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The word football raises a resonance around the world and causes an instant adrenaline rush. What is it that causes that rush? Is it speed? Or is it the way football is played? Do you see football players running faster than Olympic athletes? Hardly ever, if at all.
So what does speed training have to do with it? How much speed can football players gain if they follow the right training drills? Let us find out.
The basic skill requirements in football
When anxious players see a goal being scored in football, often in numerous and stylish ways, the sheer experience of seeing it happen is enough to give them goose bumps. The way the scorer approaches the goal post, dodging every obstacle and finally making that kick. Is only speed responsible for that? No. Of course not. It is but one of the factors that make it happen. The other ingredients in this recipe are –
to name just a few. Each one plays an important part in itself. The end result, that exhilarating goal you just saw, is the culmination of all these skills working in tandem. So when it comes to speed, it is the application and control of the players’ velocity that compliments the other skills to give you the final result.
Controlling speed and mixing it with agility
Speed, for anyone obsessed with high speed sports, often means top speed. While that may be true of sprints in Olympics and drag races, it has little to do with Football. One would think that forward players need to have as much top speed as they can to beat the other players chasing them and reach the scoring area much quicker. That’s not quite how it works.
These crucial players need acceleration, not top speed to be able to do that. ‘Faster’ in this sense is ‘getting there faster’ than ‘achieving the fastest mark’. And it is not necessarily in a perfect straight line either. They also need excellent reflexes to dodge other players (and hopefully protect their legs or ankles from being hurt in a tackle). In addition to that, agility in their legs helps them dribble with excellence. And they need to apply these skills simultaneously all the while accelerating, to score that goal quicker in their race against time.
Coaches know this by heart and design their training programs for almost all players to optimize their speed rather than achieve a top speed mark. In keeping this view, the players are subject to training exercises like short sprint training, falling starts, plyometric exercises among others.
Sprint training is the exercise that focuses on quick starts from stationary position and makes the plyers reach their target velocity as quickly as possible. There are some important things to consider while training for speed.
When starting out, the posture is usually a ‘lean forward’ one. The head and shoulders are usually kept straight and square, but otherwise the entire body should be leaning to the front. The elbows are pushed behind with force while running rather than forward.
As the speed picks up and creeps up to the ‘desired velocity’ the posture, hand motions and strides become different.
Foot training – just running around is not going to get the players any goals. They need to control the football with their feet while doing so too.
So there are four different ways this training is done. Starting out and maintaining speed, with and without the ball at their feet.
You can practise long distance sprints by performing sprints of 5 x 60 yards.
You may even try those flying sprints – which you can try out if you are totally clear of the opposition. Practise running 3 x 40 yards from a 2 point stance.
To get better at your strides, you also need to practise stride length drills. A good way to go about it is to change the length of the hurdles each time you practise, so that you can do better at different situations.
‘Falling starts’ complement this sprint training. The player practices leaning forward as if in a ‘falling’ state and assume a striding posture as if in the process of running. The quicker, the better.
Effects of speed training in the game
The defense benefits from a quick start to get the ball out there as rapidly as is possible. The mid/mid forwards use this tactic to start dribbling and gain speed to pass it on to the forwards. The quick start sprint training allows forwards too quickly adapt to the passed on ball and propel it in the desired direction using its own momentum.
This is where ‘controlling’ the speed is important. A sudden change of direction, deceleration or close proximity to the ball or other players comes into effect. And that’s why the speed training never involves marathon runs. Just short bursts in the range of 15-20 yards at best.
The instances where extended running sessions are required are when the stamina needs an upheaval.
Football is a game of tactics…
Football is more than just raw speed. You need speed to outdo your opposition but it’s rarely that you would be able to cut past through them with just speed.
That’s not to say speed doesn’t play an important role in the way football is played – it does. But it is the utilization and control of this speed that makes a world of difference and decides whether a tackle, a dribble or for that matter a goal, can be successful or not. So, football specific training obviously makes an outstanding player from a very good one.
It drives some similarities from kung-fu, as far as the speed of muscular contractions and reflexes are concerned. But that’s where the line gets drawn. The players in this game kick the ball instead of the opponent’s head with a roundhouse kick. That’ll get you an instant red card and probably a permanent ban. And you won’t be making Jackie Chan any happier for it.