The Costly Speed Training Mistake Slowing Down Young Athletes

Speed training for our youngest athletes begins with learning basic movements.

Now more than ever, sports reward speed. No matter the sport or the age of the athlete, the faster and more explosive players will not only get more opportunities, but will also likely be more successful. In the wake of the era of speed, countless speed-focused facilities have opened and speed training programs have been released. Most of these programs first focus on the form and mechanics of speed and how best to improve them.

Is this really the best course of action to increase an individual's potential to develop speed?

Explosive movement ( i.e., acceleration) and top-end speed has a hierarchy of development. Form of movement is surely on the hierarchy, but it is at the very top. Skipping right to this step would be equivalent to building a house without a foundation, or constructing a pyramid with no base. It just won't work.

At a very young age (7-10), our foundation needs to be development of coordination and spatial awareness. In other words, we need to understand movement and be competent enough to successfully train for strength and speed.

Where most athletes, especially middle school through high school aged athletes, need to begin is pure strength training. If an athlete doesn't have enough strength to move through a single-leg strength training exercise (i.e., lunging variations), how can we expect them to move that same body weight at high speed efficiently? Speed is all about how much force you can put into the ground, and strength is absolutely crucial for increasing ground force and maintaining proper positioning while exerting that force.  Many young athletes desperately need to get stronger and will get faster via a proper strength training program alone.

Once a strength program is introduced, the next step would be to place athletes in competitive speed drills. They need to race their peers. The competitive aspect is crucial to reveal individual movement patterns that each athlete would use in their game situation. It is easy to disguise poor movement patterns during a sprint, but when placed in a competitive situation, the athlete will show the coach exactly how they will move in their sporting situation. Practicing running fast is also one of the best ways to get better at running fast. That may sound obvious, but it seems to get overlooked.

That leads to the top of our pyramid—specific form-fixing drills like Arm Swings to develop proper arm action, or Wall Drills to groove sufficient and efficient knee drive. This is the icing on the cake that is speed and acceleration development: using specific corrective drills to improve the faulty movement patterns exposed by competitive drills. Paired with an existing foundation of strength and fitness, it's a great recipe for making young athletes faster.

A lot of our athletes may be missing the boat on true development of speed. I cannot overemphasize how important I believe it is that we start from the bottom and develop a great base of movement competency and strength before we fine tune specific speed technique.

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