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Sport Speed

By David Sandler

Sport speed transfers straight-line speed into skills useable in your particular sport. Many athletes can run a fast 40-, 60-, or 100-yard dash, but often they can only exhibit this speed if they are open. Although these athletes may have excellent stride mechanics, their acceleration, agility, quickness, or strength may not be adequate to free themselves from their opponents and really open up. For example, a wide receiver in football with a very fast 40 or 100 time may be held up at the line of scrimmage by the defender if he cannot use his speed to break away. A lack of strength or agility hampers his sport speed. Furthermore, running downfield while looking back at the quarterback or making a cut or move to get open and then catching the ball on the run is very different from straight-line running. Lack of fitness also limits sport speed. For example, if, as the game progresses, the wide receiver becomes tired as he works against his opponent, he may not be fit enough to make the big play even if he does get open.

In order for an athlete to be successful, she must be able to use her speed during competition. Not only must she be fast, but also be in good condition. Therefore, sport speed should be trained according to the sport’s physical demands, movement patterns, and energy system requirements. In the case of soccer, speed training should teach the basic elements by working on the technique of stride mechanics and sprint training then incorporate the technique into an anaerobic and aerobic conditioning program. Drills may be more straight-line oriented from a moving start to simulate the constant movement of the game. In the case of football, powerful speed movements should be incorporated into an anaerobic alactic and anaerobic lactic training program. Alactic refers to drills lasting up to 10 to 15 seconds with long breaks where lactic training would include short drills that may last up to 30 seconds but the rest time would be much shorter, not allowing lactic acid to clear and phosphagens to replenish. Drills may incorporate starting against resistance or making a first move prior to the straight-line sprint. In both cases, the rest-to-work ratio should be equivalent to the demands of the sport.

When training for speed, spend more time on conditioning of speed as it relates to your sport. This means for a tennis player that speed should be developed in short bursts with minimal rest time (similar to the rest between points) and for a soccer player, increasing speed within the aerobic realm (meaning sprint, jog, sprint, jog, etc.) than on increasing straight-line speed. Often conditioning coaches concentrate on increasing speed so that their athletes will perform well on speed tests (this may be important if an athlete trying to move to the next level requires a certain test score to be accepted into a program or onto a team); that is not as important as developing the athlete’s speed for his or her sport. Sport-speed drills may be the same as straight-line drills but performed with less rest, or they may more closely resemble the movements specific to a particular sport. The combination of movements in agility drills may limit their ability to train speed, but they will improve your ability to start, stop, and change direction, and eventually increase the speed at which you can perform these movements.

This is an excerpt from Sports Power.

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