Football and futbol. They sound the same—and that’s one thing they have in common—but when it comes to speed training, the two sports couldn’t be more different.
Football and soccer both require players to outrun opponents, yet the two sports employ significantly different training approaches to develop the speed required to do so.
Eric Lichter, Ohio State University’s director of football performance, says speed on the gridiron is about explosion, power and moving forward via top end velocity.
“Our guys can fly,” Lichter says. “We tell [them] they need to be able to sprint down a narrow hallway.”
Forward speed is developed using drills that work body mechanics quickly, like Power Skips and Falling Starts, which require you to bring your knees up high while maintaining tight form with a slight forward lean.
Speed training for soccer has a different focus, since players must control their bodies and the ball simultaneously. Steve Tashjian, head strength and conditioning coach for the Columbus Crew, thinks that top end velocity is not as important on the pitch as it is on the gridiron. “It’s nice to have, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not a necessity,” he says.
Rather than emphasizing running mechanics, Tashjian instead focuses on footwork. During a match, when a soccer player sprints with the ball at his feet, he must take lunging steps to control it. That’s why Tashjian focuses on foot skills such as dribbles during scrimmages and sprint drills. To make their ball touches quick and accurate, the Crew work on controlling the ball in small areas, passing to one another while running. They also incorporate reaction plays, such as four on one and five on two, to develop a quicker step on opponents.