Why is speed so important in the modern game?
Speed can be the difference between winning and losing a match. A winger beating a defender on the counter attack or pressing a defender high up the pitch and winning the ball can win you a game. Back in the 1970s, players did minimal speed, strength or power work, so the game was based more on technique and tactics but strength and conditioning training has made players quicker and it’s become a hugely important physical quality.
Can you make a slow player faster?
Absolutely. There is a genetic ceiling but you can make a player significantly faster. Footballers spend a lot of time just playing football. If you look at them as general athletes, because they spend so much time playing the sport, they’re lacking a lot of general athletic qualities other sportsmen possess. Making someone quicker starts with making them stronger in the gym and then regularly exposing them to high speed training on the pitch.
What are the key exercises for improving speed?
Exercises such as hip thrusts are very good for boosting speed and acceleration. If you’re trying to improve vertical power – for example jumping in the air – then a traditional back squat is a great exercise. If you can’t lift your own body weight in the gym, you will see the best improvements by improving your strength. As a general rule, I would do 3-4 exercises and 3-4 sets of 4-8 repetitions. That’s quite a blanket prescription – your training and match demands around gym work will affect how much gym work you can do.
Could athletics training improve a footballer’s speed?
Learning how to accelerate and decelerate effectively is important but the sprint technique of a 100 metre sprinter don’t transfer very well to a footballer. A sprinter knows he can extend to his full stride length without having to stop and change direction, whereas a player needs to be able to decelerate and change direction very quickly. Footballers run with a shorter stride length and touch the floor more frequently than sprinters, knowing they’ll have to stop at regular intervals.
Is top speed more important than acceleration?
There are two sides to speed – your long-distance speed (how quick are you over 60 metres) and acceleration (how quick are you over five or 10 metres). Being quick over 60 metres doesn’t mean you’ll be quick over five metres. The ability to beat men over short distances is the key physical difference between elite players and sub-elite. The ball gets moved around a lot quicker at the top level and that requires greater acceleration and reactivity.
Is it more difficult to become a professional footballer now if you don’t have pace?
I think so, because teams prefer to press high up the pitch. Liverpool are a great example of this. There is pace and physicality throughout their side and they couldn’t play the way they do without pace. There are teams who place less emphasis on pressing and sit deeper, which means pace is less important, but it’s rare in the modern game.