Being a soccer performance coach for five years has led me to be bombarded with outrageous questions from parents in regards to their child’s training and development.
Here are some I’ve been asked over the years:
1) Can you turn my 10 year old professional when she grows up?
2) Can you train female specific so my daughter doesn’t get an ACL tear?
3) Can you make my 10 year old kid faster for tryouts, which are in 5 days?
Sure, I could make broken promises and make parents believe I’m a magical wizard that shits sparkles and gets kids faster within a week’s time.
However, as I’ve evolved as a professional, I’ve adopted a non-bullshit approach to youth soccer development. Lying to parents about my services makes me a terrible ambassador to performance training. Oh, and an asshole who steals money.
Look: any coach that promises rapid speed development is a charlatan. And if you aren’t willing to work with an honest trainer and be patient, the onus is on you. I’ve gotten rid of countless clients who didn’t understand the importance of putting in the work and being patient in the process.
This segues me to my next knowledge bomb: speed development isn’t sexy. It’s not black and white. It’s not a one-size-fits-all-and-your-kid-will-beat-everyone-to-the-ball-because-their-trainer-hit-them-with-some-witchcraft-training.
Speed development is consistent work over time within the components of coordination, mechanics, strength, and power. I’d be remiss not to mention that some of it is genetic, and some kids will be naturally faster than yours, without having to put in any real work.
First, let’s discuss growth and maturation.
Especially for youth athletes (pre-adolescent), we must train with care to ensure they’re in alignment with their natural, physiological development, and not getting injured along the way. Want your young one to not jack up their body in the name of speed?
Well, understand growth and maturation first, which can be separated into three age ranges:
– 6-11 years old: Foundation Phase
– 12-15 years old: Development Phase
– 16-19 years old: Performance Phase
Believe it or not, I’ve had a plethora of parents ask me to make their under-10-year olds faster with the bat of an eyelash. Like by tomorrow. Like in the next 10 seconds. Like I’m already out of time.
During the foundation phase, kids are still developing and may not see any real performance changes until they reach adolescence. They’re still learning the proper neural connections to execute contralateral movements (jogging, sprinting, accelerating), as well as acquiring intermuscular and intramuscular coordination to be able to sprint at maximal speeds.
Which is why with this age group, it’s best to introduce them to ladder drills as warmup, coordinated movements as resistance training (crawling, bodyweight lunge and squat variations) and plyometrics (hops, bounds, and jumps in all planes of motion).
Here are a few drills to do with your youth athletes (pre-adolescent):
I believe ladders do have their time and place in youth training. They can serve as an excellent “neural” warm up to help young ones develop fast connections between their footwork and mind. Please notice: ladder drills should be done with purpose, as seen above. An external cue I like to use is can you move your feet faster than I say “chop chop?” Essentially, you want your munchkin athletes to “chop” the ground as fast as they can. It ends up turning into a fun, competitive game that young ones enjoy.
In the other corner, there’s “resistance training” for youth athletes that helps to build total body reflexive strength without putting them at risk for injury under a barbell.
Who would’ve thought getting all fours would be the way to improve coordination and speed?
Crawling is a staple movement to ensure youth athletes are building proper reflexive strength – opposite limb movement that is tied together through the anterior and posterior core. I wrote a piece on crawling here that gives a myriad of variations to try and explains the neurological benefits of resetting your body back to the infant days.
So is that all that needs to be done? Can this all come into fruition within a week? Do you really think exercise physiology works that way?
It doesn’t. Muscles take time to adapt, and if your kid is behind in maturation compared to his peers, speed development may take longer than normal.
As an example, I currently work with two girls who are the same chronological age: 12 years old. One girl has not grown, while the other shot up 2 inches in a year. Even though they have the same age, they differ in biological maturity. The girl with the higher biological age has developed the fastest speed and the strongest body composition on her team, as well as adapted better to new training stimuli given by me. The other girl, however, still needs time to mature and grow into her body before she can truly reap the benefits of speed training.
With that said, I’m not a Genetic Manipulator. I’m a Strength Coach. ;-O
The last step: power.
Once mechanics, coordination, and strength are addressed, it’s time to train for power. This step in the speed process may not happen until the Development or Performance Phases of maturation, especially with more advanced power training – Olympic lifts, medicine ball variations, and box and depth jumps.
However, munchkins under 12 years should be introduced to basic leaps, hops, and bounds to train the stretch shortening cycle (SSC), and get fast twitch muscle fibers firing.
Here are a few drills to try:
The goal with plyometric training is to minimize the time between the concentric and eccentric phase, also known as the amortization phase – the most critical phase in power and speed production.
Okay, so where’s the research on all this?
Admittedly, I hate reading research. But for the sake of this post and getting soccer parents off my back, here we go:
In a study done by Marques et al. in the Journal of Human Kinetics, 52 young male soccer players playing at the national level (aged 13.4 ± 1.4 years, body mass 53.4 ± 11.7 kg, body height 1.66 ± 0.11 m) took part in the study. Half of the group underwent the plyometric and sprint training program in addition to their normal soccer training, while the other half was involved in soccer training only. The plyometric training group enhanced their running (+1.7 and +3.2%) and jumping performance (+7.7%) significantly over the short period of time, while the control group did not (Marques et al. 2013).
Another study done by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research had 41 female basketball, soccer, and volleyball players (age, 15.3 +/- 0.9 years; weight, 64.8 +/- 9.96 kg; height, 171.2 +/- 7.21 cm) undergo 6 weeks of training that included 4 main components (plyometric and movement, core strengthening and balance, resistance training, and speed training). The trained athletes demonstrated increased speed in a 9.1-m sprint that improved from 1.80 +/- 0.02 seconds to 1.73 +/- 0.01 seconds (Myer et al. 2005).
You can see other studies on the benefits of long term plyometric training programs for prepubescent athletes here and here and a recent article published in 2017 that serves as an ode to maturity and speed development in youth here.
I understand all of this research is a mouthful, but it’s okay to jump to the “Results and Findings” section. I didn’t do that or anything. ;-O
One more thing: what I love most about all of these studies is resistance and plyometric training programs for sprinting speed last a minimum of 6 weeks. In order for kids to reap the physiological benefits of speed training, they must train consistently a few times a week for 6 weeks to make speed gains. There’s also merit in performing contrast training. In others words, everything along the speed, strength, and speed-strength spectrum.
Alright, I’m done. For someone who wrote a post on speed, this was a slow, marathon of an article.
Anyway, hope it helped.
References (because I’m a nerd):
Myer, G.D., Ford, K.R., Palumbo, O.P., Hewett, T.E. (2005). Neuromuscular training improves performance and lower extremity biomechanics in female athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Marques, M.C., Pereira, A., Reis, I.G., van den Tillaar, R. (2013). Does an in-season 6-week combined sprint and jump training program improve strength-speed abilities and kicking performance in young soccer players? Journal of Human Kinetics, vol 39 (1).