By: Dave Gleason
Speed is an absolute game changer. No matter the age or the sport, faster young athletes can affect the course of any game. The discussion of genetics versus trainability is undeniably not an either/ or question any longer. The conversation now becomes how to maximize overall athleticism in a young athlete as they potentially gravitate toward what activity they are naturally adept at in the realm of athletics.
It has been said that only about 20% of all young athletes that are ‘dominant’ at age 10 are so when they are at age 18. My experience over the past 24 years tells me this percentage may be inflated.
“My son/daughter was the fastest on field 2 years ago. Now he is at the back of the pack. He needs more speed.” This is not an uncommon conversation for the parents of young athletes with their sports performance coach.
Educating parents on the basics of the human development continuum can fall on deaf ears. Yes, growth spurts and peak height velocity combined with puberty can wreak havoc on a young athlete’s ability to perform. This is not new information. That said how do we increase speed for young athletes?
When it comes to youth speed training, there are several strategies that all lend themselves to a faster, more agile young athlete on the field, court and ice. It is paramount that the programming be rooted in a comprehensive approach to training the entire individual.
BIG elephant in the room – Due to the growing and changing nature of a younger child, almost anything we do (within reason) will show increases in force production, explosiveness, agility, and top end speed. Simply put…as they grow they will have a degree of increase strength and speed regardless of what we do.
If we are doing what is most favorable for the young children we train, then we must not rest on that fact.
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Here are three keys to developing speed in younger athletes.
- Discovery – allow your youngest athletes to continue to discover movement by giving them opportunity to do so. Create situations for them to explore movement with as little cueing as possible. Only coach what needs to be coached! If you ask your athletes to hip turn and sprint and they hip turn great but don’t accelerate well, be careful not to re-teach the hip turn and instead, focus on tips to help them accelerate.
- Skill it, Drill it, Thrill it – Cone drills are great… if the boys and girls you are coaching have acquired the skill sets to run them. Break down the skills first, followed by some fun drills and activities that help transfer those skills to game play. Anchor those skills with a game that reinforces the skills you were working on.
- Game Play – Athletes must be given the chance to use the skills they are working on with you in a game situation BEFORE they go back to their respective teams. Bigger engine, new tires and brakes on your race car would not be followed by a 300-mile race as the first test drive. We should not allow for that scenario with our young athletes either. Let your kids rip it up with focused games that will allow them to have fun and feel the difference first hand. This will also be the best time to take note as to what skills still need work!
Example: Teaching arm mechanics.
Have your athletes practice swinging their arms while stationary. Use cues like “your hands will move from cheek to cheek”. In a kneeling or ½ kneeling position your athletes will be forced to bend their arms in order to swing.
Now use silly runs to allow for exploration and discovery.
1st run – have your athletes run with fast arms and slow legs.
2nd run – have your athletes run with slow arms and fast legs.
3rd run – have your athletes run with fast arms and legs, yet swinging their arms side to side.
4th run – have your athletes run with fast arms and fast legs utilizing the arm skills they learned while seated.
After each run, ask your athletes how it felt. Ask them if they were running as fast as they wanted to.
Finally, play a game or have a competition where the kids can use their new-found mechanics in a game or competition. Relay races and tag variations are always favorites.
Employing these strategies to teach speed should augment a well-rounded and comprehensive program that fosters movement exploration, integrated systemic strength, muscle activation, active range of motion, coordination and character shaping.
As stand-alone drills or activities for youth speed training on a short-term basis, these methods will have a diminished effect. Long-term athletic development and game play is the optimal strategy for the children you serve and in the end, will lead to a faster, more injury resistant young athlete.
About the Author
Dave Gleason has been coaching young athletes for 2 decades. His experience spans a multitude of sports, ages, and abilities. Dave has coached hundreds of aspiring soccer players and was a strength coach for some of the most successful young tennis players in New England.
He was the strength and conditioning coach for private swim club teams and has individually coached hundreds of youth athletes.
He is now the owner of one of the top youth training facilities in the world, Athletes Acceleration, South Shore. Athletes Acceleration, South Shore is a premier youth fitness and sports performance training facility located in Pembroke, Massachusetts.
Dave has worked with thousands of athletes ranging from the shy six-year-old to all-stars at the professional level. He’s also an acclaimed international presenter on youth fitness and widely regarded as the fitness industry’s go to guy for coaching kids ages 6-13.
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