There are several topics I get asked about on the regular.
How to reduce ACL injury.
How to strength train for soccer.
How to sword fight orcs.
How to drink coffee and pretend you know your shit.
How to write and sound smart.
How to develop speed.
Yes, speed. Arguably the hottest topic in my life right now. I live an exciting life, don’t I? ;-O
In fact, if I were given a dollar for every time someone asked me about speed in the past month, I’d be rich. And I’d be composing this blog on a yacht in Bali with champagne in-hand.
Oddly enough, even though I’ve been asked about speed development endless times, I’ve only written a few, meager articles on the topic:
And that’s it. For a strength coach of 6 years, wow I’ve been a slacker.
However, I do try my best to inform people in-person on how to get kids faster. Here’s how a typical conversation goes:
Parent: “Erica, how do I get my kid faster?”
Me: “There are several factors at play: strength, power, coordination, sprint training, and patience – all things I work on in a long-term development model.”
Parent: *blank stare*
Me: ‘This. Is. Awkward.’
Parent: “So how long is long-term?”
Me: “Several months, maybe years, depending on your child’s age, readiness for training, physiological development, and adherence to the speed program. Speed can’t be developed overnight.”
Parent: “To hell with this.”
And this is what KILLS me about youth athletics: the promise of a quick fix, or expecting results overnight.
I got news for you: science doesn’t like you either.
You see, as I’ve evolved as a professional, I’ve adopted a no-bs approach to speed development. Moreover, if someone expects me to perform wizardry on their kid to increase their speed in one night, one week, even in one month, I tell them to find another coach who will make this promise.
…A false promise, though.
Because speed takes consistency. Speed takes an insatiable desire to get better. Speed takes filling all the buckets of performance. Speed takes maturing physiologically. It’s complex. But with proper programming and patience, the magic happens.
Let’s dive in:
1. Gain strength.
Speed = the ability to produce force. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: to increase force, you must increase muscle mass. It’s Physics 101.
Take a strength exercise like the deadlift, for example: it helps increase hamstring, hip extensor and anterior core strength – all muscles that play a primary role in maximal speed.
Other strength exercises that one can do:
- Pull-Ups (read article on upper body strength for soccer here)
- Lunge Variations
- Controlled mountain climber (hip flexor activation)
2. Increase power output.
While strength serves as a foundation for athletes to move faster, it alone will not improve speed. I wrote an extensive article here on why athletes need MORE than just strength.
This is a great segue into the next tool: power training.
Building explosiveness involves training the components along the force velocity curve that you’ve been ignoring.
Here’s what you need to know: in order to be the most powerful athlete, you can’t train one end of the curve. Your training should encompass all pieces along the curve in order to optimize power.
Here are a few exercises to try:
^ You best be putting a hole in the ground.
So don’t hold back.
Don’t be soft.
Starting producing force. Lots of it. And FAST.
3. Work on coordination.
More often than not, kids are uncoordinated. Even if they’re strong and powerful, if they aren’t moving their arms and legs in a contralateral fashion, this ends up hindering their speed potential.
So how do we work on coordination with kids?
- Ladders (with dorsiflexion and hip flexion): This Ultimate Ladder DVD by speed specialist and coach Lee Taft is a gem. I urge you to buy it and take notes on proper ladder training and how to coach.Athletes should avoid just tapping their feet and going through the motions. Ladder drills must be done with proper flexion of the hips and ankle dorsiflexion and coordination. One more thing on ladders: alone, they can’t develop speed. Ladders are mainly for coordination and form.
- Crawling variations: Crawling drills are the best way to build coordination as well as super human reflexive strength. There are a variety of ways to progress bodyweight crawling too:
- Marching: Marching is a great way to break down running mechanics – from movement of the hips to movement of the arms to strike of the foot. I like this drill because it reinforces full hip flexion, ankle dorsiflexion and coordination in a controlled manner:
4. Get your maximal sprints in.
This one seems less than obvious, but I’ve found that kids aren’t reaching maximal sprint form enough. This could be because they don’t have a strength coach, they aren’t exposed to maximal sprinting at team practices enough, or they don’t do them on their own time.
Maximal sprints are critical. Start squeezing them in.
Maximal sprint form = full hip flexion and extension, upright torso, and full, contralateral arm swing (which happens over 20 yards after acceleration phase).
After all, how can we expect to get faster if we aren’t reaching top speeds?
Adding another component to the conversation, working on maximal sprints helps to reduce chance of injury. More often than not, kids aren’t getting their sprint work in during the week, then come the weekend, they pull a hamstring the first time they reach maximal speed in their game because their muscles aren’t used to firing in this manner.
So get your sprints in as a complement to a strength and power program.
5. Be patient.
This the least sexy bullet point in this article, I know. Alas, it’s profound, and it challenges everyone to move into acceptance of the youth athletic development *process*.
If we want to develop athletes safely and effectively, it’s a process. A long one.
Parents, coaches, players, strength coaches…we’re all in this for the long-haul. So buckle up.
And if you’re complaining about the *process* perhaps you’re not meant for youth athletics. Just something to ponder.
So be patient. Your kid needs to mature. Your kid needs to experience Peak Height Velocity. Your kid needs time to grow into his body again. Your kid needs to re-learn coordination. Your kid needs time to allow hormones to kick in for strength and power gains. Your kid needs to learn that life (not just speed) is a *process*.
Isn’t this what we want to teach as parents and coaches? The fallacy of a quick fix? And rather, the pleasure of the *process* and the benefits of good old-fashioned hard work?
So that’s it. For the short version of speed development, I sure wrote a lot of words.
1,167 to be exact. ;-O
Hope this helped.