Defining & Designing Athleticism Development Programs

If the ultimate goal of your program is to build better athletes, how do you set this process in motion? How do you begin to develop something as broad and multidimensional as “ATHLETICISM”?  Where do you start…? …and how will you know when you have reached your goal? As you probably already know, it is very difficult to define athleticism, and the word probably means something slightly different to every one of your athletes. But before you can develop ATHLETICISM, you first must come up with your own definition of ATHLETICISM…you have to create a visual image of you end goal. The short video below shows our definition, with some visual references as seen from a soccer perspective.

In the video, we laid out our definition of athleticism as…

Being athletically conditioned, so that at critical times during the game, the player can effectively coordinate specific motor abilities and non-specific motor abilities to execute a key motor ability and effectively achieve a tactical objective

This definition, although lengthy and complex, accurately depicts what we are training our athletes to become. We are not just training them for the combine (training to run a fast 40yd dash, or test well in a standing vertical jump). Instead we are looking to integrate the technical side of sport with the physical side of sport, to develop a player that is balanced and stable, technically efficient, explosive and quick, and can perform at a very high level throughout the entire game. This is the foundation of our AthleteFIT (or Functionally Integrated Training) program model. We use this model (outlined in the previous video, and shown in the image below – adapted from Mel Siff’s Supertraining) as a visual representation of this definition.

Motor Ability Chart

We start off many of our staff meetings with questions like “How can we get more athleticism into the training sessions”, and at least once a year we attempt to redefine our approach to training, based on what we have learned about our program over the past year.  And year after year we come up with the same answers… We need to bring in more:

  • Speed
  • Power
  • Quickness
  • Reactive Qualities
  • Decision Making
  • Skill…etc.

But to train athleticism using all of these aspects would require a hours of training every day, which none of us have the time to do given the restrictions and time constraints of our athletes schedules. And even if we did have time, how would we blend this all together? How would we decipher our testing of each of these characteristics, and then mold the findings into an appropriate and time efficient training program?

To do this we need to look at the big picture, the long term development model. We have to look beyond the classic “Improve your vertical in 6 weeks” approach that has become so very popular with the YouTube generation training centers. Although we discuss this in much more depth in our Three Day Coaches Workshops, we can start by outlining a starting point and give a few examples of how we would progress.

Move Well…

It all begins with being balanced, stable and in full control of your movements and actions (hard skills). We need rhythm, body control and awareness of where we are, where we are going and how we are going to get there. Before we can execute skill, we first have to control our bodies as they are in motion. These elementary, non-specific abilities should be refined in the critical developmental ages (6-10 years old). Failure to refine these simple patterns results in a player that is less confident in their abilities, less confident in their movements, and thus probably less willing to try (this downward spiral is explained in more depth in other parts of our Coaches Workshop Manual).

Motivation SpiralMaster Simple Technical Skills…

During this time, the player should also be developing simple, technical skill based abilities like throwing, catching, kicking, punting, juggling, dribbling, passing, etc. (also hard skills). Failure to develop these abilities at the younger ages leads us back into the downward spiral pictured above. As players get older, it becomes much more difficult to develop these skills and abilities.

Below is an example of how you might run a training session for this younger age group to begin to address and integrate multiple skill sets:

Soccer Lateral Movement Session 1: (Ages 6-10)

Physical (Movement) Skills Training: Designed to teach balance and body control as the foot is quickly repositioned under the upper body (which stays steady during the exercise). The quicker the player can reposition the feet, while staying balanced and in control of their body, the better prepared they are to add the skill component with a ball.

  • Balance Reach Back
  • Quick Lateral Hops (over a line)
  • Quick Lateral Hops (over a line) Moving Forward/Backward
  • Quick Crossover (over a line – or cone)

Technical (Ball Skills) Training: Utilizing the quick foot drills above, add a reactive skill component by adding a ball. These quick, small touches alternating the inside of the foot and outside of the foot build coordination and confidence with the ball, while also developing body control and awareness. 

  • Scissors Around the Ball
  • Stepovers Around the Ball
  • Inside Outside (right foot)
  • Inside Outside (left foot)
  • Inside Outside (alternate feet)
  • Inside Outside (alternate feet – moving forward)
  • 5 Cone Dribbling
  • Agility with the Ball

The video clip above shows some of our developing young players working through the exercises in this training session. You will see them adjusting their speed, trying to balance, and developing coordination.

If you have first developed a strong foundation of body control, the use of the ball now takes on a duel purpose. It can be used to develop quick feet as well as soccer skill in a single session. At this point, we have shortened our training session by incorporating two aspects into one drill. In future sessions we will begin to incorporate speed, agility, reaction to other players, fitness and tactical awareness into a single drill. This “Functionally Integrated Approach” to training can now build multiple aspects of sport specific athleticism within a single drill.

So why don’t we train with a ball, against other players, in tactical settings from the beginning?

If a player lacks the rhythm, body control or coordination to quickly reposition the feet under the body, then the dribbling drills will be slowed and awkward. As their body gets out of position, they reach for the ball, take false steps, big touches and lose control. If we lose control, we slow down (and if we slow down we are no longer working speed or fitness). If the player lacks confidence in these simple skills they will hesitate, and become frustrated in faster, game like settings. This leads us back into the downward spiral. So our system for developing athleticism requires a solid foundation in hard skills (drills listed in the training session above), and a slow merge of the soft skills (reactive, situational training learned from games).

Eventually we can integrate the entire model shown above into a single training session to build coordination, confidence, speed, agility, skill, awareness, timing, fitness, communication, etc. This not only saves time, but also limits the amount of fatigue our players will accumulate over the season (more focus + fewer sessions = faster, fresher legs). This only works if we first set the foundation at the younger ages.

For our entire system for developing soccer speed and skill, check out our Game Speed and Skill Program. Or if you would like to get our online version of our three day Coaches Workshop check out the Coaches Workshop 2013: Foundations of Athleticism.


  1. Scott,

    What’s a “balance reach back”? I didn’t see anything in the video that seemed to match that term and I did a search of the athletefit site and it didn’t appear.


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