Should Professional Soccer Players Train Running Technique?

Most professional soccer players train more than 3 hours a day. They sprint or jog most of the time but are NEVER trained on correct running technique. I personally find this highly detrimental to their performance and here’s why:

What can running technique do for a professional soccer player?

  • Speed: In my personal experience, the average speed increase of any team sport athlete, through just 16 hours of training, ranges from 6%-20% improvement on their 40 meter times. In other words, that is about a 0.5 m/s increase on the average speed meaning that in 1 month (8 training sessions of 2 hours) you can beat yourself by more than 2 meters on a 40 meter race between the “old” you and the “new” you. The difference between winning a ball or not.

  • Efficiency: Imagine your car has a “crooked” tire with 10% error angle and you drive for 1.5 hours at an average speed of 6.7 km/h, meaning you drove 10 km. This is a bit less of the average distance that a professional soccer player runs on a game. Now with that “crooked tire”, you’re wasting 10% more energy than if it were completely straight which means that you would have run 11km with the same energy wasted. That is the difference between the FITTEST football player’s average on the premier league and the average. An easy 60 million euros more to pay for that 11km player and the 10km player.

  • Injury protection: Any incorrect biomechanical movement done by the body will leave ligaments, muscles, bones, or any other structural part of the body at risk. A good example is the typical twisting motion of the knee supporting the body will give unnecessary friction to the ligaments which could then snap by any extra force added to the tissue due to a change of direction or an opponents tackle.

  • Carreer longevity: Athletes that have a flawed running gait will suffer a faster ageing process of their ligaments, cartilage and bones because the body is just not designed to work that way. A good example of this is also car alignment. Any car that is not rutinely taken for an alignment will most probably have a faster ageing process of an exactly equal car that has a more proper alignment. Then why aren’t we “aligning” the running gate of our athletes?

Could soccer players reach the same speed as sprinters if they were to have their same technique?

  • The physical qualities, and somatotypes of trained professional soccer players and sprinters are very similar. A soccer player might not be able to reach the same speeds as a sprinter even with the same technique because 1. running on grass will make you slower than running on the track and 2. soccer players also need a lot of endurance training that makes their body adapt to reduce some power over more resistance. Nevertheless, both could achieve very similar top speeds and should, in theory, with the same technique, have a very similar 30 meter time. Both athletes also have similar plyometric training and genetic makeup which means they could achieve a very similar top speeds in theory if they had their same sprinting technique.
  • Through personal experience; being a “high level” sprinter (10.30s for the 100meters) and being able to run more than 9km per soccer game (close to professional distance average) I can say that it is possible to have a soccer player’s endurance and a state level sprinter’s speed.

If all of this is true then why would a professional athlete not learn the skill they do about 80% of the time in a game? I will focus on the 3 most influencial reasons:

  1. All fitness coaches of a professional team would be inclined to believe that if this athlete has reached such a high professional level on the sport, they must know how to run, jump, and kick a ball almost perfectly. Unfortunately, this is not the case for most of the players in the highest level of “the beautiful game”. Soccer players are trained on their ball technique, their anaerobic level and their displacement on the field but they are saddly never taught to sprint correctly.
  2. “Lack of time” in training: Coaches actually do need a lot of time to hoan their team’s skills and teach them everything they want them to do on the game. They do want to give them any more distractions that might interfere with this learning. But… shouldn’t it be important to teach an athlete a skill they do 80% of the time on the field?
  3. Very “basic” knowledge of biomechanics from the fitness staff: As a exercise scientist myself, I know that biomechanics is one of the subjects the students dread the most and after doing 1 year of the subject, they never want to see or hear about it again. They don’t apply it or never understood it in the first place because they only learn up to the most basic kinematics at their uni.

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