Your Speed and Agility Sessions Suck…

(OK so I want you to concentrate on getting a wide base of support and developing a hard acceleration position)

Sometimes I observe speed and agility training sessions and I'm half expecting Richard Hammond and Amanda Byram to pop up and commentate on the hilarity of the drill because the drill that I'm watching has so many gadgets and toys on the pitch that it looks like the qualifier course from Total Wipeout!

If I think back to how I coached speed and agility 10 years ago I cringe. My sessions were pretty poor and the reason for this was my lack of understanding on how to really bring about improvements in speed and agility. Now I'm probably being pretty harsh on myself because I wasn't terrible, I didn't just roll out a "speed ladder" and get my athletes to 'tip toe through the tulips', I just didn't push myself to develop a deeper understanding.

I managed to justify my approach to myself, ignoring that I really didn't fully understand what to do. I had some decent drills (lets face it, I had every book available – Acme 1001 Speed and Agility Drills for Sport etc) and I was good at saying "do it faster"…what more did I need? After all, I'm not a track coach – I'm an S&C coach.

(you put the left foot in, left foot out, in out in out you shake it all about…!!!…oh, and watch out for the ball…oh, sorry you can't see it because you're too busy looking at your feet!)

The light bulb went on when I listened to a presentation by Duncan French on the development of speed and agility. He's a fairly bright fella and spoke about things I just hadn't really worked on. He discussed Kinetics and Kinematics and how in the UK (and I reckon the rest of the world) S&C coaches are really poor at actually coaching speed and agility. We just roll out a drill and crack open the pom poms and shout inane words of encouragement.

"Give me a F, give me an A, give me a S, give me a T, give me a E, give me a R…what have you got….go………..FASTER……whoooooo"

I was on reflection a pretty crappy coach of speed and agility. I was cheerleader, sure I paid lip service to some of the lessons I had picked up along the way. I talked about posture, I mentioned arm action but I didn't really get it and I certainly didn't know how to coach it and actually improve performance. I stood on the side, observed and made a bit of noise. I didn't really change a whole lot.

(to be fair, I'd run a bit faster if she was my coach!)

Fast forward to today and I reckon I've got a much better handle on things. I'm not suggesting I'm some sort of speed and agility guru, but I think I do a far better job at actually coaching the damn thing than I did 5-10 years ago.

Today I spent an hour with one of my basketball players working on one drill…yes….we just ran one drill. The drill was simple – run in a straight line toward the cone and then make a 'power-step' through the gap. We stood around for a bunch of time discussing key movement patterns, we walked through the drill, ran it at 50%, then 75%, we went full out, then dragged it back down to 50% to get the technique right. I used two cones! There were no ladders, hurdles, hula hoops, bungee cords etc. Just me, the player, two cones and a whole lot of coaching. It didn't look very "sexy", there wasn't a whole load of 'noise", We just went about our work and got the job done. It was probably one of the best sessions I've coached in a long time.

Too often coaches hide behind drills and tricks because the bottom line is they just don't know what they are doing. If we look busy then the players and coaches will be happy. That was me 10 years ago, I hid behind fancy looking drills and a kit bag full of ladders, cones, hurdles, reaction balls and bungee cords! Now, there may be times when I get a ladder out, but it's not when I'm trying to improve SPEED….but then if you know anything about SPEED and it's relation to FORCE production you'll understand stand why 'icky shuffles' are not making anyone FASTER….anyway….that's probably a whole other blog post.

I'll challenge everyone reading this post to go away and really think about what you are doing with your athletes. Are you really taking care of business when it comes to speed and agility development?I've taken a number of slides that Duncan and I use on our Performance Training Mentorship programme to give you an idea of the sorts of things you need to be aware of as a coach.

If this stuff is all new to you then I suggest you take stock and find a way to improve your coaching.

We need to know what makes us move in a certain way if we are going to try and improve it. Why is this a good acceleration position? If you understand the Kinematics you'll be able to answer the question.

What do we need to do in terms of force production etc to make sure we get some serious 'hang time'? If we need to produce force we need to be strong – no wonder my young tennis players didn't improve for 12-months when all I did was speed and agility. They were weak – we got them stronger and guess what they got quicker because we took care of the KINETICS.

You don't need to become a biomechanics boffin to become a better coach – just take a look at slide above that Duncan produced. If your job is to improve speed and agility then there are aspects that we can 'train' and there are things we can 'coach'. Work out which is which and you'll be able to give your athletes 'gas'.

This isn't supposed to provide all the answers – I just wanted to throw it out there and hopefully offer up a thought provoking blog post that may just make you stop and rethink how you coach speed and agility. 

(If you want your athletes to compete at Crufts then crack on!)

Hopefully you are all asking yourself the question "Am I really coaching or do I need to get you some hot-pants with a fluffy pom pom on each hand?"

(ohhh, Joey lad, I'm gonna be boss on Saturday when we play that Bendy Stick FC – look at my mad crazy skills)

Let me know what you think – am I right or do you think I'm way off on this one?

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Nick GranthamYour Speed and Agility Sessions Suck…

6 Comments on “Your Speed and Agility Sessions Suck…”

  1. Ben Mortlock

    Hi nick,
    I think you are spot on! I like my ladders at times just in a warm ups generally with late stage rehab players. However I fell into the trap of thinking I could improve speed with ladder work as I was taught some 'SAQ' stuff at Uni and thought because speed was in the title it MUST improve speed. I then went on to do some strength work with Dave Hembrough and the lads at Sheffield Hallam and learnt how wrong I was and how wrong football staff are (in general). However, I dont think it can only be strengthening in the sagital plane that can be used to improve speed in footballers as i was told with it being a multi-plane sport. I am currently trying to find the best ways to strengthen in various planes to hopefully improve speed and reduce injuries in football. But it's difficult to find the time to add it into an already heavy volume of training. Football needs help!

  2. Chris Walton

    Good post Nick,
    I absolutely didn't really understand much on this topic until 2010 when, first I attended the UKSCA Speed, Agility and Plyometrics workshop and then came to see you and Duncan for your Mentorship.
    I can honestly say that I use something from the speed and agility coaching section during every session with the rugby players I work with.  It's difficult for us to measure improvement but an added bonus is that I believe that coaching these techniques (particularly change of direction) has led to a decrease in injuries (we've had no serious knees this season!).

  3. Nick Grantham

    Great comment Ben and thanks for taking the time to get back to me. The post wasn’t aimed just at football but it’s all too commonplace in that profession. We need to get strong, for sure and early work will be primarily sagital movement patterns but you are right – we need to think multidimensional.It’s difficult to get conditioning work in to any sport – difficult – but not impossible. We jut have to be prepared to stand up and be counted and not fall into the trap of “this is how we’ve always done it in {INSERT NAME OF SPORT!}” or “we just don’t have time….”

  4. Rob

    Sorry I've picked it up late, but loved the article Nick.
    This is a massive bug bear for me. I think many S&C coaches stick their head in the sand when it comes to multi directional speed and agility (MDSA) with the belief that they're doing their bit by improving force production and muscle stiffness.
    I think it's exemplary that you spent a whole training session on one drill. You've got to have belief in your system to do that. But if you improve the movement pattern, the athlete has left you a better player rather than throwing 10 random drills at the wall, hoping one sticks.
    I'll focus for 4-6 weeks on one or two movement skills, whether it's a sidestep like you were teaching or deceleration, hip turn, whatever. But at the end of that period, the athlete should have mastered it in various scenarios and has something to add to his/her toolbox.
    What's the value of an unreadable side step off either foot to a field/court player? Priceless. S&C coaches are really the only people who can do this, because we can see what physically is preventing them from moving the way they need to. So we can integrate this work into the gym. There shouldn't be an issue with time because it's clearing up a weakness that's specific to the sport.
    Integrate what we do in the gym, to the pitch/field. So many athletes move poorly but get the job done. That's damaging in the long term. Especially in modern football's training/playing schedule.
    Sorry I've gone off on a rant. 
    Thanks for bringing the topic up Nick

  5. Nick Grantham

    the UKSCA do a great job on their PAS workshops – they’re not trying to create sprint coaches but show S&C coaches what they need to know about develop fast athletes

  6. Nick Grantham

    Thanks for the great comment. I was terrible when it came to coaching speed and agility but I’ve worked hard to improve. As with all things it’s about getting the basics sorted – simplicity is genius!

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