Components of Speed
I am frequently approached to help people become quicker. Most commonly, parents want me to help their child (as young as 7 and up to teens) run faster on the sports pitch. When working with these children, it's vital that I make their training fun and varied. In an hour-long session, I'll break up the speed work with exercises to improve balance, coordination, reflexes and agility, often in the form of games. These are fundamental elements of athleticism that are often neglected, and kids generally really enjoy them. I have also, in the past, spent large chunks of training sessions climbing trees!
Younger children don't need to be slogged with sprint reps like an Olympic sprinter. I always prioritise technique and quality over quantity. The harder graft can come later when someone is going through their teens and is dedicated to improving. You might think that speed is simply about how fast you move your limbs. It's not, and it can definitely be improved with good coaching and technical input.
I break speed down into the following components:
Acceleration. How an individual moves from stationary (or moving slowly as in many field sports) to near top speed.
Max velocity. How an individual runs at top speed after acceleration.
Endurance. This is the ability to either hold top speed for longer (track sprinting), or repeat short sprints to a high standard with short recovery (field sports). This is the element of speed training that requires a bit more hard graft, so I'm not too bothered about it with younger children, but it becomes increasingly important with age.
With the exception of track sprinting, most speed requires an element of agility (rugby players avoiding tacklers, football players running arcs, cricket batters changing direction when running between the wickets).
I break agility down into the following components, whilst still training the 3 components of speed:
Sharp directional changes (e.g. 90 degrees or 180 degrees).
Gradual directional changes (e.g. weaving through cones).
All the infinite variations between the above!
With these agility movements, the optimum positioning of the body is more complicated than with straight-line speed. I spend most of my time working with individuals encouraging them to be very aware of the position of their bodies, so as to move with finesse, athleticism and smoothness. For example, when running fast, weaving through cones (gradual directional changes) I tell the individual to imagine that they are a roller-coaster carriage. Their centre of mass should move up and down, and side-to-side, smoothly and gradually with subtle changes of speed.
Speed and agility training can of course be made very complicated. It's arguably the Holy Grail of field sports and there are plenty of sports conditioning experts across the globe with incredible depth of knowledge. This level of knowledge is required to make small differences to high-level athletes and sportspeople.
It's important to continue learning and developing, even if the majority of my training, correctly, focuses on doing the essentials very well. This is why I am really looking forward to attending a speed conference in March, where some of the world's biggest names in speed coaching will be presenting.