I just got back from a strength and conditioning conference in Orlando where I ran into quite a few friends and coaches from all over the world. We got to share ideas, drills and programming strategies and it truly was a very motivating week. I talked to former players about what they felt had best impacted their play, and fitness coaches about what they felt had produced the best results. I even got the chance to present some of our research for some equipment manufactures (Cybex and Fitness Anywhere).
But the biggest topic of the week revolved around our Functionally Integrated Training program. Everyone had questions (and opinions)! But one conversation with a head coach of a professional soccer team stayed with me, and to be honest is still in my head, so I thought I would share it with you. This coach mentioned that players lack the ability to effectively correlate speed, agility and strength training to game based, situations. He mentioned that fitness drills are just drills, and because the players lack this ability we should not be trying to integrate these two aspects. Instead we should keep them separate. I didn’t comment on his analysis, but instead just tried to process what he was saying and compare his views to what I have been seeing over the past 2-3 years in our functional training sessions.
I got back on Monday and was bombarded by players returning from college camps, who had only one thing to say…”I dominated all the drills we did on the field!” Several players made the comment that in scrimmage situations and small sided games they actually felt like they were in one of our drills. They just reacted so much quicker to the situations, and everyone else just seemed to be moving so slow. One player mentioned that none of the other players really seemed to understand quick change of direction and how to finish or pass in tight spaces.
Now I was confused! Coaches keep telling me that players don’t get it, and it is a waste of time, but players are telling me that everything felt so easy and because they had been in that situation so many times in training, they reacted so much quicker than their opponents. When I showed our progressions to some of the fitness coaches, they were blown away by the simple aspects of how we take the technical ability out of the drill while still incorporating a ball and getting fitness, quick feet and agility. This caused me to begin thinking of what the role of a soccer fitness coach actually should be…
In a professional setting, I think it becomes much easier… Fitness coaches are there to keep the players on the field (injury prevention) and have them performing at the top of their ability. In this situation, players are already really good technical players, they understand the game and have a great deal of talent. This is usually true in a college setting as well. But…
In a youth setting (my realm), the players are not usually that great. They usually don’t understand the game all that well, and they are still developing their skills. In the US, where kids don’t seem to go out and play on their own anymore, this “developmental skills” role is left untouched. They practice a few days a week, but don’t get to be creative. And in many sessions they don’t get as many touches as they would like. This is not just a soccer problem, I felt the same way in football and basketball practice when I was in high school. I wasn’t getting enough touches, passes and reps, and I wasn’t getting placed in enough situational drills to really develop (even though I was one of the better players on the team). We had to play pick up games after practice (1 on 1, 2 on 2 or flag football with 5 or 6 players) depending on ho many kids we could convince to come and play. These games helped me develop technically, while practice seemed to help me more tactically.
The role of a youth soccer fitness coach needs to be broader than just speed technique, weight lifting or line drills after practice. In the youth system, we need to be able to fill in all the developmental gaps that are missing in today’s young player. Sure we need to keep training speed and agility, strength and conditioning, etc. but we also need to incorporate a ball, put them in front of a goal, set up 1 v 1 and 2 v 2 speed/agility based situations, teach them how to anticipate, perceive and react quickly and efficiently. And through it all, have some fun!
Here is an outline of what we do (for better or worse):
- Teach them to move with rhythm and coordination
- Add balance, stability, speed and confidence to this movement
- Teach them how to react to situations
- Introduce a ball (not from a technical perspective) but from a play perspective
- Teach them how to move on, off and around the ball and other players with speed and precision
- Increase the load/intensity in the weight room (make them more explosive)
- Teach them how to use this newly developed explosiveness to their advantage on the field
- Introduce complexity, situations and speed of play within speed/agility drills
- Condition them to such a level that they can showcase their talent to the fullest of their genetic potential at the highest speeds late in games
- Educate, Challenge and Motivate them to want to be the best they can be
Notice there are quite a few progression levels that start with the same words “TEACH”, “INTRODUCE”, “INCREASE”, etc. This is my opinion and when I write this everyone seems to pick apart one or two aspects of the big picture. Remember, this is not practice and we are not setting up a tactical situation. We are exposing them to a broader environment, and trying to teach them how to use their athletic ability in a sport specific setting… Play.
Here is a short video clip of a progression of our Quick Feet block. Yes, there are some skills that are lacking and some aspects of each drill that might make coaches turn their heads and comment on poor technique. But don’t miss the point. We are simply focused on quick feet and getting the players to move into more balanced positions, separate quickly, create space and be explosive in their movements at just the right moment. I don’t care about soccer skill technique in these drills, I just want repetition in fast paced, quick feet, agility patterns. The skill will come with repetition. Here is the video… if you are having trouble viewing it you can go to our blog page at The role of a soccer fitness coach…
Now, please realize that this is just a progression for one small aspect of our program. We have hundreds of other drills that we will do to help us get to where we want to be. The role of a soccer fitness coach may be hard to define, but ask any one of the 40+ players that we are sending to college this fall to play soccer if it works in our setting.
To order our Soccer Speed/Agility Program with more videos like this and progressions in the basic plyometric, speed, agility and conditioning areas, please click HERE