I’m big on speed for soccer. I don’t know a player or a coach that wouldn’t want to be faster or have their team be faster. In many practice scenarios though, players don’t get exposure to maximal intensity / maximal velocity sprints. If players don’t see regular (1-2x week) exposure to maximal velocity in practice, it can cause a couple things to happen:
1. Players may get slower. If you don’t expose an athlete to maximal intensities / velocities, they may, and probably will start to lose the ability to sprint as fast as they were once capable.
2. Risk of injury can increase. If the game demands players to reach maximal velocity and sprint at maximal intensity (and many, if not all, positions do), we must train in a way that allows us to be at or above game demand. If players are not prepared to meet game demands, there is a higher likelihood for injury.
The question then becomes how do we expose athletes to maximal intensities and velocities within the daily practices?
Common ways I’ve seen this idea addressed is:
- Sprints after warmup
- Sprints after practice
- 11 v 11 full field
- Larger dimension SSG
The only surefire way to ensure players have exposure to maximal velocities is to incorporate them after the warmup. The warmup should be long enough and progressive enough to prepare the athlete to actually sprint without potential injury. Doing it after the warmup allows for the quality of sprints to remain high because the athlete is in a fresh state with minimal fatigue. To hit max velocity in soccer, 3-4 linear sprints of ~30m should suffice as enough stimulus.
The two options that are good, but usually not guaranteed to achieve maximal velocities are 11 v 11 and larger dimension SSG. While there are opportunities to achieve maximal velocities, this tends to be very position dependent with full backs, outside mids, and forwards having greater chances to hit top speed.
Sprints after practice shouldn’t really even be an option. Due to fatigue from the entire session, not only are you diminishing the quality of the sprints, the likelihood of injury is greatest at this point. While effort can still be high, it’s unlikely to achieve the goal of max velocity.
Generally, hitting 90-100% maximal velocity in 1 session per week (excluding match play) is sufficient to preserve and potentially improve top speed while ensuring the athlete will be able to meet the demands of the game.
As an interesting point of comparison, here are two athletes with 9 weeks of GPS data (including matches). Athlete A is a full back and Athlete B is a central midfielder. I’ve highlighted pre-season testing maximal velocities (m/s) in yellow.
Athlete A who has played 90 minutes in every match is seeing far more exposure to maximal speed and has exceeded testing MaxV multiple times. Athlete B has only seen above 90% MaxV in three weeks out of nine full training weeks. This just shows that even when you do open up the field, it’s not always guaranteed players will reach top speed. We can’t assume practice drills will address all of the qualities needed for the game. We need more traditional speed training in some cases.