How Plyometrics Help the Soccer Athlete
We will identify three ways in which plyometrics can improve the soccer athlete’s skills.
Improving speed. Sprinting, striding, and some jumping are essentially a series of one-legged hops. In reality, movement in any direction for any distance requires one-legged executions. Plyometrics, combined with the strength gained by weightlifting, will teach the legs how to respond with great force in a short period. You will begin to understand that jumping, hopping, and bounding contribute to creating speed in any direction. Unlike a track-oriented program, plyometrics for soccer can significantly improve the speed of movement in more than one direction.
Improving balance. Hurdling, hopping, and jumping over objects require balance for proper execution. Changing directions rapidly while dribbling or marking would be almost impossible without good balance. Plyometrics, whether performed with one or two legs, will force the body to learn balance and at the same time create strength in a balanced position. This training has a carryover effect to the most fundamental soccer actions—jumping, heading, tackling, striking, and positioning.
Training for explosiveness. Explosiveness here refers to rapid acceleration or a quick change of direction. The ability to attain speed from a dead stop is demonstrated when a back-to-the-goal attacker turns and sprints to the near post for a shot on goal. The player who jumps for a punted ball at midfield in a group of defenders must jump vertically as fast and high as possible. Changing direction at any speed with little delay occurs when a wing jogs slowly down the sideline and then breaks at full speed to the goal for a cross ball. Rapid acceleration from different running speeds is required when a defender moves slowly into position, then marks an opponent without the ball, and then sprints as an attacker tries to reach a free ball in the corner.
Plyometric drills combine speed and strength, enabling the athlete to move quickly from a dead stop or accelerate in any direction at any speed.
HOW TO MAKE PLYOMETRICS EFFECTIVE
Randomly performing plyometrics without any attention to progression, technique, or conditioning will result only in injury and frustration. If you want your plyometric program to work, you must consider three major points.
Strength training. We hope by now you see that becoming stronger is essential to success in soccer. Earlier we discussed how important strength is to becoming more explosive. Strength is equally important in reducing injury while performing plyometrics. Leg strength is critical to avoiding injury to the knees, ankles, and lower back. Because plyometric movements are ballistic, a certain strength base is essential to prevent injuries as well as gain optimum benefits. Some data have indicated that an athlete should be able to squat between 1.5 to 2.0 times her body weight before engaging in a plyometrics program. But we feel that if a lower-body strength program is in place, the training should bring about positive changes in speed and explosiveness. Do not consider a plyometric program without a solid lower-body strength program and a comprehensive conditioning schedule. All three components must be present.
Reducing the risk of injury. The following list of rules should help prevent serious injury to soccer athletes who perform plyometrics:
- Athletes must not ignore any aches or pains in the lower back, knees, ankles, or feet. A certified health professional should evaluate the pain before the athlete continues.
- To help absorb landing forces, players should wear a sturdy training shoe with a solid midsole and forefoot construction.
- Athletes should perform a thorough flexibility routine and warm-up before training (see chapter 2).
- Make sure the landing surface is resilient. Portable mats or grassy areas are acceptable surfaces. Gymnasium floors are not.
- Do not begin a plyometric workout schedule without the benefit of a comprehensive training program.
- Preadolescent athletes should avoid plyometrics because of the stress on immature bones and connective tissues. Strength at this age will be sufficient for increasing speed and power without the use of plyometrics.
Using proper technique. Technique for any exercise is important, particularly when athletes are working on creating power. For speed of movement, proper positioning, and injury prevention, athletes must observe certain performance parameters.
- Players should land with as little flexion as possible at the ankles, knees, and waist. Too much flexion means too much time on the ground, which translates into reduced reaction time and speed of movement.
- For explosion, balance, and reaction, athletes should use their arms aggressively.
- Players must rest between sets for proper recovery. Plyometrics is a high-quality exercise. Players should not be fatigued while performing the drills.
- Athletes should maintain a position of balance from the beginning of the movement to the end.
- Drills should be closely related to soccer movements, including speed and change of direction.
© Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.