It is the 43rd minute of the UCLA soccer team’s match with the U.S. National squad. Already down 0-1, the Pac-10 champion Bruins have fended off attack after attack and are seconds from a half-time deficit with little to show.
But like a strike of lightning, conference player of the year Patrick Ianni sends a pass downfield to a streaking Kamani Hill. Blazing past the defense, the sophomore controls the ball and is challenged early by U.S. goaltender and former-UCLA standout Kevin Hartman.
Reading Hartman’s move, Hill pops the ball in the air over the outstretched arms of a clearly surprised Hartman. As the ball clears the keeper’s gloves, Hill races to catch up. "Then all of a sudden," recalls Ryan Beckwith, UCLA’s strength and conditioning coach, "he just hits that fifth gear and gets two steps ahead of him, and boom! He’s there open goal.. It was a great play, but at the same time, he comes back to me and he’s like, ‘Man, this stuff really works!’"
The "stuff " that Hill credited wasn’t edible. He certainly didn’t smoke it. And no, it wasn’t the shoes.
Hill was referring to a new speed training program Beckwith developed—a program that shatters soccer’s old school regimens and embraces Beckwith’s background in the world of track and field, where speed is the only thing that matters.
Coaching the players through speed circuits and track workouts, Beckwith credits the program with helping four Bruins make the national Under-20 team. Among them is Benny Feilhaber, a former walk-on who is now a starter for the third-ranked team in the nation. "Benny started as a walk on," Beckwith says. "And I don’t think many people expected very much of him, but now he’s a starter, almost a star in his own right … He works real hard and does a great job on the speed work. It’s really paid off for him."
Beckwith’s speed training program consists of four days of training per week. Two days are speed drill days that are done in a circuit format. The other two are pure running days performed on the track. Together, these drills have helped the team develop strong legs to go with their quick feet.
Speed Circuit Days
A series of various cone drills make up the Speed Circuit. To start, perform three to four repetitions of a drill. In one minute, you must complete one repetition of the drill and take your recovery time. At the start of the next minute, start your next repetition. After three or four minutes, depending on the number of repetitions you perform, move onto the second drill. Continue this same one-minute cycle for three to four reps of three different cone drills.
Beckwith suggests four different cone drills that he likes to use with his athletes. Each has different benefits to soccer players, so be sure rotate the drills you perform on the different training days so you can use all of them in your workouts.
"This drill is mainly for rapid foot fire to be able to change direction very fast and in a short time," he says.. "The guys like this one a lot because of the quickness it gives their feet. Obviously, in soccer that’s pretty important," explains Beckwith..
To perform the drill, set up six cones 2.5 feet apart, in a straight line. Start to chop your feet as fast as possible and move forward through the cones "snaking" to the left and right of the cones. Try to stay as close as possible to the cones. Focus on keeping your upper body over the middle of the cones, and just use the turning of your hips to move from side to side around the cones. Make sure to continually chop your feet as fast as possible throughout the drill.
After you make it through the first six cones, sprint to the top of another six cones arranged in the same pattern. Move through these additional six cones in the same manner as before.
As your comfort and ability with the drill improves, you can begin to reduce the distance in between the cones. First down to 2 feet, and eventually to as little as 1 foot between cones.
"The point of this drill is really to break down the hips, and to make sure that you’re not taking too much time on your cut," Beckwith says.. "It’s all change of directions, and it’s short enough and condensed enough for the guys to really get their feet going. But it’s also long enough to get to full speed."
To perform the drill, set up four cones in the shape of square, with each side of the square 5 yards long. Start at the bottom left cone and sprint to the bottom right cone. Plant outside of the cone and sprint as fast as possible across the middle of the square to the top left cone. Cut around the top left cone, and sprint straight ahead to the top right cone. Again, break down and cut around the outside of the cone and sprint across the middle of the square to the bottom left cone where you started the drill. Be sure to focus on quick clean cuts. Do not take a lot of short choppy steps, and be sure to use a strong plant in order to cut and change direction.
"This is a drill I really like to use with the guys. It works on their lateral movement very well," Beckwith says.
To perform this drill, set up four cones in the shape of a letter T. The top part of the T should be 10 yards across with cones at each end and one cone at the 5-yard mark at the midpoint. The fourth cone should form the bottom link of the T, 5 yards below the midpoint cone of the top part.
Start at the bottom of the T and sprint directly to the midpoint cone. Shuffle laterally to your left or right until you can touch the cone at one end of the T. Then shuffle back across the top of the T until you reach the opposite end of the T. Finally, shuffle back to the midpoint, turn around, and sprint back to the starting spot.
As an adaptation to the drill, you can perform a carioca across the top of the T rather than shuffling. Again, the drill ends with a turn around the midpoint, and a sprint through the finish.
"This drill’s main focus is on enhancing an athlete’s ability to accelerate and change direction almost simultaneously," Beck-with says. "The drill has worked really well for our defenders. They can come in and out of their back peddles great now and they can turn and run and everything. It’s been a great drill for us."
To perform this drill, set up two rows of cones. Each row is four cones long and each cone within each row is 2 yards apart. The two rows should be parallel to each other and 3 yards apart. The cones should be staggered so that a cone on one side is in between two cones on the other. Start at the bottom cone and shuffle laterally to the first cone of the other row. Keep your hips low and move as quickly as possible. Make a quick efficient cut around the cone and shuffle laterally back to your left to the next cone on the opposite side. Continue this zig-zag pattern until you shuffle around all the cones. As an adaptation to the drill, use a sprint-back peddle combination. Start at the bottom cone and sprint to the bottom cone of the opposite row. Quickly move around this cone and back peddle to the second cone of the first row. You should be facing the same direction throughout the drill, and continually alternating from sprint to back peddle in order to move around the cones.
Track Workout Days
Mondays and Fridays
For the other two days of speed training, Beckwith has his athletes perform drills on the track. These drills work on pure sprinting speed. A typical track workout entails the following activities.
Jog: Three to five minutes
Dynamic Stretching Routine
Perform the following movements repeat-edly for 10 to 15 yards apiece to help stretch before the workout.
Step forward into a lunge, be sure to lean forward and touch your hands to the ground.
Walking Quad Stretch
Take a step and then perform a standing quad stretch.
Single Leg Romanian Dead Lift (RDL)
Step forward and then lean forward on one leg and touch your toes with both hands. The opposite leg should raise up and stay in line with your back.
Step forward on one leg, and pull the foot of the other leg up toward your stomach with your hands. Your knee should go out to the side to help stretch the glutes.
Perform a side step into a lunge. Then reverse pivot and step forward with the opposite leg into another side lunge.
Bear Crawl Walk-Up
Start on all fours in a bear crawl position. Then walk your feet up to your hands until you’re performing a standing toe touch.
Backward Walking Lunge
Step backward into a lunge. Keep your chest up.
Walking Toe Touch (Frankenstein Walk)
Take a step and kick your opposite leg straight up. The kicking leg should remain straight and touch the hand of your outstretched arm.
To perform this drill, extend your arms and place your hands on a wall or fence. Lean forward so your body is at a 30 to 45-degree angle. On a partner’s or coach’s count, run in place. Focus on moving your feet up and down as fast as possible. Your coach or partner should call out one, three or five. Each number is the number of steps you should take. Perform the drill for three repetitions of 30 seconds, only taking steps after a given count. Take a rest of between 30 to 45 seconds.
To perform this drill, place six strips of tape on the ground. The second piece of tape should be one foot from the initial strip. The third strip should be 1.5 feet from the second, then 2 feet, all the way up to 3.5 feet. Start to run and accelerate, making sure to step on each piece of tape. After the last piece of tape, run for an additional 20 meters. Perform five repetitions of this drill. Use your walk back to the starting line as your recovery time between reps.
Quick, Rise and Go!
To perform this drill, start to chop your feet as fast as possible at the call of "quick." Then, at the call of "rise" raise your arms straight out in front of yourself. Lastly, on the call of "go!" sprint for 25 to 30 meters. The key to this drill is to avoid taking a false step at the call of "go!" In other words, make sure your first step into the sprint is forward, and not back. Don’t worry, chances are you will take a false step the first few times you try the drill. Perform five repetitions of this drill. Use your walk back to the starting line as your recovery time in between reps.
As an adaptation to the drill, start facing in a different direction than the direction in which you will sprint. On one rep face to the left, so you have to pivot and turn 90 degrees to the right before you sprint. The same can be done facing to the right with a pivot to the left. This can also be done facing the opposite direction, so that a complete 180-degree turn is performed before sprinting for the 25 to 30 meters.