Why Most Youth Soccer Coaches Train Their Players to Be Slow
How to Train Your Players to Be Fast, Not Slow
Speed Training

by Mike Grafstein B.Ph.Ed, CAT (C), YCS, MT

Senior Therapist and Conditioning Consultant Bryst International Inc.

Note from David at SoccerHelp: The following article is by Mike Grafstein, who is a Senior Therapist and Conditioning Consultant. Mike�s credentials and how to contact him are at the end of the article. Mike says it is important to teach proper running mechanics and that they should be taught as a skill � that makes sense to me. On a related subject, I think it�s important to practice and play at the speed you want your team to be able to play at. My theory is that if you practice slow, you are training your players to play slow. Think about it: If you want your team to be able to play fast and under pressure, don�t you need to practice fast and under pressure? That is why SoccerHelp Practice Games involve competition, pressure and are played at Game Speed. Also, I think you should be careful about playing really weak opponents because your team will be able to play slow, dribble too much, hold the ball too long, and do things they won�t be able to do against a better team � in effect, your team might start to learn to play slower and to develop bad habits.

Many coaches involved with youth soccer are volunteers. This is great; however in my experience many coaches still train their soccer players to be slow.

The purpose of this article is to set things straight and provide a new and different perspective on training for younger male and female athletes.

This report will give you simple, basic and effective tools for your team or child to include in practice.

So where do we begin�? Let us first take a look at the most common type of training that has been ingrained in our brains for the longest time.

It has been thought for ages that soccer players need to have a solid aerobic base to last to the end of the game.

This is true! The difference lies in how you get there.

How many of you have your athletes or your child complete a twenty or thirty minute light jog 2-3 times a week. For many coaches and parents this is the norm for conditioning; however quite honestly you are setting up your players to be either injured or slow.

There are a few things you should know as a parent or coach to put conditioning into perspective for young athletes.

First, it is important to keep in mind the age of your athlete or child. Younger male and female children between the ages of 7-11 need to focus on speed development from both a neurological (nervous system and pattern development) and muscular (full active range of motion at the hip and knee) perspective.

It is important to train proper movement on a consistent basis so in the long run there is a good mind to body connection. We call this motor programming.

In other words training for speed leaves a blue print for future development. As a soccer player gets older they will need to increase strength through a quality resistance training program.

By teaching proper running mechanics you are teaching the athlete to be fast. You are creating a solid motor program.

Motor programs are basically patterns of movement developed by connecting messages from the brain to the muscles in the body with out thinking.

Sending a young athlete out for a twenty minute jog develops a poor motor program for speed.

Slow steady jogging also causes steady repetitive forces on the body. This constant repetition leads to break down of muscle, tendon or bone leading to muscle tear, tendonitis or stress fractures.

Younger athletes do not have the capacity to sustain this repetitive type of movement nor will they have the mental ability as well.

Eventually they will complain of both heel and knee pain if this type of training occurs on a consistent basis.

These young athletes are better served learning proper running mechanics and participating in fun activities such as relays or obstacle courses.

Teach proper running mechanics as a skill to younger athletes. Again doing this over a period of time, as mentioned earlier, produces solid motor programs.

As the child grows and develops these movements become automatic.

By the time a seven year old reaches eleven he/she will be able to move in an economical way with out any energy flaws. The key is reinforcing the proper movement pattern.

Next, soccer players must develop full active range of motion at the hip and knee to be injury free.

It is important for the hip flexor muscle group (muscles that raise the knee to chest) to have ability to lengthen under load while the leg at the hip joint moves from flexion into extension (front to back). This occurs when the foot hits the ground until it leaves the ground again.

It is also important for the hamstring muscle group (muscles at the back of the thigh) to have ability to lengthen under load while the leg at the hip joint moves from extension to flexion (back to front) from leaving the ground until it makes contact to the ground again.

Sending a young player out for a 20-30 minute jog does not do this.

Finally, with proper running mechanics a young child should learn how to properly decelerate (slow down). This is important from an injury prevention perspective.

Did you know that female athletes as young as twelve can tear their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). By sending a young female player out for a slow steady jog doesn�t teach her how to slow down after sprinting. This is another reason to teach your athletes to be fast.

The ability of a child to develop proper deceleration technique occurs more frequently when they run with bursts of energy and then slow down or stop. This is a continuous process of starts and stops.

Developing speed/deceleration techniques at younger ages does three things:

  1. Develops a proper motor program.
  2. Creates active full range of motion to prevent injury
  3. Teaches body control.

These three things are the building blocks that lead to change of direction, acceleration and other necessary movements in training.

Now we need some drills or exercises to get us there.

Part 1 - Basic Exercises

SQUAT WITH SOCCER BALL

  1. Start with the soccer ball held by both hands.
  2. Place the hands such that the palms are facing up and the elbows are close to or at shoulder height.
  3. Lower the body by bending at the hips and knees.
  4. The pressure at the foot should be felt in the mid-foot or heels.
  5. Lower until the thighs are parallel to the ground
  6. As you rise to return to the staring position imagine your glutes becoming strong and tight. Squeeze your buttocks tight. Push from the heel.

*** KNEES DO NOT GO PAST TOES!!!***

FORWARD LUNGE WITH SOCCER BALL

  1. Start with your feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Place either the soccer ball in both your hands with the arms straight. Elbows and wrists should be at shoulder height.
  3. Take one step forward with your left leg.
  4. Keep your stomach tight.
  5. The left thigh and right shin should be parallel to the ground. The left shin and right thigh should be close to vertical.
  6. The right heel should be off the ground.
  7. Push off from the heel and squeeze the glutes tight.
  8. Repeat the same for the other leg.

The purpose of the lunge is single leg strength.

*** KNEES DO NOT GO PAST TOES!!!***

REVERSE LUNGE WITH SOCCER BALL

  1. Start with your feet shoulder width apart. Arms forward holding a soccer ball.
  2. Take one step backward with the right leg.
  3. Keep your stomach tight.
  4. The right shin and left thigh should be parallel to the ground. The right thigh and left shin should be almost vertical.
  5. The right knee should be off the ground.
  6. Push off from the back leg and squeeze the glutes tight.
  7. Repeat the same for the other leg.

The purpose of the reverse lunge is to improve balance and strength for the lower limb.

*** KNEES DO NOT GO PAST TOES!!!***

These three exercises are very basic for building strength in the legs for speed. The key all exercises is to drive the feet into the ground by pushing into the heel from the glutes (�butt� muscles.)

Here is a mini workout you may do for speed as part of your practice.

  1. Dynamic Warm up 5-10 minutes
  2. Squat-Lunge-Sprint circuit.

SQUAT - LUNGE CIRCUIT

Each squat or lunge is done at a tempo of 4-1-fast. This means the body lowers for a count of 4, hold for a count of one then drive up as fast as possible. That is one repetition.

Complete 8 squats then sprint 10 metres. Rest one minute.

Complete 8 forward lunges then sprint 10 metres. Rest one minute.

Complete 8 reverse lunges then sprint 10 metres. Rest one minute.

This is one set. Work up to doing three sets.

Part 2 Next Level Exercises.

  1. Stand with your body leaning forward at a 45 degree angle with both hands supporting against a wall, fence or partner. One partner supports and the other partner does the exercise.
  2. Alternate bringing your knees to your chest. Do it for five seconds then rest. Repeat the process ten times.
  3. As you become more comfortable with the process increase the time doing the drill. It is important that the back stays straight during the exercise.

Emphasize the driving of the leg into the ground with this exercise.

This next exercise will work if you are willing to be a bit creative and resourceful. Next have your players bring toboggans, sled or sandbag with them to practice. Have them place a couple of their equipment bags on the toboggan/sled or sandbag. Then have them sprint ten metres.

The only way they will be able to move the toboggan, sled or sandbag is with proper sprinting technique.

In this picture the back is slightly forward and the right leg is slightly forward. Ideally the right arm should be positioned back with the elbow close to shoulder height.

This simple exercise teaches players to be in the acceleration position. This naturally puts them in a position where they must demonstrate proper acceleration technique. Completing these drills/exercises will develop a solid blueprint for success in the future.

Next teach your athletes to �march�. Show them marching in place. Once they have that coordination progress to a walking march.

Marching (alternate arm and leg)

Finally teach your athletes to decelerate.

It is important for the athlete to have the correct technique for deceleration and change of direction. Most ACL injuries occur as a result of stopping and changing of direction. It is important to teach the proper neuromuscular coordination (mind to muscle) for these actions. It is important for the athlete to lower his/her hips when decelerating.

In the picture above, notice the Foot Dorsi is flexed (Toes Up), Hip is Low to the Ground, and Back is slightliy bent forward.

It is important that the athlete take small steps to slow down when decelerating. This is exaggerated along with the final position in pictures A-C. In picture C the athlete is purposely dorsi-flexed (toes up) to create a �quadriceps/hamstring� co-contraction. This causes both the hamstring muscle and the quadriceps muscle to contract at the same time. If the quadriceps muscle group contracts before the hamstring muscle group there is unwanted action of the thigh bone (femur) sliding over the shin bone (tibia). This forces a lot of strain on the anterior cruciate ligament.

The next thing to think about is where you want to incorporate this into your practices. I suggest that you put this in after a solid dynamic warm up. Focus on one theme each practice.

I would complete the wall exercises and toboggan/sled/sandbag on one day, the marching in place to marching to skipping another day and deceleration on another day. Your decision will be based on the needs of your soccer athletes. Spend five to ten minutes with these exercises and then begin your training. I hope this information helps you help your players to become faster on the field.

Cheers!

Yours in youth soccer fitness,

Mike Grafstein
B.Ph.Ed,CAT(C),CSCS,YCS,RMT
Senior Therapist, Conditioning Consultant
Bryst International Inc.
Creator and Owner of
www.youth-soccer-fitness.com

Copyright 2007 Mike Grafstein B.Ph.Ed, CAT (C), YCS, MT

Senior Therapist and Conditioning Consultant Bryst International Inc.


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