Youth Strength and Conditioning

Drills to improve your sprint performance in football

men playing football

A game of football consists of a series of sprints strategically performed over 90 minutes. These sprints involve lots of short, rapid bursts of acceleration. 

As the sprints are so intense, footballers need to decide when to sprint and when to conserve their energy. Footballers usually sprint all out for around 2-10 seconds and they need to be ready to run all out again in 10-30 seconds. Even the fittest footballers wouldn’t be able to sprint at maximum intensity during the entire game, they would quickly exhaust themselves and hobble off the pitch after 10 minutes, which demonstrates how energy consuming high quality sprints are even for elite players. 

To excel in sprinting, footballers need to be strong, mobile and as conditioned as possible, which means practice, your strength training, mobility training and then your sprint drills throughout the week! 

Sprint drills aren’t the most popular activity, but they are worth it. Sprinting requires huge amounts of energy and participating in regular sprint practice will allow your body to get used to the circumstances and help you to improve your performance so you aren’t crawling off the pitch after 10 minutes.

Drills to improve sprint speed

Basic sprints

  • Perform 10 sprints per sessions, varying distances. 
  • Keep your head down when you first start the sprint, then as you progress rise up as this will help with speed.

Push-Up Starts

This develops leg drive and start mechanics and improves hip power, balancing out lower-body strength.

  • Set up two cones 20 yards apart.
  • Lie down on your stomach at Cone 1 with your hands in a push-up position.
  • When prompted, get up and sprint past the second cone.
  • While sprinting, stay low for as long as you can.
  • Jog back to the beginning for recovery.
  • Perform 6 to 8 reps.

Flying Sprints

  • This drill focuses on acceleration from a jog and simulates the movements you need to effectively transition from general field coverage to closing the gap and making a play.
  • Set up two cones 20 yards apart and a third cone 10 yards past Cone 2.
  • Stride out at 75 percent of full speed from Cone 1 to Cone 2.
  •  Fall to your acceleration angle and push to full speed before passing Cone 3.
  • Jog back to the beginning for recovery.
  •  Perform 6 to 8 reps.
  • For variety, the first part can be a shuffle instead of striding out.

Sprint-Backpedal Repeats

This drill imitates field movements, like when a defender reads a play and attacks the ball. It also reinforces proper acceleration mechanics when changing from a backpedal to a sprint.

  • Set up five cones in a straight line 5 yards apart. Number them 1-5.
  • Standing at Cone 1, lean and sprint to Cone 3.
  • Backpedal to Cone 2. Keep your core set, posture low and weight on the balls of your feet.
  • Change direction by driving with your legs and pushing into a full forward sprint toward Cone 4. When sprinting, get your knees up to produce force and punch the ground with the balls of your feet.
  • Backpedal to Cone 3.
  • Change direction one last time and sprint past Cone 5.

Tips for improving sprints 

  • Sprint train twice per week, minimum. But not before a competitive game
  • Run 10 sprints, varying distances. 
  • Time some of your sprints to measure and track progress. 
  • Sprint all year round. In bad weather, run indoors.
  • Video yourself sprinting to improve technique and watch professionals sprint and pay attention to form and technique. 
  • Perform flexibility and mobility training after your sprint drills and other training to help with recovery. 
  • Perform plyometrics twice per week, read about why plyometrics are important for reactive strength here
  • Perform strength training exercises like squats, deadlifts and push ups. 
  • Keep your head down when you first start the sprint, then as you progress rise up as this will help with speed.
  • Ask a fast runner to chase you on the pitch. It will help you to get faster and provide optimal 1 vs 1 training. 



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