering the ground quickly. Speed of feet is without the ball, and since it is without the ball it is rarely in a straight line.

Therefore, as a players progress is often inhibited by other players they must adjust and change direction in relation to their team mates actions and those of the opponents.

Explosive speed is generated from the leg muscles stretching and contracting to achieve maximum power, but good running technique, driving through the arms and co-ordination are also vital.

#5 Skill speed

Watching a player run at pace and carry the ball is a truly awesome sight.

Sprinting full out while keeping possession and holding off any challenges from opponents to dribble and create an opportunity to shoot at goal is a tremendous ability.

This key skill though is still built on the last point which is speed of feet.

However, while a player may be very quick is only advantageous if their ball manipulation and technical skills are as up to speed as their pace (pardon the pun).

So, what can you do to help coach the 5 key speed principles?

#1 Speed of thought - enable players to make their own decisions, that means give them lots of opportunites to make choices. Condition games so that it forces them to think.

Play soccer games with them, don't just do drill work. By playing games they will also gain experience which help them build their database from which to draw on.

Keep them motivated, players will not think unless they are motivated and stimulated to do so. Finally, let them be free of any fear and stress of making wrong decisions.

#2 Speed of anticipation - play more soccer, coach them through the game.

Ask plenty of questions on how they are reading the game development.

Offer your insights into positions they have taken up in relation to opponents advances, both strengths and weaknesses.

#3 Speed of reaction - use reaction balls, have goal keeper starting positions with their back to play and react to shots, play rebounds off walls.

Try not to use your whistle or command as the key for the reaction as this wouldn't happen in a real game so don't practice this way.

#4 Speed of feet - always, always warm the muscles up before doing any speed work!

Do some sprints, keep it high intensity with short sharp bursts. Develop good running technique with the use of speed ladders and hurdles.

Try using some different starting positions to like standing, from a jump and land, on their back, on their stomach, incorporate turns, feints and directional changes.

#5 Skill speed - make your training as game related as possible, focusing on speed with the ball, movement, game related distances and challenge.

Hopefully this has given you some good food for thought, enjoy your training!

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