Better running for better soccer! (Part A)

A soccer player's speed and agility depend largely on his or her running coordination. However, running coordination is an aspect of youth training that is too often ignored in training today's youth soccer players. A systematic, but fun, running training program is crucial to developing better players.

High-speed soccer: The trend continues

The future of soccer

  • All soccer experts agree on one thing: International soccer is going to get faster. This means players will have even less time to adjust to a given situation and act on it. And, thanks to modern defensive systems (particularly ball-oriented zone defenses), time and space shrinks as opposition pressure increases.
  • A few of the things we will see more of in the future: More sprinting and changing direction in order to get open for passes, faster dribbling, and 1 v. 1's that are contested at top speeds.
  • For these reasons, speed and proper running techniques will become even more critical to success in soccer.

Breaking down high-speed soccer

High-speed performance in soccer is an unusually complex proposition; there are several components to be considered.

  • First of all, there is the mental component. To solve a game situation, a player must be good at observing, anticipating, reacting, and so on at speed. This is why complex, game-oriented exercises are the best way to train players for speed.
  • Of course, the physical component is also very important. For a soccer player, it is not enough just to be able to run long distances at high speed. Basic competence involves a whole repertoire of running movements, over short and long distances, with sudden changes of speed and direction. This brings us to running coordination.

Improving running coordination

Building Block 1: Running exercises with cones and poles

Building Block 2: Speed training exercises

Building Block 3: Running/technique exercises

Building Block 4: Running/shooting exercises

The value of "running school"

  • Given all the demands on soccer players, running coordination is crucial.
  • A player who can easily control the most basic elements of running (stride length, stride frequency, rhythm, etc.) can perform at a higher level. It is a matter of directing muscular impulses more precisely, of efficient cooperation between the muscular and nervous systems.
  • Basic exercises for systematic high-speed running training.
  • Basic running techniques (e.g. skipping, knee lifts; Coaches should be well-acquainted with the characteristics of each.

Running training in youth soccer

  • Coaches are becoming more sensitive to the need for systematic coordination training programs, largely because most youth players start out with under-developed coordination. 
  • In this respect, Dutch champion Ajax Amsterdam has been a real pioneer: " Running school" for the entire team has been a basic principle of its training philosophy for many years now.
  • Since then, the principle has been taken up and developed further by a number of German clubs as well.

About this training program

  • The program we present in these issue follows the Ajax model in many important respects.
  • However, one aspect is completely original: The majority of the exercises present simple running training in soccer-specific situations, to make the whole program more entertaining and effective.
  • As always, we must not forget about motivation: Youth players learn best when they are engaged by the exercises and having fun. Relatively simple exercises, such as obstacle courses, quickly become boring.
  • Finally, remember that this program can always be altered to fit your particular group. The complex, interesting exercises presented here should eventually dominate your running training program, but first players must master the "A-B-C's", and maintain this mastery even in the most complex exercises.

Please click here for the  A-B-C's of running (Part B), Part C, Part D, Part E