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My eight-year old daughter is playing soccer. She's not terrible but she is just slow compared to all the other girls. Any ideas on exercises or drills that can help her run faster? Never been much of an athlete myself so I have limited knowledge in this area.

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Does she get tired quickly when she tries to run any faster? Else the 'safest' exercise would be increasing her basic endurance, simply let her run more often. But it will probably have to happen in a fun way, because I don't expect an eight year old to enjoy running laps. Are you able to join her regularly? –  Ivo Flipse Apr 11 '11 at 23:19
    
It's not an endurance issue, she is just slow and has kind of an awkward gait. Tried to tell her to take longer strides but it hasn't sunk in. –  Kevin Apr 11 '11 at 23:37
    
Saying "take longer strides" may not not mean a whole lot to someone if that's the exact and succinct wording. Can you provide some background as to how she trains, other activities that she does (or has done in the past), and how long she has been playing soccer? Is this just a physical issue? –  Matt Chan Apr 29 '11 at 12:15
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Speed workouts are definitely the way to go. I am a soccer coach and use speed latter, speed rings and sprints. –  user2290 Nov 4 '11 at 9:36
    
She's eight... Maybe do some box drills or suicides, and leave it at that--keep it fun. –  Dave Newton Nov 4 '11 at 17:18
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8 Answers 8

She's probably just not as developed neurologically as some of the other kids. Drills for quick foot work is what she'll need to work on the most. She'll need to practice with lots of repetition on a daily basis to show marked improvement if other girls her age seem to be preforming above her skill set right now.

If you have a wall she can kick the soccer ball against over and over, she'll be able to get a lot of practice in that way. You can play with her sort of like racket ball, with a soccer ball. That's probably the easiest way to get her interested in working on it.

Of course any old school foot ball drills would be the number one way to improve footwork. Ball and Chain, Karaoke, high knees, but kicks, skipping, and bounding. They're tough to explain in words, but they're pretty standard drills that you shouldn't have trouble finding video of on line.

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Will these exercises help to increase speed? Agree they help neurologically but not sure they increase overall speed. –  Christopher Ickes May 9 '11 at 3:06
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Before someone can really work on speed, they have to improve coordination. These drills will improve speed, but with someone who is so young, I imagine that the lack of speed is really a lack of coordination. These drills will improve coordination, and once it is improved, continued work will increase speed. If someone is already quite coordinated, their speed will be improved more readily when adding these drills to their program. –  Natalie Barnett May 15 '11 at 21:50
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To increase running speed, you'll want to target the "posterior chain", which includes hamstrings, glutes, lower back and abdominal muscles.

Since this question pertains to your daughter, I will avoid any weightlighting exercises since weight training at such a young age is controversial and is generally not advised.

Instead I will try to focus on body-weight exercises. I would use a mix-and-match the following exercises:

Hit the hill, but make it fast and short, and you get the maximum amount of training effect with the minimum amount of injury risk. "The best way to recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers is to run at max intensity," says Hudson. "The best way to build leg strength is hill running. So we run all-out up a steep hill. But we keep it to 10 seconds to avoid producing lactate and becoming fatigued." Running no more than 10-second repeats also reduces injury risk by limiting your fast-running time. And hills by their nature lessen the risk of injury because the slope shortens the distance you have to "fall" or land, reducing impact. "Studies of sprinting uphill show that the muscles are in constant 'overload' and the nervous system is firing hard," says Hudson. "It's the same speed benefit as track sprints, but safer."

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+1 with recommendation of NOT doing weights. In my opinion, at the age of 8 even body weights are a bad idea, the frame is too undeveloped, more so in females. Running up hill. Speed ladders are good as well. –  Stuart Blackler Nov 6 '11 at 22:44
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I used to play basketball. We had to work a lot on having explosive starts and fast sprints. We did sue-sides suicides to accomplish this. The image below illustrates how it is done in the basketball field. Of course, you can do similar exercises at home by running on the pavement or in the lokal park.

This exercise will not contribute to stamina endurance, and its sole purpose is to enhance explosive, short sprints.

enter image description here

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Care to elaborate on how this improves your sprints, rather than stamina? –  Ivo Flipse Apr 12 '11 at 12:58
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Are the really called "sue-sides"? I always thought the coaches were saying "Suicides" as in they are so tough you are killing yourself, figurativel speaking of course. –  Kevin Apr 12 '11 at 13:08
    
This exercise only takes about 5 to 10 minutes. I assume running on a football field requires more endurance than short sprints on a much smaller basketball field. You can compare it with a body builder - he will have some stamina, but more explosive power, than a marathon runner, for instance. I hope this clarifies it. –  Uw Concept Apr 12 '11 at 13:09
    
@Kevin - Oh yes, that's possible - sorry for my bad English, my native language is Dutch. –  Uw Concept Apr 12 '11 at 13:10
    
This will help sprint endurance / sprint stamina, thus the reason for the "ladder". It also helps with change of direction. –  Christopher Ickes May 15 '11 at 19:17
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This is just personal experience, over the past few months I started doing a large number of squats three times a week.

I play soccer all year round.

I have an increase in take-off speed, I can run at higher speeds later in a game and I also feel my thighs aren't as sore during recovery.

Disclaimer: You will need to figure out personally what a reasonable number of squats your child should be doing or if this is suitable for someone her age.

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Squats and deadlifts allow you to create greater force when pushing off the ground which means you overcome gravity easier which correspond to an increase in speed. For short sprints these will help. For endurance based events, they will also help provided they don't cause a corresponding increase in body mass (which would increase the effect of gravity) –  Christopher Ickes May 9 '11 at 3:18
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Some kids' motor skills develop at rates different than the other kids their age. This is a somewhat tricky area since in order to develop them, she needs to engage in some repetitious activity, and young children are often not fond of repetitious activity that isn't their idea.

The earlier answer that mentioned kicking a soccer ball against a wall and making a game out of it is a pretty good idea. Other things that will help are (oddly enough) things like playing hop-skotch, skipping, and jumping rope. Anything that requires balance shifts, direction changes, and exact foot/hand placement will work, as long as it's fun for her.

Keep in mind that if it's not fun she won't want to do it enough for it to help her motor skills. And keep in mind that some children simply develop those skills slower than others. I was unable to jump rope until I was like 10. But I went on to play JV basketball, take 5th in the State Wrestling Tournament, 8th in the 100m dash, and 5th in the 400m dash in high school.

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Ever seen movies where the character gets a new body, and needs time to get used to it? That's what growing up is like, and if you don't have enough practice "using" your body, you will handle it incorrectly.

Best advice: find a similar skill level for her to play with, until she develops the skills Natalie talks about. If you can't, then yeah, any level of practice will help develop those skills.

Important: nothing's wrong with her, just needs practice.

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Maybe her muscle performance is (genetically?) more suited for long-term endurance sports like marathon running for example.

Simple experiment. Just observe what happens:

Tell her that -although she might not be the fastest in the first half of the game- she can still be the fastest in the last 15 minutes of the game when the other players are more exhausted than her.

Maybe she can simply outrun the defenders in one of the last attacks. It's possible to score key goals that way. She must still be willing to perform well at the end, it's difficult after being slower for 80 minutes (or if the other players aren't exhausted at all). Maybe you can still motivate her?

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Increase pure top speed? Short change of speed drills are best. Recommend these ideas for your daughter.

1) make it fun. Whatever you do, make it fun with positive reinforcement anytime she performs a desirable action. Regardless of talent or speed increase, positive reinforcement will hopefully allow her to enjoy exercise for her life and find personal value in being active. Way more important than speed.

2) 2-3 times a week conduct speed workouts with her. Use short distances and have her run close to top speed with 3 minutes rest between reps. An example progression would be... 4 x 40 meters at top speed 6 x 40 meters 4 x 60 meters 6 x 60 meters 2 x 60, 2 x 100, 2 x 40 respect the bowerman principle of hard day followed by an easy or rest day

3) once a week run short hill sprints. Sprints should be 10 seconds up the hill followed by a jog down and then followed by a 3 minute rest. Start at 4 or 5 and add one a week until you are up to 10 or so.

Hope this helps.

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