Would your season benefit from a boost of intensity?
The NFL Combine takes place every February to showcase all the up and coming talent in American Football.
So, on 31st January, I’m organising The Speed Academy Combine in Horsforth!
Open to young athletes from all sports, it will be a series of sports specific tests to see who’s got it and who hasn’t.
It is a massive opportunity for young sports people to work hard on certain universal sports skills and pit their abilities with friends, teammates and athletes from other sports.
This testing event will highlight where they are strong and what needs attention.
Each test has a scoring structure, a bit like the decathlon in athletics. The athlete with the highest total in the 2 age categories (11-13 and 14-16) will receive 1 term FREE membership to Speed Academy (value up to £175) or a half day Speed Camp for their team (value up to £300).
There will also be on the spot prizes of training apparel for outstanding individual performances.
There are no losers.
If you find that your athleticism is holding you back, then you’re in the right place. That’s what we do!
The number of adolescents and pre-adolescents who participate in organized sports has increased over the last couple of decades. With this increase has come a corresponding increase in sports injuries.
Knee injuries are very common in growing bodies and can be devastating for both the injured athlete and their team, often costing a whole season of play. Strategies to reduce the number of such injuries and to ensure prompt and accurate diagnosis are critical.
I was intending to write an article voicing my opinions on the state of youth sports in this country. But as I was doing some research, I came across the best article I’ve ever read on youth sports. It says it all.
In the article O’Sullivan deftly highlights what he feels is the “greatest obstacle to child-centred sports”. Unfortunately, the environment of youth sports is one that measures success in wins and losses rather than excellence. Once again we place too much value on the outcome as opposed to the process. It may seem a daunting task to alter the whole youth sports environment, but it is absolutely necessary to nurture the youth of today to grow into the healthy, active adults of tomorrow. This article will provide suggestions on how to shift the paradigm in small and meaningful ways! Enjoy!
By: John O’Sullivan
“My daughter is the tallest fourth grader in her class and loves to play basketball,” said a father to me recently. “Sadly, I know that she will ultimately grow to be of average height. Since she is now only allowed to rebound and give the ball to shorter-ball handler players on her team, she will never develop the skills she will need to play basketball. After her last game, she told her 5-year old sister that she did not shoot or score because her job is to rebound and play defense, because that is what her coach told her. What should I do?”
The plight of this parent highlights what I believe to be the greatest obstacle to a child-centred youth sports environment.
It causes many children to drop out and quit. [Read more…]
STEP BACK TO MOVE FASTER
Explosive and reactive on field movements require immediate and efficient action, which is why the following statement is one of the biggest controversies in sports training.
When some Australian scientists at Edith Cowan University had athletes use this “false step” technique to trigger a sprinting motion, the men covered five metres significantly quicker than when they took off by initially stepping forwards.
In order for an athlete to initiate forward movement of the body, their driving foot needs to be behind their centre of gravity in order to maximize the first step.
There are two ways to achieve this:
It has been the eternal argument in speed and agility training. A few years ago, this study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, appeared to shed some definitive light on the matter. [Read more…]
As far as young athletes are concerned, this is massive for them. It’s their New Year. A time for a clean slate and new beginnings.
Whatever their goal, making the school or representative team, last season is forgotten. Some kids come back from the summer holidays looking, sounding and moving completely differently. Like some one stuck them in a grow bag and fed them steroids for 6 weeks. With some, the transformation is huge. Others may appear to have been left behind.
In a time of new beginnings, there can be a tendency for coaches to introduce the new stuff they learned over the summer. Big mistake. That’s basing training on what THEY want rather than what their athletes need.
This is the perfect opportunity to strip things right back to basics.
Ensure the foundations are solid so that when you introduce the sexy new drills in later, it’s easier to coach.
Let’s step into the kid’s shoes for a minute, you’ve been given a new body that’s bigger, stronger and more powerful than the previous one. Chances are it’ll take a while to get the hang of it. Going back to basics is a chance for the coach to see where everyone is at and for the athletes to get to grips with their longer limbs. [Read more…]
If you want your young players to fulfil their potential and get maximum enjoyment out of sport, you need a developmental system.
Training for speed regardless of the sport, has to be developmental in nature.
With younger athletes (6 – 9 years old) training for speed is a matter of allowing them to explore various aspects of movement from a self-learning perspective. Remember that it’s not about trying to make them fast NOW.
Think of lifetime performance potential as a pyramid. These early years are where the base is set. You will never have another chance to lay this foundation, so if you want to build high in the future, you’d better start broad.
As a Coach or Trainer, the objective is to create games, drills or situations that provide this broad-base of movement. The central nervous system is very plastic at this stage, so the more different situations and challenges you expose them to, the more ‘memories’ are created in the nervous system, thus providing a broader base from which to work.
By limiting the stimulation of movements to one sport, you are narrowing the base of their foundation. Running, jumping, landing, skipping, hopping, crawling, balancing, reaching, throwing, catching, striking, pushing, pulling, bending, manipulating. It’s important that they are exposed to all these movements regularly in a challenging environment where they have to figure it out for themselves. Playing football all year round will lead to a very narrow base. You may have a very good junior player who may even get into an academy. But with such a narrow foundation, the height of the performance pyramid has been limited.
The result is that many get frustrated and drop out of sport as they become less dominant figures. The ones that stick at it end up being injury prone.
It is important to resist the urge to ‘over-teach’ or ‘make perfect’ the way youngsters are performing these skills. Babies go from lying on their backs to crawling then walking and running in a logical progression without any input from a coach. They’re very good at working things out for themselves. A coach’s role is to inspire in them the desire to learn.
Young nervous systems must be given the opportunity to learn through a trial and error process, what quality movement feels like.
With pre-adolescent athletes, training efforts can become more teaching based. The focus will shift to honing movement habits and and putting into more complex scenarios. a strength component should be introduced here to facilitate the skill progression. This is important to understand. We are not trying to get really strong or build muscle. Pillar/core strength is of utmost importance to make skill progression a smooth process. It allows for better manipulation of their centre of mass (agility) and control over limbs.
Eventually as we reach 14-18 there will be more repetition of specific skills and they can be made much more sport specific. The ability to reproduce the skills under the pressure of higher speeds, loads and fatigue need to be introduced.
Do not be fooled into thinking that young athletes and more mature athletes can learn the skills associated with speed & agility in the same way. Programming must have a plan.
There’s a reason they don’t teach Shakespear in Primary school. Speed and athletic development is no different.
Yours in speed
Coaching can provide some of the most rewarding moments in your life. Especially if you work with young athletes. But along with the rewards come the frustrations.
One of the most frustrating situations comes when your players are not able to carry out a skill or drill the way you have pictured in your mind. All your research says they should be ready for it, but in the session, 80% just don’t get it.
You’re stood in front of them thinking;
“How long do I carry on trying with this? Shall I just regress it now? No, I think they can do it.”
You walk them through it, and explain it fully, but as soon as any kind of tempo is added, their technique falls apart.
No matter how good a coach you are, no amount of great cueing will sort out a problem that’s rooted in movement ability. The only way to advance the players is to strip right back to fundamentals. That means removing the ball, taking out any competitive or reactionary element and breaking the movements down.
By breaking the movement patterns down to their constituent parts, you can isolate the problems. These issues can be worked on individually, then progressively re-integrated into the full movement pattern.
Let’s look at a simple football example. If you’re trying to coach an inside-outside dribble to beat a defensive player, you would make sure the players can adequately and consistently perform a turn with the outside of the foot, right?
But if you want the players to really perfect the skill so that it’s quick, balanced, reactive and undetectable, they need to be able to perform a perfect cutting action, or side step. Without the ball.
To perform an effective side step, they need to be able to achieve the following:
Your players should be able to walk this through and describe this for you, let alone demonstrate proficiency. Only by knowing exactly how it should feel and what they’re aiming for can they analyse and self correct.
In order to carry this movement out effectively, the players need to have developed the following physical capabilities:
In an ideal scenario, all young athletes should have developed these skills, but the reality is that most do no other activities other than their sport. That means it’s down to the sports coach to develop these areas of movement if the players are to progress and reach their potential. Hell, it’s not going to get any better sat at a desk in school or playing on the X-Box at home.
When players develop the foundational athleticism demanded by the sport first, coaching the skills is significantly easier. In this example, the players can perform a great side step, so all you have to do is introduce the ball and ask them to push it with the outside of the boot as they make the side step. Because they are balanced and strong on one leg, the application of a ball skill on top is a comfortable one.
When you break the movements down into their fundamentals you can clear up the issues, then re-integrate.
Doesn’t this just sound like whole-part-whole coaching?
I know what you’re going to say, who’s got the time to strip things back that far? You’ve got 10 minutes per session to work on a movement pattern. You’ll be rehearsing the movements of the sport. Hitting the required positions, going through full range and gradually speeding up. Sounds like a specific warm up to me.
Except it’s not JUST a warm up. It actually makes them better athletes in the process.
Here’s a thought for you. What if, you had a strategy to develop the movement ability in the phase before you introduce the skill. It’s all down to how far ahead you plan your sessions. But in a progressive plan for juniors, you should be thinking long term, no?
If this all sounds like hard work, contact me. It’s what we do day in day out at Speed Academy. Maybe we can help you get the most out of your teams.
Yours in speed
I was reading an article by an American sprints coach called Latif Thomas. And whereas I don’t coach track and field, what he said resonated with me. The main crux of this article was that there is one thread that runs through all our training. And without constantly referring back to that thread, those different areas of training become disparate and fail to transfer to improvements in speed.
I was going to rewrite the article with my own spin for multi directional speed training rather than just sprinting. But I think it’s better that Latif should take all the credit.
Besides, he says it much better. Even with the track focus, you can easily transfer the information to multi directional sports.
Take it away Latif:
“Our athletes will be faster when they develop this quality.
Our athletes will be more explosive and powerful when they develop this quality.
Our athletes will be on the board (instead of over and behind) and won’t trip over hurdles (or themselves) when they develop this quality.
Our athletes will consistently hit their times during tempo runs and race modeling sessions once they develop more of this quality.
So, if all I’ve said here is true, then what is the most important word in all of speed training?
Everything we do in practice is designed to improve the ability to express technique in order to positively influence performance. An athlete’s inability to express said technique simply boils down to lack of specific coordination.
Of course, I didn’t invent this concept. I heard Gary Winckler (coach to Alyson Felix, Olympic 200m champion – Rob) talk about it. Then I thought about it. Then I stole it. Now here we are.
Here’s an example. Last week I ran the exact same workout with two different athletes.
One was a 16 year old high schooler with a 200m PR of 26.1. The other was a 22 year old post collegiate with a 200m PR of 24.7.
The high schooler has been doing consistent technical work all summer and fall, going back and forth between me and another great sprints coach, Marc Mangiacotti.
In our last session, she looked incredible. Her bad runs are now vastly superior to what good runs looked like in June. She can break down her own technique before I say anything which, to me, is a sign of wildly improved kinesthetic awareness and skill acquisition. Her confidence is light years ahead of where it was 6 months ago. I’m very proud of her and can’t wait to see her reap the rewards of her hard work.
The post collegiate, on the other hand, comes from a (Division I) college program that did absolutely no technical work, no speed work and sent 200m specialists out for 30 minute runs on a routine basis even in the middle of the competitive phase. She came from a good high school program (cough, cough), so that’s roughly the last time this athlete had good technical instruction (a 25.02 HS PR vs 24.71 collegiate PR is not a comforting improvement over the course of 4 years at the D-1 level).
Needless to say, this athlete was some sort of Hot Mess. She could feel it wasn’t right.
It wasn’t lack of effort or focus. And it sure wasn’t lack of ability. It was pure lack of coordination.
She lacked (’lost’ might be a better word) the strength (coordination training under resistance), endurance (coordination training under event specific time constraints), speed (coordination training to express highest force in the least amount of time and resulting in optimal displacement) and mobility (coordination training to dynamically express forces through desired/required ranges of motion) to accelerate to top speed and maintain that velocity with any semblance of efficiency or consistency of execution.
Once she acquires the coordination that the high schooler currently possesses, I know one thing for sure, she won’t be grinding to dip under the times she ran when she was 16.
My point is pretty simple. If you want to run a 21st Century program, it’s not enough to just run fast in practice. As coaches we have to have our own process for solving the acceleration equation. And, just as importantly, we have to be able to help our athletes solve it themselves. Because we can’t cue them or engage in technical feedback once the gun goes off. Their success fundamentally depends on the ability to feel what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ and make corrections in real time, under the stress of competition and with 6-7 other athletes trying to beat them. Or with a crowd of people staring at them while they barrell down the runway.
It’s not enough to send kids into the weight room if you don’t have the same technical standards for a squat or clean as you do for coming out of blocks or doing phase work in the triple jump.
But if you reframe your training perspective with coordination being the ultimate goal and strength, speed, endurance and mobility being interdependent qualities, it will be easier to connect the dots between movements, event groups and specific skill development.”
OK, I’m back. Thanks Latif. Those Americans are good at self promotion aren’t they?
So what am I trying to get across with this?
Any body who has worked with me knows that I will not let poor technique go unchecked. In the weights room, it’s not just about shifting heavy loads. We want to understand what good movement feels like and how, when we have good movement, the force you can create is greater with more control and less stress.
In movement training, if we can hit the positions correctly, movement is much more fluid and effortless. What are the standout characteristics of the world’s best players? Fluid and Effortless.
Fitness conditioning is about maintaining technique while resisting fatigue.
By focussing on coordination you get a better understanding of what good a nd poor movement feels like. With this quality you can self correct. An essential ability to have once the whistle goes and there’s no coaching instructions to prompt you.
In your next practice, perform all your drills and exercises with this concept of ‘coordination as the ultimate goal’ in mind. It will be both liberating and overwhelming at the same time. Ask the coach how they want you to move. What should it look like? Get them to break the movement patterns down and demonstrate perfect technique (if they can).
Slow it down, try different ways and see how they feel. Ask for coaching feedback. Only when you’re happy that you’ve mastered the technique should you then start to speed it up. If you haven’t learned something in your session, then it was pointless.
Yours in speed
10 TIPS FOR FASTER ACCELERATION
The ability to accelerate into space or away from defenders is a devastating skill to have. Instantly the opposition treat you differently because this kind of pace is hard to handle.
Somebody with a high top end speed will just be marked closely and not allowed the space to get up to speed.
A player who can accelerate from a stand-still is much more of a handful. Get too close and they’ll leave you for dead. All they have to do is get you to commit one way and BANG they’re gone the other way.
The key to rapid acceleration isn’t genetic (good genetics increase your potential but don’t guarantee good mechanics) it’s technique. I’m going to give you 10 ways you can begin to improve your acceleration now. If you improve 5% in each area imagine the difference that will make to your speed.
These are not in any particular order, but if you don’t do number 1, the rest will prove much more difficult if not impossible.
1. GET A MOVEMENT SCREEN
No, really. This is the most important thing you can do when approaching any kind of performance enhancement.
The way you move is dictated by your history. 12yrs of sitting 5hrs a day at school takes it’s toll. As do any previous injuries, repetitive movements and poor coaching. There’s an underlying reason why you run the way you do.
Over the years, you’ve most likely developed various movement dysfunctions and/or asymmetries. Putting more force through a faulty mechanism will only lead to breakdown.
Getting a movement screen will highlight anything that will cause you to compensate and move inefficiently. You can then correct these areas and it will be like taking your car in for a full service. All movements will be smoother, balanced and more efficient. The key attributes of speed.
Seek out a recommended strength and conditioning coach or sports physiotherapist who offer some kind of systematic movement screen. Ideally, I look for those certified in the Functional Movement Screen, or Kinetic Chain Assessment as they a robust systems providing reliable information.
2. TAKE THE BRAKES OFF
So you’ve had your movement screen. It should have highlighted issues that are slowing you down. By applying a corrective programme you will mobilise areas that have become tight and activate muscles that were dormant.
Do you think McClaren would send out a car that had a sloppy clutch, buckled wheel and warped brakes?
Is it a good idea to increase engine power before dealing with these fundamental problems?
To achieve an effective acceleration position you need sufficient mobility in the ankles, hips, rib cage and shoulders. To maintain those movements, you need to make sure there is good energy transfer from feet to hips and hips to shoulders.
Corrective exercise shouldn’t be viewed as injury prevention, it will actually vastly improve performance in itself. As well as allow greater power to be transferred through the system.
There’s no such thing as injury prevention work or prehab. Just good training. By improving the movement system, you move more easily with less resistance.
3. STRENGTHEN YOUR PILLAR
The core is a very ambiguous term. Most people tend to think of it as just the abdominal area. I prefer the term trunk to cover the whole area from the shoulder blades to the pelvis inclusive. Even better is the concept of the pillar I learned from Athletes Performance. This helps us envisage how we want it to operate – as a strong, sturdy support that all other strength is built around.
If every ounce of force you put through the ground is going to move you forward, then the pillar had better transfer that energy like a golf ball rather than a squash ball. All force is generated from and transferred through the pillar. So it had better be strong.
OK, when I say strong, I don’t mean cover model abs. Exercises where the trunk resists force rather than creates force are the order of the day here. Sit ups, crunches, side bends and like are exercises that flex the trunk.
This will make you strongest in a flexed posture. This will lead to shoulder and neck tension when you run. It’s also a major cause of sports hernia. You want to avoid torso movement in sport, so that’s what you train for.
Exercises I use include various styles of crawling, single arm pushes and pulls, cable chops and lifts. You want to progress the exercise to finally perform them all in am upright, standing position. As you would be in your sport.
Sprinting places huge forces on the pillar in all directions. Deceleration and direction change even more. You cannot be too strong in this area.
4. SINGLE LEG STRENGTH
Squats and deadlifts have their place, but the weakest link in acceleration tends to be the feet, hip and pelvic stabilisers. Applying force through one leg is very different to doing it through two. In your sport, how often are you on two feet?
Do a 2 footed jump as high as you can. Now do the same on one leg. Swap legs.
Was there a difference on one leg than two?
How about the difference left to right?
Start practicing split squats and lateral squats TODAY! Perfect the technique with body weight only rather than add weight. Only add weight when you can still perform the exercise perfectly. If the hip or knee deviates, or you can’t relax your feet, regress the exercise.
5. GET COMFORTABLE LEANING FORWARD
Many of the players I work with stand up vertical straight away when accelerating. This is the equivalent of attaching a parachute to your back. You can’t generate force from an upright position.
Acceleration should feel like a perpetual fall. Your body will automatically rise as your speed increases. This does not mean look at the floor! You can’t see the game if you’re looking at the floor.
The causes of this problem are 1) Weak pillar (we’re dealing with that right?) or 2) fear of falling.
Use Wall Drills to get used to being in a leaning position:
Stand facing a wall at arms length with your hands on the wall at shoulder height.
Take 2 small steps back so you have about 50* lean.
Create a straight line head to heel, thighs and Glutes squeezed and chest lifted up through your biceps.
Now lift your right knee into a sprint position while keeping perfect alignment.
Push the wall away, do not lean on the wall!
Hold this position for 20secs the swap sides.
Sled or partner pushes allow you to get used to driving the ground away forcefully while keeping your acceleration lean.
Hill sprints bring the lean to you (see no. 7). Gradually reduce the incline as you get more accustomed to leaning.
6. DRIVE BACK AND DOWN
Many people reach forward and focus too much on driving their knees in front of them. Instead, focus on driving the knees back and down. Don’t worry about knee lift, that will just happen.
Drive the knees like pistons from the hips. Don’t be polite with this. The force created from hip to knee is the force that goes through the floor. The greater the force, the faster you move.
Pillar marches are a great tool for drilling in that knee drive and for firing up the Glutes and hamstrings prior to acceleration work.
7. HILL SPRINTS
The benefit of hills is that they bring the angle of lean to you. Great if you don’t have the luxury of push sleds and harnesses.
A short sharp hill of about 10% will allow you to focus on the driving back and down in a leaning position.
6-10 reps of 10-15m is ideal.
These are explosive so take 1-2min between sprints. This is technique work remember. Not fitness.
8. PUSH AS MUCH GROUND AWAY AS POSSIBLE
Fast feet does not equal fast acceleration. Tap dancers have fast feet, but they don’t get anywhere. We want force through the floor, lifting the foot off too soon will reduce force massively.
Acceleration is the opposite of top end speed. You actually want to keep the foot on the ground as long as possible (as long as it’s pushing maximally).
All the time you’re pushing through the floor, you’re accelerating and the last 15 degrees of extension are the most powerful (which part of the squat are you strongest, the bottom or the top?).
When driving out, think push, push, push. Try to make the stride as long as possible. But by pushing, not reaching.
9. WARM UP FOR SPEED
This sounds obvious, but your body must be fully ready to move fast through large ranges of movement. The warm up isn’t just about raiding body temperature.
You need to ensure you have full range of motion, the sleepy muscles are activated,
the muscles, nervous and energy systems are primed. It should flow seamlessly and take you from doing nothing to maximal performance without fatiguing.
Ours looks like this:
Soft Tissue Work (optimise tissue quality)
Active Isolated Stretching (remove the brakes)
Muscle Activation (fire up dormant muscles)
Dynamic Mobility (show the body the positions you require of it)
Integrated Movement (put it all together with rehearsal of good movement patterns)
CNS Stimulation (get nervous system up to speed)
10. WATCH THAT 2ND AND 3RD STEP
This is the one that pops you up. Trying to over stride or stopping yourself from falling will cause you to put your foot in front of your hips. The foot will land flat and put the brakes on instantly. You also run the risk of pulling a hammy doing this.
Focus on the knees driving like pistons and keep pushing the ground away. If it scares you, you got it right. You will feel no resistance and it may feel easy.
The key to remember about acceleration, If it feels slow, it’s usually fast.
Yours in speed