Mastering change in direction in youth sport (soccer case study)

neonbrand-avcbdbr-lwc-unsplashMastering Change In Direction In Youth Sport (soccer case study)


Rianna Poskin, CSCS

I’ll never forget instructing a soccer training session for a new team a few years back. Within 5 minutes of practice starting, a young teenage girl blew out her knee in the warm up.

The warm-up was designed to help decrease the risk of injuries, but in this case it caused a HUGE injury!

So what went wrong? When we’re working with kids we have to understand why we’re doing certain things and then assess if in fact we’re doing it the right way.

This warm-up was a fantastic thing for the girls to be doing, unfortunately they weren’t implementing it in the way that it was intended.

If you’re working with youth sport then I’m so happy that you’re reading this article!

Teaching kids how to change direction is part of implementing an “injury prevention” program.

This article will give you simple tips and drills to implement in short amounts of time that could drastically improve an athletes athleticism, speed, power, and above all else, decrease their risk of injury!

Let’s use soccer as our sport to create a case study to break down some key points.


 (Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash)

Have a look at the photo above and look at the goalie coming out. She is going hard towards the ball and in a split second she’s going to have to make a decision about which way to move next.

For simplicity sake, let’s imagine that she’s going to slow down her run, get low and dive in order to smother the ball.

The goalie will plant her feet while her momentum takes her forward, and then she’s going to have to push into the ground in order to change the momentum in a new direction.

Here’s where you come in! Before you advance too far into the season one of the first things that you can teach your athletes is the “lean drill”.

The lean drill looks like someone “downhill skiing”. What this drill accomplishes is teaching young people how to angle their body from their feet all the way to their head in order to be in the most athletic positions, while also, setting up a position to decrease injuries.

The goalie in the picture above would benefit from this as she can get low in a “lean position” and then explode in a safe and explosive way to get in front of the ball quickly.

Here’s the drill:

Have the athlete get into an athletic position (1/4 squat) and then have them shift their weight from side to side. They should move on the edges of their feet as they shift. Outside edge on one foot, inside edge on the other. The upper body shifts to maintain alignment with the lower body.



Have a look at the next picture and you’ll see that this position happens in different situations as well as changing direction!


Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash

You might be able to see now where injuries occur if youth athletes aren’t used to getting into the best athletic positions possible.

Look at the defensive player in Red, in the next picture. You can see that she’s about to change direction to react to what her mark is doing. In order for her to explode out of the planted foot she needs to get low, load her muscles with great “joint angles” and make sure she aligns her body in the direction she wants to go rather than letting the force take her in the direction she was previously headed!

All of this needs to take place in a split second! So…how can we help?!


Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash

We can run very simple drills in practices and “cue” the athlete to make corrections when needed.

This can be done with fun drills as well as instructional drills. Tag, for example, is a great game that brings about a lot of split second direction change decisions.

Here’s a simple idea that can be easily implemented.

The coach can accomplish a lot with 3 simple implementations at practice:

1. Teach the “Lean Drill” (shown above)

2. Have the athletes do some side shuffles in their warm-up.

  • Watch the athletes.
  • Have the athletes side shuffle to a designated spot and then have them come to a complete stop in their lean position.


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  • The Lean should be in the direction they’re going next.
  • After a few controlled stops, have the athletes try a few on command. The coach yells “stop” to see if the athletes can come to a controlled stop quickly and safely.
  • Finally let the athletes go for a few rounds of shuffles on their own always finishing in a good stop position.

3. Play a game like tag for just a few minutes and see if the athletes are implementing the “positional” instructions when they change directions. If they’re not, make a few corrections to help them understand what to do and when to do it.

Many sports will benefit from these simple implementations. Change in direction happens all of the time in sport and it happens without us thinking about it. Having a good base of strength as well as motor control will go a long way to build great athletes, and keep them playing with as little injuries as possible!

To learn how to put these drills together in a fun way with a detailed plan to get youth athletes strong, powerful, decrease their injuries and have fun, check out my course for coaches!

Best wishes to you! Have fun!

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