The following article is a supplemental article to "The Importance of Off-Season Training" from Total Soccer Fitness & Training, LLC and Performance Conditioning Soccer.
From Performance Conditioning Soccer (http://www.performancecondition.com/soccer)
By Tom DeNigris, Owner & Director Total Soccer Fitness & Training, LLC
Before teaching speed with the ball, it's important to teach speed without the ball since more than 90 percent of a soccer match is spent without having possession of the ball. Proper Running Mechanics (PRM) is where we start and we use the simple formula of Hands + Arms + Legs + Feet = Proper Running Mechanics Hands should be open, not clenched in a fist. Arms should be at a 90-degree angle and should move from the shoulder while maintaining this 90-degree arm angle. One of the questions always asked by players is how far forward and how far back should the hands and arms move. We tell them: "Hips to Lips". Keeping the arms at the 90-degree angle as much as possible, the hands should go from the hip to the height of the lips.
Legs and feet work together, obviously. But what we try to stress, especially to young athletes, is to drive the knees up toward the chest and when the foot hits the ground to keep the heels off the ground and run on the balls and toes of the foot.
Here are some drills to teach the H + A + L + F = PRM formula.
Hands & Arms: Have the players sit with their legs straight out in front, toes pointed up. Start with the players having their right arm up - that is, in a right angle with the hands at lip level; and their left arm in a right angle with the hands at hip level. At the command of "Go" the players move their arms - "Hips to Lips" - slowly at first and then have them pump the arms as if sprinting. No doubt at this point that the players will actually start moving forward.
Legs & Feet: Now have the players stand with their feet hip width apart, arms at 90-degree angles (both elbows should be at hip level. Start with having the players drive their right knee up while at the same time, driving their left hand/arm up toward their lips and hold this position for a second or two, then switch to the other side. Do this a few times so the players get the idea of driving the knees up. Next, have the players perform this sequence in a walking or marching concept for 10 yards or, holding the position of right knee/left hand up and vice versa. When practicing conducting the in-place drill, we stress coming up on the balls and toes of the foot on the ground. This gives the player the idea of pushing off the ground. This is especially beneficial for the young soccer player.
These simple but productive drills all lead to posture. Now, let's be honest here. Asking a soccer player to maintain proper posture in a match is asking a lot. Soccer is such a reactionary and quick game that requires players to go from standing or walking to a sprint, to a cut, to a backwards run to a jog to another sprint. As opposed to a track-and-field sprinter or runner, posture is the last thing on a soccer player's mind. Granted. But by working on mechanics and posture, a soccer player can make these change of directions and change of pace requirements much easier and much more effective.
In our experience, boys tend to begin with better running mechanics than girls, but girls tend to heed to the advice given better than the boys. When we first start teaching mechanics to girls we say this: "Girls, please don't take offense to this because it is not meant to be offensive, but we are going to teach you to stop running like a girl and start running like an athlete." What we mean is that many girls run with their arms barely bent at right angles; instead, the arms are straight and are not "pumping" thus not aiding the sprint. We've seen girls take as much as half a second off their 40-yard sprint time by practicing proper running mechanics. (To learn about applying running mechanics to running soccer-specific running efficiency click HERE.)
Once the mechanics are practiced, we move to putting the concepts into various "Speed, Agility & Quickness" drills. Here is where we work exclusively without the ball, emphasizing the concepts of proper footwork, that is, changing of pace and changing of direction. We also break it down into simple phases of linear runs (forwards, backwards, diagonal) and lateral movements (sliding, shuffling left and right).
Many of the facilities or gyms that we work in don't have the space of a regulation field but we don't feel the need to have much space to work on SAQ concepts. Speed can be determined in a 10- or 20-yard sprint as much as it can in a 40-yard sprint. How many times is a soccer player required to make more than a 40-yard sprint compared to how many times he or she is required to make a 10-or 20-yard sprint? We keep our sprints to the shorter variety and, in fact, time our players in a 10-yard sprint and also in a 10-yard x 4 Shuttle, which is run as follows: place two small disc cones on a line 10-yards from the start line; at "Go", the player sprints 10 yards, picks up one small cone, turns and sprints back to the start line; drops the cone behind the start line; turns and sprints 10 yards, picks up the second cone and sprints back past the start line to finish the run. This is a fantastic test of speed, agility and quickness and is very much soccer specific.