February 8, 2011

    It’s all about that last step

    At UCLA, we used to have volleyball players that chose to line up 30 feet away from the net, thinking that the more time they had to run up, the higher their jump would be. Sometimes soccer athletes have the same mentality, the faster I run up to the ball, the further/harder I can kick it. For either of these actions, you only need a few steps, and even then, it is the last step that makes the biggest difference.

    Whether you are kicking a soccer ball or jumping to hit a volleyball, the last step allows momentum to be transferred into the desired action. Volleyball coaches call it the block step, the last step that allows you to efficiently “block” your forward momentum and convert it into upward momentum. Soccer players talk about the importance of the plant leg, rather than the leg that is actually striking the ball.

    The key to both of these last steps is your vertical force production down into the ground. It converts the horizontal approach towards the net into an upward motion, and forward steps into a crossover kick. A 2008 study, out of the University of Puget Sound’s Exercise Science Department, found this vertical force to be the major differentiator between male and female soccer players. In fact this force applied downward was the only value greater in males compared to females.

    So when you need to change momentum, whether it is your approach jump in volleyball or striking a soccer ball, the approach speed is not the critical portion, but the last step that allows you to efficiently transfer such initial horizontal movement. The next question is which aspect of this vertical force needs to be improved the most, the RATE (how quickly you can create such force to make your transfer sooner) or the TIME (how long you can sustain such force to fully transfer all momentum).

    Deciding which aspect of this vertical force you need is all about making your training the most efficient, just like your last step.

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