Athletes at the youth level all the way through the professional ranks are always looking for ways to get faster, quicker, and more agile. There are numerous ways to go about achieving these needed qualities to improve athletic performance. Sprint, cone, and reaction drills are being done in a variety of ways to get the bodies of these athletes to get a step faster, or react a bit quicker. While I like most of the drills I see coaches have their athletes do in this regard, the one thing that I believe lacks in these training sessions is coaching the detailed skills and coordination that comes with these movements.
Any speed and agility movement that athletes perform should be broken down as a coordinated skill that needs to be broken down by the coach in detail and taught as such. One thing I see constantly are sport skills being taught with great detail, but when it comes to general athletic movements like sprinting, shuffling, backpedaling, changing direction, etc… the detailed approach to teaching them goes out the window. In reality, these movements are skills just as any sport skill like throwing a ball, swinging a bat, or shooting a basket are.
As an example of this, let’s take a speed session where we will have our athletes perform a series of sprints to get faster. Let’s say that we decide to have the athletes run six 30-yard sprints. What I see a lot in this scenario are coaches who line their athletes up, encourage them to run hard, blow a whistle to get them started, and try to hurry through them to get them done as fast as possible. There are many errors with this approach and while it does some good for the fitness of the athletes, it does very little to improve speed and teach these athletes proper speed technique.
Sprinting cues before each sprint is ran should be emphasized to focus the athletes mind on certain techniques that they should be concentrating on. It could be a lower body cue such as “punch the knee” or “push down and back through the ground”. It could also be an upper body cue such as “elbows down and back” or “chest tall when in top end phase”. Now the athletes have a focus on the actual skills of developing speed and can run these sprints with a detailed plan of working on them to get faster. Also, there is a rule in speed training which states that if speed acquisition is the desired goal for the day, then for every 10 yards sprinted, one minute of rest is needed. Hurrying athletes to finish these sprints to teach toughness or live by the “no pain, no gain” theory is counter productive to get athletes faster.
Taking a coordinated skills approach to teaching speed and agility is a solid way of improving athletes. When the variables of total volume of workout and rest in between repetitions are also thought out correctly, athletes are now in a situation where they can improve greatly and enjoy the process of becoming the best athlete they can be.