The 1 Thing Coaches Overlook That Makes a Major Impact on Athlete Performance.
A change of thinking in physical preparation for the demands of competition yields a remarkably simple way to improve performance and injury prevention across any sport and age.
There are many things the youth coach has on his/her to do list. Everything from communication to parents, organizing tryouts, practices, schedules, skill development and then some. Physical preparation of the young athletes often gets pushed down the list. We will come back to this.
At the same time, children getting started in sports bring with them a wide variety of coordination and physical skills. This ranges on all levels of the spectrum. Poor coordination and movement skills to more developed. Increasingly the scale is tipping to the poor side. This can be attributed to young people not getting enough movement into their daily lives.
If you have coached, you may have noticed a change in how young people move. Lack of movement and development time leads higher risk of injury and big discrepancy in skill level from child to child. Anecdotally, this can be observed at tryouts or first day of practice or on the playground. More often than not, there is a lack of coordination in motor pattern. Most obvious is in running.
While we could look through the internet for the research, the eye test probably does just fine.
Ask 10 x 8 or 10 or 12 year olds to run from here to there.
What will you see?
Lots. Lots of individual differences and very few would be considered fast.
Across all age groups, you will see a wide variety of movement patterns and styles. While there can not be 1 biomechanical style that works better than others, there are some fundamental principles that can be taught and learned.
· Running with forward arm swing helps. Teaching pocket/chin arms is a good start.
· Remove landing on heels is important to improve efficiency.
· Teaching how to lean forward during a sprint position will help.
How young people run today is staggeringly ineffective, yet not surprising. One could make the theory that because this is not addressed early, then increased drop out rate is the result. As a 10 or 12 year old who wants to be remarkably slower than the others during practice or game time?
If young people don’t move very much and we factor in that they are not taught how to move, then what would we expect as the result?
Answer: Poor movement skill. Throw in the demands of a game + poor movement = injuries + no fun.
If we look at different sports, we can isolate 1 skill that can determine immediately where on the hierarchy of performance a young person will sit: Speed.
Running efficiency, which comes from coordinated movement.
Coach Lee Taft, whom we spoke to last year and a coach for over 30 years, recently posted the following on the importance of speed in sport:
The reason speed is so important for athletes to have is because it limits the options opponents have against them. The athlete with speed can close gaps, increase gaps, force opponents to overplay due to fear of speed... It just places stress on opponents regardless of schemes.
When we ignore proper "Speed" Training we limit the opportunities for athletes to get FAST!
First, however, I think we can all agree, as parents, coaches and teachers that speed is the #1 skill requirement that dictates performance efficiency.
Not every young athlete needs to be a track sprinting star, but everyone can benefit by learning how to move and run efficiently.
When we spoke to Coach Phil Campbell earlier this year, he mentioned that speed technique is something that should be consistently worked on over time. With this as a critical development model, speed can be improved across the board.
Now, let’s bring back the concept of very few skill coaches approaching the physical preparation side of athlete development. Although the coach has a full plate, is there a more important priority to than teaching efficient speed development, also known as how to run properly?
We could make the case that there is no more important skill to develop. When was the last time, as a sport coach you worked on running technique within the scope of basketball, soccer, baseball or football training?
While we ponder that question, there is a change in thinking around training for athletic performance that is coming back to the role of sprint training.
Another reason skill coaches may not dive into physical preparation is lack of knowledge. Many sports still suffer from outdated lines of thinking on what is appropriate or not to prepare athletes for the demands of what will occur on the field.
When we combine the lack of movement in our youth, and the demands of competition, it is time for youth organizations to mandate physical preparation protocol for young athletes. This becomes a great means of reducing drop out rates, improving athlete self-esteem, reducing injury and improving overall health and satisfaction on the field of play.
How much knowledge does a coach or parent need to support our young athlete in developing movement efficiency via improved running and speed technique?
Let’s break it down:
We go back to the simplest (not easiest) form of movement: running. Not just running, but sprinting.
For a young athlete to become a better runner, they need to run.
Strength coaches like Mike Boyle (30+ years of coaching athletes) are moving to including sprint work as a big part of not only development of sprinting mechanics but also of developing strength, coordination and injury prevention. Coach Boyle for one has moved away from thinking that the only way to get faster is to improve strength in the weight room.
The weight room can help, but it won’t necessarily make an athlete faster. Muscular strength can help with producing and absorbing force and strength can be developed by sprinting.
When we are talking about younger athletes, they don’t run well because they don’t run. So let’s have practice running.
Before we explore Coach Boyle’s recommendations, let’s go back to Coach Taft:
Intervals are not pure speed training, shuttle runs are not pure speed training... Speed is done FAST. Speed is trained under rested state. Speed is done in low volume. Speed is done in short distances.
So how do we implement this. Done fast, in a rested state in low volume in short distances?
Let’s check out how Coach Boyle does it:
· 2-3 times per week 10 yard sprints.
· No competition. Time it if a competitive element is wanted, and track personal bests, but don’t race others.
· Don’t sprint at the end of practice, don’t sprint as part of a race. This is when injuries occur.
· That is it 2-3 times per week =10 yard sprints. Each sprint is less that 2 seconds. Total time on a team of 20? 5-10 minutes?.
Additional note: take warmup more seriously.
Lite jogs, jumping jacks, high knees, arm circles, body weight lunges & twists, crawling forward and backward for 15 minutes prior to any practice will do the trick. Skipping this or not making this a priority eliminates the benefit of even a 10 yard sprint.
Jog from here to there and then crawl for 2 minutes = Simplest of warm up done!
This is how simple it is.
A 2019 study investigated the impact on warmup on performance. Findings: a 45% reduction in injuries over the course of 1 year in 9-11 year old baseball players just by paying more attention to warmup.
As coaches, parents and volunteers, we want our young athletes to use sports to develop life skills, build self esteem and have positive experiences.
There is no more important skill to develop with your athlete then helping them with move better through speed development.
1st step: Make speed development for all a priority. Practice every chance you get. In practice, off season, during game warmup.
2nd step: improve knowledge of speed technique development. This article has shared multiple resources and strategies. Coach Boyle, Taft and Campbell are 3 of the best.
It’s simpler than you think.
3rd step: practice the fundamentals in short volume, in a rested state, frequently.
If your organization wants to really make an impact, bring in a speed coach for your coaches to learn, or share implementation strategies for each coach to build into their practice plan.
Kids don’t run enough today. Let’s help them a ton by creating opportunities to do so.
More information and resources available upon request, including consult by dropping a comment to this article (subject speed development).