Quick Tips for Developing Athleticism in Practice

by | March 13, 2014, 3:46am 0

If you are a coach or captain you have limited practice time and need to make the most of it every day. You know how to teach the skills and strategy, but chances are you’re not an expert sprint coach. Maybe you do the same types of conditioning your high school soccer coach made you do. Is that what’s best for your team? You don’t know, but as a busy coach you don’t really have time to think about it.

Below are a few tips about making the most of your time with your team when it comes to their athletic development.

The Warm-Up

A well planned warm-up serves three purposes:

  1. It prepares athletes for practice or competition.

  2. It reduces long-term injury risk by regular use of functional mobility work and/or prehab exercises.

  3. It increases athleticism with exercises that double as running form or agility drills.

A well-planned warm-up has three parts:

Part 1: Increase blood flow and heart rate. This is what the lap around the field has traditionally been used for. You could do worse, but you could also do better. Start with some low intensity movements in all directions. Instead of a slog around the field, how about low intensity skipping, shuffling, or backwards running?

Part 2: Move joints through a full range of motion. Use a variety of mobility drills and dynamic stretching. Focus especially on the hips and shoulders. Gaining and keeping hip mobility is important for sprint speed and agility. Shoulder mobility is of course important for throwing performance. Every warm up should include lunges and inchworms or pushups.

Part 3: Prime the nervous system. This is the part that many teams get wrong. The goal here is to get everything firing in a coordinated manner. It is this portion of the warm up that reduces injury risk for the upcoming practice or workout.

Part 3 movements require short bursts of high intensity movement. Doing high knees or butt kicks for the entire length of the end zone may be good at low to medium intensities for Part 1, but Part 3 exercises should be 10 seconds or less. High knees, butt kicks, and cariocas at high speed with short ground contact times for 10 yards, not 20. Power skips for distance, frog jumps, and five step accelerations are all good.

Many of these drills (like high knees and butt kicks), done with focus, double as running form drills which influence an athlete’s movement patterns over time. Do not rush from one exercise to the other. Ideally, you want about 20 seconds rest between each exercise so that you can perform all movements at maximum intensity.

Quick Tips:

  • Parts 1,2, and 3 do not have to be entirely sequential.

  • Young players tend to lose focus between exercises in part 3. To prevent a loss of focus but still get the needed pause for high intensity work, consider placing mobility drills between exercises in part 3. Two or three reps of things like t-spine rotations, karate hips, and goddess squats are all good options that don’t take much time.

  • The warm-up exercises can be progressed. Routine is good for teams, but consider switching up the mobility drills halfway through the season. Progressions will have a large payoff for young athletes working on their coordination. Progressions can be as simple as changing forward lunges to backward lunges for an increase in proprioceptive demand.

Speed, Agility, and Quickness Drills (SAQ)

Each practice should include an SAQ portion that occurs right after the warm-up.

With large groups in a practice setting, you simply cannot spend a lot of time on perfecting the form or each individual (and you are not a sprint coach, anyway). What you can do is help players become aware of what their bodies are doing. Often bringing a non-judgemental focus of attention to what the body is doing will help the athlete to self correct. This is especially true of young athletes.

Make practice planning simple by choosing a few drills with the same set up. Change the drills a bit to add variety or progress them as the season goes forward.

Several Drills Using Only a Line of Players and a Cone:

1. Lateral starts.

Form lines of four or five players on the front end zone line. Place a cone 10 yards out from the end zone line in front of each line of players. Players start in the athletic position at the end zone line with shoulders and hips parallel to the sideline. Accelerate through the cone ten yards from the front end zone line.

  • First time through, just do the drill focusing on acceleration.

  • Second, instruct athletes to pay attention to how hard they are pushing into the ground. Encourage “three explosive steps.”

  • Third, instruct athletes to pay attention to arm action. How hard are they driving their arms. How are the arms moving in relation to the legs?

2. Progression to lateral change of direction.

Form lines of four to five players on the front end zone line. Place a cone five yards out from the end zone line in front of each line of players. Players start in the athletic position at the cone with shoulders and hips parallel to the sideline. Accelerate to the front end zone line, change direction, and accelerate through the cone.

  • Work on awareness of the hips

  • Encourage less than full commitment of the hips (about 45 degrees) for the first five yards before the change of direction.

  • Cue full commitment of hips and three hard steps after change of direction

 3. Progression to reaction.

Place one cone five yards from front end zone line and a second cone ten yards from front end zone line. Players start in the athletic position at the five yard cone with shoulders and hips parallel to the sideline.

Point right or left (or throw a disc right or left) and the athlete accelerates thought the second cone or through the end zone line depending on the direction you’re pointing.

4. Other options

With this same setup, you can also do the lean/fall/run drill, work on deceleration, or do footwork drills.

Quick Tips

  • Players need to be engaged. It’s fine if players are a little chatty during the warmup and mobility drills. But come SAQ time you need your players’ focus.

  • Have athletes go one at a time. The purpose of having groups of four or five players is so that they are automatically get a 4:1 rest to work ration during speed and agility drills. Less experienced athletes can also learn by watching the example of more coordinated athletes.

  • SAQ drills must be done at the beginning of practice when players are fresh.

  • SAQ type drills and ladder drills done for conditioning will not bring about adaptations in speed and agility. Do not mix SAQ and conditioning trying to get “some of each.” It doesn’t work that way!

Conditioning Modules

Like for SAQ drills, practice planning can be simplified by using the same setup every time.

Example setup: have players get in groups of four and grab five cones per group. Place a cone on the endzone or sideline. Drop cones at 5 yards, 10 yards, 15 yards, and 25 yards. You may not use all the cones each time, but having the same setup means less than a minute to get everyone in line and on the same page.

Example 10 minutes conditioning modules:

1. (5-10-5 with 5 frog jumps) X 2. Go through the line four or five times.

2. Shuttle run with disc (skip the first cone). Do forehands and backhands for each player to complete 1 set. Athlete runs first, then throws, then goes to the end of the line. Repeat 2-3 times.

3. Suicides. Use all cones for many changes of direction. Repeat 3-6 times. Progress from 6 players per line to 3 to decrease rest intervals.

Quick Tips:

  • Keep it simple by using a similar format each practice.

  • Easily vary work/rest ratios by changing the number of people in line.

  • Watch the movement quality of your athletes. Stop if running form breaks down from fatigue.

Want more tips, agility drills, and conditioning ideas like these to use in practice? Check out Melissa’s upcoming Coaching Academy more for information.

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