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Benefits of Barefoot Training for Soccer Players

08 November 2018 Ben Cartwright football, barefoot, training, soccer, footballfit, footballfitness

This blog is the second guest blog from Erica Suter. Erica discusses why she is an advocate of barefoot training and where she got the idea from.

 

“Why are you wearing those?” a Brazilian kid asked me before we played pick-up soccer in the streets.

“Soccer shoes,” I replied with conviction.

The look he gave me was similar to someone being attacked by a herd of zombies: flabbergasted. Shocked. Confused. It was one of those ‘what-the-heck’ moments on his end. Looking back, I’m sure he thought I was some entitled, spoiled American who was too good for barefoot shenanigans.



Alas, what I was wearing around my feet was foreign to him. In his town, Rio de Janeiro, they grew up playing soccer one way: barefoot.

So after seeing his lack of footwear, I removed my soccer shoes and assimilated myself into the Brazilian culture. Even though I felt naked and vulnerable, I also felt liberated and free.

For the year I lived in Brazil and coached kids, I immersed myself in their barefoot soccer ways. At first it was uncomfortable and totally out of my norm, but eventually, I fell in love with it.
 

To that end, my curiosity about barefoot soccer was piqued from the Brazilian people. Beyond it just being a cultural norm, I asked myself, ‘what are its benefits?’ After all, there had to be some physiological gain from removing my soccer boots and allowing my feet room to breathe. Of course, as a soccer performance coach and nerd, I’m always asking myself if there’s a functional benefit to anything I do.

Without further ado, here are the benefits of barefoot training after extensive research in Brazil as well as practical experience with my athletes for seven years:

1. Strengthens the foot.

This much I know: the foot is complex. Made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, the foot needs to activation to continue to function and grow.

And sometimes, wearing shoes or insoles that support the foot too much can hinder the strengthening process, and put our feet to sleep.

As an example, try deadlifting heavy with shoes, then barefoot. You might find that deadlifting barefoot will provide you with more balance, stability, and ability to push your heels into the ground with confidence.

Additionally, you know how we always say, “activate the glutes” to people who sit at a desk all day? The same applies to the foot. Activate the muscles in the foot by walking around without shoes, and the results will be nothing short of amazing.

2. Improves adaptability.

Last I looked, soccer is a game that requires a tremendous amount of adaptability. With different surfaces, styles of play, weather conditions, and opponent capabilities, soccer athletes must be able to adapt to any scenario.

This is when barefoot training becomes so powerful: it forces athletes to develop their touch, think quicker in high pressure scenarios, and feel the sensory input from different playing surfaces. With that said, being exposed to a variety of training environments evades athletes from being crippled by the law of diminishing returns. Athletes, therefore, must be exposed to adaptation in order to grow.

3. Increases training enjoyment

Now, I don’t have a plethora of peer-reviewed studies to back this up, but with the hundreds of youth athletes I’ve worked with, not one has protested barefoot training. Rather, all my youth athletes look forward to it, and ask, “coach Erica, can we take off our shoes for training today?”

Do you really think I’m going to say, no?

HAHAHA.

There’s something magical about being shoeless that turns training into a fun, carefree experience for youth athletes. I’d also argue that adult athletes would enjoy the same. If you don’t believe me, give barefoot training a whirl and just watch everyone’s faces light up with excitement and joy.

Before I conclude, some things to keep in mind with barefoot training:

- Gradually ease into it when it comes to playing barefoot soccer. I would say once a week is a great start to see how everyone does, and feel that out for a few months. Get feedback, especially in terms of how athletes are feeling.

- Barefoot soccer in a small-sided game setting is more about inspiring athletes to play quick one and two touch soccer, with a ton of movement off the ball for a better conditioning effect. It is not meant for going all out into tackles and hurting one another, so let your players know this before you start a barefoot game.

- Initially, avoid plyometric exercises barefoot, especially if the muscles in the foot aren’t strong enough to absorb force.

- Start with strength and balance movements barefoot first for at least 10-12 weeks, then incorporate jump progressions gradually.

Here are a few strength and balance drills to try:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7CTaIanLFA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X64zagVuapQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbdQrrm3W18

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hd7u7HXE5nU&t=8s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ib2R4DgmFrI



 

Erica Suter is a certified strength and conditioning coach, soccer trainer, and soccer performance blogger who has worked with soccer athletes for over six years in the realms of technical training and physical fitness. She is currently a strength coach at JDyer Strength and Conditioning, and also runs her own soccer performance training business in Baltimore, MD. Her wheelhouse is youth soccer players ages 10-18, and has worked with over 1,000 players across the state of Maryland in-person as well as worldwide through online consulting.

 

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