Running techniques for field sport players

Running technique has been suggested to play a key
role in the performance of sprints with directional
changes (Bompa, 1983; Sayers, 2000). In particular,
a forward lean and low centre of gravity would
appear essential in optimizing acceleration and
deceleration, as well as increasing stability. The
stability afforded by a low centre of gravity, as
opposed to the upright stance and high centre of
gravity of track and field sprinters (Francis, 1997),
allows more rapid changes of direction, because to
change direction at higher speeds, athletes must first
decelerate and lower their centre of gravity (Sayers
2000). In other words, Sayers (2000) was suggesting
that because sprinting with a high centre of gravity
(as seen in track and field technique) requires
postural adjustments (lowering of the centre of
gravity and shortening stride lengths) and deceleration
before changing direction, athletes in sports that
require frequent changes of direction should run
with a lower centre of gravity, greater forward lean
and perhaps shorter stride lengths than athletics
Review of the opinions proposed by Sayers (2000)
reveals the greater need for specificity between
training for sprinting and training for speed and
agility in sports that require changes of direction.
However, the biomechanics of straight-sprint training
of the acceleration phase in athletics is similar to
that proposed by Sayers (2000). In fact, a pronounced
forward lean and low centre of gravity is an
integral part of acceleration in sprinting for athletics
(Francis, 1997; Mann, 1981), which is similar to that
in agility sports (Sayers, 2000). The obvious exception
would be that in athletics, sprinters are taught to
keep their visual focus low (looking downward) for a
portion of the acceleration phase (Francis, 1997),
while in agility sports, visual scanning of the court or
playing field is continuous.
In addition, sprinters might purposefully accelerate
under greater control, in that they do not
necessarily aim to achieve top speed as quickly
as possible, but favour a controlled acceleration
(Francis, 1987). In most running sports, sprints are
generally short and of varying distances. Athletes in
these sports will accelerate as much as possible in the
shortest period of time. In the case of a 100-m
sprint, but especially a 200-m sprint, the sprinter
accelerates for a large portion of the race, aiming to
achieve top speed late in the race, thereby minimizing
the fall off in speed near the end of the race.
Although it is commonly accepted that elite sprinters
accelerate for longer periods simply because they
also have higher top speeds that take longer to reach,
tactical advice also involves controlling acceleration
so that top speed is reached at an optimal time for
overall race performance. The difference seen
between athletics sprinting and sprinting in other
sports is that the athletics sprint can be planned and
strategy can play a role, whereas with the football
codes, for example, short sprints occur throughout
the game and cannot be pre-planned. Therefore,
sprint training for sports other than athletics should
include the need to accelerate, reaching the highest
speed possible in the shortest time period (in
addition to including relevant cognitive and skill
In an examination of knee-joint loads comparing
unplanned and planned change of direction, differences
in specific approach-speed technique were
observed (Besier et al., 2001a, 2001b). When
participants were required to react to a light stimulus
to change direction, the loads on the knee were
increased, which was thought to be related to a suboptimal
posture imposed by the time-stress in
reacting to the stimulus and changing direction.
This implies that postural techniques differ between
planned and unplanned changes of direction.
Specific quantitative research of techniques in
sprints for field sports, and sprints involving change
of direction speed, is non-existent. Research quantifying
stride length and biomechanical differences
between high and low achievers in sprints with
directional changes would appear fruitful.

From: Sheppard, J.M., Young, W.B. (2006). Agility literature review: Classification, training and testing. Journal of Sport Sciences, 24(9): 919-932. pp. 926

Also, check this one

No comments on the preceding article?

athletes in sports that
require frequent changes of direction should run
with a lower centre of gravity, greater forward lean
and perhaps shorter stride lengths than athletics

This seems to be a good description of the running that is naturally occuring in a soccer game.

The question I have is this: Is this happening because there is not enough time to raise the center of gravity, thereby creating the illusion that this is the way to run at all times, or is it something that should be learned?

In general, soccer players tend to force the running to much. I’m struggling with this myself.

I was hoping you will join in Thor.
What do you mean by ‘soccer players tend to force the running too much’?
I guess this is the issue of ‘don’t fix if ain’t broken’. A lot of coaches insist on ‘appropriate’ running mechanics (whatever this is, or exist, but usually this is a transfer from sprinter training), knee lifts, tall posture etc, etc. I question the validity of this in team games…
The more important question is, should we fix the running style? Do we need bunch of form running drills at all? We use form running drills in warm-up anyway, but my ‘boss’ insists on ‘correcting’ players running mechanics. How to correct it when you don’t know if it is broken???

Ahh, another interesting discussion…

Duxx - I definately see the point here, and it’s something that we deal with all the time. On one hand, we want to increase a player’s top speed, even though he may never actually approach it in a game!
Example: almost every (american) football coach wants a fast 40 yard sprint time to measure the speed of their position players, although it’s extremely rare to actually run that far in one direction, unimpeded…So we strength coaches watch sprint training, and track workouts to improve our 40 times…We teach them to ave the running mechanics of a sprinter on one hand, and then ask them to keep their “pads” low when out on the field…

So what to do? I, for one, will continue with basic speed mechanics in a workout. I’ll never be as good as a track coach, but if I can get simple things accomplished the athletes MAY approach top speed faster, and thereby “make the play” that they may have just missed out on before…

The article suggests that sprinters deliberately delay acceleration. That was true for some but not anymore. If they do, they’ll never come back to the 9.7 sprinters. Maximal relaxed acceleration is essential, just as it is in team sports except they can do it much farther than is needed in the team setting (and must recover vastly longer before they can think of doing it again)

Hey Devils-

Thanks for the input. I can see your point. I talked today with our menager, who asked me to work with some players on ‘running mechanics’: knee lift, heel recovery, arm stuff, running on front part of the feet, inclination… I mentioned him this problem and also gave him the example in one of our strikers who is very ‘game fast’ but runs low, low knee lift and low heel recovery. Interestingly, his reply was very though provocing. He said, ‘Mladen, he is fast, but this guys are slow. Wouldn’t fixing the mechanics maybe improve the speed?’. I replied ‘We should then deal with the source of the problem not the problem itself. The source are low strength and power levels, not neccesary the poor tecnique’. Well, I guess I will try to fix both…
Another interesting ‘reveal’ I got today speaking with one athlete is that he said he have slow ‘first step’ (a.k.a. acceleration for 5-10m) due ‘long strides’. He said that the coaches recomended him to do intentionally ‘small, chop steps’ when acceleration. I was confused at the moment. Top accelerating sprinters do not do this ‘chop steps’, they just explode. Then, I realize he was ‘overstriding’, trying to ‘pull himself’ instead of ‘push himself’, or as would some other says, he had ‘positive shin angle’ instead of ‘negative’. Instead of doing stupid ladder drills, I explained him what’s the deal and we did some ‘wall drills’, and suggested doing hills. Thought on this?

I found that part of the article a little bit stupid :). I understand what you apply, this is why I reduced 20m Fast-Easy-Fast drill to 10-15m segments for soccer athletes.

I guess the first question I’d have is “why does this athlete need to train sprints from a static position, when he doesn’t do it on the field?”
I agree, the “chop step” thing is useless…
If he is having problems accelerating, what about training with “flying” sprints, and sprint work accelerating from the different speed levels in soccer (ex., from a jog, cruise speed, etc.). Perhaps you could watch him as he tries to “turn it on” and accelerate…
If starts really (for some odd reason) are the problem, I’ve had a lot of success running through various stages of starts:

  1. from push up position
  2. from 4 point stance (rear end up VERY high, all weight on hands)
  3. 2 point stance from field postion

Of course, maybe he’s not accelerating because he’s wasting steps - he’s not stepping in the direction where he needs to go (false stepping?)

I also agree with the last part of your post. I’ll tell all of our athletes to think about “exploding”, actively pushing off of their legs. Many of our athletes who were overstriding have great success with the wall drills, helping to get their foot strike closer to their hips, rather than way out in front of them…

Good luck!

Thanks for reply Devils. I found Wall Drills to be very interesting… if anything, they are great to gave them the idea of what the hell I am reffering too. I also love hills…

As for ‘chop steps’… they are usefull, and needed, when decelereting, changing direction, going from forward to backward, especially with central backs (stopers). Do you teach them to decelerate via ‘chop steps’ or with ‘larger steps and sudden stop’ (trying to minimize number of steps taken).
I hope you know what I mean…

As for stopers (and for all players too) I want them to have ‘quick feet’ from lowered position to be able to ‘reposition’ their feet into approriate position for acceleration, faining, etc.
For example, if stoper is guarding (tracking) forward player with cross-overs waiting to react, and forward suddenly cut or pass into oposite direction, stoper must do a quick ‘hip turn’ and ‘cross step’ to new direction.

Also, when decceleraion toward opponent for a tackle, chop-step serve as transitional movement, enabling the player to be able to quickly react to opponents faints etc, change direction, compared to more ‘harder’ stop.

Am I just talking crap, or does this make sense…?

You make perfect sense. I was simply referring to short, choppy steps when accelerating out of a start as wrong…
As for deceleration, I would say it depends on the player. Some players, particularly the shorter ones, can execute the sudden stop much more efficiently than taller ones, who sometimes need the extra steps to gain control over their bodies…
(I’m finding that particularly true with this season’s new basketball players)
I suppose this is also all dependent upon the level of athlete that we’re talking about - the more advanced athletes all have a way of making us look like we’re doing something right:)

Thanks again. We are on the same frequency :slight_smile:
Basically, for acceleration be as powerfull as posible, push and do not pull, do not overstride and do not try to do ‘choppy step’, especially not on the agility/acceleration ladder. Just relax and explode. Down, down, down…
As for choppy step during deceleration, I got your point. The goal is to maintain ‘athletic position’, be able to react, accelerate, stop and do a technical move, without ‘time lag’, ‘false steps’ (additional repositioning), etc. We emphasise ‘chop steps’ because players are then low and on balls of the feet. I guess if the players is fast, without ‘chop steps’, then hell, why fixing if not broken :slight_smile:
Thanks a lot!

In my view a lot of soccer players focus to much on frequency. Of course certain situations may demand it, to get to the ball in a certain way, but even so most players waste a lot of energy during a game because of it. The coach of the olympic 800 meter champion Vebjørn Rodal did mention once how he would like to teach soccer players a more efficient way of running. I would say that especially in the use of the arms there is a lot of gains to be had for most players.

The focus on frequency becomes very visible during a 40-meter test. I used to work out where a lot of the top teams around here did their testing and generally they couldn’t finish very well. The faster ones seemed to both start and finish the best though.

With that said most players probably run better during a game than when faced with an unfamiliar task like the 40-meter test. Still, the way the game is evolving, a player is expected to cover more ground during a single run than before, especially the full-backs, and with that in mind I think learning to run with the mechanics of a sprinter has it’s place. Ideally the player would choose the right execution of mechanics based on the situation at hand.

There are two very different ways to run, with the ball and without: arm action is simply the opposite, hip height is different, stride length is different; I think that it should be taught from the earlier age, so that a player would naturally switch from one style to the other (now it doesn’t happen).

For istance, one of my players has been coached by a former 200m olympic champion and it’s a pleasure to see him run without the ball, and of course he is faster than the others.

Thor and sprinterouge,
Do you think that teaching ‘sprint mechanics’ and yet demanding low position in the game will result in the ability of the players to ‘naturally switch styles’?

I think that if the fitness is there to begin with, it will happen automatically as soon as the mechanics are good enough. If the player is already old there may be some habits that need to be broken though. Maybe it will only be a matter of more time?

Is there a famous player that can master both equally good? Maybe there is some clip on youtube or something to show it.

I’m not that up to date on international soccer really. Henry seems to just kick the ball and run after rather than actually running with the ball. Messi can run very well with the ball, but not so good without. What about Kaka?

Is there a famous player that can master both equally good? Maybe there is some clip on youtube or something to show it.

I never paid too much attention to that in other teams than mines, but I have seen some pictures that depicted very good form in Juventus players, who, by the way, had been coached by some high level sprint and jump coaches that were consulting for the club.

Interesting thing, the slowest player of one of my teams (3.30" 20m FAT, with cleats on grass) is also one of the fastest with the ball.

Interesting… maybe we could ‘milk out’ some more info from my table test in ‘Some TESTING results’ thread by comparing 30m, zig-zag and zig-zag with ball…