Developing Speed and Agility

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. 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.

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.

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? 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.

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.

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?"

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