Monday, November 30, 2015

Goal-Oriented: Speed training for young athletes

Watch sports for long enough, and you'll see your share of athletes who make everything look easy. In reality, most of them have followed a proper speed training regimen.

Goal-Oriented: Speed training for young athletes


Have you ever been to a high school game, whether it was on a field or on a court, and watched an athlete run past the rest of the players and make them all look like they were standing still? If you are a parent or a coach of a field or court athlete I am sure that you have witnessed a few athletes make it look easy when it comes to running.

The ability to accelerate and change direction is one of the most sought after traits that all athletes (male and female) are looking for. Millions of dollars are spent every year by parents trying to have their son or daughter “improve their first step” and become faster. As a coach I have stopped counting how many times I have had parents tell me that they want me to help them improve their child’s “first step."  

With all due respect, I understand what they are talking about however, speed development goes way beyond improving their first step.

In this article, I would like to share some tips that I have been able to learn over the past several years by some of the top coaches when it comes to speed and power development for both court and field athletes.

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Charlie Francis is considered by many as one of the best coaches in the world when it comes to developing athletes for improvements in their speed and power. Although he spent the majority of his time training track and field athletes I believe his philosophy on training can have a profound effect on high school athletes looking to improve their overall speed and acceleration.

If you were to have a conversation with a track and field coach as well as a football coach you would get several opinions on how to develop speed. The great thing about coaching is that everyone has their own philosophy and ways to train their athletes. For the purpose of this article I am going to focus on the court and field athlete. Below are some of the key points that I feel must be addressed if your goal is to develop the following:

  • Linear speed
  • Transitional speed
  • Power
  • The ability to decelerate and accelerate

Tip No. 1: What is your starting point?

In a perfect world every high school athlete would first have an assessment or screen from a qualified coach. The reason this is important is before you start a training program you should establish a baseline to know where you are and where you want to go. I would recommend that you seek out the advice of someone who can perform the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) or Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) assessment on you so that you can determine what exercises may cause problems down the road and provide a road map for your success.

Tip No. 2: Develop your aerobic system

When most athletes or coaches hear aerobic system they think of skinny marathon runners logging 40-50 miles a week. As a coach, I don’t want my high school athletes pounding the pavement in an effort to “build their base.” 

If you have ever read anything from Joel Jamieson he recommends that instead of running for 30-60 minutes, athletes incorporate some circuit training into their off-season program to build the overall capacity and strength of their heart. The best way to do this is to wear a heart rate monitor and stay in the 120-150 bpm (beat per minute) range. By doing this early in the off-season, athletes will have a better chance to perform “repeat sprints” during their season. As I stated earlier, I am not talking about track and field but rather the ability for an athlete to perform multiple sprints during a game. Here is an example of one type of circuit you could do with your athletes (Note, make sure they have perfect form when lifting weights and jumping):

VideoCardiac output bench jumps/swings

Tip No. 3: Master body weight strength

When you sprint you have to be able to demonstrate good posture (i.e. relaxed shoulders, high hips, and proper hip extension). The majority of high school athletes that I work with do not have the proper strength to hold themselves in an upright posture. Here are a few exercises that they must master before heading over to the squat rack.

Videos: Cook hip lift


Sprinter step up

Reverse lunge

Push ups

Tip No. 4: Hit the weights

When done properly, strength training can have a dramatic effect on your speed and your ability to change direction. One of the key factors in speed development is the ability to put force into the ground. One of the best ways to do this is by implementing a total body strength training program that teaches safe and effective progressions. In my opinion strength training is underrated when it comes to developing an explosive athlete. Charlie Francis defines agility as “a form of special strength in combination of body awareness." Here are a few exercises that I would include in a speed training program.

Videos: DB single leg step up

Trap bar deadlift side view

Single leg DB RDL

Good KB swing

Tip No. 5: Implement transitional speed and power exercises

Court and field athletes hardly ever run in a straight line. They must learn how to stop, change direction and accelerate. Keep the volume of these movements low but the intensity high. Here are a few examples.

Videos: Lateral crossover continuous and sprint


Backpedal to forward sprint

Box jumps

Skate hop w/ bounce and sprint

Note that one of my favorite speed training exercises is hill sprints. Keep it simple when doing hills. Find a good hill and sprint up for 20-30 seconds and then walk back slow. Repeat for 8-20 reps depending on how you feel for that particular day.

Tip No. 6: Don’t confuse speed training with conditioning

This is a common mistake among coaches. I admit that I have made this mistake in the past. So many coaches say that they want to make their athletes faster; however, instead of working on short bursts of speed they think by doing gassers their kids will get faster. There is a time and place for various type of conditioning methods. But 300-yard shuttle runs are not speed training.

In order to develop speed athletes must be alert and fresh. Their CNS (Central Nervous System) must be firing on all cylinders. True speed training will take between 15-20 minutes of work. Also you must allow for a FULL recovery between sets. I would recommend that the volume of running be kept between 400- 500 yards of speed work. An example could be a workout that looks like this:

  • Warm-up and form running drills: 15-20 minutes
  • Low level plyometric work: 8-10 minutes w/ full recovery
  • Sprints: 3 x 10 yds, 3 x 20 yds, 10 x 30 yd. fly in sprints
  • Strength Training work: 30 minutes
  • Cool down and go home

Tip No. 7: Adequate flexibility

When it comes to flexibility I am not talking about the ability to sit down and touch your toes. The flexibility that I am interested in involves your ankles, knee, hips and shoulders. A great time to work on mobility is during the warm-up portion of an athlete’s training. Here are two exercises that you can implement today to improve your speed.

Videos: Wall ankle dorsiflexion 

Wall knee drive

The tips and suggestions above are by no means a complete guide to speed training. Several factors go into the ability to run fast, jump high and change direction all while not breaking stride. However if you implement some of the suggestions above and follow the proper progressions I am confident that you will improve your speed on both the field as well as the court. Good luck!

Kevin Miller is the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Philadelphia Union. He is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and has been working with the Union since their inaugural 2010 season. Check out Kevin's Instagram: @KevinMillerTraining

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