The ball carrier will end up isolated in many game situations. It is as much the responsibility of the ball carrier to find support as it is for the support to find the ball carrier but sometimes best intentions aren’t enough and isolation occurs. You may notice a gap and shoot through and suddenly you are running for your life with only one or two players to beat and all your team is well behind you caught off guard at you taking advantage of the gap. At times like this you will have to rely on different ways than passing away to beat the defender.
Pure speed is likely the best and easiest way of beating a defender but sometimes the defender is in a position that makes it difficult for you to use your speed alone. It could be your opponent can match your speed … therefore you need to develop some dodging skills.
Basic evasive skills consist of changing pace, swerving and sidestepping. If you can run at speed while moving on and off a straight line, any tackler will have difficulty lining you up for a decisive tackle. This type of running is difficult to develop if you do not have basic agility. Consider doing some running practice that encourages changes and speed and direction. A player who can beat a defender using speed or agility or a combination of both is an asset to any team. Such players have the ability to make the defence focus on them, which allows them to set up an attack, take on the last defender and score, or breach even the toughest and tightest of defences to create opportunities for teammates. Each player on the team should practice evasive skills to make the unit more efficient.
INCREASING RUNNING SPEED
if you wish to increase your running speed, you can begin by increasing the speed of your leg movements and the length of your stride. Increase your stride length by improving the flexibility of your leg joints and by increasing the length and suppleness of your leg muscles, especially the hamstrings. Leg speed will improve only if you use a range of exercises specifically designed to work on your knee lift, stride, speed of contact and lift from the ground. As you mature, you will begin to develop running power through constant practice and specific strength work.
Some exercises one can do towards increasing their running speed are:
- Heel Raises – Stand on the balls of your feet and lower your heels until you feel a stretch in your Achilles tendon (there is no need to push the heel beyond the point where you first feel the stretch). Rise up as high as possible and hold for one to two seconds. Perform 10 repetitions. This exercise is best achieved standing on a stable board two to four inches from the ground (i.e. a stair or step)
- Hip Joint Flexion – Forward thigh drive increases stride length and the power of your pushoff. Hip flexors, located in the front of the hip are largely responsible for this, and you can benefit from strengthening them. Using a long elastic or athletic tubing you can buy at most sports stores, attach the elastic to a stationary object about knee high and attach the other end to your ankle. Stand far enough away so that there is tension with the leg behind the body (as in the thigh position immediately after pushoff). Inhale and hold your breath as you drive your thigh forward. Keep your knee bent so that your shin remains parallel to the ground until your thigh is past vertical position. Do not drive the thigh all the way parallel to the ground, as this will teach you to drive your thigh upward rather than forward when running. Therefore, it’s also best to add an additional cord for more resistance than to rely on a greater stretch of the tubing as you become stronger.
- Hip Joint Extension – Attach the elastic to a high stationary object. Stand in front of it and attach the free end to your ankle. Stand with your leg raised, thigh slightly below parallel. To begin, straighten your leg and pull down until your foot touches the ground beside your other leg. Perform this action vigorously for 10 repetitions. As you become conditioned, try balancing yourself (instead of holding on to a wall or stable object) to achieve even greater results.
- Lunge – The down position of the lunge duplicates the airborne position in sprinting. This exercise will also stretch the hip flexors. With your feet hip-width apart, step forward with a very long stride. Upon landing, slowly lower your upper body straight down. Shift your weight backward and extend your forward leg. Return to your standing position and repeat with the other leg for 10 repetitions each.
In addition to the lower body workouts discussed here, there are a variety of lower-back, abdominal and upper body exercises that will increase your strength and improve your form. Coupling these sport-specific exercises with regular speed work will give you even more dramatic improvements in running speed.
Evading A Defender Using a Change of Pace
Tacklers will estimate or guess where the tackle will occur by tracking the ball carrier and then attempt to intercept the ball carrier’s running line. When faced with a tackler, you have a range of decisions to make that depend on the tackler’s angle of approach and the space available in which to use your skills. If you have little chance to move sideways, you will likely need to pull the defender towards you by using a change of pace as a fake and then accelerate away.
To do this, you must first slow down slightly and run as if you were going to run behind the tackler. This will force the tackler to change direction or at least hesitate into a new defensive approach. Once the tackler commits to this new angle of approach, speed away. Your change of pace also may include a swerve away from the direction of the tackler. All players should try to perfect this evasive skill because it puts the tackler at a disadvantage and allows the ball carrier to stretch the defence out increasing the gap sizes.
When running to wards an opponent at an agnle, sometimes you will wish to quickly change the direction of the attack. Try running in one direction and then quickly stepping off one foot to head off at a different angle. This is called a sidestep. To do this well, you must decide where you next wish to attack and then angle away from that area to deceive the defenders. As the defender begins to close in on you, accelerate, then step wide with the outside leg while at the same time leaning your body weight directly over the top of that foot. The defender will think you are attacking wide and react to it. As they move outwards to cut you off, drive off the outside leg back inside and accelerate through and look for a pass to a support runner.
Here is a video with plenty of great examples of pure speed, evasion through change of pace and sidestepping.