By Zoid Fitness Team on Oct 13, 2019 3:51:00 PM
There are many qualities that soccer players should strive for in order to be as successful as possible at their craft. Whether it's mental awareness, endurance, power, or accuracy when passing and shooting, there's no shortage of skills to practice to improve on the field. However, on top of all of those other characteristics, the one physical attribute that will make or break a soccer player -- something that truly differentiates the elite soccer player from the average -- is agility.
What is agility?
Agility is typically defined as the ability to move easily and quickly. There is a lot of misconceptions as to what this skill entails, and people tend to confuse speed and agility. They're similar, and they share some elements, but agility is a more important, more complex ability, particularly as it pertains to soccer. Understand that soccer is not track and field. Yes, at times you're trying to out-run other players, but there's no sprint to the finish line. You have to dip, dodge, and evade those other players -- not just burn them with sheer straight-line speed.
Speed is one of the major components of agility, but so is quickness and craftiness. In other words, how fast you are able to change direction in one fluid motion? Soccer players who are agile execute precise movements and seemingly move at the speed of light when doing so. However, they are also able to maintain total control of their body as they move. All it takes is one or two quick steps in order to leave a defender in the dust.
If you are fast but lack body control when you try to make a move, you'll look about as smooth and skilled as a fish out of water on the soccer field. You would just be moving any which way, ineffectively, albeit at a very fast rate. Being agile means that you are able to move in the proper direction effectively, while thinking on the fly and applying quick reactions. Agile soccer stars are often calculating their next move while still in the midst of their first.
They're so shifty, speedy, and smooth that nobody can seem to strip the ball from them. It's clear that agility is an important skill to have on the soccer field, and there are a wide variety of ways it can be used to your advantage.
How agility relates to important soccer skills
If you are able to continually work at improving your agility, it will increase your effectiveness on the field exponentially. Arguably the greatest advantage of becoming agile is that you will have the ability to change directions effectively. Whether you are moving with the ball or without it, you will quickly see the fruits of your labors and the importance of being agile. On offense, it is extremely important because direction changes will throw your defender off balance. If you keep running in a straight line, your moves can be easily telegraphed or intercepted. One of the last areas you want to be deficient in as a soccer player is planting your foot and changing directions.
Being agile is also important in performing stop-and-go moves. This is one area where being agile differs from being fast. If you have the ball in your possession and you are able to manually control your acceleration and then go to a top speed again, you will be among the elite. The ability to get going at a fast speed after slowing down is the epitome of being agile. On the other hand, being able to get away from the defender as fast as you can is being fast. While you will want to increase your speed in order to get away effectively, the speed will render itself irrelevant if you can't maintain your balance and fall along the way.
Moving over to defense, one significant area of soccer where being agile will come in handy is marking. If you think it is difficult getting away from defensive players while maintaining your balance, imagine how difficult it will be when you're on the receiving end of a rush while trying to keep up with someone who is agile. Just like you'll be trying to do when you have the ball, the opposing team's offense will try to keep you off balance, and you'll have constantly change direction to effectively defend. If you want an easier way to analyze how agile someone is, carefully observe them in a one-one-one scenario. If a defender is agile, they can turn on a dime when the offense switches their direction. They will also be sure to close the gap between themselves and the defender as much as they can. If the defender is not agile, the opponents will be able to get as much separation as possible. That second scenario will not end well for you as a defender, as it will give the offensive player more momentum towards the goal.
If you are a goalkeeper, being agile will be important for you as well. As the absolute line of defense, having agility as a goalkeeper is essential, as you'll need to do whatever it takes to stop that ball. You will have to switch directions quickly in conjunction with the direction of the ball, tracking passes, deflections, and bounces and reacting in the blink of an eye. This is especially true in rebound situations where you will have to make a save twice in one play.
Exercises To Become More Agile
The following are a series of exercises that can help any soccer player get moving more effectively and improve their agility. These exercises work out your body and force you to utilize both aspects of being agile (speed and change of direction), which will transfer over to the soccer field.
Jumping rope is a simple but effective exercise to get you started. Whether you are on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, you have to be ready for a change in direction at any moment. Soccer in particular emphasizes the balls of your feet. This means that if your heels are touching the ground, then you are already going to be one step behind the others. Jumping rope will help you be quick on your feet but also know when to properly time your jump for a head ball. When using a jump rope, you should start with basic jumps for 2 minutes. After that, you can do skiier jumps on each side (try to make them equally distributed on each side). Follow that with 10 single leg hops and that completes one set. Do four repetitions while allowing yourself 60 seconds of rest in between.
Goblet squats are more of a loaded exercise than jumping rope that focuses on strengthening your lower body. In addition, they will make your hips flexible and improve your endurance in the process. In order to perform a proper goblet squat, you will want to first stand with your feet at shoulder-width apart and with your spine tall. Then, you should grip a kettlebell or dumbbell right in front of your chest. After that, be sure to sit back and down until you feel your thighs parallel to the floor. A this point, your toes and knees need to be pointing in a forward direction. Then, your weight should be pressed back into your heels, and you can push your heels into the ground. That is one rep. To improve your strength, aim for 4 sets of 5 reps with a heavier load for strength. If your primary focus is improving your endurance, then you should aim for 4 sets of around 15 to 20 reps with a lighter load.
Doing the front plank row exercise will help improve the strength of your core. While your legs are the primary body part you need to play soccer well, your arms play a role in helping you sprint and put more force into your shots. These rows will help prepare your body for changing direction. Start in the standard forearm plank stance with your hips parallel to the floor and your elbows right beneath your shoulder. Then, grip any cable of around 10 to 20 pounds in one of your hands and have your palm facing toward the body. Pull your elbow in your direction and gradually release. This will make one repetition. Equally dispense these reps on each side around 3 times.
Side box jumps are another exercise that you will want to implement into your agility-increasing regimen for soccer. Not only will you be loading your core and legs, but you will also be forced to maintain control when you land. Another hidden benefit of this exercise is that it also teaches you how to avoid injuries. Changing direction and speed at a rapid pace could lead to potential sprains and other injuries, so whatever you can do to keep injuries at bay is helpful. For this exercise, you will need a resistance band to place around your thighs. Stand to the right of a box that is just below your knee. Then, bring your left leg behind your body, and utilize this momentum to jump off your right leg. Simply land softly with your left foot on the box and balance yourself for three seconds. Aim for completing 3 to 4 sets of 10 reps. Once you are able to master jumping at this height, gradually progress to taller boxes.
Incorporating kettlebell reverse lunges will help you more easily transition from a jog to a sprint during a game when you're heading towards the goal. Your leg strength and postural control will also increase in the process. In order to perform this particular exercise, the kettlebell will have to be held upside down at its base. Once there, your back must continue to be straight and you should lean forward slightly so that you can replicate what your body looks like during a sprint. Then, lunge backward with a single leg. While you are in this motion, you need to maintain your focus on engaging your core while ensuring that the front of your knee stays in front of your ankle. Once you push off of your back leg, you can return to start and switch sides to make one rep.
As you can imagine, soccer requires a meticulous balance of speed, change in direction, balance and footwork. Perhaps the best exercise that incorporates all of these skills are ladder shuffles. This exercise can be completed with an agility ladder, which is an affordable and handy exercise tool that every soccer player should have.
Initially, you will want to stand with your right side on one end of the ladder. Then, you quickly step with your right foot followed by your left foot into the square to your right. Then, repeat this process while moving at a brisk pace one square at a time. If you have a partner to work out with, have them throw or kick you a ball with some level of force once you reach the other end of the ladder. Corral the ball with your feet and kick it back to them before repeating the shuffle back down the other way.
Working on your agility will pay dividends on the soccer field
The exercises we covered today are just a few of the many exercises you can try on your quest to become more agile. If you're looking for additional guidance, tips, or suggestions, be sure to check out the ZOID Academy for a wealth of great resources.
If you set your mind to it and incorporate some of these agility exercises into your training routine, you'll be well on your way to becoming the best soccer player you can be and turning heads on the field each and every game.