Working Fitness into an Functional Agility Session

In phase II of our summer Game Speed program we often finish with small-sided game fitness. There are several reasons for this… some of these reasons are physically beneficial, some are mentally beneficial and some are emotionally beneficial. Let me explain…

Physically Beneficial Reasons for Small Sided Games (SSG’s):

In the May 2012 (vol. 26 issue 5 – p 1353-1360) issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Brandes, et. al. suggested that in small sided games, all formats, 2v2, 3v3 and 4v4…

“… reveal game-like intensities and are suitable for aerobic fitness improvements. However, there are pronounced demands on the anaerobic energy supply in 2 vs. 2, whereas 3 vs. 3 and 4 vs. 4 remain predominantly on an aerobic level and differ mainly in the HR response. We suggest using 3 vs. 3 for soccer-specific aerobic fitness training.”

This finding holds true in our training sessions as we see faster speeds and more agility in the 2-minute 2v2 games when compared to 3v3 and 4v4. However, when we introduce more players (especially in the 4v4 the games) the games become increasingly more tactical as players rely more on passing and staying in formation than on 1v1 skills and speed. It is also much easier for lesser skilled players to “hide” or become less involved in the game as more players are added.

We have often advocated the use of 2v2 games on speed days as players are required to make more runs off the ball and utilize 1v1 skills than in games played in larger girds, over longer periods of time with more players. This raised our level of awareness around the physical attributes of these games, and caused us to look deeper into what games would work best on days where our training sessions were designed to build speed and agility.

If we are looking for more anaerobic play (speed/agility) while still looking to get somewhat of an elevated heart rate response (training in higher heart rate zones for increased durations), we like the 1v1 format over all those listed above. In today’s session we split our group up into four groups of 4 and had them play 1 minute games of 1v1 where the players were required to pass outside the 10 x 20 grid to ‘resting’ players, who then would attempt to connect a pass back to the passing player inside the gird.

During the 1-minute of work, players HR’s were elevated to 85-90% of max and the speed of play could be described as “intense and competitive”. Each player performed an average of 8-10 full speed sprints covering about 5-10 yds with a change of direction or change of pace almost every time. At the 1-minute time, the players were given a 15 second switch out with the players outside the grid and then play resumed with 2 new players. This session went on in the same 1 minute on to 1.5 minutes of rest (passing) for a total of 5 sets. This equated to 40-50 short agility based sprints in a 12-minute session.

This fitness-based session was implemented after our 45-minute training session of dynamic warm up (15 minutes) speed and agility patterns (15 minutes) and partner passing agility patterns (15 minutes). The training session was more about proper mechanics and positioning, with short educational 1-2 minute talks on when and where these runs come into play in game situations. This leads us into a discussion on how this session could be mentally beneficial.

Mentally Beneficial Reasons for SSG’s:

Many times there is a disconnect between the agility drills used in speed training sessions (ladder and cone drills) and their application in game situations. Executing basic rhythmic patterns through a ladder, or performing various movement based tasks around cones can sometimes lead players to believe that they are becoming faster, but this is not always the case. Quite often, in sessions like these, the players are not learning how to move with situational efficiency, but instead learning how to execute the skill driven task of running around cones, hopping over cones or building foot quickness in ladder drills.

Rarely is there an instructive element that is teaching players how to position their bodies, reposition their feet and use momentum and power to efficiently accelerate and decelerate. It is not the number of hours spent training or the repetitions of the training session that makes players faster, it is actually the quality of the repetitions, the specific patterns utilized, and the players ability to relate the patterns to game specific application that makes the session meaningful.

We have structured our sessions to build confidence in specific patterns that show up on the field. We build a progressive structure in teaching these patterns from most simple to most complex. We then put other players or balls into the drill to mimic situations that they will encounter which makes the session more realistic and applicable to soccer.

After training in this educational environment, it is often necessary and quite beneficial for the players to practice the movement patterns in live, free play environments. This is where the 1v1 SSG’s fit in quite well. The players learn when to utilize the movement (agility in this case) at the appropriate time. They learn when, where and how fast to play. They learn about angles and change of pace, and they do this all without realizing how much fitness and repetition they are getting because the games are actually fun. This leads us into our final reason for SSG’s as we find them to be emotionally beneficial.

Emotionally Beneficial Reasons for SSG’s:

Training is not always fun. It can get hot out in the summer on our turf fields, and performing a number of quality repetitions can get tiring for the young player. This leads to burnout and an emotional disconnect (loss of interest) in the training session. If we pair up the players of equal skill and speed in a 1v1 session that is long enough to get a physical response, interesting enough to get a mental picture of the session’s relation to the game, and short enough to hold their attention, we can engage them fully in the game while getting the most out of our training sessions.

Players get to test their skills against an opponent of equal skill level, which usually leads to a balanced number of successful and unsuccessful reps (deep learning environment). We don’t keep score in these sessions so there is no obvious winner or loser. In the end we all win. The player sees and practices in a developmental environment. The player learns how to improve their speed of play. And the coach gets to watch the players respond in game-like situations.

This is Game Speed, and this is how the staff and player at the SoccerFIT Academy are taking fitness to a whole new level! To get involved in a Summer Game Speed Camp click HERE, or if you would like to learn more about our philosophy and system you can check out the eBooks pictured on the right.

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