There is often confusion about whether speed training is sport-specific. It’s a natural question: does speed training need to be sport specific?
After all, as a parent or coach, the goal is to help your athletes be faster come game time. Does playing faster in the manner their sport or even their position demands call for specific types of speed training.
Below we answer that question, but here’s a preview; if you don’t have sport-specific training, your game speed will suffer.
…and if you only do sport-specific speed training, your game speed will suffer!
Speed In Sports
You already know that coaches want fast players!
Just watch sports, and you can all see that speed has an impact on the game. Faster players have an advantage.
And if you watch really closely and breakdown that speed, you can learn some things about what athletes need.
The basic mechanics are the same.
The key elements of speed look really close across lots of different sports. This isn’t to say they are precisely the same if we get down to measuring exact angles, contact times, stride length, etc…
However, the limbs’ fundamental action, the basic angles, and the alignment are all very similar. Why?
The Science of Speed
The reason that athletic speed is similar across diverse sports is that physics remains the same in all sports (at least those played on the earth.)
Its gravity, body mass, and Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion dictate speed in sport.
That’s why Velocity’s speed formula is so successful. It addresses the fundamental physics of speed.
Athletes are faster when they can produce the right forces into the ground, applied at the proper angles, over the right time frames.
Newtons Laws Of Motion for Speed
Newtonian physics doesn’t change based on the game. Whether on a field or court these basic laws of physics remain the same.
One of the biggest reasons why speed mechanics are so similar across sports is that athletes have to generate big forces relative to their body weight. This is called a “mass specific force.”
When a force is generated in a short time you get power. An athlete’s relative power is part of what propels them as they sprint. The power is generated from the actions of the big muscles in the lower body.
That force has to be applied in the proper direction to make them move the direction they intend. Thats why we can see similar joints angles and body alignment across sports. Yes, there are differences, but as a whole they are very similar.
Sports Have Different Speed Requirements
But even though the physics are the same, the game is not. Sports clearly have different requirements for athletic speed.
That’s why we intuitively wonder if speed training needs to be sport specific. The spaces, the opponents, the tactics, and the specific technical skills can be very different.
Sprinting isn’t the same when you are trying to catch a ball over your shoulder or trying to evade defenders and get to the goal.
The context of speed matters. It actually changes the way the brain and body process the movement.
So there is definitely a sport-specific element to speed.
READ MORE: What Is Sport-Specific Speed?
Should Speed Training Be Sport-Specific?
As outlined above, we know there are differences in how speed is applied in different sports. But what about training for it? Is speed training sport-specific?
That’s the real question. What works to help an athlete play faster? What’s the most efficient and effective way to improve athletic speed?
Like a lot of things, it’s not an either/or answer. It’s both general athletic speed and sport-specific practice.
Almost every athlete needs to build their fundamental speed abilities. Acceleration, Max Velocity mechanics, and multi-directional speed & agility are the foundation.
Performance training through movement sessions or in the weight room improves the athlete through fundamental physics.
The sport alone won’t address the fundamental physics enough.
That’s the reason why you need performance training. It’s an opportunity to strip away the complex nature of the sports environment and really hone in on the fundamentals.
All of those contextual elements in sport mean athletes often don’t get to really push their speed limits. They can’t focus on improving the basics because they need to focus on their sport’s other elements.
An athlete’s “speed limit” in a sense is their underlying speed capacity. If their fundamental speed is limited, their sport-specific speed will be limited more.
Context Is King On Game Day
Speed fundamentals without application in a sport-specific context don’t transfer.
That’s why getting faster without also practicing your sport doesn’t translate to game day speed.
The elements of reading the game, decision making, and executing sport-specific skills are too important.
Put the fastest track sprinter into a different sport, and they’ll cover ground quickly, but they might not be in the right place or be able to do anything when they get there.
To reach the fullest potential, athletes need performance training to build the fundamentals and sports practice to learn to apply it.
Sport-specific Speed Training Is AND ot OR.
In the end, general athletic and specific speed training are both required. That is the only way to maximize an athlete’s potential.
Performance training improves the underlying speed capabilities through physics and motor control. Practice translate that speed to be useful in a sport-specific context.
Athletes that want to be faster need to build their speed skills in training and then learn to apply them at practice.