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The physical demands of soccer include aerobic and anaerobic systems. If aerobic conditioning has been developed, the next step to maximize performance is to develop the anaerobic system - soccer speed. "Maximal speed is the ability to cover a given distance in the shortest amount of time", as described by Pinasco4.
Soccer requires short, quick bursts of speed in all directions. Therefore, soccer training for speed must include movements typically performed during a game. Soccer speed and quickness exercises should involve acceleration from varied speeds of movement, including from a standstill. Additionally these drills should include moving forward, backward, sideways and around opponents.
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The Fastest Player Wins
Sprinting accounts for less than 10% of the distance traveled in a 90-minute game4. However, it is the player's ability to get to the ball before the opposing team that will ultimately make or break the game. Speed training should focus on the player becoming quicker in the first 5 yards of acceleration, as well as short distance of 10-15 yards.
In soccer, the majority of the game is spent in a jog, or even a fast walking pace, while a few players battle for the ball and the rest of the team acts as support. But, it is imperative to be prepared to take over if it suddenly becomes your turn to chase after the ball or an opposing player, or to move quickly toward the goal with the ball. At this point you will want to be able to maximize your speed even though you may have been utilizing your aerobic system at its full capacity - now it is time to make the anaerobic system kick in as well.
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Get Faster in Two Months
Adam Brewer outlines a nine week program in "The Need for Soccer Speed"1. He discusses three areas to focus on during each workout: locomotion, explosion, and propulsion. Locomotion is simply described as running form, Propulsion is the ability to get the message to the muscles as quickly as possible to form repetitive, fast movement, and Explosion is the forceful response of the movement.
1) Locomotion Exercises = High Knee drills forward and laterally
2) Propulsion Exercises = Lateral cutting drills or burpees followed by a 10 yard sprint, and resisted running
3) Explosion Exercises = Box jumps (think of plyometric exercises with the legs)
Completing drills such as these roughly 3 times per week will have a soccer athlete seeing results in as little as 4 weeks, but a great speed training program should last 2-3 months. All training programs should have a Preparation phase to prepare the body for the technical, advanced drills to come, and to reduce the chance of injury; a Progression phase to increase the difficulty of the tasks; and, a Performance phase to make sure the player is prepared for the intensity of a match, and trains at this higher level of difficulty and skill.
Overall, the message here is that to take your performance to the next level on the soccer field you must develop your speed and quickness. Whether you are a Forward that wants to get to the ball first to score a goal, or a Fullback that needs to catch up with an opposing Forward to prevent a goal... a speed training program should be on your to-do list this off-season.
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1.Brewer, A. The Need for Soccer Speed: A 9-Week Program That Will Add Skip to Your Steps and Spring to Your Jumps. NSCA's Performance Training Journal, 3(3): 16-19.
3.Yap, C., Brown, L., Woodman, G. Development of Speed, Agility, and Quickness for the Female Soccer Athlete. NSCA's Strength and Conditioning Journal, 22(1): 9-12.
4.Pinasco, A., Carson, J. Preseason Conditioning for College Soccer. NSCA's Strength and Conditioning Journal, 27(5): 56-62.