Getting better at changing direction is a critical factor at increasing speed
By John De Witt, Head Sports Performance Coach, Houston Dynamo Academy
During a 90 min soccer match, players often cover over 10 km in distance. As we know from experience, this distance is covered in a variety of manners, including sprinting, running, jogging, and walking. Players exert the most energy during higher speed activities, in which they cover about 1 km in distance.
We also all know that these running speeds are always interchanging depending on the game conditions. Attacking players often can change speeds when they want to, while defenders have to change speeds based on what their opponent is trying to do. Making this more complicated is that the distances covered under each speed are rarely in a straight line, often being covered with one or more changes of direction. There are some differences when changes of direction as compared to straight-line running that should be considered when training.
When a player runs fast in a straight line, their muscles have to produce force to maintain speed, but their forward momentum helps! Every time the foot touches the ground, the muscles of the hip, knee, and ankle forcefully shorten to push the body forwards. As long as no forces act on the body other than gravity (like another contacting another player), the body wants to keep moving forward. When the foot contacts the ground, there are some forces that slow the body down, and it is these forces that have to be overcome to maintain speed. But the bottom line is that thanks to Newton’s 1st law, our muscles don’t have to work as hard to keep us moving as they do when we start from standing still.
When players change direction, another situation arises. The body wants to keep moving in the same direction (Newton again!). The player has to slow the body down, stop, and then speed up in the new direction. These three requirements cause an increase in the energy needed and an increase of stress on the muscles. The increased energy requirement results in a higher heart rate and increased fatigue. The increased muscle stress can cause muscle soreness.
In addition to the increased energy and muscle stress, the changes of direction will also cause a decrease in speed simply because it takes time to stop your body and get started in the new direction. The difference between good and great players is often due to speed. Speed in soccer can be greatly improved by becoming more efficient when turning! Training can help players be more efficient, which will lead to increasing speed and decreasing wasted effort. The player who runs the fastest in a straight line does not usually win soccer duels. , The duels are usually won by the player who is faster over shorter distances with changes of direction.
Changing direction can be improved with specific training. Get the plan from De Witt and more training resources in the March 2016 issue of Amplified Soccer Athlete magazine.