Developing Soccer Specific Speed - Changing Direction Without the Ball

The following article is part of Soccer Speed without the Ball Insta-Kit from Performance Conditioning Soccer. Studies of national and international levels of soccer play indicate that no player will be in possession of the soccer ball more than two percent of the time. This kit focuses on speed development the other 98 percent of the time to get the player in position to apply with ball speed and technical skills to take possession and score goals. Many soccer players possess poor running mechanics which reduces maximum speed potential. This kit starts the player off right from the beginning.

Get 10 of the best and most popular training articles from Performance Conditioning Soccer from more than 15 years of publishing training content presented so you can start your program now! This kit focuses on without ball speed development. Includes an index of articles and how you can use it to establish your program plus a bonus exploring the fallacy of over speed training


By Joseph A. Luxbacher  (reprinted from Performance Conditioning Soccer)

When developing soccer-specific speed players must concern themselves with much more than their ability to get from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time. Speed of foot, speed of movement, speed of thought and speed of skill execution all contribute to determining an individual’s ability to “play at speed”. Weineck (1992) listed seven characteristics of speed and their significance as they relate to soccer performance. These elements include:

  1. Perceptual speed
  2. Anticipation speed
  3. Decision-making speed
  4. Reaction speed
  5. Speed without the ball
  6. Action speed with the ball
  7. Game action speed.

This article discusses the development of “movement speed without the ball”. Speed without the ball is a critical element of overall soccer performance. Time motion analysis of higher level games shows that, on average, a player possesses the ball only two or three minutes during a 90-minute match. The bulk of running is performed without the ball!

Weineck defines movement speed without the ball as the “ability to move at maximum speed without the ball using cyclical or acyclical movements.” Acyclical movements differ from cyclical movements in that they are single action movements such as sudden stops, body fakes, jumps, turns and sudden changes of direction. In contrast, cyclical movements are continuous and require more space.

The following sequence of exercises focuses on the development of acyclical movements which in turn improve a player’s ability to change position and direction rapidly without loss of balance or speed. The exercises attempt to place players in situations that replicate the movements used in actual game situations. While the exercises may or may not incorporate use of a ball, the focus of training is designed to improve a player’s potential for explosive movement and sudden changes of direction. The inclusion of a ball in the exercises usually serves as a motivating factor, and also promotes skill development under the pressure of high intensity effort and sudden movement.

Exercise #1—Shuttle Run

Place six cones in a straight line with 5 yards distance between adjacent cones. Start at Cone #1, sprint to #2, turn and sprint back to #1. Immediately sprint to #3, back to #1, sprint to #4, back to #1, sprint to #5, back to #1, sprint to #6, back to #1 for one complete circuit. Rest, then repeat. Perform five repetitions of the shuttle run with rest between each repetition.

Exercise #2—Zig-Zag Exercise

Place 12 cones in a zigzag formation with 5 yards distance between consecutive cones. Begin at cone #1. Sprint to cone #2, then to #3, to #4, etc., until you have reached the last cone. Maintain balance and body control as you approach each cone. Lower
your center of gravity as you near each cone, plant outside foot, open your hips, and explode forward toward the next cone.



Exercise #3—Triangle Cone Agility Exercise

Place 3 cones in the shape of a triangle with 5 yards distance between cones. Start at cone #1. Sprint to cone #2, turn and sprint to cone #3, sprint back to cone #2, then backpedal to cone #3 for one complete repetition. Perform 3 to 5 repetitions with a rest period between each rep.

Exercise #4—Five Cone Box Exercise

Position 4 cones in a square formation with 15 yards distance between cones. Place a single cone (#1) in the center of the square. Starting at Cone #1, sprint to #2, back to #1, sprint to #3, back to #1, sprint to #4, back to #1, sprint to #5, back to #1 for one complete repetition. Rest and repeat. Perform 3 to 5 repetitions.

Exercise #5—Accelerate to Ball Exercise (two servers)

Players organize into groups of three. Two players (servers), each with a ball, position 20 yards apart while the third player stations midway between the servers. On command the central player accelerates at maximum speed toward one of the servers. The server plays a rolling ball toward the central player who returns it with a one-touch pass. The server should weight the pass so that the player moves forward approximately 5 to 7 yards to intercept the ball. Upon passing the ball, the central player immediate turns and accelerates towards the opposite server. The central player continues to accelerate back and forth between servers at maximum speed for 90 seconds. Players then switch positions and repeat the exercise.

Note: Coaches can adjust the degree of difficulty of exercises by manipulating variables such as length of the work interval, rest interval, distance covered, or number of repetitions of the exercise. Experienced, physically mature players should perform the exercises at higher intensity and for longer periods than less experienced, physically immature players.

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Performance Conditioning Soccer

Ken Kontor is founder and president of Performance Conditioning Inc. His company is the world’s largest single source of sports-specific conditioning information. Among the educational resources provided are Performance Conditioning Volleyball, Cycling and Soccer newsletters now in their 14th year of publishing and 15 sports-specific conditioning books and training card systems. He is a founding member of the USA Volleyball Sports Medicine and Performance Commission and was instrumental in the establishment of the Volleyball Conditioning Accreditation Program (V.C.A.P.) curriculum offered through the USA Volleyball Coaching Accreditation program. Among his contributions to this program was writing the curriculum. He has established the Off-bike Conditioning curriculum promoted by USA Cycling. In the past he has worked with USA Roller Sports and USA Triathlon producing conditioning specific newsletters. Prior to the establishment of Performance Conditioning Inc., Mr. Kontor was a founding father, executive director and publications editor of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) for 14 years an organization of over 16,000 sport conditioning professionals. He was an original member of the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist committee that established the internationally recognized C.S.C.S. credential. He has traveled extensively throughout the world including the former Soviet Union, East Germany and the Leipzig Institute of Sport, Hungary and Bulgaria with the purpose of introducing their strength and conditioning methods to the NSCA membership. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association Inc. and the National Strength and Conditioning Association of Japan. He has lectured extensively on the conditioning of athletes throughout the world.