Rhythm and Soccer

This post comes from our official Soccer Conditioning experts at SoccerFIT Academy. I found it interesting and thought you might too.

Rhythm and Soccer: a theoretical coaching approach to effective movement

February 17, 2011 By Scott

Today’s post is written by John Lytton, a sports performance coach and former pro-soccer player with a facility in Charlotte, North Carolina. John founded Performance Unlimited in 2006, and has made it his passion to create an environment where athletes are constantly being challenged to progress as a player and a person. It is nice to see other facilities, whose philosophy and approach seem to line up directly with those of the SoccerFIT Academy.

In my opinion, there are 2 types of players: those who play “on” rhythm and those who do not.

Whether you are a team coach, a speed and agility trainer, or even an enthusiastic team parent, all fans of the game have their opinions about traits that they feel makes up a dangerous soccer player. For some, it’s their technical proficiency or their athleticism, for others it may be a player’s passion or their mental toughness that keeps them in the top spot and dangerous to the other team every time they play. These are all aspects of the game that every player at the highest level most certainly obtains…but for me, I believe the one feature that surpasses all others is a player’s ability to be “on” rhythm.

What do I mean by being “on” rhythm? I define it as simply: no wasted steps, no wasted touches.

It becomes the missing link between the technical, tactical, and physical side to form a personality that is unique to each player and team within a game. Without rhythm, each of these skill sets is dead, isolated and fruitless, but with rhythm they become dangerous tools to all soccer athletes.

The player that never stops running, never slowing down, yet never really speeding up, playing at one single pace is not on rhythm.

The player that receives the ball, turns, puts their head down, and attempts to dribble past 10 players between them and the goal when 7 teammates are open, is not on rhythm.

The team that does not even realize their midfield exists, playing a match of school-boy kickball from center back to forward, back to forward, without any possession…is not on rhythm.

Being on rhythm implies that you are both efficient AND effective. Your touches are only as many as needed to create the desired result. Your movements are spared until required, and then unleashed to maximum capability. Your tempo is varied so that you are not predictable to the opponent both on and off the ball. This is how the game should be played, and this is how we need to develop our young players.

Think about some of the great soccer countries of the world. Brazil, Spain, and Argentina, all of which have national dances that dominate their culture. The samba, the flamenco, and the tango are all famous rhythms that originated in these soccer countries and are taught to each child at a young age. Brazil, the most famous and successful soccer nation of all, has been said to have over 1,000 different dance styles local to the specific region of the country. In fact, there have been famous coaches in the professional leagues of Brazil that choose their players in certain positions according to where they were born and the dance that dominates the area from when they were young. Can you imagine being chosen for a club team based on your hip mobility because you grew up dancing the jitter bug after dinner? Well, they have won 5 World Cups, more than any other country in the world. Somehow, despite this, I don’t see our young American players taking up dance any time soon.

How can we utilize being on rhythm in our speed and agility work? Simply apply the phrase “No wasted steps” into your movement. Begin to understand the techniques and skills that allow you to be both efficient and effective when moving at high speeds.

Utilize rhythm in Decelerating/Change Direction by adding some of these skill sets to your drills:

  • Learn to change direction (in most cases) off of the inside leg, dropping the hips.
  • Always be in a balanced position with your feet underneath you, creating a good base to move into the next direction.
  • Don’t allow the forces of deceleration to pull your shoulders down, ultimately pulling your center of gravity forward.
  • Try and utilize these same checklists when you change direction with the ball, as well. How many touches does it take you to turn and move into another area of the field?

When accelerating, make sure that you train at different tempos (speeds) from every direction.  How many steps does it take you to get up to an appropriate speed to separate from the defender or to close the distance to an attacker? The less steps, the more efficient and effective you become. Try these tips in order to stay clear of wasting energy when working to achieve max acceleration:

  • Move your arms forward and back, from chest to clear the hips. Too much lateral movement will cause a need for wasted energy getting forward.
  • Keep your head still and neutral, as any extra movement or lifting of the chin causes inefficient pushing of the feet.
  • Make ground contact as much below the hips as possible to maximize the forces that will move you forward, quickly.

Challenge yourself to find ways to incorporate being on rhythm. It can be integrated into any situation on or off the ball, in any drill, or game.

Imagine yourself with more energy in the 90th minute, more separation from defenses, and less instances where you are turning the ball over. Watch players like Lionel Messi and to the untrained eye, he may seem lazy at times, when in fact he is observing the best opportunities to maximize his abilities. He is on rhythm.

John Lytton CSCS


For more information on John or Performance Unlimited you can visit his website at http://www.theperformanceu.com/. Or if you would like to see how we integrate these activities into our programs you can visit our page on SoccerFIT Clinics.

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