Over the last decade we have trained over 6000 athletes. And in that time we have seen players take their speed, strength and power to levels that we never thought possible. But occasionally, this just wasn’t enough to win them a starting role. We quickly realized that enhancing a player’s 40yd dash time was not necessarily making him or her a better soccer player.
This challenged us to look deeper and eventually redefine our definition of “Athleticism”. We began to survey coaches, watch practice sessions, break down video of our athletes during games and really look deeper inside their thought processes in key situations. We realized, as most coaches will tell you, speed is great, but only if the player can use it to their advantage. This improved tactical knowledge had to be integrated with both physical speed and technical skill for players to have success.
“There is much more to speed than how fast you run, just as there is much more to the game than how much skill one possesses. The effectiveness of one’s speed lies in how one applies it.” – Scott Moody (Founder of the SoccerFIT Academy)
The model was beginning to take shape and soon became the starting point of our Functionally Integrated Training or F.I.T. Program.
In the F.I.T. Model, we noticed that if players were able to execute a move with the ball and separate from a defender, they first needed to develop a base of specific (skill) and non-specific (speed) abilities and then bring these two aspects together with a leveling motor ability…this was the birth of our Functionally Integrated Training model where we have identified developmental needs for 3 different types of soccer speed.
- Cognitive (Mental)
- Neuromuscular (Physical)
- Situational (Sport Specific)
In the videos below, you will often hear cues such as “anticipate” or “think ahead,” and these cues reflect our focus on the first type of Speed…Cognitive (Mental). We need to get the players to understand the situation, and focus their attention on key aspects that will help them react more efficiently. Cognitive Speed is comprised of 3 main categories:
- Anticipation (understanding the game, preparing mentally, being ready, preparedness, pre-calculation of trajectory, speed, force…)
- Recognition (seeing a situation develop and knowing what to do, decision making speed, sensing changes in touch, sight and sound (tactile, visual and auditory indicators), cued by recognizing sequences or preparatory movements)
- Reaction (response time, neuromuscular, motor reaction sequencing, sensing time and decision time, improved by repetition of various neuromuscular skill work, efficiency in execution of specific motor patterns, “time between stimulus and response”, specific reaction times…)
At the same time, we need to begin setting a more physical foundation for speed. We need to develop strength, power, rhythm and technical movement skills specific to the sport. These aspects make up our second type of speed…Neuromuscular (Physical) Speed. This type of speed is comprised of 4 main categories:
- Acceleration (factor of strength, power, starting explosive strength, resistance to fatigue, genetic factors, mechanics of movement…)
- Deceleration (strength, understanding of movement, positioning, center of gravity, body control…)
- Transition (the point in which you transition from deceleration to acceleration – agility, core strength, proprioception, plyometric, neuromuscular efficiency in generating explosive force, stretch shortening cycle…)
- Speed Endurance – Max Speed (genetic factors, ability to relax, combination of stride length and frequency, running economy and energy expenditure, rarely comes into play in most team sports…)
But as we have noticed over the last decade, developing “physical” speed is not always enough. We also have to put our focus on developing “technical” speed or what we now refer to as Game Speed. Game speed blends the physical speed and the mental (or reactive) speed with a strong emphasis on technical and tactical situations. We break this Situational (Soccer Specific Speed) into 3 Categories:
- Speed Against an Opponent (combination of the 4 physical (neuromuscular) speed characteristics with the 3 mental (cognitive) characteristics, seeing changes in an opponent’s position, and reacting subconsciously, or possessing the physical ability to adjust or alter your speed to get the advantage…)
- Speed with a Ball (combination of the 4 physical speed characteristics and technical ball skills, requires many repetitions to fine tune the precise motor skills, timing, tracking, trajectories…)
- Speed with the Ball, Against an Opponent (This is the ultimate goal, it requires an broad understanding of the game and its limits, rules, and expectations, it requires an awareness of your opponent (tactile, visual, auditory, etc), repetitions of skill work with a ball, neuromuscular explosiveness, strength, power and proper positioning….)
To train Game Speed with our athletes, our F.I.T. model all begins with a foundation set in elementary abilities, which we have broken into 4 unique modules. These modules, although different, all work together towards the ultimate goal. These modules should be integrated, not isolated, within the training session for best results.
We start with the Foundational 4 (shown in blue below), which are represented as the basic building blocks of sports performance training. Modules on right hand side of the diagram represent non-specific skills (basic development for all around athleticism) and modules on the left hand side represent sport specific skills that are usually developed in practice and game settings. The middle modules are the bridge and have become the focus of for our philosophy on training Game Speed.
The Foundational 4: Building a Strong Base
- Flexibility, Mobility and Stability: In this module we are looking to develop the structural components that will keep help reduce the risk of injury and improve performance. Although we work these aspects first, they become the staples of the program in terms of warm up and preparatory work for other modules.
- Rhythmic Movement Patterns: In this module we will develop confident movement patterns, rhythm and coordination. This includes everything from squatting and lunging form to sprint drills and agility patterns.
- Technical Ball Work: In this module we are developing the manipulative skills, foot-eye coordination and techniques that will build confidence with the ball. This includes dribbling, shooting, passing, receiving, volleying, juggling, etc.
- Technical Movement: Not to be confused with Rhythmic Movement Patterns, in this module we will be focused on sport specific movement or movement on the court or field. For instance, how and where we move as a team to work together for a common goal.
Bridging the Gap:
Represented as “diamond” shapes these bridging modules allow us to integrate and progress aspects of the Foundational 4 into more advanced training programs, which will form a larger triangle shape. The graphic above shows 3 “merged” triangles.
- Strength and Conditioning: Building off the Flexibility, Mobility, Stability and Rhythmic Movement Patterns modules we start by adding speed to the rhythmic pattern, which makes the exercises more dynamic in nature, and then as the player becomes more confident we increase the load, which leads to strengthening these movements for a specific outcome.
- Specific Speed: Integrating the Rhythmic Movement Patterns and Technical Ball Work, we use this module to blend in our “Ball Agility Programs”. These programs have become the most popular and beneficial as they not only develop the speed/agility aspects but they also focus on being faster and more agile with the ball. This module is the centerpiece of our program and truly blends the sport specific and non-sport specific sides of the model.
- Situational Drills: As the players begin to develop on the field or court (ball skills and technical movement) it is important to integrate these aspects into situational drills (small sided games) that create an outcomes based environment where they learn how to read and react under various conditions.
These “bridging” modules bring together all aspects of training in a developmentally specific manner. This is where problems can arise and a disconnect can emerge if we don’t stick to the plan. Players that are very strong in one aspect often lack the additional skills meant to be developed in the Foundational 4 level, and thus have trouble executing more advanced skills at game speed, or with proper technique. This will lead to a lack of confidence or sometimes, even injury.
Peaking our Players Game Speed:
The next step is to finish our developmental model by adding Speed and Power on the right hand side and Tactical Application on the left hand side. This is all capped off with Specific Periodization on the top.
- Speed and Power: In this module we build off all the modules beneath it with a focus on “Sports Speed”, “Power” and “Plyometric Sports Power”. We need to realize that the focus of speed and power training needs to apply to executing sport specific movements at a high speeds with an understanding of the tactical interaction of these movements.
- Tactical Application: This module is not so much a training module as it is an application module. This refers to practices, scrimmages and actual games where the players are learning how to apply all the skills that they have developed along the way in a team atmosphere.
- Specific Periodization: We bring it all together at the top of the pyramid by planning out our yearly progressions (goals) and then breaking these goals into objectives for how we plan to accomplish our goals. Finally we break these objectives into seasonal, phase specific, weekly training programs. Each week has a specific target that includes all the modules beneath it.
We have training programs at the Overland Park Soccer Complex where players and coaches can come and train, learn and apply these skills in a systematic progression. We also have programs and eBooks for sale online that include video descriptions and specific workouts for each specific category. Here is a list of some of our more popular eBooks:
At the SoccerFIT Academy we build all of
our programming and progressions off of our FREE Game Speed Level 1 Test, which can be downloaded by entering your name and email on the sidebar to the right. This test lets us evaluate each player’s strengths and weaknesses and drives our programming towards developing areas specific to each player.
To discuss our Game Speed Philosophy, please submit your comments in the space below, and we can interact in a learning environment for all.