Soccer, more than any other sport, has the ability to lift us to the highest plane of human emotional experience. The game pulsates from one end of the field to the other with incredible speed and superb technical mastery. There is simply no other game that can bind and unite all the world in a common language and purpose.
Being a masterful soccer player means doing the right thing at the right time, in the right part of the field, and without thinking about it. To become an elite-level soccer player, you must work diligently on all aspects of the game until you no longer have to look at the ball continuously, or think about your footwork or how to elude a defender and can pass or shoot effectively and effortlessly. These soccer-specific qualities will become habits, but only acquired through hard work and continual practice.
The modern game has evolved, and the demand on the player's bodies has become even more significant. There are no longer players who are only technical or only good at one phase of the game. The modern-day soccer player is technical, they can read the game, but also they are very athletic and very fit. Running for 90 minutes in the heat, with all the changes of pace and long runs in transition, will naturally separate the players with those athletic abilities.
Players can develop their bodies and improve their stamina to keep up with the game's requirements, but it takes work and consistency. We will stay focused on the fitness side and exclude the discipline and dietary changes some may require.
This may come as a surprise, but in a 90-minute game, most players possess the ball for less than 2-minutes. For this reason, your athletic performance skill set is as important as all the other technical aspects, such as passing, shooting, and dribbling.
As a soccer player, you need to have a high level of speed, agility, and endurance. Because soccer is a dynamic sport, it requires that you quickly change direction, accelerate, decelerate, and react to a variety of game situations. Agility helps players move efficiently and effectively on the field by accelerating faster, changing direction quickly, and maintaining balance while maneuvering in tight spaces. It is one of the most valuable physical attributes necessary to be a top soccer player. Being fast and agile will give you an advantage in nearly all aspects of the game.
Practicing your speed and agility can be done effectively using specific tools. My favorite agility-practicing tools are poles, cones, and hurdles.
Coaching sticks, also known as ‘practicing poles’, or ‘speed poles’, are a very useful tool for improving your soccer athleticism. Coaching sticks are one of my go-to tools because they are typically lightweight and portable and can be set up in various configurations customized to achieve the results I am looking for on that particular practice day. They are also tall and can mimic an opponent, which is important because it makes practicing resemble an in-game scenario.
The coaching stick requires you to navigate through them or around them with quick and precise footwork and smooth body control. They are fantastic for practicing efficient movement patterns to improve your coordination, which is crucial for soccer.
The sticks can be set up in various patterns, such as zigzag or a figure 8 shape. Weaving in and out of the sticks can help you develop the ability to change direction rapidly on the field, which is essential for dribbling past opponents or changing your running direction during a game.
Effective practice with coaching sticks requires you to maintain balance and body control while moving quickly through the different positions. Regular practice with the poles can also improve your core stability and spatial awareness.
Coaching sticks are also useful for helping you accelerate and decelerate. A strong acceleration is a mark of explosiveness and can be looked at as horsepower in a vehicle. The ability to decelerate with control is akin to having exceptional brakes. If you upgrade your motor, you better upgrade your brakes as well.
Cones are a staple tool for coaches. They are lightweight, portable, and easy to set up and take down. They are very effective markers to enhance your soccer agility and overall athleticism. However, unlike coaching sticks, they are usually short and do not mimic the height of a player.
There are several different types of cones. They come in many sizes and shapes, and many have other features as well. I recently found some very interesting cones called ‘Cognitive Cones’. These were designed to help you train your physical and cognitive skills simultaneously. As we know, when the brain and body work together, it is a beautiful thing!
Hurdles are an essential tool to promote lower body strength, stability, and power, along with rhythm, and coordination. Hurdles allow you to train explosive power through plyometrics without needing heavy weights.
Incorporating a variety of exercises and drills, such as hurdle drills, cone drills, agility pole drills and small sided games, can also contribute to your overall agility and performance on the field.
Coach Cummings Tool Box
The best agility practicing system I have found is the Pro Speed and Agility Set by QUICKPLAY. It is a multi-use practice set that gives you unlimited practice options.
The gear is bright neon, which makes it easy to see in all weather conditions.
The cones have a slotted design, which allows them to compress if stepped on. This is an important feature for avoiding injury. The slots can also be used to hold the coaching sticks to form hurdles. I use the cones as targets, for routes, or to mark distances during my practice sessions.
The coaching sticks are designed to work on grass and are 35” long, but can be connected together to double their height to mimic players. The poles can also hold the Cognitive Cones I mentioned earlier to train your cognitive abilities. Elevating the cones on the poles helps you keep your eyes up and not glued to the ground.
The coaching sticks can also be used with the cones to create hurdles for plyometric jumps or hops to develop lower body power and to create joint resilience in your ankles, knees, and hips when landing correctly.
The set also comes with bungee cords that connect from pole to pole. You can duck under them to work hip mobility or jump over the cord, for more advanced plyometric and enhanced explosive lower-body power drills. The bungee construction makes them very safe for all ages.
And the best yet, the set is lightweight, portable, durable, and affordable!
The frequency of practice with these tools can vary, depending on your individual goals, practice plan, and schedule. However, I recommend incorporating speed and agility practice into your regular practice sessions.
A common approach is to allocate specific practice sessions or days, each week for speed and agility practice. The more volume and load you apply to your speed and agility session, the more rest and recovery will be needed. That said, 2 to 3 times a week, with sufficient rest days between sessions to allow for adequate recovery is a great place to start.
It is crucial to keep in mind that practice frequency should also take into account, your fitness level, current workload, and any guidance provided by your coach or trainer. It’s also important to listen to your body, avoid over-practicing, and gradually increase the intensity in the volume of practice over time. There is a concept called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) This means that it takes 24 to 48 hours to feel the ‘sore’ effects of practice. So, if you’re new to speed and agility practice, make sure you are giving yourself plenty of rest in between sessions.
Speed and agility practice should be worked on year-round, not just during the off-season. You should maintain regular practice sessions throughout the season by following a dedicated practice program. The only element that might change in season is the intensity (load) and volume (reps/duration).
Although this article is about speed and agility, you should also incorporate strength and endurance practice in your structured practice session as well. Cardiovascular fitness and resistance practice are pivotal for soccer players who need strength and power to sprint, tackle, and shoot. Incorporating weight lifting, plyometrics, and body weight exercises as part of your practice routine is recommended.
Because speed and agility focus on acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction there is a lot of cumulative strain on your feet, ankles, knees, and hips. Consider injury prevention as important as speed and agility. To stay fit and avoid injuries, you should include exercises to strengthen the muscles around the working joints.
Remember, adequate rest is vital for muscle recovery and preventing over-exertion. You should schedule rest days and prioritize getting proper sleep to allow your body to recuperate.
Make sure to stay hydrated before, during, and after practice sessions and games to maintain your energy levels and prevent dehydration. Hydration is a crucial component for healthy muscle tissues and to lubricate the joints.
Each of you may have a slightly different schedule or approach based on personal factors and the advice of your coaches and trainers. What should be gleaned from this article is that the best players on the planet have masterful speed and agility characteristics.
Soccer is indeed a beautiful game, and played with skill and flare that should both astonish and inspire.