When you start to seriously look at becoming a better athlete you must do things in the right order. This systematic progression may seem to progress at a slower pace than what you had in mind, but you will notice positive changes in your speed, strength, power, and confidence every step of the way.
First you have to check the wiring. This may be the most important part of athleticism, which is why we fix it first! You have to make sure that all movements are synchronized and that the timing and order of the contractions move the body efficiently. In simpler terms NO WASTED MOVEMENT. During this proprioceptive, coordination building period, you should be focusing on primary patterns of movement while making sure everything is in alignment and your basic awareness (or motor skill) is functioning at a high level.
The next step is to protect the body. You have already begun this process by fine tuning the basic athletic movements (jumping, landing, cutting, etc), and now you can focus on stabilizing theses movements (protecting yourself from injury). Injury prevention is such an overlooked part of athletic development. In this day of “results now” based thinking, everyone is under the gun to produce results quickly and this comes at the expense of the joints, thus the increase in injuries. But how quick are you going to be with tendonitis, ankle sprains, groin pulls, back pain, etc.? Spend the time to fix this first!
During this time of stabilization and strengthening, you should be trying to stabilize the landing, and deceleration movements. Work the focus from inside out. Focus on rehabilitation type exercises for the shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle, while tying them all together in balance based exercises that allow you to continue to focus on the firing patterns we established in Step 1.
At this point you want to start doing several things: Build a better conditioning base, Build a stronger structural base, and progress the mechanics of multi-directional speed.
The conditioning base will not only help your overall endurance, but it will also allow you to last longer in practice, workouts, etc., thus allowing you to train harder. It will also help with recovery, so that you can recover faster within each workout and between practices.
The strength base that you need to develop will set the stage for the power work that will come in STEP 4. The physical demands of plyometric training and explosive movement can take a toll on unprotected joints. You spent time in STEP 1 making sure that you move correctly to avoid injury; you spent time in STEP 2 making sure your joints are ready to receive an external load (landing, cutting, blocking, etc). Now in STEP 3 we protect the joints by adding a structural base of strength.
The goal of any program must be speed (speed of the bat, arm swing, straight ahead speed, etc), so you need to start working the mechanics of multi-directional, athletic specific speed during this step. This will ensure proper mechanics and firing patterns when we get to the next step and start to emphasize speed.
Now you will need to add speed to the coordinated, movement strength that you have developed. This is commonly referred to as POWER. Some programs refer to this step as “Strength Speed and Speed Strength” and that is exactly what you are doing. You are adding speed to strength and strength to your speed. Other programs call this “plyometrics” or “powermetrics”, but it all comes down to you being prepared structurally, neuromuscularly, and metabolically to handle the stress of these movements in order to train harder longer and come back next time feeling better.
The last step is nutrition. Once the body is set up you need to be able to maintain performances over the season. This requires a balanced diet, supplementation, and lots of water.
Scott Moody acts as the director of the SoccerFIT Academy in Overland Park, KS and has spent the last 10 years developing a curriculum that bridges the gap between the physical and the technical developmental aspects of soccer. His website, www.soccerfitacademy.com is designed to be an educational site that promotes discussion, offers ideas and breaks down current trends in research and training to offer suggestions as to how it can be applied to youth player development. Scott also is a featured speaker, author and research fellow for numerous organizations, equipment manufacturers and online training magazines.