BLACK Africa fitness coach and 6mo9 Sports Namibia founder Alfred Ndyenge provides weekly pointers for footballers and their coaches, to help them improve performance levels. This week, the focus is on timing and acceleration.
SPEED OF THOUGHT
TODAY, I am breaking down the importance of your starting speed in any position or angle, acceleration, top speed, deceleration and co-operative speed.
Starting speed is largely a response to some stimulus that involves a series of cognitive processes. For example, you are marking an opponent, their teammate spots them, looks down and strikes the ball. Who gets to the ball first?
Two players who mastered the art of anticipation come to mind, former Brave Warriors stalwart Mohammed 'Slice' Ouseb and Emilio 'Mari-Boy' Martin of Black Africa.
In order to intercept this pass, you must make a number of decisions very quickly: What space is the striker moving to? Is the ball played to the feet or into space? How fast are they moving? What is your speed? When do you have to start running to beat them to the ball? How about the pace and spin on the pass? How do you time your response to the pass in relation to the striker's speed? Is the ball on the ground or in the air?
If it is in the air, you have to plot out the anticipated flight of the ball and determine where on the field and on your body (head, chest, foot, etc) you plan to have contact with the ball, then factor in the opponent's skills and speed.
Then consider what you will do with the ball when you get to it. Control? Head the ball? One-touch? Two-touches? Shoot? Clear? To whom/where?
All these decisions are taken in fractions of a second. These are all part of those mental features that add to speed of thought and reaction. These are not reflexes; these are reactions, and the two are not the same thing.
How does one get better at this? Deliberate practice and repetition. Some say the difference between the elite and average players is that the elite have practised skills so much that the execution of the skills is second nature, performed on a sub-conscious level, so to speak, that allows the conscious part of the brain to focus on tactics.
But the running part too can be improved. This too is mental because improvement in speed is largely changing how you run the skill. In football, improvement in top-end sprint speed is not all that important.
Why? Look at 100-metre sprinters. These runners do not reach top speed until the middle third of the race; it takes 30 metres to reach top speed. In football, full, all-out sprints (i.e. over 30 metres) are pretty rare. Most runs are of 30 metres or less.
What that means is that the time spent teaching one to increase top-end sprint speed might be time better spent on other lessons, like the first 30 metres where the player is reacting and accelerating, but never quite reaching top speed. Thus, the initial first steps are important.
African players are believed to have natural quickness and flexibility, whereas players from other continents huff and puff to improve these aspects.
Also, this is a technical challenge for many of us to combine soundly to execute perfect tactics while doing this skill over and over.
Naturally gifted professional footballers who put in the extra effort make this look easy, week in and out. With a bit of practise, you can too.
Until next time, God speed and maintain the fitness!
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