Soccer Speed: Perfecting the First 30 Meters

Break the form for the first steps down, and three factors are critical: posture, arm action, leg action. The acronym is P.A.L.:

Posture: Most people bend at the waist when running, especially when taking off. While it is correct to lean forward when accelerating, the lean actually comes from the ankle, not the waist.

Arm Action: We all know the arms and legs work together diagonally; right leg and left arm forward. An exaggerated arm action in height and rate of arm swing helps the leg action when running fast.

Leg Action: The first four to six steps should focus on pushing against the ground in such a way as to propel the body forward. This is where many young players err. They mistakenly think that by taking big first steps they will cover a lot of ground fast.

If that first step is long, then they are actually slowing themselves down by applying a braking force until their body gets over and beyond this lead foot and they can start pushing against the ground to go forward.

If these first few steps are short, all their effort goes into pushing against the ground and propelling themselves forward. After four or five steps, they can then stand more erect and bring their hips under their trunk.

Warming Up for Speed Training

It is very important to prepare the muscles for speedwork. This kind of high-intensity work can cause an unprepared muscle to pull (strain). Warming up seems to protect muscles from strains. Popular activities include pendulum swings of the legs both sideways and front-back; carioca with long strides, short strides, in a partial squat and standing tall; high-stepping; high and long reaching; volley traps; and passive stretches of the hamstrings, quads and groin. Some people like using hurdles and elastic bands.

A Progression for Teaching Acceleration

Posture: Start in the time-honored ready position: legs bent, feet shoulder-width or more apart and arms loose at the sides. Girls really need to learn this position. For some reason, they dont get into this position properly. Now, lean and take five short (and quiet) steps forward walking, turn, and repeat jogging. Stress short steps.

Next, with a partner facing in front, have the player lean straightforward and have the partner use their hands to catch the player by the shoulders. Keep the body straight and hold the position for about five seconds to get used to the position. Get used to the lean at the ankles, not the hips. Now, repeat and run out eight to 10 steps, emphasizing that the first four to five should be short strides. Finally, repeat without the partner. Lean forward at the ankle into short strides for eight to 10 running steps.

Arm Action can be practiced stationary, and some players might think it looks odd to spectators. Standing, perform a very exaggerated arm swing, all the way up, down and way back. Then sit straight-legged and repeat, only now the arms are bent to not hit the ground. Do a lot of these. With vigorous arm swing while seated, the player can almost raise their seat off the ground. Now stand, feet staggered, and exchange arms back once, as fast as possible, with your right hand up in front of the face, left back at the hip. On command, switch as fast as possible. Repeat lots of times, but only one switch at a time, then stop.

Leg Action is trained with a partner, too. First do some knee hugs by bringing the bent leg and knee as close to the chest as possible hug it in. Next, repeat that partner drill where the player leaned into the partner and the partner caught the shoulders. Only this time, the partner resists while the player pushes for four to six strides. Then vary this so that the partner resists strong for three to four steps, loosens up for three or four steps, then quickly lets go, turns and runs off so that the other player must chase. Then have one player lean into the partner and then hug a knee. The partner releases and the leaning player now has to get their foot down and take off to run out.

Other activities for acceleration can be used to get players used to feeling the speed. For example, if there is a slight slope, have them do these drills going downhill, or do the take-offs downhill. Or have them walk, then on command, execute their new skills to accelerate into a run. Or have them do two-legged hops forward or to the side, then on command sprint out as fast a possible. Or do a carioca then sprint out in any direction.

Perhaps have them jump back and forth over a ball three to five times, then sprint out. Or scramble up from a push-up position. Or have them take the first step in one direction and move off in another direction.

Maybe do a two-footed jump, then on landing do a 180 and take off all the time using the proper form of posture, arm action and leg action.

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