When we are taught how to enhance speed in an athlete we are told to look at two variables stride length and stride frequency. Now there are drills out there to enhance the skill of stride length and stride frequency, however I tend to not even look at those to variables when it comes to speed development.
I look at speed development in buckets of acceleration, transition, max velocity (top end speed), and finally multi-directional (change of direction). Now in each of these buckets an athlete’s stride length and frequency will be different depending on which bucket or phase they are in.
Rather than trying to teach an athlete a broad skill of stride length and frequency we need to look at what are the qualities that allows an athlete to excel at each of these different buckets/phases of speed. What we do at ProForce is break down those qualities and then structure our speed work around those qualities which gives us very specifically targeted drills that will enhance the skills of acceleration, transition, max velocity (top end speed), and finally multi-directional (change of direction).
The second reason I dislike looking at speed development through the lens of stride length and frequency is each athlete will have an optimal length and frequency. It comes down to helping the athlete with finding the correct angels and ground contact points under or around the hips. To help them excel at each phase of speed.
My biggest advice to young coaches or coaches looking to achieve a higher level perspective on speed development is to find who the great coaches are and learn from them. I made that a mission of mine early in my career and it was an amazing adventure. Not only can you learn from their view point of how they are seeing things unfold in real time but picking up on their verbal cues is of tremendous value. An when you are trying to get athletes into the correct angels and ground contact points in real time knowledge like this is invaluable.
With all that being said about the coaching eye and cues, I wanted to share with you a huge cheat for writing a speed development program. Once again I will state: If you do not possess the eye or the ability to demo what they athlete needs to do then a perfectly written program is only worth the paper it is written on. I can not tell you the number of times a day I have to break down and correct foot placement, joint angels, and stride cycles. So go out there and educate yourself under one of the greats to learn what you don't know.
When I was coaching at St. Vincent Sports Performance a few years ago I had an obsession with trying to prove what qualities correlated to each phase of speed. Many research articles later I came up with a diagram that looks something like this. As you can see with the diagram you can get pretty in-depth with speed development as it will allow you to break down the qualities your athletes need to posses to achieve high levels of performance a particular speed phase.
While this isn't the end all be all for speed development I have found that it helps our interns, staff members, and myself write better speed development programs. I have also seen much better results in athletes since I have started creating speed programs that are centered around this approach.
I would love to hear feedback!!
By: Kevin Hollabaugh, MHA, CSCS, USAW, FMSC, CSAC
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