When working with athletes, speed and agility are training essentials, along with strength. However, it is common to mistake the difference between speed, agility and acceleration. The National Academy of Sport Medicine (NASM) refers to speed as the ability to move one’s body in one direction as fast as possible and acceleration is how quickly an individual can reach their top speed from a non-moving position. Agility is the ability to accelerate, decelerate, and quickly change directions while maintaining proper posture. It is incredibly important, when training athletes, to consider what planes of movement they will be using during the course of a game, tournament or outing. Increasing speed, agility and acceleration can be a daunting task for trainers, but understanding the difference between the 3 and knowing drills to supplement each aspect will allow athletes to reach new heights.
Speed is a quality, essential to most sports. Some sports are more reliant on it than others and sometimes, it can even determine the success of one athlete over another. But, how exactly do we train for speed?
Increasing speed initially revolves around the idea of “perfecting” running technique. Arm action drills can increase coordination between our upper and lower halves, while wall-drills teach the athlete to achieve triple extension. In tandem, these rudiments provide the base for producing the most power per step and ability to cycle when at top speed. Squats, heavy sled drags, and isometric/eccentric hamstring exercises, etc. attribute to muscular development in the groups essential to speed development. Increasing muscular development and being able to “shut-off” the muscles that are antagonistic when sprinting will result in a faster athlete. Lastly, it is necessary to get out and sprint, using proper technique. Filming or using apps like Hudl are great ways to critique and help identify breaks in form.
While speed sometimes steals the spotlight, agility can turn the tides for an athlete in most sports. Athletes are required to move laterally (side-to-side) in order to defend, make quick cuts to evade defenders, or sometimes full turn into a sprint to track down a ball. Whatever situation an athlete finds themselves in, being able to quickly perform any movement at any time will give them a competitive advantage. Training to improve agility has a similar pattern to training for speed. Agility is based around motor control and proper positioning of the body. Agility also heavily features deceleration, so being able to reposition the feet to create better angles for absorbing and then producing force will make a significant difference. The main strength component for agility is a strong core. Most movements will require the upper and lower halves of the body coordinating movements. Thus a strong core will allow for the ability to dynamically stabilize and distribute force within the body more effectively.
Athletes can have natural speed and strength, but even the fastest and strongest need to be able to control their movements as scenarios change game-to-game, play-to-play. Training should emphasize developing technique, gaining overall strength and putting practice into real scenarios. After all, as Mike Robertson says, “games are won in tight spaces.”
By Julian C. Lee