Coaches refer to it as “game speed” when an athlete plays faster than their testing numbers would suggest. How can an athlete who runs a 4.5 forty yard dash play slower than another player with a 4.8 forty yard dash? Two logical explanations come to mind.
- The 4.8 athlete is in better physical condition and can maintain speed more so than the 4.3 athlete, who slows down due to fatigue accumulation.
- The 4.8 athlete has superior reactive agility, and can respond faster to stimuli, enabling the athlete to position him/herself in the right place faster than the other athlete.
Explanation number one is easy to correct. Improving fitness in the 4.3 athlete will quickly turn the tables on the 4.8 athlete. Scenario number two however is a little more controversial. There is still quite a bit of debate among coaches regarding how and if “game speed” can be improved.
Some new research on this issue by Chaouachi et al. (2014) in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research provides some pretty compelling evidence that “game speed” can in fact be improved in team sport athletes. The researchers studied the effects of two different training approaches for improving reactive agility in 36 high level youth soccer players. The athletes were divided into 3 groups of 12 consisting of a change of direction group, a small-sided games group and a control group. The change of direction group incorporated various agility drills, of which the athletes were aware of when and where to change direction. The small-sided games group incorporated 1 on 1, 2 on 2, and 3 on 3 scrimmaging with modified field dimensions. This simulates game-specific decision making. The control group simply performed traditional soccer training, focusing on technique and physical fitness. Performance testing in speed, jumping, change of direction (agility drills) and reactive agility (change of direction in response to stimuli) was completed before and after the training period. The training program included 3 sessions a week (90 mins each) and a competition on weekends over a 6 week period.
Post-testing revealed that the change of direction group improved sprinting speed (+4%) and change of direction (pre-planned changes of direction, +6.7%) significantly more than the small-sided games group (+1.5% and +5.1%, respectively). However, the small-sided games group improved reactive agility significantly more than the change of direction group (+6.2% vs. + 4.2%). Jumping ability improved most in the change of direction group compared to the others. These results provide further evidence that “game speed” is quite trainable, and that it is best improved using game-specific situations, (e.g., small -sided games). Given the impressive improvements in other performance parameters brought on by the change of direction training with pre-planned movements, it would be wise to incorporate both methods into the training structure.
Chaouachi, A., Chtara, M., Hammami, R., Chtara, H., Turki, O., & Castagna, C. (2014). Multi-directional sprints and small-sided games training effect on agility and change of direction. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Ahead of Print.