The seven speeds of soccer is a German concept and credit must be given to the inventors – Gero Bisanz, Gunnar Gerrisch, Jurgen Weineck, and those who expanded it with relevant soccer drills and wrote a book on it. The book is called “How to Improve the 7 Speeds of Soccer” and is part of the Performance Soccer Conditioning series. It has been authored by experts from across the soccer and training spectra – V. Gambetta, J. Luxbacher, J. Osorio, R. Quinn, N. Sedwick, and M. Thyron.
Speed is more than the physical speed of a player, such as when sprinting. Yes, physical sprinting speed is an important aspect of a player’s or a team’s performance. But when considering the number of sprints during a game relative to the length of the game it becomes evident that there is more to speed than running fast.
You have likely observed players who are a little older yet they get to the ball before a younger, physically faster opponent. How is that? It’s because the experienced player likely perceived the situation faster, anticipated the game faster, made a quicker decision as to where to move to, reacted to the final ball motion faster, moved into position without the ball quicker, got the ball and then likely played a quick pass increasing the speed of the game. And there you have them – the 7 speeds of soccer:
- Perceptual Speed – the ability to observe, process, and integrate the game as it unfolds around the player, using visual and auditory senses.
- Anticipation Speed – the ability to predict future events based on previous experiences, observations, and intuition.
- Decision Making Speed – The ability to develop options and quickly decide on the best one to execute.
- Reaction Speed – The ability to react to events such as opponent, teammate, or ball movements.
- Movement Speed without Ball – The ability to move at maximum physical speed
- Action Speed with Ball – The ability to handle the ball at maximum physical speed, 1v1 moves, dribbles, passes, shots.
- Game Action Speed – The ability to pull all other speeds together during a game, considering technical, tactical, and physical circumstances to increase the pace of your team’s game. That is what I described in a previous article as catching the opponent out of shape and out of balance – play the game faster than the opponent.
Just to level set, when we discuss speeds of soccer, we are talking about thought processes that take fractions of a second and action processes that don’t take much longer. Improving these speeds then is an exercise in making small improvements as well as in training certain parts of the brain. But we do this in the context of soccer.
1. Soccer Perception Speed
is about taking in many many pieces of visual and auditory information. It is that basic building block that allows the processing of the information and ultimately making split second decisions and executing them. Soccer perception speed can be trained and practiced at any level of soccer. Regardless of a player’s base level of perception speed, it will get better with continued playing experience. So the combination of practice and playing time will lead to improvements.
Let’s look at some examples of what we mean by perception speed:
- Recognizing that the ball has been passed to you, whether directly at your feet or into space ahead of you. Do you need a shout, do you perceive the ball movement as soon as it is passed?
- If you are in control of the ball, do you perceive movement of your team mates? Do you perceive spaces available to play the ball into?
- Do you perceive opponents closing you down?
It is all about your field of vision and your speed of taking in a sensory stimulus and processing what that stimulus means.
From a practice point of view, we always advocate that players are constantly moving, with or without the ball, and are getting maximum opportunities of ball touches. Questions to ask yourself as a coach when you run soccer drills:
- Are all players moving or are they standing?
- Does the ball keep moving or is it a stop/start situation?
- Are players making contact with the ball as early as possible? This includes attacking the ball as opposed to waiting for it to come to you.
Our soccer practice plans and drills at Soccer Practice Books incorporate all speeds of soccer for any age and skill level.
Some ideas of what is in the drills for perception speed:
- Many small sided 1v1 to 6v3 soccer drills to keep action moving quickly. Drills have rules to make them quick.
- All players except one dribble with ball in a small area. On command, players leave their ball and dribble someone else’s ball.
2. Soccer Anticipation Speed
describes a player’s ability to predict the probability and end result of a game action situation. Because they can predict what will happen they can execute their own response/move that much faster. For example, if an outside defender can predict that the opposing midfielder will switch the play from the opposite side of the field to their side with a long ball, they can scan other opposing players, decide where the ball will likely end up, who the likely recipient is, and get physically and mentally ready to get into the target space before the ball or opponent get there.
This speed is highly dependent on a player’s experience. A professional will have seen more game situations and has developed a larger mental data base than a youth player in their second year of soccer. But it is not only experience, anticipation can be trained.
The best coaching method is small sided games in relatively small spaces, 2v1, 2v2, 3v2, 3v3, 4v4, etc. Some ideas of soccer practice drills, which can be found in our books:
- Pass Interception: Play 5v5 in a 10m x 10m grid. Restrict players to two touch passing. A team can only gain possession by intercepting a pass. No tackling allowed.
- Pass Through Defense: Make a grid 20m wide by 30m long and divide the length into three 10m zones. Divide the team into three equal groups and place each group in a zone. The teams in the end zone must pass a ball through the middle zone. The team in the middle zone must intercept the pass. Upon interception the team that played the pass goes in the middle. If a team plays the ball out of bounds it goes in the middle. Restrict the number of touches the end zone teams can play before passing.
- Sequence Passing: Split the team into groups between five and seven players. Each group places its players randomly in a 10m x 10m grid. Assign numbers to each player, say 1-7, and starting with 1, pass the ball to each player in sequence. Players should be moving in the grid and after passing the passer sprints into an open space, but not interfering with the next sequential pass.
You can see how these simple drills will train anticipation. Our books have many more appropriate for the age group and competitive level of your team. Enjoy !!
3. Soccer Decision Making Speed
Let’s review some typical scenarios you will likely have encountered during a soccer game:
Youth Game Situation 1
Seven year old boys play in a league game on Tuesday evening, 5 a-side including a goalie on a small sized field. One player is very aggressive and always wants to win the ball, and he does. Once he gets the ball, he holds on to it, runs/dribbles with it, and gets entangled with opposing players. The coach may shout at him to pass to an open team mate, but nothing happens. The immediate diagnosis is that the boy is a “ball hog”, doesn’t want to pass. The technical analysis might suggest that he keeps his head down and is not aware of his surroundings. Both may be reasonable causes of why he keeps holding on to the ball far too long.
Youth Game Situation 2
In the same game, another player also aggressively pursues the ball. When he gains possession, he looks up. He may dribble with it, looking up every now and again, or he may pass it to an open team mate. Aha thinks the coach, here is a good player who knows how to play the game properly, even at a young age. He is not selfish.
Pro Game Situation
Let’s look at the winning goal in the 2014 World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina. We are in over time and Germany had brought on Andre Schürrle and Mario Götze as late substitutes. Schürrle gets the ball on the wing and immediately crosses it into the box. Out of nowhere Götze appears and on the first touch, with his unfavoured left foot, volleys the ball and slides it past the keeper towards the far post – GOAL. What a brilliant play by brilliant players one thinks.
Now let’s look at these situation through the lens of decision making.
The coach of the youth team in the first two examples was me. I praised the player who “hogged” the ball for his great efforts in winning possession and then asked why he wouldn’t pass and eventually lose it again by running out of space or being swarmed by the opposing team. The answer was: “I don’t see the open players”. That may lead to the conclusion that his head is down and in practice we need to work on keeping the head up. But then we asked if he would do anything different if he did see open team mates. He hesitated, maybe trying to figure what we wanted to hear. It suddenly became clear that he actually didn’t know that he had to make a decision of what to do with the ball once he gets it, and that the decision should lead to a positive play. So at the next practice we talked to him and asked him to think about what he could do after he gets the ball. It took a few minutes but together we came up with dribbling, passing, shooting, depending on where on the field he was and what he saw. Now that he knew there were options he realized that he had to look up, not because the coaches told him, but because that would give him information to make a good decision. Now, this process didn’t unfold as clinical as I describe it here, nor did we use a lot of fancy words. But we did encourage the right actions during practices and now he passes and the team is more productive. As an aside, this boy was in his second year of soccer and is a multi sport, active young child.
The second example describes a boy who has been playing soccer since he could walk with very engaging and knowledgeable parents. He has much more experience and even at this young age developed a very quick decision making process.
In the World Cup game, decisions were made at a very high speed. It was expected for Schürrle to cross the ball. Götze at some point decided to make the run to the near post, probably because he perceived space and anticipated a cross. When the ball arrived he had to make a decision. The ball came in from his left at half height. Being right footed the normal decision might have been to receive the ball, control it with a touch or two, try to get it onto the right foot and get a shot off. But for some reason he decided to take it on first touch with his left foot. Perhaps he perceived a very small time window to execute anything as defenders were closing in, who knows. But what we do know is that, fortunately for Germany, Mario decided to take the ball on his weak foot on first touch.
Experience is a key factor in decision making. The more experience you have, the faster information is taken in and processed. That in turn allows the decision to act to be made faster.
Decision making speed can be trained, best in small sided games in small areas. This creates many new situations for players to deal with. The nature of soccer having so many moving pieces guarantees that no two games or even game situations are ever the same. Hence each situation needs to be evaluated by the players and the best decision needs to be made.
Place 6-8 goals (made with cones) randomly on half a field, field size appropriate to the age group being coached. Make two teams and instruct that goals can be scored from either side, but the ball must be passed through the goal and received by a team mate.
This is a little more fun and creative. Check the ability of your team to understand and enjoy the little game. Make a small field and split your team into two groups. Designate two players (or use two coaches/volunteers) to hold a piece of wood or plastic (broomstick, swimming “noodle”) above their heads, thus making a goal (people are the posts, the implement is the cross bar). Ask the “goal” to move randomly within the field. The teams must score through the moving goal. Enjoy.
4. Soccer Reaction Speed
is defined as the ability to react to a previous action as perceived by the player..
We typically think of reaction and its speed in the context of goaltenders making saves. And that is true as goalkeepers are trained to react to the motion of the shooter and the flight of the ball immediately after it leaves the foot. But all other positions rely on reaction speed as well. Although a player has perceived and anticipated the next play, and made a decision on what to do, the actual play may be somewhat different. Therefore one must react to the actual outcome of the anticipated play. A good example is a forward getting sent into the penalty box with a through ball. Both forward and passer perceive the space behind the defense. The passer anticipates the run and the forward anticipates the pass. The decision is to pass and the forward decides to shoot on goal on the first touch. At the moment of the shot a defender slides in from behind to block the shot. The forward now reacts to the new situation, controls the ball to the side past the defender, and then shoots on the second touch.
Many factors impact the reaction speed of a soccer player, arguably the most important one is aerobic fitness. As individuals become tired, the reaction speed slows. Other factors are the type of reaction, age, gender, motivation, emotional state, intensity of the situation, muscles involved, etc. So it is a very complex process and training has to be very specific to develop reaction speed.
Some soccer drills which are included in our books to improve reaction speed are:
Soccer Reaction Drill 1
Two players face each other with a ball in between them. Distance from player to ball is one step. On command by coach, both players try to pull the back with the sole of their foot.
Soccer Reaction Drill 2
Attackers and defenders are in a grid, attackers with a ball. The distance from grid to goal (with goalkeeper) varies depending on the age of the players. Attackers and defenders are numbered. I suggest to have a maximum of four attackers and defenders paired up, so you have attackers 1,2,3,4 and defenders 1,2,3,4. If you have more players set up additional grids. Inside the grid the attackers dribble the ball and the defenders follow them. The coach calls out a number between 1 and 4 and the attacker whose number is called immediately tries to leave the grid and go for a shot on goal. The defender who has been shadowing the attacker must react and try to prevent the shot.
Our books have many more reaction speed drills incorporated into practices. Our goalkeeper book, Soccer Goalkeeper Practices has a huge focus on reaction drills.
5. Soccer Movement Speed Without Ball
Vern Gambetta of Gambetta Sports Training Systems said it best:
“Game analysis has shown that the average player will be in possession of the ball only 2% of total match time. What happens the other 98% of the time?”
The answer is that players move, or at times rest. The average professional soccer player runs between 10 km and 14 km during a 90 minute game. That is a lot. Using the math above 9.8 km to 13.7 km are run without the ball. The running is a mix of many physical movements:
- Short sprints to receive a pass
- Long sprints to close down an attacker
- Short jogs when the play is shifting
- Long jogs to get up the field to take a corner kick
- Jumps for headers
- Side steps
- Running backwards
- Quick changes of directions to lose a defender
- Quick moves getting into position to receive a throw in
- Short steps or long strides
- Sliding for tackles
- Diving for goalies
- And many more
Next time you watch a professional game live or on TV try to discover all the various movements. I challenge you to make a list and see if you can come up with at least 20 different movements, not involving the ball. It will probably be easier in a live game attendance since on TV the cameras tend to focus on players with the ball.
Then watch a youth (U3 – U10) game. If you coach youngsters you will see it all the time. The kids may have some decent ball skill, and the ones who do tend to dominate the games. That’s because in a lot of places, and in the home, emphasis is on ball skill development. And that is good. You will also see a lot of kids not moving, moving too late, moving too soon, using long strides for short distances, or quick steps for long distances. Their timing to tackle is off, resulting in unintended fouls. Try teaching them a new move, such as a simple step-over, and you will see them tripping over their own feet for lack of coordination.
So how do kids develop from limited movement ability to professionals with precision movement?
The answer as always is practice. Specific movement drills are rare and it takes an excellent coach to build them into practices. We want you to be an excellent coach. Some Ideas:
- Mark a line on the field and ask players to walk from five meters distance towards the line. The goal is to step on the line with right/left foot and then go into a sprint accelerating off the foot that hit the line. Sprint for 10 m. To make it more fun, finish the sprint with a shot on net (resting ball, ball crossed by coach or player). Once they master this, ask to run to the line and step on it. You will likely see players get close to the line, stop, and adjust the length of the final step to hit the line. Challenge them to walk/run without stopping – suggesting they should think about spacing their steps.
- Shuffle two or three steps to the left/right and explode into a short sprint. Again, finish off with a shot.
- Jump and turn 180 degrees in the air. Right after landing sprint in the opposite direction you were facing before jumping.
- Have two players pass the ball to each other (give-go) in a small grid, suitable to the age of the players. Make sure that the ball is passed into space diagonally forward and that the receiving player times their run to arrive at the target spot at the same time as the ball.
We have many soccer drills in out books that incorporate soccer movement speed without the ball.
You will see tremendous improvement from beginning to end of season.
6. Soccer Movement Speed With Ball
Let’s recap the first five speeds of soccer we reviewed in earlier articles:
- Decision Making
- Movement Without Ball
Notice that the first three speeds are mainly mental, in other words speeds of thought. Reaction is built on the first three but eventually it leads to an action in response to some stimulus – re(sponse)action. The fifth speed is entirely physiological. None of them actually require a soccer ball, in fact, none of them in their pure definition are sport or soccer specific. Of course it makes sense for us to train them in a soccer specific context, using drills involving a ball and game situations.
The sixth soccer speed, action with ball, totally involves the mastery and control of the soccer ball. It is about executing all required soccer skills with a high degree of accuracy at maximum speed.
It is good that a player perceived the play, anticipated the exact end point of a pass, decided to meet the ball there, reacted to the actual pass, and out-sprinted the defense to get to the ball first. All this will be wasted if that player needs a few touches to control the ball, needs to adjust their body to get ready for a shot, and then hope to strike with pace and accuracy. It may work at very young ages but as players mature, competition increases, and the demands of the game grow, it will not be successful.
What is required is to execute ALL skills at maximum speed with accuracy. I always start with emphasizing accuracy first, then add speed. The ONLY way to improve skills is through repetition. Assuming reasonable natural aptitude for soccer, the kids who practice most and touch the ball most often will eventually turn into the best soccer players. Studies have shown that 4,000 ball touches a week, starting at age 5, will suffice. A typical 1.5 hour youth practice will have each player touch the ball at best 100 times. So even three practices a week isn’t even close. Our practices average around 500-600 touches per player if coached correctly. Still not even half of what is required in three sessions per week. This then leads to individual extra ball work for those who aspire to higher level soccer.
Here then are some suggestions for improving action speed with the ball.
Simple Passing Drill
Two players are 10 m (more or less depending on age and skill level) apart and pass the ball back and forth to each other, using two touches. The first touch is to receive/control the ball, the second touch is to pass it back. The key coaching points are:
- The ball never stops, i.e. the first receiving/controlling touch must be forward and in the direction of the second touch – the pass. The ball must still be in motion when it is struck for the pass.
- The players never stop. They move toward the ball for the first touch (attack the ball). The ball must be controlled close to the body such that the second touch can be played in a quick continuous motion, striking the ball with the second step. To be clear: Receive/control the ball with the right foot and move the ball forward. Take one step forward landing on the left foot and strike the ball with the right on the second step forward. After passing the player shuffles backwards to be in position to receive the next return pass.
- Ball must remain on ground and be passed in a straight line.
- Use the instep or laces to pass the ball. Instep for shorter distances and maximum accuracy, laces for longer distances and pace.
Count the number of completed accurate passes in two minutes. It will become obvious that accuracy pays dividends as any errant ball will waste precious time in retrieving it and resetting the drill.
Once you are satisfied with accuracy and speed, advance to one touch passes. There are countless variations and progressions of this basic soccer drill to simulate various game situations – long balls, off the ground passes, give and gos, etc.
This is just a ball control/passing example. Our books are full of drills addressing ALL soccer skills.
Parents often ask me what their children can do at home to improve their skills. One example I give them is the above drill, using a wall as the second player. Simply ask the child to pass the ball (could even be a plastic/rubber ball to protect the wall) against a wall such that it comes straight back at them. Attack the rebound, control, pass against the wall, retreat to starting spot – keep repeating. Set a specific distance to the wall and count the number of successful passes in two minutes. One progression may be to put a tape on the wall at ever increasing heights off the ground and ask the ball to hit the wall just above the tape.
This of course requires motivation and discipline, so find a way to make it fun and rewarding.
7. Soccer Game Action Speed
relies on all of the other components of soccer speed for its execution. It is the ability to make fast, effective decisions during the game in relation to technical, tactical, and conditioning possibilities. The capacity to process information quickly during a game is an individual player attribute. It can even vary within a player depending on the game situation or the emotional, physical, and psychological state of the individual.
In this series on soccer speeds I used a lot of examples from out-players and showed quite a few practice drills. In this last segment I will again offer a couple of practice drills, but I will use an example of a youth goalkeeper to demonstrate all seven speeds of soccer.
Practice Drill 1:
Set up two goals (A and B with goalkeepers), 15 m to 20 m apart. Have two players and one server at each goal. A player from goal A sprints towards goal B and heads a ball thrown by server at goal B on goal B from a distance of 5-7 m. Immediately after heading the player turns and sprints to a second ball played on the ground by the same server (from goal B) and takes a one time shot at goal A. Player goes back to his group at goal A. Now reverse direction.
Practice Drill 2:
Divide team into groups of nine players. Each group of nine is further divided into three teams of 3, each team wearing a different colour vest/shirt (say red, yellow, blue). Set up an area of 20 m by 30 m. The teams play a 6 v 3, let’s say red and yellow v blue. Red and yellow pass (coach determines maximum number of touches per player – i.e. one touch or two touch passing). Once blue steals the ball, they become one of the attacking teams and the team that last touched the ball before blue took possession now defends. Let’s say red last passed the ball and blue intercepted, it will now be yellow/blue playing v red.
Speeds of Soccer – Goalkeeping Example
The goalkeeping example I will use is a penalty kick.
Perception/Anticipation/Decision Making Speeds
The goalkeeper is in the “ready” position. She perceives everything the player who takes the penalty kick does. Deciphering body language she determines if the player is confident or nervous. A confident player is most likely to take a short run up and strike the ball hard. A nervous player may take some stutter steps and is unsure of where to place the shot and hence strike it with less than maximum power. The keeper then anticipates what kind of shot is likely to come. If she has information on the player’s PK preference that factors into the anticipated shot. I always teach my goalies to react to the penalty kick, not simply choose a corner to dive into. This means having anticipated the shot, she now observes the actual movement of the player, their planting foot placement and their body position/rotation before the ball is struck. The decision the keeper makes is where dive to, say lower right (from goalie perspective) corner, mid height left corner, or stay.
Having decided in the instant before the shooter strikes the ball, the goalkeeper now reacts to the actual shot. If the initial decision was correct, executing the dive to the right corner has a better chance of success than reacting to a shot that goes in the opposite corner. In our example the goalkeeper made the right decision, reacted to the actual shot and made the save. The save resulted in parrying the ball to the side and now she must react to the new situation and get ready for the opponents to attack the rebound. In goalie language this is called recovery.
Movement Speed Without Ball
Having been down on the ground and stopped the shot, the goalkeeper must now get up as quickly as possible, get ready for the shot off the rebound and go through the cycle of perception/anticipation/decision making again. She does this without the ball and saves the 1 v 1 situation against the opponent.
Movement Speed With Ball
Having gained control of the ball, the goalkeeper gets on her feet with the ball in her hands. She quickly runs to the top of the penalty box, all the while observing where her team mates are. Ideally she wants to quickly distribute the ball to start a fast break counter attack. Most likely the opponents anticipated a goal to be scored and aren’t thinking about transitioning to defense. The goalie’s team would react to the save and start making runs forward. If the runs are there the keeper can distribute the ball.
Game Action Speed
The execution of the save, the accurate distribution of the ball, and the transitioning sprints from watching a PK to attacking the opposite goal determine the game action speed. If all the other speeds are underdeveloped, this will be a slow process and the opponent will have ample time to get into a defensive position. If all speeds are well developed then the counter attack will be fast and lead to a scoring opportunity within a few seconds.
The difference between winning and losing lies in the seven speeds of soccer.