To many old school baseball and football loving Americans, hating on soccer is something they love to do. Jim Rome, the sharp tongued sports reporter, is a great example of a proud hater of the beautiful game. Try as they may, they have no argument against the fact that soccer is the world’s most popular sport and no other event garners as much attention as the World Cup. The World Cup, like the Olympic Games, comes every four years and it is the ultimate combination of national pride, international festivity, and extremely high levels of skill, strategy, fitness, and athleticism. With excitement I say, we are only months away from World Cup 2010, South Africa!
The United States has come a long way in their development as a soccer nation with the likes of Landon Donovan (La Galaxy and Everton, England), Oguchi Onweyu (AC Milan, Italy), Freddy Adu (Benefica, Portugal), Clint Dempsey (Fulham, England) Damarcus Beasley/ Maurice Edu (Rangers,Scotland) and the list goes on. In the names above you will find at least one of two common denominators: skill and/or speed. Landon Donovan has both, Dempsey has more skill and less speed, and Onweyu is more speed and athleticism and less skill. One of the two qualities must be in place, but in top players, some degree of both necessary to compete at high levels.
While developing skills has less of a genetic component than athleticism and comes down to how much time you are willing to put in, the quality of coaching you receive, and the frequency and quality of competition you are exposed to, athletic development has its own factors that make its acquisition unique. For instance, anyone can get educated, dedicate themselves to eating and training properly and make significant gains without relying on anyone else.
World renowned Canadian track and field coach and speed developer Charlie Francis has a saying, “if it looks right, it flies right.” In other words, there are certain physical prerequisites to being super athletic and fast. To test Coach Francis’ idea, let’s look at some of the best soccer athletes (and players) in the world and see if we can find some patterns.
In no particular order:
Ribery. Drogba, C.Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Samuel Eto, Nicolas Anelka, Pato, Kaka, Messi.
1. They all have low levels of body fat. (Rooney may be an exception, but even he can get faster)
2. They all have muscular legs, especially big gluteal muscles and hamstrings. (big quads are overrated)
3. None of them are particularly top heavy (having a big upper body and weak legs- makes changing directions and sustaining high work rate throughout the match more difficult).
With that miniature checklist, you can now ask yourself, do I have low body fat? Are my glutes and hamstrings big and strong? Is my upper body too developed compared to my lower body?