The four pillars of soccer are as follows: technical, tactical, mental and physical. The physical pillar can be further broken down into four of its own pillars: strength, speed, endurance and recovery. To focus on strength within the physical pillar, let’s continue with Speed - specifically good posture/stance.
Posture, which means body position, is a good indicator of movement efficiency, knowledge of body position in space, muscle balance and coordination. The first thing to look at is stance. For the most part, athletes who move the fastest, or quickest, tend to have a sound athletic stance to work from. While there is no single ideal postural position for all individuals, certain guidelines can help govern efficient athletic posture.
What to Look for to Achieve a Good Soccer Stance
Avoid Exaggerated Forward Pelvic Tilt: This slouch like stance can easily be remedied by rotating the pelvis forward and tightening the abdominals and glutes. This stance may be indicative of weak, inflexible abdominals and lower back (see the article from last issue on Core Strength).
The Tight Wheel: A sound athletic stance permits mechanically efficient function of the weight bearing joints. In other words, friction of the joints is minimized, tensions of opposing ligaments are balanced, and pressures within the joints are equalized. Excess energy expenditure from the resultant stance also means an inappropriate athletic posture. Although the length of an individual athlete's legs and torso determine the depth of their stance we can draw an imaginary circle around the ankle, knee and hip. The optimal joint angle(s) are those at which the individual athlete can meet the above criterion while moving as quickly as possible. When the athlete comes out of the stance due to a variety of reasons (fatigue, lack of focus, injury, etc.), the imaginary wheel increases in diameter and more force is needed to move the athlete. The result is slower movement.
Base of Support
Players are often told to "get low" in order to maintain a balanced position. To disrupt that balance, the center of gravity would have to be raised. An imbalanced position exists when it takes only a slight push to destroy it. The ability to maintain one's balance under unfavorable circumstances is recognized as one of the basic motor skills. There are a variety of factors which affect stability. One of these factors is the size and, more importantly for soccer, the shape of the base of support. To resist lateral external forces (such as a defender) while dribbling, or passing, the base should be widened in the direction of the oncoming force.
Foot Position/Weight Distribution
Another favorite sports cliché helps to clarify this guideline: "They're on their heels now!" Positioning yourself flat-footed (or on your heels) is slow and inefficient. From a foot’s perspective, we spring off the front part of the foot when we jump, shuffle, step or run. However, it is equally unnecessary to be up on the toes when preparing to move. Why? Because the first movement will actually be a counter movement, since the foot must come back to the ground to initiate movement. The result is wasted time and wasted motion. The foot should be planted firmly on the ground with the toes pointed straight ahead. Body weight can be distributed about 75 percent to the forefoot and 25 percent to the heel in order to allow for multi-directional movement.
Angle of Ankle/Knee/Hip
There must be equal balance in flexibility between ankle, knee and hip, so that on the first movement the center of gravity is projected in the right direction FIRST, not up or down. Remember, Wasted Motion =Wasted Time = Inefficient Movement.
Posture/Stance Wall Exercises
Making it Fit
What you need: Wall or fence/stable surface and ankle tubing for advanced training.
Increase work load: A series of quick skips, runs, two foot and one foot hops can be performed to round out the progression.
When to do it: Can be part of practice when the athlete is fresh at the end of warm-up.
How much to do: low reps (8-10 max) and sets 1-3 depending on training phase.
Wall exercises are excellent for getting the feel of proper positioning. Place your hands on an immovable object such as a wall, fence or even a tall enough partner who is stable. The athlete will first of course, adequately warm up.
(Fig. 1) Tighten the core and lean forward at about a 40-45 degree angle. There should be a straight line from ankle to knee to hip to shoulder to ear as if in a body cast.
(Fig. 2) Starting with the right leg, push into the ground with the ball of the foot (not the toes) and forcefully thrust the knee up. A partner can kneel down and provide a stimulus by placing an open, palm down hand at waist level. Try and "smack" the hand with your knee explosively. Since fatigue is not the goal, alternating legs is a good idea.
(Fig. 3) The next progression involves a series of forceful strikes just behind the hips. Start with the knee up just slightly below waist level. The momentum and force from the strike should lift the athlete slightly off their feet. Alternate legs and keep the same volume. In order to really get the feel of proper positioning, purposely try and strike in front, to the side, well behind the hip - anywhere but where you should. Feel the difference, feel the power when you strike it correctly!
For increased power, advanced trainees can add a resisted tubing device around both ankles when performing the wall drill progression. Alternate sets with the device and then contrast without it. The neuromuscular adaptation will be evident from the increase in applied force.
Acknowledgement: Josh Katz
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