Speed can take a variety of different forms,
depending on the sport and the event.
How many of them should you master?
Optimum speed/skill speed
Think about it. Too much speed can sometimes be a disadvantage. If a long
jumper, for example, builds up too much speed on the runway, he may not be able to take off into an effective jump. This is
because he will have too little time on the take-off board to generate the force needed to convert speed into height and distance.
Similar problems occur in many other sports. In Rugby Union, Jonny Wilkinson
knows his range when it comes to place kicks. He has developed his rhythm with painstaking practice over many years and inevitably
slots the ball between the posts. The England half-back could swing his boot faster at the ball in an attempt to gain additional
metres, but would probably sacrifice accuracy as a result.
So it is important for athletes to determine with their coaches an appropriate
speed for their particular sports skills that does not compromise technical execution.
There are obviously some activities that demand full expression of speed,
sprinting being the most obvious example. But it is important to note that, while the sprinter needs to move his limbs as
fast as possible during parts of the race, he must do this in a relaxed manner, since the effort involved in ‘trying
too hard’ will tighten muscles and slow performance.
Out-and-out speed therefore calls for mastery of technique plus the ability
to relax while the body is operating at maximum intensity. You’ll find a full discussion of this in Chapter 5, along
with a ‘key tips’ guide on how to achieve optimum sprinting technique.
In order to achieve out-and-out or optimum skill/sports speed, a period of
acceleration is often required. A sprinter, for example, must leave his blocks from a standing start, a footballer may need
to turn and sprint to get onto the end of a pass from an equally static or off-balance position, while a tennis player must
deliver his serve from a stationary base.
Developing this accelerative ability calls for different training methods
and practices from those used for out-and-out speed and other speed types.
Speed training is often neglected by endurance athletes, such as marathon
runners and triathletes. Yet speed is crucial to their success. For the faster an athlete is:
- The easier it will be for him to cruise at slower speeds during training
- The more power he will have for hill climbs;
- The better he will be at surging during a race to burn off the opposition;
- The more he will have in reserve for a killer sprint finish.
Endurance speed is the ability to sustain repeated powerful and fast muscular
contractions over predominantly aerobic race and training conditions. Ask yourself: do you have sufficient reserves of it
for your event?
Speed endurance can be defined as the ability of the body to perform an activity
at a very fast speed under conditions where a high level of anaerobic energy production is required. Examples include 800m
running and tennis match play involving long rallies. It differs from endurance speed in that the training methods used to
develop it are usually more short-lived and focus on the anaerobic energy system. Interval training is a key training method
for speed endurance.
In many sports, a skill has to be performed in response to a cue. This cue
could be aural, as with a sprinter reacting to the starting gun, or visual, as with a boxer avoiding a punch, a footballer
responding to a change in the opposing team’s formation, or a cricket batsman reacting to a ball.
Reaction speed is key; a fraction of a second can be the difference between
a gold medal and no medal at all. Read Speed Training - for all sports and you’ll know how to train for speed and make
sure you’re first out of the blocks.
Body part speed
For some sports a particular limb must move as fast as possible - to throw
an implement, for example, as with the javelin. Although speed and power is needed throughout the thrower’s body, his
arm is the crucial link in the speed chain as it will advance the implement to optimum velocity at the point of release.
If your throwing arm or racquet arm is not fast enough, your performance
will obviously suffer.
The need for team speed is obvious in the case of a sprint relay team but,
in fact, it is crucial to the success of virtually all other team sports, where players must move quickly and in concert in
order to score a try or defend as a unit as in rugby. Developing this shared speed should be a training requirement in team
sports. However, as you find out in chapter 7 of Speed Training - for all sports, maintaining the speed of individual players
can be difficult, particularly over a very long season with numerous matches.
Rotational speed is key to many sports. Footballers rotate their bodies to
turn and chase down opponents or the ball, while tennis players have to ‘wind’ up their body to hit a serve, a
baseline forehand or backhand pass. In track and field, discus throwers spin with almost balletic grace before releasing their
implements with the incredible force needed to achieve huge distances. Rotational speed can be vastly improved by the use
of appropriate drills and training methods, as set out in chapters 6,8, and 9 of Speed Training - for all sports.
Agility is another key sports speed requirement, characterised by quick feet,
body co-ordination and fast reactions. Its execution depends on a mixture of balance, out- and- out speed, acceleration speed,
strength, flexibility and co-ordination. Although a performer’s agility, relies heavily on the possession of optimum
sports technique and ‘match sense’, it can be enhanced by the specific agility speed conditioning outlined by
John Shepherd in his book.
This is the term used to describe training efforts that allow athletes to
perform a speed skill to a level beyond what is normally achievable. It can involve the use of such specialist equipment as
elastic chords, which literally drag you along to higher velocities. Lower-tech options include downhill sprinting and throwing
lighter implements or balls than those used in competition.