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.