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Common Errors When Attempting to Develop Maximum Speed in Team Sports

Apr 18, 2008
Although speed is a major determinant of success in team sports, there are a number of errors that team sport coaches make when attempting to develop maximum speed in their athletes.
These errors include performing the sprints at the end of practice, sprint distances that are longer than that performed in games, and a total volume of work that is excessive.

SCHEDULING SPEED SESSIONS AT THE END OF PRACTICE
It's common for team sport players to perform their speed work at the end of practice - for example, basketball players running lines before heading to the locker room.

This might be good for developing endurance and fitness, but it does little to improve leg speed. That's because maximal speed is best developed when the nervous system is fresh and able to incorporate faster-than-normal patterns of movement.

Unfortunately, by the end of practice, the nervous system is already fatigued and the ability to run at maximum speed is impaired. Maximum speed will not be improved by practicing at a sub-maximal pace.

EXCESSIVE SPRINT DISTANCE
Speed work is often performed over distances that don't reflect game situations - for example, football players performing 100 yard repeats even though they seldom sprint farther than 20 to 30 yards during a game. In fact, for most players, acceleration over the first five strides is most important.

Aside from lack of specificity, longer sprint repetitions produce early neuromuscular fatigue (see above). The fact is, most world-class sprinters reach their top speed before they hit 60 yards. Maximum speed work that goes beyond that is developing speed endurance not maximum speed.

And if your football linemen never sprint more than 30 yards, it is speed over 30 yards that is most important for them.

TOO MANY REPETITIONS
Some teams perform volume (i.e. number of reps) that cause so much fatigue that speed and technique suffer and the nervous system trains incorrect firing and technique patterns. Again, fatigued athletes will not improve their maximum speed.

RECOMMENDATIONS
There is definitely a role for large volumes of longer sprint intervals at the end of practice. Just be aware that it is speed endurance, not maximum speed that you are developing pure speed with such training.

Increasing maximum speed requires a non-fatigued nervous system employing full-out sprints over distances of less than 60 yards, with plenty of recovery.

This is best performed early in the practice, or as a separate session. In terms of volume, a good rule of thumb is, when athletes' speed or technique declines (sprint times go up), stop the high-intensity training for that day.

REFERENCE:
Joseph Warpeha. "Principles of Speed Training." NSCA's Performance Training Journal, June 2007.
About the Author
Dick Moss (dm@peupdate.com) is the publisher of PE Update - a website that keeps physical educators and coaches up-to-date on over 40 sports, fitness and coaching topics. The website also provides a free newsletter, blog and sample articles. Check it out at: http://www.peUpdate.com
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