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Improving Soccer Performance through Strength Training

Updated: Aug 5, 2022

What makes the game of soccer such a difficult sport to master? And why is American soccer behind Italy, Brazil, Germany, England, and so many other countries? Although multiple factors play a role the answer is fairly simple, it’s how these young players are trained.

What makes the world game (soccer, Fútbol, Football, etc…) such a difficult sport to master? And why is American soccer behind Italy, Brazil, Germany, England, and so many other countries? Although multiple factors play a role the answer is fairly simple, it’s how these young players are trained.

In other countries young soccer athletes join soccer schools and clubs that have set curriculums focused on developing them physically, technically, tactically and psychologically. These traits create a much quicker, stronger and smarter soccer player.

So what do we do about our U15, U16, U17, etc… when they have missed this window of opportunity to develop them? We immediately involve them in a long term athletic performance program that focuses on physical development coupled with technical training. The program should involve weightlifting, resistance training, dynamic agility, change of direction (COD) training, on the ball skill work, and much more…

This article is going to explain how a German case study correlated levels of strength, squat strength to be exact, and its relation to COD performance. Keep in mind in soccer COD is the most repeated skill in the sport.

COD is a vital component in soccer; it allows soccer athletes to juke their opponents, recover the ball faster during transition and react quicker to the game. German researchers studied a group of youth soccer players for 2 years as they underwent a specific strength training program. They compared the results to a group with no strength training and only soccer training, as well as professional adult soccer athletes.

They tested strength levels using the following:

  • Maximal front and back squats

  • Short sprint speeds over 10-30 meters

  • COD ability

The training program went through a month long technique training phase followed by repeated 2 month cycles of hypertrophy training, strength training and then maximal strength training. The exercises were front squats, back squats, deadlifts and various other compound movements.

Results showed that the strength training group saw dramatic increases to their sprint speed and COD ability versus the control group that only did soccer training.

As well, the training group significantly increased their strength levels, particularly in the lower body, thus decreasing their likelihood to suffer from injury. The strength was measured by back squat 1RM relative to body mass.

The study was broken down into the age groups under 19, under 17 and under 15. The U19 soccer athletes who strength trained became faster than adult professional athletes over that 2 year period. As well, the strength group improved COD by as much as 10 percent compared to the soccer only group.


A two year strength program dramatically increased the soccer athlete’s performance versus that of a soccer player who performed no strength training. The strength group saw the following improvements:

  • Increased maximal strength thus resulting in an enhancement of COD ability along with an ability to excel / complete other complex tasks

  • Improved strength levels lead to a decrease in the risk of being injured; this is a direct result of the high levels of dynamic and eccentric strength performed while squatting

  • Short speed & agility and acceleration levels were drastically enhanced; this is a direct result of the concentric action performed during squats, deadlifts and other compound movements

  • The eccentric training performed during a squat also lead to more efficient amortization phases (i.e. relies on an ability to decelerate) while sprinting, which dramatically enhanced sprint times

The study concluded that youth training should start as young as 6-7 years old with the focus on technique training. As movement efficiency is developed slowly and progressively focuses on strength and speed. Strength during these years creates smarter muscles by developing more nerve endings within the muscle thus becoming active when they are needed. We are teaching them how to use the correct muscles efficiently at a subconscious level.

By placing our young soccer athletes in long term athletic performance training programs that focus on strength and technical skill in combination, within a progressive curriculum of course, America can start to level out the playing field.


Sander, K., et al. Long-Term Strength Training Effects on Change-of-Direction Sprint Performance. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. ©2013.

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