- Educate the athletes. If your athletes don’t have an understanding of why they are doing a drill, there is a good chance they are thinking of it as torture or punishment. It is up to you to explain the purpose of a drill so the athletes fully understand how it impacts performance. Typically, this will motivate an athlete to work harder because they will understand how their hard work will pay off in the game. It also helps you, the coach, choose drills that will actually benefit the athletes.
- Focus on mechanics. Allowing your athletes to do speed drills with faulty movement patterns is like a golf pro watching his student hit ball after ball with terrible flaws in his swing, and never providing any corrective feedback. Athletes practice sport skills and play games all the time, but they are rarely taught how to move properly; they are just expected to know how. But, if a kid has never been shown how to do something, how can you expect him/her to do it correctly?
- Quality not quantity. Too often, speed workouts turn into conditioning sessions. Remember, the goal is improving speed and agility, not aerobic fitness. Keep the work periods short and the rest periods long so the athletes can give 100% effort on each drill. You are trying to teach the nervous system how to work more efficiently, so the athletes need to be fresh. If the rest periods are too short, the work periods too long, or the athletes are simply fatigued from previous work, mechanics will disintegrate and the same old faulty movement patterns will ultimately be reinforced.
- Sport specificity. As long as you are trying to teach your athletes to move more efficiently, it makes sense to practice movements that will actually be used in a game. Sprinting and cutting are used in just about every sport, but don’t forget about the very specific skills your athletes need to perform on the field or court. These movements include shuffling, stopping, pivoting, faking, spinning, cross-over running, backpedaling, etc.
- Consistency. As I stated earlier, speed training programs are meant to train the nervous system. The best way to make this happen is to consistently practice sport specific skills so the nervous system learns the optimal movement patterns. 5-20 minutes, 2-3 days per week is all it takes.
- Long-term development. Another major problem I see in a lot of speed training programs is implementing them just a few weeks before the season, hoping for a miracle. Starting these drills 2-3 weeks before your first game is simply too late for major benefits to be seen.
Introduce changes gradually, and continually attempt to make improvements. Speed and agility training will have a positive impact on any team, and incorporating these six keys will help you run the most effective speed training program possible.