Soccer is a game of speed. There’s no two ways about it: fast footwork, fast reactions and fast decisions are crucial skills on the soccer field.
But that doesn’t mean only the speediest players are destined for success — just that their speed gives them a boost in the race to the top. Thankfully (for those of us not born with rockets in their cleats), speed is also something that can be learned. Maybe not Usain Bolt speed, or Alphonso Davies speed, but every aspiring player should strive to get faster and faster.
Whether you’re a turbo-boosted winger looking to maintain your edge or a mountain of a centre-back (like me) hoping to gain some ground, the Trace guide to building soccer speed below will help take you one step closer to the top.
Speed Over Stamina
Stamina and endurance are important, no doubt. But there are different types of endurance, and players who can run ten miles without flinching aren’t necessarily the most prepared for the realities of a soccer game.
That’s because soccer doesn’t require nonstop motion. On the field, you aren’t moving constantly — at least, you aren’t moving the same way constantly. Players stop. They walk, they jog, they run, they sprint, and they jump. The pace and the rhythm of the game dictate the intensity of your motion, and you need to be prepared for whatever the game demands.
Players often turn to cross-country and long-distance running as a way to get more fit before (or during) their soccer season. But running for a long distance at one speed simply doesn’t translate to the soccer field, and coaches don’t want players who can jog around the field constantly. They want players who can change gears in an instant and turn up the heat, from the first minute until the last.
To cultivate that endurance, players should incorporate high-intensity bursts of sprinting into their workouts. Sprinting builds fast-twitch muscle fibers, making you more powerful, more explosive, and ready to pounce when the time is right.
Agility Over Acceleration
There are times on the soccer field where your top speed matters, like sprinting onto a long ball or making an overlapping run. But most of soccer happens in smaller areas, with tighter margins. And that’s where agility reigns supreme.
Agility isn’t about how fast you get to your destination — it’s about how quickly you can change directions, with lateral movement. And in soccer, as we all know, change is constant. Increased agility benefits players every second they’re on the field: defending one-on-one, pouncing on loose balls in the box, even playing a one-two in midfield. Being agile means being explosive, with and without the ball.
There are countless ways for players to become quicker (rather than faster — an important distinction). The best, and in my experience most fun, is with speed ladders. Even young players love the challenge and the intricacy of new patterns, and they help cultivate improved balance and coordination. Those benefits also promise to help boost dribbling skills.
Players should also look to incorporate vertical jumping drills — using anything from jump rope to plyometric boxes — in their agility workouts. Movement on the soccer field happens in every direction: forward, backward, left, right, up, down, and everything in between. By working to be quicker in every direction, you prepare yourself to react to anything that might happen on the field.