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Exercises with cones, slalom poles and coordination ladders – That’s coordination training for most coaches. But there is much more to it than just training the coordination of legs and feet. In total there are 7 soccer-specific components relating to coordination skills that one should become familiar with. It will change the way you coach those skills.

What is key to a well developed body coordination?

You are likely to have seen scenario’s like this many times before: Messi gets the ball and starts to dribble. Here a feint, there a quick movement in order to dodge the oncoming defenders. Four opponents later and an exceptional pass into the direct path of his teammate. Soccer players like Lionel Messi are able to perform such maneuvers game after game. In addition to the less important factors such as talent and instinct, such an ability is to a large extent due to outstanding coordinative skills that have been trained for years. “coordination training” is certainly a term used by every coach, but which components does coordination comprise of and what relevance does this have in soccer?The fourth part of the season planning series aims to answer these questions as well as give you some practical tips for soccer-specific coordination training.

Firstly, it is important to understand how extensive the term coordination actually is. According to the scientists Meinel and Schnabel it consists of the following 7 components:

  • Balance ability

  • Orientation ability

  • Differentiation ability

  • Reaction ability

  • Rhythmic ability

  • Ability to adapt

  • Interoperability

The various degrees to which these abilities have been developed, each have different effects on the way we solve existing motion tasks. A player has to for example, whilst dribbling, take many elements into consideration in order solve the situation in the best possible way. The ability to locate opponents visually is just as important as being able to locate the opponent acoustically in order to handle calls from teammates. Likewise, the player has to feel how the ball behaves on the grass, how much time is available to carry out his action and many other possible stimuli that may have an impact on the players.

The groundwork for optimum handling of complex movement’s is often already laid in early childhood. When one thinks of the simple game of catch, some parallels to dribbling through a series of defenders can for example be drawn. As a matter of fact it is of great importance, specifically in coordination demanding sports, at what age children start their sporting activity. Meinel and Schnabel established through several studies that children between the age of 10 and 13 can best learn and develop motor and coordinative skills. In contrast to general body size the head and brain at this age are already very developed. Furthermore, certain factors such as motivation, conditional abilities, mobility and the central nervous system have a major impact on the training of coordination skills. One often notes that shorter players solve coordinative tasks better and with more elegance than do tall players. Nevertheless, each of the components of coordinative skills can be significantly improved through specific coordination training in soccer.

Coordination training in soccer

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One of these components is the ability to differentiate. It describes the fine-tuning of all movements. With how much force to kick the ball, at which angle one’s foot should be in order for the pass to arrive where intended or how much the ball rolls on the grass. In all these issues, the ability to differentiate is in demand. This also includes all running and jumping forms as well as any ball techniques belonging to this area. In order to improve these skills different ball shapes and sizes can be used in any ball-related soccer exercises. Players are forced to better assess the ball and accordingly adjust the necessary power needed. Shooting exercises using different techniques or targets have a similar effect. Another method is to change the terrain, such as a wet grass or uneven ground.

A good reaction ability is the ability to gain awareness of a particular situation, and then to solve it as quickly and as appropriately as possible. In soccer this is required at virtually every action taken by the opposition, especially from the perspective of the goalkeeper. Any forms of competition exercises where players must react on visual, acoustical or tactile stimuli, are suitable as a training method. In more advanced area’s, combinations of different stimuli are possible. The more complex the stimulus, the more players will be challenged and encouraged under pressure to respond properly.

Another component is the conversion ability. Which involves rapid switching in the case of a required sudden change in motion. This for example is the case in a “one on one” situation, a feint shot at the goal or even a loss of the ball where the attacking team suddenly becomes the defending team. Over the past few years, Jürgen Klopp has proved with Borussia Dortmund how important a well developed conversion capability can be, in that counter pressure would temporarily be perfected. In soccer training this can be practiced, for example by alternating from offensive to defensive tactics or even with multiple goals per team. It becomes even more complex, when these tasks or the assignment of the respective goals are kept variable by optical or acoustic signals. A steady change in the number of ball contacts would further complicate these tasks. All these exercises also relate to an additional component, namely the orientation ability.

"In practice, the components of the coordinative ability are hardly ever trained individually. Often it is a combination of different aspects. Coordination training in Soccer should not be different."

Interoperability includes the seamless connection of learned patterns of movement, such as rotation about one’s axis or a dribble and a subsequent cross. In contrast rhythm ability is about the timing and the flow of these movements. Because of the close connection between these two components it is in praxis almost impossible to train them independently. Exercises of these two areas are probably most commonly associated with classic coordination training. The use of coordination ladders, cones, slalom poles and a subsequent combination of several forms of exercise with a soccerball are essential here.

As a last remaining facet of coordination training is the ability to balance. In principle, it is the foundation for all movements on the field. The maintaining or restoring of balance is demonstrated in many situations, such as during an attempted tackle, jumps to header and chases. Of particular importance is this ability in different weather conditions. Exercises with changing surfaces, such as a wobble board, balance board or a crash mat have a similar effect to that of training on a wet pitch. A stabilization training aims at the strengthening of the inner muscles, as it was already mentioned in the article for strength training, and also has a major impact on the ability to balance.

When to practice coordination skills in soccer?

Pay attention to coordination training as a key factor. In practice the components of coordination are almost never trained individually. It is often a combination of different aspects. The execution of movements as well as the defined rules within the exercise should vary constantly so that new stimuli are introduced, triggering new adaptation effects. Soccer exercises for coordination tasks should be demanding, but not overwhelming. Some helpful advice for you, the coach, would be to use a common didactic method meaning to move from simple to more complex exercises. The progression of coordination training should be integrated throughout the year. It should therefore exist in both the preparation phase and competition phase. As a part of coordination training within your training program.

A final tip that should not be ignored!

In most textbook it is said that coordination exercises, as it concerns motor learning, have to be always practiced before exercises focusing on conditioning, so players are not fatigued but awake. If movements are no longer executed correctly, an incorrect pattern of movements can consequently be stored and thus contribute negatively toward increasing your players performance. Basically we can not argue with this guideline, but it is mostly related to athletes learning new movements and new motor skills. But think about it. Especially in team sports it is important for a player to still be able to solve coordinative tasks late in the game. Even in the 87th minute of the last game of the season. This should be the main reason why you would also like to switch things up in practice and execute a coordination exercise towards the end of your training session, every now and then.

In short, we have discussed all the important elements concerning coordination and conditional abilities and have hopefully provided you with some valuable tips. Naturally such topics are science in themselves, that can always be further improved upon. However, it is initially important for an amateur coach to get a basic understanding of the various aspects of these abilities in order to plan an “all round” season plan.

Exercise example: Coordination exercise in soccer

It’s off to practice now. We chose an exercise out of our database, for you to execute during your next coordination session. This exercise consists of three stations, which each combine different components of coordination skills with soccer specific movements. As a variation to these stations, we recommend to use different sized balls at one of the stations. You could also change the condition of the grass, for example add water to some parts.

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If you are interested in more coordination exercises, go and have a look at our database.


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