Today's post is from Scott Moody, our Soccer Conditioning Expert at the Soccer FIT Academy. This blog post got my attention because I've had many conversations with parents and other coaches on this subject.
There are an ever-increasing number of, 'Speed and Agility' trainers, camps and businesses. But all to often they are not soccer specific. To their credit, the players that they work with do get faster but it usually doesn't help them much (or as much as it could) with their ability to play soccer. Some track coaches have even tried to convince my players that running track would be good for their soccer speed/fitness/conditioning.
The point I've always tried to make is that not all fitness is the same. We need to train specifically to meet the demands of the sport or activity we're training for. Soccer players should not be interested in cutting their 40 yard dash time any more than a sprinter should be interested in improving their ability to change direction.
This article discusses testing and what tests we should be looking at for our soccer players. It also deals with making sure that the improvements we're striving for relate to the demands the players will face in the game. Without this connection the players are training to be good at the test and not to improve their soccer performance.
The most important question to ask when creating a testing package is, “What do I want to know?” Too often we sit down and try to come up with tests for speed, agility, strength, power, skill and fitness, and although this is ultimately what we want to know, we go about the process all wrong. Here’s what I mean…
A coach wants his players to train in the off-season to get in top shape for the upcoming season. He consults with a fitness coach and mentions that he needs his players to be stronger, faster and fitter (sound familiar?). The fitness coach looks through his list of lists of tests and comes up with the following tests for the off-season.
- 40 yd dash (test of speed)
- 20 yd shuttle (test of agility)
- 2 mile run (Cooper Test – aerobic endurance) or the Beep Test (aerobic endurance)
And while all of these tests are good in their own right (telling the fitness coach about his program) they are not sport specific at all to the sport and the development of the player, and this is where the disconnect begins…
Training sessions start and the fitness coach performs the pre-tests (which, by the way usually waste a day of training as the players stand in line waiting to test). After the pre-tests are performed the fitness coach spends the next 6-8 weeks preparing the players to perform better in these tests by working on form running drills, teaching foot work and placement of the agility drills, showing players how to improve their 40 time by having a faster start, vertical plyometrics for increased vertical jump, etc. a few months later the fitness coach performs the post test (which by now the players are fully prepared for – since they have been working on the technical skills required to perform well in the tests for weeks).
The test is completed and results are given back to the soccer coach. All players improve (as usual), but once they begin practice, the coach quickly realizes that his players are not in “soccer shape” and although speed may have improved in the testing, they are not necessarily better players.
Instead of asking, “What tests are out there?” we should have been asking, “What do the players need and how do we enhance their ability to perform better on the field?” Over the past few years we have performed a number of tests on several thousand players, and what we were looking for was simple…A way to develop GAME SPEED.
What tests can we perform in a simple session, so as not to take away from training, that will accurately tell us who is the fastest, fittest, most skilled player on the field. And how can we set this up to monitor their development over time (during the season, and from year to year).
What we came up with has now become our Game Speed Test for Soccer. I understand that the 40 yd dash is the “standard” in American Football, and I understand the importance of having comparative data, to gage the player’s speed. But if we are going to set up a test that has nothing to do with the game we play, and we are going to gage a players improvement on how he performs in this test, we are not training for soccer, we are training for track and field (athletics) where the sport IS the test.
The way I see it there are 3 main categories that we can train for to improve our play:
Each of these categories needs to be specific to the sport we play (in this case soccer). So we looked at the research and noticed that most of the high-speed runs in soccer are 25 yds or less, and most of these runs are made with a change of direction. We set up our cones at 25 yds and had the players run down and back (50 yds total distance – 25 yds down and back). We also wanted to compare speed with and without the ball (integrated skill), so we put 5 cones, 5 yds apart and had the players run down 10yds and back 5 yds (in a shuttle like manner) until they hit the last cone and then sprint back. We did this with and without the ball so that we could factor out a “skill-deficit”.
We realize that soccer is not a continuous aerobic sport, and there are brief periods of rest between every burst of activity. So instead of using a typical aerobic test like a 2 mile test or beep test, we came up with our Soccer Specific Interval Test which has increasing speed / agility demands at each level followed by a short (30 second) rest period. When we did a statistical analysis on this test and compared it to 20 yd dash, 20 yd shuttle, beep test and vertical jump we found that players that performed well in this test, also performed well in each of the speed/agility/power and endurance tests, while those that did well in the beep test only performed well in the beep test.
Finally we looked at skill. We realize that there is much more to being a skillful player than performing well in a few skills tests, and that the game is played primarily without the ball and requires a timing, precision and communication with teammates. But we needed to come up with some simple skills tests to see if the players had a solid foundation in dribbling, passing and moves/turns with the ball. So we performed a 5 cone (60 second) dribbling drill, a partner passing (1 touch passing at 10 yds for 60 seconds) and the agility test with a ball we mentioned earlier.
So What Tests Do We Run and How Long Does This Take?
We have over 600 coaches in over 30 countries running this test now and we have tested over 2000 players locally. The test has given us exactly what we wanted. Our best players (on the field) that play on the top teams score the best and our worst players that play on the lower teams score the worst. As players age, they typically have better scores, so we have been able to assess the training effects of players training in our system against the normal rate of development of players that don’t do any additional training.
This has given us a soccer specific test, which we can perform in a soccer specific training session with an entire team, without standing in lines. Here is a recap of the tests:
1. Soccer Specific Interval Test – Fitness
2. 5 Cone Dribbling Test (60 seconds) – Comfort with the Ball
3. Partner Passing Test (60 seconds) – Quick Passing
4. Moves and Turns – Speed with the Ball
5. Down 10 / Back 5 – Agility without the Ball
6. Down 25 and Back – Speed without the Ball
The 3 speed tests take approximately 2-3 minutes to test / per player if you are running 1 player at a time, but we use a Fusion Sport timing system that allows us to time 4 players a once so we can do a team of 16 in under 5 minutes. The passing and dribbling tests take about 2-3 minutes each to complete and the fitness test takes between 10 and 15 minutes to complete. So we can effectively test 2-3 teams at one time in less than 35-45 minutes (including warm up and instructions). Here is a short video of these tests with a few other tests thrown in for assessing quick feet and the timing of longer passes with looping runs.
On top of all this, the test is FREE on our website, with a FREE online data entry page that allows you to compare your scores against all the FEMALE and MALE players in our system. For the clubs and teams we consult with more closely, we also have a detailed comparison report that allows you to compare each player against their team and their age group along with a detailed report on each players improvement throughout the season.
For more information, enter your name and email address into the FREE Game Speed Testing Kit box on the side bar at the right on this page, or contact me directly at email@example.com