During the pre-teen years, players undergo marked changes as their neuromuscular system develops. This is a time where tremendous gains are made in stature, strength, coordination and skill. However, the neuromuscular adaptations of young athletes are considerably different than older players. Thus, young players may require more specific training to improve performance. A study by researchers at the Universita degli Studi di Verona indicates that a program of coordination training is as effective as sprint training at increasing sprint speed. However, the coordination training program is far superior at improving sprinting with the ball.
The study which appears in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance enrolled 18 youth players. All were members of the youth program at the AC Chievo Verona professional club in Italy (mean age was 11 years). The players were divided into two groups, a sprint training group (ST) and a coordination training group (CT). Twice each week for 12 weeks the ST group performed a series of 10, 10m and 20m maximal effort sprints. Each sprint was separated by a full recovery (60-90sec). The CT group performed a series of coordination drills that included speed ladder runs, high-knee skipping, lateral skipping and change of pace runs. After the 30min training sessions, they all participated in their regular soccer training session.
After training, both groups increased their sprint speed by ~2.3% and neither group improved their vertical jump height. However, the ST group failed to improve at sprinting with the ball. On the other hand, the CT group improved sprinting speed with the ball by 5.4%.
These results suggest that a program of coordination training that involves multiple types of rapid movements results in greater improvements of the neuromuscular system than a one-dimensional activity (e.g sprinting). The bottom line is that coordination training may improve motor skills in a way that also improves soccer specific speed such as running with the ball.
Coaches working with pre-teen players should consider coordination training as a part of their training routine. Not only might it improve soccer skill, but studies show that coordination training is an integral part of injury prevention programs. Thus, activities involving speed ladders, skipping and changes in direction may have a double benefit, improving performance and lowering the risk of injury.
Venturelli M, Bishop D, Pettene L (2008) Sprint training in preadolescent soccer players. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 3:558-552.