HAVING SPEED IS ONE THING: KNOWING HOW TO USE IT IS ANOTHER
I have been working with athletes for 35 years and have seen many improve speed but still not improve performance. We all know that speed can be improved through proper training but no one has discovered why performance does not also improve. Is the answer physiological or psychological, or a combination of both?
As the Track Coach at the
I trained a professional hockey player who could run a 40 yard dash off ice in 4.40 seconds. This was exceptional time for a hockey player. His on-ice speed test scores, however, placed him in the bottom fifty percent of the team. Diagnosing the problem was simple; he was not a good skater. All things being equal, the fastest athlete off-ice should be the fastest athlete on ice as well.
Sometimes the answer is not utilizing your speed. We have all seen running backs in football that burst through the line only to slow down just before the linebacker makes the tackle. The problem is often “fear.” The athlete may believe the hit will not be as punishing if he slows down prior to contact. The coach must convince the athlete he can run through buildings. The athlete has to believe he can deliver the blow and punish the linebacker with his speed and power. The coaching challenge is to convince the athlete that delivering the blow is the best choice in terms of performance and risk of injury. The athlete must experience this phenomena hundreds of times in high speed, game specific contact drills as part of the process of changing his behavior and learning to utilize his speed as a running back.
Fear is often associated with speed. While in the
When coaching the great high hurdler Renaldo Nehemia, we used a combination of sprint-assisted training and sport specific training. I would move the hurdles closer together to about 8 yards and have him run at full speed. As soon as he cleared one hurdle the next one was coming up very fast. This forced Renaldo to react at a high rate of speed. I have long believed all athletes are capable of doing things far better than what they normally can do. The coach must find a way to force or motivate the athlete to reach his full potential.
Coaches are aware that the improvement of an athlete’s speed does not automatically make the athlete faster on the field or court. One area that is often overlooked to complete the process and improve the transfer of raw speed improvement to better sports performance is skill training. If an athlete is concentrating on weight training, plyometrics, and speed training, for example, but leaves out skill work, he may not attain the desired results in terms of improved performance in his sport. This is why the program must be planned in advance and skill training must be part of the overall plan. The coach’s task is to be creative and develop drills and workouts that improve speed and specific sports skills at the same time.
Another problem area in this modern era is the trend for athletes to use a specialist in every area of training and conditioning. If specialists do not communicate with one another and work toward common goals, much of the benefit of this expertise will be lost. When I was the strength coach for the Washington Capitals Hockey team, I trained athletes from all over the world. Although many of these athletes would work with another trainer in the off season, I was the one responsible for the fitness level of the team. I would call the different coaches, try to get to know them, and share ideas with them. In most cases this relationship worked and the athlete benefited. A similar type of coordinated effort is needed today among the many specialists working with athletes.
The future of strength and conditioning coaching is not new equipment, it is new ideas. Athletes must always be challenged. Workouts must be competitive and coaches must get to know their athletes. If an athlete is holding back, coaches must find out why. It is important to remember that the only reason to improve speed, strength or any aspect of conditioning is to have the athlete improve performance in his or her sport. This requires sport-specific speed training designed to improve “playing speed.”