Acceleration & Speed
Linear acceleration and maximum velocity sprinting are soccer-specific actions which can impact the outcome of games (Little & Williams, 2005). Elite soccer players average 17m per sprint, with ~50% being shorter than 10m (Stolen et al., 2005) and only 4% reaching 30m (Bangsbo, 1994b). 45% of goal scoring scenarios are preceded by a linear sprint (Faude et al., 2012). Although forwards, wingers and full-backs perform more sprints compared to centre-backs and central midfielders, there doesn’t appear to be differences in sprint distances (Fitzpatrick et al., 2019). Forwards show superior sprint speed to other positions, with defenders and midfielders showing similar sprint capabilities, followed by goalkeepers (Haugen et al., 2020).
Sprinting bouts are often preceded by players already being in motion, therefore maximal velocity is not just achieved, but achieved at reduced distances (Little & Williams, 2005) whereas successful acceleration in team sports has been characterised by faster ground contact times and increased stride frequency (Murphy et al., 2003). Acceleration in soccer can start as an initiation movement in a variety of ways such as standing, two-point start, facing side on, facing backwards, laterally moving side on, moving backwards or jogging forwards. This warrants acceleration training that is performed from a variety of static starting positions with a forward lean that is higher than the typical angle of 45°. This can also include stimuli such as a ball, where two players race for possession and are more likely to accelerate in an upright position as a transition and finish with an actualisation movement that results in possession of the ball.
Although the characteristics of soccer gameplay highlighted above show a difference in how sprinting in soccer occurs differently to track sprinting, it’s still important to teach efficient acceleration and speed mechanics through the appropriate drills, especially in youth athletes who are going through maturation. This can support the general development of efficient acceleration and speed which can underpin the success of these movements in context specific ways as athletes develop into senior players. As shown in the session examples below, generic technical work can be completed prior to context specific work in micro-dosed approach or depending on the athlete (e.g. youth or senior) favour technical or context specific work.
Longer distances races of up 30m can be utilised where athletes are already in motion, to enable them to reach maximum linear velocity. However, soccer players have also been reported to perform curved sprints (Fitzpatrick et al., 2019). It’s suggested that full-backs perform sharper, shorter curved sprints likely to chase down attackers, who perform larger angled sprints, likely to run around and behind defenders between 10-15° and higher, with the average being around 5°.
Curved sprinting can be kinematically described by an inwards lean and kinetically and higher mediolateral forces. This should be accounted for with curved sprinting chases that permit particular angles for attackers and defenders, with an attacker’s initiation movement of a linear jog or curved acceleration being an external stimulus for defenders to react to.
In youth athletes, backpedal sprinting has been shown to be a beneficial addition to forwards sprinting for the development of early acceleration (10m) (Uthoff et al., 2018) likely due to the altered short step mechanics (Wild et al., 2011). This is a common game-specific action that defenders perform to stay behind attackers that are moving towards them whilst continuing to watch play.
In the video below, defenders begin in initiation movement of walking, before performing a forward plant transition to finish with an actualisation movement of trying to beat/catch defender, with this drill being set-up as a chase due to space constraints. On the other hand, the defender is walking as an initiation movement in reaction to the attacker, before performing a 180° turn and accelerating forwards.
Example Acceleration session:
- Skill rehearsal – Wall Hinge to Knee Drive
- Direct field skill development – Walk to 180° Turn Chase (video example shown below)
- Supporting plyometric/ballistic/jump – Broad Jump
- Supporting specific strength exercise – Heavy Resistance Band March
- Supporting general strength exercise – Goblet Squat
Example Speed session:
- Skill rehearsal – 10m A Skip to 20m Wicket Tempo
- Direct field skill development – 10m Jog to 30m Linear Race
- Supporting plyometric/ballistic/jump – Stationary Metronome Pogo’s
- Supporting specific strength exercise – Prone Hamstring Tantrums
- Supporting general strength exercise – Single-leg Romanian Deadlift