By Steve Myrland (reprinted from Performance Conditioning Soccer).
Steve Myrland is a performance and conditioning coach for competitive athletes at all levels of development. While with the University of Wisconsin (1988 – 2000), Steve assisted with Big-Ten and National Championship efforts in Hockey, Soccer, Cross-Country, Tennis, and Rowing.
This is a simple tool for learning to perform the most complicated dance in sports: the kinesthetic-awareness mambo. It is a ladder. You lay it flat on the ground and then you learn to move: with it, into it, out of it, along it, over it, and under it. It compels you to create movement but not random movement, rather, precise movement at ever- increasing speeds.
You can use it as a functional warm-up tool; you can make it a regular, evolving and challenging part of your training week. You can use it at the end of an exhausting scrimmage or practice to test and push your proprioceptive abilities at game speeds in the presence of fatigue.
First, a note of differentiation, while I have mentioned a ladder before, (Performance Conditioning Soccer Volume 4 #6 “The Acceleration Ladder”), this ladder is different. It is used to improve agility, balance, coordination, footwork and foot speed.
Agility ladders are roughly ten yards long, with 20 rungs attached to web-strapping, forming squares approximately eighteen inches wide by twenty inches long. They are (relatively) inexpensive, and most importantly, they are portable, making them an easy to use addition to any training session. The ladder is not a tool for doing high knee, high-step exercises. Soccer players need to be near the ground to move efficiently and react to the game. The ladder should lay as flat as possible on the ground, and athletes (ideally) never come in contact with the ladder itself, meaning you can simply have the pattern painted on your field to get started with ladder training. (Figure 1) As I said, it is a simple tool.
Tips on Learning Ladder
- Follow a progression, going from simple to complex, from small movements to larger movements.
- Walk before you run, literally. Do a walk through for a couple of squares before you try to do the exercise with any speed.
- “Go as fast as you can; not as fast as you can’t.” I acknowledge the practical-but unfortunate sentence construction as my own. Don’t push your speed to the point that you cannot finish an exercise without goofing it up. Let your ability to actually complete all the steps be the limiting factor on your speed. Remember, you are training movement quality, as well as speed and quickness.
- If you have a sense of rhythm, use it! If you (like many people) have never played a musical instrument and have no notion of meter, don’t give up. Find the word cues to the exercise and say them out loud to yourself as you do the exercise. Don’t be shy! Tell your feet what to do, and they will listen and obey.
- Don’t stop at failure. The ladder exercises have a nice, fast learning curve. Everybody looks and feels awkward the first few times through a new exercise. Relax, follow the above advice and let learning happen.
- Don’t try to learn too many exercises at once. Pick two or three and learn them well before moving on to others.
Get the rest of this article and 6 Ladder Drills Including Soccer-Specific Drills with Variations in the Issue 12 of Amplified Soccer Athlete magazine. Our March issue also includes the following articles and more:
- Six Ways Playing Angry Birds Space Has Made Me a Better Coach by David Mitchell of Lane Gainer Sports
- The Power of Improvisation by Ian McClurg, Founder of 1 v 1 Soccer and UEFA “A” licensed coach
- Silence as a Teaching Tool by Coach Reed
- Alternative Match Warm Up from Ritchie Semple, Director of Football for LGC Events
- Passing and Finishing Development Game from Wayne Harrison founder of Soccer Awareness