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Speed Endurance for Football: Theory and Practice
How to train for speed endurance
Not so long ago, football speed and football speed endurance were mentioned far less than they are currently.
Arguably, it could be said that speed, strength and power are excessively emphasised and tested in British football.
However, that could be countered by saying the British style of play needs and suits these requirements.
This may well be true, but at European and World tournaments superior technique, decision-making, intelligence and tactics appear to be extremely important attributes for success (in conjunction with good conditioning of course) – especially when we consider world-class players and teams like Xavi and Iniesta of Barcelona and Spain.
What is speed endurance?
The ability to actually sustain near maximum speed, withstand the effects of fatigue, and to recover quickly is a huge requirement of many sports. Obviously, the higher performance level the greater the need!
In my experience both as a football coach and a player, speed endurance sessions are frequently received with apprehension! In recent years I have found it increasingly important to ‘sell’ and attempt to ‘educate’ the requirement of speed endurance training to certain male and female adult squads.
Interestingly, I have found that these sessions provided me with more than just physiological information and data. For example, I have found that these sessions provide a real insight to the psychological strength and character of certain individuals within a squad.
From my experience, these behaviours usually (but not always!) correlate with athlete behaviours during match-play – for example, when things get tough some individuals will rise to the challenge and the demands placed upon them, and conversely others may struggle.
The under-performers may ‘pull out’, ‘feel a twinge’, and generally make excuses for performing poorly during tough sessions. Their favourite question is, ‘how many are we doing’; or, ‘how long are we doing this for’….!
As a coach this can be frustrating, but it is also reality in certain cases. In my early coaching days (and now if I’m totally honest!) it did annoy me a little. However, I have adapted my coaching sessions with certain squads in an attempt to ‘mask’ the fact that this aspect of training is very demanding.
When do I train speed endurance?
It appears to be accepted that when footballers are compared to other sports performers, they are not particularly superior in one specific area of fitness – apart from the anaerobic performance.
My former university lecturer Professor Craig Sharp links elite footballers to squash players in saying that they are very impressive in this fitness parameter.
Professor Sharp also emphasised the importance of a good aerobic level of fitness, prior to specific speed and speed endurance work. So speed endurance training is not to be recommended for the off-season or early-phase pre-season sessions; however, during mid to late pre-season you can perform speed endurance sessions (separated by a minimum of 48 hours, and not 48 hours prior to a match).
During the regular season such sessions may be reduced to one or even omitted if matches are twice weekly (though not for bench/squad players!)
In my experience as a trainee and professional player in the 1990s, speed endurance sessions consisted of straight-line shuttle runs (5, 10, 15, 20 metres) – literally to exhaustion, with little recovery time in-between bouts (technique/ball work was omitted).
It wasn’t well-received by performers, and arguably did not mirror actual performance requirements. I also experienced this type of ‘training’ being used as a ‘punishment’ immediately following poor match performances.
As a youth team player I also recall a 12-minute Cooper run also being used as a ‘punishment’ the morning before an evening FA Youth Cup match (that went to extra time!).
Practical tips for training speed endurance
You may ask what has the aforementioned got to do with the actual application of speed endurance training in football..?! Well, hopefully the following points may assist when planning these sessions with senior squads.
It is very hard to recommend a regimented, prescriptive programme because the coach has many variables to consider. Also, it is possible for coaches to use traditional training methods like small-sided games and drills to enhance speed endurance.
I have found 1 v 1 work (an attacker versus defender principle) very useful for speed endurance in the following ways:
- It simulates match-play (technique, agility, reaction time, decision-making, multi-directional, foot speed, competitive etc.)
- Performer’s rotate roles and therefore work with and without the ball. ie., 45 s work, 45 s active rest, 45 s work (reps/sets are squad dependent!)
- With target cones to score at, it gives a competition-based activity, and this can aid with masking the demands for lower-motivated performers, yet aid motivation for winning/competitive mentalities.
- Changing partners after a set also appears to work well with players.
- Repeatable sessions
- Measurable – use specific areas/grids – 20m by 20m, 15m by 15m (squares or triangles)
- Heart rate – manual or HR monitor
- Duration – variations: 30 s work, 60 s active rest, 30 s work etc.
- Frequency – depends on match/training schedule – apply common sense!
- Timing– when players are well-warmed up, but not at the end of a tough, long session.
- Squad type – elite levels require more specific speed endurance training.
- Specificity – simulate match performance and requirements
Darren Watts MSc Sports Coaching BSc (Hons) Sport Sciences PGCE
UEFA B Licence Coach. Coaching experience: Oxford Utd FC, Derby County FC.
"James worked with the Exeter and Taunton based Southwest Talent Centre scholarship athletes. He is deeply knowledgeable about strength and conditioning and has excelled at working with young athletes. His sessions are challenging and fun and he has succeeded in blending a group of athletes from a diverse range of sports into a cohesive training group.
10 Apr 2019
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