Movement skill acquisition is an essential piece to the development of an athlete throughout their career. Whether they are a novice, elite or somewhere in between they must possess specific motor skills to perform successfully and safely. An area of particular importance that coaches often fail to address all together or do so incorrectly is deceleration. The ability for an athlete to put the brakes on and change direction more efficiently than their counterparts ultimately contributes to success.
The greatest practitioners in the human/sports performance realm can agree that the majority of the principles we preach, and practices have been learned or adopted from somebody else. Although I possess a great deal of experience coaching athletes the ins and outs of proper sporting biomechanics, I’ve learned and adapted most of what I do from two fantastic coaches in the industry: Loren Landow and Shawn Myzka. It wouldn’t be correct to dive any further into this article without first mentioning that these two men have shaped not only the content I am providing here, but the way myself and many other coaches train their athletes today.
Where to Start?
Before teaching your athletes how to move, you must first make sure they are capable of doing so in a safe manner. Coaches are often eager to throw the gauntlet of maximal, multidirectional, reactive movement drills at their athletes without considering the framework of the athlete or what they’re working with. Athletes need a solid foundation before engaging in high intensity drills, no matter if they are a day-one novice or seasoned veteran.
Landow and Myzka both agree that to stop and change direction in sport, athletes need superb neuromuscular eccentric deceleration qualities as well as the ability to move efficiently and effectively through multiple planes of motion. Myzka mentions that we must teach our athletes technical efficiency, mastering the ability quickly decelerate and reaccelerate for optimal stretch shortening cycle activity. One of the best ways to envision this principle is by the image presented below, courtesy of coach Cal Dietz who authored “Triphasic Training.”
As you can see, the sharper ‘V’ shape an athlete can acquire during transitional change of direction, the better. The decline side of our V shape represents the eccentric muscle contractions or decelerating capabilities, while the incline represents our concentric muscle contractions or accelerating capabilities.
An often overlooked but critical piece to this equation is the center where the V meets, or our isometric muscle contractions. Although it is often fractions of a second, it is crucial to maximizing change of direction and power.
Athletes simply do not just acquire these skills overnight, nor do many ever get the chance to learn them properly. Each and every individual will start with a different skill set, but as coaches we must ensure that athletes possess foundational mobility and stability through the ankles and hips as well as adequate postural control. Engaging in high intensity sporting activities without these prerequisites can lead to bad things.
An excellent place to start with your athletes and assess their foundational qualities is by having them do unilateral barefoot dynamic movements (for example, Walking Knee Hugs, Leg Cradles). Landow insists that having athletes go barefoot is key because it allows the coach to assess how an athlete manages the delicate balance of pronation and supination necessary to stay upright.
The athlete gets a chance to challenge their proprioceptive abilities and separate themselves from the footwear we perform nearly every athletic endeavor in. It’s essential to watch the tibial rotation occurring in all of the movements because although the ankle moves through a tri-planar motion, the knee does not, hence why it is one of the most commonly injured joints. Landow emphasizes that the body’s ability to eccentrically control the pronation-supination “tug of war” ensures that they can do all the right things in the wrong places.
After some unilateral work, coaches should look at fundamental movement patterns in their athletes such as the Squat and Lunge. An elevating heel or collapsing chest could be tell-tale signs that one may not possess adequate mobility or postural control which must be addressed before moving on. After these boxes have been checked, start adding small doses of impact to the athletes’ training by way of Snapdowns and other low level plyometrics.
The Snapdown. Some points of emphasis here are landing with the knees in line with mid foot as well as a sound postural position at the bottom similar to a squat.
The Split-Stance Snapdown. Some points of emphasis are a parallel tibia to torso angle as well as neutral spine and grounded feet.
The progression continues with vertical jumps and multiplanar jumps emphasizing sound landings, followed by shuffle and accelerative drills progressed with the coaches eye relative to their athletes’ abilities.
Non-countermovement vertical jumps through the frontal plane. Athletes should focus on controlling the naturally occurring dynamic pronation and supination that occurs through the foot and ankle as well as sound landing mechanics.
Some of my favorite drills to use with athletes are Shuffles, Shuffles to Stick, Continuous Lateral Shuffles and Shuffles to Acceleration as seen in progression of videos below:
Lateral Shuffle to Stick. Athletes often load the inside leg too heavy here leaving them in a poor position to change direction. The reality is that the inside leg should carry about 65% of the weight while the outside carries around 35%.
Continuous Lateral Shuffles. Athletes should focus on minimizing vertical motion and ensure both feet never simultaneously leave the ground or the “gallop.”
Continuous Lateral Shuffle to Crossover. This is only a small sample of the variety coaches can use within this drill depending on their athletes capabilities.
The options are endless, and to provide an exhaustive list of every drill or combination possible for training athletes to decelerate and reaccelerate would require a library of books. Coaches must decide what their athletes need and find the balance between linear and multidirectional work for their particular athletes.
Myzka provides a solid list of considerations to ponder when programming for your athletes:
- Inter and intra sport differences
- Bilateral vs. Unilateral
- Common directional changes
- Lines of Force, joint angles, and position limbs
- Preprogrammed, closed versus unanticipated, open
- Surface used
One last note about training for deceleration in the realm of movement skill acquisition is that it is a learned skill and thus must be treated as such. It is OK for drills to be submaximal, or for athletes to take it slow while learning proper mechanics. Obviously in sport we do not have the luxury of taking our time to execute, but a solid foundation should be instilled through intricately focused practice. We wouldn’t ask our athletes to squat the heaviest weight they could as quickly as possible on day one, therefore why would we ask them to stop on a dime and change direction as quickly as possible from the get-go?
Be methodical in teaching your athletes deceleration and all movement skills for that manner, while ensuring that you provide them with the base of tools to be successful.
Dietz, C., & Peterson, B. (2012). Triphasic training: A systematic approach to elite speed and explosive strength performance (Vol. 1). Bye Dietz Sport Enterprise.
Landow, L. (2017, July). “Deceleration Progressions from Squat-Lunge to Sprint.” Retrieved January 20, 2020, from https://www.nsca.com/education/videos/deceleration-progressions-from-squat-lunge-to-sprint/
Myszka, S. (2013, January). “Slam on the Brakes: Deceleration Qualities to Optimize Performance.” Retrieved January 21, 2020, from https://www.nsca.com/education/videos/slam-on-the-brakes-deceleration-qualities-to-optimize-performance/
Photo Credit: vgajic/iStock