Youth Conditioning - Integrating Speed, Agility, Strength and Fitness Training into Practice

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By Jim Liston

With players at age six, seven and eight we look at motor development for players. It is difficult to separate players based on their athletic ability. In our programming recommendations we try to make it easy for the coaches. The terms agility, strength, power, balance, speed and acceleration may not be day to day considerations for the soccer coach. Yet, coaches realize the importance of these components to the game of soccer. With the younger players many coaches rely on playing the game as a means to develop these athletic skills. But there are some things that a coach can organize right on the field that are easy to do, don't take much time and offer dramatic improvement of the athletic abilities of their players. This program doesn't take a lot of physiology knowledge to plan. A simple speed and agility program is a great place to start.

Time is always a consideration, with some club teams coming together only a few times a week. The coach has a lot to worry about. For coaches pressed for time, make speed and agility part of your warm up routine. Here's a progression that you can use.

Speed and Agility Program Considerations

Start with a general warm up such as jogging. Have the players line up at the sideline and do a march using a high knee action with the lead leg and coming on to the toe with the trail foot. Once they reach the other sideline have them do a skip on the way back. Repeat this activity. If the athletes are able have them skip backward on their return. As they progress you can do a march with a skip included.

For the older kids, around age 10, you can do the march and skip and do it for height, really emphasizing high knee action. You can also march and skip for distance.

After marching and skipping, the next activity is doing the front shuffle (see figure 1). Start by turning the hips at a 45° angle to the left. The shuffle is performed with a skip. Feet are placed slightly wider than shoulder width with heel-to-toe stance. Lift the left leg and skip with the right . Land on the left foot and repeat, then swivel the hips around 90 degrees so they now are going to the right, pushing off the left leg for two steps. Swivel hips 90 degrees again and repeat the original pattern moving down the field. 

The next activity is the back shuffle. This simulates defensive movement. We have the athletes avoid having their heels click. This happens even on the professional level. Athletes let their feet cross which is poor defensive positioning. Remember, what you practice is what is going to end up on the field. It's the same pattern in reverse of the front shuffle, with the athlete moving backward.



The next activity is butt kicks, where the heels hit against buttocks. We then go to high knee running. We preach only two things; keep your hips low and don't click the heels. This keeps it simple and avoids confusion by overloading the athletes with too much information.

We then move into more agility movements starting with the carioca both ways and side shuffles. Finally, end with a little stretching. You are now ready for practice. This is a general program that can be done two to three times a week.

If a coach sees a player four to five times a week as is the case with many club teams the agility work can become more specific.

Adding Strength and Balance

The next progression is a hop and stick program to improve strength, stability, power, balance and coordination. These simple activities don't really need to be coached; the coach doesn't have to explain why they are being done. They're that simple. Young soccer players need to learn to control their bodies. Once control is established the skill and techniques become more powerful and fluid. The player gains confidence as their level of play elevates. There are some activities that can be done right after the warm up.

Hop and Stop

At this age of body control, skill development is strongly emphasized, as it should be. But, body control is an important element to introduce early. A simple activity is having your athletes jump on two legs as far as they can and stick the landing. The landing is most important. It's a good indicator of how much body control the athlete has. When they land, do they fall forward or to the side? Are they forced to take a step? If so, this is something they
need to work on.

The test becomes the exercise. Have the athletes progress to hopping and sticking the landing five times in succession. Have them do it laterally, backward and diagonally. This develops good body control. As they become more stable and stronger, increase the tempo of the jumps. As they develop you can do these activities on one leg and then the other. This is a good way of seeing if there are imbalances between the right and left side of the body. The
player may be able to stick their dominant side but have trouble with their non-dominant side.

The hop and stick is only one example of many things the coach can do to develop strength and stability. Hop and stick can be done by doing ten jumps in a row. If they have problems doing it, cut back on the number of repetitions.

Progression

Obviously, this routine is progressive and cannot be mastered all at once. So, do the activities the athletes can accomplish and add activities as they progress. This program should take about 20 minutes for older players, but can be shortened to 15 minutes for
younger athletes.

Working Fitness with the Obstacle Course

In preparing for the season many coaches still utilize long slow distance running as a means of training for soccer endurance. This type of training is not specific to the game of soccer. An alternative is obstacle course training that trains endurance more specific to the game of soccer by incorporating the movement on the field and with the ball, as well as the intermittent pace of the game. This program can be used in the off-and pre-season. 

Start the older players with a three minute course right on the soccer field (Figure 2).

Sequence #1: Start on the end line and accelerate in a run to midline where a pair of cones are set up five yards apart. At the first cone the athlete side shuffles five yards to the right, sprints forward, side shuffles to the left, sprints forward and repeats the right/left shuffle, turns and back pedals to the end line.

Sequence #2: Carioca facing the field to a cone 10 yards away. For 20 yards do a march with a skip. Then do three full broad jumps and accelerate to the 18. At this point do a back shuffle to the end line.

Sequence #3: Perform an all out sprint to the 18 and then hold that speed to the other 18. This works acceleration and speed endurance. End the sequence by jogging to the end line and carioca 10 yards facing away from the field.

Sequence #4: Pick up speed running forward to about 10 yards beyond the 18 where eight flags are placed one meter apart and shuffle laterally through the flags as fast as possible. Coming out of the flags do three side shuffles, pushing off the right foot and then three side shuffles pushing of the left foot all the way to the end line. When doing the shuffle threes they should never close their body. This is another common mistakes players make. Stay low and don't let the players cross feet when they switch from right to left, left to right. Open the leg up so they are facing the opposite direction.



Sequence #5: Set up cones 10 yards apart and at a 45 degree angle to each other. Players side shuffle to the 18, then sprint looking over their right shoulder, get to the first cone, turn and look over the other shoulder and continue sprinting. After two sequences they come to a series of cones, pick up a ball, dribble around the cones and shoot at a makeshift goal at the end line.

Sequence #6: The player runs to the 18 and performs a one legged hop doing five on each leg (this activity is for the older, stronger player). After the hops finish with a sprint to the end line. 

After this first series the player rests three minutes and returns in the opposite direction doing the same activity. We give them three minutes so they are fresh for the next series. If you rest only a minute the quality of the activity will suffer and you might as well organize the players in groups of six and have them go through long slow distance running. We say garbage in, garbage out. I want the directional changes to be sharp, the sprints intense. The three minute recovery should be active. They can pass the ball to each other or juggle the ball. We do this six times. The total time of the program is 36 minutes. You can do this activity of 36 minutes or run continuously for 36 minutes. The results of the obstacle course will be far greater, the players more enthusiastic. After the conditioning session you can do some ball activity to finish up.


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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.