By John De Witt, Head Sports Performance Coach, Houston Dynamo Academy & Houston Dash
- During matches, players cover high distances at multiple speeds
- High speed running is a part of the game, but it is frequently not occurring during training
- Players may need to augment their training with some high speed running to maintain match fitness
During a match, soccer players have to perform many physical actions. These include running fast, jogging, walking, jumping, turning, changing directions, and absorbing impacts from other players, amount others. This year with the the Houston Dash we have been tracking player motions during matches and training sessions. We do this in order to understand the external and internal loads players experience so we can manage our training appropriately.
A few of the metrics that we have found through the first part of our season is that senior players cover between 7 to 10 kilometers during a match, depending on their position. Over 90 minutes this averages to around 100 m per minute, which equates to about 3.7 miles per hour, but is misleading because this is the average speed that players move. In truth players do a lot of high speed running, followed by periods of rest.
The game tells players when they can rest, so depending on the situation, they may have to complete more high speed running than usual. For example, if a team is losing, they may need to run a lot to pressure the ball and to create scoring chances. The team that is winning, however, could just sit back and defend, requiring less high speed running and more maintaining position. The point is that the numbers alone do not tell the whole story.
If we focus on high speed running (faster than 10 miles per hour), our players cover around 400-1000 m, also depending on position. In general, high speed distance is about 5% of total distance covered.
Here is where it gets interesting. We also track training sessions in order to verify that our periodization planning is correct. We modify the loading during training based on how many days the session is before and after the game. Usually we want the training session 3 days prior to the match to be most intense, but we do take into account when the last match was played.
In monitoring the training loading through the first part of the season, I noticed an interesting trend. If we have a session that does not include focussed high speed running, the players do not cover much distance at high speed. In reflection, this makes sense because most training sessions include small sided games, passing and technique activities, and reduced sided games, like 5 V 5 of 7 V 7.
These activities can be intense, but the load they place on the field is more determined by changing direction and very short runs because of the smaller areas. In general, an athlete will not reach top speed until they travel about 30 m. I believe that the reason players don’t get the high speed loading in is simply because the spaces used in typical training sessions is too small.
I am not advocating that activities should be played in larger areas, because there is high value to playing in smaller areas technically and tactically. Players have to make decisions faster, players touch the ball more, and players have to have good technique. However, if the training sessions you participate in are always with the ball and in smaller areas, chances are that you are not getting the high speed load that you will get in the game.
To counter this, a few longer (40-80 yards) sprints at the end of practice, if you didn’t focus on fitness, could be a good thing. With my teams, I use 10 to 14 repeats of sprints. Usually the setup is to cover 40 m in 8 to 10 s or 80 m in 15s. Quite simply, 10 miles per hour equals about 4.5 m per second. The 40 m and 80 m times I use ensures the players are covering the distance at high speed. The penalty box is 40 m wide, and on most soccer fields the distance from top of the penalty box to the opposite penalty box is about 80 m, so these distances are easy to find.
If your session didn’t include high speed running, add some to your training to stay ahead of the opponents. You can do this before or after training, with your team or some teammates, or on your own. A few will not exhaust you, but will give your body some exposure to match type loading that could help you improve.
What can you do?
- 4 min x 40 m - Start your stopwatch on your first run. Try to run 40 m in 8 to 10 sec. When your stopwatch hits 0:30, repeat. Continue with a new run every 30 s until 4 minutes. This will be 8 sprints with a work to rest ratio of 1:2. Take a minute to recover and then repeat. As you get better, you could go for longer or do additional sets
- 5 min x 80 m - Similar to the 40 m sprints, use your stopwatch and start a new run every 30 seconds. These are a little more difficult than the 4 min runs because the recovery is shorter. One set of these are sufficient, but complete an additional set when you feel you are ready.
- Note - in each of these activities, you should not be running as fast as you can, but almost as fast. If you were to rate your intensity on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is the fastest sprint you can make and 1 is standing still, you should be at about an 8. Adjust the distances if you need to to make sure you are at the correct intensity level.