With the rise of Speed, Agility & Quickness programs and courses over the past 10 years, there has of course been a rise in the amount of soccer teams adopting new and creative ways of conditioning their players.
From professional clubs like Man Utd and Barcelona right through to your local grassroots club conditioning exercises such as ladder drills are becoming more and more prevalent.
Now, while I think ladder and other conditioning drills that aim to improve attributes such as speed, agility, balance, strength, quick-thinking etc are a fantastic idea, that’s really all they are – an idea.
Countless times, I have seen coaches pull out the ladders, the parachutes and hurdles because it looks good. They become the star attraction – an all too familiar scene these days.
The thing is it doesn’t matter how colourful your ladders are, how big your parachute is or how many different sizes of hurdles you have – if you don’t know what you’re doing then your time (and your player’s time) is wasted.
While I do strongly encourage ALL coaches to make sessions as specific as possible (coaching with a ball and using as many soccer game situations as possible) sometimes using ladders and other equipment without a ball can be beneficial. For example, you can use them to;
- Support your warm ups
- Aid in any rehabilitation
- Develop your player’s quick-thinking
- Improve finer footwork movement
- Engage younger players for longer (remember your attention span when you was 12?!)
- Add a little more fun into your sessions
The problem that arises with many coaches is that speed / agility ladders are often used as a stand-alone drill.
Footwork Drills: Video Tutorial
Before I go into detail on how you can make your ladder drill more effective, have a look at this video below from TrainingWithEps.
Speed Ladder Exercises
Now the exercises that are done in the video are okay exercises. They’re certainly not the only exercises you can do with a set of ladders, however they are a good starting point.
As you can see in the video, for younger players you might have a few weeks of ‘bambi feet’, but with a little practice you’ll see your players improve their game in places you just simply couldn’t measure in a 60 minute short passing session for example.
Ladder exercises allow you players to forget about the ball for a second and focus on the finer aspects on their technique.
Which brings me onto my next point about the video…
Improving Your Player’s Technique
Ladder drills and exercises are great to develop things such as your players speed, agility, balance, co-ordination and footwork. With your young players, I wouldn’t focus too much on technique, however the video above does miss one technique I would recommend you coach – arms.
A key component to any ‘conditioning’ program that you’re players will benefit from is power. Without power in their movements their going to struggle to gain any speed.
If you’ve ever had coaching from or been involved in an athletics team you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about.
Try to get your player to pump their arms in sync with their footwork to gain more power in their movements.
Agility Ladder Repetitions
If you’re lifting weights in the gym, you wouldn’t just pick it up, do one rep and put it back down again. (1RM aside!) Ladder drills are no different.
Like most physical activities, you’ll start off with some easier movements and then work your way up to the harder more intense movements. You’ll also want to repeat each movement a few times to give each player a chance to practice and slowly get better.
The video doesn’t talk about progressions at all.
There are a whole host of progressions (and regressions) you can do with a set of ladders;
- Make each movements more complicated
- Increase the Intensity of the exercises
- Decrease the amount of recovery time
- Add some bodyweight exercises into the mix
- Use a ball
- Add a competitive factor
There are literally thousands of ways to make your ladder drills different.
The big thing I want you to take away from this short post is;
Ladder drills, exercises and movements should more often than not be included in bigger drills. And, whilst making your soccer sessions as specific as possible, sometimes it is beneficial to use a ladder without a ball.
Using your ladder for warm ups and maybe just to engage your young players in the first place are two benefits for example.
The problem occurs when coaches use ladders for the sake of using them. Asking your players to run in straight lines continuously isn’t realistic and doesn’t mimic real-game scenarios very well.
Make sure, when you set up your next warm up, fitness or game specific drill, that you’re using your speed ladder to its full capability.
Ask yourself these questions before you go ahead;
- What am I trying to achieve with this drill?
- What do my players need to focus on to improve?
- Am I looking to improve speed, agility and quickness?
- OR, am I actually looking to improve the finer aspects of their footwork?
Try and ‘drill’ down on exactly what you’re trying to achieve and then plan your ladder work around that.
Hope this helps in clearing up the ladder drill argument.
Now. Go and plan your next session and make it as effective as humanly possible.
I believe in you!