How Arizona Softball Increases Speed

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The Arizona softball team, winners of the 2006 Women's College World Series, credit their success in part to a track influenced speed program created by their strength coach, Neil Willey. A former collegiate decathlete, Willey puts a premium on running form and efficiency, then integrates these principles into the team's program. Here, he hooks you up with some info to make use of his program.

Can you give us a general overview of your speed program?
We worked on speed a lot this year, three days a week. It's especially important for our slappers. Not just linear speed. Softball involves a lot of lateral speed, too. On Mondays, we did form running and form drills to warm up and engrain good form in the players' minds, since most girls haven't had formal running training. On Tuesday and Thursday—our running days—I always started them off with agility drills to work on side-to-side movement.

How do you determine the distance of sprints used in these workouts?
I keep two things in mind when I'm determining the length of sprints: First, it's only 20 yards between the bases. Second, the most important thing in softball is getting up to speed as quickly as possible. So we do a lot of the drills that are 10 to 15 yards.

You don't want to do a lot of mileage for softball. Long, slow runs are counterproductive. If you do a lot of slow training, you're going to be slow. If you do quick and explosive training, your body will want to adapt and be quick.

Do you use a ball to work on hand-eye coordination?
I don't use a ball in any of my drills. I just focus on running form and making them better overall athletes. They get a lot of the hand-eye coordination work at practice. I feel that adding another component to form work takes away from the drill; too many things are going on. They will get more out of the drills if I just focus on making them faster and more efficient.

What are the keys elements of good running form?
We focus on good knee drive coming out of the start and not overstriding. A lot of athletes tend to overstride, which causes them to break with each step. I want them to cycle their legs efficiently and focus on getting their foot to contact the ground under their hips. By doing this, along with a good forward lean as they come out of their starts, they are able to use each step to propel themselves forward rather than getting a braking effect.

How can an athlete check her form?
I videotape any athlete who has trouble with her form and who can't seem to grasp what I am telling her to do. It makes a big difference when you can see yourself and go, "Oh, I see what's going on here." It's something any athlete can do on her own. Set up your home camcorder and do sprints in front of it, or do some drills you've learned from coaches. Then, watch yourself to find out exactly what's going on with your form.

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