The Problem With Speed and Agility Training

You want an injection of pace to cesarean extra dimension to your game. You work really hard on the speed and agility stuff that you do with your team. You even do extra work on your own and go to the gym to get stronger, which the magazines and coaches say SHOULD increase your power.

Yet still you see no improvement. Then they throw the genetics thing at you, and you give up because you and speed is just not meant to be. You’re genetically predisposed to be slow.

What nobody told you though is that, unlike Usain Bolt’s event, Multi-directional game speed is a complex skill. Some pick it up quickly, while others are slow burners. The problem is, the ones who pick it up quickly are the ones who get spotted and get all the coaching focus. The National Governing Bodies’ coaching strategies don’t involve coaching movement skills adequately.

Many coaches implement some kind of speed, agility, and plyometric routines into their training programmes, and I think it’s great to see coaches making an effort to improve the physical abilities of their athletes. Unfortunately, I see far too many mistakes being made in this area, and I think many coaches are doing their athletes an injustice. 

In my opinion, a lot of Strength and Conditioning Coaches approach speed and agility training the same way they approach their strength training. They find out what other coaches are doing (through reading manuals, watching workouts, DVDs, You Tube, etc) and duplicate it in their environments. This has worked out pretty well for strength training because there are a lot of good Strength and Conditioning Coaches to learn from. The same applies for sports coaches.

Unfortunately,  there are a few problems with learning about speed and agility this way. 

Problem No.1

There are very few quality speed and agility coaches to learn from. 

Problem No.2 

Most of us didn’t learn anything about effective movement patterns in college or on our training courses. 

Problem No.3
Effective coaching of speed and agility is highly dependent on coaching prowess, movement analysis, and the ability to understand proper movement patterns. It is very much akin to teaching a sport skill; instructor knowledge is vital, and you can’t just apply an off-the-shelf approach like many coaches do.

Nonetheless, we’ve learned our speed and agility drills from Strength Coaches not Speed and Agility coaches. The best case scenario for many of us was to do a basic, weekend SAQ course or learn a few drills from a track coach. The more diligent may have studied Bosch and Klomp’s work on sprint mechanics. Great if you’re sport involves mainly straight line runs of over 60m from a split stance start.

I like to call speed and agility work “movement training”, because the goal is to train athletes how to move more efficiently. This brings us more in line with the SAQ systems. The problem with most movement training is the assumption that if we put some cones or hurdles out in a cool design and have our athletes run through them, we are making an impact on their movement patterns. The final nail in the speed coffin is to ask our athletes to do it faster of even to create races. All we’re doing here is helping them reinforce whatever movement patterns they are using to get through the drill. 

I have had the good fortune of working with, observing, and learning from a lot of great sport coaches and instructors. I have never seen a good football coach allow players to take hundreds of shots with poor striking technique, and I have never seen a good rugby coach let players tackle and hit with poor mechanics. 

Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of Coaches (at vey high levels) allow athletes to perform hours of agility drills using horrible technique. It is assumed that the drills alone will improve athleticism. But, the benefits of performing speed and agility drills are dramatically reduced if the athletes are not executing them with sound mechanics and learning proper technique. As we all know, practice makes permanent – good or bad. If the coach is unable to analyze the movement and give corrective feedback, what good is the drill doing for the athletes? 

Quickness is not improved through fast feet drills. it comes from balance and adjustment of the feet to apply force through the ground in the desired direction. A ladder can’t teach you this.

Direction change will not be improved by running as fast as possible though a set of poles. I think the lack of knowledge and uncomfortableness coaches feel in this area is shown in the number of drills that are packed into a session. 

If a coach was coaching a sporting situation or drill, they would take the time to explain what they want, demonstrate how to do it, then how not to do it, followed by a reinforcement of how to do it. They would easily allow 15mins for that drill or exercise. However, with speed and agility training, they would most likely ask you to move from A to B as quickly as possible cram, often with certain obstacles in your way that you would never find on the field of play. The could probably get about 3-5 different drills in the same 15min period. 

Drills don’t make you fast, coaching does.

Have a look at your next training session. 

I know it’s blatant plug, but if you want speed coaching applicable to your sport, Speed Academy Pre-season Training Course still has places available.

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