Youth Speed Training Tips: Technical + Applied Drills

Tips for training speed in youth athletes
The Velocity Speed Formula (read more about it hereuses proven speed training drills to make athletes faster.  However, it’s much more than just drills.  How different drills are combined affects learning.  For youth speed training to carry over to the game you need to learn this tip in the video.

Velocity Speed Formula

Combining technical and applied drills is an important part of youth speed training.  It’s one way we make sure athletes can apply the speed in the game.  This is just one part of the Velocity Speed System.  It’s built on the science of biomechanics and motor learning.  Learn more about the Velocity Speed Formula

Velocity Speed Training Drills: Optimal Range of Motion

Speed training drills: optimal range of motion
The Velocity Speed Formula (read more about it hereuses proven speed training drills to make athletes faster.  Whether its elite speed training or youth speed training, the Formula always has the same 4 parts;
  • Big Force
  • Small Time
  • Proper Direction
  • Optimal Range of Motion

Apply Force in the OPTIMAL RANGE OF MOTION

The range of motion your limbs and joints travel through while sprinting is a Goldilocks scenario; not too big, not too small, but just right.

If the limbs are traveling through too big a range of motion you may be wasting time and energy.

If the range is too small, you wont generate the power you need.

RELATED: Sport Specific Types of Strength

Optimal range of motion is developed by acquiring good motion through stretching and mobility work combined with dynamic mobility drills.  Below we have a few of the speed training drills that help athletes develop the optimal range of motion for sprinting.

Kneeling Arm Action Drill

This drill to reinforce arm action has been around for a long time.  The reason; it still helps athlete work on understanding the arm swing range of motion while running.  One of the keys is that you want athletes using this drill to feel good spinal alignment with relaxed shoulders and neck.

Use this drill through various speeds, push faster until form, coordination or body position start to suffer.  Then back the speed down and regain the form.  Make sure the motion is from the shoulder.  No “karate-chop” actions at the elbows.

 

Fast Leg Drill

There are many useful variations of the Fast Leg speed drill and multiple benefits.  The one we are focusing on here is the range of motion.  Specifically the range of motion when the leg recovers from behind the body and the thigh lifts in front.  The higher the thigh lift, the more power the drive down and back can be.

This drill breaks up the sprinting motion so athletes can focus on the technical aspects.  As always, great core posture is important.

Velocity Speed Formula

Both of these are important speed training drills to help athletes ability to apply force in the proper direction. These drills reinforce basics physics so athletes can accelerate faster.

RELATED: Velocity Coaches Favorite Speed Drills

Velocity Speed Training Drills: Proper Direction

Speed Training Drill for Proper Direction
The Velocity Speed Formula (read more about it hereuses proven speed training drills to make athletes faster.  Whether its elite speed training or youth speed training, the Formula always has the same 4 parts;
  • Big Force
  • Small Time
  • Proper Direction
  • Optimal Range of Motion

Apply Force in the Proper Direction

Force is a vector which means it has a direction as well as quantity.  Efficient and effective movement requires not just the right amount of force, but applied in the right direction.

Proper direction is achieved through the right motor pattern (technique) and the stability of the body to apply it that way.  When the structures of joints, muscles and tendons aren’t up to the task, we have what we call “energy leaks.”

Below we share 2 useful drills that help you develop your PROPER DIRECTION qualities.  These drills are designed to reinforce and help the athlete self-regulate the direction they apply force to the ground.

RELATED: Sport Specific Types of Strength

Harness Resisted Sprints for Acceleration

To accelerate an athlete need to apply more force horizontally.  Thats how they increase their movement velocity. This drill reinforces horizontal force application.

The harness allows additional horizontal force to be applied to the athlete. Using a belt, it’s applied near the center of mass to be more biomechanically correct.  As the athlete feels that added force, they will tend to automatically apply force in a more horizontal direction

 

Wall Drills

This is a classic speed training drill that has survived the test of time.

Trying to drive the legs backward and push into the wall reinforces the horizontal force direction for acceleration.

To project your center of mass in the air high enough for the rope to go around twice, you need to apply a big enough force.

It’s very effective but has a problem; it get boring quickly.  So make sure you use it as a prep or reinforcement drill.  Don’t do it for a long time.  It’s also bets used in quick contrast with a drill where the athlete gets to apply that force moving and reinforce the proper direction.

Velocity Speed Formula

Both of these are important speed training drills to help athletes ability to apply force in the proper direction. These drills reinforce basics physics so athletes can accelerate faster.

RELATED: Velocity Coaches Favorite Speed Drills

Velocity Speed Training Drills: Small Time

plyometric drills for speed
The Velocity Speed Formula (read more about it hereuses proven speed training drills to make athletes faster.  Whether its elite speed training or youth speed training, the Formula always has the same 4 parts;
  • Big Force
  • Small Time
  • Proper Direction
  • Optimal Range of Motion

Apply Force Faster for Speed

Below we share 2 useful drills that help you develop your SMALL TIME qualities.  In essence, these are plyometric drills.  Drills where you have a ground contact that stretched your muscles, followed quickly by a contraction of those same muscles.

One of the benefits of this type of plyometric action is that parts of your muscles act like springs.  When you land they compress.  When you push they spring back and help you.

This is what we term Reactive Strength and is key for any athlete that wants to be fast.

RELATED: Sport Specific Types of Strength

Hurdle Hop Speed Training Drills

Hurdle hops are a very popular drill for speed training with good reason; they are effective.  The key is to do them well.

When your goal is to develop your reactive abilities, you need to focus on getting off the ground quick.  At the same time, you need to apply force.  Make sure you try to really project your body high into the air on each.  The speed is on the ground contact, not the movement forward.

Jump Rope Double-Unders

This is a time tested classic for foot speed.  It’s hardly new, but it works.  It should be a fundamental piece of every youth speed training program.  It’s basically a plyometric drill for speed.

To project your center of mass in the air high enough for the rope to go around twice, you need to apply a big enough force.

If you don’t want to get smacked with the rope, you need to apply that force quickly.

Double-unders are what we call a “self-limiting drill’.  This means that you really can’t perform it with bad technique.  Maybe you can get a few in without doing it well, but to string them together you need good form.  You will be in the proper body position, have the right range of motion and have a small time on the ground.

Velocity Speed Formula

Both of these are important speed training drills to develop an athletes ability to apply force quickly. They are great plyometric drills that work.   Execute them explosively and with great body position to be effective. If you perform them well and often, you’ll see the results transfer to game speed.

Velocity Speed Training Drills: Big Force

speed training drills
The Velocity Speed Formula (read more about it hereuses proven speed training drills to make athletes faster.  Whether its elite speed training or youth speed training, the Formula always has the same 4 parts;
  • Big Force
  • Small Time
  • Proper Direction
  • Optimal Range of Motion

Getting Stronger for Speed

This article is focused on 2 important drills that help to develop your BIG FORCE qualities.  Although these are not weight room drills, strength training for speed development is important.  To be fast, athletes need to train in the weight room and do it properly.

These drills also develop some of the strength qualities you need to improve your speed.  They are very specific to building strength for speed.  They build speed strength and have a high carryover from training to application.

Box Blast Exercise

The Box Blast is a speed training drill that lets you focus on maximum power.  The basic alignment of the limbs and torso is similar to the acceleration phase of sprinting.  Most importantly, the muscle motion is a piston-like action which we observe the acceleration phase.

Heavy Sled Runs

This is another greater drill that is highly specific to strength for speed.  Speed training drills like this need to be executed with great form and body alignment.

Velocity Speed Formula

Both of these are important speed training drills to develop the force production capabilities of athletes.  Execute them explosively and with great body position to be effective. If you perform them well and often, you’ll the results transfer to game speed.

Coaches Favorite: Kettlebell Exercises

kettlebell

Kettlebells are a great tool which have been around for decades but have become popular again.  And it’s for good reason; they’re versatile and dynamic.  We surveyed some of our coaches to find out what their favorite exercises are with a kettlebell.

Coach Mike’s Pick: Double Kettlebell Clean + Squat + Push Press

The Double Kettlebell Clean+Squat+Push-Press is a full-body exercise complex that gives you a lot of bang for your buck. When done correctly, you develop power through the Clean, leg strength in the Squat, vertical pressing strength in the Push Press, and core strength throughout the entire movement.

Execution: Before beginning, you must keep your core rigid through the entire movement to ensure you don’t hurt yourself.

  1. Start with the two kettlebells of the same weight 1-2 feet in front of you and feet slightly wider than your shoulders.
  2. With knees slightly bent, keep your back flat and push your hips back to the wall behind you and grab the kettlebells tightly.
  3. Take a good breath and “hike” the kettlebells backward between your legs
  4. Stand up as fast you can to snap the kettlebells up and forward into the rack position.
  5. Clean the kettlebells to the rack position.
  6. Take a new breath, slowly squat down with the kettlebells as low as you can then drive up as fast as possible.
  7. Start to press the kettlebells above your head as you reach the top position, using the momentum of your squat to help finish the movement.
  8. Once the kettlebells are straight above your head, take another good breath and slowly pull the kettlebells down to the Rack position.
  9. Once in the rack position, reset with a good breath and prepare yourself for another repetition. Instead of starting with kettlebells on the ground, carefully let the kettlebells “fall” (while still holding them) and again hike them back through your legs and repeat the exercise for as many reps as prescribed.

Velocity Sports Performance on Vimeo.

If your goal is to develop all-around strength, use a heavy set of kettlebells for 3-6 reps. If your goal is to get a solid metabolic workout, go with a lighter set with which you can get in 8+ challenging reps.

Misao’s Pick: Halo

The Kettlebell Halo improves upper body mobility and stability. It is an overhead pattern that requires core stability as well as mobility and stability of the shoulders and shoulder blades.

Execution:

  1. In a kneeling or standing position, hold the kettlebell with both hands by the horns
  2. Brace your core and hold the bell in front of your chest.
  3. Slowly circle the bell around your head clockwise, then counter-clockwise. The movement must be slow and under control.
  4. The weight of the bell needs to be light enough so your torso does not sway side to side or arch.

Velocity Sports Performance on Vimeo.

You can easily progress this exercise by changing the way you hold the bell. Holding the weight with the bell pointing down is easier as the weight stays securely in your palms. If you grip it upside down (with the bell on top) it becomes more challenging because the weight travels farther away from your body, increasing the strain on the muscle due to a longer lever.

Coach Kenny’s Pick: Turkish Get Up

The Turkish Get-Up is great for shoulder stability, overall strength, and just plain toughness. It also can help develop a sense of body control and awareness and test an athlete’s focus.

Execution:

  1. Start laying on your back with your right knee bent and your left arm extended out to the side. Your kettlebell should be on the ground next to your right arm.
  2. Grasp the bell with your right hand and press it up so your right arm is completely straight and perpendicular to the ground.
  3. Keep your eyes on the bell throughout the entire movement.
  4. Roll up onto your left elbow, and then to your left hand.
  5. Push your hips up towards the ceiling as high as you can.
  6. Slide your left leg under your body and come up onto your left knee.
  7. Stand up.

To get back down, simply reverse the movement.

  1. Come down to your left knee.
  2. Place your left hand on the ground
  3. Slide your left leg out from underneath you so it’s totally straight, keeping your hips pressed up.
  4. Let your hips come to the ground.
  5. Lower on your left elbow.
  6. Completely lower yourself to the ground so you are laying flat.
  7. When bringing the kettlebell back to the ground, be sure to use your free hand to help guide it. Safety first.

Now do the same thing on the other side.

Coach Yo’s Pick: Bottom-Up Overhead Press

This series is great for shoulder stability, grip strength, elbow joint health, and core strength and stability based on athlete’s positioning. The Bottom-Up series gives the athlete a different stimulus since the load (kettlebell) is in an unstable position. This will improve overall proprioception (your level of awareness of where your body is in space), and by using different base positions ( ½ Kneeling, Tall Kneeling, Standing, Single Leg, etc), allows athletes to develop core strength and stability. It is a very unique exercise, and the kettlebell is an ideal tool for its execution.

Execution: Before you start, make sure that you have proper overhead mobility and stability and can do basic overhead press exercises with dumbbells or barbell. Once you have that skill, you can start by holding the kettlebell upside-down (bottom-up) right in front of shoulder. Make sure you the weight you use is not more than you can control with your grip alone. You can check holding the bell upside-down in a static position for a while without letting it drop. Ensuring you have basic stability before adding movement is always a good idea and will prevent needless injuries.

Performing the exercise in different positions will work on different elements of core strength and stability.

Coach Gary’s Pick: Split Squat KB Complex

The Split Squat KB Complex addresses muscle activation patterning, neuromuscular control, and dynamic stability of the trunk and lower extremities. This complex will challenge any athlete while reducing the likelihood of lower extremities injuries. This is valuable because more than 50% of injuries in college and high school athletics are knee injuries according to the American College of Sports Medicine. This 4-phased complex also allows coaches to progress athletes based on ability, making it excellent for novices and experienced athletes alike.

Execution:
Starting position – Kneel with your right foot flat and the right knee directly over the heel. Start with the bell on the ground in front of your left knee.

Starting Movement:
Inhale and lift the kettlebell with your left hand to the level of your forward (right) thigh.
Level your hips by pressing the hips forward and Press the forward (right) heel into the ground.
The upper body should remain tall and erect with the chest up and out and the shoulders level and stacked over the hips.

Phase 1: Split Squat – Stand up on both legs while driving your front heel into the ground. Once your legs are fully extended, reverse the motion and lower the body back to the starting.

Phase 2: Clean to Split Squat – Quickly thrust the body upward and bring the bell to the front of your shoulder. With the bell in this position, extended both legs to stand up, again driving your front heel into the ground. Once fully extended reverse the motion and lower the body back to the starting position.

Phase 3: Jerk to OH Split Squat – Quickly thrust the body upward and Jerk the bell overhead with the upper arm tight to the ear. With the bell in this position extended both legs to elevating the body upper, think about driving your front heel into the ground. Once fully extended reverse the motion and lower the body back to the starting position but remaining on the feet.

Phase 4: OH Split Squat to knee drive – With bell overhead and the upper arm tight to the ear, extend both legs to stand up. Once fully extended, quickly drive the back knee up and in front of body then back to the same spot on the ground. Once ground contact is made lower the body back to the starting position but remaining on the feet.

 

Exercise 6: Pistol Squat

The Pistol Squat is a great way to test balance and overall hip and glute strength. It also gives you a clear interpretation of your strength to bodyweight ratio. If you can easily perform the movement as a bodyweight exercise, add a kettlebell.

Execution:

  1. Front rack the kettlebell of your choice. Hold the bell with whichever hand is opposite from your “down” leg.
  2. Load your weight over one leg and slowly lower yourself to the ground on a single leg.
  3. Extend your “up” leg in front of your and keep it from touching the ground.
  4. Load your bodyweight onto one leg and as you drop down into a squat shift the loading glute back and extend the opposite leg forward in an attempt to keep it from touching the ground.

If you want to challenge yourself further, try performing the same movement while standing on some type of balance pad to give your foot an unstable surface to manage.

Coach Rob’s Pick: Single Arm Kettlebell Swing

The Swing is certainly the most ubiquitous use of the kettlebell. Once you have mastered it, try moving onto the single arm swing. This variation adds an anti-rotational component to the explosive hip drive inherent to the Swing.

Execution:

  1. Start with your feet hip-width or slightly wider. The kettlebell should be on the ground about a foot in front of you. Remember that during any weightlifting exercise, it is crucial that you keep your core tight and your back flat. Failure to do so, especially during a ballistic movement like a kettlebell swing is asking for injury.
  2. The weight you select should be lighter than you think you need until you get the feel for the exercise.
  3. Drop your butt towards to floor while keeping your chest up, grasp the bell firmly with one hand and “hike” it behind you, keeping your wrist tight to your body.
  4. Stand up quickly and let the bell rise up to about shoulder height. This part of the movement should be snappy and crisp.
  5. Keep your grip on the bell and let it fall, swinging back behind you while you keep it tight to your body.
  6. Repeat this movement for as many reps as prescribed.

Once you have this movement down, you can challenge yourself by switching hands every rep. To achieve this, let the bell swing up to its highest point, at which time it should be weightless for a brief moment. Have your opposite hand ready to grab the handle as soon as you let go with the swinging hand.

Whether you alternate hands or not, the Single Arm Swing is sure to get your heart rate up, make you sweat, and develop leg strength and core stability. Have fun!

Velocity Sports Performance on Vimeo.

 

4 Myths about Muscle Pliability You Need to Know

Trainer performing graston technique

The term “muscle pliability” has been in the news around the NFL quite a bit. Tom Brady and his trainer, Alex Guerrero, claim that making muscles pliable is the best way to sustain health and performance. How true is that claim? While it’s a great descriptive term, we are going to shed some light on what it really means and how to create muscle pliability.

Defining Words

Our performance coaches, sports medicine specialists, and tissue therapists all find it to be a useful term.  Pliable expresses some of the important qualities of muscle. According to Miriam-Webster Dictionary here’s what pliable means:

Pliable

a: supple enough to bend freely or repeatedly without breaking

b: yielding readily to others

c: adjustable to varying conditions

That’s a pretty good description for many of the qualities we want in the tissue of an athlete (or any human for that matter). The problem is that it’s being mixed up with a lot of inaccurate and confusing statements.

Our Sports Medicine Specialist, Misao Tanioka, says that “the word pliability, in my opinion, depicts the ideal muscle tissue quality. It is similar to suppleness, elasticity, or resilience. Unfortunately, I believe some of the explanations offered by Mr. Brady and Mr. Guerrero have created some misunderstanding of what ‘muscle pliability’ really is.”

Let’s try and separate some of the myths from what is true.

Myth 1: Muscles that are “soft” are better than dense

That depends on what qualifies as “soft” muscle.  Tissue Specialist Cindy Vick has worked on hundreds of elite athletes, including NFL players and Olympians across many sports. “Soft isn’t a word I would use for an athlete. When I’m working on an elderly client, I often feel muscles that could be called soft; they’re not dense. That’s not what I feel when working on elite athletes. Athletes who are healthy and performing well have muscles that have density without being overly tense and move freely. The tissue is still smooth and supple.”

This muscle quality is affected by many factors, ranging from stress, competition, nutrition, training, and recovery. At Velocity, maintaining optimal tissue quality is a constant endeavor.  Proper self myo-fascial release, various stretching techniques, and manual therapy are all part of the equation.

Myth 2: Dense muscles = stiff muscles = easily injured athletes

Relating these terms in this way grossly over-simplifies the reality and is in some ways completely wrong.

You have to start with the operative word: “dense.” Tanioka says, “Dense tissue can be elastic; elastic tissue is resilient to injury. What we have to look for is inelastic tissue.” Cindy Vick adds that “if you mean ‘dense’ to refer to a muscle with adhesions, or that doesn’t move evenly and smoothly, then yes, that’s a problem.”

Scientifically, stiffness refers to how much a muscle resists stretch under tension. It’s like thinking about the elastic qualities of a rubber band. The harder it is to pull, the stiffer it is. If a muscle can’t give and stretch when it needs to, that’s bad.

Imagine a rubber band that protects your joint. When a muscle exerts force against the impact of an opponent or gravity, stiffness can help resist the joint and ligaments from being overloaded and consequently injured.

“I agree with Mr. Brady’s statement about the importance of a muscle’s ability to lengthen, relax and disperse high-velocity, heavy incoming force to avoid injury.” says Tanioka. “However, I think that athletes also must be able to exert maximum power whether actively generating force or passively resisting an incoming stress, which requires the ability to shorten and be taut and firm as well as well as lengthen. The ability of tissue to be durable and contractile is just as important as to elongate and soften when it comes to performance and injury prevention.”

In the view of our experts, it’s not about dense, soft, stiff, or other qualitative words. Instead, they emphasize developing function through different types of strength qualities athletes need.   Athletes must prepare for the intense stress and strain their muscles will face in their sport.  They need to blend the right strength training with mobility and flexibility.

 

Myth 3: Strength training makes muscles short

“It’s an old wives’ tale that took hold when body building techniques had a big influence on strength and conditioning. A muscle can be incredibly strong without sacrificing any range of motion” according international expert and President of Velocity Sports Performance, Ken Vick, who has worked with athletes in 10 Olympic Games and helped lead the Chinese Olympic Committee’s preparation efforts for 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

“I’ll give you two great examples: Gymnasts are, pound-for-pound, very strong and incredibly explosive, yet they are known to be some of the most flexible athletes. Olympic weightlifters are clearly some of the strongest athletes in the world and are also generally very flexible. They spend practically every day doing strength training and their muscles aren’t ‘short’.”

RELATED: Why Athletic Strength Is More Than Just How Much Weight Is on The Barbell. 

In fact, proper lifting technique demands excellent flexibility and mobility. For example, poor hip flexor flexibility or limited ankle mobility results in an athlete who probably cannot reach the lowest point of a back squat. Our proven methods combine strength training with dynamic mobility, movement training, and state of the art recovery technology to help our athletes gain and maintain the flexibility and mobility required for strength training and optimal performance on the field of competition.

 

Myth 4: Plyometrics and band training are better for pliability

We hear these types of claims time and again from coaches, trainers, and others who are quoting something they’ve read without much knowledge of the actual training science. Our muscles and brain don’t care if the resistance is provided by bodyweight, bands, weights, cables, or medicine balls. They can all be effective or detrimental, depending on how they are used.

Sport science has shown that manipulating different variables influences both the physiological and neurological effects of strength training. Rate of motion, movement patterns, environment, and type of resistance all influence the results.

Truth: Muscle Pliability is a good thing

Like so many ideas, muscle pliability is very good concept. The challenge lies in discerning and then conveying what is true and what is not. An experienced therapist can, within just a few moments of touching a person, tell whether that tissue is healthy. A good coach can tell whether an athlete has flexibility or mobility problems, or both, simply by watching them move.

In either case, it takes years of experience and understanding of the human body and training science, like that which is possessed by the performance and sports medicine staff at Velocity, to correctly apply a concept like muscle pliability to an athlete’s training program.

Discover the Secret Used to Build Great Athletes

Lessons on building Olympic Athletes

Discover the Secret Used by Olympic Committees and Elite Sports to Develop Elite Athletes…

The world’s leading sports organizations have spent decades and millions of dollars to discover the formula to build great athletes.

Dear Parent,

We’ve been in the sports profession for decades, and have helped over a million athletes. We’ve examined athlete development systems around the world. And most importantly, many of us are parents as well.

We know the awesome, positive aspects of youth sports participation. It can help athletes develop a fit lifestyle, learn to work hard and build a growth mindset.

Like you, we believe in the work ethic, attitudes and character developed through sports training and competition. We help young athletes strive to pursue their goals. That’s everything from making the team, getting more playing time, or even becoming a professional.

We are inspired when we see an athlete or team striving to be their best. Operating at elite levels, we see the stage of international sport as a showcase for the human spirit. Our love of sport includes the process of building great athletes.

This why we love what we do! Some days though, it is hard to see good people, with the best of intentions, making mistakes developing young athletes.

We understand it is hard to know what’s best for your young athlete. What’s best for them to have success now and in the long term. There is so much conflicting information.

There’s so much pressure to win now. There are the demands of sport, life and school that make it hard sometimes.

What does it take to create GREAT athletes?

Organizations like the US Olympic Committees, US Soccer, USA Hockey and others have a mission to develop great athletes. The world’s best. They’ve spent decades researching and testing these different methods. In international sport, it’s a race to build the best.

In youth sports today, we all know that there is tremendous pressure for an athlete to “win now” so they can make the elite team. The coach and the club is under pressure to “win now” or they risk losing their players to another team or club. Parents feel like if they don’t get their young athletes in the right place early the future opportunities will be gone.

All of this “win now” leaves little time for actually developing. Don’t get it wrong, we want the young kids to compete and there to be winners and losers in games. Yet, if we sacrifice developing a well rounded athlete for winning at 10 years old, we are mortgaging their athletic future for a win today.

A great athlete in most sports starts with athleticism. Without question there are also different key sports skills you must start early. For example; dribbling in basketball, ground strokes in tennis, and ball touch in soccer. You need to play the sport at a young enough age to start developing this.

In an athletes’ earliest years, they might rely on this skill to stand out. It’s the sport after all! Looming underneath is a need for athleticism. It becomes important more and more as they move up in levels and competition get tougher. As the other players also have high level skill, then athleticism becomes another route to gain an advantage.

If you’re not sold on it yet, let’s look at a few examples of this playing out in the real world.

Urban Meyer, famous football coach at The Ohio State University, recruits multi-sport athletes. In fact, some reports show that a whopping 89% of his football recruits are multi-sport athletes.

Ohio States recruits multi-sport athletes

image from @ohiovarsity

Let’s go wider than only football and look across all Olympic Sports. The United States Olympic Committee has done extensive research for decades on what builds a champion. They’ve looked at hundreds of Olympians and medalists to see when they specialized.

Many would expect to be an Olympian you had to specialize early and give up other sports and some times that’s true. But the data shows a different story. Olympians are arguably some of the most elite athletes on the planet. Yet, the USOC study shows they play multiple sports through their high school years!

US Olympians play multiple sports

But it’s not just about specializing in one sport; it’s about the training that often goes along with it. Developing only “sport specific” skill, without a route to increase overall athleticism does them much more harm than good!

Our job as a Sports Performance organization is to create a better athlete, which means a well-rounded athlete.

Skipping Well Rounded Athletic Development Can Have Harmful Effects…

As coaches, we hope to create great athletes who have a chance at being successful for the long haul. To support this, our programs are based on the concepts of Long Term Athletic Development.

Just like a baby needs to follow steps in development, so does a young athlete. A baby must learn to roll over before crawling, crawl before fore walking, and walk before running. Athletes need to build a solid foundation for elite athletic performance before they can reach their full potential.

When athletes skip critical steps in building this athletic foundation, they are at a much higher risk for injury and burnout. We’ve seen it in our centers across the country and we’ve seen it in Olympic development systems around the world. Olympic Committees have contracted with us to help solve the problem of injury due in large part to over specialization.

• In a Loyola University study of 1200 youth athletes, researchers found that early specialization was one of the strongest predictors of injury. Athletes who specialized were 70-93% more likely to be injured compared to multi-sport athletes.

Without a well rounded athletic base, missed pieces act like cracks in the foundation. They might not be a problem now, but they can lead to future problems down the line. Small cracks have a tendency to grow over time and under pressure.

The trouble is building the foundation early isn’t always sexy. And its really hard for parents and young athletes to find the time.

Your Long Term Athlete Development System

The Long Term Athletic Development model has been developed over several decades. It’s been adopted by many successful elite organizations. The best know expert might be Dr. Istvan Balyi, a coach and sport scientist. He helped implement this model in professional tennis, with USA Hockey, in the UK to prepare for the 2012 London Olympics and through Sport Canada.

The concept is simple. There should be a long term view of developing an athlete with the highest chance of success at the elite level. To do this we need to have some outline of what they should be doing from the youngest ages all thr way through their pro and Olympic career.

Now don’t misunderstand, this isn’t some fluffy “they all win and there is no competition” model. It comes from elite sport and supports competition. It doesn’t support winning at the earliest ages at the expense of being a great athlete later. This document from LTAD.ca is a great summary:

From the start to finish, we progressively build an athletes foundation, skills and mindset so they can reach their full potential. But we know every athlete doesn’t have the potential to succeed to a Gold Medal in every sport.

So doesn’t that make this a waste for most athetes?

NO. Because it helps athletes reach their best potential. Because an athetic foundation of fundamental movement and sports skills, improves the likelihood and opportunity to participate in sports and fitness life long.

This balance of elite development and sports participation is why so many sports organizations have adopted this model. These examples help show how Sport Canada and USA Hockey are applying it to their systems;

Since 1999 the Velocity model has incorporated the LTAD concepts and has evolved with continued research and experience with over 1 million athletes. We think about athletic development as a pyramid and if we are going to build this pyramid to great heights we need a broad and comprehensive base.

By building a broad base of athletic skill and movement we create a foundation. An athletic movement foundation that they can build on and without wide cracks. This way a young athlete has more movement skill and physical resources to draw from. Then they have more opportunity to find their best position or sport as they get older.

RELATED: Learn Velocity’s Proven BIG 4 Speed Formula

Just go back to that USOC graphic about how many sports Olympic athletes played. They had the athleticism to pick the one that they could excel at, in part because they had a broad athletic base.

How Can a Parent Help a Young Athlete in Todays Sports Environment?

As we know, the demands of time, year round participation and advancing technical level make it hard on young athletes and their parents. You don’t want your kids to fall behind because they took time to play another sport or training. You fear they wont be on the right team or have the opportunity later.

It’s a real concern and as parents, one many of us have felt as well.

Sport coaches can be as frustrated. They fell pressure to focus on skill development. So often they cant incorporate the overall athletic development they might want as well. They only have a few hours a week and parents bring a lot of pressure to succeed now.

But we have insider knowledge. You can do both. While our young athletes in the US are playing club and school sports they can develop as athletes.

Through the year they can just continue to develop athleticism. Not just sport skill. Not only sport training, just general, all around athleticism. For our youngest athletes, this means as little as 2 hours a week that builds fundamentals.

Then as they enter middle school and high school training becomes more focused on strength, speed, power and fitness. An hour 2 times a week adds to their athletic foundation and develops movement patterns beyond their specific sport.

During some parts of the year they can increase the time spent on developing these qualities. If they want to be their best and can spare 2-4 days a week, they can do more to reach their full athletic potential.

We hope parents understand; its not a question of sport specific skill OR overall athleticism. It’s a matter of AND. You can develop your sports skills, compete AND keep becoming a well rounded athlete.

Our experience in elite sports and youth sports confirms this view. We’ve seen what works and building better athletes in key in our belief.

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Becoming More Agile: Teach, Train, Apply

agility
When athletes walk into Velocity, they expect us to improve their physical performance. Their goals are often to get faster cutting, be a better defender, or have a better change of direction. All of these are often considered agility.
 
While their goals may differ, the solution is almost always the same; make their movements more efficient and their bodies stronger and more explosive.
 

What is Agility?

 
Before we can help our athletes improve, we need to measure their performance, but first we need to understand exactly what we are measuring. If we want to quantify a movement quality like agility, we need to understand exactly what we mean when we say “agile.”
 
Let’s consider two possible definitions:
 
“The athletic ability to either create an elusive motion or a defensive REACTION with an emphasis on speed and CREATIVITY.” – Carl Valle
 
“Rapid whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in RESPONSE TO STIMULUS” –  Science for Sport
 
The most common test for agility is the 5-10-5 Pro Agility Test. This test involves an athlete sprinting five yards to his left (or right), then 10 yards in the opposite direction, and finally five yards back the other direction. While this test does capture an athlete’s ability to change direction quickly, it captures nothing of an athlete’s ability to be creative or react to an uncontrolled stimulus.
 
In most cases, performance tests are conducted in a controlled environment for the sake of validity and so that they can be reliably reproduced. Consequently, they cannot truly measure an athlete’s creativity or reaction skills. If we accept that these abilities are essential components of agility, then we know the results of these tests will never give a complete picture of agility.
 
How do you train agility?
 
Ladders, cones, and resistance bungees are commonly used in training drills. They are used to develop athletes’ footwork, coordination, and change-of-direction skills.
 
If you’ve ever seen an athlete showing off their abilities with these drills, you might assume that they are extremely agile, but that’s not necessarily the case. If agility includes the ability to quickly respond to a stimulus, then we should realize that those rehearsed drills improve this skill.
 
They can help develop quicker and more accurate feet, but every time an athlete practices that drill they are practicing it the same way. It’s like learning the alphabet: a child learns it in the same order every time and it is easily memorized.  But no matter how quickly that child can repeat the alphabet, it doesn’t tell anyone about their ability to spell or form sentences.
 
Real agility is like the ability to quickly form concise, beautiful, grammatically correct and advanced sentences.  The “words” are the different movement skills an athlete has in his toolbox.  The “sentence” is the combination of how he puts those skills together. An athlete who has mastered agility is like a poet with his, or her, body on the field. It is no wonder that the best demonstrations of athletic ability are often called beautiful.
 
Drills are still great tools for teaching movement. They can add variations and improve movement quality. However, if we stop there, we have only added to our athletes’ “movement toolbox.”
 
To make them more athletic we also need to help them apply it in their sport. To develop the ability to know when to use those tools and be able to do so at a moment’s notice. This ability separates a great athlete on the field from one who is merely great in the gym.
 

Velocity Sports Performance’s “Progressive Training Method”: Teach, Train, and Apply

 
Teach: Our coaches first introduce movement techniques to our athletes. We explain the biomechanics that make a particular movement efficient.
 
Train: Next we provide series of exercises or drills for athletes to repeatedly practice specific movement skills. we might also add resistance, or an element to influence their physiology.
 
Apply: Once they have a new movement skills in their tool box, then we explore. Velocity coaches create opportunities for them to explore their movement skills in gudied-discovery. This is done with non-rehearsed, random, and chaotic situations. Things like mirror drills, reaction drills, or game-like scenarios.
 
Agility may be hard to measure, but we can still help our athletes get better at it. First, as their coaches, we need to study which movement skills are critical for success in our athletes’ sports – only then can we decide which drills our athletes need to practice and master. This is the “train” part of the Velocity system.
 
Next, we teach them to apply their new skills by taking them out of rehearsed patterns. We put them in situations that mimic game-like opportunities to use whichever movement skill we trained that day. The importance of this step cannot be overstated.
 
If we skip it, all we have done is teach our athletes to be better at drills, and we have done nothing to make them move better on the field, court, ice, pitch, or any other arena of competition.
 

Seeing Agility

 
Are your athletes becoming more agile because of your coaching? You may not see it during the training session, but you will know it when you see them compete. We cannot put in the hard work required for our athletes to improve, but we canalways support them by planning ahead and structuring our coaching sessions the right way.
 
Yohei Arakaki – Sports Performance Coach

What is a coach really looking at during the warm up?

warmups and coaching

A good warm up is an essential component of any type of training. What you may not know is that it is probably the most important time for a coach. Typically, the function of a warm up is to raise our athletes’ core temperature, which also increases their heart rates and blood circulation, decreases joint viscosity, restores joint range of motion, and prepares them physically and mentally for the upcoming workout. However, for the coaches here at Velocity, this is just the tip of the iceberg; we can learn a great deal about each athlete just by looking for the right things.

Our sports performance coaches teach athletes speed, agility, and quickness by making their movements more efficient. As in any field, teaching first begins with assessing what a new “student” does or does not already know. Furthermore, excellent teachers and coaches do their best to understand the individual in front of them. Without this knowledge, it is very difficult to know how best to coach and correct an athlete. We might be telling them what to do, but they are probably not learning or improving. In the worst-case scenario, coaching an athlete through a session without knowing their level of experience may lead to injury. The tasks we prescribe must be appropriate to their skill level. Too much difficulty and the athletes won’t get better; not enough difficulty and they aren’t challenged and still don’t improve.

How do we quickly discern how much they know and the level of their movement skills at Velocity? The warm up! Especially when it is an athlete’s first session, we pay close attentions to the athlete’s movement quality. “What is his hip mobility like?” “How’s her sprint technique during the acceleration phase?” Even though an athlete may be experienced and has trained with us for a while, the warm up is still the best place to review their movement quality and gives us tons of important information. “How much did he learn from the last session?” “Did she improve her change of direction skill since last week?” By collecting this information, any coach will be better equipped to run a coaching session more efficiently and it with better results.