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The Shaping of Speed Through Technique – Part II

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Shaping of Speed Through Technique 

Of the many misconceptions and myths regarding speed and speed training, perhaps none is more concerning than the notion that to increase the on-field or applied speed potential of an athlete, the training must consist of little more than running.

In reality, while an athlete’s biomotor responsiveness (decreased 40 yard dash time, for instance) will certainly benefit from specific sprint training, there is no guarantee in this of application towards a functional medium – them being able to apply this speed on the field of play.

It is important to understand that speed application in game settings is a matter of learning the skilled behaviors of how it must be applied. To do so, you must first address the topographical, procedural and effect issues.

Topographical or landscape features outline the relationship of the athlete or their body to the eventual outcome of the initiative; Procedural features outline the preparatory and execution factors that make the initiative successful; The effect refers to the successful outcome of the initiative.

Let’s apply that to the skill of bypassing a defender and shooting a lay-up in basketball –

Topographical Features:

The ball must be shielded away from the defender and the shoulder closest to the defender must dip in order to accelerate around them.

Procedural Features:

The athlete must see that the lane is clear and accelerate through the angle most appropriate to attack.


The defender is bypassed and the lay-up is made.

In formulating the topographical features of a given skill, other factors must be considered –

Temporal Factors:

Timing the onset of the response. In this case, anticipating when the lane will be cleared so that progression towards the basket will be unabated.

Spatial Factors:

The relationship of the athlete to various aspects of their environment. In this case, successful handling the ball and negotiating the resistance of the defender.

Proficiency Factors:

This can be sub-classified into three categories –

Requirements for accuracy: such as kicking or throwing a ball
Requirements for productivity: height of jump or distance of throw
Requirements for efficiency: best possible use of energy over time

This brings us to the relationship of practical skill execution and chaining.

Chaining refers to looking at and maximizing upon all the sub-skills associated with successful completion of a larger skill.

Take for example, returning a serve in tennis.

This skill requires the sub-skills of anticipation, preparation and execution and in order to produce an optimal outcome, it would be best to teach, rehearse and perfect each member of this chain.

The key for coaches and trainers is to shape the ability of each respective chain member, and then work to integrate them into one macro-based functional entity. In that, this takes the trainer or coach away from being concerned with the biomotor proficiency of the chain at large, and forces them to both instruct as well as assess the more finite sub-skills that comprise the chain.

In terms of assessment, it would be prudent for trainers and coaches to learn to evaluate the technical proficiency of their athletes more so than their biomotor skills. Monitoring an athlete’s progress should be less about the loads, times or performance factors and more about the technical, mechanical and functional considerations.

In that, consider assessing your athlete’s proficiencies and therefore ascension onto more complex or intense exercises, based on their capacity to demonstrate proficiency at certain skills.

With a squat for example, moving an athlete into higher loads should not be based on their ability to perform ‘x’ number of repetitions with ‘x’ load, it should be based on the RTA at which they performed those repetitions.

RTA refers to Rate of Technical Ability – subjective but rigid guidelines or assessment criteria should be developed by the coach or trainer so that they can carefully evaluate both an athlete’s progression as well as their capacity to handle increased stimulus.

This is especially true with chaining.

The anticipatory, preparatory and execution sub-skills of returning a serve in tennis for example, should be taught as separate capacities, and then progressed or integrated only when the coach is sure that it is merited to do so. Designing RTA evaluations for each sub-skill is the means by which coaches and trainers can be sure of technical proficiency and therefore ultimate success of the global or macro skill.

When training and preparing an athlete for an eventual outcome or effect, it is best to begin with priming or guidance-based stimulus.

Priming exercises are those which parallel the terminal behavior attempting to be developed – specifically, when first teaching a young athlete how to perform a task, it is best to do so with an exercise that mimics or reflects the eventual endpoint of where you want to take them.

There are a variety of ways in which to best teach young athletes through priming behaviors –

a. Forced Responding –

Cooperative manipulation of an individual’s movement in order to provide kinesthetic feedback not available through standard active participation.

b. Visual Guidance –

Demonstrating correct execution, allowing an athlete to watch themselves live in a mirror, video recording an athletes execution and then allowing them to watch it in order to gain visual perspective are all examples of visual guidance.

c. Verbal Guidance –

Coaches and trainers could use verbal directions to teach how to perform a skill, how not to perform a skill or even why a skill should be performed a certain way. Although verbal guidance is by far and away the most common type of coaching, it should be noted that it also has the smallest conversion to actual applied aptitude and the over-use of this method should be considered restricted to older, more advanced athletes who have a superior cognitive capacity.

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