Soccer-Related Articles

1. How to buy soccer equipment
2. Off-season conditioning for soccer
3. Train for endurance to give your team the edge
4. Soccer Speed – Part 1: Developing speed on the field is key to success
5. Soccer Speed – Part 2: The first 30 meters are the most important
6. Soccer Speed – Part 3: 11 tips for building lateral speed and agility
7. Critical Times
8. How to Achieve Soccer Excellence
9. High-Pressure Defense

1. How to buy soccer equipment
Soccer cleats (also known as boots) are different from other cleated sports shoes in that there is no cleat at the very front tip of the sole. If you are buying cleats for the first time please make sure they are specifically for soccer. Football or baseball cleats are not allowed to be worn.

I recommend buying cleats from a reputable sporting goods store that deals with soccer equipment and apparel (i.e., MC Sports, Dick’s Sporting Goods, or for the more serious player, Gazelle Sports on 28th Street). These types of stores typically have experienced sales staffs that can help you choose the appropriate cleat with the right fit. A soccer boot that fits well and provides the cushioning and support the player needs is their most important piece of equipment.

Shin guards now come in a number of sizes based on the height of the player. MHSAA rules require that all shin guards be NOCSAE approved. This certification of approval will be included on a tag or stamp on the shin guard. Most major suppliers of soccer equipment now manufacture shin guards that meet this requirement. These can be purchased at sporting goods stores or online from a number of suppliers if you know what size or style you want.

Loose fitting T-shirts and gym shorts are appropriate for daily practices. There are many moisture wicking fabrics available that will provide additional comfort for the player. For early season practices you will probably want to also have a heavier outer layer of clothing such as sweat pants and sweat shirts. Practice clothing is the option of each athlete; however they should meet the Belding Area Schools Athletic Handbook guidelines. Long sleeve shirts are often needed on colder days when we have matches. These under garments can only be black and should have no visible logo. Socks must be long enough to completely cover the shin guards. A pair of socks to be worn during matches will be issued to each player. Also, no jewelry (i.e., watches, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, etc.) may be worn during matches. Players are strongly advised to not get new “piercings” right before or during the season.

2. Off-season conditioning for soccer

By Bob Bradley

If you want to impress your coach when team practices start up again in the fall or spring, you’d better make good use of the off-season.

The long break between the spring and fall soccer seasons is a time to train smarter and more consistently than the players you will be competing against for a spot on the team, or the starting 11.

Your primary objective during this time should be to increase your soccer-specific conditioning level and to keep your skills sharp. Following are some guidelines for off-season training for soccer.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic fitness is the foundation of soccer-specific fitness. Without a strong cardiovascular system, you won’t have enough energy to play hard through an entire practice or game.

The best way to build aerobic fitness is through sustained, moderate-intensity movement. Two workouts per week lasting 30 minutes each is a minimum for increasing aerobic fitness. You can run, bicycle, swim, or do any of a number of other activities that you enjoy.


A soccer game involves more short, high-intensity movements than sustained, moderate-intensity movements. For this reason, off-season soccer conditioning should include some interval running.

The basic format for an interval running workout is an easy jogging warm-up followed by several high-speed running efforts separated by short rests, and finally a jogging cool-down. In general, the high-intensity intervals should last 20 to 30 seconds and the rest periods should be equal in length.

These workouts increase a player’s ability to recover between periods of hard running and play during games, so you’re not spent after the first half. One to two interval workouts per week would be adequate. You can combine aerobic exercise and intervals by extending your warm-up and/or cool-down.

Speed & agility work

Raw sprint speed is also an important ability in soccer. But soccer-specific speed is a little different from the kind of speed you need for track, because it often requires quick changes in direction and dribbling or kicking on the run.

To develop your soccer speed, first of all do a few short sprints of about 40 yards — some straight, others with sudden changes in direction. Try all kinds of different start positions, from standing to kneeling to facing backwards.

In addition, do some sprints while dribbling the ball. And lastly, do some agility drills, like creating a “slalom” course with cones or other markers and sprinting through it.

Strength training

Soccer players need strength for the many physical challenges the game demands. I recommend that soccer players emphasize “functional” exercises that strengthen movement patterns rather than individual muscles. The lunge is functional; the biceps curl is not.

Be sure to work on the whole body and not just the legs. Also, keep in mind that you need to strength-train at least twice a week to see results.


Stretching improves your flexibility and agility and helps prevent injuries. An active warm-up with some stretching is a good way to begin practice. A cool-down involving more sustained stretching is very important at the end of the training session.

Soccer players need to give special attention to their hamstrings, groin muscles, and calves.

Ball work

Do you remember those Nike TV commercials that show a player juggling a ball during his morning routine at home (showering, eating breakfast, etc.), beginning the moment he wakes up? Admittedly, this is a little extreme, but there is something to be said for spending a lot of time playing around with a soccer ball.

No matter what position you play, it is important that you have a high level of “feel” for the ball, and feel comes from nothing else but accumulating experience with a ball on your foot (all parts of it), not to mention your thighs, chest and head (and hands, if you’re a goalkeeper).

Young basketball players are often much better about messing around with the ball on their own than young soccer players. Follow their example!

Juggling is one good way to develop ball feel. But even better is kicking the ball against a wall and playing rebounds in different ways. The best thing about this type of practice is that most players enjoy it.


There is no substitute for playing the game. If you were to do only one kind of training for soccer, it would have to be scrimmaging. Game opportunities may be limited during the summer, but even a game of two-on-two with a few friends in your neighborhood is better than nothing.

A note about nutrition

Most youth players fail to take full advantage of all that is now known about fueling muscles during exercise. Players should use only a quality sports drink to supply all of their body’s hydration, energy, and nutrition needs while working out and playing.

Water does not replace the vital electrolytes lost in sweat and it does not provide energy. Other drinks such as sodas and fruit juices do not provide energy in its fastest-acting or most digestible form.

A good sport drink, because it contains electrolytes, hydrates players faster than water and provides plenty of carbohydrates to fuel the muscles and delay fatigue.

But not all sports drinks are the same. A new generation of sports drinks, based on the latest exercise nutrition research, also contains some protein, which has been proven to deliver energy to the muscles even faster than a conventional sports drink, resulting in better endurance. The ideal ratio of carbs to protein is 4:1.

In a University of Texas study, a 4:1 carbohydrate-protein sports drink (Accelerade) was found to increase endurance by 24% more than a conventional sports drink and by 57% more than plain water. Sports drinks with protein also accelerate recovery between workouts.

In a Springfield College study, two groups of athletes drank either a carbohydrate-protein sports drink or a regular sports drink during a 90-minute rest between a hard bike ride and a run to exhaustion. The athletes in the carbohydrate-protein group lasted, on average, 21% longer in the second workout.


As in any other sport, the recipe for success in soccer is equal parts talent and preparation. There’s not much you can do about talent but there is a lot you can do to prepare.

By training smarter and more consistently than other players (and fueling your training properly) during the off-season, you can move ahead of them while they’re not looking.
Bob Bradley is head coach of the NY/NJ MetroStars.

3. Train for endurance to give your team the edge

By Rick Guter, ATC, PT

This guy I know, Jeff, used to be a goal-scoring machine as a youth soccer player despite being rather uncoordinated. His teammates called him “legs” in reference to his gangly, awkward build. He had no touch, limited speed, and below-average creativity, and yet he averaged a goal a game as his team’s starting center forward thanks to the one virtue he did possess: He never got tired.

Jeff loved to run. Although just a kid, he ran about 20 miles a week on his own throughout the year, in addition to practicing with his team and playing informally with friends.

Jeff’s role during games was to just keep running until the opposing defenders fatigued, at which time he would inevitably find an opportunity to one-touch a crossing ball into the net. Most of his goals came late.

As it turned out, Jeff went on to become not a professional soccer player but an amateur marathon runner, but he set a clear example for all youth soccer coaches and players to heed: Don’t be fooled by the ball.

In terms of its physical demands, soccer shares more in common with marathon running than it does with other ball sports such as basketball and tennis. Soccer has a bigger playing field than any other major sport and less stoppage. In a typical game, a soccer player might spend a cumulative two minutes in possession of the ball and more than 30 minutes’ running, covering a few miles in the process.

For all of these reasons, there are few greater advantages one team can have over another than better running endurance.

Nevertheless, most coaches approach fitness as a potential liability rather than as a potential advantage. In other words, they seek to make their players fit enough to “survive” a full game rather than seeking to make them fitter than their opponents.

Finding this advantage does not require that you force all your players to run 20 miles a week or neglect skills and strategy in favor of conditioning work.

It requires only that you do the following five things better than the average coach does.

1. Build a solid base. Many coaches make the mistake of assuming that because soccer involves a lot of anaerobic work, soccer conditioning should be primarily anaerobic as well. While anaerobic training is essential for soccer players, this training is much more effective when preceded by a phase of fitness “base building” that is primarily aerobic in nature.

The improvements in oxygen consumption capacity, muscle glycogen storage, and fat burning efficiency that come with aerobic training are the foundation for later gains in strength, speed, power, and anaerobic endurance.

Ideally, this base phase should last at least six weeks and should take place during the off-season. Encourage your players to jog, bicycle, swim, skate, or undertake any other aerobic activity they enjoy on a regular basis during the off-season.

But you can’t assume all your players will heed this recommendation, so you should emphasize moderate-intensity running during the first few weeks of team training before you begin to emphasize anaerobic conditioning with drills such as shuttle runs.

2. Set concrete fitness goals. One of the important means that runners use to measure and achieve progress in their fitness is to run against the stopwatch. Very few soccer coaches set concrete fitness goals with their players, so here is a great opportunity for you and your team to get a step ahead of the competition.

I recommend creating a fitness test such as a shuttle run that you administer every few weeks with your team. For example, have each player complete a 300-meter shuttle run (in a 10-20-30-40-50 format), rest for five minutes, and then repeat it. Players will show progress not only by improving their overall times, but also and especially by narrowing the gap between their first and second run times.

3. Train for recovery. The major difference between soccer endurance and the kind of endurance marathoners need is that soccer players tend to sprint and recover repeatedly, whereas runners maintain a consistent, prolonged effort. Soccer endurance is all about being able to recover quickly from high-intensity bursts. Among the best ways to cultivate this ability is through a sprint workout in which you progressively lessen the duration of recovery periods during the course of the season.

For example, you might have your players run 10 × 15 meters, then 3 × 50 meters, and then 2 × 100 meters. Initially, allow them to rest three seconds for each second they spend running. As the season progresses, gradually reduce the recovery periods until your players are running more than they are resting.

4. Fuel the muscles properly. Most youth players fail to take full advantage of all that is now known about fueling muscles during practices and games. Players should use only a quality sports drink to supply all of their body’s hydration, energy, and nutrition needs. Water is not sufficient, and other sources of nutrition such as fruits and fruit drinks do not provide energy in its fastest-acting or most digestible form.

A good sports drink rehydrates players faster than water and provides plenty of carbohydrates to fuel the muscles and delay fatigue. An increasing number of professional players, including several members of the 2002 U.S. World Cup roster, are now turning to sports drinks that contain protein, as well. The addition of protein to a sports drink extends endurance even further and also reduces post-exercise muscle soreness.

Encourage your players to begin each game with as much sports drink in their stomach as they can tolerate without discomfort. Not only does greater stomach volume translate into more energy, but it also speeds the delivery of this energy to the muscles.

Players should also start the second half with a high stomach volume, and should get a gulp from the sideline at every available opportunity during stoppages in play.

5. Simulate game conditions. Rather than organize low-energy practices wherein players are frequently “waiting their turn” to participate in some drill, try to make each practice session as game-like as possible. Include scrimmage time in each practice and make an effort to include a running component in most of the drills you select.

Keep in mind that larger fields of play and small-sided scrimmages facilitate running more than their alternatives. If your players expend just a little bit more energy in each practice than other teams do, they will wind up being substantially fitter on game day.

Rick Guter is the Team Physiotherapist and Athletic Trainer for the D.C. United soccer club. He has twice been named MLS Trainer of the Year and has served as Head Athletic Trainer for nine U.S. National Teams. Rick has also worked as a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Vanderbilt Sports Medicine Center. He graduated magna cum laude in athletic training from Arizona State University and later earned his physical therapy degree from the University of Central Arkansas. Rick is also a competitive amateur triathlete.

4. Soccer Speed – Part 1: Developing speed on the field is key to success

By Dr. Donald Kirkendall

Regular readers of this column will attest to my bias that the fitness component most important to success is soccer-specific endurance: a good aerobic capacity to speed recovery from fast running.

What I haven’t addressed is the “fast running” part of that statement speed. It’s a topic that University of North Carolina coach Elmar Bolowich suggested that I address.

In his travels, he sees many teams that make little attempt to develop speed, and he thinks players and coaches want ideas of how to improve speed.

In the mid-1950s the nature of the game changed forever when the great Hungarian national team destroyed, dismantled and wholly embarrassed England 6-3, in Wembley; a game that was not as close as the score indicated. Observers of that game commented on the remarkable speed and work rate of the Hungarians.

The Hungarians had four or five players who could run 100 meters in 11.5 seconds or less! I first started paying really serious attention to the World Cup in 1974 and read that all the field players from the former East Germany could run under 11 seconds for the 100 meters. Nowadays, 11.5-second speed might not be fast enough for a good high school team.

The game I see today is played so much faster than the game I played. Is that a result of a better athlete, better coaching, or something else? I would like to think it is the first two, but I also see coaches using the free-substitution rule to encourage players to run as fast as they can, get tired and then be pulled for a rest.

So players have the mindset to sprint whenever they are on the field. If you have watched recent NCAA men’s finals, you have seen teams that try to play at a high pace all game vs. teams that play a more controlled pace and use speed selectively, like past winners Wisconsin, St. John’s and UNC.

Speed is an elusive creature. Is it innate or can it be developed? What goes into the concept of speed? The first player to the ball may not be faster than the opponent; some people just consistently get there first.

The great Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics was never to be confused with a sprinter, but he always seemed to be in the right place. Was it speed a foot or speed of thought, or both?

Ajax uses their TIPS plan to evaluate 16-year-olds: technique, intelligence, personality and speed; and they consider speed as the trait with the least potential for improvement.

The University of Pittsburgh’s coach, Joe Luxbacher, describes speed as having seven components:

1. Perceptual speed: using the senses to decipher various elements of game

2. Anticipation speed: predict what will happen before it happens.

3. Decision-making speed: making decisions in the shortest amount of time.

4. Reaction speed: ability to react to some action by teammate or opponent.

5. Speed without the ball: maximum movement speed.

6. Speed with the ball: movement with the ball at highest possible speed.

7. Game action speed: make effective tactical decisions to changing conditions.

If you look closely at this list, you will see that much of the different aspects of speed are related to speed of thought and decision-making. These are things that can only be developed by playing the game.

Yes, the game is the best teacher, but you can help it a bit. It is fairly easy to modify small-sided games to require players to recognize, anticipate, decide, react and act more quickly. Just reduce the size of the field putting more players in a smaller space, so defenders are on the attacker quicker.

This will force both offense and defense to speed up the thought process. 6v6 in half a field can be speeded up dramatically by playing now in the penalty area. Obviously, skills need to be very good to be successful (the T of the Ajax TIPS program). In games like this, the opponent grabs a missed trap very easily.

If you don’t have good skills, you can’t play in a game like this. And much of defensive tactics today is geared toward reducing the size of the field and putting more players in a small space.

Physically, development of speed is largely based on improvement in running form. And from experience, I can say that the running form of soccer players will never be confused with that of a sprinter in track. Speed specialists like Vern Gambetta think running speed can be thought of as combinations of starting speed, acceleration, top-end speed, deceleration and matching speed with teammates (think of the running back that out runs his blockers in football).

In addition, remember that agility and speed are two different animals. The fastest players are not necessarily the most agile, and the most agile may not be the fastest. Elements of agility and lateral speed involve recognition, reaction, decisions, balance, footwork, change of direction, and avoiding obstacles.

Over the next two parts of this series, I will address the concept of speed and how it can be improved. Realize that what you will see are suggestions to improve specific aspects of speed by improving the mechanics of running.

5. Soccer Speed – Part 2: The first 30 meters are the most important

By Dr. Donald Kirkendall

Last time, I introduced the concept of speed being part mental (e.g. decisions and anticipation) and part mechanical (running form).

Straight-ahead speed has been broken down by conditioning specialists like Vern Gambetta as starting speed, acceleration, top speed, deceleration and cooperative speed.

Starting speed is largely a response to some stimulus that involves a series of cognitive processes. For example, you are covering a striker. Their midfielder sees your striker, looks down, and strikes the ball. Who gets to the ball first?

In order to intercept this pass, you have to make a number of decisions quickly: What space is the striker moving to? Is the ball played to feet or space? How fast are they moving? What is your speed? When do you have to start running to beat them to the ball? How about the pace and spin on the pass? How do you time your response to the pass in relation to the striker’s speed? Is the ball on the ground or in the air?

If it’s in the air, you have to plot out the flight of the ball and determine where on the field and your body (head, chest, foot, etc) you plan to first contact the ball then add in the opponent’s skills and speed.

Then factor in what you will do with the ball. Control? Head the ball? One-touch? Two-touch? Shot? Clear? To whom/where?

All this and more is done in fractions of a second, every time something changes with the ball. These are all part of those mental features that end up being speed of thought and reactions. These aren’t reflexes; these are reactions – not the same thing.

A reflex, like the knee-jerk reflex, doesn’t involve the brain. A reaction does, because there is input from many places to process and interpret and then decide on a coordinated response.

How does one get better at this? Deliberate practice and repetition. Some say the real difference between the elite and the not-so-elite is that the elite players have practiced skills so much that the execution of the skills is second nature, performed on a subconscious level, so to speak, that lets the conscious part of the brain focus on tactics, not skill.

But the running part can be improved. This too is mental because improvement in running speed is largely changing how you run the skill. In soccer, improvement in top-end sprint speed is not all that important.

Why? Look at 100-meter sprinters. These runners don’t reach top speed until the middle third of the race; it takes 30 meters to reach top speed. In soccer, full, all-out sprints (i.e. over 30 meters) are pretty rare. Most runs are of 30 meters or less.

What that means is that the time spent teaching one to increase top-end sprint speed might be time better spent on other lessons like the first 30 meters where the player is reacting and accelerating, but never quite reaching top speed. Thus, the initial first steps are important.

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

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 hams, 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 don’t 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.

6. Soccer Speed – Part 3: 11 tips for building lateral speed and agility

By Dr. Donald Kirkendall

Watch any soccer game and you will see players who can cover distances very fast and others who seem to be able to navigate congestion in the penalty area with ease. The player who is accomplished at both is rare.

Numerous research reports show that agility and speed are different characteristics.

As with speed, agility has many components, including:

• Recognition/reaction: recognize the situation and react ASAP
• Decision-making speed: moving as fast as possible while assessing game situations
• Balance/body awareness: controlling and knowing where all body parts are all the time
• Footwork: full control of the feet
• Change of direction: rapid and accurate changes of direction
• Obstacle avoidance: react quickly to obstructions in running path
• Improving agility improves quickness both on and off the ball, body control and prevents injury.

Footwork is critical to agility. The common error is a short back step before moving in the desired direction, which lengthens the total reaction time. The more proper “first steps” are the cross-over step (used for great distances, the back foot crosses over the front foot while the main push is from that front foot); open step (the lead foot steps out, not too far, and the push comes from the back foot); jab step (the lead foot steps slightly back and turns in desired direction (the push comes from the back foot); and the drop step (the lead foot drops straight or diagonally back while the push comes from the back foot).

I could never do the drop step, a European teammate in college said I had American feet. Picture this: You are facing the dribbler who manages to give a feint to your right and go around you to your left. My European friend would take the feint. Now his right foot is out where he took the feint and the left foot is back; basically the starting position of the drop set. Instead of running around this foot placement (like me), he would just swivel on his feet (no steps) as they were planted and end up with the ball at his feet. Try it. It works.

Quick recognition of the situation, drop step, turn, and there is the ball. My friend could do this so quickly that he would get called for obstruction (by the American refs who didn’t understand the move) and then get very mad.

Our college team once played a seriously good English team. One of the many skills they demonstrated as they destroyed us was the ability to cut in one step, it took us three or four steps to try to keep up.

So what kinds of activities can help improve agility? Try some of these:

1. Partner holds a ball in each hand and faces the player. The partner drops both balls and the player must control both balls before the second bounce.

2. Shadow runs: Player in front runs the field with a player shadowing every move. Encourage the front player to change speed and direction often. Also do this with each facing each other, where the shadow player does the opposite of their partner.

3. Jumping rope is great. Try some of these variations: typical two-foot jump, stride jumps (swap forward foot on each jump), crossover jumps, single-leg jumps.

4. Line steps: Stand to the side of a field line or rope, step over the line with near foot and then the trail leg as fast as possible, then back. See how many can be done in 10 seconds. Make it harder by having the players do this over a cone or ball.

5. A speed ladder is a vinyl ladder you roll out on the field. Have players run through (always as fast as possible) with one foot in each space. Then do two-foot jumps forward. Step sideways on the left and step the right foot in, then the left foot in, then out to the right, then back to the left and so on. Lateral crossover steps. Shuffle sideways straight through the ladder leading with the left foot, then back leading with the right. Some ladders have different distances from rung to rung and that is fine. A speed ladder is a good investment.

6. Put players in the “ready position,” and on command the players immediately hop and turn 90 degrees, plant, then immediately return back to the front. On the next command, turn to the other direction. Football players do this a lot.

7. Set up your corner flags in a slalom course (not always in a straight line). Players run fast through the course, emphasizing the plant of the outside foot and cut tight around the flag. Make sure girls run this low, bending at the hips and knees.

8. 5-10-5 shuttle: Going sideways, each player runs as fast as possible five yards to the right, 10 yards to the left, then 5 back to the right.

9. Icky Shuffle: Use the speed ladder and stand to the left to start. Always lead with foot next to the ladder. Step in with the right, follow with the left, then out to the right with the right foot, then into the next space with the left, follow with the right, then out with the left, etc. Do it yourself, looks like the Icky Shuffle, if you remember Cincinnati Bengals running back Icky Woods’ touchdown dance. Try this going backwards, too.

10. How about one foot landing in the space, hopping to two feet out, then back in, landing on the other foot, and so on.

11. Back to # 6. Now do the jumps turning 90 degrees, and back to the front, then 180 degrees and back, then 270 degrees, finally 36o degrees. Do this in both directions.

There are literally hundreds of drills one can do to improve agility. Basketball and football coaches are good resources, as are numerous books on conditioning. Check you local library or bookstore.

7. How to Achieve Soccer Excellence

• Always be the first to congratulate a teammate when she makes a successful play.
• Treat every practice as if it’s a championship game.
• Never underestimate an opponent.
• Never quit in the middle of a play and never give up before a game is over.
• Always know the score and how much time is left in a period.
• Set up and play pick-up games.
• Do not make excuses.
• When running sprints, always touch the line and run through the finish.
• Care more about the team’s performance than your personal performance.
• Pursue excellence, not results – results will follow.
• Know and accept your role on the team.
• Show class.
• Bury an opponent while you can.
• Never say, “I can’t” – instead say “Not yet.”
• Dominate the loose balls.
• Believe the magic of being part of something bigger than yourself.
• Don’t cheat in practice – earn a reputation with your teammates for your honesty and integrity.
• Have fun.
• When you lose the ball on a turnover, explode to win it back immediately as that is the easiest time to win it back.
• Play a lot of 1 v 1.
• Realize that you need to have an enthusiastic, supportive bench to have a great team.
• Talk out your disagreements with your coach privately after practice.
• It’s the journey, not the destination.

8. Critical Times

Taking advantage of these time frames could be the difference
The most dangerous times during a soccer game are the first five minutes of each half, the last five minutes of each half and the first two minutes after any goals are scored.

The reasons for why these time periods are important are well understood but not actually well utilized. The reason the first five minutes of the game are so important is that most teams are unprepared for the start of the game. They tend to use the first few minutes of game play essentially to finish up their warm-up and feel the other team out. It’s quite similar to a boxing match. In most boxing matches, the fighters dance around for the first round or so to get a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their opponent.

Then Mike Tyson burst onto the scene. While the other boxer was trying to find his rhythm, Tyson would explode from his corner at the bell, attack and score a knockout. I’m not a boxing fan (and certainly not a fan of Mike Tyson), but the philosophy behind this strategy makes sense. While the other team is trying to break a sweat and get a feel for the game, a smart, well-prepared team can try to push forward aggressively and score quickly to set the pace right away. The team that comes out truly ready to play in the first five minutes can have a tremendous advantage.

The last five minutes of the first half also is an important period because it sets the tone for halftime. By pushing hard during this period, it can do a lot of psychological damage to the opponent. In order to do this, a team must be both physically and mentally fit.

The first five minutes of the second half are just as important. The opponent frequently has been sitting down during halftime and is not completely stretched out for the second half. Jumping on them early before they are ready to play can negate anything they have been told by their coach at halftime. I have always believed this period is one that can most be controlled by the coach. By talking to the team during the first part of the intermission, then getting them back up to stretch some and then actually run allows them to be ready to play when the second half whistle is blown.

The last five minutes are important for obvious reasons. The main way to prepare for this time period is through good conditioning.

The reason the period immediately after a goal is important is that the team who was scored on frequently will be down and may be engaging in finger-pointing to assign blame for the goal. Attacking when they are done will allow you to be on the offensive when they are most vulnerable. This is why it is so common to see a second goal scored immediately after the first. The team that scored the goal also is vulnerable because it sometimes still is reliving the goal and isn’t always mentally ready to play immediately after the score.

Teams that both understand the important times of a game and can take advantage of them will be more successful than teams that don’t. Keep in mind that while many people know some of these time periods are important, very few actually do anything about it. Making a concerted effort to step up play during these important time periods can make a difference.

9. High-Pressure Defense

Organized forwards and midfielders can win the ball back quickly

By Lawrence Fine

Forwards and midfielders play a critical role in a high-pressure defense and can win the possession back quickly if they attack in an organized manner.

This discussion assumes that the team is playing a 4-4-2 system. I consider it to be the most commonly used formation, and there is not much of a difference between this formation and others like 3-5-2.

If the keeper has the ball for the opposing team and throws it out to his or her right marking back, the defending forward closest to the ball should make a run toward it that is bent from the middle out. By approaching the ball at this angle, the opponent is forced to take the ball down the line, which is the intended result. The first defender’s main function is to make sure the ball does not get played back to the keeper or anyone who can switch it around the back. The second forward’s primary responsibility is to go back and towards the middle to help clog up the middle.

The opponent with the ball will approach the sideline, thinking that the defending forward has been beaten, The attacker may not realize that he or she is doing exactly what the defending team wants, creating a situation that allows the outside midfielder to step up and double team the ball.

The key here is that the outside midfielder can’t step up until coverage behind is provided by either the marking back or a center midfielder. When this coverage is in place and communicated, the outside mid steps into the double team while the covering player steps to the attacking outside midfielder. At this point, the player with the ball is neatly boxed in, with the outside midfielder blocking forward progress and lateral options eliminated by the near-side defensive forward and the touchline. The only two good offensive options are to try to split the approaching defenders by passing into the middle of the field or to kick the ball aimlessly downfield. To prevent a splitting pass, the inside midfielders and stopper, along with the second forward who came toward the middle and back, must mark the nearest opponents to remove any middle-field options. Any attempted splitting pass should be negated this way. This leaves the aimless long ball as the only viable outlet for the player with the ball.

While all of this shifting is taking place, the backs must step up, which allows them to compress the field and win any errant passes. By stepping up (it’s extremely important for the keeper to step up as well in order to handle balls played over the defenders’ heads), all balls should be won. At the very least, the tactic forces the the attacking players to be running in the wrong way, away from their goal, in order to stay in an onside position. The outside midfielder on the opposite team should be back and toward the middle since there is no way for him or her mark to receive this ball. This outside midfielder actually becomes a second sweeper. If the ball-side marking back is the one to step up to the outside midfielder’s mark, the sweeper will have stepped over to cover his or her mark, making it vital that the outside midfielder from the opposite side of the field drops back and offers defensive support.

If the opponent with the ball is able to play the ball back to her keeper, both forwards must get back and to the middle. Chasing the ball in this situation is ineffective and leaves the team exposed, unless there is an errant pass back.

When the forwards make their bending runs, they must do so at full speed. Being under control during the run is important, because mistiming it can cause tremendous chaos for teammates. However, if the opponent has received the ball with his or her back to the field, the forward and outside midfielder have an opportunity to pressure the ball with an aggressive run, since the chances are slim that the possessing player will have time to turn, find an open player and successfully move the ball out of pressure. Know when to take chances and when to play safe.

There are two keys to high-pressuring in the offensive third of the field. The first is to practice it a great deal. Even more important is good communication. If one player steps up and teammates aren’t prepared for the maneuver, disaster will strike. With patience and good communication, this is an extremely effective way of making the quick transition from defense to offense.

Editor’s Note: Lawrence Fine produces, an online resource for a variety of tips, ideas and newsletters related to soccer coaching. A member of the NSCAA Website Development Committee, Fine also serves as volunteer assistant coach for an NCAA Division I men’s team.