The Truth About Speed Training for Young Athletes is quite simple, really!
You see, my coaches and I have worked with hundreds of different athletes from all sports, backgrounds, and ages. One of the top goals of every athlete that comes to train with us is to improve their sprinting speed and/or agility and quickness. That is GREAT!
However, in order for this to happen, there are a few important points that we all need to realize and understand before the real magic happens of real, long-lasting speed development.
- Every athlete is UNIQUE and DIFFERENT: This simply means (as we all have probably seen) that some athletes develop faster and earlier than others. During adolescence, teenagers will have the largest spike of developmental hormones (testosterone is the biggie) than they will ever have in their lifetime. And you can tell every year that every athlete (both male and female) will develop at a faster or slower rate than others. I have seen 7th and 8th graders who could pass as juniors and seniors in high school – they already have facial hair and can put on muscle and build strength faster than their peers, while being able to eat just about whatever they’d like and still remain lean. I’ve also seen athletes who physically look 3-4 years younger than their actual age – we call this a “late bloomer”, again something that is unique and not a big deal because they WILL catch up (eventually). This is HIGHLY individual and is the biggest reason why some athletes are naturally faster, stronger, and more explosive at an early age than others.
- Strength is the FOUNDATION of Speed Development: I had this conversation the other day with a couple of our parents about the importance of having a strong and flexible body in order to run faster. Now, when I reference the word STRENGTH, often time many people automatically imagine a big, bulky body builder who is tight and immobile. Not the case at all. In order to maximize speed development, an athlete must be strong enough to achieve AND hold proper sprint positions and form. In other words, if an athlete is unable to stay low out of their starts (they pop straight up), their arms and legs are flailing all over the place when they run, and their stride length is short and choppy – that is definitely a strength issue. The athlete is unable to hold sprint form in this instance (which is very, very common) and unfortunately all of the running technique and cues in the world won’t help until the underlying cause is attacked head on. Do NOT fear strength training, even if it’s basic body weight work.
- You have to Practice Running FAST in order to get FASTER:This one boggles my mind, yet it still goes on and on and on with ZERO result whatsoever. I’m talking about the classic “go run 5 miles” workout that nearly every athlete has to go through for some strange reason. Every year in the early off-season, most of our athletes have to report for their sport “conditioning”, which pretty much means running long-distances at a very slow pace. A timed 3-mile or 5-mile test for team sport athletes will have literally zero carry over to their sport performance. Last time I checked, almost every team sport requires the athletes to be able to sprint HARD for 3-6 seconds at a time with a quick, sudden change of direction, followed by a longer period of active rest (i.e. walking or very slow jogging.) I’m all for having athletes in shape, but the qualities of speed and being able to change direction are much harder to build. Conditioning doesn’t take a whole lot of time to improve and you can literally go out and practice your sport for all of the sport-specific conditioning you need. Long, slow jogging should be kept for cross-country and long-distance track & field athletes.
Now, with all of these points covered, what is the real truth about speed training for young athletes? It’s simple:
- Understand that it WILL take time and it will NOT happen overnight.
- Understand that EVERY athlete can improve. Not every athlete is born to run a 4.3 40 yard dash, but you can bet we can maximize every young athlete’s potential.
- Understand that an athlete must be strong enough to hold sprint form.
- Understand that every athlete will develop sooner or later than others.
- This is a long-term process – no such thing as quick fixes. As soon as we can all take a look at the BIG picture, meaning asking ourselves “Where can I or my young athlete(s) be 3-5 years down the road with hard training?” we will be much better off, happier, and have less stress and anxiety.
I hope this was able to put things into perspective. We can help any athlete run faster, develop quickness and agility, and overall become a better athlete. Just remember to not worry so much about the destination right away – it will take time. It is the journey that is the fun part!
Until next time,
CTS Strength & Conditioning