I’ve heard this so many times.
Speed is natural. You either have it or you don’t.
The phrase “you can’t teach speed” is short sighted, lazy and I’d like to debunk this notion once and for all.
For me to do this we first have to make sure we are on the same page. You see, this catch all is not meant to describe the facts behind not everyone has the anatomy, physiology or biology to be an Olympic sprinter or run 40 yards in 4.3 seconds.
This may not seem like an ah ha moment for you, but for some folks it may actually make them think about athletic speed in a different light,
Instead of comparing one young athlete to another (this one’s faster than that one , or my kid is the slowest on the team or worse…my daughter was the fastest and now she’s in the back of the pack), think of speed as subjective and individual first.
Yes some kids are naturally faster than others at certain stages of growth and development.
Yes some kids have the body structure seemingly built for speed.
Yes, some young athletes have jacked legs that help propel then across the field faster than their peers at 8 years old, and some don’t.
Yes it’s true…we can’t teach genetics.
This again is all playing the comparison game.
All that said, it’s time to flip the switch and have the mindset that no matter what an athlete’s relative ability is when it comes to speed and agility, they can be faster. We can and do help our athletes become the FASTEST version of themselves.
Look, as much as we are born with, or without, a body type that lends itself to accelerate and run fast…speed is a SKILL.
The skills associated with speed are vast.
Any skill can also be learned or refined.
So what skills, exactly, will help a young athlete be as fast as possible?
These skills are hidden, if you will, within the overall structure of a quality performance training program. They are often dependent on the individual ability of each individual athlete.
These are some of the factors that can and should be addressed that will help any young athletes be faster.
All teachable assets, or unlearned liabilities, for young athletes that want to get to the next level.
Before we get into the physical aspects of speed, we need to briefly discuss the brain.
The ability to scan, predict and anticipate is neurological. This leads to quicker reaction time and better decision making. Even the fastest player on the field will seem slow if they react slowly or even worse, making decisions that point them in the wrong direction.
A game like Rock-Paper-Scissors to a target will train the brain to and help players make quicker, correct decisions on the field.
Now I’ll give you an example of how these relate to speed and how we can put young athletes in a position to be their fastest self.
Generally the athletes we see have tight hamstrings, glutes and hip flexor muscles (muscles in the front of the body where we bend at the hips). This will slow an athlete down as it will prevent them from extending in their stride during acceleration.
Mobility is the basically the ability for a body joint to move. One of the easiest ways to increase speed and agility is to have mobile, yet strong ankles. Conversely, tight ankles make it extremely to decelerate, stop and re-accelerate.
Strength helps with speed in a few ways. One that is often overlooked is stability. Joint stability is absolutely critical to be a faster on the field. Think of stability as your body’s anchoring system.
Beyond this, think about younger athletes and the player who is just bigger and stronger than their counterparts. At a young age that strength largely comes because they have developed more than other children that are the same chronological age. I mention this as an example of how strength lends itself to more speed.
Power is not unlike strength in that power can be trained and taught. Power is an expression of how quickly an object (or your body) can be moved over a certain distance. We can train power in many ways. When our young athletes learn how to be more powerful it helps them accelerate faster on the field.
In soccer terms, for example, this will help players get to a 50-50 ball first.
Great mechanics are the foundation of any movement if it’s to mean more…More power, more strength, more SPEED comes from having the best form possible.
Poor mechanics or “form” will lead to several things including inefficient movement. In other words, it will take more effort. We want our athletes to run faster and longer than their opponents. If they are efficient movers…they can do more work, have more speed with less effort.
This brief article is an introduction to speed.
Speed is, as mentioned, learnable.
It also requires a process that takes time.
How much time? Well that is an entirely different subject but I can say, depending on the athlete, you can see improvement within one session. Just remember quick, short term improvements are just that. They won’t last, especially for a growing, developing and changing young athletes.
Permanent and substantial increases in speed takes years. Yes, years!