GAME DAY Youth Sports Magazine — Upstate SC - February 2012
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The art of developing speed and agility
Ken Finley

When you see an athlete with great speed or agility that image just seems to stick with you.

They just seem to glide across the court or field. Many people think these things are natural born and to a certain extent that is true. But without developing these ‘God-given gifts’ you’ll never rise to the top of athletic success. So how do you develop the ability to blow past a person or stop on a dime?

First, let’s define what speed and agility are. The strict definition of speed simply means to run to a point faster than someone else can. People think of a 40 yard sprint when you talk about speed. Most sports however are played in a much shorter window say 10 to 15 yards and require a sudden change of direction followed by a short burst of speed. That is the true essence of agility-the ability to avoid, evade, get past or get around someone.

In order to possess these abilities you must first develop body control. You know when you see it but what is it? Here is a list of the components of great body control that need to be developed in order to have speed and agility on the athletic field.

1. First, the athlete must possess great BODY AWARENESS.
Also known in the medical field as proprioception it is the ability of the nerves in your muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons to tell your brain where all the parts of your body are and how fast they are moving. This allows your brain to make the adjustments needed to balance and coordinate the body so that it moves efficiently and effectively.

This quality can be improved and trained in a variety of ways. Single leg training such as hops and leaps on one leg are a great way to improve this quality. Also your strength training should include a variety of movement patterns moving from two leg stance exercises such as squats and cleans to lunges, step ups and single leg squats.

2. Great athletes must possess the ability to ABSORB FORCE as well as produce force.
In other words you must be able to slow down before you can speed up. In order to make sharp cut the athlete has to decelerate a little in order to move along a different path before accelerating along that path. Like a race car driver must tap onto the break going into the turn before hitting the gas down the straight away.

This is trained through proper jump training. This involves first learning to stand on one leg then hop (land on the same leg) or leap (land on the opposite leg of the one you start on) and absorb the force by holding or ‘sticking’ the landing for several seconds. You must practice hopping and leaping in different directions i.e. to the side, forward backward and at different angles. Gradually you began to hop or leap absorbing the force and then quickly push into another direction. This takes time to perfect and usually requires a skillful coach to guide the athlete through the process and ensure that the technique is solid.

3. Great athletes get into and stray in good positions in order to be successful. This means they have the ability to RePosition the Feet in any direction around their center of mass. Learning to do this takes a lot of practice and a watchful coach to help provide feedback to the athlete while training. By rehearsing the various cutting patterns (sharp, speed, and spin) and understanding how to correctly position your body with each possible pattern you can expect to make yourself have true game speed. It is not usually who can run the fastest in a straight line but who can make the quick adjustments needed to accomplish the play.

4. Great athletes must have the proper combination of flexibility and strength. If you lack flexibility you’ll have to modify your movements making them less efficient and possibly leading to injury. Without a great base of strength you will lack acceleration and the ability to handle the high forces placed on the body during competition. Both of these components are essentially for injury prevention.

As mentioned previously your strength training should include a steady diet of single leg strength and the ability to resist a high rate of force produced not only by on field collisions but by the simple fact of an athlete changing directions quickly.

Also understanding your sport and what muscles you tend to use or overuse can help you design the proper flexibility training program which should include some type of soft tissue massage using a foam roller or massage ‘stick’ on a daily basis.

You can see from this short list that your training needs some guidance but shouldn’t be overly complicated. Having a plan that encompasses each one of these areas mentioned will go a long way toward helping each athlete reach there given potential. You can’t go out a just perform a series of random drills but rather you must develop the skills it takes to get into and stay in the proper athletic positions. Are you practicing excellence or just practicing hoping for excellence?