Plyometric Exercises Improve Athleticism in Youth Soccer Players
Plyometrics is a valuable training tool for many athletes. The performing-enhancing effects of plyometric exercises are widely accepted, as is the inclusion of plyos in strength and conditioning programs. A study this month in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research raised deeper questions about the foundation of programming plyometrics for athletes.
In the study, researchers compared pubertal (around twelve to thirteen years old) elite soccer players, who were divided into two groups. One group engaged in their normal soccer training, and the other spent two sessions per week training in plyometrics. They followed this regimen for sixteen weeks. The researchers tested numerous typical factors, including sprinting, agility, and jumping.
At the end of sixteen weeks, the plyometric group showed significant improvement in most of the tests, such as the twenty-meter sprint, agility test, and various jumping protocols. Each of these protocols were improved at different rates. For example, agility improved right away, but stopped getting better after twelve weeks.
Now, these results are hardly surprising or new. But the study design was the most interesting part, and it leaves some greater questions, which are even more fascinating than the results. The improvement created by plyometrics was measured by fitness tests. Soccer coaches commonly perform these assessments, but what matters most is whether the improvements actually made these children better soccer players. After all, that’s the whole point of bothering with training and testing, anyway.
The above question was highlighted in this study because the players replaced a portion of their soccer training with plyometric training. The two plyometric training sessions each week actually replaced two of their soccer sessions. Although a few tests of athleticism were improved in the plyometric group, actual soccer skills and other sport-specific factors, like individual soccer performance or teamwork, were not tested.
The strength of this study is that it raised these questions and also confirmed the benefits of plyometrics for general physical preparedness (GPP). While skill training is indeed essential for every athlete, time must also be set aside to develop basic athleticism. As a conditioning coach myself, I find more and more soccer coaches and players on board with this principle, especially when practice time is limited.
The question of whether or not the tested athletic variables translate to sport is an ongoing one that won’t be resolved anytime soon. As far as the soccer athletes in this study are concerned, they probably improved their sport performance as well, even if they did sacrifice some practice time to work on basic athletic components.
1. Quirin Söhnlein, et. al., “The effect of 16 weeks plyometric training on explosive actions in early to mid-puberty elite soccer players,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000387
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